<Point of No Return>

 Posted on 3/7/1996 by J. Michael Straczynski <71016.1644@compuserve.com> to CIS

Philip Hornsey <74053.2101@compuserve.com> asks:
> The *speed* of McCarthy's collapse with the simple words "Have
> you no decency Sir? At long last?"

Yes, but equally dangerous, Phil, is blindness or self-delusion
about real failings and real problems. Each population that marched
off to annhilation under a dictatorship did so convinced that their
values and their morals and their national fabric was supremely strong.

Pride has a tendency to goeth before a fall.

For additional reading check out "The Man Who Corrupted
Hadleyburg." Check out European history. We're not a different species
over here on this side of the atlantic; we're just as capable of being
foxed as the next guy in another country.

And your notion that the government wasn't responsible for what
happened to people during the HUAC period doesn't jibe with the truth.
It was the FBI which contacted networks and asked them for lists of
anyone considered communist; the FBI who suggested there might be
problems unless certain people were removed. It wasn't just people
who'd attended Young Communist meetings who were targeted...it was
anyone who *knew* anyone who'd been at these things, or had in fact
NEVER been to anything like this. People were called before HUAC and
asked to *name names*, and if you didn't, then you were hiding
something, being uncooperative, facing contempt charges, so you named
the names that had been named before, or made up new ones, gave up your
buddies or your co workers, whatever was necessary to keep from being
jailed or fired.

The problem was worse than just "inaccuracy." It was rooted in
meanness and cynicism. I know someone who was asked during the second
World War to make short films for the military and the newsreels, and
to do radio shows, celebrating the US and the Soviet Union working
together to defeat the Nazis. All well and good, right? Well, this
same person, after the war, was grey-listed for having produced
time. Meanness. Cynicism.

To be named before HUAC was to instantly get a file at the FBI
in your name. As soon as that happened, you could reliably depend on
having your phone tapped, your business associates would be questioned,
your mail would be intercepted...no, the government didn't say
publicly, "don't hire this person," but when all this starts to happen,
jobs and reputations disappear. People committed suicide over the
destruction of their careers, their *lives* being torn apart. Did
McCarthy pull the trigger? No, but the people he targeted are just as
dead as if he did.

There's the common assumption that one measures the decline of
a democracy in body counts and increasingly inconvenient laws and
regulations. But this is symptom, not cause. Laws follow norms, and
norms follow values in the political food chain. And the values of
HUAC were the values of terror, and spying on your neighbor, and
looking for the enemy beneath bedsheets. A democracy, ANY democracy,
is based first and foremost on the notion of trust, however flawed,
that the person beside you, however different his specific beliefs may
be from your own, nonetheless hews to the same notions of liberty, and
that when push comes to shove, you will be wiling to lay down your
life to protect that person's rights. Take that away in a paroxysm of
paranoia, distrust, conspiracies, hearings and vague accusations, and
everything else falls apart. The center does not hold.

To question ourselves is not to weaken our democracy, but to
strengthen it, because we know precisely what we believe and why we
believe it; we're not victims if we learn from our mistakes and thus
fail to repeat them. If we *deny* our mistakes, or try to bury them,
or rationalize them, then we create the potential for trouble. We are
at our most vulnerable when we are the most self-congratulatory and
assured. Because then we get blindsided.

"Fact is, the Red Scare tended to get two specific (and fairly
small) groups of people, Hollywood actors, writers and executives, and
people affiliated with Democratic institutions."

Yes, and the Nazis tended to get two specific (and fairly
small) groups of people, jews and communists. So I guess that's okay

Any attempt at repression *always* starts by first targeting
artists, writers, and intellectuals, the ones in a position to
verbalize and explain why what's happening is *wrong*. You want to
eliminate, neutralize or destroy their credibility. This is standard
operating procedure. That's where it starts, but not always where it
ends. To assume that because we've always caught it before means we
always *will* is, again, to set yourself up for a fall.

The manipulators always go after an easily identifiable group
first, one which they can easily tar with the brush of responsibility
for society's problems. We're seeing it again today, writ smaller, in
the constant and repeated assaults on Hollywood...attacking the
*picture* of the problem rather than the problem itself.

Again, you demonstrate the problem. "Well, it's just these two
small groups, really." Then it becomes three groups. Then four. Or
you just stay with the two groups...and you harrass, chivvy, destroy,
terrorize, humiliate, bankrupt and ultimately lead to the death of many
of them. But as long as it's just a couple of small groups, it's not
that bad, really.

"Every man's death diminishes me. So ask not for whom the bell
tolls. It tolls for thee."

I'd also point out that when HUAC started, it was as the result
of accusations that there were commies in the Military and the
Pentagon; but when they found that they could get on TeeVee and the
Newsreels by bringing in actors...that's what they did. What does it
do to a nation starstruck by actors to see these same shining examples
of the American dream standing before the cameras and naming names of
other actors, business associates, others? You speak of the values of
a nation...what effect does that have on our values? What *are* our
values if we allow this to take place...or dismiss it after the fact as
having hurt only a few people, really.

It did great harm to the fabric of the nation, not in fines or
jail sentences, but in the *heart* of the nation, the way we look to
one another. Its effects reverberated long after the HUAC hearings
stopped. It bred a level of paranoia that when the youth culture of
the 60s began to pop up, many of them were instantly categorized as
commies; "Go back to russia where you came from" was a common cry to
longhairs in that time. Because to dissent was unpatriotic; the only
ones who attacked the government were the commies, end of discussion.
The parents of kids who were teenagers in the 60s had come through
McCarthy, had learned the wrong lessons of citizenship.

No executions? Perhaps Julies and Ethel Rosenberg had some
part in spying, maybe they didn't, I don't know if we'll ever know for
sure. But the Russians were working on a-bomb technology long before,
and records show that they got it pretty much on their own. They were
executed as part of the hysteria of the times, their trial a rush to

No, we're not so weak a nation that McCarthy himself can
destroy it; WE destroy it, if we allow ourselves to be convinced to
turn one another in, to have the heart and soul of the nation sold out
to terror and paranoia. Every nation has within its breast the seeds of
its own destruction, within its own population; what some individuals
do is water that seed, and fertilize it. If it grows, it grows in us.
They don't do it to us, we do it to ourselves. And given the right
conditions, the right environment, the right soil...we could do it.
Even here.