Discrediting the Red Scare
The Cold War Trials of James Kutcher, "The Legless Veteran"
Robert Justin Goldstein
During the Allies’ invasion of Italy in the thick of World War II, American soldier James Kutcher was hit by a German mortar shell and lost both of his legs. Back home, rehabilitated and given a job at the Veterans’ Administration, he was soon to learn that his battles were far from over. In 1948, in the throes of the post-war Red Scare, the hysteria over perceived Communist threats that marked the Cold War, the government moved to fire Kutcher because of his membership in a small, left-wing group that had once espoused revolutionary sentiments. Kutcher’s eight-year legal odyssey to clear his name and assert his First Amendment rights, described in full for the first time in this book, is at once a cautionary tale in a new period of patriotic one-upmanship, and a story of tenacious patriotism in its own right.
The son of Russian immigrants, James Kutcher came of age during the Great Depression. Robbed of his hope of attending college or finding work of any kind, he joined the Socialist Workers Party, left-wing and strongly anti-Soviet, in his hometown of Newark. When his membership in the SWP came back to haunt him at the height of the Red Scare, Kutcher took up the fight against efforts to punish people for their thoughts, ideas, speech, and associations. As a man who had fought for his country and paid a great price, had never done anything that could be construed as treasonous, held a low level clerical position utterly unconnected with national security, and was the sole support of his elderly parents, Kutcher cut an especially sympathetic figure in the drama of Cold War witch-hunts. In a series of confrontations, in what were highly publicized as the “case of the legless veteran,” the federal government tried to oust Kutcher from his menial Veterans’ Administration job, take away his World War II disability benefits, and to oust him and his family from their federally subsidized housing. Discrediting the Red Scare tells the story of his long legal struggle in the face of government persecution—that redoubled after every setback until the bitter end.
“A detailed examination of how political witch hunts can affect the individual citizen. Set in the context of the Red Scare of the late 1940s and the 1950s, it is also the story of a courageous fight waged by an ordinary man and an organization against such witch hunts. . . . Goldstein’s study serves as both a textbook case and an inspiration.”
“Goldstein’s depiction of ‘the case of the legless veteran’ is a compelling story, both about the man himself and about the constitutional abuses that ultimately discredited the Red Scare in the eyes of the nation.”
—Harvard Law ReviewSee all reviews...
“Convincing, disturbing, and impressive.”
—History News Network
“The case of James Kutcher, the “legless veteran,” is all but forgotten today, but it deserves to be a reminder of the mass hysteria that overtook the country during the Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s. Robert Goldstein’s prodigious research and careful analysis do not hide the anger that he and we should feel about this case. It is a brilliant indictment of a country that forgot what the Bill of Rights meant, as well as the story of an “ordinary man” who showed extraordinary courage.”
—Melvin I. Urofsky, author of Dissent and the Supreme Court: Its Role in the Court’s History and the Nation’s Constitutional Dialogue
“The celebrated—Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman, and J. Robert Oppenheimer—as well as ordinary librarians, teachers, and bus drivers—all suffered through the anti-communist hysteria of the Truman-McCarthy-Eisenhower years. Robert Goldstein’s well-researched and lively monograph helps to rescue two of the unsung heroes of this tragic era who stood up against the government witch-hunters: James Kutcher, the legless World War II veteran and outspoken Trotskyite, who triumphed over the loyalty machinery of the Veterans Administration, and his redoubtable lawyer, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., who made that victory possible. ”
—Michael E. Parrish, Distinguished Professor of History, Emeritus, University of California - San Diego
“James Kutcher is the odd man out in the story of radical resistance during the witch-hunt years. He wanted publicity, forthrightly defended his revolutionary Marxist convictions, and won. In an arresting account of this once famous political case, Robert Justin Goldstein skillfully propels a nearly forgotten hero back into historical memory. It is a story that transcends its context and resonates on a higher level as a rebuke to the overlooking of those who fought for the rights we cherish today.”
—Alan Wald, author of American Night: The Literary Left in the Era of the Cold War
“Few people remember James Kutcher, the World War II veteran who lost both his legs in battle and returned home to be persecuted by the American government for his political beliefs Discrediting the Red Scare is the story of Kutcher’s ten-year struggle to reclaim his name, his job, and his home. In portraying an overly zealous national security bureaucracy and a court system that initially did little to help but ultimately upheld American values, Robert Goldstein illuminates the way societal hysteria can impact individual citizens and implicitly suggests a lesson for today.”
—Philippa Strum, author of Speaking Freely: Whitney v. California and American Speech Law
“The US Government tried to take James Kutcher’s job with the Veterans Bureau, his apartment, even the disability pension earned by losing two legs on the Italian front! Against these outrages Kutcher and his allies waged and won an eight-year battle. Robert Goldstein vividly limns a tale abounding in pathos, absurdity, cruelty and low humor. This case, worthy of Kafka, was the reductio ad absurdum of America’s cold-war loyalty and security state.”
—Richard M. Fried, author of Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in PerspectiveSee fewer reviews...