To dig deeply into the WANTED FOR TREASON – JFK handbill, we should trace precisely how that harsh word, “treason,” crept into US politics in the first place. It apparently begins when North Korea pushed into South Korea, 1950, to challenge the US there. General Douglas MacArthur easily pushed the North Korean army back to their own side.
It was so easy that MacArthur decided to disobey President Truman’s directive to remain below the 38th parallel. MacArthur decided that he would take all of Korea in 1950, as he pushed the North Korean army back to the Yalu River (~200 miles north of the 38th parallel). So, MacArthur was unprepared when 300,000 Chinese soldiers flooded past the Yalu River to protect their longstanding military boundary – the 38th parallel. They forced 30,000 US troops to retreat.
Soon these 30,000 US troops became surrounded by 120,000 Chinese troops at Chosin Reservoir (~120 miles north of the 38th parallel). MacArthur requested permission to use nuclear weapons on China to save his troops. Recognizing that Russia would come to China’s aid, sparking World War III, Truman denied MacArthur’s request, and chose to restore the North Korean border in a “limited war.”
General MacArthur challenged Truman directly. A “limited war” is a contradiction in terms – an oxymoron! Traditional military strategy must strive for total victory. Harry Truman was obviously incompetent, decided MacArthur, a disgrace to the US Constitutional provision for the subordination of the military to civilian governance.
MacArthur wrote books to promote his opinion. With such high popularity, the Republican Party considered MacArthur as a Presidential candidate in 1952. The US would have a “strong man” as President, perhaps to return to Korea, perhaps to make a new alliance with Chiang Kai-shek of Taiwan to check the Chinese communists. MacArthur announced:
War never before in the history of the world has been applied in a piecemeal way; that you make half-war, and not a whole war …That is a new concept in war. That is not war – that is appeasement… There can be no compromise with atheistic Communism – no halfway in the preservation of freedom and religion. It must be all or nothing. (General MacArthur, 1950)
MacArthur added that any restrictions on the military – even on nuclear weapons – was the same as “appeasement” of the communists. No ground should ever be lost in the Cold War, even if it meant sacrificing the Constitutional civilian control of the military!
The US Pentagon refused to support these politics. General Bradley and General Marshall publicly said it was going too far. General Douglas MacArthur lost the support of half of Congress and dampened his chances for the US Presidency in the next election.
Yet MacArthur remained enormously popular in those days for his role in the US victory in World War II. So, President Truman knew the risks when he fired MacArthur in April 1951. Harry Truman’s popularity fell to new lows, while Douglas MacArthur’s popularity soared.
The US Senate scheduled hearings to investigate Truman’s controversial decision. Now that MacArthur was a civilian, beloved by Americans, everything had changed. Parades warmly received MacArthur in San Francisco and New York. He received a standing ovation every minute for his thirty-minute speech before Congress – as the US public had expected to welcome one of the greatest US Generals of World War II.
Although the US Congress and the Pentagon would not take the advice of General MacArthur, they knew that the American people loved him. So, it was no surprise when the US right-wing around the nation continued to support MacArthur for President in 1952. Among his more active supporters were H.L. Hunt of Dallas and Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.
SENATOR JOSEPH McCARTHY
Back to 1950. The US right-wing loved MacArthur’s language so much that they began accusing their political opponents of “appeasing the communists.” General Charles Willoughby, who had been MacArthur’s intelligence chief, used his writing talents to write realistic novels about a global communist conspiracy with intriguing spies in Washington DC. They became urban myths.
Then, a Republican Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, saw his chance to advance. He boldly claimed that a communist is: (1) anybody who doubts the total evil of communism; (2) anybody who appeases Communism; and (3) anybody who cooperates with any communist at any level. He suddenly began turning heads.
