Q. Granted that congressional investigating committees can serve an important purpose, weren't McCarthy's methods terrible and didn't he subject witnesses to awful harassment?
A. Now we're into an entirely different phase of McCarthy's career. For three years, he had been one lone senator crying in the wilderness. With the Republicans taking control of the Senate in January 1953, however, Joe McCarthy became chairman of the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee. No longer did he have to rely solely upon public speeches to inform the American people of the communist threat to America. He was now chairman of a Senate committee with a mandate to search out graft, incompetence, and disloyalty inside the vast reaches of the American government.
McCarthy's methods were no different from those of other senators who were generally applauded for vigorous cross-examination of organized crime figures, for instance. The question of methods seemed to come up only when subversives or spies were on the witness stand. And those who most loudly deplored McCarthy's methods often resorted to the foulest methods themselves, including the use of lies, half-truths, and innuendos designed to stir up hysteria against him. What some people seemingly do not understand is that communists are evildoers and that those who give aid and comfort to communists - whether they are called dupes, fellow travelers, liberals, or progressives - are complicit in the evil and should be exposed and removed from positions of influence.
Traitors and spies in high places are not easy to identify. They do not wear sweatshirts with the hammer and sickle emblazoned on the front. Only painstaking investigation and exhaustive questioning can reveal them as enemies. So why all the condemnation for those who expose spies and none for the spies themselves? Why didn't McCarthy's critics expose a traitor now and then and show everyone how much better they could do it? No, it was much easier to hound out of public life such determined enemies of the Reds as Martin Dies, Parnell Thomas, and Joe McCarthy than to muster the courage to face the howling communist wolfpack themselves.
Q. So McCarthy's treatment of persons appearing before his committee was not as bad as has been reported?
A. Exactly. Let's look at the record. During 1953 and the first three months of 1954 (McCarthy was immobilized for the remainder of 1954 by two investigations of him), McCarthy's committee held 199 days of hearings and examined 653 witnesses. These individuals first appeared in executive session and were told of the evidence against them. If they were able to offer satisfactory explanations - and most of them were - they were dismissed and nobody ever knew they had been summoned. Those who appeared in public sessions were either hardened Fifth Amendment pleaders or persons about whom there was a strong presumption of guilt. But even those witnesses who were brazen, insulting, and defiant were afforded their rights to confer with their counsel before answering a question, to confront their accusers or at least have them identified and have questions submitted to them by their counsel, and to invoke the First and Fifth Amendments rather than answer questions about their alleged communist associations.
Of the 653 persons called by the McCarthy Committee during that 15- month period, 83 refused to answer questions about communist or espionage activities on constitutional grounds and their names were made public. Nine additional witnesses invoked the Fifth Amendment in executive session, but their names were not made public. Some of the 83 were working or had worked for the Army, the Navy, the Government Printing Office, the Treasury Department, the Office of War Information, the Office of Strategic Services, the Veterans Administration, and the United Nations. Others were or had been employed at the Federal Telecommunications Laboratories in New Jersey, the secret radar laboratories of the Army Signal Corps in New Jersey, and General Electric defense plants in Massachusetts and New York. Nineteen of the 83, including such well-known communist propagandists as James S. Allen, Herbert Aptheker, and Earl Browder, were summoned because their writings were being carried in U.S. Information Service libraries around the world.
Charles E. Ford, an attorney for Edward Rothschild in the Government Printing Office hearings, was so impressed with McCarthy's fairness toward his client that he declared: "I think the committee session at this day and in this place is most admirable and most American." Peter Gragis, who appeared before the McCarthy Committee on March 10, 1954, said that he had come to the hearing terrified because the press "had pointed out that you were very abusive, that you were crucifying people.... My experience has been quite the contrary. I have, I think, been very understandingly treated. I have been, I think, highly respected despite the fact that for some 20 years I had been more or less an active communist."
Q. Weren't McCarthy and some members of his staff guilty of "bookburning" and causing a ruckus in Europe in 1953?
A. This accusation was made in reference to the committee's inquiry into communist influences in State Department libraries overseas. In his book McCarthy, Roy Cohn, the committee's chief counsel, conceded that he and committee staffer David Schine "unwittingly handed Joe McCarthy's enemies a perfect opportunity to spread the tale that a couple of young, inexperienced clowns were bustling about Europe, ordering State Department officials around, burning books, creating chaos wherever they went, and disrupting foreign relations." In point of fact, however, the trip and subsequent hearings by the committee provided information that led to the removal of more than 30,000 communist and pro-communist books from U.S. Information Service libraries in foreign countries. The presence of such books was in obvious conflict with the stated purpose of those libraries "to promote better understanding of America abroad" and "to combat and expose Soviet communistic propaganda."
Q. But didn't McCarthy summon to those hearings a man whose major sin was having written a book on college football 21 years earlier?
A. In March 1953, the McCarthy Committee heard testimony from Reed Harris, deputy head of the State Department's International Information Administration and author of King Football. Harris' book, however, was not confined to football. The author also advocated that communists and socialists be allowed to teach in colleges and said that hungry people in America, after "watching gangsters and corrupt politicians gulp joyously from the horn of plenty," just might "decide that even the horrors of those days of fighting which inaugurated the era of communism in Russia would be preferable to the present state of affairs" in the United States.
