The 50th Anniversary of the Case of Milo Radulovich, Victim of McCarthyism

News at Home

Mr. Wingrove is a press secretary for Republican lawmakers in the Michigan House of Representatives.

The First Amendment can always use another ally. Some if its best friends put themselves at risk a half century ago this month when an Air Force lieutenant battled desperately to clear his name.

While the name Milo Radulovich may not be immediately familiar the controversy surrounding him was a turning point in American history, says Michigan author Mike Ranville, who describes the remarkable events in his book To Strike at a King.

The story begins in 1953 when Joseph McCarthy, the junior senator from Wisconsin, shattered lives and trampled individual freedoms in his rampage against communists. Radulovich, a reserve Air Force weather officer in Dexter, Michigan, was being discharged because his father and sister were accused of being communist sympathizers.

Officials even took issue with a family member’s newspaper subscription. The senior Radulovich, an immigrant only fluent in Serbian, kept up on events in his native Yugoslavia by reading publications from back home. One of the papers was associated with the American Slav Congress, which had been designated as communist by the U.S. attorney general.

Milo Radulovich

The lieutenant decided to fight the charges and demanded an Air Force hearing. He needed legal assistance, but any attorney helping Radulovich ran the risk of also being labeled a subversive. Eventually Charles Lockwood, a semi-retired lawyer and former Detroit College of Law professor, came to his aid.

Lockwood decided to fight the case in the media. He contact Russell Harris of the Detroit News, who explained the situation to his readers. Among them was a young attorney named Ken Sanborn, who remembered Radulovich from their days in the Aviation Cadet Program at Michigan State College (now Michigan State University).

The politically conservative Sanborn, a first lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve, risked everything to defend his old classmate. Like Lockwood, he accepted no fee.

"Ken Sanborn deserved a medal," Radulovich said years later.

Despite such heroic legal services, the hearing’s outcome was predetermined, and the Air Force stripped Radulovich of his commission. Again, the Detroit News told the tale. This time, a famous broadcast journalist happened to read the story. It was the legendary Edward R. Murrow, host of the popular"See it Now" program on CBS. The show focused on"the little picture" explaining a news event through its impact on one person.

For months Murrow and his partner, Fred Friendly, had debated how to address McCarthy’s witch hunt. The curious Murrow prowled many out-of-town dailies and his prolific reading paid off. One day Friendly encountered Murrow at the elevator. Murrow pulled a crumpled newspaper article from his overcoat and thrust it at Friendly, saying"this could be the little picture for your McCarthy story."

A camera crew was dispatched to Michigan. By the next day, the centerpiece interview with Radulovich was done, and the footage was powerful. The young lieutenant, his wife and their neighbors spoke with passion.

As the Oct. 20, 1953 broadcast drew near, CBS was unwilling to promote the show. Convinced it was a landmark effort, Friendly and Murrow dipped into their pockets and spent $1,500 for an ad in the New York Times.

It was money well spent. Supporters flooded switchboards after watching"The Case Against Lt. Milo Radulovich, A0589839." Most viewers agreed with Murrow that"the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, even though that iniquity be proved beyond all doubt, which in this case it was not."

The little picture had shown the big picture of a nation ignoring individual liberties and declaring guilt by association. The image of this innocent man and his immigrant father focused America on the evils of McCarthyism.

Radulovich was reinstated one month after the broadcast. Several months later, the March 9, 1954 installment of"See It Now" consisted almost entirely of McCarthy film clips. The effect was devastating, as McCarthy’s own words and pictures illustrated his tyranny. By year’s end, the U.S. censured him. Friendly said,"We never could have done the McCarthy program without the Milo Radulovich program."

America depends too often on a few patriots to battle demagogues like McCarthy. For fans of the First Amendment, the Radulovich case is a legal and media milestone worth remembering.

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Hugh Jardohn - 11/10/2005

I have read many pieces on this and the strained linkage to McCarthy is always the same.

