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The Purge and the Bomb

In response to:

The Bad Old Days from the April 20, 1978 issue

To the Editors:

Reviewing The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge under Truman and Eisenhower [NYR, April 20], H. Stuart Hughes charges me with having failed to signal which victims of the purge were actually Communists. He clearly laments my failure to face up to the insidious appeal of totalitarian Stalinism for “so many intelligent and high-minded Americans”; and strongly implies that if I had done so, then my verdict on those who collaborated in the purge might have been less strident and juvenile.

To begin with, the allegation of omission is ill-founded. In chapter 9 alone I name more than 120 victims of the purge as avowed members of the CPUSA. Elsewhere, in case after case, allegations of Party membership are carefully recorded. Wherever a clear judgment on this point seems feasible, I have made it; but any historian of the period will surely confirm that the truth of the matter is not available in every case. I have no motive for concealment.

The subject of my book is not why Americans became Communists. Nor is it why they became fellow-travelers, sympathizers, critics of the Truman Doctrine, aliens, blacks, civil libertarians or critics of McCarthy. The subject of The Great Fear is why such disparate groups were branded as Un-American, found guilty by association, hounded out of their jobs and, in many instances, sent to prison. Hatred of Stalinism was certainly one factor precipitating the purge, but only one; fear of socialism, of the New Deal, of organized labor, of black aspirations, and of the impoverished masses of the Third World were of even greater consequence. I am not speculating: hundreds of loyalty board interrogations tell the story.

Hughes complains that I heap the entire responsibility for the purge on to the shoulders of the Cold War liberals. I do not. I merely emphasize that they, obsessed by America’s righteous crusade against Soviet Communism, unhappily turned a blind eye toward the excesses of American domestic and foreign policy, embraced the Pax Americana, and failed to protest the purge until McCarthy turned it against themselves.

Hughes sees good and bad in us all. That’s nice.

David Caute

London, England

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