Thursday, February 17, 2005


Today Mader quotes Mark Steyn discussing Arthur Miller's comparison of the HUAC hearings and McCarthy communist hysteria of the 1950s to the Salem witch trials of the 1690s. Steyn writes:

It was a marvellous inspiration to recast the communist ‘hysteria’ of the 1950s as the Salem witch trials of the 1690s. Many people have pointed out the obvious flaw — that there were no witches, whereas there were certainly communists. For one thing, they were gobbling up a lot of real estate: they seized Poland in 1945, Bulgaria in ’46, Hungary and Romania in ’47, Czechoslavakia in ’48, China in ’49; they very nearly grabbed Greece and Italy; they were the main influence on the nationalist movements of Africa and Asia. Imagine the Massachusetts witch trials if the witches were running Virginia, New York and New Hampshire, and you might have a working allegory.

Mader follows this up with his own commentary:
That is, I think, the lasting damage of the hysteria over McCarthy: he was a bastard, probably an anti-Semite, certanly no liberal democrat - but he was right. There were Communists; there were witches. Puts the idea of a 'witch hunt' in a different light.
So at a time when communism was one of the dominant ideologies in the world there were in fact people who believed in, or appeared to believe in, said ideology living within the United States? Okay, I'm shoked. And this is an argument for... what exactly?

Historical examinations of the Salem trials are generally less concerned with the question of whether there were or were not witches than with questions about why people belived there were witches, why some people and not others were thought to be witches, and how those witches were treated.

I think the same should apply to McCarthy and HUAC. So there were communists. Is this really news? The questions I would ask would be why did McCarthy react the way he did? Who was accused of being a communist and who was found to actually be a communist? Was anyone actually convicted of criminal wrongdoing? And most importantly, why, in one of the most liberal countries in the world were people targeted for their political beliefs, or even apparent political beliefs? Why were people treated like criminals when most infact were not?

So McCarthy was right that there were communists. Are we to infer that he was right about everything else?

Posted by Matthew @ 2:57 p.m.