Owen Jones and the Historical Ignorance Surrounding 'McCarthyism'

Owen Jones and the Historical Ignorance Surrounding 'McCarthyism'

The Guardian published a little something from Owen Jones on Sunday evening on the back of all of this talk about ‘British values’. His article entitled, “Sorry, David Cameron, but your British history is not mine” discusses the differences between British aristocratic history, and that of the working classes.

I have a degree of sympathy with his argument. I agree with Daniel Hannan MEP that “British values” are summed up by the inscription on the Magna Carta Memorial: freedom under law. I fear that if you start trying to list them further (as Dan does, coming up with parliamentary supremacy, free contract, the rule of law, private property, regular elections, uncensored newspapers, liberty of association, habeas corpus, religious pluralism, jury trials and individual autonomy) you also open up the opportunity for opponents of those things to redefine them from time to time. In all likelihood that redefinition will not be something we welcome.

However, where I do part with Jones is where he just gets historic fact flatly wrong. He wrote (emphasis added):

“Where the government’s agenda becomes dangerous is if one side claims its values are those of the nation as a whole. This is an age-old strategy of authoritarian regimes and movements, used to exclude, ostracise or suppress dissidents. The instrument of McCarthyism to persecute the US left, after all, was the House Committee on Un-American Activities.”

The error Jones makes is highlighted in great detail by Ann Coulter in her 2003 book “Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism.”  

The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) was just that: a House committee, and was not formed by Senator McCarthy, but in fact was the creation of liberal Democrats such as New York Congressman Samuel Dickstein in 1938 (nearly a decade before McCarthy was first sent to Washington) in order to defend America from enemies overseas and German spies and saboteurs at home.

The HUAC investigation into alleged communist propaganda and influence in the Hollywood motion picture industry took place in 1947.  Again, Senator McCarthy had no involvement.

McCarthy’s involvement with anti-Communist activity really began with a speech he made in February 1950 when he first publicly declared he had a list of known Communists working for the State Department (an allegation shown to have factual foundation by the declassification of the Venona Project cables in the 1990s), and the first recorded use of the term ‘McCarthyism’ was in a political cartoon published by The Washington Post in March of that year.

To blame a Republican Senator for a House Committee set up by a Democrat Representative nine years before that Senator took office, which was made famous for anti-Communist investigations in which the Senator took no part, takes a special level of historic ignorance. 

And this is often the mark of Owen Jones. Start off by saying something entirely reasonable to get the readers’ heads nodding – then by the end of an article he’s taken you on a fantasy trip you never signed up for. The sad thing is most Guardian readers probably wouldn’t even have noticed, and their heads will still be nodding along, 48 hours after publication.