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1953

Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s aides return to U.S. after controversial investigation

Roy Cohn and David Schine, two of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s chief aides, return to the United States after a controversial investigation of United States Information Service (USIS) posts in Europe. Upon their recommendation, thousands of books were removed from USIS libraries in several Western European countries.

Cohn and Schine had risen to fame on the coattails of Senator McCarthy as he conducted his well-publicized hunt for subversives and communists in the United States. Cohn became chief counsel to the McCarthy Senate subcommittee devoted to investigating communism in the U.S. government, and Schine, one of Cohn’s close friends, became a “special consultant.” In the spring of 1953, Cohn and Schine departed for a seven-nation tour of Western Europe. Their primary task was to investigate the workings of the USIS posts, foreign offices of the United States Information Agency that had recently been established to serve as propaganda centers. The posts hosted speakers, showed movies, and set up libraries containing what were considered to be representative pieces of American literature. Cohn and Schine were appalled by the authors they found on the USIS bookshelves. The two men reported that over 30,000 books in the libraries were by “pro-communist” writers and demanded their removal. The authors they targeted included crime novelist Dashiell Hammett, African-American intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois, Herman Melville, John Steinbeck, and Henry Thoreau. The State Department, which oversaw the operations of USIS, immediately ordered thousands of books removed from the libraries.

The irony of the situation did not escape commentators of the time. With the Nazi book burnings of World War II still fresh in the collective memory, many felt it was questionable that America had joined the ranks of nations that censored literature. In the fight against communism, even Moby Dick was dispensable.

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