McCarthyism: Waging the Cold War in America
Forty years ago this month, the mortal remains of Joseph R. McCarthy were laid to rest near Appleton, Wis., not far from the modest farm where he was born. His death apparently closed a raucous, controversial saga, one of the most bitter and brutal in our nation’s history, with McCarthy typecast as the villain. Events of recent years, however, suggest the final chapters of this astounding story have yet to be recorded.
McCarthy was only 48 years old when he died, and had been a member of the U.S. Senate for a decade, mostly as a minority backbencher. Yet during the period 1950-54, he often dominated its proceedings, the headlines of the nation’s press, and our debates in general. In that tumultuous four-year stretch, he tangled with both Democratic and Republican administrations and the whole of the “establishment”-meaning the complex of political-media-academic bigwigs who shape opinion in our country and set the course of national policy on key issues.
It is remarkable that, in so brief a span, this relatively junior member of the Congress had the enormous impact that he did. More remarkable yet is that his career and fate should still be matters of burning public interest, nearly half a century after he first barged into the limelight. Most remarkable of all is the degree to which his name became, and has remained, a synonym for evil-routinely used in our political debates as a term implying cruel, unfounded, and highly public charges.
Given the frequency of this usage, one might suppose that people who talk about “McCarthyism” so glibly have some kind of factual basis for their statements, but this seldom proves to be the case. It seems safe to say, indeed, that few people in our political-media-academic world (including those who write supposedly learned books about the topic) know much about McCarthy, the disputes in which he was embroiled, or the specifics of his conduct. This article is an effort to fill in some of the blanks, though it would take an essay many times this length to do the matter justice.
To grasp the meaning of McCarthy’s story, it is required to know a bit of background. Above all, there can be no comprehension of the drama without first recalling the deadly Cold War struggle of which it was a part. The latter 1940s and early ’50s were a time of tense, explosive conflict, in the world at large and in the politics of our nation. Soviet expansionism in Europe, the battle for control of China, and the 1950 invasion of South Korea would shatter once-euphoric dreams of post-war cooperation with the Kremlin. American policy dealing with this rapidly changing scene was, to put it mildly, often confused, naive, slow to respond, and contradictory (reflecting a lot of intramural combat). Correlative to all this were such domestic scandals as the Amerasia case (see below), the first exposÃ©s of atomic spying, the testimony of ex-Communists Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley, and other such disclosures.
Against this already lurid backdrop, McCarthy launched a series of interlocking, and incendiary, charges: (1) That the Communist global apparatus had made a sustained attempt to penetrate the U.S. government and subvert its foreign policy decisions, most specifically toward China; (2) that official defenses against such penetration, especially in the State Department, ranged from weak to nonexistent; (3) that the facts about all this had been concealed from the American people-ignored, downplayed, or covered up by the authorities whose job it was to guard against such dangers.
Officials Ignored FBI’s Repeated Warnings
Beginning with the Truman Administration and the Democratic majority in the Senate, then spreading to myriad press accounts and a seemingly endless chain of books, TV shows and movies, McCarthy’s charges on all these fronts were systematically denied. In fact, it was averred, there had been no Communist penetration to speak of-or, if there had been, it was fairly limited and swiftly dealt with. The State Department, in particular, was depicted as alert and quick to move against such problems. Subversion of our policy never happened. In short, McCarthy was either a lying scoundrel or a madman, his charges smears of helpless people whose lives were thereby ruined.
Which version was the truth? In the perspective of four decades, we are in much better position to learn the answer to this question than was possible at the time. While a lot was known back then (though usually not to the general public), a great deal has come to light that was unavailable in the ’50s. We now have, for instance, a pretty good picture of the Philby-Burgess-Blunt-Maclean spy ring in England, as shocking as anything conjured by McCarthy, and just as “unthinkable” to polite salon opinion. (And, as shall be seen, with multiple links to the government-media combine that McCarthy was battling here.)
Also, with the collapse of the Soviet regime, we have data from the Communist archives, though not in the quantity we might like. More to the point, we have access to material long in the possession of our own Federal government, some of it astonishing in nature. Most notable in this regard are the so-called Venona transcripts, which decode transmissions between the spymasters in the Kremlin and their agents in America, plus wiretaps conducted by the FBI, and other confidential data from the bureau-all dating to the 1940s.
Putting all of this together, there can be no serious doubt today as to the general picture. That there was a relentless Communist drive to penetrate our government, steal its secrets, and subvert its counsels is about as clear as evidence can make it. Equally clear is that U.S. defenses against such machinations, especially in the State Department, were sadly lacking. Nor is there much doubt that many U.S. officials whose job it was to guard against subversion took a strangely casual view of their assignment. Consider:
As of the latter ’40s, the bizarre mindset suggested by these cases was nowhere more pronounced than in the U.S. State Department-where it was, for obvious reasons, also most harmful. This was to some degree ironic, as the department had in prior years been known as a staid, conservative place that took a tough-minded stance on issues of this type, as on most others. In notable contrast were the laid-back security ways of war-time outfits such as the Office of War Information (OWI) and Board of Economic Warfare (BEW), where the “red herring” view of possible Communist infiltration was in favor.
