Sunday, May 13, 2007

Chronicle of an era's hypocrisy

I don't know how I missed this book for review attention but this morning, when I saw its reviews in two dailies, I was majorly disappointed for not having asked for a review copy. The book is Fellow Travelers by Thomas Mallon (Pantheon, 354 pages, $25). Here are the two reviews:

Life's pain, joys infuse Mallon's story of the Red-baiting '50s

History gives 'Travelers' real intrigue

This is from Colette Bancroft's review in SP Times:

Fresh out of college and brimming with idealism, Tim Laughlin comes to the nation's capital ready to join the Cold War. Devoutly Catholic and anticommunist, Tim is also agonizingly, given the times gay, although he's still a virgin.

Not for long. He takes one look at Hawkins Fuller, a charismatic, cynical State Department official, and falls helplessly in love.

Hawk, as the moony Tim is soon calling him, gets the younger man a fascinating job on the staff of a senator. Their relationship may be a love affair to Tim, but Hawk is clearly in it for the sex and, perhaps more important, the secrets Tim can gather.

Tim's job immerses him in the drama of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's notorious vendetta, which targeted gays in the government as well as communists. As Hawk says of one of McCarthy's victims, "What's his problem? Pink or lavender?" There is bitter hypocrisy at the heart of that attack – McCarthy's chief attack dog, lawyer Roy Cohn, is widely rumored to be gay himself.

If you are interested in running a background check on the real personalities involved, here are the links:

Thomas Mallon: Writer (pictured)
Joseph McCarthy: Anti-communist hawk
Roy Cohn: McCarthy supporter
Gerard Schine: Cohn's lover and rabid anti-communist

Cohn and McCarthy targeted many government officials and cultural figures not only for suspected Communist sympathies but also for alleged homosexual tendencies, sometimes using sexual secrets as a blackmail tool to gain informants. The men whose homosexuality Cohn exposed often lost jobs, families, and homes: some committed suicide. It is said that when Cohn learned that one of his victims had killed himself, Cohn celebrated with a bottle of champagne.

In 1984, Cohn was diagnosed with AIDS, and he attempted to keep his condition secret while receiving aggressive drug treatment. He participated in clinical trials of new drugs, but reportedly persuaded the researchers to keep him out of the control group, which received inert substances rather than the experimental drug. He insisted to his dying day that his disease was liver cancer.

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