Last September a number of entertainment writers were hopeful of the film “Trumbo” scoring an Oscar. It was wishful thinking. Bryan Cranston, Best Actor nominee for “Trumbo,” was shut out at the Oscars last night.
Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) was a Communist Party member and a Hollywood writer who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. This was the era of worrisome Communist espionage. The Igor Gouzenko affair in Canada the year before alerted officials of the real threat of Communist spying. Fuelling fear of Communist strength within the borders of the United States were President Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9835 that established a federal loyalty program and the actions of the House Committee on Un-American Activities against Communists or those in sympathy.
Recent scholarship using newly released archival documents confirms that mid-century Americans were correct in believing that there was significant Communist infiltration of American government. High profile figures such as Alger Hiss, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and others were not innocent victims of anticommunist paranoia, but guilty Communist spies.
But films such as “Trumbo” and other stories driven by the Hollywood Left suggest that the broader “red scare” of the immediate post-World War II period was a witch-hunt driven by anticommunist hysteria. The numbers vary widely with one study claiming that the red scare “ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.” This is nonsense. Where is the evidence of the red scare having much of an effect on the employment status of Main Street Americans or causing widespread “ruined” lives? One study suggests that perhaps 2,000 government employees lost their jobs of which anticommunist Senator Joseph McCarthy was responsible for no more than 40 cases.
For many years, Hollywood leftist did quite well. As scholar Ronald Radosh writes, “Communists in the film colony were well paid and lived in a political atmosphere that was not oppressive.” Yes, a small number of real Communists who refused to break from Communism did pay the consequences. Dalton Trumbo spent 10 months in prison. When he returned to Hollywood he continued to write but his work was uncredited. He never stopped regarding America as the major villain on the world scene; for him, Communism was on the “right side of history.”
Others continue to push a perversely romanticized version of home-grown Communists and those on the Left. A recent article in my local newspaper embraces this narrative. Having watched “Trumbo,” journalist Ted Barris writes: “It reminded me of a very scary time in the world…. It made me sad to think that people lost their careers (and in some cases their lives) for their political views in a democratic country … in my lifetime. The hero of the story, Dalton Trumbo, summed it up late in the movie…. ‘The blacklist was a time of evil.’”
I am unaware of the American government killing its citizens for being Communists. Also, Barris avoids any critical assessment of Communism. What about the Stalinist-style “justice” that resulted in ruthless executions of the “Great Terror” or the long horrifying sentences to isolated labor camps of so-called enemies of the state? For balance, it might be helpful if he consulted books such as The Black Book of Communism (Harvard 1999) which argues that Communist regimes were “criminal enterprises in their very essence” carrying out the planned killing of at least 85 million people in the twentieth century.
Romantic views of Communists might make good entertainment for some, but I prefer a more honest assessment of historical facts. Yes, I am glad “Trumbo” did not win an Oscar.
First published in The Conservative Prof.: https://theconservativeprof.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/no-oscar-fortrumbo/