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Witch hunt?

3/14/2006

The following op-ed column was published in the Meriden Record-Journal on Tuesday March 14, 2006:
Community commentary, March 14, by Gerard I. Adelman

The meaning of Glenn Richter’s references to McCarthyism in his column (R-J, 3/12) leaves this reader somewhat puzzled. In his attempt to demean George Clooney, was Richter attempting to rationalize the horrors of the McCarthy period?

On the one hand, he characterizes the McCarthy hearings as “Joe McCarthy’s witch hunt” and then parenthetically appears to dismiss the consequences of that period by saying that most of the people involved were communists. What exactly is this column attempting to say about McCarthy? Was it a witch hunt, or was it not?

Personally, and as an American, I find Richter’s comments extremely disturbing — and perhaps that is exactly why he wrote them. The lesson of the McCarthy period is that even a nation as rooted in democratic principles and fairness as the United States is, can be frightened into making horrible mistakes. Our fears in the post-World War II period of the communist menace made almost all of us forget our most basic American beliefs: fair play; due process of law; that guilt-by-association is wrong; and our beloved freedom of speech.

This is not just a history lesson discussing something that happened 50 years ago; this is a theme that unfortunately we have experienced many times in the past and are experiencing right now. McCarthy was not the first to attempt to exploit fear for personal gain and power, and he certainly will not be the last.

What is so important for Americans to remember? The essential lesson of McCarthyism is that we do not have to weaken or destroy our essential freedoms to remain free and strong.

The fact that some of those accused by Joe McCarthy were indeed communists is not the point. The points are these:

McCarthy hurt many innocent people because he did not trust our way of life and our laws to root those individuals out for prosecution and punishment. McCarthy destroyed the careers and lives of many individuals because he thought his way was better than the American way. This lesson is not just an historical one — it is one that applies today in areas such as warrantless wiretaps and the debate over the Patriot Act.

Eventually, the institutions of American democracy defeated Joe McCarthy in the mid-1950s. That victory should encourage us to continue to keep those in our government from exceeding Constitutional authority.

Parenthetical comments that in any way attempt to rationalize and defend the likes of Joe McCarthy should be identified for what they are: just plain wrong.

Attorney Gerard I. Adelman resides in Meriden and is a former guest member of the Record-Journal’s editorial board.


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Adelman's Charter Revision Commission submits its report
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Colin P. Mahon, joins the firm in January 2008
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