With his farcical accusations against the Secretary of the Army, Tailgunner Joe meets his Waterloo.
In the finale of the Stevens story, W. H. Lawrence of the New York Times asked Senator McCarthy whether he agreed with Senator Dirksen that the Secretary of the Army had not surrendered. “‘I agree on that,’ he said with a big grin on his face. ‘It was just a case of reaching an agreement.’ Surreptitiously, he kicked a correspondent in the shins as he made the statement.”
Since then there have been qualifications, post facto interpretations, charges and countercharges, but the gentlemen’s agreement has not been rescinded. Mr. Stevens may not realize it — his political perceptions are not quick — but he has already walked too far with the devil to turn back now.
The walk began when the Secretary of the Army elected to make the issue Senator McCarthy’s rude handling of a distinguished officer. To be sure, an issue involving officer morale was at stake, not to mention the question of how Senators should behave toward witnesses whether they are brigadier generals or cafeteria workers. But General Zwicker was simply given the routine treatment prescribed for all but so-called “friendly” witnesses.
No, the real issue was simply whether McCarthy should be permitted to continue his march to power unopposed or, stated another way, whether the principle of the separation of powers still prevails. By contrast, the issue on which Mr. Stevens elected to stand was not only trivial; it was misleading. For it gave McCarthy precisely what he wanted, namely, a chance to have his phony demagoguery taken seriously. McCarthy had no case against the army. On the face of it, there was nothing wrong or improper in the discharge granted Major Peress, and once granted it could not be revoked. And the gossip about “the communications relay-machine operator” — a clerk twice cleared by army loyalty investigators, who denied under oath that she was a Communist, who could not be positively identified by the informer who had named her as a Communist, and whose duties consisted of feeding “unintelligible” tape into a telegraph machine — was so preposterous that even McCarthy was somewhat embarrassed. If anything could be sillier than Mr. Stevens’s pathetic assertion that he had not surrendered — “he merely thought they [Dirksen, McCarthy, Potter, and Mundt] wanted to look at his sword,” one observer commented — it is the contention that he was wise to act as he did because “the army had a weak case.” McCarthy doesn’t care whether a case is strong or weak. He is always in complete control of the hearings and he knows that his bluffs will not be called. He does not need to prove a charge; all he needs to do is to whisper “communism” and even men sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution will act like so many sheep.