In response to:
HUAC from the January 30, 1969 issue
To the Editors:
Your readers may have missed a small liberty which Vern Countryman permitted himself in our exchange regarding his review of The Committee [NYR, January 30]. In his original review [NYR, December 5, 1968] he wrote, “Previous studies have been severe in their condemnation of HUAC and unanimous in their conclusion that it should be abolished.” When I observed that this was an overstatement, he recalled himself as having said that “three earlier books were unanimous in their conclusion that HUAC should be abolished,” thereby neatly omitting a well-known book edited by William Buckley (The Committee and Its Critics), not to mention books by Robert Stripling and Martin Dies. They weren’t good books, but books they undubitably were-and unanimous means unanimous.
More troubling, however, was the fact that of the three books whose existence Professor Countryman allows, one does not fit his case at all. Your readers are not likely to discern how misleading was his reference to August Raymond Ogden’s The Dies Committee. Dr. Ogden leavened his criticisms of the Committee with more kindness than I was able to muster and called not for abolition but for improvement of its rules of procedure. Writing at a time when there was general relief at the prospect of the Committee coming to an end, he expressed the opinion that there were “many aspects of subversive activities that only a Congressional committee could thoroughly and completely expose” and so recommended that “a joint standing committee be created to maintain a continual investigation of subversive affairs.” For this reason, his book was criticized by those who favored abolition rather than amelioration. So it turns out that Professor Countryman’s original and revised sentences were both, to understate the case, grand overstatements.
In a similar spirit, from your reviewer’s latest comments on The Committee, no reader could know that the book describes in detail and duly criticizes instances of bullying of witnesses and attempts at entrapment by Committee interrogators, or that it criticizes the way the Committee’s vast files have been used, the long-standing and invidious relationship between its staff and the FBI, and a great deal more about its operations. For all its despicable ways, however, the record leaves not the slightest doubt that the Committee has over the years called up hundreds of Communists. Robert K. Carr whose estimable book (The House Committee on Un-American Activities 1945-1950) Professor Countryman admits to his triumverate, minces no words about this for the period he covers. It is a reality which the sponsors of the National Committee to Abolish HUAC have never been able to face.
Vern Countryman replies:
Goodman’s word-chopping cannot obscure what I said in my review. After indicating at the outset that his was the fourth book to review HUAC’s performance, I said that “previous studies” have been unanimous in their conclusion that HUAC should be abolished. I was referring, as I indicated in my previous letter, to the works of Donner, Carr, and Ogden. Goodman now invokes three other books, all written in defense of HUAC—one by former HUAC Chairman Martin Dies, one by former HUAC investigator Robert Stripling, and one edited by William F. Buckley, Jr., noted exponent of the seventeenth century—and thereby seeks to twist what I said into a misrepresentation that Dies, Stripling, and Buckley advocate abolition of HUAC. I would not characterize his entries (which he admits are not “good books”) as serious “studies,” but as works of special pleading. A study may become a book, but not all books are studies. Does Goodman regard J. Edgar Hoover’s Masters of Deceit as a study of the FBI?
Father Ogden, in his concluding chapter, did call for the creation of a joint congressional committee, with improved rules of procedure. He referred to the scope of its inquiry four times as “subversive activities” and once as “subversive affairs.” Word-chopper Goodman can doubtless make something of the ambiguity of “affairs,” but I doubt that Ogden would quarrel with the statement in my review that “overt acts may be investigated, legislated against and punished, but speech, belief and association must remain free of governmental restraint.” Certainly his proposal cannot be read as a plea for the continuation of a committee whose mandate, as I previously said, “has it backward.”
I am content to stand on my prior statement that Goodman’s treatment of HUAC’s interrogating techniques and the use of its files and dossiers is inadequate, and I note that he does not dispute my observation of a similar inadequacy with regard to HUAC’s misuse of claims of self-incrimination and the emotional instability of some of its informers.
The real difference between us emerges in Goodman’s statement that “For all its despicable ways, however, the record leaves not the slightest doubt that the Committee has over the years called up hundreds of Communists.” One difficulty with this statement is factual. Given the sort of gossip, rumor and hearsay which HUAC treats as evidence, the record leaves plenty of room for doubt. A more serious difficulty lies, however, in Goodman’s continuing ignorance about the First Amendment. He, like the Committee’s mandate, has it backward. People—including people who are Communists—should not be called to account before Congressional committees for their speech, beliefs and associations. They may properly be interrogated about their activities, but not by a Committee whose scope of inquiry is confined to “propaganda.”