Wendell Furry

Despite the extreme emotional reactions to Wendell Furry's latest testimony, the issue is not one of absolute shadings. If one judged Furry on completely moral grounds, his appeal to conscience may seem above reproach. On purely practical grounds, he may not have accomplished very much. We have tried to evaluate the testimony on both its personal courage and practical consequences. Conscience does not exist in a vacuum, and, at times, an individual's noblest acts are, in the end, harmful to the principles he wants to defend. This second editorial is an attempt to further clarify a complicated distinction.

Last Friday Wendell Furry employed a strategy better than any he had used previously. He has shown undeniable courage in abandoning the Fifth Amendment and risking imprisonment. We do not and never intended to ignore this. In refusing to go further than the dictates of his conscience, he has taken most of the responsibility for his actions from the University onto his own shoulders. It is characteristic of a democratic government that an individual who opposes a legal procedure can appeal to the courts. It is a fine characteristic, but it has nothing to do with whether we, as independent observers, feel that Wendell Furry's strategy is the one which will best serve this nation and at the same time puncture the McCarthy balloon. In other words, Wendell Furry's testimony cannot be judged on moral grounds alone. It must be evaluated in the light of the very practical matter at hand. How do we stop unscrupulous politicians from making unsubstantiated attacks on American education, attacks that can hurt the proper functioning of universities? For a continuation of the type of investigation we saw Friday will heighten a fear within colleges, inhibiting free inquiry and honest opinion. Its effect on a gullible public may result not only in less funds for research, but also in a regrettable resistance to an acceptance of the ideas the university has to offer and a rejection by the community of the university's influence. Harvard's school plan, for instance, might easily have been refused by Boston not because of its lack of intrinsic merit, but because of a subjective coloration based on the invective of men like McCarthy.

We need not repeat our opinions on McCarthy and his activities. By this time, they should be quite obvious to anyone who has read our editorials during the past two years. But we have learned from careful observation that McCarthy thrives on defiance. The unstated name, the hinted activity are all magnified by his screaming denunciation into fantasies of subversion that do more harm than any truth Wendell Furry might relate. All that Furry has accomplished by his strategy is to make himself into a symbol of defiance; all of his courage has probably not even saved his former colleagues from similar grilling. By stating that there were five communists with him at the MIT project, he gives McCarthy the go-ahead to all every physicist who was on that job up for intensive questioning.

Emotionally satisfying as it may be, then, supporting Furry on grounds of sanctity of conscience does not help to stop McCarthy's type of investigations. Nor will they stop if the Court upholds Furry's actions. The impasse such a decision would produce would lead to even more ranting in the dark by the investigators, with corresponding decay of university effectiveness and social liberties. Misuse of the Fifth Amendment led to a strong movement in state legislatures to rewrite it. The same could happen with the first.

In the long run, facts have always been the best weapons against public fears. We are convinced that full testimony would show how relatively ineffectual the American Communist movement was until the cold war, and just how sincere, if misdirected, were the motives of most of those who became entangled in it. For this reason, full testimony is the best strategy. And it is strange to find those honest liberals most convinced of the innocence of the yet unnamed ex-Communists among the most cagier to keep them unnamed. President Truman, in his Harry White speech, named a number of men who had helped him make his decision. Yet he cleared up doubts about his and their motives in the matter--even to the public satisfaction of Herbert Browncll.


In Conclusion, we urge Professor Furry and those who support his new stand to consider this strategy according to the results it will have--for themselves, their profession, and the very men they would protect. By opposing McCarthy the present way, they will just help him. Full testimony by Furry and others should show McCarth's committee is plowing a barren field. If, by proving this, they can end the investigations, they will have been serving their consciences much better than they could have hoped.