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March 15, 2011

The New Joe McCarthy

Roy Meachum

When I was a freshman at Georgetown, Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy launched his version of a crusade against communists.


Recently returned from Airlift Berlin, I knew the Soviet Union’s capability of machinations. I had no doubt that Americans dedicated to communism existed within the government. But over the next several years the gentleman from Wisconsin turned up as guilty not one card-carrying Soviet agent.


Instead, Senator McCarthy’s investigative committee’s counsel, Roy Cohn, turned up many homosexuals who were fired; they were blackmail-able because of mores and the public attitude. Later it came out attorney Cohn was a particularly sadistic gay.


I greet Rep. Peter King’s probe of Muslim “terrorists” in that same light. His first day victim proved to be another House colleague. Minnesota’s Keith Ellison broke into tears in his witness chair; he and André D. Carson, of Indiana, are the only Muslims elected to Congress. His crying set off a storm of angry words aimed at him presumably because of his religion, and I know that’s against the U.S. Constitution. The problem? Proving it.


The McCarthy-Cohn killing machine thrived because wartime ally Soviets had the audacity to publicly test their own version of the atomic bomb. Smug and content, Americans “knew” they were the sole super-power. Immediately, there was a probe to discover what traitors had leaked the pertinent details to Moscow; it was extended to see what others might have been favorably inclined toward “Bolsheviks.” The House Un-American Committee kicked up tons of press notices.


In that favorable national atmosphere, the Wisconsin senator’s crusade flourished. Representative King’s version is born in a similar ambiance. His home state was, after all, the scene where terrorists hijacked passenger jets and crashed them into Wall Street’s World Trade Center towers. But even before that September morning, many “real” Americans regarded Muslims with suspicion; they were not blue-eyed, but dark-haired and sometimes swarthy. Those identical characteristics figure into bias against Latinos and Asians.


Roy Cohn might have wanted to cover his homosexual tracks by way-laying the investigation into secret communists. The original Crusades were preached to recapture Christ’s holy places from the Saracens, as they were then called. There were additional casualties. Slaughtering unarmed Jews by the hundreds, conveniently available in their ghettoes, was approved by the highest church authorities, as a warm-up.


On the sea-ward brim of Venice’s San Marco Piazza are a couple of intricately wrought lions of Saint Mark, souvenirs of the Fourth Crusade when the mostly French men-at-arms used the Venetian fleet. Aimed at Egypt, the Holy Land’s back door, it was easily diverted by a fallen Byzantine emperor to recapture his throne. Christians murdered Christians, raped the women and stole off with treasuries, among them San Marco Piazza’s lions.


Every attempt to purge a system, especially national, has resulted in unintended victims. I cannot but wonder what segment will become “erased” in Representative King’s “crusade.” Not intentionally, of course. U.S. Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer, “The Fighting Quaker,” deported many innocent immigrants in his post-War I effort to rid America of anarchists.


The Constitution must be faulted; its division of governmental powers equally among the executive, legislative and judicial domains means no branch can interfere with another’s initiative. I’m not suggesting the structure of this republic should be altered, in any fashion. In shying away from the British monarchy’s absolute power, the Founding Fathers created “rough” spots that still loom.


On the other hand, I see no reason why Peter King should be encouraged to wreck individuals and families’ lives. People living today don’t recognize “The Fighting Quaker’s” name; most never heard of him.


As for Sen. Joe McCarthy, his memory fades, except among those of us who survived his reign of terror in Washington, where people were afraid to go to parties where they might associate with friends who might turn up suspected on the McCarthy-Cohn list.


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