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Book Review: Blacklisted by History by M. Stanton Evans

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“Though he’s been dead and gone since 1957,” M. Stanton Evans begins his prodigious 600-plus page apologia for one of the most hated political figures in American history, “Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy lives on in American legend with remarkable staying power… Not that Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, two eminent critics of McCarthy in the 1950s, are forgotten. It’s just that they don’t come up all the time in squabbles of the modern era. Joe McCarthy does, and then some.”

If you studied postwar history in college, chances are you’ve come across the name of Senator Joe McCarthy once or twice. But as Robert Novak explained in his review of Blacklisted by History for The Weekly Standard, one need not attend college or study history to know about Joe McCarthy’s bad deeds. All you have to do is turn on the T.V. or pick up a reference book.

“McCarthyism,” Novak writes, “ is ingrained in the contemporary political lexicon, used so frequently – by conservatives as well as liberals – that it is no longer necessary to define its meaning.”

For all he does to Joe McCarthy from history’s “blacklist,” M. Stanton Evans wouldn’t assume to argue that McCarthy’s importance in the post World War II order has been overstated, so much as it’s been misunderstood.

“McCarthy was a drunk, a crook, and a liar who maintained his waning political career by willfully attacking individuals and organizations that posed no threat to the United States,” writes The Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin, a publication McCarthy once referred to as “the Pravda of the Prairie” after it opposed both of his bids to the U.S. Senate.

That the type of sentiment is precisely what Evans attempts to address.

Anyone who’s had to do a project that necessitated reliance upon grandparents or those elderly enough to be grandparents knows our elders can offer the type of perspective no dry, detached history book can offer. That “I remember where I was when…” perspective of is so different in its insight than books myopically focused on the top of the top figures in national politics.

Evans not only “remembers were he was” when history was happening around him – and, at 73, he’s seen a lot – but he was the one writing the news as it happened, not to mention training young writers in the craft.

Writes Novak, “The jacket blurb says it took over six years to write Blacklisted, but… Evans has spent his whole career thinking about Joe.”

Evans, founder and longtime director of the National Journalism Center – since assumed by Young America’s Foundation and on the tail end of its 30th year training upstart conservative journalists – is a consummate researcher and fluid writer, and something of a legend in conservative Washington. He’s one of the few people who writes like he talks and talks like he writes – with flair, depth, and necessarily at length.

Evans is that rare person whose knowledge will never be fully shared with the world. No matter how much he writes, or how many writers he trains, or how many tall tales he tells, there’s just too much there to truly take full advantage. That’s a real shame.

It also works in his favor because Evans took on a decidedly uphill battle. After all, you’re not “playing” Devil’s Advocate when you’re defending El Diablo and there’s no shortage of people willing to brand McCarthy with that scarlet letter.

In the end, it is with the Capital Times of the world that Evans’ painstakingly-crafted arguments will get the least traction. Having felt McCarthy’s power in a way only someone who “remembers where they were” could, there’s no amount of documents the FBI could ever declassify that would cause them to view the man differently or his work as necessary, let alone laudable.

Even if you are swayed by Evans’ evidence that many of the “names named” were demonstrably employed by the Soviet Union concurrently with their service to the federal government – and how can you not? – that still leaves you with an arguably alcoholic self-appointed Town Crier, a finger-pointing Puritan content to drag whomever necessary through the mud if it suited his purposes.

It’s no coincidence that “McCarthyism” is a four-letter word in American politics. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Even if McCarthy’s aim was true, his tactics weren’t, and his willingness to tell The Big Lie cost McCarthy his own career in the end. Much like Ernesto Miranda, freed from prison for not being read the “Miranda Warning”, only to have his eventual killer released without charges 10 years later for a procedural problem regarding his Miranda Rights, perhaps the person most undone by McCarthyism was the man himself.

Luckily he has a worthy and thorough advocate like Evans to defend him. Blacklisted may draw fire for challenging – convincingly – many peoples’ long-settled impressions of Joe McCarthy, but, before long, it’ll make its way onto postwar American History reading lists.

Soon enough, those who think there’s two ways to feel about McCarthy won’t be laughed out of the classroom anymore, now that Evans has provided them the firepower to go citation for citation with their professors. Eventually, someone will write that groundbreaking dissertation that will, for a time, “debunk” the concept of McCarthyism, and at that point the floodgates will open.

Who McCarthy is and what McCarthy did have been a “closed case” for so long that to send professors back to the drawing boards might lead them into exactly what Stan Evans found: proof that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

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About James David Dickson

  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net , which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States, and to Boston.com. Nice work!

  • James Dickson

    Mark, how’s it going?

    We actually met at Mr. Evans’s Blacklisted book party.

