Skip to content

Ron Radosh: What Conservatives Need to Know About Joe McCarthy

September 30, 2009



I noticed the controversy over the late Senator McCarthy in the comments column at NewsReal. It is a mistake for conservatives to think that just because McCarthy’s targets were real, the Senator did no harm. Stan Evans has contributed mightily to this confusion in his recent book Blacklisted By History. NewsReal readers may be interested in my review.

There were Communist spies, and they did infiltrate the U.S. Government at the highest levels during the New Deal years of F.D.R.’s presidency. While the U.S. treated the Soviet Union as an ally during the war against Nazism, the Soviet Union and its rulers used this relationship as an easy way to gain access to our nation’s top military and diplomatic secrets.

spiesThe problem was that by the time Joe McCarthy surfaced with his accusations, the key Soviet spy networks had all been closed down, due to the KGB’s well found fears that Elizabeth Bentley’s defection in 1945 compromised all of their operations. Although they tried hard, they never could successfully put together the kind of networks they had in operation during the war years.

Despite all of this, and the information provided by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev in their book Spies:The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, – a book that inflamed leftists and liberals with proof that people like the journalist I.F. Stone had been a Soviet agent from 1936 to 1938, a revelation that conservatives accepted as true. Their equally reasoned conclusion that most of Joe McCarthy’s charges were false was completely ignored. On the issue of McCarthy, they point out that his,

“charges were…wildly off the mark. Very few of the people he accused appeared in KGB documents (or the Venona decryptions), and by the time he made his charges, almost all Soviet agents had been forced out of the government and Soviet intelligence networks were largely defunct.”

In February of 1950, for example, McCarthy listed one Gerald Graze on a list of 81 cases he called major security risks. But by that time, however, Graze had already left government service, and McCarthy and others never pursued the case. In fact, Graze had been a Soviet agent between 1937 and 1945. In other words, McCarthy used old cases to rail about a threat that no longer existed, by exploiting the failure of the Roosevelt administration to act when it might have mattered. In a similar fashion, the German émigré and scholar Franz Neumann had been a source in the OSS during the war years, giving valuable information to Moscow in 1944. Yet McCarthy included him in a list of State Department security risks in 1950!

And in 1953, McCarthy’s Senate subcommittee called Nathan Sussman to testify in its

Roy Cohn

Roy Cohn

investigation of Communist infiltration of the Army Signal Corps. They suspected correctly, it turns out, that he was an active member of the Soviet network put together by Julius Rosenberg. Yet Sussman acted as a “model of a cooperative witness,” verifying that Rosenberg was a Party member when he knew him. Neither McCarthy or Roy Cohn ever asked him about espionage, and he departed unharmed, successfully playing McCarthy and Cohn and escaping without their discovering any of the actual spy work he had carried out for the Soviets.

It is time, therefore, that conservatives give up their shrill accusations against those of us who believe that Joe McCarthy’s greatest accomplishment was to give anti-Communism a bad name. As my friend, the late Eric Breindel used to say,

“the legacy of McCarthy is that you can no longer call a Communist a Communist, unless he or she proclaims it loudly first.”

Real and genuine spies were able to hide behind the charge that they too were innocent victims of a witch-hunt. One key example is the British subject and American resident Cedric Belfrage, a journalist who started the influential pro-Communist newsweekly, The National Guardian. Belfrage wrote a book he titled American Inquisition, in which Belfrage advanced the thesis that a paranoid America was waging a witch hunt in the search for non- existent spies. Working for British intelligence in the US during the war, Belfrage had reported regularly to the New York office of the KGB. It was the wild accusation by McCarthy against an innocent and anti-Communist liberal journalist like New York Post editor James Wechsler that gave a skunk like Belfrage the chance to portray himself also as just another victim of a McCarthy smear.

So, conservatives—time to get a grip on what Joe McCarthy was all about. I offer you two links. First, my critical review of M. Stanton Evan’s defense of McCarthy that appeared in National Review.

And next a lecture by Harvey Klehr, titled “Was Joe McCarthy Right,” presented a few years ago at the Raleigh NC, International Spy Conference.