Beginning around 1944, however, a fierce internal struggle unfolded at State, in which relatively hard-line anti-Communists such as Berle, Joseph Grew and Eugene Dooman were attacked, sidetracked, or ousted. This turnover of high-level personnel in essence was completed in the next two years as Gen. George C. Marshall replaced James Byrnes at State, Dean Acheson was ensconced as second in command, and “China hand” John Carter Vincent assumed responsibility for Asia. Berle would give his own particular view of this rolling coup d’etat as follows:
“. . . [I]n the fall of 1944 there was a difference of opinion in the State Department. I felt the Russians were not going to be sympathetic and cooperative. . . . I was pressing for a pretty clean-cut showdown then while our position was strongest. The opposite group. . . in the State Department was largely. . . Mr. Acheson’s group, with Mr. Hiss his principal assistant in the matter. . . . I got trimmed in that fight, and, as a result, went to Brazil, and that ended my diplomatic career.”
The major effects of this volte-face were two, both later harped on by McCarthy. First and foremost, there was a drastic change of front in our policy toward China. Throughout the early stages of World War II, the anti-Communist Chiang Kai-shek had been treated as a worthy ally. The Marshall-Acheson-Vincent team took a different view, as did a group of Vincent’s fellow “China hands” who lobbied for an American policy more favorable to the Communist insurgents at Yenan. The high-water mark of this campaign was the suspension of U.S. aid to Chiang for much of the period 1946-48, in the midst of his death struggle with the Reds.
Though it gets us a bit ahead of the story, it should be added that the anti-Chiang jihad was not limited to “China hands” at State, but reflected a wide-ranging governmental effort that drew heavily on the forces named by Hoover. As later inquiry would disclose, Lauchlin Currie from his strategic eyrie at the White House was very much involved, as was the Treasury’s Harry White. (Asked about her best agents for placing Communist personnel throughout the government, Elizabeth Bentley answered: “I would say our two best ones were Harry Dexter White and Lauchlin Currie. They had an immense amount of influence and knew people, and their word would be accepted when they recommended someone.”)
Investigations conducted in the 1950s would show that White and such of his Treasury aides as V. Frank Coe and Solomon Adler maneuvered to block the transfer of $200 million in gold and other credits pledged to Chiang, and that Adler as the Treasury’s man on the scene sent back a stream of anti-Chiang reports from China. Like White himself, both Coe and Adler would be identified by Bentley as members of the Communist governmental network. Also, to round out this astounding picture, it developed that Adler shared a house in China with Communist secret agent Chi Ch’ao ting and “China hand” John Service. (As shall be seen, such highly integrated collaboration among seemingly disparate people was the essence of the method.)
This was, however, by no means all. Coincident with the policy shift were changes in departmental security practices as well. Along with the departure of such as Grew and Berle, the old-line security team at State, headed by J. Anthony Panuch, was also shown the door. In 1947, as a voluminous record would reveal, the relatively tough posture favored by Panuch was replaced by an extremely soft one. This changeover was roughly contemporaneous with the influx of several thousand unvetted personnel from porous agencies such as OWI and BEW, now flooding into the department. Saying that this massive post-war merger was the main source of State’s security woes, Panuch would testify as follows:
“. . . . In the new program of 1947, they put in what I call an overt-act test. They specified that in order to dismiss a man for disloyalty or to make him ineligible on loyalty grounds, there had to be reasonable grounds to show that there was present disloyalty. . . [This was] absolutely ineffective. You can never get the evidence. . . [The security situation] was deteriorating when I came in there because of this transfer. We tried to do something about it but in 1947 they put us out of business.”
The point of these reflections, as should by now be plain, is that intense concern about security issues at State was by no means a wild invention of McCarthy (hence the reverse-English charge of “stale, warmed over” accusations). Throughout the latter ’40s, in fact, numerous members of Congress expressed themselves about this subject in terms of great alarm and angst. In June of ’47, for instance, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee sent a confidential report to Marshall, in which they bluntly stated:
“It is evident that there is a deliberate calculated program being carried out not only to protect Communist personnel in high places, but to reduce security and intelligence protection to a nullity. . . . On file in the Department is a copy of a preliminary report of the FBI on Soviet espionage activities in the United States, which involves large numbers of State Department employees. . . this report has been challenged and ignored by those charged with the responsibility of administering the department with the apparent tacit approval of Mr. Acheson.”
McCarthy Takes on Department of State
Such was the security-policy scene into which Joe McCarthy ambled in February 1950. Relatively youthful, obviously a bit naive, but combative and a quick study, McCarthy picked up on the concerns of others in the Congress, frustrated counterintelligence types, and anti-Communist researchers. Drawing on what his precursors had put together (but also developing new data as he went), he took to the hustings and the Senate floor with his version of the problem. That version would focus the white-hot glare of public notice on security issues at the State Department like nothing seen before, or since.
Beginning in Wheeling, W.Va., on February 9, McCarthy made a series of Republican Lincoln Day orations in which he raised the cry of Communist foul play, and these political talks would eventually spawn a cottage industry of charge and counter-charge all by themselves.3 These topics are well worth pursuing, but cannot detain us here, as we shall be hewing to the official documented record. In this respect, the obvious place to start is the marathon speech McCarthy made on the Senate floor on February 20, his first such effort in that forum, and by all odds the most prodigious.
In this six-hour tour de force, subject to constant interruptions but maintaining his composure, McCarthy discussed some four-score individuals who had worked in the State Department, or agencies such as OWI and BEW, and in his opinion had records suggesting they were security-loyalty risks at best, outright Communist agents at the worst.
Despite such records, McCarthy claimed, these people had been routinely “cleared” or never carefully looked into. Reading from what he said were “State Department files” (or digests thereof), he laid out a chapter-and-verse recitation of what appeared to be, on its face, a massive security breakdown at the department.
