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Raising Cain – Excerpt


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ON NOVEMBER 12, 1940, during the dark days of the London Blitz, Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke in the House of Commons, delivering a powerful eulogy to the memory of his political adversary, Neville Chamberlain, who had died three days earlier of cancer. “History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. What is the worth of all this? The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions.” Churchill was speaking of Chamberlain, but his comments applied equally to himself. His observations also applied to another controversial politician half a world away who, like Churchill, experienced both the highs and lows of public life during his career but survived them to provide an invaluable service at a crucial time in his nation’s history.

Most Americans have probably never heard of Harry Pulliam Cain. Even for those who have, he is, today, little more than a footnote on the pages of Washington State history—a colorful, complicated, and controversial man whose public career spanned four decades of the mid-twentieth century and whose actions helped change the course of civil liberties in America.

Cain was a progressive mayor, a highly decorated army officer, U.S. Senator, member of the Subversive Activities Control Board during the Eisenhower Administration, a commercial banker, community leader, and civil libertarian. In the ultimate controversy of his career, Cain defied both his party and his president to protect the freedom of thousands of Americans during the post-war Red Scare.

Regardless of where he was or what he was doing, Harry Cain was likely to be at the center of whatever was going on around him. For nearly forty years in public life, he offered his leadership, contributed his time and effort, and participated in the public debate. Indeed, he was often responsible for creating the debate in which he participated. Some part of this was just in the nature of the man. More often, it was the result of his evolving politics and viewpoints. Cain admitted as much when he once told a reporter, “From time to time and for different reasons, [I have] been a conservative, a militant, a liberal, a moderate, a purist, a radical, and now and again, a populist . . . who has simply done the best I could when confronted with situations demanding action.”

During the 1940s and 1950s, Cain’s career had blazed across the public sky like a spectacular shooting star. But having at one time or another infuriated both of America’s major political parties, Cain spent the final twenty-three years of his life in Florida where most of his many accomplishments there remained unnoticed by the rest of the country. Even before his death in 1979, the nation had largely forgotten about Harry Cain. America was moving on to embrace new leaders and new issues. The country’s focus on internal security—arguably the most important legacy of Cain’s public service—changed in its emphasis. While the threat of subversion remained, in the public’s mind, it became a sub-plot in the larger, worldwide conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union as they battled for dominance over the rest of the world. In the aftermath of the Cold War, scholars of the period reassessed the legacy of the post-war Red Scare and, in doing so, rediscovered Harry Cain.

The period of the “Second Red Scare,” also commonly, if too broadly, known as the McCarthy era, was not the first time that Americans like Harry Cain have had to confront the fine balance between protecting the internal security of the nation and defending the civil liberties of its citizens, and unfortunately, it will not be the last. The issue has been with us since the founding of our Republic and remains with us today. It is not hard to substitute today’s “War on Terror” for the “Red Scare” of Cain’s time. Cain spoke knowingly of these concerns when he noted, “We can be safe and free at one and the same time, but it is possible to become so safe that nobody can be free.” Cain knew what he was talking about. He had seen the internal fear and repression of Nazi Germany first hand. Cain understood that the United States, in its short history, had not only tried but could certainly succeed in making itself much safer, but that would mean many more restrictions on the freedoms of its citizens.

Introduction, Page 3-5
Raising Cain: The Life and Politics of Harry P. Cain