McCarthyism is a search campaign that was led by Joseph McCarthy to find Communist Party members and supporters in the 1940s through 1950s. They worked with Roy Cohn of HUAC, and together they found and exposed communists throughout the American community.
McCarthyism began in the middle 1940s, around the Cold War. HUAC was formed in 1938, just before World War II. The House of Un-American Activities Committee exposed communists by using fear and suspicion of members of the community. Cold War did not involve any real combat between Soviet Union or the United States. The Cold War is better described as an arms race between the US and Soviet Union to achieve superiority in firepower for deterrence. This “war” was marked by a growing fear of communism (history.com). Red Scare. Americans became frightened because of this fear. They thought that if Soviet Union controlled the arms racing, communism will overthrow American Government. The paranoia grew when the Soviet Union dropped their first Atomic Bomb in 1949. China was proclaimed a Communist nation by Mao Zedong, on 1 October 1949. In the year following, 1950-1953, the United States joined the Korean War to combat the communists of North Korea. The rise in communism of powerful countries caused paranoia in American citizens and led them to suspect communist activity in the United States.
Senator Joseph McCarthy took advantage of this hysteria by accusing and intimidating people that they were supporting the Communist Party. McCarthy told a large crowd that 205 State Department employees were communists, or had supported the communists party. This was on the 9th of February 1950. McCarthyism is credited to Senator McCarthy’s Wheeling speech (history.com).
McCarthyism was primarily directed at people in positions of power. The main people targeted were entertainers, Government employees, and top-ranking officials. The alleged supporter could be subjected to severe punishments, which could have a life-altering effect. The suspicion of guilt was enough in many cases, even when there wasn’t enough evidence. Roy Cohn would prosecute these people, a lawyer from New York. Cohn, who was chief counsel at the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations became famous for his intense questioning. Cohn, McCarthy and the HUAC worked together to battle communists, when they actually ruined thousands of reputations (pbs.org).
McCarthy’s reign was not permanent. His colleagues eventually began to question his tactics to eliminate the communist threat. The Secretary gathered evidence by listening to telephone calls that Roy Cohn had with Joseph McCarthy. Both were harassing and intimidating officials. The lawyer for the army, Mr. Welch, even asked, “…Have You No Sense Of Decency Sir? Have you finally lost your sense of morality? (Miller, David). McCarthy’s investigations were seen and discussed by millions across the United States.
McCarthy was a popular figure at the height of his popularity. McCarthy’s main supporters were people who feared McCarthy. He spread fear in the United States without providing any evidence. McCarthy’s claims are compared by many to the Salem Witch Hunts.
Salem Witch Hunts started in Salem in Massachusetts in 1692. The Salem Witch Trials were a result of widespread paranoia in the Massachusetts colony. The colonists were paranoid about paranormal activities in the community, and demanded that justice be done. Women were mostly accused of witchcraft or supernatural powers. It was not true that there were supernatural activities, but many people in the community tried to harm the reputations of others. No matter if the women were found innocent or guilty, they would still be hung. In 1697, Massachusetts declared the witch-hunt illegal and stopped the hanging of women. (History.com 2)
The spread of communism and America’s defeat in the Cold War were the two biggest threats to American society during the 1950s. In colonial Massachusetts, the Witch Hunts were a major threat to American society. The threat from terrorism, and the Islamic threat are major threats to American society. We must learn from our past so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of America’s Red Scare.