Sixty-eight years after he was disgraced and his reputation ruined, brilliant physicist and atomic bomb architect J. Robert Oppenheimer, whose security clearance with the Atomic Energy Commission was revoked on the grounds that he was a supporter of Communism, has been finally declared innocent of that charge. Declassified documents, the Department of Energy has ruled, show that the investigation that rendered the American hero a broken man (he died 12 years later at the age of 62) was biased and flawed.
Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm said in a statement that “ evidence has come to light of the bias and unfairness of the process that Dr. Oppenheimer was subjected to while the evidence of his loyalty and love of country have only been further affirmed.”
It has become a fad to bid goodbye to 2020 while proclaiming it “the worst year ever.” Of course, and I say of course realizing that most people have no idea why I would say “of course,” one only thinks it was the worst year ever if one doesn’t know much about all the other terrible years, thanks in part to our atrocious education system’s inability to teach either the substance of history or its importance to new generations.
The delusion fits nicely into the Left’s Big Lie that everything was terrible because Donald Trump was President. But as bad as the year behind us was, and there is no question about that, liberty and the identity of America were facing equally dire threats when the nation had been terrified out of its metaphorical gourd by Communist propaganda and Right Wing doomsayers. Luckily for us, “cooler heads prevailed,” but that was just luck. Let’s look back on a largely forgotten incident that occurred on this date in 1962, one of the really bad years.
On January 2, 1962, the reunited folk group the Weavers (Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman, and Pete Seeger) was scheduled to appear on The Jack Paar Show. Paar, if his name doesn’t ring a bell for you, was the most quirky and intellectually complex of the “Tonight Show” hosts, and in 1962 had a quirky, intellectually complex hour-long prim -time show on NBC following Johnny Carson’s taking over the late night franchise.
Before taping, the Weavers were told by NBC officials that their appearance was contingent upon their signing a statement disavowing the Communist party. Every member of the Weavers refused to sign, and the appearance was cancelled.
Some perspective is necessary. The Weavers were one of the most popular performing and recording groups of the 1950s, but they were undoubtedly radically Left by the standards of the time. Founder Pete Seeger wasn’t just pro-union; it would be fair to say he was pro-Stalin, in the dreamy-eyed, naive way that other American liberals were (Bernie Sanders comes to mind). But he was a brilliant performer and song-writer, and his group sensibly confined its material to non-political topics: the Weavers’ big hits were “Goodnight Irene,” a #1 record for 13 weeks in the summer and fall of 1950, “Midnight Special” and “On Top of Old Smoky.” But the Red Scare of the early 1950s still hit them hard. During the 1930s when Communism was “in,” the members of the group were all enthusiasts. When news of the pre-Weavers Weavers’ political past got out, they were, in modern terms, canceled. A planned television show was killed. The group’s four members were placed under FBI surveillance. Seeger was grilled by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Decca cancelled their recording contract in 1951; concert venues refused to book them, and their records were pulled from the radio. Two years later, virtually blocked from performing, The Weavers broke up.
I have a couple of Comments of the Day on the runway and a guest column too, but when Steve-O-in-NJ delivered one of his epic epistles—I think they transcend “comments”—of Alizia Tyler length, I had to choose it to end the day. The topic is one Ethics Alarms has discussed in recent week: the disturbing similarities between the Red Scare and McCarthyism and the current George Floyd Freakout.
No doubt there are still a few people who have nightmares of the living nightmare of sitting uncomfortable and squirming in the lowest seat in the Senate chamber. You sit alone before an intimidating array of microphones, all eyes on you, questions being fired at you like crossbow bolts from every angle about anything and everything. You don’t exactly know how you got there, maybe someone said your name was mentioned in connection with some gathering or that you said or wrote something that concerned them. Your finances, your job, your friendships, your family, nothing is off-limits. Question after question, hour after hour, it drags on until you forget when it began and have no idea when it will end. Letters you wrote years ago, conversations you barely remember having, meetings you remember attending, but can’t remember who else was there, leave alone the subject, the questions keep coming. As you shake inwardly, your shirt soaked from the stress of the interrogation and the fear of its consequences, the stern-faced Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin fixes you with a glare like God throwing the Egyptian host into a panic and thunders possibly the most dreaded question in history, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Refuse to answer, give the wrong answer, claim not to remember, or equivocate, and you are finished, tarred as a “Red,” a Communist, someone in league with the most evil regime then in the world, and the second or third worst ever, against America, the Constitution, and everything that was good.
