IT IS annoying, at the best, to be hauled up before the McCarthy committee, even if you have the satisfaction of telling Joe to go peddle his papers. It is somewhat sobering, later, to receive letters from fine people commending you for doing what, after all, is only a simple and rudimentary act of citizenship. Their appreciation shows how far, in recent years, we havoc slipped down freedom’s hill.
In olden times–at least as far back as 1910, say–it was a cardinal point of Americanism that a man’s politics were his own business. Now they seem to be the business of any McCarthy, Jenner, or Velde who cares to stick his nose in. If a man’s home is his castle, a man’s mind is his own. Many Americans seem to have forgotten this. All the more honor to a new American, Albert Einstein, for reminding us that we have a duty not to cooperate with the book-burners.
One fine summer day a person who said he was Roy Cohn of the Senate Investigating (McCarthy) Committee, telephoned me to announce that I was summoned to appear. My crime: I had written books which, this voice said, had appeared in overseas libraries of the State Department Later I received telegrams from a person teletyped as “Joe McCarthy” which “confirmed telephonic directions.” (I hope I will be pardoned for referring to the gentleman as plain, simple “Joe.” That is the way he signs himself.)
I was summoned to appear in Washington on “Tuesday, July 9.” As this was an improbable date for 1953, I decided to pass it up. After Tuesday had come and gone, Joe was reported to have said that I was already “in contempt.” Later he apparently revised his offhand opinion and issued the kind of subpoena which all other Congressional committees regard as the normal means for summoning witnesses.
As I was determined not to enter into a political discussion with Joe, my appearance before his committee was short and to the point. I said, in effect, “None of your business.” My political affiliations, or lack of them, could be of no legitimate concern to him or his committee–that is, if our elected officials are in reality our servants and not our masters.
It is appalling that such an answer seems to be novel nowadays. Back in the 1600’s In England, Catholic kings, and queens, hacked off Protestant heads, and Protestant kings, and queens, hacked off Catholic heads, because, some stiff-necked people regarded their religion as their own business. Finally the English got around to agreeing that a man’s religion is no business of the state. In the 1700’s the agreement was extended to apply to a man’s politics. This was accepted as good doctrine in the United States until a few years ago. Now it appears that we must fight to get back liberties conceded. more than two centuries ago.
Of course the witch-hunters have been lurking around the corner from the earliest days. Usually the citizens had more guts than the witch-hunters At times, however, the balance shifted, and the Joes got the upper hand. After World War I the Industrial Workers of the World put it this way: “Free speech–say anything you want to, but keep your mouth shut.” Fortunately, for the wobblies this was mere irony; their free-speech fights are part of the great American tradition.