Preserving "A Fair Chance For a Free People" - Karl E. Mundt

Army-McCarthy Hearing

The Charges:

"Army has accused Senator McCarthy and his chief counsel, Roy M. Cohn, of using [improper] pressure to get favored treatment for a drafted McCarthy investigator [Schine]. Senator McCarthy in turn has charged the Army with trying to "blackmail" him out of investigating Reds in the military [and also using Schine as a hostage]." 1

In 1952, McCarthy, a Wisconsin senator, was looking for a topic that would get him noticed for reelection. He decided that communism would be that topic. He took stands on communists, externally and internally in the State Department, and did his best to expose them and remove them from powerful positions. His sources to do so were headlines in newspapers and radio broadcasts. However, through all of McCarthy's charges, McCarthy never produced documentation for any of his accusations. Although he lacked evidence, he touched on an issue the public wouldn't soon forget.

The Red Scare

In 1953, McCarthy appointed his friend, Roy Cohn, a 26 year old lawyer as chief counsel. Cohn also wanted to recruit Schine. His plan was to get Schine drafted by the army and have him commissioned so that he may investigate for any communists within the army.

According to "A Fair Chance for a Free People" by Scott Heidepriem:

1953, Schine & Cohn conducted investigations of communists in the State Department; one in particular, the promotion of an Army dentist.

On Oct. 15th 1952, Dr. Irving Peress was drafted as a captain.

The Army required all officers to sign loyalty oaths. Peress didn't, but was overlooked by the Army because dentists were very much needed.

He was recommended for discharge, but nothing was done. Later in 1953 Peress was promoted.

Dec. 5th, McCarthy investigated about the promotion and called for an immediate discharge. The subcommittee informed the Army to do something.

Jan. 26th, McCarthy directed Peress to appear before the subcommittee on Jan. 30th and to invite a representative from the Army.

The Army sent no representative and Peress invoked the 5th. McCarthy then was furious. In "A Fair Chance for a Free People", Heidepriem writes what happened next:

"He [McCarthy] phoned the Army demanding prompt action. Two days later he demanded that the Army not give Peress an honorable discharge. The next day Brigadier General Ralph Zwicker granted the honorable discharge. McCarthy now boiling, wired Army Secretary Robert T. Stevens demanding action in the case. [...] Two days later McCarthy again called Peress to the witness chair before the subcommittee. This time Peress invoked the Fifth Amendment 33 separate times." 2, p168

During the same hearing General Zwicker was also called by McCarthy, but he was "especially harsh with the general," accusing and insulting him and the Army. 2, p168

Secretary Stevens and all the leaders of the Army were shocked and appalled by the treatment McCarthy gave General Zwicker. From then on Stevens would do the talking for the Army.

After such remarks, the general threatened to resign, saying "I don't have to take this sort of thing." 2, p169

Even the Army's chief staff told the secretary they couldn't allow Army officers to be treated so badly and pointed out that "McCarthy was destroying the morale of the Army." 2, p169

So Stevens then made a statement forbidding Army officers from appearing before the subcommittee, asserting McCarthy would have to go through Stevens first.

Mundt tried to work out a compromise to stop a hearing from taking place, but failed.

President Eisenhower also tried to find a compromise issuing a statement for the committee to sign, all of which agreed, except McCarthy requested some changes. So, an appended statement was made and was read by secretary Stevens.

Reporters asked McCarthy for any comments to which he denied ever abusing Zwicker, that Stevens had lied, and any investigations he had conducted would "be examined vigorously to get the truth." 2, p170

The public's reaction to McCarthy brought his popularity down and his favor with the public started to decline.

But the Army was not finished with McCarthy and counterattacked on G. David Schine, the assistant on McCarthy's subcommittee.

In Nov. 1953, Schine was inducted and sent to Fort Dix for basic training. Roy Cohn, McCarthy's chief counsel, tried very hard and succeeded in getting special privileges for him.

Mar. 11th 1954, the Army then released a memorandum to the public stating its views on them, and that they knew Cohn had made attempt requests to having Schine receive a commission, of which the Army denied to give him one because of his low qualifications. McCarthy then blew up and claimed Schine was a "hostage" being held in the Army's service.

McCarthy was said to have called the memorandum "blackmail", saying Stevens was just trying to draw the subject matter away from the present investigation and onto something else.

Apr. 16th, the senate investigates.

Mundt is made chairman of the Army- McCarthy hearings, though he says later that he didn't desire being assigned to it and asked if someone else would handle the investigation.

The network television presidents asked for commercial advertisement of the hearings, but Mundt flatly refused. The hearings were aired nonstop without commercial interruption. For 36 days, over 180 hours of air time, the Army-McCarthy hearings were viewed by over 80 million viewers. As the hearings prolonged further than expected, some sponsorship was allowed later to compensate for the networks' losses.

