Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Walter Roberts: A Brush with Joe McCarthy -- "You Are Excused, But You Will Be Called Back"

A phone call to be "interviewed" by the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy was never a welcome thing.  But Walter's brief taste of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations was milder than that of many -- his career, happily, was not destroyed on the alter of "anti-Communism" as happened to dozens of other State Department and VOA officials.

...Since you mentioned McCarthy, I will recall a story for you which is very typical of McCarthy.  One day, in spring of 1953, that’s before USIA was created, when I was still in the Department of State, I got a phone call from the security people in the Department of State, asking me to go up to room so and so in the Dirksen Building or whatever it is.  Senator McCarthy would like to interview me.   And I said, is a lawyer from the Department of State going to accompany me?  They said, no, you’re on your own.  So I went.  

As I entered the committee room, there was a witness there whom I remember well from the days when I was assigned to Austria.  He was an engineer, and he bought the transmitters to replace old ones in Vienna, Linz and Salzburg.  Beautiful 500 kW transmitters.  All that was really required for Austria would have been a 25 or 50 kW transmitter.   And I sat down in the committee room and Gillett -- Mr. Gillett was his name -- talked about how he helped install the transmitters for the Red White Red network in Austria.
Excerpt from March 12, 1953 UP story
  And that one day it was decided to lower the antenna, and thereby our reach into Kyiv and other Eastern European cities was reduced or cut off. 
Roy Cohn (l), Joe McCarthy
I remember vividly, Senator McCarthy asked:  And who authorized the reduction of the antennas?  And he said:  Mr. Walter Roberts.  Whereupon, Mr. Cohn, who was one of the assistants to Mr. McCarthy, took a large blue book and leafed through it.  It was clear that he looked at the letter "R," whether he could find anything on me, that I was the head of the Socialist Youth at Harvard, or something like that.  But apparently he didn’t find anything.  And he whispered to McCarthy.  And McCarthy said:  Is Mr. Roberts here?  I said:  Yes, sir.  He said:  Well, you are excused, but you will be called back.

Walter J. Donnelly (l), 1951 with U.S. defense officials
Now what really happened was this.  One day, while I was in Vienna, the civilian High Commissioner, Walter J. Donnelly, he was the first civilian high commissioner,  called me in.  I went over to the Embassy, and there was the British High Commissioner, Sir Harold Caccia.  And Donnelly said to me:  “Walter, Sir Harold came to me and asked whether we could reduce the antennas because it interferes with the air traffic to the British airport outside Vienna."  I said:  "Mr Ambassador, I cannot say since I’m not a technical person but let me ask the engineers and I’ll be back to you."   So I asked the engineers and I said:  "They want it [lowered] by 25 feet [sic], would that be alright for Linz, Salzburg and Vienna?" And they said, sure, we don’t need that kind of antenna, only if we want to reach far into eastern Europe.  But that was not the purpose of the indigenous Austrian network.  It did not do any psychological warfare.  We informed the Austrians in Linz, Vienna and Salzburg about the news and other matters.

Sir Harold Caccia, British Ambassador to the U.S., with President Kennedy, 1961
So what happened there was obviously, Mr. Gillett was very unhappy with me, because his dream of having created in Austria a network for eastern Europe and the Soviet Union did not come to pass.    And I never saw McCarthy again, except on television.

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