MR. DRISCOLL: Well, speaking of looking back on that era, how complete are the records of the activities of Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s?
MS. WEST: Well, this was something else that was quite fascinating to learn. You know, we think back to, Sandy Berger a couple of years ago, a few years ago, at the Archives, stuffing his pants pockets and socks and so on with archival papers in terms of a shocking act of a never-before conceived of act of vandalism or theft.
However, what you find out — and again this is something Stanton Evans alerted me to in his book — in his work — our archives have been essentially sacked of much of the primary documentation of the era, at least in terms of where it should be. Very often Congressional investigations are not there. State Department records are not there.
I realized I was actually starting to do real live primary research myself, when at Georgetown University in the Harry Hopkins papers, I came across an empty file. And I — aha, someone has been here before me and removed these personal letters to Hopkins that I was — I was looking for, and was able to still find. I found one out of place that was still quite illuminating. But I found a notice saying that these documents had been removed and actually taken to Hopkins’ house, and I guess never came back.
But this is the kind of, I think, point, that would shock Americans, who actually imagine that our archives are very orderly and complete. They’re not.
But you find things. You know, you find — you find people at the time who kept archives or individual papers that belonged to the person himself or, you know — and so on. There are ways to reconstruct many of these — of these documents, fortunately.
MR. DRISCOLL: Let’s talk about a very different kind of missing document. To this day, Hollywood cranks out plenty of films on the evils of Nazi Germany. But why has Hollywood virtually ignored the evils — and the horrors — of Communism?
MS. WEST: Well, that is a great question and it’s something that in some ways kicked off the book. The book in many ways began with ruminations on the so-called Hollywood black list. Remember back when Elia Kazan was awarded a special Oscar, this was in about 1999. And even after we had the Black Book of — I think the Black Book of Communism had just come out, where we had a numerical figure put on the crimes of Communism at something like 100 million dead in the 20th century, after all of the wars and the Gulag and all the — the witnesses to these crimes, it was an amazing thing to realize that Elia Kazan, this old man going to take his due recognition from the Hollywood community, where he’d, you know, been such a contributor, had to be sneaked into a side entrance of the Academy Awards theater ceremony, because he had protestors.
People were talking about him as a snitch. He had, of course, been a “friendly witness,” they called them, trying to, again, bring light on people who were there, as he wrote in his memoir, to serve Stalin and overthrow the Constitution. And where is the crime in that, he asked.
This was something that stuck with me, that when you actually go back to Hollywood, what you learn is, it is not so much that the Communists in Hollywood were able to insert, for example, dialog, pushing a little Marx here or there, which sometimes we hear about or read about. No. What they were able to do was to prevent the great anti-Communist manifestos and novels from ever being treated on the silver screen.
And indeed, Dalton Trumbo, who is probably the most talented of the so-called unfriendly Hollywood Ten, he actually bragged about this in the pages of the Daily Worker. He actually bragged about the fact that you wouldn’t be seeing, for example, Arthur Kessler’s Darkness at Noon coming to the movies anytime soon or Trotsky’s biography of Stalin. And he named a bunch of other very celebrated works that would never enter American popular consciousness, because of course, film is such an important tool. It’s part of our — how we understand ourselves, how we understand our own mythology.
When you go back and look at the record, it is — there is scarcely any single Communist drama that just depicts this incredibly epic and important movement that caused so much pain and also brought people to rise to such heights of nobility and, you know, honor, in terms of fighting it. None of these dramas are part of our film lore. And I think that that is part of the reason that we have so little appreciation for what we have been through and why it has been so easy, essentially, to brainwash us and condition us to still regard Communism with none of the condemnation that we rightly show to Nazism, for example.