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Reply #: Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party? [View All]

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No Elephants Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-07-13 03:32 PM
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Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?
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This is the question that Joe McCarthy asked over and over during the hearings held by the U.S. Congressional House Committee on Un-American Activities. Of course, it has never been, nor is it now, illegal in the U.S. to be a member of the Communist Party..

It was the beginning of the end of many careers in the film industry. although some who could work under pseudonyms, like screenwriters, did so, though they could not not claim any awards their work won.

However, I did not know until today that that question also may have helped end some lives prematurely, as well as some careers.

John Garfield (March 4, 1913 May 21, 1952) was an American actor adept at playing brooding, rebellious, working-class characters.<1> He grew up in poverty in Depression-era New York City and in the early 1930s became an important member of the Group Theater. In 1937, he moved to Hollywood, eventually becoming one of Warner Bros.' major stars. Called to testify before the U.S. Congressional House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), he denied Communist affiliation and refused to "name names," effectively ending his film career. Some have claimed that the stress of this incident led to his premature death at 39 from a heart attack.<2> Garfield is acknowledged as a predecessor of such Method actors as Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, and James Dean.

Not as widely known as McCarthy's anti-Communist crusade, were his various attempts to intimidate, and expel from government positions, persons whom he accused, or threatened to publicly accuse, of homosexuality. Former U.S. Senator Alan K. Simpson has written: "The so-called 'Red Scare' has been the main focus of most historians of that period of time. A lesser-known element . . . and one that harmed far more people was the witch-hunt McCarthy and others conducted against homosexuals."<6> This anti-homosexual witch-hunt McCarthy and others waged along with their "Red Scare" tactics, has been referred to by some as the "Lavender Scare".<7>

McCarthy's red-baiting assistant during this time was the infamous Roy Cohn, who was for years widely rumored to be gay and died in 1986 of complications of AIDS. Cohn insisted to his dying day, though, that he was suffering from liver cancer.

McCarthy had accused a number of people in the Dept. of State and the Army of being Communists, or disloyal to the U.S., or both. Hence, the Army hired lawyers to represent it in the hearings.

(BTW, it was at this time that Eisenhower vastly expanded Executive Privilege, to insure that McCarthy would leave his (Eisenhower's) advisors alone. Later, Eisenhower's Vice President would become President and claim that expanded privilege--unsuccessfully. Anyhoooo....)

Chief counsel to the Army was a lawyer from the prestigious Boston law firm of Hale and Dorr, Joseph Welch.

Welch was assisted during the hearings by Fred Fisher, a recent law school graduate. You could say that, for purposes of these hearings, Fred Fisher was to Joseph Welch as Roy Cohn was to Joe McCarthy.

Welch was the one who said the famous lines to McCarthy.

Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

I saw a film of an interview of Welch once, in which he was asked about that line. Welch explained that he knew something about Cohn and McCarthy knew something about Fisher, namely that, while in law school, Fisher had been a member of the National Lawyers Guild, a left-leaning group. Welch and McCarthy agreed that neither of them would mention what they knew about Cohn and Fisher.

AFAIK, Welch never in his life said publicly what he knew about Cohn. At any rate, he did not say it during the interview I saw. However, during the hearings, McCarthy did claim Fisher had been a member of the National Lawyer's Guild, contrary to McCarthy's agreement with Welch. When McCarthy pressed the matter, Welch said:

Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentle man but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.

When McCarthy tried to renew his attack, Welch interrupted him:

Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild. Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

McCarthy tried to ask Welch another question about Fisher, and Welch cut him off:

Mr. McCarthy, I will not discuss this further with you. You have sat within six feet of me and could have asked me about Fred Fisher. You have seen fit to bring it out. And if there is a God in Heaven it will do neither you nor your cause any good. I will not discuss it further. I will not ask Mr. Cohn any more questions. You, Mr. Chairman, may, if you will, call the next witness.


While the brilliant movie, Good Night, and Good Luck implies that Edward R. Murrow caused the nation to turn against McCarthy, I believe it may have been Welch's rant, a film of which was shown as part of the movie. (The McCarthy hearings were televised on network television, perhaps a first.)

I believe what Welch knew about Roy Cohn and agreed not to say was that Roy Cohn was gay.

Was Welch attempting to toy with McCarthy on that issue with this exchange--and did McCarthy give it right back to Welch?


Though the hearings were primarily about government subversion, the hearings also took on occasional accusations of a different taboo: A portion of the hearings were taken up for the express purpose of evaluating the security risk of homosexuals in government and the issue would be brought up on other occasions, as well as being an undercurrent in the investigations.

One such example of this undercurrent during the testimony was this humorous exchange between Senator McCarthy and Joseph Welch; Welch was questioning McCarthy staff member James Juliana about the unedited picture of Schine with Stevens and Bradley asking him "Did you think this came from a pixie?", at which point McCarthy asked to have the question re-read:

Senator McCarthy. Will counsel for my benefit define I think he might be an expert on that what a pixie is?
Mr. Welch. Yes. I should say, Mr. Senator, that a pixie is a close relative of a fairy. (Laughter from the chamber) Shall I proceed, sir? Have I enlightened you?
Senator McCarthy. As I said, I think you may be an authority on what a pixie is.

(There was also an issue whether Cohn had shown favoritism to an army private, David Schine, because Cohn was attracted to Schine, or perhaps even having a relationship with him with him, beyond friendship, but I won't delve into that.)
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