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Joe McCarthy

UNDOUBTEDLY the most common challenge made in any critique of Joe McCarthy is: Name one Communist (or Soviet agent) ever identified by him in his sensational speeches and investigations. That challenge has been posed for fifty years and more—always on the premise that nobody could come up with even one such person. Sometimes, the point is made the other way around, as a flatfooted statement: McCarthy never exposed a single Communist mole, or Soviet spy, despite all his anti-Communist bluster. Such comments appear often in bios of McCarthy and books about the Cold War.
All this said, we now consider the rhetorical challenge more directly, on its own less-nuanced merits. Can we in fact name one certifiable Communist McCarthy ever came up with in all his speeches and contentious hearings? The answer is that it’s indeed hard to cite one such person—just as it’s hard to eat one potato chip or salted peanut. Once the process starts, the temptation is to keep going, which would result in a long string of names that would be unintelligible without further context, and wouldn’t make for lively reading. However, a few examples in this genre, viewed against the backdrop of Venona, may help set the stage for things to come. Here, for instance, is a list of ten McCarthy suspects, taken from his Senate speeches and/or hearings in which he figured:

Solomon Adler, Harold Glasser, Cedric Belfrage, David Karr, T. A. Bisson, Mary Jane Keeney, V. Frank Coe, Leonard Mins, Lauchlin Currie, Franz Neumann

This is, to be sure, a heterogeneous group. While all of them came under McCarthy’s lens, they did so in different measures and in different settings. Some were in the original bloc of cases he brought before the Senate and Tydings panel (Keeney, Neumann), some were otherwise named in public statements (Bisson, Karr), some later appeared before his subcommittee (Belfrage, Mins), and so on. However, all were McCarthy targets in one fashion or another, and thus per the standard teaching must have been mere innocent victims of his midcentury reign of terror. Except, when the Venona file was published in 1995, all these McCarthy cases were right there in the decrypts, each named significantly in the Soviet cables. From these identifications (and collateral data from the Kremlin archives) it’s apparent that, rather than being blameless martyrs, all were indeed Communists, Soviet agents, or assets of the KGB, just as McCarthy had suggested and generally speaking even more so. Thus—apart from people who disbelieve Venona (roughly the same people who still believe in Hiss)—we would here seem to have a conclusive answer to the challenge: Can you name one Communist or Soviet mole ever unearthed by Joe McCarthy?

Evans, M. Stanton (2007-11-06). Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies (Kindle Locations 744-759). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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