April 8

This Day in History

Cold War

Apr 8, 1950:

McCarthy publicly attacks Owen Lattimore

Senator Joseph McCarthy labels Professor Owen Lattimore "extremely dangerous so far as the American people are concerned" in a carefully worded public speech, but stops short of calling him a Soviet spy. The speech was yet another example of McCarthy's ability to whip up damaging Red Scare hysteria with no real evidence.

In February 1950, the little-known Senator McCarthy gave a speech in which he charged that there were over 200 "known communists" in the Department of State. When pressed for particulars, McCarthy made an appearance before a special joint session of Congress. During the course of presenting his "evidence," McCarthy declared that Professor Owen Lattimore was a "top Soviet spy." Lattimore, an expert on Chinese history, had served as a special consultant about Chinese affairs during and after World War II and had been a consistent critic of the Nationalist Chinese regime of Chiang Kai-Shek. Word soon leaked out about McCarthy's charge. Though Lattimore decried the senator's statements as lies, there was nothing he could legally do, since McCarthy's testimony was protected by congressional immunity.

On April 8, 1950, McCarthy gave a public speech in which he continued his attacks on Lattimore. He started by stating, "The reason we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not because our powerful potential enemy has sent men to invade our shores but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who have been treated so well by this nation." He called Lattimore "extremely dangerous," and declared that the professor had been "invaluable to Russia."

McCarthy's attacks on Lattimore continued for years. A congressional committee cleared Lattimore of McCarthy's charges in 1950, but in 1951 the Senate reopened the investigation. This new investigation, spearheaded by McCarthy, claimed that Lattimore had perjured himself during his earlier testimony. In 1952, Lattimore was formally charged with perjury in connection to his 1950 testimony. A very long and costly legal battle ensued, and eventually Lattimore succeeded in having all charges dropped. His career in American academia, however, was ruined and he left the country in 1963. He later returned to the United States and died in 1989. Lattimore was just one of many people smeared by McCarthy's reckless and unsubstantiated charges during the anticommunist hysteria of the Red Scare.

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