McCarthyism, Paranoia, and Things that Really Happened that You Don’t Know About
While reading about the newest Superman movie and how the writers decided to purposefully omit the phrase “the American way” from the movie, I ran into a phrase a few times that intrigued me. So, curious, I did what any geek would do; I googled it. When asked, Google reported that over 700,000 pages contained both the word ‘paranoia’ and the term ‘Cold War’, virtually always in reference to western feelings (especially American feelings) about Communism.
The conventional wisdom is, and has been since at least the ‘80’s, that the American fear of Communism, especially Soviet communism, was completely overblown. When I write “conventional wisdom” I mean it in the same way as the writers for Newsweek, Time, and the New York Times do – what academics, journalists, and Hollywood believe and tell the unwashed masses is true.
This sort of division between the self-appointed ‘intelligentsia’ and the ‘common man’ plays itself out in pop culture all the time. Overtly patriotic songs are automatically considered Country Music; critics pan patriotic films movies like Red Dawn and Invasion, USA while they do great business in the theaters; critics praise anti-American movies like Three Kings and Three Days of the Condor, films that are demonstrably no better than stuff like Rambo and certainly don’t pull in nearly as much money.
Quick Aside: before its release I read time and time again how super realistic Three Kings was supposed to be; heck, in one interview a member of the crew had to deny the use of a cadaver in filming a scene of a bullet entering a body. As a veteran of the Gulf War I was looking forward to seeing this film and went to a matinee on the first day it was open. Everything from uniforms to attitudes to gear to physics was so wrong I left after 35 minutes and demanded my money back.
So now, of course, ‘everybody knows’ that the paranoia of the Cold War was just a Red Scare; an unreasoning terror of Communism artificially created by Conservatives to whip up fervor for foreign wars and pump money into the military-industrial complex whole garnering the votes of the terrified sheep or middle America for the Republican war machine. Just ask Glenn Greenwald, Clint Willis, Jack Huberman, and Noam Chomsky. These best-selling authors, the critics who promote them, the academics who assign their books, and the actors who shill for them all want you to know that what was really going on during the height of the Cold War was a group of rabid Conservatives trying to gain fascist control of the nation by unfairly portraying innocent artists and Liberals of being baby-eaters, charges believed by the easily-deluded inhabitants of flyover country.
As usual with the topics I pick, all is not as we are told in school.
Long before World War II began, the Soviet Union was placing spies throughout the US. By the beginning of the war, the Soviet Union had spies placed very highly within the United States Government. While there had been some early successes for Soviet spymasters, the true breakthrough was the New Deal, when FDR and his cabinet swept hundred of academics into positions of political and economic control – academics who were unelected, untested, and largely uninvestigated. This led to literally hundreds of agents of the Soviet Union being in positions of power within the US on the eve of war.
During WWII a highly-classified program led to the decryption of thousands of classified telegrams from the Soviet Embassy. This project, called Venona, was so secret and its discoveries so profound that some presidents weren’t told of its existence, although they were told of some of the results. What Venona revealed was that Soviet spies were working at literally the highest levels in the US government, including agents within the OSS, the wartime precursor to the CIA, the State Department, Treasury Department, and War Department. Even a top presidential aide was a Soviet agent. Together, these various assets worked to not only hide and protect Soviet spies within the government, but to actually divert funds to allow these spy rings to exist; in effect, the US government was so badly compromised that taxpayer money was being used to fund Soviet spy rings in the US government.
The system was working so well, in fact, that the Soviet Union failed to properly ‘compartmentalize’ its system; members of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) working in espionage routinely interacted with Soviet Intelligence agents doing the same. In the end, the defection of just a few people threw a bright light onto what was occurring in the shadows. These defectors painted a harsh world where a high-ranking member of the US State Department who attended Yalta and helped write the charter of the United Nations was, in fact, a Soviet agent. That the production and allocation of war materials to the Soviet Union was planned and controlled largely by Soviet agents, and that these agents were also stealing nuclear secrets and facilitating the illegal shipment of nuclear materials to the Soviet Union.
In the ‘30’s the Soviet Union had used its intelligence agencies (then called the NKGB or NKVD) to provide military assistance to the Republican government of Spain, to round up tens of thousands of Soviet citizens for the gulags, abduct Spanish anti-communists for torture and execution, to assassinate political leaders all over the world, and to destabilize foreign governments in preparation for Communist takeovers of power. The Soviet Union had begun WWII as an ally of Hitler and wasted no time after the war in seizing control of as many European nations as they could, in direct violation of a number of treaties and agreements. The level of oppression within the Soviet bloc was horrendous, the spectre of deportation to the gulags omnipresent, and the use of torture and murder by the leaders routine.
