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Dr. Peress at the time of the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954

Irving Peress (born 1917) was a New York City dentist who became a primary target for investigation of alleged communist leanings during the Army-McCarthy hearings.

Contents

Early Life

Peress was born in the Bronx on July 31, 1917. [1] He was raised in Manhattan and graduated from the City College of New York, where he was a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps.[2] He graduated from New York University’s Dental School in 1940 and established a practice in New York City.[3]

Military Service

Dr. Peress applied for a commission as an Army dentist during World War II, but failed his physical because of a hernia and did not serve.[4]

In the early 1950s doctors and dentists were being drafted for the Korean War. Peress was by then maintaining a thriving practice and gained weight in an effort to aggravate his high blood pressure and fail his physical so that he would not be inducted into the military.[5] Having passed the physical, he applied for and received a commission as a Captain in the Army Dental Corps.[6]

Originally slated for assignment to Japan, Peress asked for and received a compassionate reassignment to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.[7]

Accusations of communist activism

In applying for his commission Peress signed an oath indicating that he had never been a member of an organization that sought to overthrow the U.S. government by unconstitutional means.[8]

When he filled out a subsequent, more detailed questionnaire, Peress invoked the Fifth Amendment in response to queries about membership in the Communist party or affiliated organizations.[9]

Peress’ responses made him the subject or further surveillance and investigation, and he received fitness reports that questioned his loyalty and accused him of on-base communist activities, but he continued to perform his duties.[10]

In October, 1953 Peress was promoted to Major.[11]

Soon after Peress was promoted the Senate Government Operations Committee received an anonymous complaint. McCarthy then called for Peress to be court-martialed and for an investigation into the Army’s handling of Peress’ commissioning and promotion.[12]

In response, in March, 1954 the Army granted Peress an honorable discharge.[13]

Army-McCarthy hearings

As the result of the anonymous complaint to the Senate Government Operations Committee and the Army's decision to honorably discharge Peress, chairman Joseph McCarthy, also chairman of the committee's Subcommittee on Investigations, decided to hold hearings about the matter to illustrate McCarthy’s claim that the Army was “soft” on communism.[14]

Testimony from witnesses, including an undercover female member of the New York City Police Department, indicated that Peress had been a leader of the American Labor Party, which had nominated Henry A. Wallace for president in 1948, and that he had been involved with the Communist party in the 1930s and 1940s.[15]

Dr. Peress invoked the Fifth Amendment dozens of times in his testimony, also stating that he had and would continue to oppose any group that sought a violent or unconstitutional overthrow of the U.S. government. He also upbraided his questioners by saying that anyone, even a senator, who equated the invoking of the Fifth Amendment with guilt was himself guilty of subversion.[16]

McCarthy blustered during the hearings, most notably condemning Camp Kilmer commander Brigadier General Ralph W. Zwicker, the approval authority for Peress’ promotion, as "unfit to wear his uniform."[17] His confrontational approach, coupled with his pressure on the Army for preferential treatment of committee staff member G. David Schine, was looked on in retrospect as the beginning of McCarthy’s downfall, eventually leading to the Senate’s censure of McCarthy.[18] [19] [20] [21]

Subsequent career

Dr. Peress maintained his dental practice until 1980, and retired in 1982. As of 2005, he continued to reside in New York City.[22]

References

  1. ^ Army Personnel Actions Relating to Irving Peress: Hearings Before the Senate Committee on Government Operations, 1955, volumes 1 to 7, page 40
  2. ^ The Dentist McCarthy Saw As a Threat To Security, by Sam Roberts, New York Times, April 4, 2005
  3. ^ Army Personnel Actions Relating to Irving Peress
  4. ^ A Conspiracy so Immense: the World of Joe McCarthy, David M. Oshinsky, 2005, page 365
  5. ^ The Dentist McCarthy Saw As a Threat To Security
  6. ^ McCarthy and the Communists, by James Rorty and Moshe Decter, 1972, page 48
  7. ^ The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy: a Biography, by Thomas C. Reeves, 1982, page 537
  8. ^ A Fair Chance for a Free People: a Biography of Karl E. Mundt, by Scott Heidepriem, 1988, page 168
  9. ^ The Dentist McCarthy Saw As a Threat To Security
  10. ^ Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator, by Arthur Herman, 2000, page 247
  11. ^ A Curious Question Many Ask: Who Promoted Peress?, by William J. Crawford, Miami News, January 6, 1955
  12. ^ The White House years, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1965, Volume 1, page 322
  13. ^ The Dentist McCarthy Saw As a Threat To Security
  14. ^ Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator, page 248
  15. ^ The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism, by Haynes Johnson, 2006, page 351
  16. ^ The Dentist McCarthy Saw As a Threat To Security
  17. ^ [Newspaper article, Obituary of Ralph Zwicker; Former General Felt Wrath of McCarthy], Los Angeles Times, August 12, 1991
  18. ^ Covering McCarthyism: How the Christian Science Monitor Handled Joseph R. McCarthy, Lawrence N. Stout, 1999, page 123
  19. ^ With No Apologies: The Personal and Political Memoirs of United States Senator Barry M. Goldwater, 1979, page 60
  20. ^ Enough Rope: the Inside Story of the Censure of Senator Joe McCarthy, by Arthur V. Watkins, 1969, page 21
  21. ^ A History of the United States, John W. Caughey, 1964, page 687
  22. ^ The Dentist McCarthy Saw As a Threat To Security
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