June 7, 1963
Fright For Sale
For two years now, on every working day, the postman has left on my doorstep 150 or more pieces of mail. Some are newspapers, press releases and routine communications from government agencies. Many are letters from constituents asking for help. Some are thoughtful, constructive comments on great issues of the day. But nearly every morning I find 10 or 15 letters which defy description -- letters filled with fear, suspicion and distrust, not of enemies and potential enemies, but of our own government and the leaders we ourselves have elected to office. For 24 months I have thought this strange, irrational mark of our times would pass. Instead, it persists, defying fact, reason and the lessons of history.
Nearly every week I am told that there is a Liberal-Socialist-Communist plot to turn our government into a dictatorship. Earl Warren, our nation's Chief Justice, is a "fellow traveler" who should be impeached. President Kennedy, a usurper of power, is preparing to turn our armed forces over to the United Nations; as a first step he has removed the words "In God We Trust" from our dollar bills. In the minds of these Americans most of the men and women who serve in Congress, most Supreme Court justices, and nearly all of our executive department officials are left-leaning, Socialist, ultra-liberal, neo-Communist dupes -- if not worse.
Everyone likes to receive mail, but imagine starting
your day -- every day -- with messages like the following:
The people who write these letters aren't foreigners, or New Yorkers, or Californians. They are Arizonans who live in Bisbee, Phoenix, Casa Grande and Tucson. Some of them may be neighbors of yours.
OVERTONES OF PREJUDICE
To me the most alarming feature of these letters
and the pamphlets which so often accompany them is their thinly-disguised
or even blatant overtone of racial and religious prejudice. I always shudder
in this year of 1963, in a supposedly enlightened and tolerant nation,
to find people accepting statements like the following:
A REPUBLICAN SPEAKS OUT
Senator Thomas Kuchel, the able, moderate California Republican often mentioned as a possible Presidential candidate, has become so concerned about the volume and virulence of this kind of mail that he recently made a remarkable speech of conscience detailing the common experience of all of us who have the honor to serve in the greatest legislative body in the world.
In a systematic way Senator Kuchel went down the
line of charges currently being made by what he termed the "fright peddlers."
He inserted into the Congressional Record reproductions of some of the
stupid, inflammatory and fraudulent pamphlets distributed by the John Birch
Society, Smith, Fagan and various self-styled "patriotic" organizations.
He told the Senate:
(This speech by Senator Kuchel is so important that I have obtained several hundred copies and will make them available to those readers who wish to pursue the matter further.)
'AGREE WITH ME, OR YOU'RE A TRAITOR'
My staff and I have spent many hundreds of hours compiling patient and reasonable answers to the people who write these letters, but there can really be no intellectual exchange or respect for honest differences of view. You either agree 100 percent with them or you become, at best, a well-meaning dupe or coward and, at worst, a traitor.
Even conservative Republicans are not immune to such wild charges. My able colleague, Congressman John Rhodes of Phoenix, was attacked as a "coward" when he refused the request of a member of the Arizona House of Representatives to sponsor impeachment of President Kennedy for sending troops to maintain order in Alabama. The attack was so intemperate that it prompted the Phoenix Gazette to comment, "To vilify a public official personally because he disagrees with an extreme suggestion .... is piling extreme upon extreme."
America has always had its hate peddlers and other fright-purveyors, such as the German-American Bund and Father Coughlin of the 1930s and the "Barn Burners" and "Know Nothings" of Lincoln's time. Yet I doubt that we have ever had such a consistent, sustained, well-financed, long-lived outpouring as the kind we are observing today.
THE VESTED INTERESTS
Most of the people who write me are sincere, law-abiding citizens who are honestly concerned. Many are whipped into the frenzy of suspicion and fear by a whole battery of well-financed organizations which pour out a steady stream of pamphlets, newsletters and radio broadcasts. Behind many of these organizations are devious people who have a stake in frightening their fellow Americans.
3.Some of the authors of this vicous literature undoubtedly are disturbed people -- paranoid personalities of one type or another. Others are in it for a more obvious reason; they have a vested interest in frightening the American people.
