American Portraits

Owen Lattimore and Integrity: A Very Interesting and Satisfying Life

In this lesson, students will review the actions of Owen Lattimore in challenging Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Accused of being the “top Russian espionage agent in America” at the height of McCarthyism, Lattimore demonstrated his sense of integrity by fighting to clear his reputation and demanding a hearing before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He boldly challenged the lies that Senator Joseph McCarthy and others told about him. Students will achieve the following objectives.

Founding Principles

Due Process image

Due Process

The government must interact with all citizens according to the duly-enacted laws; applying these rules equally among all citizens.

Inalienable / Natural Rights image

Inalienable / Natural Rights

Freedoms which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.

Limited Government image

Limited Government

Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.

Rule of Law image

Rule of Law

Government and citizens all abide by the same laws regardless of political power. Those laws respect individual rights, are transparently enacted, are justly applied, and are stable.

Narrative

Born in 1900 in the United States, Lattimore spent his childhood in China, where his father taught French, German, and Spanish. Educated in England and Switzerland, Owen Lattimore was a journalist and businessman who traveled widely in China during the 1920s and 1930s, becoming fluent in the Chinese, Mongolian, and Russian languages. He was an expert observer of Chinese culture and politics who served as a special representative to the government of Chiang Kai-shek during World War II and later worked in the Office of War Information. During this period, Lattimore became convinced that Chiang Kai-shek was a corrupt dictator. The United States unofficially supported Chiang Kai-shek’s government during the Chinese civil war, but the communist Mao Zedong won that conflict in 1949. Lattimore wrote articles explaining that it was unwise for the U.S. to take the position that the “real” government of China was the Nationalist party government led by Chiang when Mao’s government held sway over the most populous country in the world, with a population of more than half a billion….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

What is the value of integrity in times of crisis and difficulty?

Virtue Defined

Integrity is personal consistency in moral goodness.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will review the actions of Owen Lattimore in challenging Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Accused of being the “top Russian espionage agent in America” at the height of McCarthyism, Lattimore demonstrated his sense of integrity by fighting to clear his reputation and demanding a hearing before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He boldly challenged the lies that Senator Joseph McCarthy and others told about him. Students will achieve the following objectives.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze Owen Lattimore’s character as a scholar and independent thinker and his bold actions in challenging Joseph McCarthy at the height of a red scare.
  • Students will examine Lattimore’s demonstration of integrity and commitment to truth.
  • Students will understand why integrity is an essential virtue in their own lives.
  • Students will act with integrity to protect freedom, even when their beliefs are unpopular.

Background

Following World War II, American foreign policy turned intensely against communism. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union vied for influence around the world. By 1950, the communists appeared to be winning. Soviet puppet governments had been established throughout Eastern Europe. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had imposed a blockade of West Berlin. In 1949, the Communist faction won China’s civil war, and the Soviets tested their first atomic bomb. In June 1950, the communist government of North Korea ordered an invasion of South Korea. Senator Joseph McCarthy had an explanation for all of these setbacks of U.S. foreign policy goals: communists had infiltrated the U.S. State Department and were carrying out their plans to advance their ideology around the world. McCarthy fueled a Red Scare, the wave of anti-communist hysteria that ensued.

Democratic and Republican candidates for public office throughout the U.S. competed with one another to establish their anti-communist credentials. Beginning in 1947, President Truman and both houses of Congress established investigative procedures to identify individuals who had past or current involvement in any “totalitarian, fascist, communist, or subversive” organization.

In the inquisition-like hearings, a person accused of such association could consult an attorney and present witnesses and documents in his favor, but had no right to challenge his or her accusers or even know who they were. As anti-communist fervor swept the country, people became hyper-vigilant and eager to inform on their neighbors and co-workers, leading to “evidence” of disloyalty built in many cases on unsubstantiated hearsay, mistaken identity, or an old grudge. All these investigations uncovered only a few federal employees whose loyalty could reasonably be questioned and led to no evidence of espionage or subversion. Meanwhile, rumors of communist affiliation destroyed the reputations of thousands of people.

These events set the stage for Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade. In a Wheeling, West Virginia speech on February 9, 1950, he waved a piece of paper and claimed that he had a list of 205 known members of the Communist Party who worked in the State Department. Over time, McCarthy’s numbers changed as he made vague accusations of subversion at the highest levels. Such serious charges led the Senate immediately to begin an investigation, and McCarthy promised to provide detailed information supporting his allegations. For hours on the floor of the U.S. Senate, McCarthy conducted a bluffing, rambling harangue. Finally, challenged to provide proof about even a single disloyal individual, McCarthy named Owen Lattimore, a Far East scholar and professor at Johns Hopkins University who wrote about issues in Asia. McCarthy called him “the top Russian espionage agent in America.”

Vocabulary

  • Red Scare
  • Subversive
  • Inquisition
  • Fervor
  • Unsubstantiated
  • Espionage
  • Affiliation
  • Allegations
  • Harangue
  • Fluent
  • Leverage
  • Nefarious
  • Repudiate
  • Fraudulent
  • Perjury

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Integrity may be defined as the power and capacity that we use to adhere to the truth of things, to what is right and good. In what ways did Owen Lattimore demonstrate integrity to enhance life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for himself and others?
  • Having lived and traveled in China for about 25 years, Owen Lattimore knew that he had a clearer understanding of Chinese culture and government than was possible for most people who were crafting U.S. foreign policy. What did he understand his identity to be and how did that affect his contribution to post-war America?
  • What did Owen Lattimore understand his purpose to be in the events of the 1940s and 1950s?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Kutler, Stanley I. The American Inquisition: Justice and Injustice in the Cold War. New York: Hill and Wang. 1982
  • Pace, Eric. “Owen Lattimore, Far East Scholar Accused by McCarthy, Dies at 88,” The New York Times, June 1, 1989.
  • Simpson, Joanne Cavanaugh. “Seeing Red,” Johns Hopkins Magazine, September 2000. http://pages.jh.edu/~jhumag/0900web/red.html
  • Stone, Geoffrey R. Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004.

 

Lesson Image: © GaHetNa / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

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