Forever Doomed to Repeat History

One of the best things about writing This is True is I’m always learning interesting things. (Usually I say “It’s really fun!”, which is certainly true too. But I get to research so many interesting topics!) And not just the regular stories: I learned something I never knew about before with this week’s Honorary Unsubscribe, too.


When we hear about the “blacklists” that came out of the Joseph McCarthy “Red Scare” era in the late 1940s and early 50s, usually it’s a reference to writers, filmmakers and such, especially from Hollywood. Why, you dare make a film to explore the left side of an issue? Well, OK, we can’t legitimately prosecute you for that, but we’ll do our best to make sure you can never earn a living!

Thus, the “blacklists” of people who had, or were thought to have, “sympathies” toward Communism, or any organization that had, or were thought to have, “communist ties.”

Wikipedia notes that “Even during the period of its strictest enforcement, the late 1940s through the late 1950s, the [Hollywood] blacklist was rarely made explicit and verifiable, but it caused direct damage to the careers of scores of American artists, often made betrayal of friendship (not to mention principle) the price for a livelihood, and promoted ideological censorship across the entire industry.”

It wasn’t just a few such artists, either. It started with the “Hollywood Ten” who refused to testify before the “House Committee on Un-American Activities”. The ten were fired from their jobs. Then came a list called Red Channels that listed 151 “Red Fascists and their sympathizers” in the entertainment industry, and most of them were fired too.

Things didn’t really start to break until 1960, when it was revealed that the writer Dalton Trumbo had written the films Spartacus and Exodus under pseudonyms — and had won two Academy Awards — while blacklisted. (And I just found out Trumbo was born in Montrose, Colorado: the town next to me, where we do most of our shopping.) He was actually imprisoned for 11 months for “Contempt of Congress” — his refusal to testify about his personal beliefs. In all, he wrote about 30 scripts while blacklisted; it wasn’t until the 1990s that all of his film credits were restored. He died in 1976.

Not Just Artists

Forever Doomed to Repeat History
Is that a PINK flower you’re wearing, Dr. Hittelman? (Family photo)

But that’s the reasonably familiar Hollywood blacklist story. Who knew that even family doctors were swept up in the “Red Scare“, called to testify, and also blacklisted for refusing to answer questions about personal beliefs? Such was the case with this week’s Honorary Unsubscribee, Joseph Hittelman.

I had no idea of the ridiculous waste of talent and ability across so many professions, but that’s what we get when we get too much of our history from Hollywood, eh?

Good thing we’re not that stupid anymore, and wouldn’t think of doing such crazy and ridiculous things ever again.

Right. Now we have “Watch Lists” and the good ol’ “No Fly List” of people suspected of having “ties” with terrorist organizations who are not allowed to travel by air.

If only the latter “list” was limited to just that class of people. It’s not. Even children have been denied boarding on airplanes because they have the same name as a terrorist (even if that terrorist is dead!), or a name “like” that of a known (or suspected) terrorist. Even U.S. Senators have had trouble flying because their name is “like” that of a suspected terrorist.

But hey: it’s just destiny, right? “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” –attributed to Edmund Burke, Irish statesman (1729-1797).


But hey: it’s still fun writing True — even though from time to time I’m accused of being a “bleeding heart liberal” and a “heartless Rush Limbaugh conservative,” depending on who I’ve offended by calling stupid actions stupid. We’ll probably never learn.

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16 Comments on “Forever Doomed to Repeat History

  1. It is always a good sign that you are on the correct track if you are being attacked from both the ideological left and ideological right.

    Yeah, I know. The complainers don’t, though. -rc

  2. I’m with Anthony of Australia–when describing THIS is TRUE to others, I tell people that you are “an equal opportunity offender”. I find that to make you a more trustworthy source since I know you don’t have an ideological agenda to grind. It’s also why I liked “Bloom County” in its day and don’t care that much for “Doonesbury”.

    Sniff. I really miss Bloom County. It was brilliant. -rc

  3. I’m confused about something. How does Senator Joseph McCarthy get blamed for the idiocy of the House Committee on Un-American Activities?

    I think it’s rather clear I’m talking about the McCarthy era that most people are generally aware of. It’s made even more clear in the linked Honorary Unsubscribe writeup. -rc

  4. Traditionally Liberal is the Centre, Conservative the right and Socialist the left. Every week there is always something I am learning from your writings Randy. Some is tongue in cheek which matches my humour style and some I feel compelled to pass along the topic to friends. Recently I have been wondering why there isn’t the 3 parties in the US, apparently at one time there was. Making a 3 dog race would be a better benefit for Americans to choose the best of the bad bunch than between 2. Now I read about the Red Scare, was the Socialist Party swept up in this as well?

