In my RBA, I will be focusing in on the corruption seen during J. Edgar Hoover’s reign as FBI Director and investigating the contributing factors that led to the development of this phenomenon. Specifically, I will be exploring how the imbalances in the hierarchical power distribution and the skewed culture of secrecy rendered the FBI susceptible to corruption during highly politicized times.
Link to MindMap:
For my Texts in Conversation topic, I will be exploring the research on the link between the FBI and HUAC and the extent of the FBI’s influence on McCarthyism during the Cold War. This investigation into the FBI’s shadowy past comes at a timely moment in history, when the FBI has recently come under fire for announcing a renewed investigation into Clinton’s email scandal through means that may have very well been unconstitutional. The fact that the FBI seems to have decidedly inserted itself into the political scene is highly reminiscent of the corrupt means by which the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover tried to push their own political agenda through subsidiary government agencies.
At this point in time, it is indisputable that the FBI related classified information to HUAC about suspected Communist sympathizers, often times expediting hearings by doing so. However, in terms of being able to properly delineate how influential the FBI was in shaping McCarthyism and how important these file leaks to HUAC were, there is no definitive consensus. While some scholars argue that the FBI served as a major political backbone to HUAC, to the point of almost acting as a kind of puppetmaster, other researchers downplay the FBI’s role, conceding that while the file leaks may have helped the HUAC’s investigations, the FBI acted more as a fellow collaborator, or even as just a cog within a complicated web of anticommunist institutions. Interestingly enough, even though each scholar whose work is discussed in this TiC leans heavily towards one of these perspectives, many facets of his/her argument seem to lend themselves well towards arguing for an opposite perspective, showing how difficult it is to fully agree on the extent of the FBI’s influence. Given what we know now though, I hope to explore my topic more specifically by engaging in the debate as to whether or not McCarthyism should be called Hooverism instead. By zooming from the institutional level into the individual level, I will compare the influential power of the two key faces of this era.
As he sets up various examples of how societal critiques are manifested in the plots of Star Trek episodes broadcast during the Cold War era, Nicholas Evan Sarantakes makes a convincing argument as to how this popular science-fiction television show aligned itself to respond to changes in US foreign and domestic policy. A powerful example of how the creators of Star Trek attempted to create an allegorical commentary of US policy as they saw it can be seen in the episode,”The Doomsday Machine,” which serves as a reaction to US involvement in the nuclear arms race. In this episode, the crew on the Enterprise is horrified to find their fellow starship, the USS Constellation, in a severely dilapidated condition due to a confrontation with a mysterious and ostensibly indomitable machine capable of destroying entire planets. The only survivor that they find remaining on this starship is Commodore Decker, who recklessly and futilely tries again to fight this planet-killing machine the moment he gets on board the Enterprise. Following his failure, Decker sets off on a desperate suicide mission on a separate battleship to fight the machine, an attempt that, while unsuccessful in destroying the machine, proves promising as it mitigates the machine’s power. Seeing that this may be the only way to finally overcome this machine, Kirk sets the USS Constellation to self-detonate into the planet-killing machine. Playing on the irony of using a bomb to counteract another deadly bomb, this episode sends out the message, rather directly, that “nuclear weapons must never be used in the defense the United States or any other country” because they have the power to “destroy the planet, including the country that used them.”
We can see through the example of Star Trek that science fiction/fantasy writing hold the power to come face-to-face with the most controversial issues at the time of their publication. In general, such writing is easily dismissed by the public and academics as merely fanciful, non-substantive imaginings that are not corroborated by any fact. Taken with this attitude, it is much easier to not take offense to the stance or perspective it may be advocating, however polemical it may be. This genre creates an avenue for the viewer or reader to engage in ruminating on perspectives and issues they themselves may not be comfortable with by opening up a new world before their eyes, one in which they can let go of their intellectual inhibitions. An example of science fiction that uses this viewer experience to its advantage is the 1997 film, Gattaca, which addresses the bioethics of the genetic engineering of humans in the context of a society driven by eugenics. This film serves as an example of the extent to which science fiction can be ahead of its time in the topics it decides to address.
