The export of McCarthyism

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984).

Recent events in the United States of America have given rise to fears of a return of McCarthyism in that country. Journalists have noted that this environment seems to have leaked out of the USA and is being manifested by dictators in other parts of the world.

What is McCarthyism? On March 21, 1947, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9835 which introduced a loyalty test for all persons in the employment of the civil service. Section 1 of the order provided that: There shall be a loyalty investigation of every person entering the civilian employment of any department or agency of the executive branch of the Federal Government.

Investigations of persons entering the competitive service shall be conducted by the Civil Service Commission, except in such cases as are covered by a special agreement between the Commission and any given department or agency.

Investigations of persons other than those entering the competitive service shall be conducted by the employing department or agency. Departments and agencies without investigative organisations shall utilise the investigative facilities of the Civil Service Commission.

Under the guise of loyalty tests, this order provided the framework for the wicked, oppressive conduct of a young American Senator named Joseph McCarthy. This period of harassment of Americans was so oppressive that it remains one of the more shameful events in that country’s history.

McCarthy accused more than two hundred persons of being communist infiltrators of the United States government. To support his accusations, he conducted inquisitions akin to the Salem witch hunt, according to American writers. His investigation of persons suspected to have exercised their Constitutional right to join a party of which he disapproved destroyed many careers. Persons accused by him or dragged before his public committee included artistes like Lena Horne and Charlie Chaplin.

Eventually it was established that his allegations were untrue, but by then a lot of damage had already been done. Persons were blacklisted, passports were confiscated and some were jailed. The Senate, of which he was a part, censured him for unbecoming conduct. His conduct created repression unlike anything known in American politics in 20th-century.

The press was intimidated by him and either lent support to his crusade or simply refused to stand against him and his wrongs. Interestingly, it was strong criticism of McCarthy by some sections of the said press that removed him from power.

Media houses in America are now attributing McCarthy tactics to President Donald Trump. The prevailing view there seems to be that Trump has resorted to attacking and intimidating his critics in order to prevent light being shed on his shenanigans. He has been able to persuade a significant section of the American public to side with him and disregard what is said about him. He was bold enough to tell his supporters that they should not believe what they see and hear.

Trump’s success has encouraged others outside of America to follow his lead and make McCarthy-like tactics their modus operandi. It is anathema to democratic principles and practices for persons who are in authority, for the time being, to make unsupported allegations against citizens and use whatever mechanisms that are available to them to shut out alternative views.

A society is in a dangerous place when alternative views must not be aired or brought to the table. No human being is the repository of all knowledge and to the extent that any man or woman thinks otherwise, that person is a danger to all around them. Even those who are in their camp are in danger, for the day will come when a person of independent thought will hold a contrary view, and that day will be their end.

Conduct of this nature is new to Barbados. While political groups have always tried to promote their interests above opposing views, there has never been a time when every effort has been made to ensure that no opposing view sees the light of day. Before now, opposition has never been interpreted to mean enemy of the state.

The penultimate paragraph in the preamble of the Truman order stated: “WHEREAS maximum protection must be afforded the United States against infiltration of disloyal persons into the ranks of its employees, and equal protection from unfounded accusations of disloyalty must be afforded the loyal employees of the Government”. Clearly the concern of this order was protection from foreign elements. This was invogued at a time of American paranoia about the spread of communism. McCarthy used that paranoia as a weapon against innocent people. As far as I know, in the modern era, Barbados has never been threatened by foreign infiltration of its Government. Instead, for the most part, we have followed the dictates of entities like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and laid bare all that there is to our country. We have no secrets, other than our own sins.

We have been quick to attribute the growth of our economy and even improvements in our society to political leaders. We have also not been slow to pin our downturns to those in charge of the Government at a particular time. However, we have probably not given enough credit to our loyal civil servants. While political leaders come and go, these men and women keep the ship of state sailing. According to the accounts of those who were part of the process, during this country’s early development, there was a core of excellent civil servants who never let their political preferences influence their duties. They learnt well the British tradition of an independent civil service. One wonders how much the disappearance of that loyalty to country, replaced by party paramountcy, is responsible for the unflattering state of our beloved land at this time.

McCarthyism brought no benefit to America and this practice will bring no benefit to the countries of the dictators who employ it elsewhere. The pendulum will swing, and swing again.

Minister of Education, Santia Bradshaw, recently disclosed that she has some health challenges. We should all keep her in our prayers.

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