Joshua vs. Senator Joe McCarthy

Washington, D.C., 1953 

            A silent, unsmiling man showed Joshua through a door and shut it behind him. The gray room was empty except for a large metal table, an empty chair, and three men sitting gravely on the opposite side. Joshua had sat on the other side of the table too often not to know this was a trial.

            “Please have a seat,” the man in the center said coolly. Joshua felt his distrust and dislike rising in equal measure. These were not men who could be charmed. For that matter, they didn’t look entirely reasonable. Joshua had a sneaking suspicion they were there to flex their muscles and prove how powerful they were, and if there was one thing that irked him to no end, it was people in power who bullied those who weren’t. Worse, they didn’t have the clout over him that they thought they did, which made them arrogant on top of everything else.

            Joshua sat down and the man in the middle looked down at the papers in front of him. “You’re Isaac ben Samuel?” He looked up. “A Jew?”

            “No, I’m Joshua Cohen. But I am a Jew… not that I see that it’s any business of yours,” he said, his own voice as cold and unfriendly as his inquisitor’s.

            “Everything is my business, Mr. Cohen.”

            “I was under the impression that America was a free country and that people were not to be brought to trial without adequate evidence. Or, so it says in your Constitution. I’ve heard you play fast and loose with it, Mr. McCarthy.”

            “Sometimes we have to go around the Constitution in order to preserve it. And besides, this isn’t a trial, Mr. Cohen.”

            “Bullshit. I am myself a judge, and I know what a trial looks like when I see it.”

            The man on the right spoke up. “I thought we were supposed to be talking to this Isaac person?”

            “I am Isaac’s superior,” Joshua answered quickly. “You don’t talk to him; you talk to me.”

            “We’ll talk to whomever we need to talk to,” McCarthy replied, his voice dropping several degrees.

            Joshua leaned over the table. “No, you will not. I speak for all of my people—every last one of them. You will come to terms with me, or none of us.”

            McCarthy leaned back in his chair. “I don’t like your tone, Mr. Cohen. Maybe we don’t need your kind in America.”

            “That’s not what you were singing in 1942. Your government specifically approached me about using my people for your Manhattan Project.”

            “Jesus, this is classified,” the man on the left said. “This is not up for discussion.”

            “Like hell it isn’t,” Joshua said angrily. “You wanted us to help you win the War, and we did. One of mine even died in Tennessee at an accident in your facility—not that the government ever acknowledged that—not even so much as a ‘we’re sorry’ letter to his widow—who was the one that had to dig his body out of the rubble. Luckily we take care of our own, so she doesn’t need to depend on your government for support, but an acknowledgement of his sacrifice—and hers—would have been appreciated. It would have been the humane thing to do,” Joshua said, emphasizing the irony of the word.

            “Are you telling me what to do, Mr. Cohen?”

            “No, I’m telling you what your government ought to have done.”

            The man on the right cleared his throat. “This isn’t why we’re here, is it, gentlemen?”

            “I don’t know what I’m here,” Joshua snapped, “but I want to find out.”

            “You’re here,” McCarthy replied, “because we’re interested in finding out where your loyalty lies. Or rather, where the loyalty of your people in America lies. Are you currently living in America, Mr. Cohen?”

            “No, I’m not. I’ve never lived here.”

            “Where do you live?”

            “None of your business.”

            “What about your people living in America?” the man on the right hastily interrupted. “Are they loyal American citizens?”

            “They are.”

            “Every one of them?” McCarthy asked, staring at Joshua as if he would bore a hole through him.

            “Yes,” Joshua said, meeting his gaze with the same intensity. “By our own rules, our people are not allowed to flagrantly violate the laws of their country of residence. They’re not allowed to cause trouble or otherwise draw attention to themselves. We live peacefully in the background wherever we are.”

            “This isn’t about living peacefully in the background. This is about loyalty.”

            “Do you question the loyalty of men and women who served your country? Your own veterans?”

            “I question the loyalty of everyone. Washington may not have said we’re at war, but we are. We’re at war against communism. Against the Russians and the rest of them. And when you’re in a state of war, everything’s suspect. Because all that matters is winning the war.”

            Joshua leaned back in his chair. “I pity you.”

            McCarthy looked surprised. “You pity me?”

            “Yes, I do. It’s no kind of life to live, always doubting everyone, always suspicious. Our culture puts a great emphasis on trust. And people who demonstrate their loyalty to us are never questioned. Our trust is what they get in return for their sacrifice. What do you give your veterans in return for their sacrifice?” Joshua asked, perking his brow.

            “What we do and don’t do isn’t up for discussion here, Mr. Cohen.”

            “Ah, I see. You are putting my people on trial for crimes which they have not committed, but you're not willing to answer for your own questionable practices.”

            McCarthy jumped up out of his chair, slamming his hands on the table. “How dare you talk to me like that! I can have you and every one of your vampires,” he hissed the word, “put out of this country! Or should we just sharpen up some stakes and get out the garlic?”

            Joshua stood up and brought his face close to the other man’s. “You,” he said slowly and carefully, “are an idiot.”

            McCarthy looked shocked, as if no one had ever dared say such a thing to him.

            “And do you know how I know you’re an idiot?” Joshua continued, his voice low and angry. “For one thing, you clearly haven’t read up on us, or you wouldn’t threaten us with ridiculous fictional mumbo-jumbo. Of course, if you had done your homework before trying to call one of my people in here, you’d know better than to try and threaten us at all.”

            Before McCarthy could reply, Joshua glanced at the man on his left, and then to the one on his right. Both men stood up and began wandering around the room, clucking and pretending to be chickens.

            Joshua sat back down and glared up at McCarthy. “Do you like chickens, Mr. McCarthy, or would you rather your colleagues impersonated some other farm animal? A cow perhaps?”

            One of the men began lumbering around the room slowly, mooing plaintively; the other one continued to cluck and scratch at the floor with his feet.

            McCarthy stood frozen, silent, his eyes wide in shock and fear.

            Joshua knew he finally had his full attention, and he decided to toy with him to make his point. He leaned on the table again, looking up at McCarthy. “Or maybe you’d prefer something you know better?” The man pretending to be a chicken suddenly began striding around the room, speaking Russian and gesturing angrily.

            Joshua looked the terrified McCarthy directly in the eyes. “I can make even you look like a Russian agent, Mr. McCarthy. I can make you confess to doing things the Russians can only dream of actually accomplishing. Not only that, but every one of my people has the exact same ability. And I’m going to put them on notice that if they have problems with your government, they have the right to use any means necessary to defend themselves. Do I make myself absolutely clear, Mr. McCarthy?”

            He slowly nodded. “Yes,” he said quietly.

            “Good,” Joshua said, standing up. The two other men walked quietly back to the table and sat down, as if nothing had happened.

            Joshua started for the door, then turned back to look at McCarthy, who was still standing there in shock. “Maybe you should appreciate the fact that we prefer to live peacefully in the background, Mr. McCarthy. I actually consider it pretty loyal of us that we haven’t taken over, wouldn’t you agree?” Then he opened the door and quietly left. 


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Background for the website and the header is from Lilium medicinae by Bernardus de Gordonio, translated into Hebrew by Moses ben Shmaya de Castro in Escalona, Spain, January 11, 1466. The original manuscript is housed at the Bridwell Library at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. The female figure in the header is from the Manesse Codex, which is housed at the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg in Heidelberg, Germany.