“Have you no sense of decency, sir…”

Back in the spring of 1954 at the age of 11 – home from school couch-bound as was the prescription for rheumatic fever in those days – I was glued to our small television watching the Army-McCarthy hearings along with my grandmother. One of the most dramatic moments of those proceedings is etched in my memory as if it were yesterday. It took place on June 9, 1954. I see Boston lawyer Joseph Welch – an older man, slight, wearing a bow-tie, shaking his head – almost in sadness and asking committee member Senator Joseph McCarthy:

“Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator; you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

I remember Senator McCarthy’s voice… his attitude… his eyes.. his restless movements. He was determined to out and root-out Communists and security-risk people in the US Army. These hearings were to settle the truth of the Army-McCarthy accusations against each other. The hearings exposed McCathy’s tactics – seen as bullying by many – and his scatter-shot style of painting his opponents with unproven and in many cases provocative accusations. The exposure finally resulted in the Senate vote by a 2/3 margin to censure McCarthy, effectively eradicating his influence and popularity.

Read an acount of this Welch/McCarthy incident here at Wikipedia.

Many books and commentaries have been written about Senator Joseph McCarthy. This account here in Wikipedia is a good place to get an overview of Joseph Raymond “Joe” McCarthy (November 14, 1908 – May 2, 1957) an American politician who served as a Republican U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957… The term McCarthyism, coined in 1950 in reference to McCarthy’s practices, was soon applied to similar anti-communist activities. Today the term is used more generally in reference to demagogic, reckless and unsubstantiated accusations, as well as public attacks on the character or patriotism of political opponents.

One Response to “Have you no sense of decency, sir…”

  1. joe from Lowell says:

    “He was determined to out and root-out Communists and security-risk people in the US Army.”

    I think that’s a mistake. He was determined to use the pretense of rooting out Communists and security-risk people in the Army and government in order to launch partisan attacks against Democrats.

    There were certainly people – Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover – who were acting in good faith as they tried to uncover subversive communists during the McCarthy era. I certainly disagree with their tactics and their perception of the scope of the problem, but they were sincere.

    Joseph McCarthy was never sincere. He didn’t aim at communists and accidently hit George Marshall. He aimed at Democrats and ever-so-occasionally hit a communist by accident.