McCarthyism, from Oppenheimer to Today

American anti-communist propaganda of the 1950s, specifically addressing the entertainment industry.

I recently viewed the new Oppenheimer movie and was struck by the horrifying McCarthyism based on unfounded accusations and inuendo that destroyed Dr. Oppenheimer’s reputation. This severely undermined his efforts after World War II to stop the H-bomb and start nuclear arms control regimes to prevent nuclear war.

From 1978-1981, I was the chief executive of Mobilization for Survival (MfS), a nationwide coalition of more than 250 groups that sought to ban nuclear weapons and power, and to prioritize federal funding for unmet human needs by reducing military spending.

The first McCarthyistic attack against MfS was in the late 1970s by none other than Ronald Reagan. Before he ran for President, he had a nationally syndicated radio program, and on one of them attacked MfS as a communist-dominated organization.

We had admitted the Communist Party USA as one of the many participating groups in our coalition, and they agreed to peacefully pursue our goals. But in no way did they dominate or control MfS. They were one of the smaller groups we admitted and didn’t serve in leadership positions.

MfS led the initial meetings to plan the massive demonstration in June 1982 that called for a Nuclear Weapons Freeze by the US and USSR. After Reagan was elected President, he ordered the FBI to investigate whether the leadership of that demonstration was Communist-controlled or manipulated. Their report refuted that allegation.

Also in the early 1980s, US Senator Jeremiah Denton of Alabama was appointed to chair the Senate Subcommittee on terrorism. At its very first meeting, Sen. Denton accused MfS of being a terrorist group. My phone started ringing off the hook with media calls. I told them that MfS, as well as I personally, were deeply committed to nonviolence and peaceful change, and nothing could be further from the truth.

Finally, Readers Digest took its turn. In 1982, they ran an article accusing me and other leaders of the June 12 demonstration as being Communist puppets. The evidence cited on me was that in December 1981 at a National MfS conference I advocated that everyone come to the June 1982 Nuclear Freeze Demonstration at the UN; and that I spoke to US peace supporters at a seminar while we were on a three-week tour of the former USSR earlier in 1982—hardly smoking guns.

I’m deeply distressed that a recent NY Times front-page article employed the same McCarthyistic tactics to attack our sister peace group, Code Pink. It was filled with inuendo and guilt by association, with no opportunity for Code Pink to respond or correct any of the allegations. This was apparently because they dared to oppose the militaristic policies that are increasing the chances of a major war with China.

Open-minded people of good will are called to oppose such McCarthyistic attacks that are unjust and attempt to undermine peaceful, nonviolent peace organizations.

The Rev. Robert Moore has been Executive Director of the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action since September 1981.