I recently came across M. Stanton Evans' relatively recent book (2007) titled Blacklisted By History (The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy--And His Fight Against America's Enemies). Having grown up during the events in this book, I was generally familiar with what came to be known as the Red Scare of McCarthyism. Suffice it to say, my impressions and recollections of McCarthy weren't very positive. After hearing about this book, I thought I would give another view of the McCarthy story a fair reading.
My initial impression of Evans' book is the sheer size of the volume (663 pages, 45 Chapters). It quickly becomes apparent that this is no incidental survey or overview of the subject of Senator Joe McCarthy. The 11-page Prologue wets the reader's appetite by revealing what the author's goals were, what his (and his staff's) investigative method and source locations were and their commitment to leaving no stone unturned in seeking to uncover all available first-hand documentation, reexamining sources cited by previous authors, and a careful examination of the pertinent information contained in the former Soviet Union's "Venona" files. In short, this was a very serious undertaking with a view toward discovering and telling "The Untold Story Of Senator Joe McCarthy And His Fight Against America's Enemies."
In a number of Book Reviews and comments on Amazon.com, Evans has been accused of having a pro-McCarthy bias throughout this book. However, after reading the book myself, I found Evans was very evenhanded and willing to point out McCarthy's errors and personal faults. The book clearly indicates Evans was more interested in digging out the facts, analyzing the facts and drawing his conclusions based on the facts. I think the following quote reflects his approach:
"What the disclosures do mean is that the whole question of his [McCarthy's] cases needs to be reexamined in the light of the new information, and can't be dismissed out of hand with sweeping statements about the absurdity of the larger thesis."
SPOILER ALERT: There may be plot information beyond this point that some readers may not want to know. If so, continue reading at your own risk.
In Blacklisted By History, Evans does not simply focus only on Joe McCarthy and the events surrounding his assault on Communism in the American government during the 1950s. He divides his book into six parts. In Part 1, Evans includes the previously mentioned Prologue and then provides background information about Joe McCarthy, the events surrounding his committee's investigation and accusations and what Evans thinks is an inaccurate "caricature" of Senator Joe McCarthy (Prologue - Chapters 1-5).
Evans spends a significant amount of time (Chapters 6-13) establishing the relevance of other investigations into Communist activity during the several decades prior to Senator McCarthy's entrance into the national spotlight. Although this section is at times tedious and time consuming, I think it provided Evans with an invaluable and solid support for the material he later collected on the McCarthy years. Evans indicates that few Americans are even aware of this information, let alone have spent the time and effort to collect and piece together this kind of groundwork material before launching an attack on Senator McCarthy.
Moving into Part III, Evans enters the era of Senator Joe McCarthy (1950). The first thing he addresses is all of the accusations hurled at McCarthy shortly after his now infamous speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he allegedly stated that there were at that time 205 Communists still employed in the State Department. McCarthy insisted he referred to only 57, referring to the 205 figure from a letter written by the Secretary of State James Byrnes in 1946. Soon, a perjury investigation ensued which led to calls for McCarthy's formal censure and removal from his Senate seat. Evans meets this head-on and lays out the results of his interviews and document searches which correct the record and actually exonerate McCarty.
According to Evan's research, even John Howe (aid to Senator William Benton), one of McCarthy's severest critics, later admitted after reviewing this new evidence that the news stories about McCarthy were fallacious and he was innocent of perjury. Evans states that with the exception of one book on McCarthy (bottom of page 193) John Howe's memo chronicling the errors made about Senator McCarthy's statements would "...all but vanish from chronicles of the era--ignored in most studies of McCarthy, referred to obliquely and not too accurately in a couple, and otherwise consigned to the oblivion of the archives (and hard to locate there). Likewise, the misgivings expressed by Howe were kept discreetly private, and may be found today only by rummaging through ancient papers. By such devices do facts of record, for purposes of political history, become officially nonexistent."