Then Senator McCarthy made a fateful calculation. He decided that all US communists were traitors. This would soon become the first public use of the word ‘treason’ in US Cold War politics. In a famous 1950 speech, known as the Wheeler Speech, he held up a document and announced that he possessed the names of 205 known communist traitors in the US State Department! Even the Republican Party had become infiltrated! American Universities and even Hollywood had been infiltrated!
Mass hysteria hit the US like an avalanche. A flood of Press and Media reporters descended upon Senator McCarthy, so he quickly hired two young lawyers as aides: Roy Cohn and Robert Morris. They chose to be the first to use the word treason when speaking of US Presidents. They wound up, and here was the pitch: McCarthy publicly accused Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman of being communist traitors.
Senator McCarthy’s “evidence” was that FDR had cooperated with Russian leader Stalin during World War II, and then betrayed the US with “socialist” economics such as Social Security. Harry Truman continued FDR’s "socialist" policies and allowed the communists to keep North Korea. Finally, General Marshall’s “Marshall Plan” was a communist conspiracy with Russia. Truman had betrayed the US by using the Marshall Plan and foreign aid.
In time for the 1952 elections, McCarthy and his staff wrote a speech entitled, Twenty Years of Treason, which NBC, CBS and ABC refused to broadcast. His message was that sixteen years of FDR and four years of Truman added up to 20 years in which these US Presidents had committed treason by secret conspiracies with communists.
The average American did not hear that speech, but the US Radical Right published it as far and wide as they could. Senator McCarthy’s fame was now legendary. He hung a sign of ‘traitor’ on anybody who disagreed with General Douglas MacArthur and his campaign for the Republican nomination against Dwight D. Eisenhower.
So, when Eisenhower ultimately won the US Presidency in 1952, Senator McCarthy added bitterly: “Make that 21 years of treason!”
As President Eisenhower took office, “McCarthyism” was a growing like weeds in American politics. The US Congress scheduled more hearings as hysteria continued to spread into 1953. The US House of Representatives revived the pre-war “Red Scare” HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) to monitor Hollywood movie stars and screenwriters for any communist tendencies.
Hedda Hopper was blacklisted.
McCarthyism dominated the US popular culture for nearly two years. Finally, Republican Senator Ralph Flanders, in June 1954, accused McCarthy of spreading “division and confusion” within the Institutions he claimed to be defending. Flanders cited 46 charges in a proposed Senate resolution to censure McCarthy.
Senator Arthur Watkins led an evaluation of Flanders’ resolution and opened hearings in August 1954. Two counts stuck: that McCarthy had “failed to cooperate with the Subcommittee on Rules and Administration,” and that McCarthy “acted contrary to Senatorial ethics and tended to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute, to obstruct the Constitutional processes of the Senate, and to impair its dignity.”
On December 2, 1954, the Senate voted to “condemn” McCarthy on both counts by a vote of 67 to 22. McCarthy’s reign of terror had come to an end. McCarthy died 18 months later. However, the US was ready for the new wave of right-wing speakers.
THE POPULAR IMITATORS
McCarthy was gone, but his Congressional legacy sparked a cottage industry of rightist political speakers throughout the US. Here is a short list of the advocates of Douglas MacArthur and Joe McCarthy in 1955: Here is a short list of the US advocates of General MacArthur and Senator McCarthy in 1955:
H.L. Hunt – Facts Forum as well as the daily Life Line radio show
Dan Smoot – Smoot Report radio show
Rev. George Stuart Benson of Harding College – National Education Program
Dr. Clarence E. Manion – Manion Forum newsletter
Rev. Billy James Hargis (former McCarthy speech writer) – Christian Crusade
Rev. Carl McIntire – American Council of Christian Churches
Rev. Gerald K. Smith – Christian Nationalist Crusade
Dr. Fred C. Schwarz – Christian Anticommunist Crusade (Schwarz Report online today)
Frank Chodrov – Human Events
Then, in a surprise move, US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren ruled in the case of Brown v. the Board of Education in 1955 and demanded the racial integration of all US public schools. This led to an immediate reaction of Radical Rightists claiming that US Public School racial integration was just one more “communist plot!” White Citizens Councils (later known as Citizens Councils) sprang up across America as a response. There came a new rallying cry: 'Impeach Earl Warren!'
