Dalton Trumbo, the screenwriter of such varied films as Roman Holiday, Spartacus, and Johnny Got His Gun, was one of the Hollywood Ten, a group of writers and directors blacklisted in 1947 for refusing to testify at the McCarthy hearings. I recently watched a documentary about him, Trumbo, which is available on Netflix streaming. When I heard the following passage on why he refused to name names in McCarthy’s witch hunt, I knew I had to track down a transcript:
I’ve delivered newspapers, reported for newspapers, peddled vegetables, clerked in stores, waited on tables, washed automobiles, picked fruit, hosed down infected cadavers, shoveled sugar beets, iced refrigerator cars, laid rails with a section gang, and served an eight-year hitch on the night shift of a large industrial plant.
I’ve looked at many American faces. I’ve seen them as flak burst around them nine thousand feet over Japan; in a slit trench on Okinawa watching the night sky to see where the next bomb would fall; in an assault boat as they moved toward a beach that tossed more violently than the surf through which they rode.
I’ve counseled with a paroled prostitute on how she might escape the clutches of a policeman who had caught her and was stealing half her earnings and sending his friends to her with courtesy cards that entitled them to take her without pay. I’ve also counseled with Secretary of the Air Force Tom Finletter on how the secretary of state might better explain his policies to a perplexed people. I’ve been asked by Louis B. Mayer why I had no religion, and by a ranking member of the State Department how I could bring myself to work with “all those Hollywood Jews.”
I’ve seen American faces in a miners’ union hall in Duluth on a night when the wind off the lake blew the snow so killingly and so deep that cars couldn’t be used and everybody walked to the meeting. I’ve seen their faces in the banquet room of a New York hotel when the American Booksellers’ Association gave me a National Book Award; and I’ve seen them again in a jury box as each of them twice said, “Guilty as charged,” and one of them wept as she said it.
I’ve been stripped by Americans and paraded naked with them and before them and obediently bent over on command to present my anus for contraband clearance. I’ve lived with and trusted and been trusted by car thieves and abortionists and moonshiners and embezzlers and burglars and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Quakers.
I’ve stood on a gray day in the Fifth Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima and looked off at the graves of 2,198 Americans. In the center of all those graves on a slim white pole on a concrete pedestal flew the American flag. And I swear it was not the flag of informers. And if I could take a census of all the American faces I have seen and of all the dead whose graves I have looked on, if I could ask them one simple question: “Would you like a man who told on his friend?” – there would not be one among them who would answer, “Yes.”
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.