After much wrangling about these matters and numerous sidebar exchanges and digressions, it was decided to refer the question to a special subcommittee chaired by Sen. Millard Tydings (D.-Md.). Accordingly, on March 8, McCarthy appeared before the Tydings panel, and tried to present the evidence he had on a selected group of individuals (known as “the nine public cases”).
Once more he was subjected to repeated interruptions, so that a coherent presentation became all but impossible. Again there are collateral issues that need discussing, but for space reasons have to be omitted (with one exception; see box, “A Discourse on Method,” page S2.) We shall stay, not only with the record, but with the central issue of alleged policy subversion.
In this respect, the core of McCarthy’s case was that security problems at the State Department and the course of U.S. policy in Asia were indissolubly connected. His chief exhibit-much cited in his early speeches and before the Tydings panel-was the improbable tale of the small pro-Communist journal, Amerasia. McCarthy capsuled the case on February 20, presented a fat dossier on it to Tydings, then discussed it at even greater length on the Senate floor on March 30. For McCarthy, this was the touchstone of pro-Communist subversion in our country and of official complicity with it.
Amerasia had previously burst into public view-to disappear as quickly-in June 1945. Agents of the FBI, after many weeks’ surveillance, had arrested two editors of the journal and one of its frequent writers, along with three U.S. government officials (Andrew Roth, Emmanuel Larsen, John Stewart Service) accused of feeding them secret data. Coincident with the arrests, the bureau reaped a harvest of roughly 1,000 government documents in the possession of the defendants. These dealt much with Asian matters, and many bore the label “secret,” “top secret,” or “confidential.”
As to the nature of Amerasia, as McCarthy said, there could be little doubt. Its chief financial angel was Frederick V. Field, a notorious propagandist for the Soviet Union, named by Elizabeth Bentley as the Communist Party’s domestic commissar for Asian matters.
The principal editor was Philip Jaffe, a long-time Soviet apologist, friend of Communist Party boss Earl Browder, and zealous fan of Bolsheviks in China. Its staffers and writers included a veritable galaxy of identified Communists, pro-Communists, and fellow travellers. (Indeed, among its former employees, still hobnobbing with Jaffe, was one Joseph Bernstein, known to the FBI as an active Soviet agent.)
The biggest fish caught in the Amerasia net was State Department official Service, one of Vincent’s “China hands” who like his Treasury Department roommate had sent a steady stream of dispatches back from China attacking Chiang and urging that we dump him (sample: “We need not support Chiang in the belief that he represents pro-American or democratic groups. . . we need feel no ties of gratitude to Chiang.”) On returning to the United States in April 1945, Service immediately took to hanging out with Jaffe (whom he supposedly had just met), delivering copies of his reports, and commenting that “What I said about the military plans is, of course, very secret” (recorded by FBI surveillance).
Given all this, McCarthy said, J. Edgar Hoover believed he had an “airtight case,” and Justice Department officials geared up for prosecution. Then, for some mysterious reason, Justice decided to downplay the matter and treat it as a minor indiscretion; Service got off scott-free and was restored to State Department duties. Jaffe and Larsen escaped with fines, and all the others walked. In essence, the whole thing was shoved under the official rug, to be conveniently forgotten. It was, McCarthy charged, a security breach and cover-up of immense proportions.
The Tydings Committee and the administration viewed it more benignly; “an excess of journalistic zeal,” Jaffe’s attorney had called it, and the prosecutors had agreed, so what was the big problem? Such was the anti-McCarthy view that was handed down to legend.
We now know, however, that all of this was false, and that McCarthy was right in what he said. The whole thing was fixed from the beginning, engineered by Elizabeth Bentley’s agent Lauchlin Currie, operating from the White House, and carried out by Washington wheeler-dealer Thomas Corcoran. The truth of this emerged a decade ago when FBI wiretaps from the ’40s came to the surface; these showed Currie, Corcoran, Service and Justice officials conspiring to deep-six the case, and succeeding.
As I have treated this matter in some detail before, I shall not repeat all the particulars here (See “The Amerasia Affair,” Human Events, July 12, 1996, and “History’s Vindication of Joe McCarthy,” Human Events, May 16, 1987). Suffice it to note that the Amerasia case displayed, to the fullest, every kind of security horror, and federal crime: Theft of documents, policy subversion, cover-up, perjury, and obstruction of justice-to name only the most glaring. In short, everything McCarthy had said about the subject was correct, while his opponents were not only wrong, but lying; the Tydings “investigation,” for its part, was a sham-the cover-up of a cover-up, not an investigation.
Though all of this is now nailed down beyond all question, it apparently avails McCarthy nothing. When I made these points on a TV show a few months back, one anti-McCarthy panelist replied that “a stopped clock is right twice a day” and that McCarthy’s correctness on this front did not excuse his constant lying about others. However, a survey of numerous other cases routinely yields the same conclusion: Charges by McCarthy, followed by much uproar and outrage; vehement denials by his foes, treated in the liberal press as gospel; then, after the smoke has cleared, emergence of hard, empirical data that prove McCarthy had been right from the beginning. Two vignettes that draw on the recent revelations suggest the pattern:
“Marquis [Joseph Bernstein] has established friendly relations with T.A. Bisson (hereafter Arthur). . . who has recently left BEW; he is now working in the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR) and in the editorial offices of Marquis’ periodical [Amerasia]. . . Arthur passed to Marquis . . . copies of four documents: (a) his own report for BEW with his views on working out a plan for shipment of American troops to China; (b) a report by the Chinese embassy in Washington to its government in China. . . . (c) a brief BEW report of April 1943 on a general evaluation of the forces of the sides on the Soviet-German front. . . . (d) a report by the American consul in Vladivostok. . .”
