The author of this memoir, Carl Bernstein, is best known as the Washington Post reporter and partner of Bob Woodward in detailing the Watergate scandal in that newspaper and, later, in All the President’s Men. This book, however, is very different.
Bernstein’s parents, Sylvia and Alfred Bernstein, were the subjects of a decades long investigation by the FBI into their supposed “subversive” activities. Neither of them was ever charged of a crime. These activities consisted mainly of active involvement in labor unions during a time of deep suspicion in the United States. The American government was particularly on guard against Communist infiltration in labor unions and other organizations that advocated civil rights and workers’ rights. The FBI, led by J. Edgar Hoover, was aided in their endeavors by the enactment during the administration of President Harry S. Truman Executive Order 9835:
“Prescribing Procedures for the Administration of an Employees Loyalty Program in the Executive Branch of the Government”.
This Executive Order enabled the era of Joseph McCarthy, the House Un-American Activities Committee, and witch hunts for supposed Communists in many industries.
Although a young child, Bernstein was greatly affected by the suspicion under which his family lived. FBI informers spied on Bernstein and his family. The FBI even noted the license plate numbers of the people attending Bernstein’s Bar Mitzvah. His family was taunted and ostracized by some neighbors. His father, a Columbia University trained attorney was forced to open a laundry to support the family. Sylvia Bernstein was called to testify before the HUAC in 1954.
Given Bernstein’s experience as a reporter, it is no surprise that Loyalties is thoroughly researched and well-written. It tells of a sad chapter in American history. When the story becomes more personal, it becomes even more affecting. And it’s very scary to think what our government is truly capable of!
Published in hardcover-Simon and Schuster-1989
Softcover edition-Touchstone Books-1990