Editor’s Note: Read Professor Radosh’s Books and visit his blog.

A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel

Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left

Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony’s Long Romance with the Left

The Rosenberg File: Second Edition

Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War (Annals of Communism Series)

Divided They Fell

Prophets on the Right

The Amerasia Spy Case: Prelude to McCarthyism

  1. Joe Y permalink
    September 30, 2009 12:45 pm

    Thank you very much for this. I’m finishing Evans’s book right now. My take on it was that, as most of the cases were exposures of previously outed spies, and, as you point out, that most of the information was known, the revelation of the hearings was not the subversion itself, but of how the State Department and various political appointees were so negligent (at best) in allowing it to occur. McCarthy was demonized so zealously because of the political threat he posed to the Democratic Party.

    I happen to be also reading about “Double Lives,” about Will Muzenberg, and reading the two simultaneously gives one an exaggerated, really quite Matrix-like experience of a sudden exposure of a different reality.

  2. SabbyWrt permalink
    September 30, 2009 1:02 pm

    Thank you Mr. Radosh. This has been a very good read. I was stunned when I read “The Venona Files”, just stunned. I just finished reading a book called “Comrade J” which led me to believe that the spying has changed but is very much still in play.

  3. jbtrevor permalink
    September 30, 2009 1:06 pm

    It’s the details that count…thanks for posting this.

  4. Calvin Freiburger permalink
    September 30, 2009 1:08 pm

    Sadly, it’s going to be a while before I have a chance to get back to reading my copy of “Blacklisted by History” (especially considering it’s currently several states away!), so I can’t speak to Mr. Radosh’s claims, but I do recall that he was rather strongly responded to when his original review of the book came out.

    Ann Coulter’s response:

    Accuracy in Media also had an interesting report on Evans & Radosh, which quotes Evans’ response to Radosh (which, sadly, I can’t find online right now):

    • October 1, 2009 3:58 am

      I was going to mention how Ann Coulter took apart Mr. Radosh, but you beat me to it.

      Ha ha ha…. Poor Mr. Radosh. He wrote a good book on the Rosenbergs and has been apologizing for it ever since because his buddies on the Left went ape over it.

      Incidentally, just because people were identified as Communists, that doesn’t mean that they were dealt with properly by throwing them out of the appropriate government jobs. It was McCarthy’s investigation comittee that did that.

      Soviet agent Harry Dexter White had several reports exposing him, but nothing was done until McCarthy’s committe decided to do something about it.

      It appears Ayn Rand also knew McCarthy was right, but she didn’t have the guts to do anything about it. Ann Coulter, on the other hand, did.

      That is one courageous and beautiful lady!

      Incidentally, I went to a Cindy Sheehan so-called peace protest proudly wearing my Ann Coulter t shirt. Yanno, the one that features her picture and says “They should bomb their cities; kill their leaders….”; etc. I recorded the reaction and put it on you tube (snicker):

      I just “admire” their reasoned reaction to the Ann Coulter shirt.

      • Bob Meyer permalink
        October 2, 2009 7:13 am

        You’re wrong about Ayn Rand. She testified at the House Un-American Activities Committee back in the late 1940’s. Her testimony was about the communist ideas that were being put into films.

        She was originally going to show how the movie “The Best Years of Our Lives” contained anti-capitalist themes but the committee limited her to talking about “Song of Russia” which was an obvious propaganda film. “The Best Years of Our Lives” was a very popular film and it was the committee that was afraid to have her testify about it, not her that was afraid to testify.

        Rand, like Elia Kazan, was never forgiven for her testimony even though she didn’t name communists in the industry.

    • The Inquisitor permalink
      October 1, 2009 7:07 am

      Thanks for the links. What a pleasure to read!

      Here’s the link you are looking for


    • The Inquisitor permalink
      October 1, 2009 7:10 am

      Thanks for the links. What a pleasure to read!

      Here’s the link you are looking for


      • The Inquisitor permalink
        October 1, 2009 7:11 am

        Oh. well. I can’t get this to appear in the right place.

