Re "Budd Schulberg's heroism," Opinion, Aug. 12
Thank heaven Budd Schulberg was just about the last of the big-time turncoats to have informed on friends and colleagues, as every time one of them dies an apologist like John Meroney makes excuses for the anti-communist witch hunts.
Meroney tries to justify Schulberg's actions by writing he did not believe that membership in the party should be a secret. Believe it or not, Communist Party membership was legal then, as it is now; to insist, as Schulberg apparently did, that political affiliation and the secret ballot do not extend beyond the rolls of the Republican or Democratic parties is an affront to the principles on which this nation was founded. It paints a vivid picture as to who was the real enemy of democracy.
Meroney's tribute to Schulberg's courage in leaving the party after the Moscow Trials of 1936-38 and denouncing the works and days of the communists in Hollywood is welcome and well done. What ought to be added is that there are those who were there and are still here in L.A. with the same bitter mind-set, fossilized ever since those House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings.
After I'd begun to visit Hungary and Bulgaria from 1972 to 1989 as a guest of their writers clubs and unions, invited to translate their best poets, I was startled when an old friend, on hearing I was going over for the seventh time or so on what I called "The Flying Red Carpet," suggested I was an agent working for the CIA. As if! That sneer implied I was an enemy of socialist progress. Will that nonsense ever be given up? Doubtful.
There is no evidence that HUAC saved any American institutions from communist infiltration, contrary to what Meroney believes. As Meroney points out, Schulberg gave names of those who were already known to the committee and who had already left the Communist Party.
HUAC was a calamitous charade. It's one thing to feel empathy for Schulberg for the horrible position he was put in; after all, he didn't volunteer to testify in front of HUAC, he was subpoenaed. But it's quite another to hail him as a hero who surrendered information that saved America from harm when he did no such thing.
I was pleased to see that someone has finally put in writing a defense of Schulberg's testimony before HUAC during the Korean War.
Two things stand out, however. First, treating him as a snitch is identical to the attitude that pervades crime-ridden neighborhoods across the country: Never cooperate with the police. Second, I disagree with putting John Dean in "the great American truth-telling tradition." When Dean was asked by the Senate Watergate committee how it could tell he was telling the truth, he replied, "My dad once told me that when you're cornered, there's only one thing to do -- tell the truth." Is that a great American tradition?
Meroney neglects to mention that Schulberg told the New York Times in a 2006 interview that in hindsight, he believed that HUAC posed a greater threat to the country than the Communist Party itself.
Meroney is simply another apologist for the excesses of McCarthyism. The only surprise in his article is that he fails to include Whittaker Chambers in his list of American heroes.