There were basically three groups of examination teams: The Army - Secretary Stevens, and lawyer Joseph Welch, McCarthy subcommittee - Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin, associate G. David Schine, and McCarthy's chief counsel Roy Cohn, and finally the senate committee - Chairman Senator Mundt of South Dakota, other state senators, and counsel Ray Jenkins.

During the Army- McCarthy hearings, many times throughout, McCarthy interrupts with his "point of orders".

As Heidepriem writes,

"In parliamentary procedure a point of order is entitled to immediate recognition by the chair to determine whether there has been an irregularity in the proceedings. The senator with the point of order is to state it succinctly and allow the chair to rule. When McCarthy interrupted with a point of order, it was most likely an opportunity for him either to castigate a hostile witness or speak in support of a friendly one." 2, p177

From the video A Point of Order, produced and directed by Emile de Antonio, the narrator Paul Newman defines ‘a point or order' is when "One makes a point of order when he objects to the proceedings as out of order, or rules violated." 2, p177

Through those points of orders, Mundt had a lot of tolerance in allowing McCarthy to interrupt, but there were times where Mundt lost patience with him.

Most times McCarthy did not have a reason for his point of orders, but were just interruptions. He did so it seems because he liked to be the focus of attention, he liked to debate & argue, and he also did so just because he could and more often than not got away with it.

On some occasions, even the people in the court room also became fed up with McCarthy as he seemed to excessively ramble on.

One time, after he was finally finished with what he had to say after Welch's comments, as Welch moved toward the door, the audience rose to their feet and cheered. Mundt also did so. Heidepriem puts nicely into words one writer's accounts of what happened next.

"As he [Welch] stepped into the hall, the press corps surged after him. Suddenly everyone broke for the door. It was as thought someone had yelled "fire!" McCarthy was left without a following, craning his neck, seeking someone's attention from the remaining guards and television technicians." 2, p179
The Red Scare

As the days of the hearing went on, the original purpose of the hearing being charge and countercharge began to lose its focus. Witnesses were called and asked about certain documents from a certain person or about what one witness said earlier, and then those witnesses that were already called were often called back to verify the other witnesses statements.

Mundt, being the committee chairman, was partially to blame because his job was to keep order and not allow the issue to get off topic.

The people of South Dakota began to lose faith in their senator, which was damaging to Mundt.

May 17th, the President released a letter to the Secretary of Defense saying he would purposefully withhold information that he thought was confidential and possibly harmful in respect to the nation. This outraged McCarthy and he argued the president's act. He claimed it the duty of federal officers to present any secret information even though it goes against the president's decree. He also openly invited people to do so and vowed he would protect their identity to whatever ends.

Eisenhower was clearly upset with McCarthy's statement, comparing him to Hitler but was not in the mood to argue with him. Then on May 19th, at a press conference, Eisenhower insisted the hearings end as soon and "expeditiously as possible." 2, p184

June 11th, Fred Christopherson of the Argus Leader wrote in an editorial his criticism of Mundt's action in the hearings. His advice to Mundt was to, "forget about trying to please anybody and hammer away with his gavel whenever any participant misbehaves. Mundt should let all know who's the boss...". That he's been too tolerant and should stop bending over backwards to let all speak their minds. Christopherson advised the senator to "crack down and crack down hard." 2, p185 Mundt was later approached by a man named Keedick who suggested that Mundt write a book about the Army-McCarthy hearings.... Mundt was hesitant, but eventually agreed to write a book, which he entitled, Joe McCarthy: The Man and His Meaning. The book wasn't however finished until the mid 1960's and by then 10 years had passed. Mundt did not have the time to complete the manuscript.

The finished manuscript contains a foreword by Ray Jenkins, who served as counsel on the committee with Mundt, and 12 chapters. Here are some of those chapter names: "Who Promoted Peress?", "They Got McCarthy!", "Our Invisible Government", "The Right of the People to Know", and concluding chapters "What was Joe McCarthy Like", and "The Challenge Ahead." 2, p190


The Red Scare The Red Scare


The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare The Red Scare

  1. Printed by United Press, 3-24-54
  2. Heidepriem, Scott N. A Fair Chance For A Free People: a Biography of Karl E. Mundt, United States Senator. Madison, SD. Leader Printing Company. 1988. Pgs. A24-26.
SD State Seal

© Karl E. Mundt Historical & Educational Foundation and Archives, All rights reserved. Karl Mundt Library and Learning Commons
Dakota State University
820 N. Washington, Madison, SD 57042
Phone: (605) 256-5203