Communism had never made secret its disdain for Capitalism, Democracy, or America. The fomentation of war and revolution all over the globe was not only their stated goal, but an active project. Through the 1950’s it became more and more obvious that the brutal, oppressive Communist regime of the Soviet Union, a group that was publicly bent on world domination and the eradication of differing political and economic systems and openly advocated the use of assassination, terror, and violence to achieve their goals, had a large number of spies and agents highly placed within the US government. As time went on there was increasing proof that agents and sympathetic ‘fellow travelers’ in the media and entertainment were working to paint Communism and the Soviet Union in the best possible light as a way of aiding the subversion of existing political and economic systems, and that similar agents were well-placed in academia, as well.
In the face of this, is it any wonder that many people were openly terrified? Soviet tanks were crushing the native governments of Poland, Lithuania, and other Warsaw Pact nations – would that happen here? The KGB routinely assassinated people all over Europe and Asia – would that happen in America, too? The Chinese government had been subverted by Soviet agents and overthrown by violent revolutionaries – was America next? The government not only seemed powerless to stop foreign incursions, but all evidence seemed to point to America’s own government being unable to root out Communist agents inside itself. Many people reacted not with paranoia, but with genuine, justifiable fear.
The reaction of the media? Largely ridicule. Newspapers routinely referred to concerns about Communist agents ‘paranoia’. Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible, comparing the search for Communist agents to a witch hunt. Movies since that day extol the “Hollywood 10” as heroes, unjustly accused of being foreign agents. The movie Good Night, and Good Luck, released recently, again painted the search for Communists as a fool’s errand, or the work of fanatics. Indeed, years later when James Angleton, a counter-intelligence agent with a stunning record of dedication and insight, warned that there must be Soviet agents within US counter-intelligence groups, he was laughed right out of his career.
The term witch hunt is still commonly used today, implying that the House Un-American Activities Committee was chasing after something that never existed. Even at the time the Crucible was written many people pointed out that, while witches are a superstition, Communists were real and busily butchering millions of their own people. A number of people in Hollywood came forward and agreed that yes, there were Communists in Hollywood doing their best to create propaganda, not art. Philip Dunne, who actively opposed the HUAC for potentially trampling American civil rights stated that in Hollywood “the industrious Communist tail wags the lazy Liberal dog”, admitting that Communists existed in Hollywood and often dictated projects and message. Of the Hollywood 10, one had fought with the Soviet-supplied pro-Communist forces in the Spanish Civil War and another had raised funds to supply them with arms, three were members of the Communist Party, some of whom admitted that officers of the CPUSA gave them orders on what to include and exclude in their work to promote Communism, and many of the rest were identified by witnesses as pressuring people to include pro-Communist propaganda in their films and books.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in the ‘90’s western researchers gained access to the Soviet archives and many KGB records. This allowed for definitive proof of a number of allegations; Angleton was right and American counter-intelligence had been deeply compromised for over a decade; the CPUSA was funded by the Soviet Union and was explicitly and espionage and subversion tool; Alger Hiss was a Soviet Agent; the witnesses who testified to the HUAC that they were former Soviet spies were, indeed, ‘turned’ Soviet spies; the ‘loyalty boards’ and ‘loyalty oaths’, investigations, and clearances forced on Truman by Republicans (to cries of outrage from the Left) did force spies out and did make it much, much harder for the Soviets to introduce new spies.
Despite the evidence of the day, the revelation of the Venona transcripts, and the contents of the Soviet archives, many still dismiss the time as period of oppression by America and point to Conservatives as fanatics and fools for believing there was any danger. This view is especially prevalent in the “reality-based community”. No matter what was really going on, despite the fact that history has proven McCarthy and the HUAC correct, regardless of the violence, oppression, and slaughter inherent in every Communist regime, and in defiance of the stated Communist goal of making America just like the Soviet Union, all of the Conservative of the time were in the grips of “paranoia”.
The Communists were probably most effective in their penetration of art and academe. As the New Left spread out in an attempt to find a niche, it took root in academia, often with a vengeance. The basic ideology of the New Left was the use of Marxist theory applied to culture rather than labor in an attempt to transform society and seize control through social engineering, not violent revolution. For example, some openly Marxists historians argued that America was not responding to outside pressures but rather actively building an Empire; this highly revisionist picture, virtually devoid of actual evidence, became accepted as fact for decades before rebuttals were published. The revisionists scholars ignored the rebuttals and continued to paint the Soviet Union (with its purges, gulags, totalitarian policies, and assassinations) as morally equal to America. This attitude was accepted in academia and was the ruling paradigm in the 1960’s and 70’s, continuing on to the present day.
