What was the main point and effect of the line "Have you no decency?" on Welch during McCarthy-Army hearings on June 9, 1954?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The statement by Attorney Joseph Welch was the result of accusations by Senator Joseph McCarthy that Fred Fisher, an attorney with Welch's firm of Hale and Dorr, was in fact a communist. This followed McCarthy's suggestion that the army was "soft" on communism and his attempts to prevent an attorney on his staff, David Schine, from being drafted into the army. When McCarthy was unable to stop Schine from being drafted, he held televised hearings which lasted over eleven days during which time he presented charts, graphs, even maps showing how the army had failed to prevent the infiltration of communists into the U.S. government. Almost all the evidence had been fabricated by McCarthy's staff. Welch's statement came when he was cross-examining Roy Cohn, an attorney on McCarthy's staff who had fabricated much of the "evidence." McCarthy interrupted the cross-examination to accuse Fisher of being a communist, an accusation which was both preposterous and libelous. It was in response to that accusation that Welch said:

Senator, you won't need anything in the record when I finish telling you this. Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness… . Little did I dream you be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar, needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty, I would do so. I like to think I'm a gentle man, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me… . Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

Those in attendance at the hearing applauded Welch's statement. McCarthy seemed befuddled and asked an aide, "what did I do?" This was the beginning of the end of McCarthy's side show hearings.