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Book review: "America's Retreat From Victory" by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy

Updated on March 20, 2011

McCarthy's Book

Originally published in 1951. Shown is the Americanist Library edition from 1965.
Originally published in 1951. Shown is the Americanist Library edition from 1965.

“Glen Beck attacks Sandra Bullock over donations to Japan, Haiti and New Orleans”

Can you imagine the fallout from a headline like that?

A nationally popular activist/commentator attacking an acknowledged hero that recently won major awards would raise eyebrows in each of their camps -- and stir up a mushroom cloud of controversy.

Senator Joseph R. McCarthy delivered a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1950 in which he attacked Secretary of Defense, author of the Marshall Plan, and eventual Noble Peace Prize recipient, George Catlett Marshall. McCarthy’s speech was published in book form in 1951 as America’s Retreat From Victory. The subtitle was The Story of George Catlett Marshall. It only seems logical that if you’re going after someone with the stature of a Sandra Bullock or a George C. Marshall, you better have your ducks in a row. Certainly the analogy with Beck and Bullock was fictitious, but McCarthy’s attack was not.

General George Catlett Marshall

McCarthy's speech revealed little known -- and well documented facts about the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
McCarthy's speech revealed little known -- and well documented facts about the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Marshall's Secret Past

According to McCarthy, a friend warned, “Don’t do it, McCarthy. Marshall has been built into such a great hero in the eyes of the people that you will destroy yourself politically if you lay hands on the laurels of this great man.” Did the senator throw caution to the winds? His reply, “The reason the world is in such a tragic state today is that too many politicians have been doing only that which they consider politically wise --- only that which is safe for their own political fortunes.” McCarthy pressed ahead, encouraged by a 1943 article in the New York Times magazine by Sidney Shalett. Shalett quotes Marshall as having said, “No publicity will do me no harm, but some publicity will do me no good.” McCarthy says in the book/speech, “This perhaps is why Marshall stands alone among the wartime leaders in that he has never [as of June 1951] written his own memoirs or allowed anyone else to write his story for him.”

McCarthyism in action!

From one of the hearings of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
From one of the hearings of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

Thorough Research

Throughout America’s Retreat From Victory the reader will notice that McCarthy makes most of his more noteworthy (alarming/controversial) points by quoting other authors. Under the heading of “Source Material”, Appendix A lists more than two dozen bibliographical references from such noteworthy authors as Winston Churchill, General Omar Bradley and General Claire Chennault. Also quoted are a State Department White Paper and several congressional hearings. Magazine and newspaper articles are named and cited by author in the text as is a book written by the subjects own wife. Mrs. George C. Marshall penned a quasi-biography in 1946, Together, from which McCarthy quotes to confirm an incident in 1933 involving her husband’s career.

Time Magazine Cover

From March of 1954, nine months before censure.
From March of 1954, nine months before censure.

“The Tragedy of George Marshall”

Walter Trohan of the Chicago Tribune (later to become president of the White House Correspondent’s Association) published a story in the American Mercury titled, “The Tragedy of George Marshall”. According to Trohan’s story, in 1933, Marshall, a captain at the time, via an intercession of General Pershing, asked Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur if he could be fast tracked. Marshall’s record lacked sufficient time with troops so he was put in charge of one of the Army’s finest regiments (the Eighth, Fort Screven, GA) to prove himself. In less than a year under Marshall’s command, the Eighth Regiment dropped to one of the worst in the army making promotion impossible. Six years later, President Roosevelt placed George C. Marshall in command of the entire United States Army. Then McCarthy adds, “I know of no other general who served in the military through as many wars as Marshall with less participation in the combat of a single one.”

Consistently quoting credible sources and using documented research to make his points, McCarthy leads the reader through a series of events managed or strongly influenced by Marshall to assure the fall of Eastern Europe and China to Stalin and the Red Armies of the  communists.  The situation reached a terminal point in Tehran where Marshall and Stalin defeated a stubborn Churchill in what McCarthy describes as “the most significant decision of the war in Europe,” “ concentrate on France and leave the whole of Eastern Europe to the Red armies.”

The liberal senator.

U.S.Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan -- His commission's report confirmed McCarthy's claims of communist infiltration.
U.S.Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan -- His commission's report confirmed McCarthy's claims of communist infiltration.

McCarthy chronicles Marshall’s efforts through the Yalta and Potsdam meetings and the post war “Marshall Plan” to diminish American influence. McCarthy details a complicated and far reaching conspiracy naming names and including a two-page list of Marshall’s deeds to accomplish his goal. In the end, Marshall finished his career as Secretary of State, won a Nobel Peace Prize and died a hero. McCarthy was censured by the U.S.Senate and died in Bethesda Hospital supposedly of liver complications from long term alcoholism. In the seventies stories surfaced that the “power elite” had taken McCarthy to Bethesda to “get rid of him” prompting his supporters to advise avoiding Bethesda.