The fall of the Soviet Union was a heavy blow to Leftists everywhere. Over the course of the 20th Century Communism had had every chance to succeed; the sole result was economic collapse, the loss of civil and human rights, and the slaughter of tens of millions of innocent people. Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Maoism – all had proven completely incompatible with their goals (equality, freedom, plenty), but very efficient at oppression and murder. Cultural Marxism flourished in the West within academia, the arts, and the media; what were its adherents to do? Well, the same thing they had been doing. After their success in portraying America as no different than the Soviet Union (despite the lack of secret police, gulags, or work quotas in America), they decided to portray America as the worst nation on Earth. While portraying America’s victories as defeats, triumphs as evil, and ideals as false, they also focused on undermining the core institutions, morals, and concepts of the society. The main tool of this attack is Critical Theory.
By ‘critical theory’ I don’t mean the majority of thought about the nature and structure of literature. I am referring to the philosophy coming out of the Frankfort School. The Frankfort School was a collection of Marxist ideologues in Frankfort, Germany. The academics of the Frankfort School were dedicated Communists of one stripe or another, primarily what would be called in modern America “paleo-Marxists”. They seemed dismayed by the opposition to Communism they saw in Europe and how Fascists were able to tap into this opposition to gain power. Over the course of decades the various members of the Frankfort School (who spent WWII in America to escape the Nazis) developed Critical Theory. Unlike sociology prior to this, critical theory is not conceptualized as a method of observing and understanding society/culture as it is but is rather designed to be a tool to attack culture/society and change it into what the theorist wants it to become.
This proved to be a very fruitful path for Marxists everywhere. Much of the early work of the members of the Frankfort School was aimed at discrediting reason itself as a tool; the argument that reason leads to totalitarian societies was routinely put forward. Another common argument is that morals and ethics are totally subjective or arbitrary side-effects of language. Oddly, there is also the occasional argument that all morals other than Marxist ones are subjective (perhaps not so odd when you consider the rejection of logic). A common tactic is to change the definitions of words to “subvert” the culture that uses them, or to deny that words have any meaning other than what the reader decides to give them (where the Frankfort School’s critical theory overlaps with literary critical theory).
The concepts of Critical Theory are very seductive to some; if you don’t like a particular aspect of society or believe that you have a superior vision of society, simply redefine the terms, attack what exists, describe a utopic vision of what you want, and stick to the script. Elements of this are strong in feminist theory, regional studies (especially post-colonial conceptualizations and studies of the Middle East), and the entire crop of new “disciplines” such as Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, etc. Indeed, it can be argued that these various “disciplines” were created out of whole cloth via Critical Theory specifically as a praxis of the subversion of culture/society.
Two threads that can be seen running through all these various fields of discourse are a commitment to Marxist theory and a disparagement of Western society, especially American society. Key members of the Frankfort School felt the Enlightenment itself was the key step toward fascism and only by rejecting reason and positivism can Man be free of the tyranny of, well, reason. Government, politics, mass culture, popular music, popular art, norms of speech, selection of words, literature, folktales – all are attacked, all are torn down, each is shown (through new definitions, the rejection of reason, or the imposition of meaning that the critic wishes the thing to have) to be a tool of fear, oppression, slavery, and death.
After 50 years Critical Theory suffuses academia; from [something] studies to sociology to literature to political science, Critical Theory holds sway. It is the cornerstone of people such as Noam Chomsky or Ward Churchill and the basis of feminist theory. The entirety of gender theory boils down to a redefinition of words (or the stripping of meaning from words) in an attempt to change society. Journalists and educators are trained in the halls of Critical Theory and yearn for acceptance by the ideologues (if they do not, in fact, hope to some day join them), motivating them to embrace Critical Theory in the classroom and in the media. Entertainers, so very desperate to appear erudite, clasp Critical Theorists to their bosom and hope that some of the sheen of the self-appointed intelligentsia clings to them like fairy dust.
In the end, the result of the constant attacks, redefinition of terms, and utopic visions of what could be if the nature of Man/the world were different, is that Western culture in general and America in particular is portrayed not as imperfect, or flawed, or even evil – but as the most evil, the worst ever nation/culture/society. All elements of American society must be remade/abolished to erase the stain of being successful and surviving when socialism has failed and died.
And thus we return to the new Superman movie. Of course the Hollywood writers refuse to have an American icon support the American way. After all, what is so great about life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, hard work, sacrifice, democracy, and the certainty that good is its own reward? While foreigners may be dying to come to America and live here, that doesn’t mean they want to hear something as offensive as the concept that America is worth living in, or that the ideals that it is built upon are worthy of respect or emulation.
In a few months the outrage over this most recent attack on America will fade, then become accepted, and then the attack will shift. In 20 more years another Superman movie will come out and they will drop the ‘justice’ (after all, how can an American icon speak of justice? Don’t you know that America is the most unjust nation ever?). And by the time another restart is made in about the year 2050 ‘truth’ will be dropped as an archaic notion, too (since you can’t be sure that anything is true. Well, other than Marxism, of course).
Thanks to the Miami Art Exchange
And hello to The Blorg