Jacob Weisberg's cover story in Sunday's (11/28) New York Times Magazine, "The Rehabilitation of Joe McCarthy," really was not too bad. As a reader of the Times for the last 50 years, since I began buying it for a nickel on the way to Brooklyn Technical High School in the early 1950s, I fully expected a screed. You know what I mean, a smear of various conservatives, accusing them of committing "McCarthyism" in defending "Joe McCarthy's witch hunts." Instead, Weisberg is practically begging the old folks of the old left and of the old right to call off the endless debate over the post-WWII Red Scare. Right-wingers (like you) more or less want the intellectual left to concede that when McCarthy said there were several hundred traitorous commies lurking in the federal bureaucracy, he was right!!! The Weisberg article goes about as far as you should want the Times to go in admitting that McCarthy was right, and the little old lefty ladies on the Upper West Side should throw in the towel. On the other hand, Weisberg does make the point, on behalf of the old left, that McCarthy went too far. In other words, he may have been right on the facts, but he should not have been so sleazy in his witch hunting. Weisberg more or less has you agreeing with that.
Well, to tell you the truth, Bill, I would accept that deal. You know, I think, what a screwy background I had. My mother's side of the family were, shall we say, fellow travelers, not card carrying members of the Communist Party, but the next best thing. I read I.F. Stone in the old PM lefty tabloid even before I was buying the Times for a nickel. My father, though, was a card carrying member of the Roman Catholic Church and the AF of L trade unions. So I heard it all from both sides, day after day, year after year. Was I one mixed up kid! I knew in my heart that the Rosenbergs were guilty and deserved to be executed! I always knew Alger Hiss was GUILTY. Never any doubt in my mind. And yet I HATED Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy!!! When I was 17, I left the Catholic Church and pronounced myself a FABIAN SOCIALIST, for goodness sakes. Practically every political friend I had was a Jewish intellectual, a little to my left, who sang folk songs and belonged to the Young People's Socialist League and who publicly denounced the right wingers for saying Alger Hiss was a COMMUNIST, but who secretly hoped he was!!!
What dopey cross currents for us kids, to try to figure out what we should think. I knew, knew, knew that Hiss was a Soviet spy, and hated him for his betrayal, and yet I hated McCarthy and Nixon for their witch hunt. But hey, Bill, it comes down to personal experience. In 1951, my grandfather, John Rusinskas, was honored by the Lithuanian community of New York City for his contributions. I never quite knew what his contributions were, why he was being celebrated at a banquet in his honor, when I was 14 years old. I knew that my family was divided. My father made the decision that our family, including his wife, would not attend the banquet. I was old enough to understand that McCarthy figured in the decision. My Dad was afraid that because of Joe, there might be representatives of the U.S. government behind the potted palms, taking down the names of all those in attendance, and that as a result there would be a cloud over Jude and Terry, his sons, for the rest of their natural lives. I remember him saying we might not be able to get into the Navy because of the records made behind those potted palms. I would have thought this irrational, perhaps, but my mother's sister's husband, Julian de La Rosa, agreed with him. So neither the La Rosas nor the Wanniskis went to the banquet in my grandfather's honor. I connected it with Joe McCarthy and of course continue to make the connection to this day.
So what should we do, Bill? How do we put all this behind us? I actually think it is too hard to do. Historians have to do this for us a long time from now. I'd like to say I wish we didn't execute Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. And I'd like to say that all those Commies in the government were acting with noble purpose, believing Marx was right and capitalism was the wrong track over the long run. As a Catholic back in the traces and graces, I can say Father, forgive them for they knew not what they did. But it probably has to play itself out on its own, little by little, over the generations ahead. It is too risky to give anything to the opposition, because they will take it all and give nothing in return. Or should we risk it anyway and see what happens?