June 9, 2015

Joseph N. Welch and Tailgunner Joe

On this day in 1954, Army lawyer Joseph N. Welch fired back at U. S. Senator Joseph "Tailgunner Joe" McCarthy when Senator McCarthy abruptly attacked Mr. Welch's young aide Fred Fisher for being a member of the National Lawyers Guild, a group which the Senator linked to the Communist Party. The attack came during a hearing before the Army-McCarthy hearings. Said Mr. Welch passionately, "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness....If there is a God in heaven, it [the attack on Mr. Fisher] will do neither you nor your cause any good." He famously asked Mr. McCarthy, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?'' 

The audience applauded Mr. Welch, and the dam cracked; others finally began to resist the Senator's power grab and vicious insistence that Communists were to be found everywhere, particularly in the U.S. government. The hearings ended a few weeks later, but blacklisting and the damage it caused went on for years.

More here from the New York Times.

Joseph Welch later appeared in the film Anatomy of a Murder in the small but important part of Judge Weaver and as himself in a number of documentaries. Fred Fisher went on to become a partner at the firm of Hale and Dorr (now Wilmer Hale) in New York and serve as President of the Massachusetts Bar Association. The Senate voted to condemn Senator McCarthy in December of 1954, and he died in 1957, from the effects of alcoholism. William Proxmire won his Senate seat in a special election.

Selected bibliography:

Thomas P. Doherty, Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture (Columbia University Press, 2003).

A. Fried, McCarthyism: The Great American Red Scare: A Documentary History (Oxford University Press, 1997).

Brenda Murphy, Congressional Theatre: Dramatizing McCarthyism on Stage, Film, and Television (Cambridge University Press, 1999).

Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (Princeton University Press, 1998).

No comments: