Is it Time to Ask Mr. Bush the Welch Question?

January 18, 2006


Comment #549

It the attached New York Times op-ed, "Purple Heartbreakers," James Webb, a winner of the Navy Cross in Vietnam, takes issue with the right-wing smear campaigns waged repeatedly by Mr. Bush's surrogates to discredit distinguished combat veterans who oppose Mr. Bush or his policies. These smear campaigns bring to mind the tactics of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, and the thundering silence of the audience calls for a man to stand tall like Joseph Welsh did when he posed dramatic question to McCarthy on June 9, 1954 during the Army-McCarthy hearings.

Welsh's question took place against a similar background of smear campaigns:

Like the modern day attack dogs on talk radio and Fox news, McCarthy had made his career in the early 1950s by using a privileged forum to destroy people with the reckless charges. In McCarthy's case, the charge was that they were communists or dupes of communists. By repeating these charges incessantly, McCarthy, a senator of mediocre intellect and almost no legislative accomplishment, gained spectacular power by creating and exploiting a witch-hunting atmosphere that capitalized on the ignorance, fear, and anxiety of decent people.

(Paraphrasing the language on a senate website) McCarthy's political terror came to head in the spring of 1954, when he attacked the U.S. Army, making the specific charge of lax security at a top-secret army facility. The army countered McCarthy's assault by asserting the senator had sought preferential treatment for a recently drafted subcommittee aide. Amidst this controversy, McCarthy stepped down as chairman of his investigation subcommittee for the duration of the three-month televised spectacle known to history as the Army-McCarthy hearings.

The army hired a distinguished Boston lawyer, Joseph Welch, to make its case. On June 9, 1954, McCarthy, using the same tired formula that catapulted him to prominence, tried to smear Welsh by charging that one of Welch's attorneys had ties to a Communist organization. As an amazed television audience looked on, Welch responded with the immortal lines that ultimately ended McCarthy's career: "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness." When McCarthy tried to continue his attack, but Welch angrily interrupted, "Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency? Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

Returning to Webb's op-ed, read it carefully. Note how he describes the formula used by the right wing attack dogs to smear those veterans who oppose Mr. Bush and his minions. Webb sums it up, "To no one's surprise, surrogates carry out the attacks, leaving President Bush and other Republican leaders to benefit from the results while publicly distancing themselves from the actual remarks." [emphasis added].

This is a more subtle formula than the brutish direct assault used by McCarthy, but it is no different. Webb has inadvertently shown why it too bad we live in the United States of Amnesia, where there is no memory of Joseph Welsh to put these scurrilous attacks in context by asking Mr. Bush a question something like - 'Let us not assassinate honorable veterans further, Mr. President. You have done enough by standing by, and letting your surrogates do the dirty work. Have you no sense of decency? Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?'

Chuck Spinney
(a proud veteran of 7 yrs active duty service, who has never served in combat, but admires those who have)

Op-Ed Contributor

Purple Heartbreakers

By James Webb

New York Times
Published: January 18, 2006
Arlington, Va.

[James Webb, a secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, was a Marine platoon and company commander in Vietnam.]

in recent years extremist Republican operatives have inverted a longstanding principle: that our combat veterans be accorded a place of honor in political circles. This trend began with the ugly insinuations leveled at Senator John McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries and continued with the slurs against Senators Max Cleland and John Kerry, and now Mr. Murtha.

Military people past and present have good reason to wonder if the current administration truly values their service beyond its immediate effect on its battlefield of choice.

The accusations against Mr. Murtha were very old news, principally coming from defeated political rivals. Aligned against their charges are an official letter from Marine Corps Headquarters written nearly 40 years ago affirming Mr. Murtha's eligibility for his Purple Hearts - "you are entitled to the Purple Heart and a Gold Star in lieu of a second Purple Heart for wounds received in action" - and the strict tradition of the Marine Corps regarding awards.

A young American now serving in Iraq might rightly wonder whether his or her service will be deliberately misconstrued 20 years from now, in the next rendition of politically motivated spinmeisters who never had the courage to step forward and put their own lives on the line.

Chuck Spinney

On the Politics of Fear:

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." - H.L. Mencken

"Naturally, the common people don't want war...but, after all it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship...Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country." - Herman Goering at Nuremberg trial in 1946

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

On Religious Fanaticism:

"Their credulity debased and vitiated the faculties of the mind: they corrupted the evidence of history; and superstition gradually extinguished the hostile light of philosophy and science." - Edward Gibbon

On Checks & Balances:

"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." - James Madison, from a letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]