Polemics & Exchanges

On Joe McCarthy

Philip Jenkins’ essay about McCarthyism (“Goodbye, Senator McCarthy,” Breaking Glass, May) was an exercise in retailing received opinions about the Wisconsin senator and his countersubversion efforts.

Without offering specific illustrations, Professor Jenkins execrated Senator McCarthy as “a liar and a jerk of the first order” who conducted a “campaign of name-calling, accusations, and smears . . . vague and unsubstantiated accusations for political ends . . . exploitation of hysterical public fears . . . [and] the reckless persecution of innocent or relatively harmless dissidents.”

Whatever one may think of Senator McCarthy’s personality, his work as chairman of the Senate Internal Subcommittee on Investigations has been amply vindicated by the release of archival materials from both the U.S. government (especially the VENONA intelligence intercepts) and the former Soviet Union.  McCarthy’s inquiries, mandated by law and scrupulously conducted within established due-process guidelines, did not target “relatively harmless dissidents”; instead, they focused specifically on federal employees in the executive branch whose actions and affiliations advanced the interests of a hostile foreign power—the Soviet Union.

Hundreds of such individuals were absorbed...

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