Naming Names and Breaking Society.
The Red Scare is often remembered as one of the most distrusting periods of American history, with friends turning on each other, and “confessing” in a desperate attempt to clear their own name. Throughout the period, the House of Un-American Activities Committee ruled over a number of courts, accusing people of being communists based only on circumstantial evidence. The only way for people to clear their names, to prove that they were no longer communist, was to perpetuate the witch hunt by giving names. Navasky notes that naming names wasn't a means to an end, but rather it was the end, a test of character, and not a hunt for more targets. Most of the accused faced three options: they could “invoke the First amendment. . . and risk going to prison . . . to invoke the Fifth . . . and lose their jobs. . . or to cooperate with the committee.”1 Often HUAC's means involved trickery, sometimes outright lies. Naming Names is Victor Navasky’s attempt to explore the psychologoical aspects that dominated the 1950's. Navasky also wrote of the devestating consequences of the trials, both communal and individual, and the personal causes that made people work with instead of against HUAC. Naming Names divides itself into four sections, each discussing a different aspect of the trials. Navasky starts by looking at the people involved, then moves onto the psychological condtions that would allow people to “confess”, and later, he examines the consequences, not just for the accused, but for everyone involved, finishing the book by analyzing at the “lessons” that America as a society learned from the Red Scare.
The introduction and first chapter, Naming Names, offers readers a basic understanding of the motives of “informers, guilty bystanders, and collaborators”. People would inform for a number of reasons, be it for money, to clear their name, or because they felt that it was the right thing to do. Many people made informing a career, joining organizations with the sole purpose of revealing names, using fictional evidence. Despite this distortion of truth, “the state legitimized and then protected the informer. . .”2 and anyone who questioned an informant's statements was labeled a communist, and faced legal discrimination. Real ex-communists, seeking to separate themselves from the party and avoid deportation testified in self defence. Even more sinister, the waiver doctrine, made it legal for HUAC to “waive” their privelege provided by the Fifth amendment by “making admissions about herself. . . could not then refuse to identify her associates.”3 People on trial no longer had the right to withhold names if they put up even the slightest defense for themselves. Liberals expressed little concern about this, as they were afraid of being labeled communist for being leftist, and they were often the toughest on “communists.” “Guilty Bystanders” were people involved that weren't accused, but through their actions, perpetuated the blacklist. Most large-scale movie producers wouldn't risk hiring blacklisted actors, and several guilds, the screenwriter's in particular, resisted the blacklist in word, but not in action. Navasky feels that the press “might have exposed. . . and ended much of the corruption, injustice, and absurdity of Hollywood's surrealistic anti-communist crusade.”4 but it never did, and so it allowed the events to continue unqestioned. Navasky calls several groups, with a few specific people, collaborators, for encouraging the blacklist, the provision of names, and allowing the system to exist. Martin Gang, a thriving lawyer who represented a majority of those accused, he told his clients that, “it was better to work with rather than against. . .”4 Though Gang worked to clear people on the blacklist, it was this feeling that they had to clear themselves that made the list work possible. Also it made those that didn't take the escape seem stubborn, that “only non-communists or publicly repentant ex-communists were entitled to job security.”5 The Jewish community, much like the liberal community was ardently anti-communist, and both moved to disassociate communist Jews, including the Rosenbergs, and to de-politicize any Jewish organization. Navasky felt that among the collaborators and the guilty bystanders, their first priority was making sure that their client ended up in the best possible situation, usually by encouraging them to give names, and to avoid the blacklist.
