Authors: Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
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who is my cousin
who is my friend
Although few of the books in this series take place within living memory, this one is one of the exceptions, concerned as it is with the anti-Communist hysteria that consumed much of America from the end of the Second World War until the collapse of the Soviet Union, although vestiges of it still linger: China practices its version of Communism, and there are people in this country who are worried about that, and see danger in China’s economic policies. This story deals with the beginning of the strident period between 1949 and 1952, when there was a great juggling for power in the wake of the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; this was most—and most unobviously—apparent in the emergence of security and watchdog agencies, for the Second World War had made it plain that intelligence could tip the balances where ordnance could not. Many security bureaucrats—some moving from the FBI to the newly emergent CIG/CIA—took full advantage of the country’s anti-Communist hysteria to set themselves up in unusually secure positions within the new organization, being at pains from the beginning to carve themselves out niches that would keep them employed for decades. The watchword
is still the favored explanation for anything the government/security industry/international business community wants that needs protection for being outside or beyond the law, a rubric to get around acts that are clearly unconstitutional without having to answer for committing a crime.
The early stages of such shenanigans developed when J. Edgar Hoover gained control of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the two hectic decades between World War I and World War II. Hoover, with the determined support of the Religious Right of the time, started lobbying/pressuring/blackmailing Congress to extend the powers of the FBI to include foreign intelligence-gathering, as well as all domestic. When the matter came before Congress, shortly after the death of President Roosevelt, President Truman refused to go along with the plan that was presented to him; instead he joined the talented spies and other intelligence agents like code-breakers and code-makers, linguists, engineers, and those possessing a variety of skills from several different departments of government who had been the backbone of intelligence-gathering outside of this country during the war, making it the heart (if that’s the word I want) of US espionage that was being fashioned into a new and separate body, one with experience of working in foreign countries. With the men and women from General “Wild Bill” Donovan’s OSS, and some code-breakers for Army and Navy intelligence, Truman granted the successor to the OSS a new agency for that work, the Central Intelligence Group, later agreeing to change the name to the Central Intelligence Agency. As soon as the limitations on both services were established, the feud between the FBI and CIA was off and running. As these two organizations were often used as figureheads in intelligence work, the government created more of them, most of them considerably less visible than these two behemoths of covert activities. Early in its existence, the CIA had a number of satellite offices, such as the one in this story in Baltimore, a leftover precaution from World War II, which made sure there were backups and bolt-holes for its agents in as many places as was practicable. The anonymity of a suite of offices in a commercial building was also supposed to guard against being targeted by enemies. But as technology made long-distance spying as reliable as anything humans in enemy territory could accomplish, a significant portion of espionage became an exercise in electronics, the results of which are still ongoing today: much of the groundwork for our present eruptions of scandals was laid by various forms of electronic snooping carried on with questionable legality against US citizens during the formative years of the CIA. Later, President Eisenhower put the CIA to work in ways Truman never even considered, but those developments are beyond the time of this novel, and are not part of it.
A great many people remember or know about the House Un-American Activities Committee witch-hunting in Hollywood, which began at the end of the 1940s, and the resulting Black List, which put paid to the careers of actors, writers, directors, and other mainstays of mass media. Even Sterling Hayden, a major leading man, and someone who had worked for Wild Bill Donovan in Europe during World War II, was unable to hold his own against HUAC. The Congress loved it. The government got oodles of publicity, which was more the goal of this pillorying than it was an appropriate response to any threat films represented. With the help of Right Wing reporters, a great outcry against Godless Communists and other so-called traitors arose and terrified the public into cooperation—the witch-hunt was under way! Right-leaning congressmen up in arms about immigrant policies that they felt were not strict enough because an occasional Nazi might slip through the barriers and everything would come tumbling down endorsed the investigations. The populace was mesmerized primarily because real life was suddenly as exciting as the movies. And all those famous faces! Big-name movie stars assuring the Committee they were four-square for the USA, and praising the Committee for the work they were doing, was a triumph for the Committee, and it went to their heads, eventually. The power of public opinion this subjugation of the entertainment media gave the HUAC was intoxicating to the legislators, who, until then, were not often nationally recognized persons, but after the broadcast and televised hearings became familiar and famous. It was heady stuff: all the innuendos and accusations about these face-famous men of stardom and glamour, icons of popularity, brought low by the Committee, which ruined careers and lives. And men they were: very few women were ever brought up on any subterfuge charges or innuendos, so very few women testified—for although women were part of the intelligence community, not only as secretaries but as agents and code-breakers and archivists, among other things, the Committee did not want to be seen to be bullies, and so—to mix the metaphor—they soft-pedaled their visible pursuit of women, and settled for rumor to be enough to scare most of the suspected women away from the film industry. HUAC had used the same technique early in their inquiries on academics, and it had worked splendidly, driving professors away from their universities and colleges, scientists out of their laboratories, and sometimes out of the country.
The entertainment industry was just the visible tip of the iceberg. Most of those whose lives were pulled out from under them were much less illustrious, and so did not attract the kind of awe and attention the big names of Hollywood did. For the teachers and union officers and engineers and journalists and other ordinary folk, the wreckage was done quietly, out of public view, and those seeking redress of wrongs had difficulty getting any court of law willing to protest the hearings; these less visible people often found themselves in the company of those already suspect, and subjected to the same oppressive investigation: in the first few years after the end of World War II, universities and their faculties took tremendous hits from the Committee, and like the accused in Hollywood, many academics, no longer able to teach or pursue their studies in the United States, fled to Europe or other parts of the globe to wait out the craziness, and to find a way to support their families in the process. Some of them never came back, having found a place where their work was more valued by those countries that took them in than it had been at home.
