- McCarthy, Joseph Raymond
- (1908-1957)Born on a farm near Appleton, Wisconsin, McCarthy left school at the age of 14 to raise poultry. When the business failed, he returned to high school, crammed four years of work into two terms, and entered Marquette University in Milwaukee. He gained a law degree in 1935 and established a legal practice in Wisconsin, but in 1937 he won election as a circuit judge. His victory was achieved partially by questioning the incumbent’s good name, a tactic that was to become a hallmark of his later political career.The youngest judge in Wisconsin, McCarthy gained a reputation for efficiency by dealing with business speedily and providing “quickie divorces.” Although exempt from the draft as a judge, Mc- Carthy enlisted in the marines in 1942 and spent World War II as an intelligence officer in the Pacific. He claimed to have suffered wounds as a “tail gunner” when his plane crash-landed under Japanese fire, but his only injury was a broken leg from falling onboard a ship. McCarthy also exaggerated the number of bombing missions he flew in. In 1946, he defeated incumbent Robert M. La Follette Jr. in the Republican senatorial primary election and then won the election.McCarthy’s early career in the U.S. Senate was undistinguished. He was nicknamed “Pepsi Cola Kid” for efforts on behalf of the soft drink company. In need of an issue with which to gain attention, he decided on the threat posed by communists. On 7 February 1950, in a speech to a Republican women’s group in Wheeling, West Virginia, McCarthy announced that he had a list of names of known communists working in the State Department. The original number he gave was 205, but it later became 87. Elements of his speech came from an earlier speech by Richard M. Nixon, and the figures were based on government figures following the implementation of the Federal Loyalty Program. McCarthy was also given information by J. Edgar Hoover. He subsequently named Asian scholar Owen Lattimore as a “top Russian agent” but failed to produce a shred of evidence. McCarthy’s charges were dismissed by a Senate investigation headed by Millard Tydings as a “fraud and a hoax,” but it made little difference. The revelations in the Alger Hiss case gave McCarthy’s claims substance, while both the Soviet atomic bomb test and the “loss” of China to communism in 1949 smacked to many people of betrayal. The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 also added weight to his views. Fellow Republicans were also happy to benefit from his attacks on the Truman administration as he denounced Dean Acheson for complicity in communist victories and accused General George C. Marshall of being “soft on communism.”Reelected in 1952, McCarthy became chair of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, and aided by his chief counsel, Roy Cohn, he held hearings in 1953 investigating several branches of government ranging from the Printing Office to the Foreign Service. However, in the fall of 1953, he began investigating the army, and his charges led to televised Senate hearings in 1954. In front of millions of viewers, McCarthy was revealed as a blustering bully by army counsel Joseph Welch. A documentary by respected television commentator Edward R. Murrow further discredited McCarthy. On 2 December 1954, the Senate passed a vote of censure against him for bringing the chamber “into dishonor and disrepute.” McCarthy quickly faded from the public eye and died an alcoholic. McCarthyism, however, had had an enormous impact, and its effects lingered for some time.
Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . Neil A. Wynn . 2015.