    In addition to the Democratic (est. 1828) and Republican (1854) parties, there are a lot of “third” parties in the U.S. that are recognized on a federal level. Just a sampling: America First Party (2002), American Nazi Party (yeah, really; 1959), American Third Position Party (2010), Christian Liberty Party (1996), Communist Party of the United States of America (1919), Freedom Road Socialist Organization (1985), Freedom Road Socialist Organization (1985), Freedom Socialist Party (1966), Green Party of the United States (2001), Labor Party (1996), Libertarian National Socialist Green Party (1997), Libertarian Party (1971), Modern Whig Party (2008), National Socialist Movement (1974), Objectivist Party (2008), Party for Socialism and Liberation (2004), Peace and Freedom Party (1967), Progressive Labor Party (1961), Prohibition Party (1869), Revolutionary Communist Party USA (1975), Socialist Equality Party (1966), Socialist Party USA (1973), Socialist Workers Party (1938), U.S. Marxist-Leninist Organization (1981), United States Marijuana Party (2002 Duuuude!), United States Pirate Party (2006), and the World Socialist Party of the United States (1916). Whew! That’s maybe half of the list I found. I haven’t even heard of a lot of those.

    Most Americans would abhor a good number of these parties (e.g., Nazis), so it says a lot about how much we believe in Freedom of Speech that they’re officially recognized here. But having a party is one thing; having enough support to get a candidate on the ballot is another. -rc

  5. I think Jayson, Ontario is referring to 3 parties that all have long-term traction. In the U.S., only 2 have had long-term traction; the Democratic Party and the Republican Party (which basically replaced the Whig Party when it fell apart). The only third party that seems to have any long-term traction are Libertarians, and they’ve got a ways to go before they become a significant force, much less field a President. Most third parties have had a very narrow appeal or were formed/driven by a single individual (like Ross Perot’s “Reform” Party, 1996).

    I know you couldn’t list ’em all, Randy, but I don’t think the list would be adequately representative without the mention of Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party (1912), aka “The Bull Moose Party”. It didn’t have a long-term impact either, but it definitely was colorful. 🙂

  6. But you don’t understand. Back then, such blacklisting was a result of imagined fears of communism while, today, it’s a result of very real fears of terrorism. Of course, it’s always “different” when it comes to people’s perceived fears.

    Witness the backlash of opinions from the Casey Anthony trial. “The system has failed; we must resort to mob rule and lynchings.”

    I assume you’re being facetious, since it’s not at all different: fear of the Boogeyman of the Week. Insert “Communists”, “Nips”, “Gooks”, “Liberals”, or the current one, “Terrorist”. Once that is solved, there will be another one — trust me on that! I just hope it’s not “Space Alien”! 🙂 -rc

  7. My bad; yes, I was being facetious. I’m still amused that it’s irrational hysteria when it’s “your” imagined fears, but it’s solid social concern of “my” fully justified fears. Either way, both seem to advocate throwing out the protections of the Constitution and law to suit us who are absolutely convinced of the sanctity of our causes.

    Contempt of Congress? For invoking the 5th Amendment? And such a charge by the very group who WRITES the laws based upon the document containing such Rights.

    My impression is, the doctor didn’t invoke the Fifth, but rather refused to testify. Invoking the Fifth is not supposed to imply guilt, but it does. So many don’t want that taint, and refuse to use it when they’re not guilty. -rc

  8. Clarification; “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” –attributed to Edmund Burke, Irish statesman (1729-1797).


    RC, FYI, it’s Jorge Santayana who is known for his comment: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”,Reason in Common Sense, volume 1 of The Life of Reason.

    Born in Madrid, December 16, 1863; died September 26, 1952, in Rome.

    Burke’s was:there are none so deaf as those that won’t hear, and none so blind as those that won’t see, 12 January, 1729 – 9 July 1797

    Another eloquent Irishman described by Edward Gibbon as “‘the most eloquent and rational madman that I ever knew.”

    I’m not sure what someone else’s quote has to do with the “history” quote that is attributed to Burke, even if Santayana was inspired to write his own version of the much-older quotation. -rc

  9. In your blog you say:

    “Good thing we’re not that stupid anymore, and wouldn’t think of doing such crazy and ridiculous things ever again.”

