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Joseph McCarthy

Enemies from Within Speech

Nonfiction | Essay / Speech | Adult | Published in 1950

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Summary: “Enemies from Within”

On February 9, 1950, Joseph R. McCarthy delivered the “Enemies from Within” speech to the Republican Women’s Club in Wheeling, West Virginia. The speech was one of many Lincoln Day events that Republicans held annually, and since McCarthy’s record in the Senate over the previous three years had been fairly unremarkable, there were few expectations regarding his speech. McCarthy had prepared the speech to address the Communist threat, although he also touched on a host of other concepts. The speech exhibits some of the tropes associated with Anti-Intellectualism in American politics. McCarthy expounds at length on the question of whether Communists have infiltrated the State Department. He moves from suspicion to accusation and back again, at times citing evidence and at other times not, in a style that evokes The Threat of Political Betrayal. Throughout the speech, McCarthy exhibits a stark, Manichaean framework with which he divides the world into hostile camps. But throughout this polarizing rhetoric there are The New American Exceptionalism and other related Puritan myths in secularized form. It is widely believed that McCarthy’s Wheeling speech inaugurated the movement that bore his name.

The source of this draft of McCarthy’s “Enemies from Within” speech is the “State Department Loyalty Investigation Committee on Foreign Relations,” Congressional Record of the Senate, 81st Congress, 2nd Session, February 20, 1950, pp. 1954-1957, which is published in Congress Investigates: A Critical and Documentary History (2011). (McCarthy, Joseph R. “Speech of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, Wheeling, West Virginia, February 9, 1950.” In Congress Investigates: A Critical and Documentary History, eds. Roger A. Bruns and David Hostetter. Shepherd’s Town, WV: Facts on File, 2011. 828-832.)

McCarthy begins his Lincoln Day speech with an homage to one of the greatest leaders in American history, whose 141st birthday is the focal point of this event. He expresses his desire to consider this day as one of the most glorious in world history as he reflects upon Lincoln’s aversion to war. McCarthy maintains that world peace and disarmament are the most pertinent matters to consider on this day, just five years following the Allied victory in the Second World War. But instead of anticipating a lasting “peace in our time” (829) and a release from the horrors of war, Americans find themselves in a new Cold War. McCarthy reminds his audience that the world is now divided into two hostile spheres both vying for technological and military superiority. For McCarthy, there is a visceral awareness of this worldwide buildup of armaments and the acceleration of hostilities. He suggests that the only hopeful aspect of this new reality is that neither camp has yet precipitated the final explosions that would destroy civilization itself.

McCarthy exhorts his audience to remain vigilant to the fact that this Cold War is the ultimate battle. This is not a traditional war of nations over territory but a clash between opposing ideologies: between the “western Christian world” and the “atheistic communist world” (829). McCarthy frames the differences between the antagonistic sides as moral rather than political. For McCarthy, the Marxist drive to confiscate the means of production so that the economy can be run as a single operation and the Leninist concept of a single party state are abhorrent attributes of a Communist “religion of immoralism” (829). Stalin pushed this immoralism to new extremes and McCarthy concludes that if the religion of immoralism were to win this war then the damage inflicted on civilization would be far more severe than the rupture of a political or economic system. McCarthy claims that the atheism of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin precludes the very possibility that religious people could coexist with a Communist State where the ideas of justice and morality are deemed as quaint and sentimental.

From the time that Lincoln was a man in his 30s and Marx was boasting about the specter of Communism haunting Europe, McCarthy says, half the world has been subjected to Communist control. Again, McCarthy warns of a final battle between “communistic atheism and Christianity” (829). He says that the Communists have selected the present time for this conflict, referencing Stalin’s recent remarks about the inevitable clash between the Soviet Republic and the West. McCarthy warns his audience that if they do not face the reality of the current war now, they shall suffer the consequences of “those who wait too long” (830). McCarthy notes that in the six years following the close of World War II, the Soviet sphere of influence has increased by “400 percent” while the leverage of the West has shrunk (830). According to McCarthy, the Cold War has resulted in the acceleration of Communist domination coupled with an accumulation of failures for Christian democracy.

