On This Day in 1954: Senator Joseph McCarthy Began a Witch-Hunt of The U. S. Army




The Secretary of the United States Army ordered two generals, who had been subpoenaed by the crusading anti-Communist Senator Joseph McCarthy, to ignore the summons. The move by Robert T. Stevens came on the first day of the hearings into communist activity in the U. S. Army. Mr. Stevens said he would speak on behalf of the Army, provided that the session was held in public.

His announcement came after a former army major, who had been summoned by Senator McCarthy, head of the Senate’s Permanent Investigations sub-committee, refused to answer questions. Senator McCarthy responded, “Either the Army will give the names of men coddling Communists or we will take it before the Senate.”

However, Mr. Steven’s stand made it seem highly unlikely that such a list would be forthcoming. It was a rare challenge to the controversial Senator who had been virtually unknown before he took up the cause of rooting out Communists, just four years earlier. In a speech in West Virginia during February 1950, Mr. McCarthy had claimed to have the names of 205 “card-carrying Communists” in the State Department. However, he later scaled the list down to 57 persons and was willing to name only four of them. His critics have stated that he was never able to produce any real evidence to back up his claims, accusing him of having conducted wild “witch hunts,” which often destroyed both the careers and public lives of those persons who were accused.

Many have said that an interview conducted by the courageous television commentator Edward R. Murrow on March 9, 1954, was a pivotal influence leading to the demise of Senator McCarthy’s career, in turn helping to end the witch-hunt that had destroyed the careers and public lives of so many people. Some have said that this courageous broadcast provided the public with an essential, intensely felt sense of relief from our increasingly painful general preoccuptions with and fears of unannounced persecution. This kind of social relief is even today at the core of the fabric that both gives birth to and provides support for our public and private freedoms.

That night Murrow, Friendly (at that time, a Vice-President of CBS) and their news team produced a 30-minute See It Now special entitled “A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy.” Murrow used excerpts from McCarthy’s own speeches and proclamations to criticize the Senator and to point out episodes where he clearly had contradicted himself. Murrow knew full well that he was using the medium of television to attack a single man and expose him to nationwide scrutiny, and he was often quoted as having doubts about the method he used for this news report.

Murrow and his See It Now co-producer, Fred Friendly, paid for their own newspaper advertisement for the program; they were not allowed to use any of CBS’s money for the publicity campaign and were prohibited from using the CBS logo in any way. Nonetheless, this 30-minute TV episode contributed to a nationwide backlash against Senator McCarthy and against the Red Scare in general. It has been viewed by many people as representing one of the most critical turning points in the history of the media.

The broadcast provoked tens of thousands of letters, telegrams and phone calls to CBS headquarters, which ran 15-to-1 in favor of Murrow. It has been reported that truck drivers would pull up to Murrow on the street in subsequent days and shout, “Good show, Ed. Good show, Ed.”

Murrow offered Senator McCarthy a chance to comment on the CBS show, and McCarthy provided his own televised response to Murrow three weeks later on See It Now. The Senator’s rebuttal contributed nearly as much to his own downfall as Murrow or any of McCarthy’s other detractors did. Edward R. Murrow had learned how to use the medium of television, but McCarthy had not.

Murrow’s conclusion to the program was truly magistral:

No one familiar with the history of this country can deny that congressional committees are useful. It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully. Cassius was right. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Good night, and good luck.

No Sense Of Decency: A Documentary

This video is 10 minutes in length.  It is extremely well worth your time, and is a vitally important video for everyone who can obtain access to the internet to view in a deeply thoughtful manner. Please spread the word.

3 Responses to “On This Day in 1954: Senator Joseph McCarthy Began a Witch-Hunt of The U. S. Army”

  1. Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI: The Assault on Freedom of Expression « Et Cetera: Publick and Privat Curiosities Says:

    […] of articles here about the issue of the freedom of expression in America, including pieces about Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy and his House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in the 1950’s, The Chicago Seven […]

  2. I.M. Small Says:


    To criticize one´s country does not make one communist,
    Though we look back and laugh at Joe McCarthy,
    Yet lives were shattered as appeared upon his famed blacklist,
    As calumnies made many people swarthy.

    Despite a brief remission if we call it a disease
    This terror of “the Other” is in flare-up,
    Because the fits of prejudice and condemnation seize
    As new breeds of accusers get their hair up.

    Today instead of “communist” the moniker is changed,
    One is but vaguely called unpatriotic,
    “Terrorist sympathizer,” so the charges are arranged
    To make minds independent feel neurotic.

    One is denounced, by slanders trounced, as even dares to question
    The wisdom of a course of action chosen,
    Whilst lungs fill with accusatory globules of congestion
    Spewed forth in spite, discrimination frozen.

    It was a “vast conspiracy” that very few denied,
    As happened in the early Nineteen-Fifties,
    When communists appeared to be ensconced on every side,
    As sympathizers, Red-lovers and softies.

    “Appeared to be” and “seems to me” reflect the unabated
    Thrust of the argument, as often charges
    Pursued their stopless course although as unsubstantiated
    Means set whereby hysteria enlarges.

    Good lives were ruined while praises crooned of persons more unworthy,
    Collaborationists as now reveal
    The transcripts of proceedings part occult and part unearthly,
    As we by hindsight label them unreal.

    Collaborators with hysteria never serve the truth–
    Yet in these days we find so many joiners,
    Demanding never proof but innuendoes as uncouth,
    Of false descriptive phrases are the coiners.

    The names are vast and varied but what difference is a name
    When no criteria as underlying
    Corroborates the charges–to my brethren´s lasting shame,
    Wherefore it feels “democracy is dying.”

    As liberals, leftists, softies, or the new phrase socialists
    (Which means but “communist” transformed in garb),
    So men are slandered as to queers imputed limper wrists,
    Varied and multifarious each barb.

    Yet, in this nation´s history–believe–there was a time
    When criticism was classed as a duty
    Borne of the citizen and not a furtive sneaky crime,
    Nor in this can a slanderer refute me.

    It bothers me to think that my misguided thoughtless brothers
    So easily align them with the chorus,
    When we who criticize are rather lovers, not self-loathers,
    Of home despite her faults and flaws before us.

  3. Keith Olbermann Slams Hillary Clinton: “Good Night and Good Luck” « Et Cetera: Publick and Privat Curiosities Says:

    […] intent upon creating a climate of divisiveness and fear, it is extremely useful for us to recall Edward R. Morrow’s 1954 See It Now special entitled A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy. Murrow’s conclusion to the […]

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