Joseph McCarthy
Joseph Welch

RE: Walter Winney's review of Shooting Star


Dear Sir,

Having come across this review, and in the absence of (obvious) comments, it seems sensible to make some belated reply. Welch was, first and foremost, a lawyer; an experienced and successful lawyer, trained to make his best case in the face of any adversity. It is standard practice for a lawyer to continually review possible weaknesses in their case, to think of ways to defend against the opposition's attack; and it beggars belief to suggest that Welch --- knowing full-well that one of his own staff was linked to a 'tainted' organisation and that McCarthy's favourite tactic was to attack precisely such associations --- would not have prepared his defence to McCarthy's entirely predictable attack.

Perhaps Welch was indeed angry --- no doubt he knew that Fisher's career hung in the balance, that if McCarthy prospered then inevitably Fisher's career must come to a halt --- but certainly his response was a prepared one.

As to the question: why did McCarthy's fall not precipitate the fall of the remaining 'red-scare' politicians? one must look back to the circumstances and feelings of the time. It is unarguably true that there was a threat from the USSR; and this threat (perhaps unfairly) was associated in the American mind with 'communism' more than 'Stalinism' or 'Russia'. Hoover and his colleagues certainly destroyed careers unfairly --- but they also caught genuine Soviet spies, and they had enough sense to destroy the careers of people who were not well-known. Very simply, McCarthy made his attacks in full public view, where Welch (and perhaps more significantly Murrow) could review, analyse and find errors; Hoover made his attacks behind a smokescreen of 'national security', and upon relatively obscure figures --- so that the public outcry which destroyed McCarthy never approached Hoover.

It is interesting to note that the associations created by McCarthy at his peak continue to be felt in current American attitudes: the Americanism 'leftist' is a term of insult which is not seen outside the USA, while its natural counterpart 'rightist' is not in common usage; in America the word 'socialist' is seen as a synonym for 'Communist' and is used to destroy reputations, while outside the USA there exist political parties which happily and successfully proclaim themselves to be socialist (if not Communist).

--- Peter Allen
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Shooting Star

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