April 6, 2005


The Dentist McCarthy Saw as a Threat to Security (SAM ROBERTS, 4/04/05, NY Times)

Fifty years ago last month, a Senate investigations subcommittee finally closed the book on the case, identifying three dozen Army officers who investigators said "participated actively" in promoting Dr. [Irving ] Peress from captain to major or in approving his honorable discharge. [...]

Dr. Peress now leaves little doubt what his sympathies were but is still wary about being explicit.

Was he a Communist?

"Not when I was in the Army, not for one minute," he said.

And before that?

"I'm not going to tell you," he replied. "Nothing can accrue to it."

"I never advocated the violent overthrow of the government," he offered.

But was he ever an enrolled member of the Communist Party?

"That's as far as I'll go right now," he said.

"The answer would be," he said with the aplomb he demonstrated before the McCarthy subcommittee, "that's the fourth time you asked me."

Well, did he agree with Communism?

"I'm far from a Marxist scholar," he said, "but from my skimming of Marx, it was always reasonable, appropriate: democratic control by people of their own destinies and in control of the means of production. It's so utopian and mythological it's hard to conceive. Who would be against it? And what the Soviet Union was on its way to was enough to convince me." [...]

"Were we Communists?" Elaine Peress chimed in. "I don't see why I would need to answer that question. It's nobody's business. You don't say you pray every morning; you don't have to answer, 'Do you believe in God?' " [...]

When he applied for a commission as an officer in 1952, he signed an oath that he had never belonged to an organization that sought to alter the government by unconstitutional means ("I didn't consider the American Labor Party or the Communist Party subversive organizations," he said). But on subsequent loyalty forms he wrote "federal constitutional privilege" when asked about membership in groups deemed to be subversive.

"A Communist who's trying to infiltrate isn't going to call attention to himself," Dr. Peress mused the other day.

McCarthy, a Wisconsin Republican who was chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations in 1954, accused the Army of coddling Communists by promoting Dr. Peress from captain to major in spite of questions about his loyalty, by acceding to Dr. Peress's request not to be assigned to Japan, and for allowing him to be honorably discharged after McCarthy demanded that he be court-martialed. In fact, the promotion, along with hundreds of others, was considered automatic under legislation passed by Congress, and the assignment request was granted because his wife and young daughter were ill and the Red Cross passed along his request for a compassionate reassignment. As for the honorable discharge, the Army argued that invoking the Fifth Amendment was not sufficient grounds for military prosecution.

McCarthy said Dr. Peress represented "the key to the deliberate Communist infiltration of our Armed Forces" and called him a "Fifth Amendment Communist."

Dr. Peress invoked the Fifth Amendment dozens of times at a subcommittee hearing after a New York City policewoman testified that he and his wife were Communists and had attended a leadership class run by the party. (He did say, however, that he would oppose any group that sought a violent or unconstitutional overthrow of the government.) Prompted by his lawyer, he quoted the Book of Psalms: "His mischief shall return upon his own head and his violence shall come down upon his own pate." He also said that anyone, even a senator, who equated the invoking of constitutional privileges against incrimination with automatic guilt was himself guilty of subversion. [...]

Has he changed his views about Communism? "I am more and more confused," he replied. "I was a true believer until the not-too-distant past. I have no doubts about the crimes of capitalism, even though it's such an efficient system on paper."

After all these years, does he have any regrets? "Regrets? That I acted appropriately?" he said. "No. None at all. True believers don't have regrets."

McCarthy was unfortunately an incompetent boob, but his foes, as shown here, were guilty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 6, 2005 11:39 AM

"True believers don't have regrets." Evil is never having to say oopsie.

Posted by: Luciferous at April 6, 2005 11:58 AM

McCarthy was to the search for Communists in government in the 1950s what Randall Terry was last month in the fight to keep Terri Schiavo alive -- someone who may be on the correct side of the issue, but through their own reckelessness and self-serving publicity seeking, does more harm than good to the overall cause.

Also, the Peress' ongoing paranoia 52 years after the fact, and 12 years after the final fall of the Soviet Union, is a window into the fears of many on the left that a facist state is just around the corner. The modern version is the deer-in-the-headlights look Paul Krugman gets any time he's in the same room with a conservative, apparently due to fears he's about to be assassinated in the middle of the Meet the Press panel roundtable.

Posted by: John at April 6, 2005 12:20 PM


He effectively silenced American Communists though and made even the slightest taint anathema. McCarthyism worked.

Posted by: oj at April 6, 2005 12:27 PM

McCarthy did more to aid and abet Communist infiltration of America, by being either a Nazi or a laughingstock depending on whom you talked to, than a thousand Commie dentists could have done.

Posted by: at April 6, 2005 12:30 PM

Since Krugman very rarely looks up, I don't see how how could look like a deer in the headlights.

His interviews give me the creeps. He can't maintain eye contact.

Posted by: Sandy P at April 6, 2005 12:40 PM

Hmmm, I'm assuming, a dr. who lived the privileged American life while being concerned about "the little people."

How come very few walk their talk?

Posted by: Sandy P at April 6, 2005 12:42 PM

OJ --

His tactics offset his successes, and allowed the left to make being anti-anti Communist a source of pride for the next two generations (let alone subjecting the American public to all the gawdawful Hollywood blacklist movies that have been churned out since then).