"Radulovich, ...was being discharged because his father and sister were accused of being communist sympathizers."

I have yet to see the piece that says that McCarthy ever did the accusing in this case. In fact for all I've read about Radulovich, it is always the same; "his father and sister were accused." The accuser is never named. We are simply encouraged to make the association in our minds that it was McCarthy. But isn't that the suppposed essence of "McCarthyism"? This is one of those pieces where my comment to the author is always, "nice try".

Lorraine Margaret Paul - 10/17/2005

Not if it is presented as a mainstream Hollywood film!

RICHARD W. MILLER - 10/16/2005


Lorraine Margaret Paul - 10/14/2005

If both Rosenbergs were guilty why is it that Julius is named in the Verona files and Ethel is not?

Does patriotism, "the last refuge of the scoundrel" outweigh one's duty to humankind at large?

These were times when skullduggery wasn't only confined to the 'enemy'!

Minerva Schwartz - 4/16/2004

'McCarthyism' spans the years of approx. 1930 - 1955 and strengthened by the 1940 Smith Act. McCarthy wasn't even elected until 1946.

The Hollywood 'blacklist' was a 'result' of the HUAC. HUAC stands for HOUSE Un-American Activities Committee ... McCarthy was a Senator. His interest was limited to security risks of federal employees years 1950-1953.

You have to put it into perspective. What if al-Quaida infiltrated top spots of the government? Would you feel comfortable w/a cleaning woman who was a member of al-Quaida being assigned to classified areas ... or just have her reassigned, as was most often the case? Remember, Kruschev said, " We will bury you . . . from within!" What do you think he meant?

The fact is there WERE Soviet Spies in the government throughout the FDR/Truman administrations. Some examples are:

Harry Dexter White - appointed head of the International Monetary Fund by Truman - was a Soviet agent. Truman knew he was a spy in '46, but kept him.
Algir Hiss - Chief Advisor for FDR at Yalta, when Eastern Europe was signed away to Stalin and China to Mao.

They were much denied ... until the 1980s when Russia declassified lots of their stuff and proved it to be true.

See, one of the problems with the hearings was that there was CLASSIFIED information that was known to Hoover, etc. - but could not be presented for fear it would hamper intelligence operations. (Indeed, the U.S. Army's Special Branch started the Venona Project in 1942 to break the Soviet's code. Not trusting FDR, a President who called Stalin 'Uncle Joe', they didn't tell him - or Truman - about it.) It's not that there is no proof many of those investigated - and don't you often investigate some innocent as you determine the guilty - but that the level of 'proof' required by some is beyond what mere mortals can supply.

How bad was McCarthy perceived?
Well, JFK called him 'a great American patriot'.
RFK asked him to ge godchild to his first child (Kathleen, b. 1951) - and worked on his committee.
The people cheered, "Give 'em Hell, Joe"

More people died under Stalin and Mao's regimes than at any time in history. Truman dropped a nuclear bomb. Japanese were interred. Hubert Humphrey introduced a bill to ban the Communist Party. McCarthy exposed Soviet Spies within government offices. He didn't have anything to do with the HUAC. He did not go about naming names. But, it is McCarthy who is vilified.

And, the Rosenburgs were guilty.

Kamron - 1/13/2004

McCarthy didn't validate any of his claims? Hasn't anyone heard of the Verona Project (I think that was the name). It was top secret decoding project in where the military had broken the Russian Code way back in the 1920's but they and McCarthy could not say anything about it because that would have let the Soviets know that we had broken their code. McCarthy had secret Soviet cables now decoded listing the names of their opperatives in our Government. He knew exactly who he was going after. The government just revealed this top secret project in 1995. Of course, it didn't get much news because it proves that McCarthy was right. Everyone he went after was listed as a Soviet agent by the Soviets.

