Joseph McCarthy Meets His Match

In a dramatic confrontation, Joseph Welch, special counsel for the U.S. Army, lashes out at Senator Joseph McCarthy during hearings on whether communism has infiltrated the U.S. armed forces. Welch’s verbal assault marked the end of McCarthy’s power during the anticommunist hysteria of the Red Scare in America.

Senator McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) experienced a meteoric rise to fame and power in the U.S. Senate when he charged in February 1950 that “hundreds” of “known communists” were in the Department of State. In the years that followed, McCarthy became the acknowledged leader of the so-called Red Scare, a time when millions of Americans became convinced that communists had infiltrated every aspect of American life. Behind closed-door hearings, McCarthy bullied, lied, and smeared his way to power, destroying many careers and lives in the process. Prior to 1953, the Republican Party tolerated his antics because his attacks were directed against the Democratic administration of Harry S. Truman. When Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower entered the White House in 1953, however, McCarthy’s recklessness and increasingly erratic behavior became unacceptable and the senator saw his clout slowly ebbing away. In a last-ditch effort to revitalize his anticommunist crusade, McCarthy made a crucial mistake. He charged in early 1954 that the U.S. Army was “soft” on communism. As Chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, McCarthy opened hearings into the Army.

Joseph N. Welch, a soft-spoken lawyer with an incisive wit and intelligence, represented the Army. During the course of weeks of hearings, Welch blunted every one of McCarthy’s charges. The senator, in turn, became increasingly enraged, bellowing “point of order, point of order,” screaming at witnesses, and declaring that one highly decorated general was a “disgrace” to his uniform. On June 9, 1954, McCarthy again became agitated at Welch’s steady destruction of each of his arguments and witnesses. In response, McCarthy charged that Frederick

Posted in Cold War.