The Joseph Bernstein to whom Bisson gave this material, be it noted, is the selfsame Moscow agent with whom Philip Jaffe was also consorting in the ’40s. Thus Bisson not only touted the cause of the Chinese Communists, as McCarthy had alleged, but passed confidential data to a henchman of the KGB. McCarthy thought that Bisson was bad news, and cited evidence to prove it. But he didn’t know for sure how bad, as reflected in these transcripts. That secret would be locked up for 50 years, known only to the Kremlin and the keepers of Venona.
There is, unhappily, even more. Yet another Cambridge alum was the American Michael Straight, who came back to the United States in the latter ’30s, worked briefly at the White House and the State Department, then became the editor of the liberal New Republic (long underwritten by his family). This journal was a fierce opponent of McCarthy, featuring many articles that deplored his alleged lies and evil methods, as well as anti-Communist “witch hunts” of all types. A notable instance was a 1954 piece by Straight, entitled “The Fanaticism of Joseph McCarthy” (later incorporated into a full-length anti-McCarthy book).
In view of all this righteous fervor, it came as a shock to many in the 1980s to learn that Michael Straight himself, according to his own admission, had been a Soviet agent. He had been recruited by Communist spy king Anthony Blunt at Cambridge, and sent back to America to do the Kremlin’s bidding. He agonized about all this, Straight recalled, and broke with the Soviets in the early ’40s. Yet for years he made no move to blow the whistle on his former comrades. As late as March 1951, at the height of the Korean war, he ran into Guy Burgess in D.C., learned that he was in “Far Eastern affairs” at the British embassy, and realized he was probably betraying Anglo-American secrets to the Kremlin. Yet Straight did nothing. (No doubt too busy drafting tough polemics on McCarthy.)
China and Institute Of Pacific Relations
Such individual cases could be rehearsed at length, but this would wander from our main story line concerning China, to which we must return. In this regard, by far the major player, and main McCarthy target, was the once-prestigious think tank called the IPR, already met with. IPR was linked in many ways to Amerasia (sharing writers, offices, and general outlook), but was a bit more guarded in its approach and seemingly respectable. It also exhibited a high degree of interlock with the State Department in matters pertaining to our strategy in Asia.
McCarthy repeatedly hammered IPR, mostly with regard to Ambassador Philip Jessup, formerly one of its officials. Many Amerasia types, McCarthy noted, were also active in IPR: Field, Bisson, Owen Lattimore and others, and these worked closely with their official friends to tilt American China policy in favor of the Reds. Both Vincent and Service, for example, had links to IPR, as did Alger Hiss, John Paton Davies, and other diplomatic worthies. Jessup bridged the gap, such as it was, all by himself, having served for many years with IPR, then emerging in 1949 as principal editor of the State Department “white paper” on China that washed our hands of Chiang.
McCarthy’s statements on IPR, like all the others, were bitterly contested. In Senate floor debate, Sen. Clinton Anderson (D.-N.M.) indignantly demanded: “Does the senator mean to convey the impression that the Institute of Pacific Relations, in 1935 and 1936, was under Communist control?” When Jessup appeared before the Tydings panel, its majority members fell over themselves to proclaim his sterling virtues, and those of IPR. (His IPR connections, they found, “do not in any way reflect unfavorably upon him when the true character of the organization is revealed.”) Effusions of this type are writ large in the conventional history of the era.
Once more, however, when the smoke had cleared, the points McCarthy made-or tried to-were borne out by the record, and in this case we didn’t have to wait decades for the verdict. In 1952, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee conducted an exhaustive inquiry into the IPR, the kind of investigation the Tydings committee should have undertaken but didn’t. This showed, beyond all doubt, that the IPR was precisely what Sen. Anderson suggested it was not-a vehicle for pro-Communist leverage on American policy in China.
The Senate investigation of IPR might plausibly be looked on as the gold standard of congressional hearings, exemplary in thoroughness and depth. One reason for this unusual status is that the committee was able to corral some 20,000 documents from the files of IPR, including numerous letters, memoranda, minutes and reports that reflect a reality quite different from the Institute’s facade. With these in hand, the committee could cross-check many statements, grill witnesses in detail, and doggedly follow up discrepancies, of which there was no shortage. The result was a picture of the IPR, and its influence on Far Eastern policy, starkly different from that produced by Tydings.
Readers interested in this subject could do no better than to get a copy of The IPR Report produced by the committee-some 226 pages of closely packed, sensational, and highly specific information. Even better, for those who want to take the time, are the 5,000-plus pages of hearings and exhibits, though it is doubtful many people would want to wade through all of these, even if they could conveniently obtain them. Here I can but suggest the tremendous quantity of data that the committee put together, and the main conclusions it arrived at.
Small Pro-Red Clique In Charge
Among other things, the hearings revealed the intimate workings of IPR, and showed that it had been effectively run by a small inner circle of officials-chiefly such enduring mainstays as Edward Carter, Owen Lattimore, Frederick Field, and a few others. These were in constant communication, discussing lines of policy, materials to appear in newspapers, magazines and books, or the agenda for some impending conference. Connected to this inner cadre was a far-flung network of writers, researchers, speakers and policy experts, including a substantial number who moved back and forth among the IPR, the press corps, the academy, and the government.
Also revealed by the investigation was the truly colossal number of Communists and pro-Communists associated with IPR, though its officials professed not to know this. These witnesses preferred to focus attention on the prestigious non-Communist names that appeared on their letterhead as trustees, but there wasn’t much evidence that this otherwise busy and important group of people had much to do with shaping program. The policymaking stuff, and the personnel who made it, were much more along the lines of Amerasia.
