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Naming Names by Victor S. Navasky

Naming Names (1980)

by Victor S. Navasky

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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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