The New York Times continues its long-term project of enshrining American Communists. Generally, the process takes place on the obituary pages these days as these former radicals reach their 80s and 90s, and begin dying off. Times reporters indulge in hagiography for several column inches, making these people sound like saints simply because they held fast to their ideals. The paper never seems to ask, though, just what those ideals were, and if the actions of these people did America or the world any good.
Frank Wilkinson was such a person. He died at age 91 on Jan. 2 in Los Angeles, and the the paper of record ran his obituary, the work of reporter Rick Lyman, in the Jan. 4 edition. As has been the Times custom, Wilkinson was called a "defiant figure of the Red Scare" in the headline, and what followed was a prime example of the Times method.
Wilkinson, identified as "a Los Angeles housing official who lost his job in the Red Scare of the early 1950s and later became one of the last two people jailed for refusing to tell the House Un-American Activities Committee whether he was a Communist," got into trouble when he tried to spearhead "a project to replace the sprawling Mexican-American neighborhood of Chavez Ravine, home to 300 families and roamed by goats and other livestock, with thousands of public-housing units.
"Real estate interests that viewed public housing as a form of socialism accused Mr. Wilkinson of being a Communist. When asked about this, under oath, he declined to answer, causing a furor."
Wilkinson, we are told, "consistently refused to testify about his political beliefs. He had, in fact, joined the Communist Party in 1942, according to First Amendment Felon, a 2005 biography by Robert Sherrill."
What has always amazed me is that none of these brave radicals saw fit to say under oath that, yes, they were Communists and proud of it. By the time HUAC had gotten to Wilkinson, saying yes or refusing to testify meant jail either way, so where was their vaunted defiance at this crucial moment?
Now, to be truthful, it wasn't completely their fault. These people were advised by Communist Party lawyers who'd been coached by the Soviets to make the defendants into victims of the horrible American criminal justice system – and that's what they became. They were only of worth as capitalist victims. And that's one reason why the Times continues to paint them as heroes. But the fact that our government acted deplorably doesn't automatically mean these people are admirable.
Let's take what they swore allegiance to: a party run by the Soviet Union, one of the most corrupt and murderous regimes to have ever ruled on this planet, as horrible in its left-wing way as was the right-wing totalitarianism of Nazism. But the hardest thing to convince people is that Communism, which still exists for many as a symbol of idealism and humanity, had any similarities to Nazism. Until that day comes, the Times will continue its enshrinement and readers will accept it as truth.