milo radulovich - 12/18/2003

I thank Mr. Kendall Wingrove for his strong article about my appearance before the Michigan Senate on 13 Nov 2003. My repect and appreciation also goes to the Senators and especially to Senator Sanborn of the 11th District. Its a week before Christmas eve and I am flooded with deep feelings about the event of that long ago time when Judge Sanborn, Mr. Charlie Lockwood and myself lived thru a tumultuous time in our nation's history of freedom and the individual's ability to defend ones self against great odds. We did receive a positive result in those days of McCarthyism but even more importantly, so did America at large receive a reaffirmation of the dignity and freedon of the average American citizen...both military and civilian. God keep you Senators, in whose hands you hold the trust and hopes of Michigan's people and by extension all of our country's free and strong people. May the spirit of this coming day of the birth of goodness and love be with you and your loved ones now and forevermore.. Milo J. Radulovich

Sarah Nixon - 11/24/2003

Have any of you got any info? I need it for research and can't find anything? Know any good websites? Let me know plz!

Josh Greenland - 10/19/2003

"But the basic truth remains: TV is a lazy medium, and news is not great business, profit-wise, so it has been sacrificed to formulaic press-release wars and sound-bites and warm-fuzzy stories in between. This is no way to run a democracy."

It's a good way to run a polity with functioning democratic institutions if those who run the media want as few citizens using those institutions as possible.

Rod S - 10/18/2003

OK, perhaps my language was a little extreme when I said "exactly" what we are experiencing today and I agree with you about the difference between communism and terrorism... although terrorism was a real threat before September 11. Of course there are differences between the McCarthy era and today. I don't think history ever repeats itself as an exact duplication.

My main point is that we are living in a time of heightened fear and insecurity and that some people will use this fear and insecurity for their own purpose. That is certainly true for terrorists - their whole strategy is based on instilling fear into the public. Additionally, using the public's fear to promote a political agenda is also a real strategy. McCarthy did just that. And, in my humble opinion, I believe McCarthy really felt he was doing what was best for his country (along with promoting his own agenda). I mean, who can argue with fighting communism in 1950's America?

My guess is that President Bush is really doing what he feels best for the country too. But that doesn't mean he is right. And that doesn't mean he hasn't used the public's fear of terrorism to push his agenda on us.

In his own words Iraq is now the central front in the war on terror. Now, Saddam is definitely a bad man and it would be difficult to find an American to argue with that point. But there is no evidence that Saddam had anything to do with al Quaida.

President Bush and his team have made every effort to use the fear the public feels since 9/11 and they have proven time and time again that they will lie to create links with the war on terror to justify preconcieved actions.

Even if the administration's motives are entirely ethical, lying to us is not. Using our fear to push through an agenda is not.

Nemo - 10/17/2003

The satirical radio play THE INVESTIGATOR, originally broadcast on Canadian radio in May 1954, is available for downloading at:


BTW, it appears at this site with the permission of the CBC, so if you listen you are not engaging in any unlawful downloading.

Alec Lloyd - 10/16/2003

Certainly not from that post.

The extreme rhetoric about the PATRIOT Act comes from both right and left, and both do us all a disservice.

Rod S - 10/16/2003

"Unless, of course, the constant chorus of self-appointed guardians deafens our ears to the real threat, at which point no one will pay attention before it is too late."

... at least no one could possibly accuse you of "partisan-inspired hyperventilation."

Alec Lloyd - 10/16/2003

Mr. Wingrove's article makes an excellent point that shows how the PATRIOT Act doesn't really live up to the hype.

If US officers (to say nothing of government employees) had been under intense scrunity, accused of "pro-Al Qaeda" sympathies, and systematically fired, the PATRIOT hysteria might be justified.

But it isn't.

Our civil liberties are always in danger, which is why wee need to view each threat with clarity and reason, not partisan-inspired hyperventilation.

I know of no Constitutional right to library privacy (a provision that hasn't even been used), and I can easily imagine how proving that a bombing suspect had gathered extensive information on chemistry might be of material use in an investigation.

