Study Guide

Have You No Sense of Decency? Quotes

By Joseph R. McCarthy, Joseph N. Welch, et al.

  • Betrayal

    I may say I resent very, very much this attempt to connect the great American Army with this attempt to sabotage the efforts of this committee's investigation into communism... (McCarthy.4)

    In response to Stevens' opening statement that he speaks for the Army, McCarthy already sees a nefarious motivation behind a point of Parliamentary procedure. He's accusing the Secretary of the Army of betraying the Army, by speaking for the Army at an anti-Communist hearing. Can't accuse the guy of not having chutzpah.

    Mr. Chairman, let's not be ridiculous. Mr. Welch knows, as I have told him a dozen times, that the FBI has all of this information. The defense plants have the information. The only thing we can do is to try and publicly expose these individuals and hope that they will be gotten rid of. And you know that, Mr. Welch. (McCarthy.62)

    Everyone is standing in McCarthy's way. First Communists, then the FBI, and finally Welch himself. Nothing but traitors everywhere you turn. Psychiatrists have a word for that.

    Not exactly, Mr. Chairman, but in view of Mr. Welch's request that the information be given once we know of anyone who might be performing any work for the Communist Party, I think we should tell him that he has in his law firm a young man named Fisher [...]. (McCarthy.74)

    The insinuation is that Welch is also being betrayed by a Communist lurking in his own offices. The horror!

    I certainly assume that Mr. Welch did not know of this young man at the time he recommended him as the assistant counsel for this committee, but he has such terror and such a great desire to know where anyone is located who may be serving the Communist cause, Mr. Welch, that I thought we should just call to your attention the fact that your Mr. Fisher, who is still in your law firm today, whom you asked to have down here looking over the secret and classified material, is a member of an organization, not named by me but named by various committees, named by the Attorney General, as I recall, and I think I quote this verbatim, as 'the legal bulwark of the Communist Party.'" (McCarthy.74)

    While McCarthy is outwardly absolving Welch of any connection to Fisher's Communist leanings, he's actually implying Welch's guilt as well. We'd call that "deniability."

    The foremost legal bulwark of the Communist Party, its front organizations, and controlled unions, and which, since its inception, has never failed to rally to the legal defense of the Communist Party, and individual members thereof, including known espionage agents. (McCarthy.95)

    The Lawyers Guild was, and still is, a progressive legal organization defending human rights and civil liberties. That sure doesn't sound to Shmoop like they were betraying any American ideals. Back then, McCarthy considered anything to the left of the John Birch Society as traitorous.

  • Compassion and Forgiveness

    Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. (Welch.86)

    While Welch is invoking McCarthy's lack of compassion, what he's actually doing is trying to get a little sympathy from everyone else. Fred Fisher isn't a Communist, he's a bright young man with a brilliant career ahead of him. How dare you insult the poor lad?

    If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty, I will do so. I like to think I am a gentleman, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me. (Welch.86)

    Though he never says it, Welch implies that McCarthy's badly in need of compassion from McCarthy's deity of choice. But again, Welch seems to making this comment just to elicit compassion from the listeners. He knew McCarthy didn't think he had done anything at all that required forgiveness.

    Been baiting Mr. Cohn here for hours, requesting that Mr. Cohn, before sundown, get out of any department of Government anyone who is serving the Communist cause. (McCarthy.89)

    McCarthy's trying to turn it around on Welch by accusing him of being cruel to Cohn. It didn't stick. Even Cohn was nodding at Welch, according to the record.

    I meant to do you no personal injury, and if I did, beg your pardon. (Welch.92)

    In asking forgiveness from Cohn, the guy he was, Welch retained the moral high ground in the exchange. This looks like posturing to us—he was clearly enjoying hassling Cohn, a very hateable guy.

    Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency? (Welch.92)

    This is, of course, the line. With the "at long last" statement, Welch implied that the American public was sick and tired of all these years of McCarthy's reign of terror. Welch, with a show of compassion about Fisher, publicly called out McCarthy on his callousness.

  • Fear

    All we were investigating has been some Communists in the Army, a very small percentage, I would say much less than 1 percent. And when the Secretary says that, in effect 'I am speaking for the Army,' he is putting the 99.9 percent of good, honorable, loyal men in the Army into the position of trying to oppose the exposure of Communists in the Army. (McCarthy.4)

    Right off the bat, McCarthy aims to scare Stevens by accusing him of implying that most members of the Army are Communists. Stevens, of course, was doing nothing of the sort.

    He responded with even more force, "We will wreck the Army." (Adams.15)

    Roy Cohn here is the "he" in this sentence. Cohn, like McCarthy, used intimidation as his basic M.O.

    Mr. Cohn, you not only frighten me, you make me ashamed when there are so many in Massachusetts. (Welch.54)

    Welch is mocking Cohn's fear-mongering. He holds Cohn's feet to the fire about exactly where all these Communists are hiding, as opposed to letting him coast on vague insinuation. The implication is that if he's telling the truth, it's way worse than anyone could imagine.

