- You, Me, and Joe McCarthy:The Enduring Legacy of the Cold War
"Is McCarthyism still alive?"
This is the question that was posed to me by Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, when he interviewed me in May 2008.
Nine months earlier I had been—some might say fired; the legal settlement says "not permitted to teach"—by California State University at Fullerton because I had not signed a loyalty oath. The oath was adopted by California in 1952 to root out Communists. It requires state employees to pledge to "defend" the U.S. and California constitutions "against all enemies, foreign and domestic." As a Quaker pacifist and as someone who believes in the sanctity of the First Amendment, I had offered to sign the pledge if I could also attach a brief statement expressing my views and concerns about it, a practice allowed by other state institutions. What happened next, according to the Los Angeles Times, was that "Cal State Fullerton rejected [my] statement and insisted that [I] sign the oath if [I] wanted the job."1 At the time I wasn't sure how to answer the question about McCarthyism.
For one thing, I didn't want to antagonize anyone. I was in the midst of a campaign to get my job back and juggling unwanted attention. Fox News had left three messages on my answering machine; the "Hannity & Colmes" show even tracked down my elderly grandfather in Pennsylvania. I had nightmares [End Page 375] of being called un-American and unpatriotic on national television. In fact, anonymous commentators and bloggers did make those accusations. I was also called a communist sympathizer and a spoiled crybaby. One geographically challenged individual told me to "go back to the country I came from." Several interested parties wanted to know if I was single.
Thanks to pro bono representation from People for the American Way, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the U.S. Constitution, I did get the job back and was permitted to attach a statement to the oath. And fifteen thousand people signed a petition on my behalf. Does this mean that I am ready to declare that McCarthyism is really and truly dead? The truth is I still puzzle over the significance of my experience. From the moment I first learned that I would be required to take a loyalty oath—three days before the start of classes—until I received my last paycheck from Fullerton (along with a vituperative review from a colleague), I've struggled to understand why the oath continues to be a requirement for California state employees, why many faculty sign it despite inner reservations, and why my modest protest generated outrage and bureaucratic obstruction.
The three books under review offer tentative answers to these questions. Each examines the role of intellectuals in shaping and responding to cold war imperatives.
Bob Blauner's Resisting McCarthyism: To Sign or Not to Sign California's Loyalty Oath (Stanford University Press, 2009) provides historical perspective. His is a detailed account of the genesis of the University of California's loyalty oath and the crisis that ensued during the 1950s when a small bloc of professors from the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses refused to sign it. Their refusal attracted national attention and polarized the academic community. Effectively situating the story within the larger context of the cold war, Blauner also shows how key individuals and interpersonal conflicts escalated and prolonged a crisis that might otherwise have been effectively and quickly resolved. But unlike previous accounts, namely David Gardner's The California Oath Controversy (1967), which characterized nonsigners as destructively uncooperative and concluded that the oath debacle was "'a vain and futile...