In my follow-up research I came across a great site, Washington Decoded, which focuses on issues like McCarthyism, Soviet espionage, and other intelligence matters. The site also has great articles debunking the JFK assassination conspiracies as well. I recommend Max Holland's article on how the CIA conspiracy theories are in fact the result of KGB active measures against the Main Adversary. The money line from the article is:
Arguably, Stone’s 1991 movie is the only American feature film made during the Cold War to have, as its very axis, a lie concocted in the KGB’s disinformation factories
In my original post I mentioned Stan Evans new book on McCarthy, Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies
I read portions of the Evan book. John Earl Haynes one of the deans of scholarship on the American communism and Soviet espionage, published a critique of Evans' book in Washington Decoded. Ron Radosh published his own critique in National Review
Full disclosure: Haynes provided invaluable help and insight to me on my research on Albert Blumberg.
Haynes praises Evans for his comprehensive research, however he disagrees with Evans on matters of interpretation. As I mentioned in my original post certain distinctions needed to be made concerning "who were at one time, drawn to communism and saw the light versus those who knew the truth and kept the faith, and even engaged in acts of treason in fulfilling that faith." Haynes' review stresses other distinctions that are just as important.
The American Communist Party was a clear and present danger, as McCarthy and Evans would have it, in the early Cold War. But its chief threat was that of political subversion, not espionage, and therein lies the dividing line between a positive view of McCarthy and a negative appraisal. Had American Communists and their allies retained the influence they had achieved in the labor movement and the broad New Deal coalition, it is difficult to imagine that the United States would have undergone the political mobilization necessary in the crucial, early years of the Cold War. And the absolutely vital, perhaps irreplaceable, political elements in this mobilization were the leaders who would come to be derided in the 1960s as “Cold War liberals.”
From 1946 to 1950, a civil war raged within labor and liberal institutions over the postwar direction of their movement. Initially, it looked as if Henry Wallace and the Progressive Party, with its secret Communist leadership, might wrest Roosevelt’s mantle from a faltering Harry Truman and the Democratic Party. But after an uncertain start, Truman reformulated the New Deal for the postwar era, and adopted a policy of confronting Moscow that transformed him into the greatest of the Cold War’s liberal presidents. By the time the 1948 election was over, Wallace and his followers had ceased to be a viable alternative to Truman and the Democrats. Soon afterwards, the last bastions of Communist institutional strength were leveled when the CIO expelled its Communist-led unions...
The heroes in this political marginalization of the extreme left were such figures as Reinhold Niebuhr, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Eleanor Roosevelt from Americans for Democratic Action; liberal Democratic politicians such as Hubert Humphrey and Paul Douglas; and labor leaders such as Walter Reuther and Philip Murray. Yet they were not McCarthy’s allies — indeed, these were the kind of people against whom McCarthy railed.
By the time McCarthy’s Wheeling, West Virginia speech in February 1950 launched what came to be labeled “McCarthyism,” an anti-Communist consensus dominated the American landscape. The Democratic Party was firmly in the hands of Cold War liberals; the CIO free of Communist influence; and only remnants remained of the once-significant Communist role in mainstream politics, civic institutions, and the labor movement. Yet McCarthy threatened the anti-Communist consensus that liberals had helped create because he attempted to make anti-Communism a partisan cudgel.
Another key distinction to remember was that McCarthy used the fact that Soviet intelligence services had deeply penetrated many levels of the federal government in the FDR and Truman administrations to hammer Truman, Marshall Acehson et al. However the key chronological fact is that the these Soviet intelligence networks had been neutralized by the time McCarthy made his famous speech. The Soviet intelligence services themselves even knew their operations had been compromised. Albeit great damage had already been done.
Haynes is correct in noting that McCarthy did not come to prominence by unmasking a low level army employee (Annie Lee Moss) but he did it through his patently false accusations against Truman, Marshal,l and Acheson.
Certainly, several US officials, including some very high ones in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, displayed great naïveté toward Soviet espionage, and internal security policies until the late 1940s were notably weak. But there is no evidence to justify McCarthy’s allegation of wholesale administration or Democratic complicity in this treachery. Officials (like Alger Hiss) who spied or attempted to influence US policy on behalf of the Soviet Union, also betrayed Roosevelt, Truman, their administrations, and their colleagues, in addition to violating the nation as a whole.
Normal democratic politics cannot proceed when one side regards and depicts the other as the enemy of fundamental values, and somehow illegitimate. Yet that is what McCarthy attempted to do, via demagoguery and malign partisan zeal. That he did not succeed, or even come close, hardly mitigates the fact that his role was an irretrievably negative one. It is true, and Stan Evans makes the case, that McCarthy was not a satanic monster who terrorized the nation and seriously threatened its democratic values. But he was a hindrance, rather than an asset, to a rational anti-Communist consensus, and is not deserving of the vindication that Evans seeks to confer.
This debate could continue in perpetuity, and it probably will. However, the larger issue I see is that this debate and the facts surrounding it do not make into high school or collegiate history courses. This is the true travesty. How many high school students or college students taking basic US history courses even know about Venona or the the evidence in opened Comintern archives? Not many. This of course seeps into our popular culture. Compare the number of Hollywood deceptive movies that depict the dark pall of hysteria that McCarthyism and HUAC cast over the nation (Good Night and Good Luck, The Way We Were, Guilt by Suspicion, Point of Order, and The Majestic) to the number of movies that depict the real story (zero).
For example, watching Good Night and Good Luck, one would never know that the Cold War was even going on. Given that Hollywood still refuses to come to terms with its own romance with Stalin and the Soviet Union, I won't hold my breath for it to make The Way We Weren't