[Viewpoint] McCarthyism a double-edged swordThe issue of the rise of a so-called “new McCarthyism” in Korea isn’t a simple matter.
After winning the chairmanship of the Democratic United Party, Representative Lee Hae-chan said in his acceptance speech Sunday, “I will fight against the McCarthyism of Park Geun-hye’s Saenuri Party.” Lee believed that he won the leadership election through his stern challenge to the Saenuri Party’s attack on his pro-North Korea views by calling them part of a new McCarthyism. During the presidential election campaign over the next few months, the DUP will likely use the issue of this so-called McCarthyism to win votes.
With its customary audacity, North Korea chimed in on the issue. Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency said it will make public remarks flattering about North Korea made by the Saenuri Party’s presidential candidates Park Geun-hye, Chung Mong-joon and Kim Moon-soo when they visited the North in the past. It is past the point of absurdity for the North to argue that its arch foes, the conservative politicians of the South, are, in fact, pro-North. But that’s how serious issues involving the North often evolve, first as tragedy, then as farce.
The real problem is that here in the South, the so-called McCarthyism scare is actually working with the public. McCarthyism is an extremely emotional and provocative term, combining combustible moments from our past, and it easily generates madness and can quickly backfire. In the months ahead of the presidential election, we must not be swept away by such lack of reason. To this end, a concrete understanding of McCarthyism is necessary.
McCarthyism was not a simple political phenomenon. Many people believe that McCarthyism began with the delusional anti-communist campaign of U.S. Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1950 and ended with his fall in 1954. But it was more than that.
McCarthyism made the entire U.S. society veer to the right immediately after World War II. McCarthy was the most extreme form of this trend, and that’s why his name has become attached to it.
What McCarthyism was in essence was a Red Scare. The first Red Scare began with the 1919 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. When World War II began, the
United States and the Soviet Union became allies and the Red Scare was temporarily forgotten. After the war, the second Red Scare over Stalinism began.
The third Red Scare in the United States came when the Soviet Union succeeded in detonating a nuclear device on Aug. 29, 1949.
The Soviet nuclear test was the most shocking of them all. While watching Stalin occupy Eastern Europe after World War II, the United States still had the luxury of security because it was the only country with nuclear weapons. But the Soviet Union built nuclear arms faster than the U.S. expected. The
United States’ military superiority vanished instantly. The country went into a panic.
A hunt for atomic spies began, and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were arrested on charges of providing nuclear information to the Soviet Union. The Rosenbergs were members of the Communist Party, and without clear evidence, they were executed. The Red Scare is a kind of conservative impulse.
McCarthyism swept the United States because the scare was truly grave. And it had a long aftermath. The heroes who emerged from the McCarthy era were Richard Nixon in the political arena and Ronald Reagan in the film industry. After the Nixon era in the 1970s and Reagan presidencies in the 1980s, the United States finally triumphed over the “evil empire.” Communism vanished in a puff almost everywhere on the globe. Most of the world moved beyond ideology.
But Korea is still susceptible to the Red Scare. The war never ended permanently, and North Korea is armed with nuclear weapons. Because of the North’s sinking of the Cheonan warship and its shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, the Red Scare returned. It is a suitable environment for the ghosts of McCarthyism to roam freely.
We must never forget the lessons of McCarthyism. The problem with McCarthyism was that thoughts, not actions, were punished. Instead of evidence, assumptions and presumptions were used to judge a case. The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a massive surveillance operation against the public, violating their privacy. Such McCarthyism must not be allowed.
On the matter of Representatives Lee Seok-gi and Kim Jae-yeon of the Unified Progressive Party, they should be judged by looking into their actions within the framework of the law. Their anti-democratic deeds of rigging the party’s proportional representatives primary must be judged.
The worst legacy of McCarthyism was deliberately and cynically destroying the public’s belief in national security. Criticisms on our so-called new McCarthyism can eventually make the public consider a healthy awareness of national security and vigilance against communism a sin.
McCarthyism is a double-edged sword. The conservatives must refrain from the temptation of starting an ideological confrontation. The liberals must not call a healthy, legitimate sense of national security McCarthyism. We never know which direction the blade of McCarthyism will slice.
*The author is the chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Oh Byung-sang
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