During my junior year in high school my friends hung around
after school, went to Bonds for a malt, to the gym
for basketball practice, or to the movies while I went home
to watch TV, more specifically the Army-McCarthy hearings.
I thought it so outrageous for Senator Joseph McCarthy
to call all liberals and union workers—even worse—innocent,
apolitical people—Communists—not just Communists,
but Soviet agents or blame them as the guys who lost China
to Mao and his red guards. Were you or did you ever know one?
It was obsessive and I knew it (36 days, 32 witnesses,
71 half-day sessions, 187 hours of TV air time, two million
words of testimony). My friends were incredulous. I guess, not like me,
they’d never been to Salem, Mass. or studied the details
of American history—or maybe they believed these folks were witches,
so why should they worry? And who cares
about the First Amendment anyway? Let them stew
in the Fifth. But I thought it outrageous
for I regarded Joseph N. Welch, chief attorney for the Army,
as a prophet even before he uttered that final, cutting rebuke
to the senator: Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?
Have you no sense of decency? His words, I believed,
paraphrased Jehovah’s own, while McCarthy, with his faithful aide
Roy Cohn and their red-hunting plan, were from Satan’s ring—the truly crimson
crowd. I have in my hand a list of 205 cases of individuals who appear
to be either card-carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist party.
(81 were supposedly from the State Department.)
I couldn’t believe the folks they’d done in (about 10,000,
the best estimate of who lost their jobs) including, I later found out,
when my sister married him, my brother-in-law, a conservative
Republican who was learning how to speak Russian, hoping
for a career in the foreign service.
By attending the trials via TV, it was, at least, one way to rehearse
all my denials regarding whatever I was guilty of,
even though, like my brother-in-law on the other end
of the political spectrum, I wasn’t un-American.
I was happy, though to see McCarthy finally go up in smoke;
condemned 67-22 on December 2, 1954 for
conduct contrary to Senatorial traditions.
In the Sixties I felt some comfort with the flare-up
of liberalism, but then, given our need to prevent the domino effect
in Vietnam (that red scare again) it began to fade until, with the rise
of Ronald Reagan, liberalism was back to being heretical
again. But now the twist was different, one must be a fervent supporter
of the totally unrestrained market economy. Such fanaticism
did in my political aspirations and my brother-in-law never could join
the Foreign Service. So I suppose there were rings of fire
for everyone, whatever your political persuasion.
Published in Whistling Girls and Cackling Hens
2003, Pudding House Press chapbook series