The Red Scare: Mccarthyism

The McCarthy Era. The HUAC hearings and Senator Joseph McCarthy led to a general distrust in the government by the American people.

After World War 2, Americans began to be very afraid that hordes of communists were trying to take over the country. Communism was derided, and the American public called communists "˜reds'. Most people thought that communists were worse than murderers. Just being suspected of communism meant that one was a traitor, and association with communists was nearly as bad as being one yourself.

There were many reasons for this galloping paranoia. One reason was that news reports confirmed that some communist countries had spies in the U.S., and now had the recipe for atomic bombs. People were afraid of atomic bombs, and they feared that nuclear holocaust was just around the corner. News reports of atrocities committed by communist leaders served to fan the flames of America's fear.

The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigated communist organizations. The HUAC came into being because they wanted to prove that a lot of actors and writers were communists. They thought that movies were brainwashing Americans and putting communist propaganda into their heads. The Committee probed Hollywood, but they never confirmed any of the charges. They even questioned 10-year-old Shirley Temple. Movie studios became very careful about their products and their actors, because they did not want to be accused. Just to be associated with someone who was suspected of communism was enough to ruin a career.

There were those who decided to reap political gain from the fears of the American public, and the most notorious of these is Joseph McCarthy. Joe McCarthy was a Republican Senator who announced that he had lists of suspected communists. The list had names of many kinds of people, and they ranged from TV personalities to businessmen. He was often in the news, telling the American people that they were being overrun with communists, and that they must rid themselves of all the communists before America could be great again. Joe McCarthy's political star began to rise. And America is still feeling the backlash from Joe McCarthy's political ambition today.

In 1954, all of America watched avidly as the Senate held hearings for some of the people on the lists. The hearings were televised nationwide. Two future presidents were present at the hearings. Richard Nixon was a member of the HUAC, and Ronald Reagan appeared as a friendly witness.

The HUAC blacklisted many people. Blacklisting means putting people on a list of suspected communists. It meant that their professional reputation was destroyed, and that no one would hire them for fear of being thought a communist. The HUAC and Joseph McCarthy forced many people to testify at their hearings. They asked if the people had ever been communists, they asked if they were communists now, and they asked them for the names of people who could be communists. Most people did not want to answer, because they felt that it was a violation of both their civil rights and any people they might name.



The committee immediately blacklisted the ones who refused to cooperate. As a result of this, people who were afraid that they were going to be charged gave the names of people that they knew were not really communists. Many actors couldn't star in movies anymore because they were blacklisted. Some authors for the big screen continued to write movies using fake names, but most never worked again. Some were forced to leave the country.

A cartoonist lampooned McCarthy and made up the term McCarthyism, which to him meant fanaticism. He didn't like the way that McCarthy was hurting people. Then supporters of McCarthy took up the term, only they turned the term around, and said that it meant patriotism. Today, it is once again an insulting term. It means that a person uses rumors and not facts to condemn others.

In the election after the hearings, the Republicans won most seats in the Congress and the Senate, and this happened largely because of McCarthy and the Senate hearings. The people also elected a Republican president. But McCarthy's power went to his head, and he went too far. He accused officials in the government of communism. He accused officials of the Army of communism. McCarthy never proved any of these charges, and his ideas were discredited. Nobody believed his claims anymore. The "˜red' scare ended.

Even while the HUAC hearings were going on, in the height of the "˜red' scare', many people knew that the hearings were unfair, and they knew that the blacklists were wrong. Could a government that would allow unfair practices be fair in other ways? It put a strong doubt in people's minds.

Reform groups suffered, too, during the McCarthy era. They were often accused of having communist or socialist leanings, and support for reform wavered. Fewer social reforms were passed. People didn't want to be called a communist, and America's poor suffered for it.

McCarthyism was a major factor in a change in feelings about both politics and society. The distrust of the government and the political activism in the 1960's can be directly attributed to the lessons learned from the McCarthy era.

This hunt for scapegoats is a dark spot on America's history. People's lives were ruined. Some committed suicide and some left the country. The national anthem calls this the land of the free. People here are allowed to hold any belief that they want. Joe McCarthy forgot that. All of America forgot that during the Senate hearings, and we are still paying for it today.

© High Speed Ventures 2011