Ironically, a 1997 report by liberal Senator Moynihan’s COMMISSION ON PROTECTING AND REDUCING GOVERNMENT SECRECY vindicated McCarthy. OK, well, maybe "vindicated" may not be the most appropriate word, but Moynihan's commission did confirm that there were communists in the State Department.  Here's a summary from Appendix "A" of the Moynihan report: "  By 1950, the United States Government was in possession of information which the American public did not know: proof of a serious attack on American security by the Soviet Union, with considerable assistance from an enemy within. Soviet authorities knew the U.S. government knew. Only the American people were denied this information."

The Official Report

This report confirmed communist activity in New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.
This report confirmed communist activity in New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.


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    • tdarby profile image


      7 years ago

      Interesting hub. Thanks for the info.

    • profile image

      Brian Reilly 

      8 years ago

      Senator Joseph McCarthy will soon go down in history as an American hero for trying to expose the communist enemy within. FDR allowed many communists into our government because of our alliance with the Soviet Union in the mid 1940s. McCarthy had names of communists and because of the embarrassment his charges caused for both the Truman and the Eisenhower administrations, he was systematically maligned and ridiculed by public officials. In 1950, Senator Tydings was defeated in his re-election bid because of the public perception that Tydings was soft on communism and had "white-washed" the investigation of McCarthy's charges of communists in the State Department and turned his hearing into an attack on the character of Senator McCarthy. Fast forward to 2010, we still have communists and Marxists within our government promoting a Socialist USA. One only need look at the current administration. America failed to heed Senator McCarthy's warning because the Truman and the Eisenhower administrations, along with the far-left media, didn't want you to know what they already knew and that was, McCarthy knew what he was talking about. McCarthy took his oath to the Constitution seriously, while others ignored it. McCarthy died a broken man at a very young age. The onslaught of attacks had the desired impact on his life and he became the invisible man after his censure in the Senate. The messenger was destroyed, but his message is just as true today as it was in 1950. A tip of the hat to Senator Joseph McCarthy for standing up for America. You are a hero. Remember in November!

    • Mark Monroe profile image

      Mark Monroe 

      8 years ago from Dover De

      He was demonized for good reason, he manipulated reality to fit his needs. When the Senator spoke in Wheeling he had no names to name.

    • profile image


      8 years ago


    • profile image

      Ed Clark 

      8 years ago

      I cannot attest the sanity of Joe McCarthy, but growing up I remember hearing his fanatical rantings. I suspect he was trying to copy Richard Nixon’s success with the Chamber’s matter and attain the Presidency. No matter, but to impune the character and patriotsum of General George C. Marshall in this speech is just unconscionable. I suggest a through study of General Marshall before accepting this speech/book as valid. It is apparent that McCarthy did not know of what he spoke and really did not know Marshall. Why do people always want to run to a loud mouth demagog?

    • Wayne Brown profile image

      Wayne Brown 

      8 years ago from Texas

      FC....I too have just begun to explore subject with my interest level driven heavily by the current administration. Your article just inspired me to look at this angle as well. Thanks for the contrast. I am currently reading "Reds" and then I will read "Blacklisted By History". For me this is a very real subject of the day and I am glad to see you writing about it as well! WB

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      8 years ago

      I'm not sure there has been a good politician. I'm still studying.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      8 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Very interesting info.

      It seems that there are those who enjoy destroying others

      for self gain.

      Thank,s for hubbing

    • FCEtier profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Cold Mountain

      Thank you all for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate the feedback.

    • nifty@50 profile image


      8 years ago

      I think any time Patriotism comes into play there presents a chance to advance an agenda. The Communist witch hunts of the 50's was a perfect example!

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      8 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Long term everything, every process is cyclical. Politics swings to the right, then over time swings to the left. McCarthy was Goldwater on steroids... If we knew the intrigue in politics... the "behind the scenes..." Great hub.

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 

      8 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      McCarthy was a symbol of the wider political agenda and hysteria over the Cold War caused by the threat to Human Rights:)

      Ironicaly at the time of the McCarthy Hearings Blacks could not vote and Gay people were considered mentally insane:)

    • singlmomat52 profile image


      8 years ago

      Very Powerful hub!!!

      Thank you for sharing!!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I grew up on the "McCarthy era" However, I am starting too take a new look at him.

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 

      8 years ago

      He was right and he was demonized. And that's been the game plan ever since.


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