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DISLOYAL: American Nightmare--A Son's Memoir by Carl Bernstein Kirkus Star

DISLOYAL: American Nightmare--A Son's Memoir

By Carl Bernstein

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1989
ISBN: 671-64942-6
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

An effective and affecting evocation of a Kafkaesque period in US history, which caused more lasting harm than the better-remembered but shorter-lived McCarthy era. Responding to sociopolitical imperatives, President Truman signed Executive Order 9835 in March 1947. Among other things, it provided for the establishment of boards to pass on the loyalty of government employees. Journalist Bernstein's parents were caught up in the resultant witch hunts. As an official of a public workers' union, his father (an admitted leftist and sometime member of the Communist Party) defended individuals cited as traitors (by anonymous accusers) in quasi-judicial proceedings. Eventually branded a subversive, he was hounded from the labor movement and became "a reluctant capitalist," i.e., the proprietor of a neighborhood laundry in Washington, D.C. The author's mother, who had been active in progressive causes, was hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1954. All told, Executive Order 9835 drove at least 8,000 rank-and-filers from government in the seven years through 1954. Though disused from that point on, it was not rescinded until 1974 in the wake of Watergate, which, of course, enabled Bernstein to make a name for himself as an investigative reporter. Born in 1944, three months before his father went overseas with the WW II Army Air Force, the author (with almost as much exasperation as fondness) recalls childhood in a household whose ultraliberal adults were likely to take him on lunch-counter sit-ins or marches to protest the executions of the Rosenbergs. He also explores his latter-day relations with his parents, who (though shunned by many erstwhile friends) picked up the pieces and got on with their lives--dad as a fund-raiser for the National Conference of Christians & Jews, and mom as a saleswoman at a carriage-trade department store. Both parents discouraged Bernstein's inquiries (which consumed well over a decade) on grounds that a book would open old wounds and serve no particularly useful purpose. But Bernstein persevered nonetheless. While self-indulgent and disjointed in certain respects, the result of his devotion presents a moving and human record of activists who (though casualties of an American Inquisition) showed considerable grace under intolerable pressure.