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Naming Names by Victor S. Navasky

Naming Names (1980)

by Victor S. Navasky

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I read this (original edition, not the one updated to 2001) as a follow-up to a viewing of the movie Trumbo. Neither would really qualify as "a history of the blacklist;" the movie tries to give some political background to what is essentially a bio-pic, while Navasky's book is an exploration, it strikes me, of Dalton Trumbo's assertion that the HUAC hearings and the Blacklist produced "only victims." He does this by recording and analysing many individual stories and attempting a kind of moral parsing. The conclusions he reaches could no doubt have been summarised in a more succinct volume. Reading Naming Names today requires wading through many accounts of forgotten writers of forgotten movies. But the record preserved here is valuable. Navasky interviewed as many participants, those who co-operated with HUAC and those who did not, as he could find, and tracked down press statements and hearing transcripts with which to compare their statements, in many instances. Most of these people are now dead, I would imagine, and thus the book preserves something that cannot be replaced by retrospective historians. Unlike previous reviewer BirdBrian I found Navasky's style quite engaging. He treats everyone with humanity and respect without losing sight of the necessity to find a consistent moral stand on the issues raised.
  booksaplenty1949 | Jan 9, 2016 |
The first edition appeared in the early 1980's, but Navasky has updated this version to post 2001. This is an exhaustively researched history and analysis of the Hollywood "show" hearings of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee of the late 1940's and 1950's. His exploration was timely as most of those who were involved in, or impacted by, the witch hunts were still living and enough time had passed to open up their willingness to talk

Navasky explores the motivations of those who informed and those who refused to "name names". His insights are deeply informed from political, cultural, psychological and philosophical perspectives. He is generally critical of those who told on others, but he digs deep into the rationales of people who informed or withheld. He discusses the morality of, and devastating practical consequences of, the "black lists" that emerged from the revelations of who had been a communist decades earlier, or who refused to cooperate with the committee. He touches on the strategies -- legal and public relations -- employed by those compelled to testify.

Navasky correctly does not draw parallels too closely to Stalin's show trials whose results saw thousands executed or imprisoned; in America only a few were sent to prison and more lost their livelihoods. Nonetheless, he paints a picture of an ugly time in our history. Navasky doesn't delve deeply into the committee itself and the political purposes that underlay its activities. This is not his intended focus, but the implications of this bald effort to gain political advantage is clear. ( )
  stevesmits | Dec 22, 2015 |

Thank God for signs like this, reminding citizens to inform local law enforcement whenever they spot the distinctive driving habits of an Al Quaeda operative.

Think that keeps you safe? Well, things are about to get a lot safer! Through the wonders of modern technology, the day is coming soon when you will get your terrorism activity updates directly from the Dept of Homeland Security, as you stand in the checkout line at WalMart. It's the new "If you see something, say something" program, that teaches us all to spy on our fellow citizens for fun and profit! This is a program that comes up again and again in dystopias, both real (the Third Reich) and imagined (Orwell's "1984"): governments getting citizens to spy on each other. If you are a budding Orwellian dictator, you can't miss out on this multi-purpose program! Consider the benefits: 1) Manpower Governance over large modern states is perforce rule of the few over the many. These are relative terms; we have a nation of over 300 million, of which about five million are direct federal government employees. The point is that there aren't enough people in government to spy on the entire citizenry. They need our help. And with the right stick and carrot, they often get it.

2) Divide and Conquer: When neighbor can no longer trust neighbor, communal bonds are broken. Without citizen solidarity, how can the population stand up for their rights, and resist the abuses of a police state?

3) Your patriotic duty: Getting the population whipped up into a paranoid frenzy about external threats is great for morale! It is the "Political function of war" described in The Report From Iron Mountain. No police state should be without a good foreign enemy.

Devil's Advocate: What's wrong with reporting suspicious activity? Isn't that a good thing?

Answer: Do you really think any terrorists have been caught because of that highway sign? Do you actually believe that if anybody ever saw something genuinely suspicious going on, they wouldn't know enough to just dial 911 and tell the police? This is all just a propaganda campaign, training us to fear every stranger as a potential boogieman ('specially the forn lookin' ones!), and to accept the government as our savior.

Naming Names is about the witchhunt for Communists- imagined to be lurking in every corner- during the age of Senator Joe McCarthy. To route out the Red Menace, citizens were called to testify on the Marxist leanings of friends and aquaintences to the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC). Having once attended a trade union demonstration twenty-five years earlier was freqently accepted as proof that somebody was as good as a Soviet spy. Hollywood insiders were in particular targeted, even coerced, into turning in friends and family for real or imagined Leninist transgressions. The book focuses on a few real-life cases (e.g. "Spartacus" screenwriter Dalton Trumbo) of innocent people whose careers were derailed, and some whose lives were literally ruined by the McCarthy "blacklist". For those who caved in and produced names for HUAC, employment continued but often they were scorned by the Hollywood community long after McCarthyism died away. A few outspoken critics of the HUAC, like Humphrey Bogart, stood strong and became a source of inspiration. Navasky does a good job contrasting how both sides lived afterwards with their choices. The scars of this era likely have something to do with why Hollywood tends to have such liberal leanings today. The substance of the book may deserve better, but three stars for the lifeless writing style.

-Good Luck!

ADDENDUM: This just in...

This just in on 27 December 2010
  BirdBrian | Apr 6, 2013 |
A riveting history of the blacklist, and a clear-eyed yet compassionate portrayal of those who informed against their colleagues. ( )
  CasualFriday | Feb 4, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0809001837, Paperback)

With a New Afterword by the Author

“An astonishing work concerning personal honor and dishonor, shame and shamelessness. A book of stunning insights and suspense.” —Studs Terkel

Half a century later, the investigation of Hollywood radicals by the House Committee on Un-American Activities still haunts the public conscience. Naming Names, reissued here with a new afterword by the author, is the definitive account of the hearings, a National Book Award winner widely hailed as a classic. Victor S. Navasky adroitly dissects the motivations for the investigation and offers a poignant analysis of its consequences. Focusing on the movie-studio workers who avoided blacklists only by naming names at the hearings, he explores the terrifying dilemmas of those who informed and the tragedies of those who were informed on. Drawing on interviews with more than 150 people called to testify—among them Elia Kazan, Ring Lardner Jr., and Arthur Miller—Naming Names presents a compelling portrait of how the blacklists operated with such chilling efficiency.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:29 -0400)

The subject is cold-war Hollywood, but Mr. Navasky goes far beyond that small town and brings the subject right up to the present.

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