The Fair Deal and ContainmentHarry S. Truman became President of the United States after less than twelve weeks as Vice President. He was sworn in shortly after Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945. The differences between the two men were painfully obvious. Said one journalist: "With Roosevelt, you’d have known he was President even if you hadn’t been told. He looked imperial, and he acted that way and he talked that way. Harry Truman, for God’s sake, looked and acted and talked like – well, like a failed haberdasher." (Which, of course, was exactly what he was.)
Truman had not come from inherited wealth, as had Roosevelt. He had no college at all (Roosevelt had attended private academies as a boy, and later Harvard.) He (Truman) was born in Western Missouri in 1884, and grew up in Independence, Mo. He was too nearsighted for most boyish activities, so he became somewhat bookish and withdrawn. He was for most of his life an accomplished pianist. He practiced for two hours daily. During World War I, he had served in France as Captain of an artillery battery, and later was a partner in a clothing business that failed in 1922. His mother-in-law, who never called him anything but Mr. Truman, always considered him an underachiever, even when he was President.
Truman got into politics by means of the Kansas City Democratic machine when he was elected country judge in 1922, was defeated in 1924, and reelected in 1926. He was handpicked by the machine, as the boss believed he could be easily manipulated. This same machine had him elected to the Senate in 1934, but he soon proved to be his own man. Even then, he was little known until he became chairman of the committee to investigate war mobilization. Roosevelt picked him as running mate in order to secure the Midwest vote. When Roosevelt picked him, Roosevelt’s chief of staff said, "Who the hell is Harry Truman?" Truman himself did not want the job, but Roosevelt insisted.
Truman was something of a twentieth century Andrew Jackson, decisive, feisty, and very devoted to his family. No one knew that, of course, at first. On his first full day on the job, he told reporters, "Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know whether you fellers ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me." He was suddenly President of the United States, with only twelve weeks experience as Vice President, and in the middle of a war.Despite his nerdy boyhood, Truman became known quickly as a no nonsense straight shooter. He kept a sign on his desk, read, "The buck stops here." He was also famous for saying "If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." On a campaign stop when running for reelection, he said in response to a comment from the crowd, "I don’t give’em hell, I just tell the truth and they think its hell." Hence his nickname: "Give ‘em hell, Harry." His colorful language lent itself to that reputation. Few people, including Truman himself, believed he would run again after he filled the balance of Roosevelt’s term. He had favored much of the New Deal, but didn’t like many of the people who administered the program. He replaced much of Roosevelt’s cabinet with men of his own choosing within 90 days. They were more conservative than Roosevelt’s men, and by and large more mediocre. He was under the constant handicap of appearing to be merely a caretaker riding out the balance of Roosevelt’s term.
Following the defeat of Japan and the celebrations that followed, Americans turned to business and usual, and the familiar cry to "bring the boys’ home" was heard. The armed forces were reduced from 12 million to 1.5 million by 1947. By 1950, the army had only 600,000 men.
Veterans returned to schools, new jobs, and families. Population growth had soared in the depression, but now soared. With the return of soldiers began the "baby boom" generation (of which Gates is a member). The population in the 1930’s had been 9 million; by the 1940’s it was 19 million. The "baby boom" generation became a dominant force in the social and cultural life of America. The baby boomers were in college in the 60’s; and largely responsible for that social upheaval.
Many had feared a depression at the end of the war with the sudden demobilization; but it did not happen, largely because of Social Security benefits and the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (The "G.I. Bill of Rights"), which allotted $13 million for education, vocational training, and medical treatment for Veterans as well as loans for new homes and business. Also, the demand for consumer goods, which had not been produced during the war, gave businesses unprecedented opportunities, which they seized. The GNP grew from $101 billion in 1940 to #347 billion by 1952.
Inflation, not the depression, was Truman’s major problem. As prices rose, demand for wage increases followed, but corporations resisted. As a result, a series of strikes followed. Labor disputes occurred in the automotive, coal, railroad and steel industries. At one point, Truman used his war powers to seize mines when the United Mine Workers went on strike, but later his Interior Secretary acceded to union demands.