To take a specific case in point, revealing the high degree of interlock that prevailed in all these matters, the committee examined a list of possible attendees at an IPR conference of 1942, as recommended by Philip Jessup. Of this projected list of 30-plus invitees, almost a third were individuals who had been identified under oath as members of the Communist apparatus (and many of whom have also appeared in our discussion). Committee counsel Robert Morris summarized the situation as follows:
“In reply to [a] question about the 10 people who have been identified as part of the Communist organization on that . . . list recommended by Mr. Jessup, I will point out that we have had testimony that Benjamin Kizer was a member of the Communist Party, testimony that Lauchlin Currie was associated with an espionage ring and gave vital military secrets to the Russian espionage system, the military secret being, in one case, the fact that the United States had broken the Soviet code. . . .
“John Carter Vincent has been identified as a member; Harry Dexter White as a member of an espionage ring; Owen Lattimore as a member of the Communist organization; Len DeCaux as a member of the Communist Party; Alger Hiss as a member of the Communist Party; Joseph Barnes as a member of the Communist Party; Frederick V. Field as a member of the Communist Party; and Frank Coe as a member of the Communist Party.”
‘Specialized Political Flypaper’ for Reds
In its final report, the committee provided a further summary of the amazing degree of Communist penetration at IPR, in unusually colorful language for an official publication:
“The IPR itself was like a specialized political flypaper in its attractive power for Communists. . . . British Communists like Michael Greenberg, Elsie Fairfax-Cholmeley or Anthony Jenkinson; Chinese Communists like Chi Chao-ting, Chen Han-seng, Chu Tong, Y.Y. Hsu; German Communists like Hans Moeller (Asiaticus) or Guenther Stein; Japanese Communists (and espionage agents) like Saionji and Ozaki; United States Communists like James S. Allen, Frederick V. Field, William M. Mandel, Harriet Moore, Lawrence Rosinger, and Alger Hiss.
“Indeed, the difficulty with the IPR from the Communist point of view was that it was too stuffed with Communists, too compromised by its Communist connections. Elizabeth Bentley testified that her superior in the Soviet espionage apparatus, Jacob Golos, warned her away from the IPR because ‘it was as red as a rose, and you shouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.’ ”
The mention in this of espionage agents Saionji and Ozaki refers to the Tokyo spy ring of the famous Richard Sorge, exposed to the American public by Maj. Gen. Charles A. Willoughby, who served with Gen. MacArthur in Japan. It might be added that, according to Willoughby’s report (and Sorge himself), Guenther Stein was also a member of this ring, as was the well-known Communist writer Agnes Smedley (also connected to Amerasia). That these four members of the Sorge ring were all associated with IPR didn’t seem to faze its leaders in the slightest.
Nor did it, for the matter, seem to faze many in the Acheson-Vincent-Service State Department. On the contrary, stalwarts of IPR were frequently called on to serve in official posts, take part in policy confabs, and otherwise be dealt in on matters of importance. In the cases of such as Vincent and Service and Jessup, the IPR and State Department points of view were so totally fused as to be indistinguishable. It was mostly a matter of what hat one happened to be wearing at the moment. As a result, the committee found, IPR was most effective in pushing American policy in its desired direction. Some of the report’s conclusions in this regard include:
“The IPR has been considered by the American Communist Party and by Soviet officials as an instrument of Communist policy, propaganda and military intelligence. The IPR disseminated and sought to popularize false information including information originating from Soviet and Communist sources. . . . Members of the small core of officials and staff members who controlled IPR were either Communist or pro-Communist. . . . Over a period of years, John Carter Vincent was the principal fulcrum of IPR pressure and influence in the State Department. . . . The IPR was a vehicle used by the Communists to orientate American far eastern policies toward Communist objectives. . .”
McCarthy’s Showdown With Prof. Lattimore
All of which, it will be recalled, was precisely what McCarthy had been saying-though he didn’t at the time have the investigative apparatus of a committee at his disposal, and most of all didn’t have the files of IPR. Thus far, on the main issues that he raised, another vindication. There remains, however, one related case to be considered, this one the biggest of them all. This was McCarthy’s showdown with Prof. Lattimore, of Johns Hopkins University, a long-time official of IPR, and noted authority on Far Eastern questions. Of all the internal security battles that McCarthy fought, this was by far the most explosive.
McCarthy himself had put the matter just this way-raising the stakes up to the limit. The Lattimore case, he said, was the most important of the lot, the one on which he would “stand or fall.” Lattimore, according to McCarthy, was “one of the principal architects of our Far Eastern policy,” and his influence had been exerted in favor of the Communists. Concerning this significant figure, McCarthy told his colleagues, “I intend to give the Senate some documentation to show that he is a Soviet agent and that he is, or at least has been a member of the Communist Party.” Despite the fact that he was not a State Department official, McCarthy said, Lattimore had exerted tremendous leverage on policy, and even had a desk in the Department. (McCarthy even went so far as to say, in executive session, that Lattimore was an espionage agent-though he later backed off from this assertion.)
The Tydings Committee conducted its inquiry into the matter, heard from Lattimore at length, and found him innocent on all counts-the victim of “promiscuous and specious attacks on private citizens and their views.” Lattimore denied everything across the board (as did the State Department). He was not a Communist or pro-Communist, and was, if anything, anti-Soviet. As for influence, “the Department has never followed my advice or opinions,” and he had no desk in the Department. He was simply a teacher and a writer trying to pursue his scholarly interests. McCarthy was a lying blackguard who had subjected the incensed professor to “ordeal by slander” (the title of Lattimore’s book about the subject).
