WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dispatch International) Most Europeans are unlikely to be familiar with the facts behind the American term “McCarthyism.” They probably know it describes something very bad in American politics – the “Communist witch hunts” of more than half a century ago. They may also know that simply uttering the term, like casting a spell, stops all debate cold by associating someone with the eponymous Joseph McCarthy. As the story goes, he was himself very bad. After all, he conducted those long ago “Communist witch hunts,“ ruining his name in perpetuity. This probably exhausts general knowledge.
But here’s a secret: Most Americans know little more than this same familiar but completely false narrative. In recent years, stunning revelations from archives in Washington and Moscow have confirmed that McCarthy’s investigations – and those conducted by other officials before and after – netted not innocent and imaginary “witches,” but secret cadres of hardened Communist agents determined to bring down the American republic. Surely, this makes Joe McCarthy a great patriot and deserving “the plaudits of a grateful nation.”
So wrote M. Stanton Evans, the consensus-smashing, revisionist biographer of McCarthy in Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America’s Enemies (2007). Evans was attempting to convey the significance of just one particular Soviet intelligence operation, circa 1945, that McCarthy was instrumental in bringing to light, circa 1950.
Even a few details about this operation, named initially as the Amerasia affair after a pro-Communist journal of the day, will add a little needed context to modern-day perspective on the so-called McCarthy era.
Amerasia’s editor, Phillip Jaffe, came under FBI surveillance in 1944 after the contents of a confidential OSS memo appeared in his magazine. (The OSS was the precursor to the CIA.) The FBI soon learned Jaffe was in possession of hundreds of stolen, secret US government documents, plus a photographic set-up. The magazine ran no photographs, so the FBI plausibly believed it had come across an active espionage operation. Further surveillance, including wire-taps, determined that Jaffe was in frequent contact with US Communist Party leader Earl Browder, Soviet “diplomats” in New York, a top Chinese Communist envoy of Mao and US diplomat John Stewart Service (home from Chiang Kai-Shek’s China, where, it later emerged, Service roomed with two leading Communist agents, Solomon Adler and Chi Chao-ting).
On June 6, 1945, FBI agents arrested six people, including Jaffe and Service, and seized hundreds of top secret documents, many concerning military matters. An open-and-shut espionage case, it would seem.
An open and quickly shut-down case is more like it. What followed was cover-up, perjury and grand-jury rigging by, among others, high-ranking Washington officials. Some were eager to prevent a national security scandal from engulfing the Truman White House. Others were acting to shield a far wider Communist-led conspiracy mounted by confederates inside the State Department, Treasury, White House and elsewhere in the US government, working not merely to filch secret documents but to ensure, through influence and subversion, the Communist takeover of China. These powerful forces of suppression proved overwhelming. The Amerasia case was scuttled, the scandal was buried, and, within a few years, China was Red.
Five years later, McCarthy’s laser-beam focus on the still-festering case would be instrumental in follow-up investigations launched by both the Senate and the FBI. These massive probes yielded, as Evans notes, some 5,000 pages of Senate hearings, plus 1,000 pages of exhibits and, from the FBI, 24,000 pages of now-declassified records.
They reveal the workings of a vast, complex influence operation, Evans writes, that “assiduously worked to guide official and public thinking, and hence the course of U.S. policy,” in this case regarding the Far East. Other such intricate influence operations, of course, targeted the West. And who was doing this dirty work of Communist-directed subversion from within? Many officials and public figures highlighted by Joseph McCarthy (among others), who, we have since learned from US and Soviet archives, were secret agents and fellow-traveling supporters of Stalin.
McCarthy, as Evans has pointed out, threatened the blow the lid off the official cover-ups and other acts of treason. Thus, he had to be isolated, demonized and destroyed, and so he was. History would be written by the isolators, the demonizers and the destroyers, and repeated by rote for the next half century.
Then along came the declassification of FBI records and releases of intelligence documents, and scholars such as M. Stanton Evans to sift through them. But the far-reaching implications of such research – that anti-Communist “witch-hunters” were right all along – have done shockingly little to change the way Americans regard their history. Such hidebound attitudes extend also to American conservatives, who, it would seem, are the modern-day heirs of the anti-Communist legacy. What Evans calls “court history” is that deeply entrenched as national lore.
Will this ever change? “There’s no concise answer to that,” Evans replied in a recent interview with Dispatch International. “There is a mindset, a narrative, a template that has been out there for a long time.” The reflex reaction, to date, is to preserve that template rather than assess the new evidence. Thus, it is minimized or denied. Evans mimics the usual reaction to the specter of historical Communist penetration: “ `Well, this thing was overblown, there wasn’t a big problem, these people were persecuted.’ The new evidence, he continues, “challenges this so they dismiss it. We’re dealing with an establishment mindset that is impervious to refutation – to fact. It’s like throwing popcorn at a battleship.”
This hasn’t stopped Evans, 78 – once the youngest metropolitan newspaper editor in the USA (Indianapolis News), a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and commentator for CBS News and Voice of America – from reloading and firing again. In fact, following his McCarthy book, which corroborates many McCarthy cases and documents the Washington Establishment’s craven efforts to destroy the maverick senator rather than address subversion and cover-up, Evans embarked on a new project. With so much evidence now available attesting to the presence of Soviet agents watching over wartime Washington, Evans set out to write a concise history of what it was these agents of the Kremlin actually accomplished.
The new book, published in November 2012, is Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government, co-written with Herbert Romerstein, a leading Cold War expert and longtime congressional investigator. Assessing the achievements of agents of influence, is very different, Evans emphasizes, from standard histories of spying as defined by stealing secrets.
The series of history-changing events Evans and Romerstein identify as having been subverted by Soviet agents is itself history-changing, demanding a rewrite of much of the history of World War II. Despite the familiarity with which we regard the era, in many ways, Evans and Romerstein are pioneering a new field of study. The best way to approach it with what Evans himself calls his Law of Inadequate Paranoia: “No matter how bad you think something is,” he says, “when you look into it, it’s always worse.
—This article is republished with permission from Dispatch International. Don’t have a Dispatch subscription yet? Get one here