At one point, when the railroad workers refused to compromise and go back to work, Truman lost his cool, and asked Congress for power to draft the strikers into the Armed Forces. News came that the strike had been settled in the midst of his speech, but he went on with his message. The House passed a bill including that provision, but it died in the Senate, since the strike had been settled.
Two major pieces of legislation were passed during Truman’s first years as President:
·The Employment Act of 1946 which set up a three member Council of Economic Advisors to advise the President on the state of the economy in an annual report.
·The Atomic Energy Commission. There was general agreement that the potential for nuclear power was so significant that it should be a government monopoly. The Act creating the commission gave the President alone the power to order the use of atomic weapons in time of war. The act provided that this was subject to "the paramount objective of assuring the common defense and security," and said that peaceful development of nuclear power should be governmental policy, "as far as practicable, toward improving the public welfare, increasing the standard of living, strengthening fee competition in private enterprise and promoting world peace.
Congressional elections in 1946 came at a time of great public discontent, most aimed at the administration. No doubt, there was some resentment that Truman was not the man they intended to be President, he was something of an "accidental" President. Labor and management blamed him for labor problems. A speaker at a CIO convention called him "the No 1 Strikebreaker." Truman fired Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of Commerce, in 1946 over a foreign policy dispute, and this offended the Democrats on the left. Republicans claimed that communists had infiltrated the government. Mocking Truman became a national pastime. Martha Taft (wife of Sen. Robert Taft) coined the phrase: "To err is Truman." Republicans adopted a campaign slogan of "Had enough?" The idea was the Democrats had been in power too long. It worked, too. In the midterm elections, Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1928.
The Republican Congress then passed the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. It banned closed shops (in a closed shop, only union workers can be hired). It did permit union shops (in which new workers may be required to join a union), unless prohibited by state law. It contained provisions against unfair labor practices, refusal to bargain in good faith, and prohibited contributions by unions to political campaigns. Also, union leaders had to take an oath that they were not members of the Communist party. It also forbade strikes by federal employees, and imposed a "cooling off" period of 80 days on any strike the President determined to be dangerous to the national health and safety.
Truman vetoed the Taft-Hartley Bill, which restored his credibility with labor (unions called it the "slave-labor act"), and brought many union members back into the Democratic fold; but Congress overrode the veto.
The Taft-Hartley Act was the death knell for organized labor in the South. The CIO had organized "operation Dixie" to win more Union representation in the South; but after the Act passed, fifteen states enacted "right to work" laws forbidding union shops.
Truman also vetoed a tax cut passed by Congress, saying the Federal debt should be reduced. Congress overrode his veto again, in 1948.The tax cut dispute indicated a problem with Keynesian economics. People supported government expenditures during the depression, but in times of prosperity, when taxes were needed to reduce the debt accrued during hard times, they resisted, preferring tax cuts. Truman and Congress were able to make some progress on matters of national security. In 1947, Congress passed the National Security Act. It created the Defense Department, with sub-departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. It also created the National Security Council (NSC) to be comprised of the President, heads of the defense department, and Secretary of State, and other government officials. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were made permanent, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was established. The CIA was an offshoot of the old Office of Strategic Service (OSS).
The Cold WarIn the Atlantic Charter, Roosevelt and Churchill had spoken of a "permanent system of general security." Fall of 1943, both houses of Congress passed a resolution favoring "international machinery with power adequate to establish and maintain a just and lasting peace." That same year, foreign ministers from Great Britain, the U.S., Britain and China issued the Moscow Declaration of General Security calling for an international organization. That organization was born April 25, 1945 in the San Francisco Opera House. (The date, ironically, was two weeks after Roosevelt’s death, and two weeks before the surrender of Germany.) At that time and place, fifty nations at war with the Axis Powers signed the Charter of the United Nations. It provided:
·New members could be admitted with 2/3 vote of the General Assembly.
·A Security Council would be chosen from the membership, which would remain in permanent session and have "primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.
·Five Nations, the U.S., China, Russia, France, and Great Britain would be permanent members of the Security Council and would hold veto power over any question of substance.
·The Security Council could refer matters to the International Court at The Hague, or use other methods, including military force.