If Americans believe that the Cold War is going well despite problems in some places, that we are succeeding in some places and holding our own in others, that we are maintaining a majority of the United Nations on our side, these purveyors won't sell many pamphlets or lecture tickets. But if they can make Americans believe that we are losing everywhere and the Reds are winning everywhere, that we can do nothing right and the Reds can do nothing wrong, that every country that isn't 100 percent pro-American is 100 percent pro-Russian, then they can sell their pamphlets and lectures, and they can get "sacrificial pledges" from radio listeners throughout the country.
Thus, these people constantly repeat and embellish every rumor, however absurd it may be, to serve their purposes. An example was the widely-reported rumor that 16,000 African soldiers "with nose and ear rings" were to participate in a United Nations exercise in Georgia, real purpose of which was "a war to invade America." The truth was that 124 foreign military officers from various allied nations observed a U.S. Army exercise in guerrilla warfare called "Operation Water Mocassin."
"Vested" too is the term for the interest of certain persons of extreme wealth in these campaigns of frenzy. H. L. Hunt, the Texas billionaire, is the founder and principal financial supporter of "Facts Forum" and the "Life Line" radio broadcasts and bulletins. While scaring Americans is their stock in trade, these activities also advance the views of Mr. Hunt, who wrote a book proposing that "if you accept state aid because you are poor or sick, you cannot vote at all, and you're denied an old-age pension." Mr. Hunt's "democracy" would also provide that "the more taxes you pay, the more votes you get."
SOME FACTS THAT WON'T SELL PAMPHLETS
It shouldn't be necessary to assure Americans
or Arizonans in the year 1963 of some of the following things, and I am
a little ashamed to have to do it. But let's get a few facts straight,
even if they won't sell any pamphlets or tracts:
A PRODUCT OF OUR TIMES?
I don't know what a psychiatrist would say (the prophets of fear, appropriately, are opposed to "mental health"), but I think much of this fear and distrust is a product of the dangerous times in which we live.
Prior to 1941 America went its own way. Attack or invasion by a foreign power were out of the question. There were several great powers in the world. Today we are the leader of the free world. The United States and the Soviet Union are the only great powers left, and they are engaged in a great economic and political struggle. In foreign affairs we can't always have our way, but we are deeply involved in most world events. Whether Eisenhower, Kennedy, Goldwater, Romney or Rockefeller is President, we will have some successes, some failures, and some mistakes in our foreign policy.
At home we have domestic problems of a staggering magnitude. Our country grows by 3,000,000 people every year. Since 1946 we have experienced an industrial and technological revolution that rivals in quality and quantity the mechanical changes between 1850 and 1917. An engineer or scientist who graduated in the 1940s would find his training inadequate if he were to step abruptly into the technological world of 1963.
Failure to understand and adjust to this changed world is, I think, a major factor in the fear psychology we are observing in our country today.
FEAR AND SUSPICION -- OR TRUST AND RESPECT?
The greatest need in America today is not fear or suspicion. The greatest need is trust. We need to trust and respect and support the leaders our people have elected. Democracy finds a ready mechanism for changing its leaders whenever the majority of the people desire a change.
Americans have been notoriously poor judges of their contemporary leaders. Those who arrogantly and with complete certainty cast doubt about the patriotism of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy would do well to read with humility what their counterparts of 1863 said about President Lincoln.
Ask any American today to name our two greatest
Presidents, and he will surely name Lincoln as one. Yet Lincoln was bitterly
denounced in his own era by many intelligent leaders of the day as ignorant,
prejudiced, corrupt, utterly incompetent, atheistic and insane. In 1863
Richard Dana, a respected writer and political figure, concluded a typical
attack by declaring:
Ask any American to name the greatest pronouncement
of an American leader, and he is likely to name the Gettysburg Address.
Yet the correspondent who covered that speech for the influential Chicago
Times sent a description of the speech which ended on this note:
* * * * * * * * * *
If my faithful readers will pardon me, I must end this report and read a new batch of incoming mail.
Congressman's Report Main Page