The spirit of the Salem witch-hunt haunts Washington again. Sarah McClendon's labeling of William A. Wieland and J. Clayton Miller, two State Department aides, as security risks, has aroused a storm of rumors and accusations which remind one of the days of McCarthy and McCloud. Although the President instantly rebuked Mrs. McClendon for her defamatory reference, her cry was soon taken up by Senator Olin D. Johnston (Dem. S.C.) and various House Republicans, whose opinions are presented in a recent issue of National Review. If such statements continue unchecked, Wieland's career may be ruined.
Hearings recently conducted by the Senate Internal Security Committee provide the principal evidence on which Wieland's accusers base their views. During these hearings Ambassadors Pawley to Brazil, Earl E. T. Smith to Cuba and Robert C. Hill to Mexico called Wieland "gullible" and "most unreliable" in his approach to Cuba. These vague character judgments would have been more convincing, had the three ambassadors been less enthusiastic supporters of Latin American dictators.
Yet Wieland remains vulnerable to the attacks of conservative congressmen and organizations who have named him an outright Communist. He is a symbol of the failure of cabinet members, particularly the Secretary of State, to protect their employees from unjust attacks from Congress. During the Eisenhower Administration, Dulles never backed up his subordinates when they were under fire. This policy undermined the spirit and organization of his department and led to the resignation of many worthy men such as John Davies. If it continues the results may be disastrous.
The Wieland case provides an excellent opportunity to set a new precedent. President Kennedy has already spoken out for Wieland and Miller. Were Dean Rusk to make a vigorous statement in defense of the two men claiming complete responsibility for their actions and requesting Congressmen to refer any criticisms to him personally, their careers could still be saved. The Secretary, if he responded with equal firmness to any future cases of this sort, would soon end the "witch-hunt" for security risks. Secretary of Defense MacNamara's recent defense of his censors show how effective a strong stand in support of subordinates can be.
The Wieland case has an importance far greater than its immediate implications might suggest. If every civil servant can be called subversive because hindsight shows his decisions to have been ill-advised, the United States will never have a creative civil service.