Reviewing the TV show Homeland for The Sunday Times, AA Gill writes, ‘It’s fun and entertaining, but it would also have been warmly appreciated by McCarthy and Beria and Goebbels.’
Mr Gill’s own work, especially his restaurant reviews, also tends to be fun and entertaining, if slightly overcooked. But the second half of the quoted sentence is half-baked. It would not even be worth writing about if mentioning McCarthy among history’s greatest villains were not regarded as de rigueur by the intellectually challenged smart set both here and in the United States.
Beria and Goebbels were servants to the most evil regimes in history. Goebbels was a loudmouth shill for Nazism, which was responsible for murdering about 10 million non-combatants, most of them Jews. Beria led the Soviet secret police, which was responsible for murdering about 60 million Soviet citizens, many of them on Beria’s watch.
Among his other achievements, Beria signed the order to execute 20,000 Polish POWs after the Nazis and their Soviet allies attacked Poland and ignited the Second World War. Both Goebbels and Beria sometimes killed people personally. Goebbels did so when the Nazis were still fighting for power; Beria just for fun when he already ran the NKVD.
Does McCarthy belong in this company? Gill evidently thinks so. As an accomplished stylist he would not have grouped his three bogeymen together unless he thought they all shared some common evil traits. This idea is not just misguided. It is historically ignorant and morally repugnant.
Senator Joseph ‘Tailgunner Joe’ McCarthy became famous in 1950 when he made a speech claiming that the US government, press and entertainment industry were infiltrated by Soviet spies. This speech, followed by many such orations, made him famous with some, notorious with others.
As an immediate result, he became then and remains to this day the incarnation of evil in the eyes of assorted lefties, including those who did not see anything much wrong with Beria’s crimes at the time he was committing them. Lost in their variously hysterical screams is one minor fact: though McCarthy may have been a rather unsavoury individual, he was right – both in his general assertion and in almost all of his specific accusations.
It is true, however, that some of those accusations were based on scant evidence that did not satisfy the legal requirement of being beyond the shadow of a doubt. But then McCarthy, along with the House Committee on Anti-American Activities, was neither judge nor jury. He led a legally instituted board of enquiry that was within its right to interrogate US citizens suspected of subversion.
The usual question was ‘Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?’ If the answer was yes, there were repercussions for the man’s career, severe ones if he still was a communist. If the ‘no’ answer was true, usually there were no consequences, though some overzealous employers still sacked people simply because they had been suspected of treason. For example, Robert Oppenheimer lost his security clearance, and his job on the nuclear project, on the mere suspicion of being a security risk. Yet subsequently uncovered facts have turned the suspicion into a certainty.
If the ‘no’ answer given under oath was a lie, law enforcement got into the act and the liar would be indicted for perjury. No one was shot, tortured or sent off to a concentration camp, though some of those questioned by McCarthy were in due course convicted of espionage.
The underlying assumption was that membership in, or warm sympathy for, the Communist Party ipso facto constituted subversion, and it was this assumption for which lefties still hate McCarthy. If at the time they screamed that good people were being unjustly accused of being communists, eventually they changed their tune. They now claim that there was nothing wrong with being a communist – it was merely an innocent indiscretion that had nothing to do with subversion. In other words, McCarthy unjustly accused good communists of being communists.
The novelist Mary McCarthy famously said about Lillian Hellman, one of the accused, that every word she ever wrote, including ‘and’ and ‘but’, was a lie. The same applies to the claims still made by Hellman’s spiritual descendents. The Communist Party, USA, was disloyal to America and staunchly loyal to the USSR, its inspiration and paymaster. Many of its members were fulltime spies; all were agents of influence.
The entire party hierarchy were in Beria’s employ, and had been Cheka (or Comintern – a distinction without a difference) agents long before Beria left his native Georgia. For example, Earl Browder, one of the party’s founders, went by the Cheka codename Kormchiy (Helmsman), and his subversive activities were recently brought to light by the publication of The Mitrokhin Archives. (As an aside, Browder’s grandson ingratiated himself to the post-perestroika KGB government and was allowed to fish billions out of the troubled waters of Russian finance.)
Any country not bent on self-destruction had a duty to keep such people out of positions of influence, be that in government, press or show business. After all, American communists dedicated their lives to installing in America the same regime that made Beria possible in Russia. McCarthy certainly saw stopping this as his personal duty, and he has since been amply vindicated.
His speech was made three years before the atomic espionage ring was blown, and the Rosenbergs got the chair. The geopolitical damage of their activities was incalculable, for Stalin got the bomb several years earlier than he would have done otherwise.
Among other things, that enabled the Soviets to protect the budding regime of Mao’s butchers in China. It was by paralysing the will to resist the communist takeover of China that American communists did perhaps the greatest damage to the world. The subversive propaganda activities of Owen Lattimore (later Castro’s and Allende’s friend) and his Institute of Pacific Relations, one of many Soviet front organisations, have since been proven, but it was McCarthy who first made them public.
Joseph McCarthy was a crude and simple man who saw the world in largely binary terms. Some of his methods were ill-advised, and he relied too much on sensationalism and headline-making clamour. One suspects he would not have made an A-list guest at a Hampstead party. In any case, his drink was not Bollinger but a slug of bourbon. Too many slugs actually, which eventually killed him.
Not a nice chap any way you look at him, and his excessive ardour probably did as much harm as good to the cause of anti-communism. But the cause was just, and, though rather disagreeable, McCarthy certainly was not evil.
Mentioning him in the same breath as Beria and Goebbels betokens ignorance, moral relativism and general laziness of mind. AA Gill really ought to redirect his attention to fashionable eateries. He is good at that sort of thing.