On the day that McCarthyism was born, and unseasonably warm spell was broken in Washington, D.C. It was January 7, 1950, and record-breaking temperatures — on the 6th it had reached 72 degrees — gave way to a return of winter cold. Winds announcing the cold front blew through the city at 40 mph, causing minor damage to a couple trees and a storefront window.
That night, a meeting took place at the Colony restaurant, a four-star establishment in downtown Washington. Attending were four men: Georgetown University politics professor Charles Kraus, attorney William A. Roberts, Fr. Edmund A. Walsh, a Jesuit and the head of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, and Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Of the four men, of course, the most notorious is Senator McCarthy. Since his downfall in 1954 McCarthy has gone from politician to alcoholic fiend, an all-purpose chimera for anyone warning against everything from illegal searches to mildly aggressive questioning. But the perhaps the more important man to history on the night of January 7 was Edmund Walsh, the Georgetown Jesuit.
UNLIKE MCCARTHY, WALSH IS forgotten to history. This no doubt has much to do with the fact that Edmund Walsh was arguably the first American anti-communist (not to mention the fact that Walsh’s preached preemptive strikes against aggressors decades before the word neoconservative existed). Walsh’s life doesn’t provide the delicious frisson of preening pseudo-virtue experienced by liberals denouncing the excesses of McCarthyism. Yet 2006 will mark the 50th anniversary of Walsh’s death, and respect should be paid.
Rather than focus on heroes like Fr. Walsh, the media, academic elites and historians simply ignore men like him — or when they do pay attention it’s with an obsession with linking Walsh to McCarthy. Drew Pearson, a columnist for the Washington Post in the 1950s, never seemed too disturbed by communism. He did, however, report on the Colony dinner and wrote that during dinner McCarthy had expressed concern about his upcoming reelection campaign. Walsh then allegedly suggested using communism as a campaign theme — “any Senator who consistently attacked Communism would have a great appeal for the voters,” Pearson has Walsh saying.
On February 9, 1950, a little more than a month later, McCarthy made his infamous speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, announcing he had a list of the names of 205 communists in the State Department. Many in the media, even the Catholic media, had no doubt that Walsh had been the spur that propelled McCarthy. The Catholic magazine the Churchman wrote in 1951 that McCarthy “only fires the guns that are made for him by Father Edmund Walsh, SJ.” The Christian Century referred to Walsh as McCarthy’s advisor. In 1953 leftist journalist I.F. Stone claimed that McCarthy “has had the guidance of Father Walsh.” In McCarthy: The Man, the Senator, the Ism, published in 1952, Washington insiders Jack Anderson and Ronald W. May endorsed Pearson’s account.
Others are not so sure. Jesuit scholar Donald Crosby has disputed the McCarthy-Walsh connection, claiming that Walsh, despite being an energetic PR genius, was reluctant to coach politicians. Georgetown Foreign Service historian Seth Tillman has noted that Walsh never discussed McCarthy or the meeting, and that Walsh was more interested in international communism than the American variety. Walsh expert Patrick J. McNamara has observed that Walsh didn’t need McCarthy to advance his cause — the priest was already a celebrity. Furthermore, McCarthy biographer Thomas Reeves has argued that McCarthy was a communist hunter long before the January 7th meeting.
ONE THING IS HARD TO dispute, however — Senator McCarthy’s name became iconic in America while Walsh has been forgotten. Book editors I’ve approached for the last year yawn at the prospect of a biography on Walsh — even as I’ve made clear that it would not be a hagiography. Despite his perspicacity Walsh had a bizarre theory about Jews being drawn to communism because theirs is an apocalyptic religion, as is communism. Sadly, anti-Semitism seems common in Walsh’s era, from H.L. Mencken to the great Christian writer Chesterton. But should this failure taint all of Fr. Walsh’s life? To say so is to dismiss Martin Luther King for his marital infidelities. But this argument didn’t sway: One editor told me that “communism is a dead latter.” I suppose that means journalist Haynes Johnson is going to scrap his forthcoming book, The Age of Anxiety, all about the evil McCarthy, and George Clooney won’t release his new anti-McCarthy film Good Night. And, Good Luck.
Of course, the media would be more interested in Walsh’s failings had he not been the spearhead of the first and most powerful force fighting communism: the Catholic Church. In his book Not Without Honor: The History of American Anti-Communism, Richard Gid Powers notes that “the American Roman Catholic church would be the backbone of American anti-communism for most of the movement’s history.” He cites mid-19th century papal encyclicals like Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno, as well as Pius IX’s anti-modernist Syllabus of Errors, as examples of the Catholic Church being anti-communist decades before the October Revolution.
Yet Walsh was the anti-communist movement’s most towering figure, the greatest and most charismatic prophet. He was born in Boston in 1885, the son of a policeman and second-generation American, Walsh was patriotic and religious from an early age. He earned a scholarship to Boston College High School, and after graduating in 1902 entered the Jesuit novitiate in Frederick, Maryland, in 1902. From 1909 to 1912 he taught in the high school section of Georgetown University. One day at the university, at a dedication ceremony for the unveiling of a statue of John Carroll, America’s first bishop and the founder of Georgetown, Walsh heard a speech that profoundly affected him. The speaker was Edward D. White, a Supreme Court Chief Justice. White made a connection between John Carroll and Carroll’s brother Charles, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. White held that Georgetown University and the United States of America were founded on the same Christian principles: natural law, the rights of man, reason, faith. Walsh claimed never to forget the speech.
WALSH WAS ORDAINED A PRIEST on June 28, 1916. In 1919, after the first World War, he founded the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. In February 1922, Walsh went to Rome, where he was assigned the papal relief Mission to Russia. Russia, having just undergone a revolution five years earlier, was in the midst of a famine. It would claim over five million victims by the end of 1922. Russia was also in the midst of a purge against the religious, and the Holy See gave Walsh authority to negotiate on behalf of clerical prisoners.
What Walsh saw in the new Soviet Union stunned him. The new government was using the famine as an excuse to loot churches and arrest clergy. In 1922 twenty-eight bishops and over 1,200 priests were murdered or executed. In his diary of May 1922, Walsh saw the future. Russia wasn’t in trouble, he wrote — the world was. He expressed “fear for the consequences in the economic, the political, the social, the religious, and educational orders of the entire world.” Communism was “the most reactionary and savage school of thought known to history,” bringing with it a “reign of terror that makes the French Revolution insignificant.” After all, he reasoned, the French Revolution was limited to France. The Bolsheviks envisioned “World Revolution, or in other words, universal Socialism with its concomitants — no state, no government, no belief in God, no marriages, no religion or in a word, the total destruction of the present Christian civilization and the substitution of the Communist state.”
By 1923, the relief mission was feeding 158,000 Russians a day. But this didn’t stop the religious purges. For most of the early 1920s the Russian Orthodox Church had been the target, but in 1923 the Bolsheviks turned their attention to the Catholic Church. On March 3, 1923, troops in Petrograd arrested the archbishop and fourteen priests. They were sent to Moscow to stand trial before the Supreme Revolutionary Tribunal. Walsh complained bitterly about the show trials. Two of the clergy, including the Polish Vicar-General, Monsignor Constantine Budkiewicz, were sentenced to death, the others to extended prison sentences. Walsh returned home in 1924, and spent the next three decades sounding the alarm about communism.
If Edmund Walsh had been a Nazi fighter or civil right activist, there would be a shelf of biographies about him available — not to mention films made about his life. But he only fought famine, was a Washington celebrity, and for three decades warned the world about communism, so the elites in Hollywood, the publishers, and the media have no use for him.