German and Japanese officials were tried for crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and violation of the established rules of war. German offenders were tried before an International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Of 23 tried, three were acquitted, eleven sentenced to death, and three to life imprisonment. Four received lesser prison terms.
It was at the Nuremberg trials that the phrase "final solution to the Jewish question was first made public. Among those sentenced to death were General Jodl and Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe. Jodl went to the gallows; Goering cheated the hangman by biting into a Cyanide capsule the night before his execution. He was found dead in his cell. Rudolph Hess, Hitler’s secretary who had flown a plane to England in an ill-advised attempt to seek peace, was sentenced to life in prison. For many years, he was the sole prisoner in Spandau prison in Berlin, until he died of suicide in 1987. He had been imprisoned for over 40 years, and saw people other than his guards less than once per year.
The mastermind of the Holocaust, Adolph Eichmann, escaped to Argentina and lived under an assumed name until he was literally kidnapped by agents of the Israeli secret service; drugged and slipped in an El Al plane in a pilot’s uniform and tried for crimes against humanity. He was convicted by an Israeli Court and executed in 1962. His body was cremated and his ashes scattered over the Red Sea.
In Tokyo, 25 Japanese leaders were put on trial. Seven were sentenced to death, sixteen to life imprisonment, and two to lesser terms. Among those hanged were the Wartime Prime Minister, Hedeki Tojo.
The fairness of the war trials has been heatedly debated. It has been argued that it was a case of the victors taking revenge on the vanquished, and that many were tried for crimes ex post facto, incidents that were not criminal at the time they were committed. Those supporting the trials asserted that the Geneva Convention on care of sick and POW’s and Hague Declarations on the Rules of War were sufficient justification for trial. They also asserted that murder, rape, and pillage were crimes under the laws of the countries where the events occurred, and were in fact crimes against humanity.
Problems soon arose with the Soviet Union. Debate has long continued between historians as to who was at fault:
·Conventional Historians maintain that the Soviets, lead by a paranoid dictator (Stalin) tried to take over the world; and the U.S. had no choice but to stand firm as the champion of democracy.
·Revisionist historians argue that, instead of following Roosevelt’s plan to collaborate with Stalin and maintain the alliance after the war, Truman and "economic imperialists" adopted an attitude that was unnecessarily belligerent, and tried to create American spheres of influence around the world. They argue that the Soviet threat was exaggerated to justify an American military buildup.
The latter view does not take into account the fact that the relationship with the Soviet Union was rapidly falling apart at the time of Roosevelt’s death; Truman merely inherited the problem when he took office.
Spring, 1945, the Soviets set up puppet governments in Poland and Romania; a clear violation of the Yalta agreement. When the U.S. protested, Stalin claimed that the U.S. and Britain had negotiated German surrender in Italy behind his back and that German forces were being concentrated against the Soviets. It was a few days later that Churchill, in a telegram to Truman, used the phrase "Iron Curtain," saying, "We do not know what is going on behind it."
Just before the Charter U.N. conference in San Francisco, Truman chewed out the Soviet Foreign minister, Vyacheslav M. Molotov. Molotov told Truman "I have never been talked to like that in my life. Truman snapped back, "Carry out your agreements, and you won’t get talked to like that." Words to the wise student: do your work, and you won’t get talked to like that either.
The U.S. withdrew its troops from the Soviet occupied zone in Germany over Churchill’s protests. U.S. officials were hoping that the Russians would keep the deal they had made at Yalta, and that the Russians would still help against Japan. Gradually, communists under the influence of the Soviets took over, imprisoning, exiling, or executing any who protested or spoke against the government.
Secretary of State James F. Byrnes (a former South Carolina Governor and Supreme Court Justice) tried to intimidate the Soviets into backing down in Eastern Europe by threatening to use the A-Bomb; but they paid him no attention. At the time, the U.S., Britain, and Canada had exclusive possession of Atomic weapons.
