Saturday, December 5, 2015

The recollections, and the wise & spirited words of Harry Hopkins - part 6: Spitting in the faces of the carnival-barking Thought Police

(Head of the WPA, Harry Hopkins, 1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

According to George Washington University, "The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was created in 1938 to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and those organizations suspected of having Communist ties. Reorganized from its previous incarnations as the Fish Committee and the McCormack-Dickstein Committee and with a new chairman, the cantankerous Martin Dies of Texas, HUAC's strident attacks on the Roosevelt administration prior to the outbreak of the war did not suit the political mood of a nation that was largely in favor of FDR's leadership."

The Dies Committee, as it came to be called, was similar to other congressional actions that seek to ferret out "un-American" activities. It was, at its heart, patriotic grandstanding - an effort to tell the American people, "Hey, we're the real Americans here, and we're going to expose those who aren't patriots like us!" It was an effort to obtain power and votes, and an effort to prop oneself up as a sort of Super-Patriot. Further, it was an arrogant assumption of authority as to what was "American" and what was not - a type of Thought Police. By 1959, the HUAC had become so out-of-control, and so much of a witch hunt for so-called "subversives," that former president Harry Truman called it "the most un-American thing in the country today" (Jonathan Auerbach, Dark Borders: Film Noir and American Citizenship, Duke University Press, 2011, p. 4).

In 1938, upset with the racial integration they saw in the WPA's Federal Theatre Project, and fearful that it was spreading communism across the land, the Dies Committee began investigating it - sniffing around for anything they deemed "un-American." When WPA administrators began preparing for the investigations and testimony, Harry Hopkins said, perhaps only half-figuratively, that they could "go up and spit in the faces of the Dies Committee" (Nick Taylor, American-Made, Bantam Books, 2008, p. 423 of the 2009 paperback edition).

It seems that Hopkins had no patience for the political grandstanding of the carnival-barking Thought Police.

(During this time period, U.S. Senator Robert Reynolds (D-NC) summed up the feelings of many conservative members of Congress who were opposed to the WPA's Federal Theatre Project: "Through such material the cardinal keystone of communism--free love and racial equality--is being spread at the expense of the god-fearing, home-loving American taxpayer" (Susan Quinn, Furious Improvisation, New York: Walker & Company, 2008, p. 279).

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