The following colloquy between Harris and Senator John McClellan is never quoted by McCarthy's critics:
McClellan. Here is what I am concerned about. In the first place, I will ask you this: If it should be established that a person entertained the views and philosophies that you expressed in that book, would you consider that person suitable or fit to hold a position in the Voice of America which you now hold?
Harris. I would not.
McClellan. You would not employ such a person, would you?
Harris. I would not, senator.
McClellan. Now we find you in that position.
Harris. That is correct.
Before shedding any tears for Mr. Harris, who resigned his post in April 1953, be advised that when anti-McCarthy hysteric Edward R. Murrow took over the U.S. Information Agency in 1961, he hired Reed Harris as his deputy.
Q. What about that poor old black woman that McCarthy falsely accused of being a communist?
A. That woman was Annie Lee Moss, who lost her job working with classified messages at the Pentagon after an FBI undercover operative testified that she was a member of the Communist Party. When she appeared before the McCarthy Committee early in 1954, Mrs. Moss, who lived at 72 R Street, SW, Washington, DC, denied she was a communist. Her defenders accused McCarthy of confusing Mrs. Moss with another woman with a similar name at a different address. Edward R. Murrow made the woman a heroine on his television program and the anti-McCarthy press trumpeted this episode as typical of McCarthy's abominations. And so things stood until September 1958, when the Subversive Activities Control Board reported that copies of the Communist Party's own records showed that "one Annie Lee Moss, 72 R Street, S.W., Washington, D.C., was a party member in the mid-1940s." Mrs. Moss got her Pentagon job back in 1954 and was still working for the Army in December 1958.
Q. Mrs. Moss might have gotten her job back, but what about all those individuals who lost their jobs in defense plants?
A. During its probe of 13 defense plants whose contracts with the government ran into hundreds of millions of dollars a year, the McCarthy Committee heard 101 witnesses, two of whom - William H. Teto and Herman E. Thomas - provided the committee with information about the Red spy network and the efforts of the communists to set up cells in the plants. The committee's exposures led to the dismissal of 32 persons and the tightening of security regulations at the plants. The president of General Electric, for example, issued a policy statement expressing concern about "the possible danger to the safety and security of company property and personnel whenever a General Electric employee admits he is a Communist or when he asserts before a competent investigating government body that he might incriminate himself by giving truthful answers concerning his Communist affiliations or his possible espionage or sabotage activities."
At the time McCarthy's investigations were halted early in 1954, his probers had accumulated evidence involving an additional 155 defense workers, but he was never able to question those individuals under oath. On January 12, 1959, Congressman Gordon Scherer, a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, said that he knew of a minimum of 2,000 "potential espionage agents and saboteurs" working in the nation's defense plants. But there were no congressional investigations in this vital area after Senator McCarthy was stymied in 1954.
Q. What were the Fort Monmouth hearings all about? Weren't all of those fired eventually given back their jobs?
A. The Army Signal Corps installation at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey was one of the nation's most vital security posts, since the three research centers housed there were engaged in developing defensive devices designed to protect America from an atomic attack. Julius Rosenberg, who was executed in 1953 for selling U.S. atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, worked as an inspector at Fort Monmouth from 1940 to 1945 and maintained his Signal Corps contacts for at least another two years after that. From 1949 to 1953, the FBI had been warning the Army about security risks at Fort Monmouth, but the Army paid little attention to the reports of subversion until the McCarthy investigation began in 1953.
During 1953 and 1954, the McCarthy Committee, acting on reports of communist infiltration from civilian employees, Army officers, and enlisted personnel, heard 71 witnesses at executive sessions and 41 at open hearings. The Army responded by suspending or discharging 35 persons as security risks, but when these cases reached the Army Loyalty and Screening Board at the Pentagon, all but two of the suspected security risks were reinstated and given back pay. McCarthy demanded the names of the 20 civilians on the review board and, when he threatened to subpoena them, the Eisenhower Administration, at a meeting in Attorney General Herbert Brownell's office on January 21, 1954, began plotting to stop McCarthy's investigations once and for all.
Virtually all of those suspended were eventually restored to duty at Fort Monmouth and anti-McCarthyites have cited this as proof that McCarthy had failed once again to substantiate his allegations. But vindication of McCarthy came later, when the Army's top-secret operations at Fort Monmouth were quietly moved to Arizona. In his 1979 book With No Apologies, Senator Barry Goldwater explained the reason for the move:
Carl Hayden, who in January 1955 became chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee of the United States Senate, told me privately Monmouth had been moved because he and other members of the majority Democratic Party were convinced security at Monmouth had been penetrated. They didn't want to admit that McCarthy was right in his accusations. Their only alternative was to move the installation from New Jersey to a new location in Arizona.
