A Man of Integrity and Policy Critic
As a man of integrity, Barmine did not approve of Senator McCarthy’s tactics and his false and exaggerated accusations, which in the end, helped the Soviet Union to hide some of its subversive activities in the United States. He did, however, agree with Senator McCarthy in his criticism of Reed Harris, who ordered the termination of VOA Hebrew broadcasts, and W. Bradley Connors, who was Assistant Administrator for Policy and Plans at the International Information Administration in the State Department:
The CHAIRMAN. ... Let me ask you one other question before you leave. What would you think about the wisdom of having for the Policy Director for the entire Information program a man, Brad Connors, who says: “I never read a single book about the Communist movement. I know nothing about their tactics. I have never read about their objectives. I could not define the objectives and strategy of the Communist Party”? Do you think he would be the ideal man to act as your Policy Director to determine what the policy should be in fighting international communism? Mr. BARMINE. I think it was shocking, Senator, to hear that.
Eugene Kern, a Voice of America radio engineer and announcer hired during World War II who continued working for VOA after the war, said in a Foreign Affairs Oral History interview in 1986 sponsored by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) that Barmine was called in before the McCarthy subcommittee “because he was after all a former Soviet general.” The interview was conducted by a former VOA program manager, Claude “Cliff” Groce. Kern told Groce:
Barmine was called by McCarthy — he was very anti-Communist, Lord only knows, but he was not dishonest. He had integrity. ... Many of the others had no integrity at all. I don’t know what his testimony was, but I’ll tell you some of the roles he played, which were very positive. He helped a great deal to keep it from going completely haywire.1
While not critical of Barmine’s role in the McCarthy hearings, the introduction to the interviews states that they offer “a glimpse of … the McCarthy period, with the rise of the sarcastically labeled ‘Loyal American Underground’ — a group of disgruntled and in some cases, convinced right-wing zealot employees at the Voice who reported clandestinely to McCarthy operatives, fingering certain VOA colleagues as alleged left-wingers deserving dismissal from Federal Service.” Groce, who conducted the interviews in 1986, had been transferred earlier from his VOA position by new officials appointed by the Reagan Administration. They put an end to unwritten restrictions limiting criticism of the Soviet Union and exposing Stalin’s crimes, such as the 1940 NKVD Katyn Forest massacre of over 22,000 Polish military officers, government officials, and members of the cultural elite. In the early 1950s, the Truman administration had removed these restrictions before Senator McCarthy launched his investigations. They were slowly reintroduced during Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford administrations to avoid undermining the policy of detente with the Soviet Union. They continued under the Carter administration.
Cliff Groce, who was interviewed in 1988 for the same Foreign Policy Oral History project, shared an amusing story about Alexander Barmine. However, Alexander Frenkley, Barmine’s deputy in the Russian Branch, had some doubts whether the was entirely true.
GROCE: Certainly Barmine, you mentioned. One of my favorite stories about Barmine--he would sit in the morning meeting, the 9:30 meeting, with The New York Times up in front of his face, and the leadership of the Voice across the raised platform, just ignoring them until they said something that he didn't agree with, and he'd put the paper down and say, "Nonsense!" or "Ridiculous!" [Laughter] 2
There is not enough support for the charge that the McCarthy subcommittee’s staff relied on “disgruntled” and “right-wing zealot” Voice of America employees for substantive information. Barmine was not a disgruntled employee or a right-wing zealot, although he was conservative and most likely a Republican. Neither the chief of the VOA Hebrew Service, Dr. Sidney Glazer, nor the acting chief of the Near East, South Asia, and African Division of the Voice of America, Gerald Dooher, could be described as being right-wing. They were almost undoubtedly liberal Democrats.
- The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project Information Series, Eugene Kern and Edward Goldberger, Interviewed by: Claude “Cliff” Groce Initial interview date: December 12, 1986, https://www.adst.org/OH%20TOCs/Kern,%20Eugene.toc.pdf.
- The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project Information Series, Claude "Cliff" Groce, Interviewed by: Jack O'Brien Initial interview date: February 8, 1988, https://www.adst.org/OH%20TOCs/Groce,%20Claude.toc.pdf.