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September 2008

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COMMENT ON:
Blacklisted by History Book Review
www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/item/2008/0103/book/ book_mattox_blacklist.html

FROM:
Robert T. McMahan, FSO (ret.)

I read the review of Blacklisted by History on the American Diplomacy web site before I wrote my own — somewhat different — version for the Foreign Service Journal. It did not seem to me that Henry Mattox addressed any of the points Mr. Evans made in the book that refuted the somewhat goofy accusations against Senator McCarthy. To wit, in the book Mr. Evans — to my mind — demonstrated that Senator McCarthy did not lie about some specific number of Communists working in the State Department. In any case, it is now clear that there were a lot of them, and not only there but also in the OSS and in the various “public diplomacy” agencies. It is very interesting that the Department of State chose to direct its efforts, not at shedding its heavy infestation of Communists, but at casting essentially trivial accusations against Senator McCarthy. It is even more interesting that this process survived the 1952 election of a Republican president.

Blacklisted by History goes into great detail about the role of John Purefoy in this mess. He served at the time as some sort of administrative big wig, maybe as a deputy in what later became "M." Folks who served in Bangkok, where he later was ambassador and where he died in an automotive accident, will remember that the staff residence across from the embassy on Wireless Road was named after him. Mr. Purefoy served as Ambassador in Greece, Guatemala, and finally Thailand — all nations under serious Communist attack, and he apparently acted appropriately and effectively to help stave off those threats. It is unclear to me why he would have been so active in greasing the skids under Senator McCarthy. Dean Acheson was running things at State during the McCarthy hearings, even before he became Secretary, and Mr. Purefoy would have been acting under his instructions. One may surmise that Acheson - and by extension President Truman - saw Senator McCarthy as both a bureaucratic and partisan political threat and sought to do him in. But remember that both John Service and John Paton Davies were also said to have been acolytes of Mr. Acheson.

Mr. Evans has located and reprinted lots of documents from the period, for our edification. He also asserts that many important documents, whose one time existence can be inferred from what he did find, are no longer in the files. It seems that National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, in pilfering highly classified files from the National Archives, was working on the basis of a long time precedent.

It is a lot of fun to collect the various reactions to Mr. Evans' book, and here are two: Ron Kessler, who purports to be a conservative, argued in NewsMax that conservatives are wrong to seek to rehabilitate Joe McCarthy. Kessler referred obliquely to Venona and the now released FBI files, but concentrated on quoting various FBI sources who did not think highly of Joseph McCarthy. The FBI at the time was famous for seeking to assure that it — and especially its Director — received any and all credit for anything positive that occurred, and Mr. Kessler did not mention that. It shouldn't surprise anyone that an FBI weenie would seek to discredit Senator McCarthy, whom that agency must have seen as an inconvenient competitor with Mr. Hoover for public acclaim.

Victor Davis Hanson, who often writes quite coherently about modern political affairs from his background in classic history, went out of his way to accuse Senator McCarthy of lying about General George Marshall, specifically stating that General Marshall lost his position as Secretary of War due to the lies of Joseph McCarthy. This was in an article in The Clarendon Review — not generally thought of as a journal of the left.

As a child, following these events with a juvenile mind, I was very greatly turned away from Senator McCarthy when I heard this kind of accusation — not only of General Marshall, but also of General Eisenhower. In the period after World War II, those two leaders — unsurprisingly — were held in very high esteem. Senator McCarthy did himself no favors when he attacked their loyalty.

It seems strange to consider the extent to which the economic depression of the 1930s knocked down the confidence of Americans, especially those who thought of themselves as intellectuals. Many of these folks came to see the Soviet Union as a model for both economic and political improvement on our side of the pond. Given what we now know about the real situation in the USSR, this seems a little odd. But at the time, we had news organs such as the New York Times — and not only it — taking this point of view.

Blacklisted by History is a very important book. Anyone who thinks of himself as well informed should read it or risk not being so.



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