The Gestapo in Nazi Germany ultimately developed such a reputation for omniscience that the effectiveness of the Resistance to the regime was severely compromised. Not generally known was the fact that the Gestapo would, on occasion, arrest individuals without cause. Then, after interrogation and imprisonment, these people were released into the general population with strict orders to say nothing about the experience. The effect on their neighbors was profound. Since the persons arrested were seemingly innocent of any crime, the logical assumption was that they had hidden their treason from all but the ubiquitous secret police.
Among those given to conspiracy theories, the activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his cohorts on the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) were designed to produce a similar result. Thus, the anticommunist witch-hunts of the early years of the Cold War were intended to produce such an atmosphere of fear that any dissent, treasonous or otherwise, would be stifled--constitutional guarantees of free speech and press notwithstanding. THE PLEDGE is the story of just such an experience. Bruce Bacon, whose only real crime was to refuse to bear witness against the woman he loves, is harassed, intimidated, and finally jailed for his act.
Howard Fast has created in Bruce Bacon a character who is easily one of the most autobiographical protagonists in his impressive list of publications. Fast, like his character, served as a war correspondent during the war and was himself jailed for refusing to answer the questions of the infamous HUAC. Unfortunately, in his efforts to remind a new generation of a disgraceful episode in American history, Fast has peopled his novel with saints, neglecting to mention that sinners did exist and that although abuses did occur, treason was indeed abroad in the land at the time. In consequence, THE PLEDGE does a disservice to the cause of genuine anticommunism by characterizing all those who would resist the lure of the “evil empire” as self-serving, power-hungry demagogues.
The most telling, if inadvertent, message of this novel is that those who view the world in stark black-and-white terms should be treated with suspicion, regardless of their ideology.