By 1947, the situation had grown worse. Stalin said in 1946 that peace was impossible "under the present capitalist development of the world economy." It then appeared that the Soviets intended world domination, including destruction of western democracy. As a response, George F. Keenan, former envoy to Moscow, published an anonymous article in a magazine (he signed the article "X" stating that the Soviets would try to "fill every nook and cranny available in the basin of world power." He said that U. S. policy must be "a long term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies…. Such a policy has nothing to do with outward histrionics: with threats or blustering or superfluous gestures of outward toughness." Hence was born the American policy of containment.
In a rather prophetic statement, Keenan said there was the possibility that the Soviet communist system "like the capitalist world of its conception, bears within it the seeds of its own decay, and that the sprouting of those seeds is well advanced." In the 1990’s, his prediction came true.
The Russians demanded concessions from Turkey and backed a communist revolt in Greece. The British had supported the Greek government, but told the U.S. they could not do so indefinitely. In response, in a speech to Congress, Truman delivered the Truman Doctrine: " I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."
In a speech to the South Carolina General Assembly in 1947, Bernard Baruch said, "Let us not be deceived – today we are in the midst of a cold war." Hence, the term "cold war" was born.
In the meantime, Europe was in shambles, and people were starving. George C. Marshall, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and who replaced Byrnes as Secretary of State, called for a program of aid to Europe. In a speech at Harvard University, he said, "Our policy is directed not against country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos." The Marshall Plan delivered over 413 billion to Europe for recovery.
Germany was particularly hard hit. The Russians wanted to keep Berlin divided, and also didn’t appreciate the economic aid to Germany. They had hoped that economic collapse would lead to a communist takeover. To help the fall along, in 1948 they shut off all traffic going into West Berlin. The idea was to starve out Berlin and force the Allies to either give it up or abandon their plans to unify Germany. U.S. officials correctly understood that if Berlin fell, soon all of Germany would be under Soviet control.
Truman’s response was the Berlin Airlift: almost 4,500 tons of food and coal flown into Berlin every day. More than 1.5 million tons of supplies were delivered, which got the people of Berlin through the winter. In May 1949, the Russians lifted the blockade and traffic into Berlin resumed. Subsequently, two governments were set up in Germany. In the West, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer; and the Democratic Republic of Germany (East Germany), dominated by the Soviets. The two Germany’s existed independent of each other until they were reunited in 1991.
Gates’ father-in-law, Lt. Col. V.L. Smith flew supplies into Berlin for the Airlift. Some years later, in a conversation with one of my West German exchange students (in 1990), I asked if he thought the two Germanys would ever be reunited. His reply was: "Not for at least a hundred years." With the fall of communism worldwide, Germany reunited one year later. In a trip to Germany in 1993, I visited Berlin. The East Side was still devastated, as the Russians had done nothing but plunder it, whereas West Berlin, was a truly international city. In a tour of the eastern sector, we rode by the old Soviet Embassy, a building larger than any government building in the country. It was obvious that East Germany was run from that building. In front of the building was a marble bust of Lenin.
As a result of deteriorating relationships with the Soviets, on April 4, 1949, The U.S. signed the North Atlantic Treaty, which pledged that an attack on any one of the signers would be considered an attack against all. It provided for the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This was the first peacetime alliance entered into by the U.S. Isolationism was a thing of the past. To counter the NATO threat, the Soviets formed the Warsaw Pact.
Back on the home front, attention was almost involuntarily drawn to race relations, spurred by the horrors of the racism of the Nazis and Japanese. In fact, as a propaganda tool, the Soviets often compared American treatment of blacks as similar to the Nazi treatment of Jews.
Harry Truman had been born in Missouri, and was a dedicated segregationist; however, after the war, he was forced to re-examine his own views. As a result, and after learning of some of the atrocities committed by the Ku Klux Klan, he issued executive orders in July, 1948 which banned racial discrimination in hiring of federal employees, and ended racial segregation of the Armed Forces.
As a sign of the times, and of times to come,, in April 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black player for National League Baseball. He played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. A famous headline of the time read "Jim Crow Dies at Second Base."
