“The phrase ‘war criminal’ is loaded with negative connotations and often used pejoratively in political discourse, but that doesn’t change the fact that whether or not someone has committed war crimes is a legal question, not a moral one. A patriot is someone who loves their country. It is perfectly possible to be a patriot, to perform patriotic acts in a war, and to commit a war crime in the course of doing so.”
On this date in 1954, Joseph Welch, counsel for the United States Army, brought the McCarthyite juggernaut to a juddering halt with a courageous and heartfelt confrontation of the fatally alcoholic junior senator from Wisconsin.
This is how the democratic body politic is supposed to cleanse itself of demagoguery: with the fearless application of free speech. Note the spontaneous round of applause from the audience at the end of the above clip.
There was at least one well-known Canadian victim of McCarthyism, Frye’s former classmate and distinguished diplomat and scholar Herbert Norman, whom Frye refers to in an interview (CW 24, 643) as hounded into suicide. (CBC Radio news report on Norman’s death here.)
Plus ça change: From Frye’s diary entry for February 12, 1952:
We talked American politics with Ken [MacLean]. Nothing especially new — he says if Taft gets the Republican nomination the election will be practically civil war, as Taft could only win with the kind of all-out support he’d get from McCarthy. (CW 8, 507)
Now imagine a Palin candidacy in ’12 and the Great Rightwing Noise Machine shrieking lies and barely-veiled threats 24/7 for an entire election season.
After the jump, a contemporary demagogue, Ann Coulter, at the grave of her self-declared hero (this last link is to a terrific clip in which now Senator Al Franken takes on Coulter and shows her what being provocatively funny really means).