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Guilt by Coincidence


One of the most unfortunate aspects of Senator Joseph McCarthy's scratchings at the State Department has been the far too ready acceptance of one of his standards for condemning people. The Senator outlined this standard on March 30, when, in talking about Owen Lattimore, he said: "the all important thing to be determined is not so much whether Lattimore was a Russian Agent. . . but to what extent our far eastern policy (as influenced by Lattimore) has paralleled the Communist Party objectives. . . the Lattimore line follows that line practically 100 percent."

Senator McCarthy believes that if a man has ever agreed with Communist doctrines, the man is disloyal and his opinions are suspect McCarthy has stopped trying to find the difficult spilt between ideas and ideology, to separate free opinion from fettered adherence to a party line. Unfortunately, so have a lot of other people.

Most of the reaction to McCarthy's charges has been unfavorable but much of it has fallen into McCarthy-like lines of thinking. The New York Daily Mirror, for example, ran an editorial after the release of Lattimore's memorandum on China policy which said, basically: while this doesn't prove Lattimore is a spy, he certainly has followed the Communist line here, and therefore looks very fishy to us. And an unfortunate number of other commentators have strung along with the Mirror's position.

This is a lazy basis on which to judge a man's loyalty, or even the simple value of his opinions. A man's thinking may strike a tangent to a party line, but Senator McCarthy and his fellows can only see the point of tangency, and none of the divergence. And they are ruling out the annoying but perfectly plausible possibility that some day we may find ourselves agreeing with Communists about some issue--we may not like to remember it, but there have been long periods of such agreement. McCarthy and far many people have become so concerned with their own conceptions of what people should think that they have stopped considering what may lie behind someone's thought. They have taken the shortcut of condemnation by coincidence, and it is a cheap and dangerous shortcut at best.

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