    It certainly is a very alarming thing. (Cohn.57)

    Here Welch forces Cohn to admit that it's really scary if all these Communists are really lurking around in government. He's backing him into a corner, dispelling with humor the fear that Cohn and McCarthy have used as a weapon.

    Mr. Jenkins, the thing that I think we must remember is that this is a war which a brutalitarian force has won to a greater extent than any brutalitarian force has won a war in the history of the world before. For example, Christianity, which has been in existence for 2,000 years, has not converted, convinced nearly as many people as this Communist brutalitarianism has enslaved in 106 years, and they are not going to stop. I know that many of my good friends seem to feel that this is a sort of a game you can play, that you can talk about communism as though it is something 10,000 miles away. (McCarthy.106)

    McCarthy is trying to defend himself against the knockout blow Welch has landed by changing the subject back to the threat of Communism. Fear-mongering is a tried and true tactic of demagogues. It's used to justify curtailing of civil liberties in times of real or imagined crisis. Not that Stalin's USSR hadn't been a brutal regime, but this is fear-mongering used as a diversion.

  • Patriotism

    I may say I resent very, very much this attempt to connect the great American Army with this attempt to sabotage the efforts of this committee's investigation into communism. (McCarthy.4)

    McCarthy is already attempting to reclaim the patriotic high ground here at the beginning of the hearing by undermining Secretary Stevens' standing. How? By questioning his patriotism via insinuating he's criticizing the people serving in the Army.

    Mr. Cohn, what is the exact number of Communists or subversives that are loose today in these defense plants? (Welch.28)

    Welch's question here is somewhat tongue in cheek, as he's trying to expose the inconsistencies and ridiculousness of McCarthy's assertions. He's mocking Cohn and McCarthy's claim to being the ultimate patriots hunting down the nasty subversives.

    Mr. Cohn, you not only frighten me, you make me ashamed when there are so many in Massachusetts. (Welch.54)

    Massachusetts, that hotbed of subversion. How dare all these Communists sully the reputation of the state that brought you the shot heard round the world, Paul Revere, and Tom Brady. Oops, sorry—wrong Patriots.

    Sir, if there is need for surveillance in the case of espionage or anything like that, I can well assure you that Mr. John Edgar Hoover and his men know a lot better than I, and I quite respectfully suggest, sir, than probably a lot of us, just who should be put under surveillance. (Cohn.64)

    Even here, being needled by Welch, Cohn retreats to meaningless patriotic flag-waving. At this point in time, J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, was a man with nearly unchecked power. Referring to Hoover was the ultimate patriotic reference. Ironically, probably nobody in history did more to trample the basic civil liberties of Americans than Hoover. How patriotic was that?

    Not exactly, Mr. Chairman, but in view of Mr. Welch's request that the information be given once we know of anyone who might be performing any work for the Communist Party, I think we should tell him that he has in his law firm a young man named Fisher whom he recommended, incidentally, to do work for this committee, who has been for a number of years a member of an organization which was named, oh, years and years ago, as the legal bulwark of the Communist Party. (McCarthy.74)

    By claiming Fisher was a member of an organization with Communist ties (true or not), McCarthy implied he could not be loyal to the United States. People in the national Lawyers Guild thought that they were being completely loyal to the founding principles of the U.S.—freedom, civil liberties, equality, and justice. How naïve.

  • Freedom and Tyranny

    Mr. Cohn, what is the exact number of Communists or subversives that are loose today in these defense plants? (Welch.28)

    McCarthy's idea was that these Communists on the loose were out to subvert the U.S. government from within.

    You can't go too far revealing Communists. (Welch.52)

    Only tyrannical governments recognize no limits on the ability to attack perceived enemies.

    Cannot the FBI put these 130 men under surveillance before sundown tomorrow? (Welch.63)

    Welch seems to imply that the United States government is almost as oppressive as the Soviet Union, well-known for being an Orwellian surveillance state.

    I don't think you can find anyplace, anywhere, an organization which has done more to defend Communists—I am again quoting the report—to defend Communists, to defend espionage agents, and to aid the Communist cause... (McCarthy.74)

    McCarthy lays into the Lawyers Guild here. He's convinced that their actions are almost guaranteed to lead to a Communist takeover.

    Mr. Jenkins, the thing that I think we must remember is that this is a war which a brutalitarian force has won to a greater extent than any brutalitarian force has won a war in the history of the world before. For example, Christianity, which has been in existence for 2,000 years, has not converted, convinced nearly as many people as this Communist brutalitarianism has enslaved in 106 years, and they are not going to stop. I know that many of my good friends seem to feel that this is a sort of a game you can play, that you can talk about communism as though it is something 10,000 miles away. (McCarthy.106)

    McCarthy creates a neologism here: "brutalitarian." Really solid political hack work. He's describing Soviet Communism as not only totalitarian, but savage. The murderous Joseph Stalin had just died the year before, and even though Khrushchev, the new premier, had criticized Stalin's brutally suppressive tactics, he was still a dictator. It wasn't hard to terrify Americans of what the Soviets wanted to do to them, i.e., invade the U.S. and make it a totalitarian Communist country.