To make this clear, this is not a roman à clef: the characters are not real people in clever-but-penetrable disguises; the characters have elements of real people’s experience in them, but not as a one-on-one transmogrification. Actual persons are mentioned in passing for context and for accuracy in the story, but please keep in mind that it is called a novel because I made it up from events that had a major impact on my grammar-school years. In the name of full disclosure, I was born in Berkeley, California, during World War II; I grew up there. I went to school there. I have/had relatives who were under HUAC investigation—and they didn’t live anywhere near Berkeley—which is why, when I was in the fourth grade, I was followed by the FBI for over a week. I know: it looks nuts to me, too. It took me more than thirty years to find out what it was all about: the FBI wanted to scare my immediate family and our other relatives into rejecting the ones who were under direct suspicion; it had the opposite effect. I also had friends and parents of friends who lived in Berkeley, and who were compelled to leave the country rather than continue in either the University of California, or the then-called California State Teachers’ College System, now the California State University System: the Ex-Pats’ Coven in this story is very loosely based on a group of American academics whose newsletter was made available to US academics living in Europe, although it came out of London, not Paris, and for the most part served to help find jobs and apartments for those unfortunate enough to need them. To reiterate: all the various difficulties encountered by the Coven members in this story are based on incidents that actually happened to someone I knew, directly or indirectly, in that group of parents/friends/relatives; they are altered and condensed, for the average amount of time the actual people were away from the States was eleven years and this tale takes place within two and a half years, but—with the sole exception of Charis’ loss of Saint-Germain’s Jaguar—they all reflect actual experiences, though reinterpreted for the sake of the story. This period has left its mark on our history; we are still hearing echoes of it today.
So special thanks to Alain, Bernadette, Daniel, Ed and Ed’s dad, Gordon, Jim, Lucius, Marco, Merrinel, Perpetua, Rollin, Sidney, Ulrich, Veronica, and Waring for access to diaries and journals, opportunities for interviews, telephone conversations, e-mails, photos, clippings, and all manner of personal memorabilia and other records of the real lives of real people dealing with the anti-Communist zeal of the time, with special thanks to those three who actually took an active part in post–World War II espionage and allowed me to interview them.
Another interesting problem that arises with a book so close to the present day is checking hard dates when certain events happened, for we have a lot of documentation for World War II to the present day, and that imposes its own demands. Such things as catchphrases and slang may have some of the same meaning and use now as then, but it is surprising how much has changed, and how rapidly. There is also the matter of what you have and don’t have available in terms of high-tech—1950s style. There are three national television channels, period. There are a few local independent stations scattered about the country as well, and PBS is working its way into the national viewing market. No iPads, no cell phones, no desktops, laptops, notebooks, or other in-home computers. No smart phones. Very few electric typewriters. Only the military and intelligence groups have the ancestors of modern computers—huge, noisy, temperamental machines that would seem intolerably slow to computer users today. Color television is just becoming affordable. A very early version of a microwave oven is on the market, but not selling well. There are no Miranda Rights. There are no weather satellites. The space program is just barely beginning. There is no vaccine for polio or measles. There are no Toyotas or Datsuns/Nissans on the streets of America. The smallest eavesdropping bug you can plant is about the size of a nickel and has a cord. Transgender surgical protocols have yet to be developed. Homosexuality is illegal in most US states. The Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, the Environmental Movement, the Gay Rights Movement are embryonic and easily dismissed by linking their goals with Communism. Most US cities have at least two daily newspapers, and some have as many as ten. Rock and roll hasn’t fully arrived yet, though it is beginning to develop. In parts of the country, swearing in public can get you time in jail. Almost all stores are closed on Sunday. Engineers all carry slide rules; there are no calculators. The interstate highway system has yet to be built. The commercial jet airliner is just beginning to be a reality. One of the most sought-after additions to a house is a bomb shelter in the basement or backyard. And on and on. Those apologists who, in the last decade or so, have taken to saying that all the dismay over McCarthyism and HUAC excesses was exaggerated and incorrect have not examined the events of that time as those who lived through those years experienced them. There are vast amounts of information available that have bearing on this fearful epoch in what was a profoundly strenuous century, the 1950s being more tumultuous than they were seen as being while the decade was happening. On the surface everything was prosperous, everything was fine, everyone was happy, all problems were minor ones, etc., etc., etc. The Fifties were prosperous in most technologically advanced cultures, economies widened the job market, unions fought for—and got—better working conditions and more benefits for their members. Housing was booming. The birth rate was up. But there was also tremendous social pressure for conformity, which was justified by a number of complex religio-political catchphrases in popular music and in television shows—my ironic favorite is
and the people all said siddown! Siddown! You’re rocking the boat
. With the emphasis on conformity, many Americans found it difficult to pursue expansive working projects in new fields in a way that did not appear to challenge the preferred conduct that society enforced, all of which was subtly and not so subtly reinforced by the shows on radio and television. Technology was welcomed only because it was demonstrably part of the security everyone was supposed to desire; otherwise the country was going through one of its periodic lapses into pronounced anti-intellectuality. So far as I’m concerned—and I admit I’m biased—although mass media made the anti-Communism frenzy worse for a while, mass media also served to break the witch-hunt’s stranglehold on the American public: Edward R. Murrow was willing to take on Senator Joe McCarthy, Murrow’s network was willing to stand behind him to a point, and everyone could watch it on television.