In the 1948 election, the Democrats had hoped to nominate Dwight Eisenhower, the hero of World War II, but he declined. The Republicans nominated N.Y. Governor Thomas E. Dewey. In their convention, the Democrats were divided over the issue of segregation. They had hoped to address discrimination only generally, but liberal Democrats, including Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota would have none of it. He said it was time for the party to take a stand. Delegates from the South walked out as a result; and after Truman was re-nominated, a number of Southern delegates bolted the party and formed the States Rights Party, commonly known as the Dixiecrats. They nominated Strom Thurmond for President who ran on a segregationist ticket.Harry Truman never forgave Thurmond for running against him, although Thurmond probably pulled enough votes away from Dewey to give Truman the election. When Truman was inaugurated, when he turned to reenter the Capitol Building, Thurmond held out his hand in congratulations. Truman turned his back on him and walked away.
News Flash!!! It was on or about this time, October 3, 1948 in Baptist Hospital, Columbia, South Carolina that Gates was born. The world has never been the same…and neither have been my loving students.Despite the defection of the Southerners, Truman campaigned hard, castigating the "do-nothing Congress." In reply to a cry of "give ‘em hell, Harry!" he responded, "I don’t give ‘em hell. I just tell the truth, and they think its hell." Dewey was very restrained in his campaign. He should have attacked Truman fiercely but did not. Thereby, he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Truman pulled the biggest upset in American history. Thurmond carried four Southern States, but the Democrats won majorities in the Senate. Among those elected to the Senate in 1948 were Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, and "Landslide Lyndon" Johnson of Texas.
In his State of the Union Address, Truman said everyone had the right to expect a Fair Deal from the Government. He thus coined a phrase to separate his program from the New Deal, the Fair Deal.
In the meantime, the Cold War became worse. Americans, aware of the communist goal of world domination, were growing increasingly fearful of communist infiltration in the U.S. In 1949, China fell to the Communists under Mao-Tse-Dung; and the nationalist government fled to Taipei. The U.S. recognized the nationalist government, and refused to recognize Communist China for thirty years. At the same time, America supported the French supported regime in Vietnam against communist guerillas led by Ho Chi Minh.
A sobering moment occurred in 1949 when intelligence picked up large amounts of radiation in the atmosphere. It meant that the Russians had set off an Atomic Bomb. The U.S. no longer had a monopoly on nuclear power. This ended the debate in the U.S. over the use of nuclear weapons, and in 1950, Truman ordered the construction of the Hydrogen Bomb; much more powerful than the A-Bomb, just in case the Russians built one first.
Problems in Korea: When World War II ended, the Allies had agreed to a division of Korea along the 38th parallel. The Soviets agreed to this, which was surprising, since Russia bordered Korea, and they could have overrun the entire country quickly.
Stalin later encouraged the North Koreans to take South Korea by force, unify the country, and oust the America forces. (American forces at this time were weak, and defense against a large attack from the North would have been difficult). On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel into the South. Truman assumed the attack was the brainchild of the Soviets (correctly). He said in an address to Congress, "The attack upon Korea makes it plain beyond all doubt that communism has passed beyond the use of subversion to conquer independent nations and will now use armed invasion and war."
The United Nations Security Council approved armed intervention, and Truman ordered American forces into action. Fourteen other nations joined. Gen. Douglas MacArthur was named Commander in Chief of U.N. forces in Korea.
The Soviet Delegate to the U.N. held veto power, and could have vetoed the resolution; however, he had boycotted Security Council meetings because the U.N. had refused to oust Nationalist (Taipei) China and seat Communist China in its stead.
Important!Korea was technically considered a "police action" under U.N. sanctions, not a formal war. However it set an important precedent: War by order of the President rather than by formal declaration of Congress. World War II was the last war in which Congress formally declared War. Every conflict since then: Korea, Vietnam, Gulf, etc. Have been by presidential order.
Consequences of the Korean Conflict:
·Truman believed that the Korean conflict was actually a diversion planned by Stalin to keep American forces occupied while he moved against Western Europe. As a result, he began a major expansion of NATO. By 1952, over 200,000 American troops were consigned to Europe; more than were fighting in Korea.
·Because he believed the communists were not attempting to take over Asia by military means, he ordered increased assistance to the French in Indochina. This was the beginning of American involvement in that region which would culminate with the War in Vietnam.