Sandy --

OK, deer-in-the-headlights may be giving Krugman a little too much credit for looking into the camera. But his face and body language do show a man preparing to either dive under the table or run like crazy when Laura Ingram, Bill O'Reilly or whatever conservative he's across the table from finally pulls out their semi-automatic assault rifle he knows they're carrying around and starts firing away at Paul. In contrast -- and iroically, given their support of Communism -- the Peresses seem more fearful of that late night knock on the door.

Posted by: John at April 6, 2005 12:51 PM


Pride? Where are they?

Posted by: oj at April 6, 2005 12:55 PM

Now? Either dead or finding new ways to package their message under a different name. But if you lived in New York from the 1960s through the 1980s, the celebration of anti-anti Communism in the media was insuffrable, and to that group those targeted by HUAC or McCarthy's committee were the equivalent of living saints.

What remnants you see now were among the grumblers when Reagan died -- that Screen Actors Guild fight will forever stick in their craws -- and those who run in the Soros/DU/Air America/MoveOn.org circles would love to keep the flame alive, except that virtually no one under the age of 55 gives a damn about how wonderful they think Dr. Peress and a few others were for defying the Senator from Wisconsin.

Posted by: John at April 6, 2005 1:20 PM

Then? It was a few intellectuals in the City who no one outside ever heard of.

Posted by: oj at April 6, 2005 1:26 PM

But thanks to the media echo chamber and the lack of alternative news sources at the time, their influence (albeit short-term, as it turned out) carried much greater weight culturally than it had any business achieving.

The fact that the left's efforts to portray people like Peress as secularism's holy martyrs failed to hold the interest of the masses is testament to the common sense of the American public. But it wasn't for a lack of trying on the media's part, and flyover country wasn't immune to being swamped with tales of the evil of Joseph McCarthy.

Posted by: John at April 6, 2005 1:52 PM

McCarthy was just a dupe of the Catholic bishops, he didn't care about Communists.

He did, however, distort the issue so that no one was able to discuss it sensibly. That error of policy persists, as we see here in innumerable posts by Orrin.

He also cleared the way for Hoover, the greatest criminal (in terms of number of felonies committed) in our history.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 6, 2005 1:55 PM


Yes, it worked.

Posted by: oj at April 6, 2005 1:57 PM

Isn't it funny. Time after time, McCarthy has been proven right and his detractors proven wrong, but it doesn't seem to matter. The same old lies continue to be told half a century later. McCarthy was not a falling down drunk as depicted in the media, he was a brilliant well-educated man who was totally destroyed by the worldwide communist movement. Ann Coulter has it right.

Laugh as you will. Just thank McCarthy. He was sacrificed, but not before many were exposed and the public given a head's up. This was the MSM finest hour. They had complete control of information. What they said, was truth. Nobody contradicted them. Black list? Sure there was one, but it was against those who cooperated with the committees like Larry Parks, not those who defied them who were lionized in the media and won prestigious prizes like Dashell Hammet and Lillian Hellman, two of the most prominent of the lying lefties.

This subject just set me off. This isn't the place to go into it. Lots more like me lived through this era and know it to be true.

The complete history of how we were a hairs-breadth away from becoming a Soviet puppet hasn't been written yet. When it is, most of the icons of the 20th century will be shown to have been complicit in the plan for our complete take over by Moscow. It is time now for the definite book about the putative communist takeover of the U.S. in the post world war two era to be written.

Posted by: erp at April 6, 2005 2:18 PM

Anyone care to guess who this guy supported in the '04 election?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at April 6, 2005 6:17 PM

McCarthy's first foray into politics was as 'the Divorce Judge of Appleton, WI.'(My mother's family is from the Green Bay area and McCarthy's antics and alcoholism were common knowledge throughout NE Wisconsin.) He was going to lose his office before he found the cause of anti-Communism. His attacks on Communists were so scattershot and unsubstantiated that he harmed the cause of real anti-Communists for decades, virtually until the Reagan years. He found Communists at State, about as difficult as finding a mobster at Rao's restaurant in Upper Manhattan. Lots of decent Americans got called to the carpet for nonsense, and lots of people lost jobs, livelihoods and careers for no intelligent reason.

Erp, don't play the age card. My parents lived through it too and saw how McCarthyism wrecked lives. Both my father and my uncle were investigated in the 50s and, given how they conducted their lives from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact onward, that was just plain nuts.

Posted by: at April 6, 2005 6:35 PM

the Pact is the cut-off for decency, but if they were Communists they should have been investigated.

Posted by: oj at April 6, 2005 6:40 PM

The truth is that the heavy lifting had been done before McCarthy by Nixon.

It just that MCarthy was such a loose cannon that he became a by-word on the left. Even 50 years later they trot out McCarthy every time they get in trouble. The problem with using McCarthy as a synonym for persecution is the distinct lack of deaths and injuries among the investigated.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 7, 2005 1:57 AM

Well, he didn't get to set up a gulag, true enough.

Faint praise.

McCarthy did not 'find' anticommunism. The American bishops looked for a stooge and found him.

It is not clear how much they knew about his drunkenness, dishonesty etc.

Either they didn't bother to investigate, which would have been really stupid.

Or they knew and didn't care, which would have been really stupid.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 8, 2005 1:52 PM

God's instruments are imperfect, but this one served his purpose.

Posted by: oj at April 8, 2005 4:15 PM