One of my earliest memories is going to watch the funeral procession for President Dwight D. Eisenhower along the streets of Washington, D.C. I remember it raining and being bone-chillingly cold in the way only March can be. But my father was a WWII vet who had the greatest admiration for his former Allied commander, the man who brought down Hitler and the Nazi juggernaut. Even if Daddy did not always agree with his leader’s politics, we owed the great man our grateful respect and good-byes.
So, I grew up seeing Eisenhower as a hero, which was strengthened as I researched and wrote my WWII series. However, I have to admit to being disappointed as I read about the McCarthy era for SUSPECT RED to learn that Eisenhower did not stand up at first against McCarthy’s hate rhetoric and extremism, his attack on constitutional freedoms. Ike even amended the existing Executive Order 10450 which authorized Loyalty Review Boards to automatically dismiss any federal worker who invoked the Fifth Amendment and its constitutionally guaranteed protect against self-incrimination. By October 1953, under that order 1,456 government employees had been deemed potential subversives and removed from their federal jobs. More firings would follow.
But, boy, did General Eisenhower rally when McCarthy, bloated with power coming from the fear he’d spawned, made the mistake of attacking another decorated WWII general, a dear and trusted friend of Eisenhower’s. When McCarthy claimed the celebrated veteran was “soft on communism,” Ike unleashed his vice president. Richard Nixon was as ardent (and infamous) a Red-hunter as McCarthy. So his televised rebuke of McCarthy’s claims was a powerful salvo: “Men who have in the past done effective work exposing Communists in this country have, by reckless talk and questionable methods, made themselves the issue rather than the cause they believe in so deeply.” Nixon didn’t name McCarthy, but added, “When you go out and shoot rats, you have to shoot straight, because when you shoot wildly, it not only means that the rats get away more easily, but you might hit someone else who is trying to shoot rats, too.”
Eisenhower also gave one of the most wonderfully blunt, no-nonsense speeches against McCarthy’s calls for book banning and burning. This week is a good time to repeat it:
“Don't think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don't be afraid to go in your library and read every book…even if (the authors) think ideas that are contrary to ours, their right to say them, their right to record them, and their right to have them at places where they are accessible to others is unquestioned, or it isn’t America.”