More broadly, people like Schrecker can’t or won’t understand that their culture of denial is what created McCarthyism. It was the palpable indifference of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations toward Communist penetration of the American government that finally triggered the backlash led by HUAC [House Unamerican Activities Committee] and McCarthy. McCarthy’s accusation that Roosevelt ushered in "20 years of treason" is an absurd exaggeration. But if Roosevelt didn’t deserve to be executed as a spy, he most certainly ought to have been horsewhipped for his cavalier dismissal of Whittaker Chambers’ accusations. As early as 1939, Chambers warned Roosevelt about Alger Hiss and named at least 12 other U.S. officials who would later be proved Soviet spies. Roosevelt airily told his aides that Chambers could "go fuck himself." The spies kept passing secrets to Moscow for another nine years, until HUAC began making noises about the case. Chambers’ warning was only one of several by regretful spies during that period that first Roosevelt and then Truman ignored. Truman was so lackadaisical that the military code breakers working on the Venona Project kept it secret from him for fear word would leak back to the Soviets.
Fifty years later, the pattern is repeating itself. The character assassinations and lies of the die-hard defenders of American communism have given rise to a movement to rehabilitate McCarthy and other bully-boy anti-communists of the 1940s and ’50s. Some efforts of this movement, such as George Washington University historian Arthur Herman’s Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator, are relatively judicious attempts to correct some of the exaggerations about McCarthy -- for instance, the widely repeated but totally erroneous claim that he never correctly identified a single Communist. Others, such as conservative attack-blonde Ann Coulter’s Treason, attempt a radical makeover. McCarthy (who accused everybody from Harry Truman to George Marshall of secret Soviet sympathies) was actually too charitable, Coulter argues; he was too tenderhearted to say, as she does, that all liberals -- everybody from Lyndon Johnson to Tom Daschle -- are traitors at heart. "Whenever the nation is under attack, from within or without, liberals side with the enemy," Coulter writes. "This is their essence."
That’s idiotic, to be sure, but no more so than American University historian Anna Kasten Nelson’s argument that Venona isn’t important because there are all kinds of good reasons a perfectly innocent person might be secretly passing microfilm to a KGB agent. (No, she doesn’t list any of them.) "It is time to move on," she wrote recently, instead of "rehashing old debates" (because, you know, historians get bored with old stuff). Then there’s the psychobabble contention of Bard College’s Joel Kovel that J. Edgar Hoover hunted spies not because foreign espionage is against the law but because he had some previously undiscovered Freudian condition in which anti-communism "might be interchangeably a womb or anus." Writing stuff like that amounts to handing the Coulters of the world a loaded gun and daring them to pull the trigger. As somebody once said: Have you no sense of decency, Sir?
Communism killed 93 million people. I have little patience for its apologists.