Thus the face-off between McCarthy and-to that point-his biggest single target. As this was in essence Armageddon, the reader is forewarned that we shall be devoting more attention to the Lattimore case than to the other individuals herein discussed all put together. As it is, even an extensive treatment can only scratch the surface, as the amount of material now available on Prof. Lattimore is immense: Some 3,000 or so pages of testimony by and about him, before the Tydings and IPR committees; 5,000 pages of files available from the FBI; Lattimore’s own writings, and analyses of his activities and opinions provided by many writers on the battles of the ‘50s. What follows is a selection from this trove of data.
Whether Lattimore was or was not an “architect” of policy, he was far from a reclusive scholar. Throughout the 1940s, he held an almost continuous series of government appointments, and had an amazing knack for showing up where there was important action: Roosevelt’s appointee as adviser to Chiang Kai-shek in 1941; director of Pacific operations for OWI, 1942-44; companion to Vice President Wallace (along with Vincent) on a fateful trek to China in 1944; advisor to the U.S. government concerning post-war policies in Japan, 1945-46; counselor to the State Department in its deliberations concerning China, South Korea and the rest of Asia, as of the latter ’40s.
And, oh yes, that famous “desk in the State Department,” which McCarthy said he had, and Lattimore swore he didn’t. In the files of the IPR, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee found a letter Lattimore wrote in 1942, in which he said: “I am in Washington about 4 days a week, and when there can be reached at Lauchlin Currie’s office, room 228, State Department Building.” Add to all of this the fact that Lattimore was one of the moving spirits of IPR, editor of its magazine Pacific Affairs, had been on the editorial board of Amerasia, and was a prolific author and book reviewer, and it’s apparent that he was a major figure indeed in the fairly compact and limited world of “experts” who knew anything much about Far Eastern matters.
These many Lattimore assignments and connections become the more intriguing when we note the line of thought that he consistently promoted about the Soviet Union and the Communists in general, usually couched in neutral-sounding prose just setting forth the “facts.” His specialty was the peculiar “power of attraction” the Soviets supposedly exerted on neighboring countries, tribes and people. Here is a sample:
“To all of these peoples (along the Russian frontier from Korea and Manchuria past Mongolia, Sinkiang and Afghanistan and Iran, all the way to Turkey), the Russians and the Soviet Union have a greater power of attraction. In their eyes. . .the Soviet Union stands for strategic security, economic prosperity, technological progress, miraculous medicine, free education, equality of opportunity, and democracy, a powerful combination.”
And, to make the matter even more specific:
“In Asia the most important example of the Soviet power of attraction beyond Soviet frontiers is in Outer Mongolia. It is here that we should look for evidence of the kind of attraction that Russia might offer to Korea in the future. Outer Mongolia might be called a satellite of Russia in the good sense. That is to say, the Mongols have gravitated into the Russian orbit of their own accord. . . . Soviet policy in Outer Mongolia cannot be fairly called Red imperialism.”4
Lattimore further explained the Soviets’ power of attraction this way:
“The fact that the Soviet Union stands for democracy is not to be overlooked. It stands for democracy because it stands for all the other things. . . . The fact is that for most of the people of the world today, what constitutes democracy in theory is more or less irrelevant. What moves people to act, to try to line up with one party or country and not with another, is the difference between what is more democratic and less democratic in practice.”
This uncanny power of attraction seemed to exert its fascination on Lattimore himself-up to and including bland extenuations of Stalin’s purge trials of the ’30s. While many liberal intellectuals (e.g., John Dewey) were horrified by these, Lattimore took them well in stride. “Habitual rectification,” as he smoothly described this series of murders, “can hardly do anything but give the ordinary citizen more courage to protest, loudly, whenever in the future he finds himself being victimized by ‘someone in the party’ or ‘someone in the government.’ That sounds to me like democracy.”
Lattimore turned an equally complacent gaze on the Communists of Asia. In a newspaper piece of 1946, for example, he opined: “Japanese Communist tactics are reminiscent of the Chinese Communists who, as Randall Gould points out in his excellent new book, China in the Sun, often appear to be extremists only because they actually set out to practice reforms which the Kuomintang has approved of and talked about for many years, but has never done much about. In fact, we may be entering a period in which, for most of the world, the Russian Communists will represent power and toughness, while the Chinese and Japanese Communists will represent reasonableness and moderation.”
Lattimore’s other stock-in-trade was “realism,” which translated into recognizing not only the Communists’ “power of attraction,” but their power in general. After the United States pulled the plug on Chiang in 1949, Lattimore was a key figure at a State Department conference to decide what should be done next (Marshall and Jessup were both in attendance). For this conclave he laid out a whole scenario of “realistic” actions in the East, extending to Korea, Japan, and Indochina. Among his suggestions :
“The type of policy expressed by support for Chiang Kai-shek has done more harm than good to the United States. . . . [Red] China cannot be economically coerced by such measures as cutting off trade. . . . It is not possible to make Japan an instrument of American policy. . . . Under the second alternative Japan can keep herself alive by coming to terms economically and politically with her neighbors in Asia, principally China. . . . South Korea is more of a liability than an asset to the interests and policy of the United States.”
Lattimore would explain this policy paper-and expand further on his thesis-in his testimony the following year before the Tydings panel, saying: “I warned that we cannot expect to succeed with little Chiang Kai-sheks where we failed with the big Chiang Kai-shek. But we are still supporting a little Chiang Kai-shek in South Korea and we have since taken on another one in Indochina.”
