Monday, June 09, 2008

"Have You No Sense of Decency, Sir?"

On this date in history in 1954, attorney Joseph N. Welch confronted Senator Joseph R. McCarthy during a hearing on the threat of communistis in the United States Army. McCarthy, using the bullying tactics that had proven so successful, "exposed" a young lawyer in Welch's firm as a suspected communist. Welch's reaction to McCarthy's reckless behavior is credited with giving courage to others to stand up to McCarthy, and is credited with beginning McCarthy's downfall.

What get overlooked in this sequence of events is the role that Roy Cohn played in this tragi-comedy. Cohn served as chief counsel for the Senate Subcomittee on Investigations, and therefore became responsible for feeding names of suspected communists to McCarthy. To assist him in this endeavor, Cohn enlisted the assistance of a long-time friend, G. David Schine. Many other staffers on the subcomittee suspected that Cohn and Schine were lovers, which may explain the vehemence with which they pursued other suspected homosexuals in the US government. Schine was drafted into the Army in 1952, soon after he and Cohn began an investigation into suspected communists in the Army.

Although it is difficult to ascertain from the video link above, the homosexual nature of the relationship between Cohn and Schine was widely suspected. Although this transcript does not clearly illustrate it, Welch during the hearing "baits" Cohn about his relationship with Schine. Although Cohn readily handles the questioning from Welch, McCarthy jumps to the defense of his chief inquisitor, and gets back at Welch by accusing a junior member of his firm of belonging to a communist "front" organization, the Lawyers Guild.

The Army-McCarthy hearings have long been credited with "bringing down" McCarthy, but a greater factor was the fact that the investigation and hearings never produced their own Alger Hiss moment; with know one ever brought to trial after being "exposed" by McCarthy, his momentum was impossible to sustain.

With the kangaroo court proceedings getting underway at Guantanamo Bay, it is perhaps more important now than it has been in the recent past to recall that, faced with similar circumstances, some Americans placed the importance of the rule of law before their fears of some bogey man that was used to further political ends.

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