How Tasteless! Mentioning Historical Truth when Reviewing a Film…

October 8, 2005

Joseph McCarthy.jpg
His Biggest Crime? Making It Possible for Totalitarians
to Portray Themselves as Civil Libertarians

I’ve been a fan of Stephen Hunter, film critic at the Washington Post, for some time. I’ve always found his reviews to be helpful guides to films. More than that, however, they’re well crafted essays on interesting subjects. (His review of “Downfall,” the outstanding film starring the incomparable Bruno Ganz that chronicled the last days of the man who plunged Europe into war and genocide, is a good example: “Hitler in the Berlin Bunker: An Eerie, Chilling ‘Downfall’.”)

But now Hunter has gone and mentioned the unmentionable in a review of a movie about the nefarious Joseph McCarthy: “‘Good Night’: A Gray Era In Stark Black And White.” How long can he last as a respected film critic?

(It’s astonishing how the issue of the very real communist threat to liberty over a period of many decades–fortunately now behind us–has been occluded by the reckless behavior of the senator from Wisconsin. I find that when I mention in a talk that so-and-so was or is an outspoken Communist [or communist], I have to mention that I’m not red-baiting, because so-and-so actively called for establishing the dictatorship fo the proletariat and abolishing private ownership of the means of production, or was a membership of the Communist Party. A simple statement of fact is generally considered evidence of vicious “red-baiting.” The propagandists for the cause of communism did a truly brilliant job and the effects are still with us. Let’s hope that, with the USSR now dead and buried, this particular bit of dishonesty can be uncovered for what it was and is: an attempt to mask a movement for mass murder and total dictatorship as a kind of harmless lifestyle that was persecuted by fanatics whose crimes [such as denying work to intellectual thugs like the wealthy Dalton Trumbo] were far worse than anything ever contemplated by the harmless communist intellectuals, who merely wanted to liquidate much of the population and plunge the rest into a long night of tyranny and poverty.)

{ 5 comments }

Kim Scarborough October 8, 2005 at 8:38 pm

Responsible anti-Communists in the 1950’s lamented McCarthy for similar reasons. The joke often heard was, “If McCarthy had been working for Moscow, he couldn’t have done a better job for them”. This was later the premise for the original “The Manchurian Candidate”.

Brian Radzinsky October 8, 2005 at 9:16 pm

I agree with you on the whole. McCarthy’s horrific witch hunt doesn’t mitigate the evils of communism. Right.

But I also doubt the extent to which communism gained acceptance in the US after McCarthy was through. After all, most Americans alive in the 50s and 60s were still voting in the 80s and Reagan was elected. Furthermore, if you just look at pop culture from the years after HUAC and McCarthy, you see a definite anti-communist trend. Probably not as screedful as it was in the 50s, but nonetheless there.

I’d also be careful deeming all communists evil, Stalinist, bloodthirsty thugs. Just how there are libertarians that would like to see the Imperial City (aka Washington) burn to the ground, there are those communists who wax wistful for the gulags. But there are also those, like Trumbo was, who were so misguided by communism’s appeal (like the far left or right’s appeal) that they bought into the ideology without reading the fine print. (Namely that with that dictatorship of the proletariat come some very bad things).

Perhaps it’s just because I happen to be close to the Trumbo family that I’m saying this (in which case I ask you excuse me letting a serious issue get too personal), but just as McCarthy doesn’t mitigate the evils of communism, communism doesn’t mitigate the evils of McCarthy.

Tom G. Palmer October 9, 2005 at 1:06 am

I didn’t state my point as clearly as I could have. I didn’t mean that lots of people found communism more attractive after Senator McCarthy discredited himself, but that it became more difficult to point out in an honest way what it meant to be a communist. Merely to mention that someone was a member of the CPUSA, for example, was (and is) taken as “red baiting,” rather than as a simple statement of fact.

Lots of people were convinced that communism would lead to wonderful benefits for mankind. Some honestly didn’t know about the horrors. But the second statement is certainly not true of the top intellectuals. By the 1940s, they all knew what was going on. The Frida Kahlo’s, the Halldor Laxness’s, the Lillian Hellman’s, and all the rest knew all about what was happening in the USSR and they silently (or not so silently) endorsed the mass murder of the Ukrainian peasants, the purges and the executions, and the slave labor camps. We didn’t have to wait until Solzhenitsyn to make that information public. So McCarthy didn’t turn people to embracing communism, but he did make it more difficult to call people to account — intellectually and morally — for what they knew they were endorsing when they supported the USSR.

I’d never express ill will toward the family of someone such as Dalton Trumbo; it’s his personal story that’s not admirable. He called in the FBI to investigate people who had written to him about his anti-war book “Johnny Got his Gun” — after Hitler had attacked Stalin. He only brought the book out again after the Allied victory over the Axis powers, when he again became “anti-war.” He’s been portrayed as a principled advocate of freedom of speech, but that’s not consistent with his actions; he supported freedom of speech that he thought was favorable to the USSR, and he opposed any freedom of speech that he thought was not favorable to the USSR. Needless to say, none of his family members bear any responsibility for his behavior. Nor does it excuse the clownish, disgraceful (and counter-productive) antics of Senator McCarthy.

Anonymous October 10, 2005 at 11:05 am

If you ignorently point a gun at someone, pull the trigger (because you sincerly desire a better world and don’t know the vile consquences of your actions)…you are still guilty of murder.

A pox on communists of any stripe.

Chris Grieb October 16, 2005 at 7:20 pm

I would to like recommend “Red Star over Hollywood by Ronald and Allis Radosh. This is an excellent discuusion of the Commmunists in Hollywood. Please note Joe McCarthy never investigated Hollywood. If you are interested in looking at McCarthy himself check out Arthur Herman’s biography. In discussing this new movie it must be emphasized that Joe McCarthy was broken by two people Dwight Eisenhower and Joe McCarthy.

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