No one can terrorize a nation, unless we are all his accomplices.
-Edward R. Murrow
Just returned from seeing the George Clooney movie, Good Night, and Good Luck, about Edward R Murrow and the events surrounding the broadcast of his exposé on McCarthy and his tactics.
This was an incredibly well-done movie and should not be missed. If there are any flaws, it may be accused of not being critical enough of Murrow. At one point in the movie in fact, this is brought out as William Paley, the head of CBS, admonishes Murrow for not having corrected McCarthy: saying that Alger Hiss was convicted of perjury, not treason (as McCarthy claims), as it might have been seen as being sympathetic to communism.
Everyone chooses to bring out only the facts that are convenient to the case they want to make- very little is written entirely in black and white. Clooney's movie, in some ways, is almost critically evocative of this- you can't expect to be presented with an education or the entire truth, it is something that each person has to search for themselves. The very fact that the movie is presented in black and white is in some ways an irony: I think that people my age see the recent past, before we were born, in a sort of black-and-white movie and often in a stark truth-or-fiction sense of black-and-white as well. We can get seduced into thinking that because what we see is true, that it represents the truth. This is a fallacy which is often hard to come to grips with. The Truth, in most senses, is often not found in what is true, simply because what is true can be censored to only portray the reality that one wishes to present.
In some ways, I worry that this movie will become an idol- a thing that we worship without critical thinking, because we believe that McCarthy=Bad or some such nonsense. There was much about what McCarthy did and how he did it that was bad. But, the cautionary tale is not to warn against evil men but to remind us that what we see as evidence of what is true often is only a reflection of our inner prejudices, irrespective of whether those prejudices are coincidentally aligned with the truth, or not. There is no doubt that Communism had heavily infiltrated government, and that much of Stalinism and Communism was a dire evil which needed to be repelled. McCarthy's error was neither his tactics nor his crusade, but his narrowminded conviction that the way he saw things was true. Any person can make this error, and even when you do and believe in things that are right, you can still fall into error by forgetting true humility, the acceptance of the fact that even when you seem most correct you might still be found to be incorrect by a better perspective than your own.