McCarthyism’s stench

The lid was pried opened this week on the Joe McCarthy archives. The files contain the transcripts of the secret proceedings conducted by Sen. Joseph McCarthy during his notorious anti-communist witch hunt in the 1950s. They were sealed for 50 years.

The files show McCarthy to be a sneering, vicious, manipulative, browbeating, and racist bully. He grilled those hauled before him about their personal beliefs and affiliations like the Grand Inquisitor. He treated them with contempt. He then dragged many into public hearings for even more intimidation and abuse.

The hearings were a part of McCarthy’s hysterical anti-communist crusade, a crusade that created fear throughout the country about alleged Communist spies in and out of government. The crusade’s real purpose, however, was quite different.

McCarthyism created an ideological fog that allowed big business to unleash a violent wave of intimidation against all militant, left-wing trade unionists and progressive community activists in the post-World War II era. It facilitated the break-up of progressive unions, weakened all unions, and undermined all forces that were struggling at the time for better wages, working conditions, and an end to racism and inequality.

McCarthyism also created an atmosphere of panic and fear among the public that facilitated the U.S. government’s waging of wars, both hot and Cold.

People’s lives were destroyed. Many lost their jobs. Families were broken up. Some people were beaten up or killed, including Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Some committed suicide, and at least one suicide note can be found among these files.

Some politicians and pundits remarked piously this week about how horrible McCarthyism was and how it can’t be allowed to happen again.

But what about Bush’s “War on Terrorism”? What about this new crusade that is being used to curtail civil liberties, to bust labor unions, to victimize immigrants and racial minorities, and to mobilize support for unending war? Isn’t this cut from the same cloth?

A foul stench indeed.