By Amy Nicholson
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Schlesinger goes on to ask about those who deplore Kazan as an informer, "Is informing unforgivable in all circumstances? Had Mr. Kazan been a member of the German-American Bund naming underground Nazis, would they have condemned him just as much? Or a former Klansman who informed on his hooded brethren? â Or a former Mafia thug who informed on the mob? Or a member of the Nixon White House who informed during Watergate? Or a whistle blower who disclosed government malfeasance?"
Of course, it is ludicrous to imagine Kazan in any of the roles Schlesinger suggests for him. His intention is to divert attention from what Kazan actually did -- collaborate with the committee in its efforts -- and what must not be forgotten is that the committee could not operate without a willing supporting cast of informers. But did Kazan's naming his former friends serve this country's interests? Did the blacklist somehow protect the nation from political contagion? Schlesinger writes, "The idea that the presence of a few Stalinists and fellow travelers in the film industry was a grave threat to the republic rates high in the annals of Congressional asininity." Still, the matter of informing remains an emotional sore spot for many.
Let's go back to that ad I mentioned, the one Kazan took out in The New York Times after he appeared before the committee (see box on opening spread). He admitted he knew of nothing wrong that had been done by any of the more than a dozen people he named in his testimony, no crime any of them had committed. He says he waited so long to tell his story out of "concern for the reputations and employment of people who may, like myself, have left the party years ago." Yet he overcame that concern.
Dalton Trumbo (my father) was blacklisted in 1947 and served nine months in prison for contempt of Congress. Forced to write scripts under aliases, he was awarded two Oscars under other men's names. He noted in a letter to a friend that there is a difference between testifying in a civil or criminal matter, and informing:
"If a man joins the Communist Party and finds treason, espionage and violence afoot, he has no choice but to report everything, including names, to the authorities, exactly as he would report a murder. He doesn't do it to get a job or to make some money or to clear himself: He does it to fulfill a legal and moral duty. He is not an informer; he is a good citizen and a patriot. But show me the man who informs on friends who have harmed no one, and who thereafter earns money he could not have earned before, and I will show you not a decent citizen, not a patriot, but a miserable scoundrel who will, if new pressures arise and the price is right, betray not just his friends but his country itself. I do not know of one Hollywood informer who acted except under duress and for money; such men are to be watched; I cannot imagine they are notwatched."
AS IT WORKS OUT IN THE WORLD WE LIVE in, these ethical differentiations tend to be highly individual. Each person must perform a private moral calculus to determine what constitutes being an informer, stool pigeon or snitch -- and how to avoid being one -- and what is required as a public act by a responsible member of the community. Seldom do any of us get confronted with such decisions, and we should be grateful that we don't.
Ultimately, we come to realize that the true problem is the committee and the blacklist, not Elia Kazan. Kazan is just another informer -- an important one, but still, just another informer, a diversion in the greater game. The Great Satan of Kazanomania is the committee. Through the committee, the people he named and the other men and women who were blacklisted were deprived of the right to work in the professions they had chosen. The loss is not only theirs, it is ours. The dramas never written, the motion pictures never directed, the roles never played -- that is our loss, that is the cultural damage, that is the triumph of politics over art. That is what the blacklist brought us, that is how it diminished us.
What the committee sought to do that is so terribly dangerous, what it succeeded in doing for more than a decade, was to establish a political standard for employment. Not just for Hollywood, but in all areas. Answer the committee's questions correctly, you work. Refuse to answer, or answer incorrectly and refuse to modify your beliefs to square with the committee's current notions, you are unemployed. And should the committee adjust its ideas as the political climate changes -- and it always changes -- you are again subject to investigation. You may well be placed in the position of recanting the ideas you adopted in order to get the job you currently have in order to keep it. When you eventually become too tired or too disgusted to continue the charade, you will end up on the blacklist. The law of the committee would be this: To dissent is to starve.
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