“Stars Stripes and Stigma” was devoted to looking at the reasons behind the acceptance of fate. Navasky first looks at Elia Kazan, and Elia's call for openness. Kazan wrote that the right to belong to the communist party did not exist, and he named names. Navasky then moves onto Miller, saying that Miller was, at the time, perceived as, “a heroic countersymbol to the prevailing informer-as-hero type. . . . Miller the witness was articulating a point of conscience.”7 Miller, much like John Proctor in The Crucible, chose silence as a moral choice, implying that anyone that participated failed a test of moral character. Navasky notes several similarities between the informers, noting that every one of them seemed to feel that there was a necessary excuse for providing names, whether it was that the country deserved it at the onset of war, a firm dislike for Soviet policies, or because they felt doing so did no harm. Often times, informers chose to produce, or at least validate names out of self interest, and returned to “normalacy” after their trial. Navasky calls the excuses “moral tranquilizers”, and says that they, with a combination of restraint, “freed otherwise honest people to violate their norms by minimizing damage to their own self image.”8 Furthermore Navasky argues that these justifications were rarely, if ever true, that even by only repeating names, people caused harm. Navasky called the actions committed against the accused “Degredation Ceremonies”, and he rationalizes it, writing that such procedures reassured middle class Americans, and that such degradation satisfied the needs of a mass media. Navasky feels that the purpose of the trials was not to get answers, but to serve a dual purpose, as a “litmus test”, to see if people were fully willing to renounce communism by naming names, stigmatizing all those involved.
The accused were only one type of victim, and Navasky looked at not just their suffering, but the suffering of everyone involved. The intended victims, rarely suffered excessively, regardless of the choices they made, but the pain was no less for those on the periphery. The community as a whole suffered, as “one's neighbors and occasionally one's friends feared the FBI might be watching. . . FBI thought friendship mean comradeship mean red complicity.”9 Society as a whole fell apart and bonds that held the community together were tested often failing at the fear of being accused of being seen as a communist. Anyone accused of being a Red was even more isolated as they couldn't talk to others that had been in the same situation, having renounced the party. Navasky then calls the informer a victim, quoting Dalton Trumbo when he said that there “were no heroes nor villains, only victims.” Informers suffered in three ways, “some. . . suffered employment discrimination . . . . most . . . suffered a loss of self esteem . . . . all were subject to social penalties.”10 Those who informed hurt their reputation and their credibility, making it harder to do what they loved, perhaps the greatest cost, and they shared it with those that refused to cooperate. Such people were not blacklisted, but they were ostracized by a community that they belonged to.
At the end of Naming Names, Navasky raises several questions. First regards the question of forgiveness, and Navasky writes, “”whatever their motives, the resisters did the right thing. . . the informers did not.”11 Recognizing that he cannot see the reasons behind their actions, Navasky writes that he cannot truly judge the informers without knowing their motives, only knowing that what they did was wrong. He then connects the psychology of America at the time with the psychology Nazi concentration camps would encourage. Liberals provided names as a means of “not merely saving their skins. . . but [as] to preserve the future of liberalism.”12 Navasky feels that the accusations were a result not only of people trying to clear their name, but to clear the reputation of their organization. Furthermore, Navasky connects a large part of the mistakes made to the government, but blames society as a whole for letting it happen, writing that the Red Scare happened when “citizen delegates his conscience to the state.”13
Victor Navasky made an argument that culture as a whole “presented the informer as a moral hero in order to justify the unjustifiable.”16 At the time of his writing Naming Names, Navasky was ardently opposed to the HUAC hearings, and the violation of morals that he perceived. However, Navasky recognized that those who informed were doing what they felt was necessary for a continued existence. Noting that there’s no proof that there had been more pressure on them than on those that chose to keep their silence, Navasky critiques them, implying them to be weaker than those that resisted the proceedings. He does, however, state that, “the informer . . . had an active support system within the liberal community. . . .Hollywood community cannot avoid its share of responsibility.”15 Naming Names recognizes that society was, at the time encouraging people to conform to the hearings both by punishing those who failed their test by deciding not to inform, and by painting those who participated as heroes. Martin Gang encouraged Hollywood executives to give jobs to people once they got off of the grey list, rewarding people that participated in the hearings, formally denouncing their history.
Navasky grew up in a Jewish family, which contributed to a dislike of the HUAC. Several of his friend's parents lost their jobs due to the blacklist during his childhood, and Navasky was personally acquainted with J. Edward Bromberg, whose death was associated with stress caused by HUAC. Navasky writes in a manner that shows disdain for informers, One reviewer writes the book has “open bias-against the informers, whom he terms “society's pariah(s)”16 Jewish culture raised Navasky as being critical of informers, as he writes in the Preface, “Penalties for the informer rande from flogging and imprisonment . . . most frequently death.”17 In addition, Jewish tradition placed perjury as one of the worst crimes that can be committed, a translation of the Aramic word for inform means to eat the flesh of another. Furthermore Navasky spent twenty seven years working on the editorial staff of The Nation, writing a number of articles that would be categorized as New Left as he analyzes what went wrong, and looks to how society, not just individuals, failed.
