Tag Archives: joseph mccarthy

Have You no Sense of Decency, Sir?

welch

Joseph Welch during the McCarthy Hearings

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sixty-three years ago today, Joseph Welch, the Chief Counsel for the United States Army during Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist hearings uttered a phrase that shook the Senator and stopped the momentum of McCarthy’s far ranging political crusade to impinge the honor and integrity of Americans who he accused of being Communists on live television, with no chance for rebuttal, knowing that even the hint of being associated with the Communists would ruin their lives, even if it proved to be unfounded.

On the 30th day of the hearings, fed up with McCarthy’s tactics, Welch stopped McCarthy in his tracks.   Welch challenged McCarthy’s Counsel, Roy Cohn to provide the Attorney General with McCarthy’s list of 130 Communists or subversives in defense plants “before the sun goes down.”

(Note: Cohn later became Donald Trump’s lawyer in the first series of lawsuits against the future President for racial discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act in the early 1970s before his disbarment)

McCarthy interrupted and began an ad homonym attack on one of Welch’s legal associates. Welch stopped him and said:

Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us….Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentleman, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.

McCarthy charged ahead only to be stopped by Welch.

Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild … Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

Even so McCarthy went back on the attack and was repulsed yet again.

Mr. McCarthy, I will not discuss this further with you. You have sat within six feet of me and could have asked me about Fred Fisher. You have seen fit to bring it out. And if there is a God in Heaven it will do neither you nor your cause any good. I will not discuss it further. I will not ask Mr. Cohn any more witnesses. You, Mr. Chairman, may, if you will, call the next witness.

The chamber exploded in cheering and applause as McCarthy sat silent. It was a moment that McCarthy and his hearings never recovered from. “Tail gunner Joe” would be censured by the Senate and die just three years later from acute hepatitis.

Over the past two years we have seen the President, his aides, his political hatchet-men in the pulpits and the media, and even sitting GOP Congressmen and Senators go out of their way to impugn the honor and integrity of anyone who criticizes the President or who seems to stand in his way, be they the Acting Attorney General, the FBI Director, and even members of the Federal Courts.

As the Senate hearings investigating the Russia scandal that is rapidly encompassing a large number of Trump aides continue, I wonder if in the midst of them someone will have their Joseph Welch moment and challenge those in the Senate, from the White House, or in the media impugn the integrity, motives, and honor of Comey and others during the hearings this week.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“The Grave Dangers in Meeting Fanaticism with Ignorance…”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Earlier in the week I discussed the moral implications of the President’s budget and talked about President Eisenhower’s Chance for Peace Speech of 1953. As I thought about it I began to ponder other things that President Eisenhower discussed that are still with us. One of those is the constant need for some people in government, in the media, and in the pulpit to find a scapegoat for the nation’s problems, both real, and imagined.

This is nothing new so as I watch the actions of some in the Trump Administration, and in the media today behaving in such a manner, it causes me pause and think. I am concerned with the way that American Muslims, and Americans of Arabic descent, even Christians, are being treated in response to real terrorist threats that are being perpetrated by some Islamic terrorist groups. Frankly, the heavy handed treatment of American citizens of the Islamic faith, or those who happen to be from, or who descent from Arab immigrants. I believe that the climate of suspicion and fear being promoted by people in the administration, members of Congress, and the media, especially the Right Wing media is something that hearkens back to a time not that long ago when other Americans were persecuted under a flood of allegations, many untrue and unfounded, by Senator Joseph McCarthy, and the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC).

President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote a letter on intellectual freedom to the President of the American Library Association in June of 1953. It was barely five months after he entered office, the Cold War was heating up, and anti-Communist politicians were advocating policies which were in effect anti-American. Senator Joseph McCarthy was conducting hearings which were akin to witch hunts to ferret out alleged Communist infiltrators and sympathizers in government, while the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) conducted investigations of media, entertainment, and academia blacklisting hundreds of people. McCarthy labeled many Democrats as well as the incoming Eisenhower administration as traitors for allegedly being soft on Communism, or even worse actively supporting the Communists.

Throughout his Presidency, Eisenhower never tired of speaking out for freedom of thought and expression. One of his first actions was in writing his letter on intellectual freedom. In the letter he opposed the kind of thinking that would meet real dangers with ignorance. He noted:

Our librarians serve the precious liberties of our nation: freedom of inquiry, freedom of the spoken and the written word, freedom of exchange of ideas.

Upon these clear principles, democracy depends for its very life, for they are the great sources of knowledge and enlightenment. And knowledge–full, unfettered knowledge of its own heritage, of freedom’s enemies, of the whole world of men and ideas–this knowledge is a free people’s surest strength.

The converse is just as surely true. A democracy smugly disdainful of new ideas would be a sick democracy. A democracy chronically fearful of new ideas would be a dying democracy.

For all these reasons, we must in these times be intelligently alert not only to the fanatic cunning of Communist conspiracy– but also to the grave dangers in meeting fanaticism with ignorance. For, in order to fight totalitarians who exploit the ways of freedom to serve their own ends, there are some zealots who-with more wrath than wisdom–would adopt a strangely unintelligent course. They would try to defend freedom by denying freedom’s friends the opportunity of studying Communism in its entirety–its plausibilities, its falsities, its weaknesses…

In the letter also noted something that I believe that we are in danger of today as the administration and Congress debate and implement measures that seem to target people because of their race or religion. Those are methods of totalitarians past and present. We have seen the results. President Eisenhower had just led the Allied forces in Europe against a regime that employed those methods, methods which brought about the deliberate, premeditates slaughter of millions of Jews, and others deemed to be either less than human, different, or potentially dangerous. Eisenhower wrote:

“But we know that freedom cannot be served by the devices of the tyrant. As it is an ancient truth that freedom cannot be legislated into existence, so it is no less obvious that freedom cannot be censored into existence. And any who act as if freedoms defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America.”

It is something to think about any time that anyone, be they a political leader, a religious leader, an academic, a journalist, or entertainer suggests adopting the methods of totalitarians against real or imagined threats. Policies and actions born of ignorance, and implemented through arrogance which promotes suspicion, suppression and fear will destroy the United States more certainly than any external enemy. As Abraham Lincoln said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” 

It is something to think about.

Have a great Day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, News and current events, Political Commentary