Mr. Wingrove does us a great service by reminding today's forgetful and easily-spooked civil libertarians what McCarthyism was truly like; that it consisted of more than disagreeing or even ridiculing someone's public comments.

It involved actual judicial punishment, the loss of one's job and wholesale shunning by society. It involved sanctions that (fortunately) have not been used and are unlikely to come into play.

Unless, of course, the constant chorus of self-appointed guardians deafens our ears to the real threat, at which point no one will pay attention before it is too late.

People have been crying "Wolf!" for so long, it is helpful for Mr. Wingrove to remind us what they actually look like.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/16/2003


I'm looking at the PIPA report now to see if they address the question of newspaper readership..... It looks to me like newspaper readers come out about the same as PBS/NPR listener/viewers. Frankly, the only thing that surprises me is that someone finally got down to studying the question and seems to have done a pretty solid job of analysis resulting in .... almost exactly what any undergrad with half a brain would have predicted. (I'm sorry, I just get a little bitter when I compare the amount of work I do for a publication with the work done in the survey-statistical fields, and their results are so rarely suprising to those of us who were paying attention in the first place.)

TV is just about the worst medium for news analysis in existence, and the emphasis on infotainment and scoop-like reporting and controversy-mongering just seems to get worse every year. OK, it's an old fogey line, but it would be interesting to retroactively survey some folks from the 1970s and 1950s and see how informed or uninformed they were. Not to mention comparison surveys with Japanese, British, Indians.... It would have been even more interesting if they had done a little forward thinking and included comparisons with people who get their news primarily via the Internet.

But the basic truth remains: TV is a lazy medium, and news is not great business, profit-wise, so it has been sacrificed to formulaic press-release wars and sound-bites and warm-fuzzy stories in between. This is no way to run a democracy.

Steve - 10/15/2003

I agree that there were legimate threats from communism, and that fear and paranoia paved the way for McCarthy. It is wrong to think, however, that that threat - a generalization that everyone excepted and understood - justified McCarthy's actions. He never once validated any of his claims, which only shows the wrongfulness of his tactics. While certain others may have had good intentions, I believe McCarthy only had a demagogue image of himself in the pursuit of some misguided justice.

We can use the McCarthy era as a lesson in civil liberties, but to compare that time with our present situation would be inappropriate. Communism and terrorism are not the same. Other than isolated incidents, communism never directly attacked our way of life. There was only a perceived threat, which misguided the United States into both the Korean and Vietnam wars. As cliche as it sounds, the perceived threat of terrorism became reality on September 11, 2001. Terrorists will stop at nothing to absolutely destroy our way of life, by any means necessary. There is no compromise with them.

By any means necessary the United States and its allies must counter the terrorists. The difficulty is balancing a justified war on terror and civil liberties. That is where the lessons of McCarthyism comes in. For people to say we live in an era of neo-McCarthyism, however, is to misunderstand past events with present ones.

John Tarver - 10/15/2003

Maybe I missed something in Kendall Wingrove's article about the case of Milo Radulovich, but the account fails to say just what Joe McCarthy did to get this officer fired. As far as I can tell from the Wingrove article, President Truman's and later President Eisenhower's Air Force acted perhaps in a way that McCarthy may well have approved. But let's demand something specific. If Joe called up the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of the Air Force and talked one of these gentlemen into moving against a junior officer, then let's nail him. But if this is just another yarn about the dark influence of the junior senator from Wisconsin, then let's treat it as mere counter-hype. I'm tired of these vague dark-influence stories. I'm ready for an article that answers the questions, what, when, where, how, and sometimes why?

Rod S - 10/15/2003

This is an interesting conversation... and I do appreciate your plea to keep party politics out of it. I am sure that is mostly impossible, bet let's try not to fall into the trap of demonizing either side of the aisle.

I am at work at the moment, so I do not have much time to comment. But I just came across a study that appears to be quite relevant to this topic as it addresses the public's misperceptions concerning current events (specifically the war in Iraq) and their source of news.

