Albert Einstein Will Not Be Neutralized in His Fight Against McCarthyism

Albert Einstein

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While affirming his policy that witnesses called before McCarthyÕs committee should refuse to cooperate, he refuses to be drawn into arguments over individual casesÒIt would be, however, in my opinion not in the interest of the causeÉÓAs the tensions of the Cold War deepened, fear of Communism reached its peak in the early 1950s. The U.S. Congress, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities, conducted witch-hunts in search of supposed Communist sympathizers. The accused had two options: They could refuse to testify and risk losing their jobs and friends. Or they could cooperate and accuse friends and colleagues of being Communists. At the same time, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, led by J. Edgar Hoover, monitored citizens' activities, searching for "subversive" behavior. Among those investigated were scientists and scholars, who were called upon to appear before the committees to answer questions concerning their political affiliations. Some refused to testify, citing the Fifth Amendment.Einstein supported a number of political causes that branded him a radical in the eyes of some in the U.S. government. He wrote of his support for socialism, for example, and described capitalism as "economic anarchy." Such statements, combined with his advocacy of nuclear disarmament and civil rights, made Einstein a highly visible target for McCarthyism. Unlike many targets, however, Einstein did not cower in a corner and hope the storm would pass him by, nor accuse others. Instead, although denounced as a Communist spy and under FBI watch, he chose to publicly criticize McCarthyism as a dangerous threat to democracy and freedom of expression. To those accused, he recommended a policy of refusing to respond to questions but also refusing to take the 5th Amendment, his ground being that that Constitutional protection was designed to protect those who might have committed a crime, and being a member of a political organization was a right and not a criminal activity. ÓI have never been a Communist," he said. "But if I were, I would not be ashamed of it." In giving testimony to the committees, Òthe individual is offered no legal middle ground for him to defend his actual rights.Ó He pointed to a more ÒrevolutionaryÓ tactic -Ònon-cooperation, like Gandhi used with great success against the legal powers of the British Authorities.ÓEinstein felt the stakes were high and denounced the McCarthy investigations directly, saying "The current investigations are an incomparably greater danger to our society than those few Communists in our country ever could be. These investigations have already undermined to a considerable extent the democratic character of our society." In a letter to The New York Times, which became a front-page story, Einstein took a stand for the responsibility incumbent upon those who profess a devotion to the life of the mind. Having seen freedom vanquished by tyranny in his native Germany, he wasn't about to stand mute while America was subject to the same threat. ÓEvery intellectual who is called before the committee ought to refuse to testify, i.e, must be prepared for jail and economic ruin, in short, for the sacrifice of his personal welfare in the interests of the cultural welfare of this country," Einstein wrote. "If enough people are ready to take this grave step, they will be successful. If not, then the intellectuals deserve nothing better than the slavery which is intended for them." The FBI amassed a file with almost 1,500 pages of information on Einstein's allegedly subversive political activities. Those files are now open, and contain not a shred of evidence for the claim that Einstein was a Communist or Communist sympathizer. But clearly one gets the impression that J. Edgar Hoover would have loved to draw Einstein into the fray as an accused, if only he could get something on him.By 1954 McCarthy, who was losing the support of many because of his bullying tactics and unsu. N° de ref. de la librería

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