Fighting went badly at first. Soviet pilots fought American pilots over Korea. They wore Chinese uniforms and spoke Chinese over the radio to disguise their presence. MacArthur managed to land troops at Inchion behind the Northern lines, and attack from the rear. This enabled him to force them back into the North. He then asked, and received, permission to push on into the North and attempt to reunify the country from the South.
Since this was technically a U.N. action, Truman requested permission from the U.N. to continue the conflict. The Soviet delegate was back, and would have vetoed this action in the Security Council; so Truman had it presented to the U.N.’s General Assembly, where the veto did not apply.
Truman met with MacArthur at Wake Island to discuss possible intervention by the Red Chinese. MacArthur told Truman there was little chance of that happening, but said if they did, "there would be the greatest slaughter."
MacArthur never had great respect for Truman as President, and never missed the opportunity to embarrass or upstage him. Both men arrived at Wake Island at about the same time, but MacArthur ordered his pilot to keep his plane in the air. He wanted Truman to land first, and appear to be waiting on him. (Protocol dictates that the most important person is the last to arrive.) Truman sensed what he was up to and ordered his own pilot to keep his plane in the air as long as he had gas. MacArthur finally gave up and landed first. When Truman walked into the meeting, rather than greet MacArthur, he raised hell at him, in language that MacArthur was bound to understand. Truman warned him that he would never again show that kind of disrespect to the President of the U.S. Later events would prove he meant business.
The same day as the meeting, China announced it could not stand "idly by," and six days later, on October 26, 1950 attacked in "human wave" attacks. They quickly forced back U.N. forces. MacArthur said it had become an "entirely new war," and blamed it on the administration for forcing him to fight a limited war. Of course it was not HIS fault.
MacArthur wanted to stage air raids on China and stage an invasion of the mainland by Chinese Nationalists. Truman was opposed, and said that he did not want the U.S. to fall into the "gigantic booby trap" of China. U.N. forces recovered, and under General Matthew Ridgeway, secured their position and forced the Chinese and North Koreans back across the 38th parallel.
Truman felt he had the advantage, and offered to negotiate to restore the boundary, but MacArthur took matters into his own hands and issued an ultimatum to the Chinese to make peace or be attacked. He had no authority to do so but his own. ON April 5, 1951, the Republican minority leader read a letter on the floor of the House from MacArthur which publicly criticized the president, and said "there is no substitute for victory." It appeared that Truman would either accept MacArthur’s position or fire him. He felt that civilian control of the military was at stake; and he didn’t let that linger long. With the support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Truman removed MacArthur from all his commands, and replaced him with Ridgeway.
MacArthur had huge public support, and his firing created an uproar. He played this to the hilt in a "farewell" address to a joint session of Congress. "Old Soldiers never die," he said, "they just fade away." He then added, "I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty."
Personal opinion: Firing the jerk was the best thing Truman ever did. Military independence could lead to a military coup. Any idiot (and he WAS an idiot) who thought he knew better than the President could easily have led a coup d’etat against the American government. Notwithstanding his accomplishments in World War II, Douglas MacArthur does not deserve the accolades of history.
Truman answered MacArthur’s "feel sorry for me" speech by sending General Omar Bradley, "the GI General" and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said a war with China would be "the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place and with the wrong enemy." Americans, full of Wild West vim and vigor, and believing that good always won over evil, were dismayed at MacArthur’s firing, but in the end accepted Bradley’s argument.
An armistice was finally agreed to, and a truce signed on July 27, 1953, after Truman had left office. Dwight Eisenhower was then President. A demilitarized zone was established, but no peace treaty was ever signed, and Korea remains divided.
The Korean War had lent itself to another Red Scare in the U.S. Accusations of infiltration of communists into the American government came from the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Truman began an employee loyalty program requiring government employees to swear they were not affiliated with the communist party. Although a number of employees resigned, and 200 were fired for "doubtful loyalty," no communist ring within the government was discovered.
Loyalty provisions remained for many years. Gates applied to the Post Office for a part time job while in college, and the application asked "Are you now or have you in the past been a member of any group or organization which advocates the violent overthrow of the United States Government?"
The program was designed to protect Truman politically, but only sensationalized the entire issue. Few communist infiltrations were found, but the few that were became almost hysterically sensationalized.