A Washington Post article at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A27061-2003Oct14.html reported on some of the findings, so I searched for the source material which is located here: http://www.pipa.org/.

The report addresses some of the questions you raise about the media's role. The Patriot I and II legislation is a separate but related conversation. If you want, take a look at the report, I found it quite interesting.

I will write more later when I have a little time, but I am interested in your take on the report.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/14/2003


You're right, we are very much dealing with the problem of rational vs. irrational fear right now. And that's worth talking about, in detail and with vigor.

But discussions of McCarthy have a way of going in very different directions (that's why I did the synopsis: the debate has been quite thoroughly hashed and rehashed on this website in recent weeks, months, years) having more to do with party politics than with geopolitics, and more to do with blame than wisdom. Frankly, I'm sick to death of it.

So, let's talk about how this does connect to the present, even though the article fails to address any of the issues.

Is the media playing the role of watchdog and analyst and critic or is the media building up our fear and weakening our resolve to be the best society we can be?

Is the PATRIOT Act and follow-up legislation an overreaction, and is the Bush administration more or less likely to abuse its new powers than some other leadership (this is particularly worth discussing in the light of our just-over-one-year-away presidential campaigns, not to mention the oddities of the last one)? Can we correct the clear excesses of the PATRIOT Act (e.g. the librarian gag rule) without abandoning some of its virtues (particularly the attempt to bring wiretap law into the 21st century)? Is there anything in the PATRIOT II legislation that isn't a gross violation of due process and other fundamental rights?

What haven't we done to actually protect ourselves and others that we should be doing? What is the role of foreign policy in security and what is the role of security in foreign policy?

Rod S - 10/13/2003

Thank you for the concise summation. Your question – Is there a way to reconcile these into a single historical truth - is interesting to me. More interesting because you follow it up about dealing with the present. I think there are more similarities that exist between the McCarthy era and present day than there are differences.

If I were to reconcile into one single truth, it would be that during a time of heightened fear borne out of legitimate reasons, paranoia has the potential to flourish. This paranoia can be exploited by some in power to further their agenda because the majority is willing to forgo basic civil liberties in the name of security. What might appear as well intentioned may end up undermining our fundamental beliefs.

Not sure about a red herring, but isn’t that precisely what we are dealing with today?


Jonathan Dresner - 10/13/2003

I'm not a Cold War scholar by any means, but I've read and followed the debates here as well as other places. Here'e the argument as I understand it:

McCarthy was Wrong:
Nearly every specific charge McCarthy made turned out to be groundless. Nearly every person investigated by his committee and by HUAC turned out to be innocent of anything other than diverse political opinions. Nonetheless, many of them, like Milo Radulovich, suffered real professional and personal consequences for being the subject of investigations or for being associated with the subjects of investigations. The atmosphere was hysterical and harmful to a society which prides itself on political freedom and due process rights.

McCarthy was Right:
The general charges made by McCarthy had merit: that [some] communists in government were passing information to the Soviets, that communist groups in civil life were actively supported and sometimes guided by the USSR in their political activities, and that many communists were interested in replacing capitalist democracy with a communistic alternative. Communism, particularly Stalinism, was hostile to US international interests and ultimately to the stable and legitimate process of democracy, and opposing communism vigorously and publicly was the right thing to do.

OK. Now that we've got that out of the way, can we discuss something interesting? Is there any way to reconcile these into a single historical "truth"? Is this a red herring to distract us from dealing with the present?

Rod S - 10/13/2003

It's not so clear to me, so can you present anything to support your point that most of his allegations were based on fact?

Roxman - 10/13/2003

I'm sick and tired of hearing repeatedly about Senator McCarthy's "Witch Hunt" (as though there was no truth whatever in any of his allegations). I hold no brief for the senator - he was a bombastic, egocentric alcoholic who was mainly interested in enhancing his own reputation. Having said that, his allegations should be evaluated on their truth or falsity. And to me, it's pretty clear that most of his allegations were entirely factual.