Monday, November 29, 2010

Joe McCarthy in Orange County

At last month's OCHS meeting, the folks from the Center For Oral & Public History's MCAS El Toro project mentioned something interesting in passing. Several of their interviewees, (including Maxine Wehry,) remembered Joseph R. McCarthy -- the future Senator and "red hunter" -- as "the base legal officer" at El Toro during WWII. I knew Lee Harvey Oswald had served there as a Marine, but the McCarthy story was new to me.
McCarthy grew up in rural Wisconsin and earned his law degree at Marquette University in Milwaukee. In 1935 he was admitted to the State Bar, and only four years later was elected as a Circuit Judge in the 10th District.
In 1942, he volunteered for the U.S. Marine Corps, even though being a judge exempted him from the draft. But his judicial position offered him automatic officer status.
As a second lieutenant, he served as an intelligence briefing officer for a dive bomber squadron in the Solomon Islands and Bougainville. He also flew in bombers as an observer on about 12 missions, and may have served as a tailgunner during a few of those flights. He was in the South Pacific for two tours, from Sept. 1942 to March 1944.
McCarthy was a Captain by the time he was sent "stateside" in July 1944. According to The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy by James Cross Giblin, sometime in August, "Joe reported to the El Centro Marine Corps Air Station, ...and was soon transferred to the El Toro Marine training base. He knew he would be eligible for another overseas tour of duty early in the new year and decided to try to head off the assignment. He would be up for reelection as a judge in April 1945, and he wanted to get ready for the campaign."
In other words, he wasn't at El Toro very long.
He resigned his commission on Dec. 11, 1944 and was home campaigning in Wisconsin by late January. He easily won the judicial election and immediately began planning his 1946 Senate race. From day one, he lied regularly about his military record to further his political career.
The rest, as they say,...


Anonymous said...

Dear Chris:

Senator Joe McCarthy has been largely vindicated after decades of his being the poster boy for witch hunter. The release to the U.S. of top secret Cold War era Soviet KGB records (see: The Venona Encryptions) demonstate that nearly all the people he was pointing his finger at were card carrying KGB agents. He may have had poor form in going about it, but when you have a Communist spy as a top FDR advisor, and 126 KGB agents in the State Department, maybe his methods were justified.

Chris Jepsen said...

@Anonymous: Of course the threat of Soviet spies during the Cold War was a very real one, and the fate of the free world hung in the balance. However, McCarthy's show-trial tactics and sometimes misdirected attacks only served to create permanent public distrust of the entire anti-Communist movement. He managed to associate the most important cause of his era with government bullying. At the very least, he was an extremely unethical politico and a spectacular PR nightmare who did enormous damage to the real cause of freedom.

His tactics contributed to our modern culture, in which it's politically incorrect to point a finger at ANYONE -- Even if they're pointing a gun back at you and waving the enemy flag.