Monday, February 14, 2011

Is It 1948?

1948 Revisited?
Notes: I recommend a long life, but it has its drawbacks. Perhaps the worst is that when history repeats itself because it isn‘t heeded, it must be lived over again, with the knowledge that you are powerless to stop it.
When I see a new book by a favorite author, it brings a quickening of joy akin to finding that the biggest present under the tree has your name on it.
There are only one or two authors who bring this euphoria: one is Barbara Kingsolver. End of notes.

Rereading a book after several months or years reveals ideas that had not been inspired by a first reading.
Barbara Kingsolver understands context. Though the book “The Lacuna” begins in the late 1920s the period that brought about this reflection began in 1948: The year Zelda Fitzgerald died in a mental hospital in Asheville, NC, when a fire from the first floor swept up the dumb waiter chute and strangely only entered only her room. That year was also notable for the campaign of Harry Truman and the activities of the Dies Committee in the House which looked into the lives and associations of U.S. Citizens whom they alleged had earlier associations with Communists or allegedly Communist Front organizations.

“Conspiracy trials, deportation hearings. Do you know how many New Yorkers are from someplace?” Words from the “cool” friend/lover of the protagonist of the book after a liaison in an almost empty hotel in Asheville, NC…empty because the city is quarantined by the polio epidemic. Fear of the dreaded illness that strikes mostly children is another fear in this time of many fears. And the fears are magnified by the press, and sensationalist radio commentators. The Dies Committee has used the FBI to investigate their “targets”……the author character in “The Lacuna", a homosexual male, that has written two blockbuster books on the fallen civilizations of the Aztec and Mayan people, has had numerous inquiries directed to him that are fielded and answered by his stalwart secretary Mrs. Violet Brown. She is an interesting character in her own right: a middle-aged woman who grew up in the rhododendren "hells" of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and retains much of the Shakesperean language patterns that still remain in the area. She is self-taught, widowed at 20 and lives in a boarding house. She is fiercely protective of her young employer. During the investigative process the author has signed several “loyalty oaths” a common demand in those bad old days which in itself is a form of entrapment.

"members during the 1947 Hollywood Ten hearings were Parnell (NJ), Nixon (CA), Vail (IL), John McDowell (PA), and John S Wood (GA).[25] Robert E Stripling was the Chief Investigator[26] and appears on many recordings and transcripts of those hearings.
In the fifties, the most effective sanction was terror. Almost any publicity from HUAC meant the 'blacklist.' Without a chance to clear his name, a witness would suddenly find himself without friends and without a job. But it is not easy to see how in 1969 a HUAC blacklist could terrorize an SDS activist. Witnesses like Jerry Rubin have openly boasted of their contempt for American institutions. A subpoena from HUAC would be unlikely to scandalize Abbie Hoffman or his friends"
[24] From Wikipedia

1948 was the year that Truman ran for another term against Dewey. This was the first year I was old enough to vote, 21. Truman had been maligned by the Chairman of the Republican National Committee Hugh Scott, who told voters in Massachusetts that Harry Truman had been endorsed in his 1944 run by the Communist Party and, “now shows indifference to Communist penetration at home” calling the Hearings “red herrings“…he went on to say that when Dewey and Warren, were elected the “greatest housecleaning since St. Patrick cleaned the snakes out of Ireland” would result. When the Republican platform was approved it made “no mention of controversial state referenda on birth control and labor unions” Kingsolver wrote.

What resulted was a victory by Truman that left the right-wing press gasping as the newspaper headlines declaring “Dewey Defeats Truman appeared in the morning Chicago Tribune, and was repeated by the other papers. Truman had gone to bed early not knowing who the winner was. With a three way race on the ballot: Truman, Henry Wallace from the left and Strom Thurmond as a Dixiecrat, the Democrats voted for Harry Truman. The Republican poisonous attacks trumpeted by the right-wing press accusing him of being a Communist sympathizer had not prevailed. By the end of 1949 the House Committee on Unamerican Activities had spread a wide net and convicted Alger Hiss of spying for the Communists. A breath of icy cold fear settled over the country but by 1950 the fear was of the Committee. The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover had let its shadow fall over too many in its relentless pursuit of “Communists and Fellow Travelers”….notoriously Robert Taylor and Ronald Reagan testified against their colleagues in Hollywood. Reagan’s then wife Jane Wyman divorced him because of this activity. Much of the testimony against those charged was by people who were paid to inform on neighbors, and based on the outright lies of the sensationalist newspapers that were used as evidence, or those who testified against associates to save themselves. Almost all of it was lies, perpetuated by a dishonest press and radio. By 1950 the Junior Senator from Wisconsin had taken up the attack in the Senate and the House Committee was no longer the point of the spear. At the end of 1954 the Senate voted to censure McCarthy, but together with Representative Dies he had managed to ruin the lives of thousand of people before this was ended.

My original point in writing this is that the book brings to mind the vitriolic lies and the fear being generated by Fox News and the Republican Party. The Tea Party candidates who have won with nothing to recommend them except that they are anti-Obama, or anti-Democratic, against capable candidates with experience and integrity, is trying to revive this hateful patriotic fervor that began in 1948. They have attacked and discredited such stalwart Republicans as Bob Bennett of Utah, Mike Castle of Delaware and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Only Murkowski hung on by running as a write-in candidate. This is for me a frightening time, as the ghosts of these right-wing patriots rise again with the intent of taking the “country back”; back to where? Well of course, back to the Fifties.

1 comment:

Will (Astra Navigo) said...

Welcome back, indeed.

I suppose they can't take us all the way back to the 18th century overnight, Kitty - they'll have to stop in the '50's for a while to hold a witchhunt or two; then back to the '20's to do some union-busting; back to the 1860's to help rewrite history and see to it that the darkies know their place after all.

The rest is just a big, long slide to oblivion.