McCarthy remarks that Lincoln once said that if a democracy is to be destroyed then “it will not be from enemies from without, but rather because of enemies from within” (830). He then articulates his primary argument: the only reason that the United States, the most prosperous and technologically advanced nation on earth, is losing the Cold War is because of the subversive influence of Communists in government and the society at large. The source of this nation’s impotency is the traitorous activities of those who are the most fortunate, who benefit from the best jobs, and whose socioeconomic situation is secure. McCarthy then shifts his focus to the State Department, where talented young men who were “born with silver spoons in their mouths” (830) have comported themselves in the most traitorous manner. To substantiate his argument, McCarthy offers a catalogue of specific cases.

It was John Service, an employee of the State Department working in China, who advised the US to stop supporting Chiang Kai-shek in his fight against the Chinese Communist Party. Soon thereafter, Chairman Mao Zedong founded the People’s Republic of China. Service was picked up by the FBI for giving State Department secrets to the Communists. The Undersecretary of State, Joseph Grew, who demanded Service’s prosecution, was forced to resign only to be replaced by Dean Acheson, who reinstated Service’s position in the department. Gustave Duran, whom McCarthy refers to as an “international communist” (830), was hired by the State Department after serving as a lieutenant colonel in the Communist International Brigade, but after intense congressional scrutiny, he had to resign. Duran now works for the Assistant Secretary General to the United Nations as Chief of Cultural Activities. Mrs. Mary Jane Kenney served as a courier for the Communist Party while she was working in the State Department on the Board of Economic Warfare. She was named in reports from a House committee and the FBI and now works in the United Nations Document Bureau. Julian H. Wadleigh worked for 11 years in the State Department and later admitted to being a member of the Communist Party. While at the State Department, he furnished secret documents to a Russian spy ring.

McCarthy tells his audience that he doesn’t have time to name all the active members of the Communist Party or members of a Communist spy ring, but says, “I have here in my hand a list of 205” (830) names of Communists employed by the State Department. He confirms that the Secretary of State is aware of these Communists and yet allows them to keep their positions and to carry out their tasks. For McCarthy, this is not just a matter of Communist spies collecting their “30 pieces of silver” (830) to sell out the country but something far more sinister: These Communist traitors are actually guiding and shaping US policy. To further detail Communist infiltration in government, McCarthy presents the testimony of Larry E. Kerley, an FBI agent working in counterespionage, noting that the testimony was given during a time when “convicted traitor” (831) Alger Hiss was working in the State Department alongside the aforementioned John Service and Julian Wadleigh. In the testimony, Kerley explains that the FBI was not permitted to open espionage cases against suspected Communist spies or to arrest said spies without approval from the State Department. McCarthy concludes that many arrests were not made to avoid disclosing the entire spy ring and thus implicating the State Department itself.

McCarthy finds Alger Hiss to be a representative example of State Department subversion. He details how Hiss’s conviction was based on facts provided by Whittaker Chambers, a former Soviet spy. Chambers defected from the spy ring following his disillusionment regarding the Russo-German Alliance Pact. He then disclosed all the information on Hiss to then Undersecretary of State Adolf Berle. When Berle communicated the information to the Secretary of State, Acheson responded by saying he fully supported Hiss and would vouch for him absolutely. McCarthy claims that when the Un-American Activities Committee requested information about the Hiss case, President Truman responded with a campaign of vilification against the committee. Truman ordered all agencies to refuse to comply with information requests regarding Communist activity of government employees. McCarthy claims that Hiss was Roosevelt’s “chief advisor” (831) at the Yalta Conference and suggests that Hiss’s influence was significant since the president was in such poor health. To demonstrate Hiss’s pernicious influence on policymaking, McCarthy lists a number of the decisions made at Yalta, all of which he characterizes as capitulations to Stalin.

McCarthy suggests that the apathy and inaction regarding this story of treason, and the “lack of moral uprising” on behalf of the American public, is the result of a “moral lapse” rooted in the exhaustion, numbness, and moral collapse that follows every war (831).

He says that this “reaction” of the nation “would have made the heart of Abraham Lincoln happy” (831). But the moral fiber has not entirely disappeared, McCarthy reasons; it just needs a trigger to reignite these sensibilities. McCarthy informs the audience that the Secretary of State justified his support of the Communist traitor Hiss by referencing Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. He hopes that the very idea that Christ would endorse Communism and treason is so blasphemous that this contradiction might reignite the spark of both decency and indignation in the American population. McCarthy calls for a “moral uprising” and the removal of traitors from public life so that a “new birth” of honesty and decency may one day be possible (832).