Politique Diabolique Jul 9 2015
WITCHES OF WASHINGTON, D.C.
Collier’s goes looking for the commies but finds something else entirely.

Collier’s isn’t the most visually striking of magazines, but this issue that hit newsstands today in 1954 caught our eye because it contains several nice photos of Marilyn Monroe. There’s also a bit of interesting graphic art, specifically a colorful baseball illustration by Willard Mullin. The other item that attracted us was a story called “What Price Security?” about U.S. government overreach in its search for communists. No art to speak of, but the content gives a window onto the Red Scare period of American life. Author Charlotte Knight tells readers that government efforts against communism have been “so irresponsibly administered that it may have done more harm to the United States than to its enemies.” Sound familiar?

Knight slams witch hunting Senator Joseph McCarthy, and characterizes the fervor around alleged subversives in Washington, D.C. as creating a ripe environment for paranoiacs and liars to ruin innocent people. But of course, as well written as Knight’s article is, she should not have been surprised by anything she discovered. Witch hunts always become vehicles for revenge, personal advancement, and profiteering, because society and politics become warped in such a way as to clear a path for these pursuits. History invariably judges such periods as human tragedies and political failures, though sadly, too late for the ruined and the dead. Scans below.

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Vintage Pulp Aug 19 2011
MENACE TO SOCIETY
Better dead than red.

Above, a rare poster for the Republic Pictures drama The Red Menace, which as you might guess was a cheeseball propaganda film designed to instill terror into Americans about communism’s plans for global domination. You get plenty of subterfuge here, along with lots of betrayals and a few brutal beatdowns, and one of the commies would later portray purest evil by voicing Cruella De Vil in Disney’s 101 Dalmations. Ironically, when The Red Menace premiered the U.S. government was entering into a period during which it would sponsor numerous anti-democratic coups in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. This was unknown to most Americans, but it’s debatable whether they would have been concerned. The years immediately following World War II marked a rising anti-communist wave in the U.S., a movement that would create fertile conditions for the political stardom of witch hunting senator Joseph McCarthy. He would flame out within a decade, but at the beginning of his crusade he had substantial public support. For its part, Republic Pictures was interested not in propaganda but in profit, and Menace was rush-released to take advantage of the public mood. The haste showed—the movie was spectacularly, hilariously bad, and is considered today by many to be the Reefer Madness of anti-communist films. It premiered this month in 1949. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
August 23
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
August 22
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
August 21
1911—Mona Lisa Disappears
Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, aka La Gioconda, is stolen from the Louvre. After many wild theories and false leads, it turns out the painting was snatched by museum employee Vincenzo Peruggia.
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