Many reviewers agree that Naming Names is a solid work, but has a strong bias against the informers and against the HUAC hearings. Another reviewer writes that Naming Names was less detailed, but it is more riveting because, “it is unified and intensified by his unflagging purpose, to elucidate what he calls the informer “principle.””18 Aaron Daniel goes on to write that what makes the book interesting is Navasky's opinions, and the way he personally feels about “squealing.” His review adds that it is Navasky's goal to destroy the idea of an informant as a hero, and not merely to analyze their reasons.
Navasky appears conflicted, holding the informer with disdain, while recognizing that society was partially to blame for creating a scenario where informing, something Navasky notes as un-American, is made into something heroic. He always seems to be leaning more towards the idea that informers were of lesser moral character than those that resisted. Navasky calls Elia Kazan, “the ultimate betrayer, even as he was hailed. . . and applauded by liberals for doing the difficult but right thing.”19 Kazan is among those that Navasky had difficulty maintaining neutrality, as Elia had thrown defenseless citizens under the bus, allowing them to suffer so that he could go free. Navasky blamed society as much as he did the informers, making the resisters heroes, and the informers merely weaker. Navasky felt that the right thing to do was to ignore self interest, and put everyone else first, ignoring the FBI harassment, the blacklist, and the stigma that was associated with communism at the time.
Navasky seems to feel that the 1940's was a momentous period in time for America, and that it was an era when our morals were questioned more than ever. He writes that there were a number of ways things could have turned out differently, had the characters that were involved been different, pointing to how the press could have revealed the corruption to the country and put an end to it, or how Elia Kazan failed “to mount a symbolic campaign against it.”20 Though Navasky never directly states tthe weight of this period in American History it becomes clear that Navasky thinks that several groups and organizations changed as a result of the HUAC hearings. Navasky wrote that some of the Liberal community actively seperated itself from the communists, while others who felt that HUAC was a great evil became “anti-anti-communists” that resisted and criticized the HUAC, yet cooperated with the proceedings when accused.
Naming Names is a fairly anti-HUAC take on the Red Scare, yet the book's purpose wasn't to say whether the proceedings were right or wrong, but rather to look at why people acted as they did, both in defiance and in acceptance. Throughout the book, Navasky accuses the informers of lacking moral character throughout the incident, but he doesn't hate them. Instead, Navasky feels that those that participated were pressured by their society and responded to the crisis at hand in a manner that hurt others. David Raksin, one of the many that Navasky interviewed said that “the honorable thing is to respond to your own code, not other people's.”21 The idea that people were, at the time fighting their own internal wars isn't lost on Navasky, but he feels that, by passing HUAC's test of communism, and offering names, any informer failed a personal test of character. HUAC existed in mad rush to exterminate a nonexistant threat, and Naming Names concludes that HUAC did more harm to American society by removing liberties and encouraging friends to turn on each other.
1. Navasky, Victor. Naming Names. New York: The Viking Press, 1980. ix-x
2. Navasky, Victor 11
3. Navasky, Victor 34
4. Navasky, Victor 151
5. Navasky, Victor 99
6. Navasky, Victor 109
7. Navasky, Victor 216-217
8. Navasky, Victor 281
9. Navasky, Victor, 351
10. Navasky, Victor 371
11. Navasky, Victor 406
12. Navasky, Victor 418
13. Navasky, Victor 427
14. Navasky, Victor 427
15. Navasy, Victor 77
16. Oboler, Eli M. "Naming Names (Book Review)." Library Journal 105.16 (1980): 1866. Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 May 2013.
17. Navasky, Victor xii
18. Aaron, Daniel. "Informing on the Informers." The New York Review of Books (1980): n. pag. The New York Review of Books. Web. 28 May 2013.
19. Navasky, Victor 201
20. Navasky, Victor 200
21. Navasky, Victor 404