Small wonder Joe McCarthy and others who watched the debacle of our policy in China saw Lattimore as a big part of the problem. There was more reason for concern, however, than the professor’s odd opinions. As it happened, there were witnesses who came over from the Communist side reporting that Lattimore had been made known to them as a member of the apparatus.
Among these was Louis Budenz, formerly of the Daily Worker, who said his superiors told him Lattimore was a Communist agent and should be given appropriate editorial treatment. Not surprisingly, Lattimore devoted much of his time on the witness stand to attacking Budenz as either a venal or a psychotic liar.
But it wasn’t just Budenz. Soviet defector Alexander Barmine gave similar statements to the FBI, and later to the Senate. Barmine said the chief of Soviet military intelligence had told him “Owen Lattimore and Joseph Barnes” should be considered as “our men.” Barmine added that he had discussed Barnes and Lattimore with Walter Krivitzky, another former Soviet official, and that Krivitzky had confirmed this.
Yet another defector, Igor Bogolepov, said Soviet foreign minister Maxim Litvinov had discussed the question of how best to market the Soviets’ Outer Mongolian puppet to the world as “independent”: “. . . as far as concerns the United States Litvinov’s own suggestion was to put on this business Mr. Owen Lattimore . . . it was said so short and in such a categorical form that there was no slightest doubt left to me that Mr. Lattimore was the right man who was to take this assignment.”
Other Witnesses Confirm Budenz
It would thus appear that, if Budenz had simply invented his story as part of an insane conspiracy to destroy Lattimore, he had somehow inveigled Barmine and Bogolepov into sharing his psychosis. Similar problems would arise concerning still other witnesses and pieces of information that have come to view down through the years. (E.g., in their recent book on Amerasia, Klehr and Radosh note that Communist propagandist Louis Gibarti said party officials in the ’30s had sent him to Lattimore for assistance.)
As the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee would learn when it got into the files of IPR, Lattimore had in fact met directly with the Soviets in Moscow. Minutes recorded by the IPR show Lattimore taking a most abject position toward his hosts, pledging to develop an editorial policy to their liking. The Soviets had complained, for instance, about William Henry Chamberlin, who had written a piece in Pacific Affairs adverse to Stalin. The minutes show Lattimore replying “that he had not realized Chamberlin’s position, but as soon as he learned of the Soviet opinion of Chamberlin he canceled an article on the Soviet press which he had asked from Chamberlin.”
Lattimore also asked the Soviets to contribute articles of their own to Pacific Affairs, as this would help the magazine develop a definite “line.” He said that “if the Soviet group would show in their articles a general line-a struggle for peace-the other articles would naturally gravitate to that line.” He added that “he was willing to have P.A. reflect such a line, but these positive articles must be started positively.” And again: “He would like to meet the Soviet suggestions as far as possible, as to having a more definite line expressed in P.A.”
Also emerging from the hearings, and other revelations since, are many details concerning Lattimore’s choice of editors and writers. His tastes in this regard-and in editorial style-were reflected in this message to IPR official Edward Carter:
“. . . I think that you are pretty cagey in turning over so much of the China section of the inquiry to Asiaticus, Han-seng and Chi [all identified Communists]. They will bring out the absolutely essential radical aspects, but can be depended on to do it with the right touch. . . . For China, my hunch is that it will pay to keep behind the official Chinese Communist position-far enough not to be covered by the same label-but enough ahead of the active Chinese liberals to be noticeable. . . . For the USSR-back their international policy in general, but without using their slogans and above all without giving them or anybody else an impression of subservience. . .”
As seen, this was the ostensibly objective style that Lattimore himself adopted. The subservience to Moscow tended to show up more plainly in his direct communication with the Kremlin and, it would appear, his hiring of personnel. In a new study of U.S. policy in China, for instance, historian Maochun Yu discusses the IPR employment of the Chinese Communist Chen Han-Seng, as follows: “Chen, a Comintern intelligence agent associated with Richard Sorge’s spy ring in Shanghai and Tokyo, was dispatched by Moscow to New York to aid Owen Lattimore in editing the journal Pacific Affairs from 1936 to 1939.”
This disclosure, taken from Chen’s memoirs published a decade ago in China, tracks closely with the many references to him in The IPR Report, as in the list appearing on page S5. It also tracks the testimony of Budenz, who told the Tydings panel that Lattimore’s name had been singled out for praise by Communist bosses Field and Browder, for this specific reason: “In 1937, at a meeting called by Earl Browder. . . Field was present and made a report at which he commended Mr. Lattimore’s zeal in seeing that Communists were placed as writers at Pacific Affairs, and this had been particularly noted during this last year, 1936 and 1937.” (The committee, as we have seen, dismissed such testimony out of hand, as it did other witnesses brought forward by McCarthy.)
Lattimore engaged in other actions of this sort,5 which makes it easier to comprehend how one might think he was involved in spying. It turns out the FBI compiled an enormous file on Lattimore, based precisely on this suspicion. Like McCarthy, the bureau keyed in on the testimony of Barmine, and thereafter on Lattimore’s links to Amerasia. The professor had been on the journal’s board of editors, had a long-standing relationship with Jaffe, and entertained Service and Roth in his home a few days before they were arrested. The bureau accordingly put together a thick dossier on Lattimore (see inset, page S6) well before McCarthy made his first appearance.