Analyzing the movement toward decentralization from urban center-points following the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, Matthew Farish attempts to organize how exactly the perception of cities was altered in favor of the suburban ideal. When he speaks of how there was a growing trend of magazines and experts encouraging a particular “imagination of disaster” (133)among the American populace, a crucial point resonates that helps readers gain insight into the American mindset during this time of fear. Going to the core of the matter, “what made such scenarios [of atomic damage] so chilling to American readers was not necessarily the gruesome description of the bomb’s victims…but rather the location of the destruction, in the middle of a crowded city that was the cultural capital of the ‘final undamaged citadel of western civilization’ “(132). The possibility that such a devastating weapon of mass destruction could very well be unleashed on the American city, the epitome of capitalism and consumerism, quickly fueled the Cold War paranoia and uncertainty that had already been settling over Americans.Essentially, there was a general appeal to logos made to American citizens, who were then led to believe through the imposition of scientific principles on urban restructuring by experts that creating spatial distance was the best means of protection against the bomb. This fear of cities that was bred during the atomic ended up dovetailing with the prevalent culture of containment–a climate in which Americans tried distancing themselves from the “excesses” of the city as a result of their newly established “nuclear gaze” (Nadel) that led them to try to separate the dangerous from the non-dangerous.
Paralleling the burgeoning fear and paranoia brought about by the detonation of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the climate produced by the integration of imagery of the destruction of the Twin Towers.This constant rhetoric of terror and danger had a lasting psychological impact on Americans during this post 9/11 era. Perhaps most significantly, this rhetoric created an avenue that tapped into the human sentiments of intolerance and suspicion. Instead of pushing towards suburbanization like during post-WWII though, these emotions heightened the need for increased security measures. In the midst of this, surveillance of Americans increased as well in the apparent efforts to emerge victorious in the War on Terror.
Lugo’s first chapter, entitled “G.W. Bush Administration Narratives of Threat and Containment,” is a reading I find particularly thought provoking as a result of the implications of the detailed analysis of Bush’s rhetorical strategies. Lugo specifically points to a quote by Michael Welch, who posits that “another round of social control was put into motion, aimed largely at so-called racial, ethnic, and religious ‘outsiders’” in the United States following the September 11 attacks. One of Bush’s most manipulative, albeit effective, rhetorical strategies consisted of bringing completely disparate issues under one overarching umbrella of perceived evil, an action that was intended to combat any dissidence during that time. Public opinion polls showed that this conflation of unrelated issues, such as tying in AIDS and homosexuality with the Iraq War and terrorism, actually worked in circumscribing logical thought processes. It was surprising for me to see just how malleable public opinion was when vision was blurred by a shroud of paranoia and uncertainty.
The premiere episode of CNN’s 2016 documentary series, “Declassified: Untold Stories of American Spies,” delves deep into the experience of Martha Peterson, the first ever female spy to be sent to the Soviet Union. Viewers are able to trace her journey as an undercover agent, beginning with her intensive training in Washington D.C. and her pivotal work in Moscow as a mediator in the clandestine correspondence between the CIA and anti-Soviet Russian official Aleksandr Ogorodnik (Codename: TRIGON), before finally concluding with her ultimate capture and deportation by the KGB police.
Link to video summary:
In one sense, this documentary expounds upon the Cold War’s characteristic moods of uncertainty and apprehension against the backdrop of the polarization of the US and Soviet Union. As seen through the delineation of the dangers the espionage missions entailed, every move Peterson made had to be carefully calculated, for even the slightest deviance from the set procedure of the mission could jeopardize its success. The high-stakes nature of this mission only naturally mirrored the intensity of tension between the two players in this binary conflict. Furthermore, this documentary elucidates an interesting facet of the Cold War experience from the very outset through Peterson’s anomalous experience. Peterson’s story is so fascinating considering that women during this time period were avoided as top recruits for espionage missions because of their label as being “not quite reliable” in comparison to men. Playing such an indispensable role in the process of retrieving information during the TRIGON mission gave Peterson an experience that ran diametrically opposed to the commonplace ideal of male heroism in the midst of the Cold War climate. Interestingly enough, according to the explanation provided by a former CIA official, the decision to even include a woman as part of this plan was to use the prevalent societal acceptance of “male chauvinism” against Soviet Russia, who would not suspect that a female agent was working in their midst.
Though not necessarily an exact fit for the sphere of popular culture, this CNN series seems to prove its potential to captivate the attention of the American viewer, given that rare behind-the-scenes insights into a spy’s work are being presented through the disclosure of first-hand experiences.