Daily Kos
Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Friday | July 04, 2003

Abusing history

By Steve Gilliard

My niece, who is all of six, asked me why we celebrate Independence Day. Our family are more Thanskgiving people, but I did my best, having majored in the subject in college.

It took me 15 minutes to give her a basic version of the Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party and the Declaration of Independence. Small children can ask surprisingly detailed questions and I think she got the basics, but in the end I said she should go to the library and get a book on the 4th. During our conversation, she came up with a fairly sophisticated understanding of nations, languages and states. Well, for a six year old that is.

I spent most of the day watching the History Channel, since I'm not a big fan of the 4th and planned to celebrate, or more accurately, drink and stuff my face tomorrow. They aired their series on the American Revolution, which was interesting.

Of course, they didn't describe Sam Adams as a terrorist or point out what kind of drunken mob taunted the British soldiers at the Boston Massacre, but it was solid history.

Which brings me to Ann Coulter.

Now, there are plenty of other sites which will deconstruct her monstrous book, Treason, and I would rather watch Shrek than read her drivel, but what I wanted to point out and what I think is relevant, is the way she abuses history to make her point. She's not the only one, and we'll get to that a bit later.

But Coulter uses the one crime defined by the constitution. Claiming that Molly Ivins is a friend of treason is an abuse of the term to such a degree, it would be comical, if Coulter wasn't on TV selling her book.

But what I want to discuss are not her unhinged insults, but her contention that Joe McCarthy, a drunken bum and liar, was actually brought down by the left. It is an assertion which borders on rank stupidity and is patently untrue.

Joe McCarthy was brought down by the US Army and Republicans. Not the left, not communist sympathizers or the Hollywood Ten. The Army detested McCarthy and Joe Conason explains why:

Coulter discusses McCarthy's impressive high school record in considerable loving detail. But somehow she neglects to mention McCarthy's first moment in the national spotlight. That was his infamous 1949 campaign on behalf of Nazi S.S. officers who were convicted of war crimes for the massacre of American troops in the town of Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge. On their orders, 83 American prisoners of war had been murdered by Waffen S.S. machine-gunners. The S.S. officers were sentenced to death, but McCarthy insisted that the entire case was a frame-up, with confessions obtained by horrific torture. He intervened in Senate hearings on the case and lied repeatedly during his defense of the Nazi murderers. His most spectacular claim was that the American investigators had crushed the testicles of German prisoners as an interrogation technique. McCarthy was later shown to have served as the pawn of neo-Nazi and communist provocateurs who were using the Malmedy case to whip up anti-American sentiment in postwar Germany. The main source for his false charges concerning Malmedy was a Germany lawyer named Rudolf Aschenauer, whose closest ties were to the postwar Nazi underground and to American right-wing isolationists, but who has also been identified as a communist agent. Aschenauer testified at U.S. Senate hearings in Germany that he had passed information about Malmedy to McCarthy. The S.S. officers were guilty, as the Senate report confirmed -- although most of them later got their death sentences commuted in a gesture to former Nazi officials who aided the West in the Cold War. But McCarthy had succeeded in his larger purpose, winning publicity for himself and casting a negative light on the war-crimes trials.

Joe McCarthy, Coulter's great hero, defended the murderers of American soliders. Which is something the Army rightly never forgot or forgave. So when he went after the Army, despite having his counsel Roy Cohn's buddy, G. David Schine, obtain preferrential treatment while enlisted, the Army was ready and waiting to strike back.

Why was McCarthy going after the Army? Had communists been found betraying secrets to the Russians? No. He was going to make Robert Stevens, Secretary of the Army, pay for sending Roy Cohn's buddy to Europe, during the Korean War. Schine wasn't sent to Pork Chop Hill as an infantry private. Where there were real communists to hunt and kill, of course, they shot back, so....

Coulter doesn't mention that her hero was nailed by a good Republican lawyer, Joseph Welch, from a good Republican law firm, Hale and Dorr. Why? Because McCarthy tried to attack a Hale and Dorr associate, Fred Fisher, who once belonged to the leftwing National Lawyer's Guild, while in law school.

Unable to defend his actions on the merits or by fact, he used his power to punish those who disagreed with him. He attacked a man who had no relevance to hide his own abuse of office, and then threatening the Secretary of the Army with removal because he couldn't control where a former staffer was assigned.

This is the action of a great hero? Coulter abuses history and revises it because she can and she has to. Otherwise, admiring Joe McCarthy would be one step above admiring the Manson family.

Bush tried the same historical revisionist act in his speech at the Air Force Museum today:

"By killing innocent Americans, our enemies made their intentions clear to us," Bush said from a red-white-and-blue-bedecked stage set up on a sun-soaked field. "And since that September day, we have made our own intentions clear to them."

The United States, Bush said, "will not stand by and wait for another attack, or trust in the restraint and good intentions of evil men."

Which enemies? Which innocent people? He merges the war in Iraq, an imperialist adventure with the war against Al Qaeda. Which is a distortion he needs to make. He can't admit the two are seperate and will have seperate outcomes. If he does, he will face questions.

What people have to remember is that history is not just opinion. It is fact. It is the report of witnesses. Ann Coulter can play games with Joe McCarthy's legacy, but his words are transcribed for anyone to read. Iraqi history is freely available to those who seek it.

People will always try to use history to their own ends. It is your duty, especially on a day like today, to remember that and do your own reading and thinking and questioning.

Posted July 04, 2003 05:13 PM


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