an exercise in miscellany

Operation Abolition & Operation Correction

In operations and projects on May 14, 2011 at 6:09 am

Operation Abolition, a 1960 documentary produced by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (a.k.a House Un-American Activities Committee or HUAC), focused on an incident on May 13, 1960 when the Committee convened in San Francisco’s City Hall. While the committee met, students protested in the hallways and outside the building, leading to clashes with the police and the arrest of 64 students. Operation Abolition shows footage of the incident taken from subpoenaed San Francisco TV station newsreels, using that footage to allege that the students were Communists and/or instigated by Communist agents. The film’s narrators, Representative Francis E. Walter, Chairman of HUAC, and Fulton Lewis III, son of a prominent anti-communist radio commentator, suggest that the protesters were members of and/or “duped” by groups whose ultimate goal was to destroy the committee, weaken the FBI, and reduce the enforcement powers of the Federal government. Despite being a newsreel produced by a government agency, Operation Abolition was surprisingly popular. According to Time Magazine, an estimated 15 million people saw this film.

Operation Correction shows the same footage as Operation Abolition, interspersed with added commentary by Ernest Besig, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California. Through his narration, Besig illustrates what he believes are the film’s inaccuracies, misrepresentations of the incident’s chronology, and propagandistic points. The national ACLU, however, was hesitant to endorse this film. Memoranda within the records of the ACLU call the film “useful” to “raise serious questions” about “what happened in San Francisco,” as well as the underlying civil liberties issues. Despite those qualifications, the same correspondence and memoranda in the ACLU Records, Box 903, Folder 9 warn that films such as Operation Correction must be viewed within a larger civil liberties context, especially as related to the ACLU’s stated goal of abolishing the HUAC.

via The Reel Mud

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