    I hate to paraphrase such a marginal candidate as Sarah Palin, but her biggest assault on President Obama was to call him a “Socialist”.

    Doesn’t that indicate that the McCarthyesque feelings still exist? (Or were you making that comment with tongue in cheek?)

    I think I was pretty clear that indeed, we haven’t learned anything from history. -rc

  10. Yes. Here in Canada, we have three parties. And all have considerable “traction”, and have had for some time. And I think the US would benefit from 3 parties.

    Right now, I look at the US, and worry about its survival. The country is far too polarized. There are too few truly intelligent truly patriotic (not self serving flag wrappers) in US politics now a days.

    I’d suggest Randy to run, he has the brains, and apparently the integrity. But he has a few big liabilities: Not many would “get” his sense of humor. He tends to be too dry and forthright when he speaks. Sometimes, he tends to speak the truth too acidly. He is having too much fun doing what he is doing now. He’d probably get more traction running in Western Canada!

    NOTE: We used to have a notable 4th party “The Rhino Party”. Now we have the “Green Party”. It may call itself “green”, but it is a far rightist party. it tries to be “green” but all that is green is not green. Our previous 4th party the BQ, only had traction in one province. When the fickle Quebec voters abandoned it (in the last election) it went on the skids. Will it make a comeback? Who knows?

  11. With reference to Dalton Trumbo, we must also honor heroes such as Kirk Douglas, who used his significant Hollywood clout to demand Trumbo be used for “Spartacus.” It was an either he writes or I don’t act/support this film issue. Little credit is given to Douglas who has the spine to stand up to the career-ruining Red Scare madness, that existed only to further politician’s own careers.

    Randy, keep up the good work. We must rise above the PC fog.

    I thought I used enough space to rehash the “Hollywood” aspect that most know at least something about, but you’re right — and it shows how a single person can really make a difference to change things! -rc

  12. I remember watching the McCarthy hearings when I was 5. I went around reciting the 5th amendment to all of my parents friends and they thought I would be a lawyer when I grew up.

    Send me a note to tell me what you did do! I’m hoping not “politician”! -rc

  13. Randy, before you go over the edge on this subject, I suggest you read up on the subject, especially the “Venona Transcripts” of Soviet communications which were released by the US Government many years after the McCarthy era.

    The fact is, the Comintern was trying to penetrate both the US government and influential groups such as film-makers and unions. The beauty of the transcripts is that they show the Soviets’ were being conned by a self-identified spy who claimed falsely to have great influence in Hollywood.

    In any event, I was a senior high school and college student in the McCarthy era but did not get swept away by either the “fors” or the “antis.” The Senator was a loud-mouthed drunk who had all his facts wrong in detail but not his belief the Soviets were trying to cause us harm, beginning when they were supposed to be our allies. The Verona Transcripts ably document this.

    You missed the entire point of the essay, Warren. -rc

  14. Doing the right things for the wrong reasons might be just pure dumb luck, but doing the wrong things, even for the right reasons, is still WRONG. To penalize some for the POSSIBLE future actions of others is one that comes to mind, has happened before, and sadly continues to happen today, and will do so into the future. People are so pathetically arrogant to believe they can affect the outcome of the future.

  15. Are you aware of Hollywood’s penchant for now blacklisting anyone who has a conservative outlook? The pendulum apparently swings both ways….

    Not that I’ve noticed, no. While I agree that Hollywood is generally liberal, off the top of my head I can think of quite a few conservative/Republican actors who are clearly not “blacklisted” in any sense of the word, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gary Sinise, Jon Voight, Chuck Norris, Dennis Hopper, Jon Cryer, James Woods, Tom Selleck, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, Robert Duvall, Kirk Cameron, Stephen Baldwin. What about producer types? Jerry Bruckheimer comes right to mind, and there’s a group called Friends of Abe trying to create a conservative resurgence in Hollywood. -rc

  16. I feel that same way any time people get swept up in a fervor against a political group or opinion.

    “Tattoo Climate Change Deniers on the Forehead”

    “Anyone who Votes for X should be shot”

    Heck, one of my wife’s friends told her that she wanted to punch me for being a Republican.

    I am very concerned.

    PS: Warren, the problem wasn’t that McCarthy was chasing ghosts. There WERE communists loyal to the USSR in frighteningly high places. However, his “ends justify the means” approach did as much damage as his investigation prevented.

    Exactly. And I’d guess more innocents were condemned (“blacklisted”) than guilty parties uncovered. -rc


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