20. July 2005 · Comments Off on Of Chablis Socialism, Tailgunner Joe and a Hunger Strike · Categories: General, History, Iran, Media Matters Not

The poor moth-eaten ghost of Joe McCarthy has gotten as much mileage in the op-eds of the wise in the last couple of years as zombie movies have in the multiplex these days. When in doubt, drag it out, shake it around and yell “Oooogah-booogah! Red-baiting! Black-list! It’s a new McCarthyism! Save the women and children! Oooooga-boogah!” It has always struck me as amusing, how the significance of McCarthy’s anti-communist campaign, the HUAC hearings and the whole Hollywood blacklist thing loomed over the chic intellectual set. In retrospect, it’s almost as if a child’s balloon magically expanded over time to the size of the Hindenburg. Popular memoirists and movies describe the whole period, as if Joe McCarthy was blotting out the sun, casting dark shadows over the land of the free, while everyone cowered behind the doors of their houses, afraid to speak above a whisper for fear of the dark, jackbooted minions of the (cue scary music here!) HUAC would break down the door and drag them away to an unspecified but horrible fate in some barbed-wire gulag.

Oddly enough, my parents who were in college at the time don’t remember anything of that kind. In fact, they remember Joe McCarthy being pungently described as a headline grabbing blow-hard politician and all-around scumbag who never managed to come within a country mile of a Russian spy, or keeping his stories straight. They remember him being denounced in no uncertain terms— everyone they knew had McCarthy’s number down to the third decimal place, recognized him for just another self-serving, glory-hunting pol, attaching himself like a remora to the issue of the moment. And, as we now know through the Venona transcripts, there was something, underneath all the popular hysteria; there had indeed been an assortment of Communists, fellow travelers and paid Stalinist stooges wandering at will over the home of the free and the land of the brave for decades.

Some of them were politically naïve and hopelessly gullible, the kind of people these days who respond to Nigerian spam, who believed (against every indication to the contrary) that Russia under Lenin and Stalin was the last, best hope for mankind, the shining light of the future, the brave new world. Others were genuinely anti-fascist, who had the misfortune to become politically aware during the hungry Thirties; revolted by the excesses of Italian and German fascism, they took refuge in the arms of what seemed like it’s political polar opposite, only to be brutally disillusioned by the brutal realpolitik of the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, and whiplashed once again by Stalin’s volte-face in 1941. Still others were indeed dedicated but conflicted Communists, cheering on the brave new Marxist world from the comfort and security of Brentwood or the Upper East Side, and seeking absolution and permission to lie about it in court.

McCarthy generated a great deal of headline noise, but not much useful light on the subject, aside from afflicting the comfortable Chablis socialist set. My parents’ contention that he was a paper tiger, expanded by bombast and hubris to a towering but fragile edifice is supported with the speed and thoroughness of his deflation and collapse… a collapse initiated by a single pin-prick of a question asked by a soft-spoken and gentlemanly lawyer, in front of a television camera. He was seen for what he really was, and in a remarkably short time, the cruel jest was that it wasn’t “McCarthyism” it should be “McCarthywasim”. But it surely must inflate the egos of those who ran afoul of him and the “red scare”, to paint McCarthy bigger, crueler and more dangerous in hindsight, to burnish their own heroism in opposition. The other thing that strikes me, besides the fragility of the McCarthy red-baiting machine, is the willful cluelessness of so many of the alleged “reds”, so in love with their fantasy of the perfect Marxist new world, they managed to entirely overlook the varied horrors of Stalin’s rule… the famines, the purges, the show trials, the gulags and all. Either that, or what is most reprehensible, they worked overtime to justify and excuse them, so in love with the fantasy were they.

In love with a seductive, rose-tinted glasses fantasy; not the first to do so, and lamentably, not the last to fall for the heroic vision of the brave freedom fighter, even to see oneself as one. But the subtle danger of fantasy is that it turns our eyes from the real, messy, grubby and corrupted as it might be in comparison; the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. Our heroes and great ones ought to be—as the military cliché goes— ten feet tall and bulletproof, served up to us on the front page of the major media outlets, with a book and movie deal to follow after. And yet, in Iran there is a man, a writer and reporter, who is on a hunger strike— near death, it would seem— in defense of the freedom to think and communicate what he sees as the truth. Here is a person who values freedom of thought, freedom of communication, freedom of the press, so highly, he would give his life for it… and yet all the traditional defenders of the free press seem to look in the other direction.

We heard enough about the alleged targeting of journalists in Iraq by the American military; I have heard nothing about Akbar Ganji on NPR, nothing in my local paper. I wouldn’t know anything at all about Mr. Gangi if it weren’t for e-mail and the internet. A quick google search this Wednesday afternoon goes to three pages before listing a story about him in the major Western media sources. I can only assume that one set of stories favors the fantasy, the other doesn’t. But this is reality, not the lovely fantasy— and this reality matters. I have a computer, a blog, a collection of readers, and a facility with the written word— and the freedom to put my words out there, without fear or favor. Michael Moore, the staff of the Wall Street Journal— a million or two others, great and small also have that freedom, although most of us do not have the income to show for it. Like oxygen, we wouldn’t notice it, until it was not there— as the oxygen of a free press is not there for Akbar Gangi. We have heard a great deal in the last couple of years about freedom of the press. Let’s hear how much it matters for Akbar Gangi and the people of Iran… and everyone else who values freedom of the press and heroes in the real world.

Although, candidly, a hunger strike (and a strict program of excercise) would do Michael Moore no end of good.

(Links courtesy of Ron Wright and Instapundit)

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