Chapter 12: Setting Up the Public Confrontation


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Republican members of the House un-American

Activities Committee (HUAC). (Library of Congress)

Sandwiched between the drama of the Commodore Hotel (last week’s Podcast) and the equally sensational televised confrontation of Hiss and Chambers (next week’s), this Podcast #12 is a backgrounder on the political climate of 1948, the setting which was shaken to its foundations by this scandal. There were four views of the world. Old-style conservatives wanted to return to isolationism and viewed domestic Communists as minor nuisances. Ultra-left intellectuals saw The Century of the Common Man dawning and thought, incredibly in retrospect, that the Soviet Union under Stalin was some kind of human progress. American capitalists thought that capitalism, tempered by some kind of safety net and led by the USA, was the wonderful and unopposed future of the human race. The capitalists, like the isolationists, dismissed domestic Communists as a minor problem. Fourth and last, fearful conservatives (including ex-Communists like Chambers) saw domestic subversion — traitors in our midst — as an unsolved crisis for the country; and they saw Communism on the march as a disaster-in-the-making for the whole world. This Case vindicated this last group, educated the old isolationists and the triumphant capitalists, and disgraced the ultra-left intellectuals.

Further Research:

Episode 12: Two works are cited by name in this Podcast. Harold Laski’s book — ‘Faith, Reason, and Civilization: An essay in historical analysis’ — was published by Viking in 1944. Vintage copies are available on Amazon (thank you, Mr. Bezos). Henry Luce’s famous essay, ‘The American Century,’ is available on the Internet at (not secure). Also on the Internet, the essay is debated to this day.

For more on the political climate of 1948, I recommend reading roughly the pages cited above in the above-cited works of Alistair Cooke, Leslie Fiedler, Walter Goodman, and Murray Kempton. Most books about the politics of this era, sad to say, fall into two extreme camps. One says there were secret Commies everywhere (FDR and Truman may have been in on it). The other says there were no Commies; but if there were, they never did any harm; but if they did harm, their hearts were in the right place; and if their hearts were black, they were all victims of political persecution. The single best broad view of the political climate of 1948 is James F. Nagle’s '1948: The Crossroads Year,’ most recently published in 2007 by BookSurge.

Questions: Was there factual evidence supporting each of the four groups identified in this Podcast? Which group, in your opinion, got the most right and the least wrong? Which one got the least right and the most wrong? Does the fluid climate of 1948 remind you of America’s decade-long ‘holiday from history’ after the fall of Communism and before 9/11? Do you remember “The End of History”? Had you heard of Usama Bin Laden before 9/11?

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