Q. Speaking of the Army, who was the dentist that McCarthy said was a communist?
A. His name was Irving Peress and here is some background information. In December 1953, an Army general alerted Senator McCarthy to the incredible story of this New York dentist who was drafted into the Army as a captain in October 1952; who refused a month later to answer questions on a Defense Department form about membership in subversive organizations; who was recommended for dismissal by the Surgeon General of the Army in April 1953; but who requested and received a promotion to major the following October. Roy Cohn gave the facts on Peress to Army Counsel John G. Adams in December 1953, and Adams promised to do something about it.
When still no action had been taken on Peress a month later, McCarthy subpoenaed him before the committee on January 30, 1954. Peress took the Fifth Amendment 20 times when asked about his membership in the Communist Party, his attendance at a Communist training school, and his efforts to recruit military personnel into the party. Two days later, McCarthy sent a letter to Army Secretary Robert Stevens by special messenger, reviewing the testimony of Peress and requesting that he be court-martialed and that the Army find out who promoted Peress, knowing that he was a communist. On that same day, February 1st, Peress asked for an honorable separation from the Army, which he promptly received the next day from Brigadier General Ralph W. Zwicker, his commanding officer at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.
McCarthy took the next logical step and summoned General Zwicker to a closed session of the committee on February 18th. There was no reason at that time for McCarthy to suppose that Zwicker would be anything but a frank and cooperative witness. In separate conversations with two McCarthy staff members, on January 22nd and February 13th, Zwicker had said that he was familiar with Peress' communist connections and that he was opposed to giving him an honorable discharge, but that he was ordered to do so by someone at the Pentagon.
When he appeared before McCarthy, however, Zwicker was evasive, hostile, and uncooperative. He changed his story three times when asked if he had known at the time he signed the discharge that Peress had refused to answer questions before the McCarthy Committee. McCarthy became increasingly exasperated and, when Zwicker, in response to a hypothetical question, said that he would not remove from the military a general who originated the order for the honorable discharge of a communist major, knowing that he was a communist, McCarthy told Zwicker that he was not fit to wear the uniform of a general.
Q. So McCarthy really did "abuse" Zwicker and impugn his patriotism as the critics have charged?
A. Let's jump ahead three years and get Zwicker's own assessment of his testimony on February 18, 1954. At a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 21, 1957, Zwicker stated: "I think there are some circumstances … that would certainly tend to give a person the idea that perhaps I was recalcitrant, perhaps I was holding back, and perhaps I wasn't too cooperative.... I am afraid I was perhaps overcautious and perhaps on the defensive, and that this feeling … may have inclined me to be not as forthright, perhaps, in answering the questions put to me as I might have been otherwise."
That wasn't the only time that General Zwicker was less than forthright. In testimony before the McClellan Committee (formerly the McCarthy Committee) on March 23, 1955, Zwicker denied giving McCarthy staffer George Anastos derogatory information about Irving Peress in their telephone conversation of January 22, 1954. When Anastos and the secretary who had monitored the conversation both testified under oath and contradicted Zwicker, the McClellan Committee forwarded the transcript of the hearing to the Justice Department for possible prosecution of Zwicker for perjury. After sitting on the matter for 19 months, the Justice Department finally, in December 1956, declined to undertake criminal prosecution of Zwicker for "technical" reasons.
On April 1, 1957, the Senate approved a promotion for Zwicker by a vote of 70 to 2, with Senators McCarthy and George Malone opposed. All the members of the Senate had gotten a phone call from the Pentagon or the White House urging them to vote for Zwicker. The recalcitrant General served three more years in the Army before retiring.
Q. Does anyone know who promoted Peress and told Zwicker to sign the communist major's honorable discharge?
A. After studying the 1955 McClellan hearings on the Peress case, Lionel Lokos, in his book Who Promoted Peress, concluded that Colonel H.W. Glattly signed the letter to the Adjutant General, recommending the promotion of Irving Peress; and Major James E. Harris, in the name of the Adjutant General, signed Peress' letter of appointment to major.
As for Peress' discharge, Army Counsel John Adams and Lieutenant General Walter L. Weible ordered General Zwicker to sign the honorable separation from the Army. The McClellan Committee sharply rebuked Adams for his action, saying that he "showed disrespect for this subcommittee when he chose to disregard Senator McCarthy's letter of February 1, 1954, and allowed Peress to be honorably discharged on February 2, 1954."
In its report on the Peress case, the McClellan Committee said that
"some 48 errors of more than minor importance were committed by the
Army in connection with the commissioning, transfer, promotion, and
honorable discharge of Irving Peress." As a result, the Army made
some sweeping changes in its security program, including a policy
statement that said "the taking of the Fifth Amendment by an
individual queried about his Communist affiliations is sufficient
to warrant the issuance of a general discharge rather than an
honorable discharge." That these reforms came about at all was due
to the persistence of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who displayed the
courage to expose Peress against the wishes of the Army, the White
House, and many of his fellow Republicans. "No one will ever know,"
wrote Lionel Lokos, "what it cost Senator McCarthy to take the
stand he did in the Peress case - what it cost him in terms of
popularity and his political future. We only know that the price of
asking 'Who Promoted Peress' came high and that Senator McCarthy
didn't hesitate to pay that price."
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