Lattimore Case: McCarthy’s Vicious Retreat

Lattimore Case: McCarthy’s Vicious Retreat

Lattimore Case: McCarthy’s Vicious Retreat

Tailgunner Joe meets his match in the professorial China hand, who won’t surrender to the Senator’s bullying.


Tailgunner Joe ran roughshod over the State Department until he crossed swords with Owen Lattimore.

Washington, April 9

For the first time since Shifty Joe McCarthy began his attacks on the State Depart-ment, many leaders of the Republican Party may be harboring serious doubts about the aid and comfort they gave the panting little demagogue from Wisconsin. Owen Latti-more was quite a different witness from those who had previously appeared before the Senate foreign relations subcommittee to deny the taint of Communist sympathies. The others had testified in their own defense with fervor and persuasive detail. Lattimore — on whose case McCarthy himself said the whole set of accusations would “stand or fall” — lifted the proceedings to a new level. Mild and professorial looking, a student and journalist, he proved an extremely tough and challenging witness. The tall-columned caucus room of the Senate Office Building was suddenly transformed into an arena in which the victims were McCarhhy and his slow-footed stooge on the committee, Senator Hickenlooper of Iowa.

The setting was strictly big league, for McCarthy had made it so. Lattimore was on the witness stand for more than five hours before batteries of movie and television cameras, klieg lights, swarms of reporters, and a standing-room-only audience. His voice dripped sarcasm as he pronounced the name of “Joseph McCarthy,” this “learned Senator” who served, he charged, as the “dupe” and “innocent mind” for what is called here the China lobby, consisting of William J. Goodwin, registered agent of the Chiang Kai-shek gov-ernment, and Alfred Kohlberg, a New York importer. Kohlberg, Lattimore said, had tried unsuccessfully in 1945 to get control of the Institute of Pacific Affairs.

Lattimore offered in evidence prints and negatives of all the pictures he took in May, 1949, at Point Barrow, Alaska — pictures to which McCarthy had attached a sinister sig-nificance but which Lattimore described as views of “Eskimo children, dog sleds, huts lined with whale ribs, natural beauties, and sunsets.” He mocked McCarthy again for his crawl from the raucous accusation that Lattimore was Russia’s “top espionage agent” in the United States to the pale admission that “perhaps too much emphasis” had been put on the espionage matter. He went down the line of McCarthy’s other charges, present-ing evidence to refute or ridicule them. He got a letter read into the record — his now fa-mous letter to Joseph Barnes which McCarthy had misquoted — and exposed the Wis-consin Senator again as a twister of texts and a ravisher of contexts. He categorically swore that he had never been a Communist, never associated with the Communist Party, never been an advocate of the Soviet program.

It was a magnificent performance — the first which came up to that of McCarthy himself a week earlier, when the Senator commanded the Senate floor for hours, hurling his charges and beating back Democratic heckling. But more than that, Lattimore suc-ceeded in turning the caucus room into a hall for the discussion of both American for-eign policy in the Far East and the principles of free speech. Helped, curiously enough, by the plodding cross-examination of Hickenlooper, he carefully set forth his thesis that the United States could not prop up Chiang Kai-shek in Formosa, that it could not estab-lish “little Chiangs” in South Korea and other Asiatic countries, that Chiang might have made reforms in the Nationalist government and kept the people on his side but failed to do so. Lattimore advocated a flexible policy toward the Chinese Communist government — a policy that would always emphasize our traditional friendship for the Chinese people and our desire to help them stay at least partly free of Russian domination. He rejected again and again the insinuation that anyone who disagreed with the China policy advo-cated by some Republicans was disloyal. He demanded the right of free discussion — and he made the demand stick.

What of McCarthy? The Wisconsin Senator, who has demonstrated his capacity to be completely unscrupulous, is as crafty as a coyote, as dangerous as a trapped bear. He sat, taut-lipped and pale, directly behind the subcommittee and facing Lattimore through the early hours of the hearing. Then he went up to Passaic, New Jersey, to accept an “Americanism” award from a Marine Corps group. Here he shrilled defiance at Latti-more, daring him to sue on the basis of this attack made outside the privileged forum of the Senate. Reporters hastily pointed out however, that McCarthy had not repeated his Senate charges — had said neither that Lattimore was a Communist nor that he was an espionage agent. Nor did he repeat his accusations that Ambassador Philip C. Jessup had an affinity for Communist causes and that John S. Service of the State Department had “Communist affiliations [that] are well known.”

McCarthy is trying to retreat to a new line — a non-libelous charge that Lattimore’s views “paralleled” the views of the Cominform. Senator Mundt of South Dakota, Senator Knowland of California, and some others are echoing this milder position. But that will not be enough to let McCarthy squirm free. Lattimore has sworn he is not and never has been a Communist, and McCarthy in the Senate promised to produce a witness in refu-tation. The witness is tentatively scheduled to appear on April 13, providing McCarthy can induce him to testify. If the witness does appear, and declares of his own knowl-edge that Lattimore is or has been a Communist, one or the other will be exposed to a perjury indictment. McCarthy can hardly continue to rehash slippery and shifting charges unless he can produce someone willing to stand up without the cloak of immu-nity and support the accusations.

Two veteran and respected Republicans — Seth Richardson of the Loyalty Review Board and General Conrad B. Snow, chairman of the State Department’s Loyalty Board-have testified that they know of no Communists in the State Department. Richardson has said that in the more than 10,000 full field investigations conducted by the FBI un-der the President’s loyalty program no suggestion of espionage has been uncovered.

There are signs that substantial elements of the Republican Party are weary of the alba-tross McCarthy has hung around their necks. The return of John Foster Dulles to the State Department and the appointment of former Republican Senator John Sherman Cooper make it clear that McCarthy and those who want to fight the battles of the China lobby are no longer in complete control of G.O. P. policy.

It has been a miserable and repulsive business, and the tide presumably will take as long to ebb as it did to reach its flood. The foreign policy of the United States has been seriously damaged; we have been made to look ridiculously divided and self-distrustful in the midst of a precarious world situation. We still do not have a foreign policy for the Far East based on the realistic assumption that Western imperialism in the old-fashioned sense is ended and that if we want to save all Asia from the Russians we must do more than bleat our fears and send some planes to Chiang on Formosa. If Lat-timore’s appearance before the Senate subcommittee proves a turning point, McCarthy will have done his country a favor that he could scarcely have contemplated.

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