He wasn't the first and he turned out not to be the last.
This issue of The National Police Gazette was published this month in 1954, with a cover asking whether Senator Joseph McCarthy was right or wrong. About what exactly? About whether the U.S. Army was infiltrated by communists. This Gazette appeared during the Army–McCarthy hearings, which were held from April to June of ’54, looking into accusations of corruption made against a McCarthy loyalist by high ranking members of the U.S. Army, and McCarthy's commie counter-accusations, as well as assertions by him that the Army's claims against his associate were politically motivated. You could mistreat and insult lots of groups in the United States back then and most people didn't greatly care, but as a politician you couldn't—and still can't—do it to the armed forces. McCarthy was a classic demagogue who trafficked in blame and demonization of entire groups of people, but he overstepped his bounds when he took on the Army. He came out of the hearings looking terrible, and his downfall was assured.
Police Gazette is solidly on McCarthy's side, though, which is no surprise if you know anything about the magazine. The basis of its support is that McCarthy was right that there were influential communists in America. At the time, only a brave few people seemed capable of asking why that was an issue at all.
Numerous western countries had fully functioning communist parties then, and for the most part they still do. Yet given a place in the arena of ideas, communists haven't gained much traction with the public. Possessing the right to elect communist politicians, the vast majority of people haven't voted for them, and in the case of the U.S. it's reasonable to assume they never will.
Yet McCarthy believed U.S. voters should not even be allowed to hear communist ideas. It may be stating the obvious in this day and age, but if traditional political offerings—from whatever end of the spectrum—can't win the debate against those of an upstart's, then it's because politics as usual are adjudged by the populace to be a failure. The obvious solution for mainstream parties is to have better policies, but often vested interests make that a practical impossibility.
McCarthy and the Gazette believed suppressing communist political thought was a sign of strength, but in reality it was a sign of weakness symptomatic of an irrational fear that their policies, if measured against those of communists, would fail to win the hearts of American voters. And this is perhaps why, while American demagogues such as him sometimes have their moment of support, history never judges their lack of faith kindly. The McCarthys of political life always pretend to be divinely guided, or driven by a greater purpose, or bestowed with an unshakeable public mandate—sometimes all three—but once the cruelty at the heart of their demagoguery becomes clear, their supporters quietly scurry for the exits.
In the end, demagogues go into the history books as, at best, national embarrassments, or at worst, scourges and human monsters. Americans don't much like presumptions to be made for or about them. Really nobody does, even presumptions for the supposed greater good. McCarthy's name has become an adjective signifying a type of opportunistic treachery, the place of honor in the American political pantheon he thought he was building for himself never came to be, and he died knowing people were glad he was going away. We have numerous scans below, and many more Gazettes in the website.
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.
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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1954—Communist Party Outlawed
In the U.S., during the height of the Red Scare, President Dwight Eisenhower signs the Communist Control Act into law. The new legislation bans the American Communist Party, and prohibits people deemed to be communists from serving as officials in labor organizations.
1968—France Explodes Nuke
a two-stage nuclear weapon, codenamed Canopus, on Fangataufa, French Polynesia.
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.
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.
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