    Look. It’s a great book. Mr. Evans is a great historian.

    But I’m not sold on McCarthy. It’s quite telling that McCarthy himself couldn’t have, and didn’t, mount a defense anywhere near as thorough in the five intervening years between the end of his career and the end of his life.

    If you’re looking for someone to drink the Kool-Aid, though, I’m not that guy. I’ll never let anyone use my unwillingness to sign on 100% with what they’re saying as a negative. Sorry!

  • Leonard Martino

    Basically, Evans repeats the same material that William Buckley used. Joe McCarthy represented the frustration that many in the West felt after the end of World War Two when it seemed as though, as Churchill put it we had “killed the wrong pig.” It was Churchill who invented the term “Iron Curtain.” All of a sudden all of the evil fascists were gone, and now we faced the communists. People like Henry Wallace, once highly favored, became political lepers.
    We were still searching for some middle ground, and Truman was just simply too shaky. By 1953, some imagined asked if Eisenhower was the new Hindenberg and (gasp) if McCarthy the new “Hilter.” All of a sudden, the left had invented an enemy. By Kennedy’s time, anti-Communism had become mainstream. Fast forward to today and I see America as a fading Empire. The people who were proven “right” were the Robert Taft types, and look what happened to Ron Paul.
    BTW. Evans skips over the fact that, correct or not, Hiss maintained that Chambers had used “forgery by typewriter.” If Hiss had been more cautious after his first mis-trial, his second trial could well have misfired also, whcih would have discredited Chambers. As it was, Hiss was simply out-lawyered.

  • Jaroslaw

    M. Stanton Evans’ book “Blacklisted by History” is an example of a well researched and elegantly written piece of historical journalism. Evans’ book turns conventional wisdom about McCarthy on its head, and many who were brainwashed by the hundreds of tracts demonizing Senator McCarthy will find fault with it. Nearly everything written about McCarthy since his death fifty years painted him as a dreadful human being, a sociopath and nihilist, a brutal amoral lout with no redeeming features. Perhaps the only recent exception to this view was Arthur Hermann’s truly undetached biography of “America’s most hated Senator.” From now on any researcher or historian who even thinks of writing about McCarthy had better consult Evans’ book.

    Personally what I found most instructive about Evans’ book is the way he skillfully lays out the historical background preceding the McCarthy era convincingly documenting not only the extent of the penetration of the State Department, the Treasury, White House etc. by communist agents, moles, fellow travelers and sympathizers, but the influence they yielded on key policy decisions. And he names names, names and more names; enough names to make your head spin. Lists beginning with ten known spies on page 39 –Adler, Belfrage, Bisson, Coe, Currie, Glasser, Karr, Keemey, Mins and Nuemann. And this followed by hundreds more that make the reading of this book a surrealist experience. Today, we can confirm many of them by the Venona revelations, soviet archives and declassified FBI files. Together they provide irrefutable triangulating evidence that McCarthy was not only right but perhaps even underestimated the extent of the penetration, as Haynes and Klehr suggest.

    This also puts paid to red herring arguments dangled ad nauseam that none of the suspects McCarthy named went to prison. But that was not his job; he simply wanted them out of the government. Were his tactics too “inquisitional” depends on one’s political perspective and perception of communism. If one accepted communism as a benign utopian ideology, the wave of the future ― as many on the left religiously wanted to believe― then of course you would think that hounding anyone with communist sympathies was terrible. However, if one viewed communism as the enemy, an ideology responsible for the butchery of scores and scores and scores of millions of victims, then you had a legitimate reason for concern about communists in the government. On this point only those who lived under communism are entitled to an opinion, and among them the verdict is unanimous: communism was the most murderous regime in history ― a fact that thousands upon thousands misguided sympathizers in the U.S. and elsewhere chose to ignore.

    Another point that needs elucidation and that Evans might have articulated more fully, is the unanswered question of “how was one to know that the named individuals actually represented all agents and moles in the government?” Assuming even perfect knowledge of the existence of hundreds of agents and moles (something we now know with near complete certainty)—could there have been additional thousands that escaped FBI’s detection? Or were the ones named by McCarthy just the tip of the iceberg? Not even Hoover could have been certain if the FBI identified all of them because gathering evidence on communist agents was not much different from getting evidence about the secretive Cosa Nostra. If you were lucky you got a few pieces of information here and there, but in final analysis will never know if you got the full picture.

  • Mike Griffith

    A very dishonest review. Evans proves just the opposite of you what you say about McCarthy”s methods. McCarthy never dragged anyone “through the mud,” much less to suit his own purposes. He treated people fairly, and even some of his later critics admitted so at the time. He repeatedly tried to keep his targets confidential until he was sure he had ample evidence. Perhaps you didn’t really read the book?