The "Free Speech Hero" Who Wasn't
As a senior member of the Communist Party in Hollywood, Trumbo was a member of the committee which enforced ideological discipline on Party members. Take, for example, the case of Albert Maltz.
Trumbo was part of the Party's inquisition against the screenwriter Albert Maltz in 1946, for Maltz's published statement that artists should be free to say what they feel, and that literature should be judged by its human and humane quality, not the politics of its author. Trumbo and his fellow communists browbeat Maltz for publishing this heresy, until Maltz finally issued a humiliating public recantation. Maltz, who also later was brought before HUAC (and went to jail for refusing to testify), told Gerda Lerner that his appearance before HUAC in 1947 was simply nothing compared to the real and psychologically-destructive trauma of his criticism/self-criticism sessions before the Communist Party in 1946.
Yeah, that's right -- saying the wrong thing resulted in Maltz being subject to discipline for daring to engage in free speech, led by a supposed defender of freedom of speech. Ideological purity was to be the standard by which "art" was judged, not its quality. And failure to toe the party line would become grounds for persecution.
But then again, this man who would later denounce people who "named names" to the FBI or HUAC was a government informant against those who differed with his politics. His great work, Johnny Got His Gun, was strongly anti-war at a time when the CPUSA insisted that the US should not join England and France in fighting Stalin's ally, Hitler. Once the pact broke down and the CPUSA line (dictated by Moscow) became one of support for an "anti-fascist war", Trumbo sought to suppress his own book. When people opposed to the war contacted Trumbo seeking copies of the book, Trumbo took action.
"Johnny Got His Gun" became a big hit with right-wing isolationists, as well as sincere pacifists, after Dec. 7, 1941 and the entry of the USA into the world war. A number of such people--some real fascists and anti-Semites, who saw the war as a plot perpetrated by Jews, but also some sincere isolationists and pacifists--wrote to Trumbo between 1941 and 1944, asking where they could buy copies of his book.
In 1944, Trumbo voluntarily invited FBI agents to his house, showed them the letters he had received, and turned those letters over to the FBI. And not only did he "name names." He followed up the invited FBI visit with a letter to the Bureau, urging that the people who had written him asking for copies of his book be dealt with. Trumbo was acting here in conformity with then-current CPUSA policy, which was--since the Soviet Union was under attack--to denounce to the U.S. government anyone who opposed the war. Needless to say, Trumbo did not notify the people whose names he had named to the FBI of what he had done; nor did he tell them that the FBI was now in possession of their letters to him (The information on this unlovely incident can be found in Dalton Trumbo, ed., "Additional Dialogue: Letters of Dalton Trumbo, 1942-1962" (New York, 1970), pp. 26-31).
Thus, even before he was ever called before HUAC to testify truthfully about the attempts by a foreign power to impose ideological conformity on one of the major forms of mass media in the United States, Trumbo was already a government informer against those with whom he differed politically -- a "rat", to use his description of those who spoke freely to HUAC and the FBI about Communists. Ironically, when the great historian and social commentator Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. stated in 1949 that he believed that Trumbo did not support freedom of speech for all (including those on the right with whom he disagreed), but only for those whose speech conformed with Trumbo's communist view, Trumbo denounced him as a fascist. His letter to "The Saturday Review of Books" responding to Schlesinger included the following statement.
"I deny the right of any agent of government to call American citizens to account for their political affiliations or sympathies."
However, Trumbo was already a party to doing the exact same thing five years previously when he contacted the FBI to initiate investigations designed "to call American citizens to account for their political affiliations or sympathies."
I cannot help but notice that the slinging of the term "fascist" against political opponents and the demand that certain conservative political positions be investigated and banned is still a part of the Left's ideology today. Political freedom should not extend to those on the Right, as their views are oppressive while those of the Left are liberating. That Trumbo and others of his ilk, pawns of a foreign power that sought to undermine American freedom through its puppet political party, are today seen as heroes by the Left proves the Left's historical ignorance, their political cluelessness, and their ideological bankruptcy. The true heroes of the era are those who fought against the communist influence in Hollywood -- Reagan, Wyman, Kazan, and many others -- in the face of a political machine which was hostile to American values.