If you have few friends when you sit down in this loneliest chair in the world, you could well have none when you leave it. There’s a very good chance that if you held a security clearance it will be revoked, because there are just too many maybes for you to be trusted. There’s a good chance that you will lose your job as you can’t hide or scrub off the red stain. There’s a very good chance your life and your family’s life will collapse or be greatly damaged or diminished. Continue reading →
(I know I’ve posted this “Singin’ in the Rain” showstopper more than once, but it makes me happy, so there.)
1. From the Cleveland Indians, a Robert E. Lee moment: As the Cincinnati Reds were threatening, with two outs, the bases loaded and the Indians clinging to a 4-3 lead, Tribe manager Terry Francona wanted to bring in left-hander Oliver Perez to face left-handed Reds slugger Joey Votto , the book move, a classic left on left matchup. But pitching coach Carl Willis thought he heard Francona tell him to summon right-hander Dan Otero.“He thought I said O.T.,” Francona said, using Otero’s nickname. “I said O.P.” With the advantage of facing a right-handed pitcher (most lefties hit righties better) Votto promptly hit a three-run double off Otero, giving the Reds a 6-4 lead.
Even though it would have made no sense for Francona to ask for Otero, the manager emulated Robert E. Lee’s fine leadership moment, meeting with his battered troops after they were shot to pieces in Pickett’s Charge and telling them, “It was all my fault.” “It falls on me,” he told the press. “I actually talked to the team and told them that I thought I messed up.”
2. Forget the dishonest narrative and spin: here’s what really happened in Garza v. Hargan: No, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s eminently qualified nominee to fill retiring Justice Kennedy’s seat on the Supreme Court, did not try to block an illegal immigrant teen from having an abortion, as the desperate fear-mongering Democrats are claiming.
In October 2017, the ACLU filed suit against the Trump administration on behalf of “Jane Doe,” a pregnant teen from Cnetral America who had been arrested while entering the country illegally. Through her guardian, Rochelle Garza, “Doe” sought release from the federal shelter where she was being detained to obtain an abortion. Eric Hargan, the acting secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services at the time, took the position that the government had no obligation to facilitate Doe’s abortion. She had the option of returning to her native country—where she belonged anyway— or being released to a sponsor. A federal trial judge ruled for Doe and the abortion, saying that the government’s refusal to release a minor from custody constituted an “undue burden” on Doe’s constitutional right to an abortion. HHS appealed to the D.C. Circuit, and on appeal, Judge Kavanaugh authored the majority opinion that reversed the lower court’s decision. Here is the crux of the opinion: Continue reading →
It appears that South Carolina’s mandated registration of “subversive agents” is far from new, as erroneously reported here. The law dates from 1951—when Joe McCarthy was in full flower—so it is clearly not aimed at terrorists, but at “Commies,” being a relic of the Red Scare at the dawn of the Cold War. Apparently the legislature has attempted to repeal it in recent years and failed, but that doesn’t make the law any less archaic.
Blogs like this one rely on secondary sources, and when one of them jumps the gun or gets its facts wrong, the result is that we end up aiding and abetting negligent misinformation. True: Ethics Alarms is in the business of adding ethics perspective to news stories and current events as it understands them, so the analysis can sometimes still be useful even if the facts are wrong. That is insufficient justification for contributing to misinformation, however. The key, as usual, is trust. I will do the best I can to get the facts right, hope that my readers correct me when they are wrong, and be ready to correct the record.
As for South Carolina’s silly law, perhaps the revived publicity of its 1951 paranoia will embarrass it into finally getting this dinosaur off the books. That will constitute a good result from a botched story, I suppose.
Many thanks to Sherrif Ray Nash, who tracked down the truth for Ethics Alarms.