The most damaging instance was that of Alger Hiss, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who had held several government appointments in the State Department. Hiss was accused by a former Soviet Agent, Whitaker Chambers, of passing secret documents to him. Hiss sued for libel, and Chambers produced microfilms of the documents Hiss had passed to him. Hiss was indicted for perjury. He had been accused of espionage, but could not be convicted because the statute of limitations had expired.
Richard Nixon, a congressman from California, insisted on pursuing the case, and paraded his anti-Communist position which gained him election to the Senate in 1950. In 1952, he was elected Vice President of the United States.
IN 1949, eleven Communist party leaders were convicted for violating the Smith Act, which made it illegal to conspire to advocate the overthrow of the government. The Supreme Court upheld the convictions under the "clear and present danger" doctrine. Later Julius and Ethyl Rosenberg, professed communists, were convicted of passing Atomic Bomb secrets to the Soviets. They were the only Americans executed for espionage in the Red Scare.
The Rosenbergs maintained their innocence to the end. They were convicted largely on the testimony of Ethyl's brother, David Greenglass, a soldier-machinist at the Los Alamos Nuclear facility. He testified of Julius Rosenberg burning notes in a kitchen frying pan, and of cutting a Jell-O box to be used as a pass sign when contacting the Soviet Agent. During their trial, both Rosenbergs took the 5th Amendment when asked about their communist party affiliation, ostensibly to avoid implicating colleagues. Their other testimony consisted mainly of denials. The Supreme Court upheld their conviction and sentence 5-4 and they were executed at Sing-Sing Prison in 1953. It has been widely claimed that Ethyl's only offense was typing notes for Julius as a dutiful wife. Greenglass, in a recent book, has claimed that he sold out his sister to save himself. Allegations of anti-Semitism (both were Jewish and held dual citizenship) and comparisons to Sacho and Vanzetti have been frequent. Even so, all doubt of Julius Rosenberg's guilt seems to have been removed by recently released Soviet documents. There are those who still maintain that they were victims of the red scare, and over-reaching by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who was almost fanatical about their arrest. Then too, there are those who believe Elvis is still alive, and those who are members of the Flat Earth Society.
More information on the Rosenberg trial is located at: Trial of the Rosenberg's: An Account
The Red Scare enabled Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin to play up the idea of a Communist connection for his own purposes. In a speech, he claimed that the State Department was infested with communists, and claimed to have a list in his hand. There is some debate as to whether there were any names on the list, or if it was just a blank sheet of paper. MacArthur named any number of individuals who worked for the government, Hollywood stars, and newsmen of being either members of the Communist party or communist sympathizers. The sensationalism of the charges was enough to permanently damage the reputations of many. Others refused to answer the charges on the strength of the preposterousness of them. McCarthy used this as proof of their guilt.
McCarthy finally bit off too much when he took on the U.S. Army. The Army had attempted to draft an attorney, G. David Schine, on McCarthy’s staff, and McCarthy tried to have him released. When he failed, McCarthy accused the Army of being "soft" on communism. Twelve days of nationally televised hearings followed. McCarthy produced charts and maps, presumably showing communist infiltration, and the failure of the army to act. The Army was represented by Joseph Welch of the Firm of Hale and Dorr. As Welch was cross-examining Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s chief counsel, McCarthy accused Fred Fisher, an attorney from Hale and Dorr but not working on the case, of being a communist. Welch’s response was classic: "Senator, you won't need anything in the record when I finish telling you this. Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness… . Little did I dream you be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar, needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty, I would do so. I like to think I'm a gentle man, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me… . Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" The audience applauded Welch's remarks; McCarthy turned to his aide and said, "what did I do?"
McCarthy would have been more circumspect had he known that Cohn, his chief counsel, was a closeted homosexual. McCarthy, who had no sympathy for anyone, would have been mortified.
McCarthy never uncovered a single communist in the government, but the Korean conflict mad it easy for him to garner support. He managed to smear many, including General George C. Marshall. He was eventually censured by the Senate, and died from Alcoholism.
More information on McCarthy appears in The Eisenhower Years Notes.