McCarthy and the Red scare of the 1950s

Senator Joseph McCarthy and “The Red Scare”

During the late 1940s and early 1950s a strong fear of socialism and communism began to rise in the U.S. This fear of communism lead to prejudice and racism towards eastern Europeans who immigrated to America during this era. These fears began to define and even corrode the political culture of the era due to the widespread words that came from none other than Senator McCarthy. Republican Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin was the most enduring symbol of this “Red Scare.” McCarthy nearly spent five years trying to expose individuals as being communists as well as other possible political risks within the U.S. government in vain. In the very suspicious atmosphere of the Cold War, small possibilities pointing to someone being a disloyal were enough to convince large amounts of Americans that many of their politicians within the U.S. government were traitors. Because of McCarthy’s strong and intimidating accusations, many people were afraid to speak out against him due mainly to his position of power at the time. Despite his actions, it was not until 1954 when he attacked the U.S. army that he earned the strong disapproval of the U.S. Senate.

In the years after WWII ended, events both domestically and internationally seemed to confirm their fears about the “Red Scare. For instance, In August 1949 Russia detonated their first atomic bomb. Later that same year In China, Communist forces declared victory in the Chinese Civil War and created the People’s Republic of China. In 1950, North Korea’s army, backed by the Soviets, invaded their western supporting neighbors in the south. The United States responded to this by siding with South Korea when it entered the conflict between the two conflicting countries.

Around this time a group known as HUAC(House Un-American Activities Committee) which was led by the Republican Party, began a campaign to eliminate any traces of communism in the U.S. Many targets include Hollywood actors and liberals in the State Department. In the 1950, Congress passed the McCarran Internal Security Act, which was a protection against any non-American or “subversive” activities. This law required any communist organizations to be registered. President Truman vetoed the act, however congressional majority overrode his veto. Due to the tense atmosphere during the time period, an anticommunist like McCarthy was able to quickly take advantage of the situation use peoples’ fear to create a widespread panic and escalate his own power. McCarthy reached the position of senator after winning an election in 1946 where he criticized his opponent for not enlisting dur8ing WWII. McCarthy later in 1950 appeared at Ohio County Women’s Republican Club in Wheeling, West Virginia. During his time at the club McCarthy gave a speech where he declared he has a list of 205 known members of the communist party within the State department. Later during his second term serving as senator, McCarthy was appointed the head of the Committee on Government Operations, once placed in this positon McCarthy he was able to continue with his expansive investigations of possible communist infiltrators within the government. He then proceeded to have many hearings and trials for the accused in which he ferociously interrogated witnesses which many considered to be violations of their rights. Despite any proof of the accused having any relations to communism, over two thousand government officials lost their job due to McCarthy’s investigations.

McCarthy finally lost most of his power after the army showed evidence of McCarthy trying to win preferential treatment for his aides after they were drafted. This was only the beginning as the real kicker to McCarthy’s power was when live broadcasts of the “Army McCarthy” hearings were aired on television. Americans quickly noticed McCarthy’s shallow behavior as he intimidated the ones being questioned by him. He also attacked a young army lawyer which caused the Army’s chief counsel to shout at McCarthy, “have you no sense of decency sir?” This was enough to make most realize the kind of person McCarthy truly was and he soon after lost his political power. McCarthy died in 1957 at the age of 48.

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