In order to fulfill the requirements for a major in history at Northwestern University, my daughter took a course called "The Cold War At Home." As one might imagine in the hothouse of the college system, left wing views predominate. The students read Ellen Shrecker, not Ronald Radosh. Joseph McCarthy has been transmogrified into Adolf Hitler. And victimology stands as the overarching theme of the course.
Communists in the United States are merely benign civil rights advocates and union supporters. The word espionage never once crossed the lips of the instructor...
Despite the recent scholarship on the period such as Alan Weinstein's well researched book on Alger Hiss or Stanton Evanss biography of Senator McCarthy, views that do not fit the prevailing orthodoxy aren't entertained. Pounded into students is the view that America engaged in "totalitarian practices" not unlike the Soviet enemy we decried.
Although the course is entitled the Cold War at Home, you might think the instructor would be inclined to ask who the enemy is, why was the Soviet Union an enemy and what tactics did this nation employ against us. But these issues are not addressed.
Class session after class session was devoted to the drum beat of criticism. I asked my daughter if she read anything about Gus Hall and the American Communist Party or if she ever heard of I.F. Stone or if any time was devoted to the Venona tapes. She looked at me perplexed.
There is only one theme: the U.S. government was wrong; there wasn't any justification for harassing communists and Edward R. Murrow and Victor Navasky are the real heroes in this period.
Needless to say the historical story of that time is nuanced. McCarthy was over the top, but communists of the Alger Hiss variety did insinuate themselves into key positions in the State Department. Not every communist in the U.S. was a threat to national security, but many were and some gave military secrets to the Soviet Union.
Victor Navasky attacked Elia Kazan for naming names in Hollywood, but as Kazan saw it, he was protecting artistic freedom from communist handlers who wanted to approve every line in a film script.
Looking back, it is not so easy to describe heroes and villains, unless, of course, the instructor responds reflexively to the standard left wing agenda.
Ron Radosh and Stan Evans can pick nits over McCarthy. However, the real problem lies in the fact that our history courses rarely, if at all broach the subject that McCarthy was not completely wrong and that, yes Virginia there were American communists spying for the Soviets (hundreds of them).