In mid-1953, the coincidence of new administrations in Washington and Moscow creates a host of urgent questions. The Korean truce crisis opens ill-defined opportunities and painful threats in the struggle for Asia; the European alliance creaks with strain; riots and strikes in East Germany call for a sharper U.S. policy toward West Germany; at home, a new defense budget is tossed about in fuzzy controversy; new Government policies toward taxes, business, farming, labor are on the national agenda.
Amid this immense pressure for decision, public discussion in the U.S. is dominated by one issue: McCarthyism. Abroad, among its strongest allies, public discussion of the U.S. is almost monopolized by McCarthyism.
The Flattering Obsession. The American who reads newspapers, listens to the radio or talks public affairs with his friends does not need to be told how all-pervasive the McCarthy topic has become. McCarthy-in-Europe may be more surprising. There, Senator Joseph McCarthy is the second-best known of living Americans and regarded by many as the most powerful. McCarthyism has cost the U.S. billions spent to promote international cooperation and trust and to advance U.S. leadership.
With the British, especially, McCarthyism is an obsession& delightful, self-flattering obsession that salves the bruised British ego with the balm of moral supertority to the upstart Americans. The more McCarthyism can be exaggerated in its evil or its power, the more it fascinates the British.
A former Prime Minister can indulge himself by wondering out loud whether McCarthy or Eisenhower is the more powerful. The anti-American New Statesman & Nation finds in McCarthyism the thickest stick it ever brandished. Hardly anyone in Britain laughs when the New Statesman says: "The Hitler-McCarthy analogy is disturbingly apt." It goes on with a typical distortion of McCarthy's power, finding him in alliance with "powerful interests in contemporary America," including "a substantial part of American Roman Catholicism" and "many American industrialists." The New Statesman smugly concludes: "It is anti-Communism that binds these social forces together. It is a deep social malaise that finds the same outlet in anti-Communism as that which so many Germans found in anti-Semitism."
At the other end of the spectrum of British opinion stands a passage in the Queen's coronation speech (composed presumably by the greatest living ghostwriter, Sir Winston), which plays to British emotions on McCarthyism by heavily emphasizing British liberties. Said the Queen: "There has . . . sprung from our island home a theme of social and political thought which constitutes our message to the world . . . Parliamentary institutions with their free speech and respect for the rights of minorities and the inspiration of a broad tolerance in thought and its expression all this we conceive to be a precious part of our way of life and outlook." While there will never be a bad season for praise of Britain's contribution to the history of liberty, this passage was taken as another criticism of McCarthyism in Americaand was meant to be so taken.