In February 1952, Lattimore was called to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS), headed by McCarthy’s ally, Senator Pat McCarran. Before Lattimore was called as witness, investigators for the SISS had seized all of the records of the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR).[citation needed] The twelve days of testimony were marked by shouting matches, which pitted McCarran and McCarthy on one side against Lattimore on the other. Lattimore took three days to deliver his opening statement: the delays were caused by frequent interruptions as McCarran challenged Lattimore point by point. McCarran then used the records from the IPR. to ask questions that often taxed Lattimore’s memory. Budenz again testified, but this time claimed that Lattimore was both a Communist and a Soviet agent.

The Subcommittee also summoned scholars. Nicholas Poppe, a Russian émigré and a scholar of Mongolia and Tibet, resisted the committee’s invitation to label Lattimore a Communist but found some of his writings superficial and uncritical.[citation needed] The most damaging testimony came from Karl August Wittfogel, supported by his colleague from the University of Washington, George Taylor. Wittfogel, a former Communist, said that at the time Lattimore edited the journal Pacific Affairs, Lattimore knew of his Communist background; even though they had not exchanged words on the matter, Lattimore had given Wittfogel a “knowing smile.”

Lattimore acknowledged that Wittfogel’s thought had been tremendously influential but said that if there had been a smile, it was a “non-Communist smile.” Wittfogel and Taylor charged that Lattimore had done “great harm to the free world‘ in disregarding the need to defeat world Communism as a first priority. John Fairbank, in his memoirs, suggests that Wittfogel may have said this because he had been made to leave Germany for having views unacceptable to the powers that be, and he did not want to make the same mistake twice. They also asserted that the influence of Marxism on Lattimore was shown by his use of the word “feudal.” Lattimore replied that he did not think that Marxists had a “patent” on that word.[18]

In 1952, after 17 months of study and hearing, involving 66 witnesses and thousands of documents, the McCarran Committee issued its 226-page, unanimous final report. This report stated that “Owen Lattimore was, from some time beginning in the 1930s, a conscious articulate instrument of the Soviet conspiracy,” and that on “at least five separate matters,” Lattimore had not told the whole truth. One example: ‘The evidence… shows conclusively that Lattimore knew Frederick V. Field to be a Communist; that he collaborated with Field after he possessed this knowledge; and that he did not tell the truth before the subcommittee about this association with Field….’[19]

In 1952, Lattimore was indicted for perjury on seven counts. Six of the counts related to various discrepancies between Lattimore’s testimony and the IPR records; the seventh accused Lattimore of seeking to deliberately deceive the SISS. Lattimore’s defenders, such as his lawyer Abe Fortas, claimed that the discrepancies were caused by McCarran deliberately asking questions about arcane and obscure matters that took place in the 1930s.

Within three years, federal judge Luther Youngdahl dismissed the charges. Four of the charges were dismissed as insubstantial and not judicable; denying that he was sympathetic to communism was too vague to be fairly answered; and the other counts were matters of little concern, those for which a jury would be unlikely to convict on matters of political judgment.[20] In his book Ordeal by Slander, Lattimore gives his own account of these events up until 1950…

In An Inner Asian Approach to the Historical Geography of China (1947), Lattimore explored the system through which humanity affects the environment and is changed by it, and concluded that civilization is molded by its own impact on the environment. He lists the following pattern:

  1. A primitive society pursues some agricultural activities, but is aware that it has many limitations.
  2. Growing and evolving, the society begins to change the environment. For example, depleting its game supply and wild crops, it begins to domesticate animals and plants. It deforests land to create room for these activities.
  3. The environment changes, offering new opportunities. For example, it becomes grasslands.
  4. Society changes in response, and reacts to the new opportunities as a new society. For example, the once-nomads build permanent settlements and shift from a hunter-gatherermentality to a farming society culture.
  5. The reciprocal process continues, offering new variations.


Robert P. Newman, in his book Owen Lattimore and the “Loss” of China, has a different view of Uncle George’s testimony at the hearings:

“The witnesses following Wittfogel had little to say about Lattimore. Professor George Taylor, of the University of Washington, thought the IPR was infiltrated by Communists, of whom the most pernicious were Fred Field and Lawrence Rosinger. But Taylor thought the IPR could still be purged and serve a useful function. Morris pointedly did not ask Taylor about Lattimore.”