[Mb-civic] For your friend ~ Looks like he had/has company
barbarasiomos38 at webtv.net
Thu Sep 9 16:36:51 PDT 2004
RJ I wanted to make sure you and your friend got to see this...
Between 'Us' and 'Them,' Suspicion Poisons the Air
A target of the witch hunt of the '40s and '50s detects a similar scent
now. By Walter Bernstein
Walter Bernstein is a screenwriter and the author of "Inside Out:
A Memoir of the Blacklist" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996).
September 9, 2004
The first time the FBI came to see me, it was to ask about a man
I'd known in college who was accused of spying for the Soviet Union.
That was in the late 1940s, when the Russians had already turned,
inexplicably to some and inevitably to others, from allies to enemies.
The next time, the FBI came asking about me. It was not really a
surprise. I knew I was on at least one list of alleged subversives.
Agents came frequently after that, usually about once a month,
arriving at my home at different hours of the day. They always came in
pairs, a different set each time, dressed neatly in dark suits and snap
brim hats, looking both oddly alike and mismatched, as though they were
unrelated but from the same orphanage. They would show their badges and
ask politely if they could talk to me. I would answer, equally polite,
that I had nothing to say, and they would leave.
And now, in investigating antiwar activists, the government is at
it again. The net is spread wide. Before the Republican convention, the
FBI visited presumed protesters all over the country, asking what they
intended to do in New York. The reason was the same as it was half a
century ago: to protect us, to sniff out subversion, prevent terror
before it happens. There is no harm, after all, in asking questions. The
purpose is only to gather facts.
Still, opinions are also noted. Names go on lists. Neighbors and
employers are alerted, and the atmosphere becomes thick with suspicion.
People lose their jobs not because of the actions they perform but the
ideas they hold. It becomes easier to conform. In 1950, the janitor of
my building was asked to note what magazines I received in the mail. A
decent man, he was apologetic when he told me. He felt sullied, caught
between his government and his disgust at becoming a snitch.
There is nothing new about this. We are a nation with a long and
fond tradition of witch hunting, from the Alien and Sedition Acts of
1798 through the Palmer "Red Raids," which began in 1919, and J. Edgar
Hoover. Usually it has required an external enemy, real or imagined. In
my day, it was the menace of communism. The result, for me, was that I
was blacklisted, unable to find work for the next decade. I was not
alone, and it was not confined to the entertainment business. It
included doctors, lawyers, teachers, unionists and anyone linked to
Today, of course, the menace is terrorism. And in the name of
fighting terror, we create another kind of terror for ourselves. We have
already had the pronouncement: If you are not with us, you are against
It is not the first time I have been chilled by the threat in
those words, angered by their arrogance and stupidity. No one questions
the need to combat terrorism, to guard against its murderous designs.
But we are too frequently a people ill led and ill informed, and our
strength has not saved us from the damage we inflict on ourselves
because of our fears and the political profit that can be made from
The FBI didn't always come to my house. Sometimes agents would
stop me on the street or getting off a bus or coming up out of the
subway or leaving a theater. Always the same question, always polite,
and always leaving me with what they wanted me to understand, which was
that they knew where I was, what I was doing, who I was with. It went on
like that for 10 years. They have not come visiting me this time, at
least not yet. In their eyes, if not mine, I've passed my radical shelf
life. But I remember that knock on my door, the stopping on the street,
the two polite men asking the polite question. It scared me then. It
scares me now.
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Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times
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