Lattimore’s Close Ties With Currie
Noteworthy in this context, as McCarthy pointed out, is that Lattimore had made a trek to Yenan in 1937 to meet with Mao Tse-tung-along with Jaffe and T.A. Bisson, both thereafter to be revealed as trafficking in U.S. official documents and dealing with Soviet agent Bernstein. Also in Yenan with Lattimore and Co. was Agnes Smedley, another identified member of the Sorge spy ring. The FBI files make frequent mention of Lattimore’s contacts, back in the states, with Jaffe, as well as with such known Communist operatives as Field.
However, the most important reason for thinking Lattimore might have been engaged in spying was his close tie-in with Currie. This still shadowy figure has never received the full attention he deserves. It was Currie who provided Lattimore with his “desk in the State Department.” It was Currie who got Lattimore appointed as FDR’s emissary to Chiang (wiring around the State Department to do so) and helped arrange the naming of Lattimore and Vincent as travelling mentors in China for a gullible Henry Wallace.
(In May of 1941, during the Hitler-Stalin pact, the FBI had issued a notice that Lattimore as a suspected Communist should be considered for custodial detention in the event of a national emergency, as shown in the graphic appearing on page S6. However, after Currie secured Lattimore’s prestigious appointment as Roosevelt’s envoy to Chiang, this notice was rescinded.)
Most of all, of course, it was Currie who according to Bentley was a collaborator with her spy ring, helped in obtaining posts for secret Reds, and informed the Washington, D.C., cadre that America had broken the Soviets’ code (thus ending the Venona intercepts). As already seen, he launched the cover-up of Amerasia. He also pulled off such amazing feats as arranging a personal interview in the State Department for Earl Browder with Under Secretary Sumner Welles, and went to bat for Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, when this identified Soviet spy was in danger of being ousted.
Accordingly, Lattimore’s on-going links with Currie must have raised a lot of eyebrows, especially as the duo so often worked together in placing favored people. We have noted the smooth transition of Michael Greenberg from Lattimore’s shop at IPR to Currie’s in the White House; thereafter, when Greenberg was targeted for firing, Lattimore came to his defense. Likewise, according to The IPR Report, Lattimore-Currie tried in 1942 to get a commission in military intelligence for Frederick Field, at that time perhaps the most notorious pro-Soviet operative in the country.
Each of these incredible escapades, and many others in which Lattimore was involved, would merit in-depth discussion on its own. E.g., the fact that Lattimore discussed his 1941 appointment as emissary to Chiang with Soviet ambassador Constantine Oumansky. This at a period when the Hitler-Stalin pact was still in bloom, and Moscow had a nonaggression treaty with Japan-timing that Lattimore tried to conceal in testifying to the Senate. (It was also, apparently, before he had discussed the matter with the representatives of Chiang.)
From all of which, it is perhaps understandable that McCarthy could have been led to think that Lattimore was some kind of espionage kingpin-but also that this view was probably mistaken. The reasons for this conclusion are at least two: First, Lattimore’s role in shaping policy on a global scale was far more important than simply filching papers, to which in any event he did not have constant access. And second, the espionage role could be far more effectively performed by his alter ego, Currie-which, according to Elizabeth Bentley, is precisely what occurred. All things considered, a rather neat division of labor.
So, on Lattimore, did McCarthy stand, or fall? The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee put its conclusions this way: “Owen Lattimore was, from some time beginning in the 1930s, a conscious articulate instrument of the Soviet conspiracy.” And: “Owen Lattimore and John Carter Vincent were influential in bringing about a change in United States policy in 1945 favorable to the Chinese Communists.” The data that have emerged in recent years do little or nothing to belie this judgment on the professor, and much to reinforce it.
McCarthy’s Efforts Changed History
There is of course a great deal more to the McCarthy story, but readers who have come this far may well feel that they have had, at least for now, enough. Many particulars of the battles from this early era have been passed over, and of course we haven’t discussed at all the climactic struggle in 1954 between McCarthy and the Army (some of which was touched on in my McCarthy piece of 1987). Full treatment of these matters will have to wait until another day. However, a provisional verdict about McCarthy’s doings, and what he probably accomplished, may be offered here by way of wrap-up.
In the voting of 1950 and 1952, judging by the candidates who were elected and defeated, there was evidence that McCarthy’s campaign, despite the forces ranged against him, had a fair amount of public impact. There is also some considerable reason to believe that, thanks to these elections and the general pressure he exerted, McCarthy had a lot to do with tightening up security procedures at the State Department. As should be apparent from what is said above, this was a consummation devoutly to be wished.
Beyond this, however, are larger questions, concerning the course of the Cold War struggle, and of American policy in dealing with this challenge. For instance, in the State Department conference of 1949 discussing what kind of strategy to follow in the Far East, the “prevailing view” was said to be that the United States should recognize Communist China as soon as possible and make ready to abandon the remaining anti-Communist forces on Formosa. There was also the Lattimore proposal, often stated, that the United States should abandon South Korea as we had abandoned Chiang: “to let South Korea fall but not to let it looked as though we pushed it” (a tactic that he imputed to “Washington opinion”).
At the time, the momentum behind these policy views seemed to be quite strong, and growing. In late December 1949, the State Department circularized a memo that basically envisioned giving up Formosa. Three weeks thereafter, Dean Acheson made a famous speech before the National Press Club, in which he appeared to exclude South Korea and Formosa from the perimeter of our defenses. Thus, as of early January 1950, when Acheson made this speech, the Lattimore plan for shaping American strategy in the Pacific appeared to be on track, with little to deter it. One month later, Joe McCarthy stepped to the podium in Wheeling.