  5. Wayne permalink
    September 30, 2009 2:29 pm

    I wouldn’t argue with Mr. Radosh’s a case that Senator McCarthy attacked those he suspected of being communists. I’m not convinced that what McCarthy did was a bad thing, though. Faced with an enemy sworn to your destruction, shouldn’t that enemy exposed to the light of day while taking the necessary steps to protect yourself?

    Of course, McCarthy took on more than he bargained for. He likely had no idea that the enemies he had identified had friends in high places who would defend them by destroying Senator Joe McCarthy himself. They’ve succeeded and that success can be seen in the attitudes of apologists today that will McCarthy overdid it, he may have been right but there was collateral damage — he accused some of being communists who were just fuzzy liberals.

    Being called a “McCarthy-ite” today is standard fare for anybody with the temerity to question or expose the latest leftist scandal. Exhibit A, would be Glenn Beck after exposing ACORN and Van Jones. He’s now accused of “McCarthyism” by his enemies. If one is driven to pursue and speak the truth that should be the criteria that matters — not the labels of the enemy ideologues and those who have timidly surrendered to them.

  6. Joe Y permalink
    September 30, 2009 5:27 pm

    Wayne, I would modify your point to say that he did know they had friends in high places, but not nearly so many as they did have and how fervently these friends would fight to protect them. There was an odd innocence about McCarthy in the respect that he seemed to never quite grasp how high the stakes were for his opponents, and seemed continually surprised that his enemies were really his enemies. He was fighting for his country, and assumed they were too, but they weren’t. The country was safe enough, from there point of view. It was for their party and their careers that they were fighting.

  7. October 1, 2009 3:34 am

    Mr Radosh,

    So because the spies McCarthy unmasked were not, at the same time he mentioned their names, reporting to the KGB, then Sen McCarthy was….what? Wrong? Guilty of bad timing?

    Just because a couple, or a few, of the suspects he named were not concurrently meeting KGB case officers does NOT make Sen McCarthy’s charges invalid.

    Finding and reporting on spies is a very difficult business. When the media, academia, and Hollywood, the pillars of the culture are all against you, it is even more difficult.

    Sen McCarthy’s quest to find and unmask communists and communist spies in the US Government was a necessary and laudable undertaking. His methods, and his personality, may not have met the social standards of the time. But he was right in the substance and, most times, the specifics, of his charges.

    The worst thing Joe McCarthy did wrong was to get uncomfortably close to the truth of the activities of the KGB’s Willing Acoomplices (see details of my upcoming non-fiction research at ) were undertaking against American society.

    The KGB’s investment covert influence campaign against America paid dividends during the McCarthy era. The seeds they had begun planting in the 1920s sent their shoots underground, where they were nurtured by the anti-McCarthy media, academia, and Hollywood. In the 1960s, those underground shoots emerged in the light of day, finally reaching full flower with today’s Progressive President.

    Good work on your Hollywood research.


    Kent Clizbe

  8. Brad Lytle permalink
    October 1, 2009 5:35 am

    This is the wrong argument for Conservatives to be having.

    It was the media, lead by Edward R. Morrow, and the Democrats who attacked and vilified Joe McCarthy, and made him the pariah many would like to see him remain.

    Senator Joe McCarthy did his job in trying to protect this country from the “domestic” enemy within, as he pledged to do. We need more of that today!

    It is the Left that begins to chant the mantra of “McCarthyism” every time they are criticized. And then, sadly, many accept that assessment, or are stymied by the accusation, and flee the debate.

    Until we reclaim Senator Joe as the hero he was, though flawed, and defend him, we will never be rid of the Left’s “red-herring.”

    • October 1, 2009 6:10 am

      Making McCarthy into a hero is counterproductive toward the objective of expanding Conservatism to draw in the apolitical, the moderate, and the open-minded Left. A Conservatism that has Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn as its symbols is one doomed to failure.

      We have a far greater selection of heroes to choose from who are far less flawed. There’s no need to resort to damaged goods to McCarthy.

      • jbtrevor permalink
        October 1, 2009 6:28 am

        Not to mention aligning with McCarthy without acknowledging his shortcomings/recklessness immediately discredits you, especially by the Left. Why put yourself in that position if you wish to be taken seriously?