Reverend George Benson led the field with his National Education Program, which included local book clubs, film parties and large speaking events with well-known ring-wing authors and speakers.
Soon, in addition to all the books and radio programs, US Rightist groups enjoyed the popularity of a national fad. Some groups offered expensive weekend seminars that featured a dozen rightist speakers to convert new recruits. Speakers sold books at the back of the room, and US right-wing organizations shared consultants, books, and mailing lists.
They all wanted to save America from communist traitors.
The cream of the crop was arguably Robert Welch, who published his book, The Politician (1956) in which he concluded that US President Eisenhower was a communist traitor, full stop. Welch wrote:
My firm belief that Dwight Eisenhower is a dedicated, conscious agent of the communist conspiracy is based on an assumption of detailed evidence so extensive and so palpable that it seems to me to put this conviction beyond any reasonable doubt…For Eisenhower, there is only one possible word to describe his purposes and his actions. That word is treason. (Welch, 1956, The Politician, p. 268)
Based partly on the popularity of this book, Welch formed the John Birch Society. The discussion was about current politics, not about John Birch himself, who was a Baptist minister martyred in Mao’s China in 1945. Birch was a symbol: “the first American to die in the Cold War.” Reverend John Birch had become a symbol of America mired in the Cold War.
The purpose of the John Birch Society was to enable right-wing speakers to elaborate endlessly on how communists had infiltrated not only the US Government, but every aspect of American life, including Universities, Public Schools, Churches, Civic societies, News-media, TV, radio and specific neighborhoods. For Welch, extremism against extremists was the only logical response, and only those who heeded this call were the true patriots; nobody else.
Furthermore, Welch’s definition of Communism had little to do with Marxism. Far from being a working class movement of the industrial proletariat rising up against the industrial bourgeoisie – far from any theory of economic surplus value – far from any labor theory of value – far from any amateur dialectics, Communism for Welch was entirely different.
To describe the communist menace Robert Welch would use terms like ‘Establishment’ and ‘Eastern Establishment,’ referring to the American Northeast power structures of New York City and Washington DC. This definition of Communism was pleasing to the American South because it avoided a pretentious vocabulary, and because it portrayed the true enemy of the USA as the Northern Yankee. Let’s read what Welch wrote:
This brings us to the most important of their separate Big Lies. The first is that Communism is a movement of the downtrodden masses against their oppressors. The truth is exactly the opposite. Communism is imposed on every country, from the top down, by a conspiratorial apparatus, headed and controlled by suave and utterly ruthless criminals, who are recruited from the richest families, most highly educated intellectuals, and most skillful politicians within that country. The rest of the show, including all of the noise made and work done by the poor ‘revolutionary’ beatniks and dupes at the bottom, is mere pretense and deception. (Welch, 1956, The Politician, p. xxxxv)
Welch’s communist enemy was easier than ever to identify – he was the traditional enemy of Southern politics who brought to the South the nightmare of racial equality, from the Great Reconstruction, to the Brown Decision, to the growing Civil Rights movement.
Now the Yankee was bringing Communism to the USA, taking over our federal government, our local governments, our schools and our water. Soon they would demand our firearms! So, the communist enemy turned out to be nothing more or less than a Yankee – an ordinary emissary from the “Eastern Establishment” in New York City.
So, this covers the period of US history from 1950 to 1956 regarding the word “treason” when describing a US President. The John Birch Society would continue this policy of calling US Presidents “traitors” – from JFK to LBJ to Nixon to Carter. This was the state of affairs of the American right-wing as General Edwin Walker mounted the historical stage.
We’re only getting started.