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April 21-22: Cohn, Schine and McCarthy

Lawrence Bush
April 21, 2010

On April 21, 1953, Roy Cohn and G. David Schine, chief aides to Senator Joseph McCarthy, returned from an investigatory trip to United States Information Service (USIS) posts in Europe and demanded that 30,000 “pro-communist” books be removed from USIS libraries, including works by John Steinbeck, Herman Melville, and Henry David Thoreau. One year later, on April 22, 1954, Roy Cohn helped Senator McCarthy inaugurate Senate hearings into communist influence in the U.S. Army. These were televised and gave the American public their first view of McCarthy’s bluster, bullying and lying. The climax came when the Army’s chief counsel, Joseph Welch, declared, “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. . . . Have you no sense of decency, sir?” The gallery broke into applause. By December, McCarthy was censured by the Senate — but by then, he and his cohort had destroyed the careers, reputations and prosperity of hundreds of government employees, film industry workers, educators, and union activists. McCarthyism terrified and divided the American Jewish community, suppressed political and labor activism, heightened homophobia throughout America, blacklisted artists and teachers, drove leftwing organizations underground or out of business, and set in motion a decade of cultural conformity and conservatism that would eventually give way to the radical 1960s.
“McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled.” —Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI).

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.