  9. The Inquisitor permalink
    October 1, 2009 6:29 am

    M. Stanton Evans: What Conservatives Need to Know About Ron Radosh

    M. Stanton Evans is a distinguished writer and Conservative. His book “The Liberal Establishment” appeared not long after Buckley’s “Up From Liberalism.” Both Buckley (See for example “McCarthy and His Enemies.”) and Evans supported Joe McCarthy.

    Read the linked article. I’ll take Buckley and Evans to Radosh any day.

    • October 1, 2009 7:59 am

      Thanks for the link, Inquisitor.

      I don’t think anyone is interested in whitewashing McCarthy’s shortcomings, but I also don’t think it’s a lost cause to remind people of the good he did and correct the smears against him, a.) because “McCarthyism” feeds into the Left’s mythology about an America that doesn’t *really* have enemies, b.) because we should always stand for history over revisionism, and c.) because a good, if flawed, man deserves better than to be remembered as the monster the Left has made him into.

      Also, it seems pretty clear that Radosh falsely accused Evans of plagiarism, which I think should be kept in mind when we assess what Radosh has to say on the matter (to say nothing of Evans’ rebuttals of numerous claims in Radosh’s review).

      • The Inquisitor permalink
        October 1, 2009 12:31 pm

        Calvin Freiburger, you are quite welcome. Glad to be of service.

        You’re quite right; I certainly don’t want to overlook McCarthy’s failings. The only problem is that when I look at that chapter of history I can’t see them. They are so overshadowed by the failings (too generous a word) of his detractors.

        We should indeed stand for history — and for what is right. Those who are willing to sacrifice McCarthy on the alter of expedience and acceptance are cowards. Their willingness to live with a lie will ultimately do them and their cause immeasurable harm.

        Radosh really is a piece of work. Evans spent years (I believe over ten years) researching source material for his book, and Radosh accuses him of plagiarizing from his book. This from a person who would have known more about Blacklisted than he did if he had just looked at the pictures. What a laugh! How insulting from such a shoddy journalist!

  10. Ken Kelley permalink
    October 1, 2009 1:52 pm

    Then, as now, we are adrift in a desert of complacent democracy while we are herded by a majority. As a Republic we are required to SUPPORT and DEFEND it … now and then, perhaps we need to grow a spine! He did; we didn’t.

  11. October 1, 2009 5:08 pm

    Everyone keeps saying that McCarthy’s short comings are not discussed…what hogwash. I have yet to read any commentary regarding Joe McCarthy, from the left or right, that didn’t acknowledge that this was a man with some serious problems. In point of fact, for almost 50 years that is all you read about him….only since the VENONA intercepts have been released do we know that he was correct.

    I would like to add that McCarthy only represented the Senate side of these investigations. There also was a House side known as the House Un-American Activities Committee. Since they didn’t demonstrate the emotional problems the McCarthy did we don’t hear that much about them….however they were just as enthusiastic as McCarthy and it was HUAC that went after the Hollywood crowd, not McCarthy; his concern was in government.

    Furthermore McCarthy wasn’t a conservative. He may have been a Republican, but he only ran as a Republican because he couldn’t win as a Democrat. Either way he was a classical liberal (not to be mistaken with a modern liberal) and under no circumstances could he be considered a conservative.

    Lastly…where is the evidence that all the networks were broken up? Of all the VENONA intercepts they only decoded about ten percent of them and of that ten percent they were able to identify around 160 spies. The other ninety percent were never decoded and they have a large number of code names that they cannot identify to this day and some of those are from the 160 spies that they know for sure existed. Considering this; how do we know that the networks were broken up by McCarthy’s time?

    This posting didn’t clarify anything, it merely attempted to divert attention away from the fact that those spies did exist…there were most likely a lot more that were unknown and continued in their networks for years to follow. Again I find Mr. Radosh’s comments lack depth, they are not complete, they are not balanced, and in the end they lead people to inaccurate conclusions. I keep wondering why you bother to post his comments?


  1. Prayer, News and Action » Uncategorized » Ron Radosh: What Conservatives Need to Know About Joe McCarthy

Comments are closed.