For my blog post today about Conrad Black’s Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, my focus will be on Dwight Eisenhower’s response to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s attacks on General George C. Marshall.
According to Black on pages 264-265, “On June 14, 1951, McCarthy had harangued the Senate for eight hours with a sixty-thousand-word speech in which he reviewed General Marshall’s career and accused him of complete incompetence as chief of staff, envoy to China, and secretary of state and defense, and concluded that Marshall’s treachery had produced every communist triumph.” Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican Presidential candidate in 1952, admired Marshall. Black states that Marshall should have had “solid and bipartisan” support anyway, since Marshall was instrumental in organizing the victory in World War II and was a “brilliant cabinet secretary” (page 265). But Eisenhower had good reason to have a particular affection for Marshall, for Marshall, after all, was the one who promoted Eisenhower “from lieutenant-colonel to theater commander and four-star general in less than three years” (page 265).
Candidate Eisenhower was planning to put a paragraph in his Milwaukee, Wisconsin speech, and the paragraph would praise Marshall. The paragraph would say that Marshall had been “dedicated with singular selflessness and profoundest patriotism to the service of America,” and that the accusations against Marshall were “a sobering lesson in the way freedom must not defend itself” (quotation of the paragraph). But Eisenhower ended up leaving that paragraph out, and this was supposedly because “Midwest Republican leaders told him it would be too disruptive to party unity to attack McCarthy in this way” (page 265). The thing is, the text of the speech, with the paragraph praising Marshall, had been given to the press by Eisenhower’s staff, and so many people knew that Eisenhower decided to leave the paragraph out to appease McCarthy’s supporters. As a result, Eisenhower was widely criticized: by the press, such as Edward R. Murrow; by Democratic Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson; and even by some conservative Republicans, such as Harold Stassen. Eisenhower berated McCarthy in his only meeting with him, and Black says that Eisenhower felt bad about leaving out the paragraph defending Marshall. On page 266, Black states that Eisenhower “tried to ignore it in his memoirs, and blamed his staff for misleading him about the implications of failing to defend Marshall.”
So Eisenhower left out that paragraph defending Marshall because he was afraid of alienating McCarthy supporters, right? Well, on pages 301-302, Black backtracks from this story-line, a bit. Eisenhower and Nixon were having a slight disagreement about Nixon’s rhetoric. Nixon had blamed Dean Acheson, who had served as Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, for the fall of China to the Communists, and Dwight Eisenhower, now the President, thought that such attacks were hindering his own ability to work with Democrats. Nixon responded that he was attacking Acheson, not all Democrats, but Eisenhower was not buying that line of reasoning. According to Black, Eisenhower then went on to blame Marshall for the fall of China to the Communists, for Marshall had pressured Chiang Kaishek (the nationalist leader of mainline China, before it fell to the Communists) to accept Communists into his government. Black also notes that Marshall urged Chiang to have a cease-fire for two-weeks. Black does not believe that these things were what led to the fall of China to the Communists, blaming it instead on the “corruption and incompetence of the Chiang Kai-shek Kuomintang government” (page 302). But Black notes that Eisenhower, on some level, was blaming Marshall for China’s fall, even going so far as to echo some of Joseph McCarthy’s allegations. Black states that such a consideration “may go some way to explaining Eisenhower’s failure to defend Marshall against McCarthy” (page 301). Eisenhower was not a McCarthyite, and he even played a role in bringing McCarthy down; but did Eisenhower fail to defend Marshall against McCarthy’s allegations in 1952 because he agreed with those allegations, on some level? I seriously doubt that Eisenhower thought Marshall was treasonous, but perhaps he thought that Marshall exercised poor judgment on China.
I’d like to make two more points. First of all, a long time ago, I read Joseph McCarthy’s book, America’s Retreat from Victory: The Story of George Catlett Marshall. McCarthy appealed to sources in making his arguments and asked good questions, but I think that it’s good to read a variety of sources. Sure, McCarthy is worth the read, but so are other works, such as Acheson’s autobiography (not that I have read the latter, at least not yet). I referred to some things in McCarthy’s book in my posts here and here.
Second, I found it interesting that the guy who famously asked McCarthy if he had “no sense of decency”, army counsel Joseph Welch, was that one who played the judge in the movie Anatomy of a Murder, starring James Stewart and George C. Scott. That’s what Black says on page 299. As someone with one foot in and one foot out of the right wing, I’m not sure if I liked what Welch said to McCarthy. Ann Coulter in Treason talks about how McCarthy was actually the one on the defensive in those hearings, that McCarthy was defending someone on his staff from attacks, and that Welch was essentially whining when he did not want to respond to McCarthy’s points. I don’t know. Again, it’s probably a good idea to read a variety of books about this topic. The thing is, whatever I feel about Welch’s performance in the Army-McCarthy hearings, I actually liked the judge in Anatomy of a Murder: his little speech about the law, how he looked on with pride as Jimmy Stewart’s character was pouring through law books to come up with a case, etc.