In Chapters 18-23, Evans really shows off his skill for getting behind the scenes regarding what and why McCarthy's critics were so hell-bent on removing him from political service. He does this as an example to others who may also desire to mount a similar crusade by digging into the less than desirable internal affairs of the U.S. government. He reveals the Tydings hearings for the sham they really were by uncovering memo correspondence (some even involving President Truman) that clearly demonstrated the hypocrisy of the hearings. Tydings and his committee were tasked to conduct (according to the terms of Senate Rule 231) a "full and complete investigation as to whether personnel disloyal to the United States are or have been employed by the Department of State." However, rather than the committee doing this, they left the investigating up to McCarthy with a view toward eventually bringing charges against him, his public disgrace and eventual removal from the U.S. Senate. For me, this part of the book was the most interesting, revealing, and at the same time, the most embarrassing to me as a U.S. citizen.
Evans provides this surprising summary of Part III: "Throughout, the White House, Department of Justice, and other agencies of the Truman government showed far more interest in tracking down McCarthy's sources than in uncovering alleged Soviet agents or Communist Part members, or in addressing the lax security standards deployed by the LRB [Loyalty Review Board]. In view of the Truman administration, the problem with Joe McCarthy was not that he didn't have inside sources of loyalty data but that he all too obviously did. Which was from a national security standpoint beneficial, as information on such cases was sorely needed."
In Part IV, Evans pulls the kid gloves off and begins naming names. He opens the section by saying, "It is impossible to understand the McCarthy ear and its security wars without fist understanding something of Harry Truman--which, however, is no easy task. One this subject, and certain others, Truman is a hard man to figure." Without coming right out and stating that the entire Red security debacle was President Truman's fault, he does debunk the historical assertion that Truman had, through his aggressive loyalty program, actually cleaned up all of the Communist security risks before 1950 when McCarthy allegedly came barging in with his outrageous charges. Evans begins to pick this viewpoint apart by a systematic, person-by-person accounting Chapters 24-32) of case file evidence pertaining to key Communist employees still in the U.S. government. Evans summarizes Truman's claim as follows: "Sad to say, this portrayal of Truman's policy on the home front is almost entirely fiction." One key point that Evans makes is noting that the loyalty/security problems weren't entirely Truman's failure as the Communist infiltration into the U.S. government grew mostly out of the FDR years.
Evans begins to wrap up his impressive research by covering some of McCarthy's successes (reelection to his Senate seat in 1952 and appointment as chairman to important committee and subcommittee positions, and his failures, personal and public. He summarizes his conclusions about McCarthy as follows:
"Measured by the total record of his cases and political battles, McCarthy, whatever his faults, was a good man and true--better and truer by far than the tag teams of cover-up artists and backstage plotters who connived unceasingly to destroy him. In the end he perished, politically and otherwise, in the rubble he pulled down around him. Yet when the final chapter in the conflict with Moscow was written, amid you another pile of rubble, he was not without his triumph."
Finally, I appreciated very much the way Evans cited his source documentation in this book, especially when he added additional explanatory or clarification notes at the bottom of the applicable page, allowing the reader an opportunity to quickly review the information right then or return to it at a later time. For the fact checkers out there, Evans provides an impressive 24-page Note section of cited information, quotes, documents and much more. Amazingly, he also provides the reader with a Prologue or Preface of sorts explaining important points about his Notes section and follows this with a short Appendix of actual printed copies of "The McCarthy Lists" which McCarthy had, in fact, provided to Senator Millard Tydings identifying more than 100 suspects (critics still claim to this day that this list never existed). An interesting section of Acknowledgments follows, as well as a 20-page Subject Index.
Whether you agree with Evans' conclusions or simply dismiss his attempt to set the record straight on Joe McCarthy, one thing is very evident, any serious reexamination of the McCarthy era crusade against Communists in our federal government must include this impressive book by M. Stanton Evans.