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Red scare


One evening in 1950 a Houston couple entered a Chinese restaurant. The woman, a radio writer, wanted the proprietor's help in producing a program on recent Chinese history. Overhearing their conversation, a nearby man rushed out, phoned the police, and informed them that people were "talking Communism." The couple was immediately arrested and jailed for 14 hours before the police concluded they had no case. At about the same time a policeman in Wheeling, West Virginia, discovered some penny-candy machines dispensing goodies with tiny geography lessons. One lesson, under the hammer-and-sickle Soviet flag, read: "USSR Population 211,000,000. Capitol Moscow. Largest country in the world." "This is a terrible thing to expose our children to," pronounced the city manager Robert Plummer when informed. He quickly had the sinister sweets removed to protect the innocent from the knowledge of the Soviet Union. The preceding is an example of the extent to which the national hysteria of the nineteen-fifties reached. The results of the Cold War against communism had quite an opposite effect compared to its original intentions of preserving freedom during the red scare.

The early 1950's was a time of emotional stress for much of the United States. With the USSR and the USA emerging from the second World War as major world powers, neither wished to give up their newly acquired land. Both countries following imperialist ideas attempted to spread their government across the world. America, insecure about its power to uphold a democratic government in foreign nations feared a communist invasion from their Cold War foe, Russia. A hysteria swept across the United States as American paranoia of a loss of personal rights increased. President Harry Truman's thoughts summed up the nation's feelings toward communists with, "The Reds, phonies and parlor pinks seem to be banded together and are becoming a national danger." Truman's declaration that the United States must protect the "freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom of enterprise," was an attempt to win over the public's support for anti-communism. Propaganda sprouted across the country, declaring that citizens would lose their personal rights to communism if it were allowed to flourish. However the United States' ideals of preserving the personal rights of its citizens were reversed on March 25, 1947, as President Truman issued Executive Order 9835 which authorized investigations into the beliefs and associations of all federal employees. Thus the catalysis had entered the equation, if the President is frightened the people must be as well.

President Harry Truman and the United States' fear of communism was expressed through the Truman Doctrine. Expressed by the President was that wherever aggression threatened peace or freedom, America's security was involved, and it would be necessary to " free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures...Every American Communist is potentially an espionage agent...requiring only the direct instruction of a Soviet superior to make the potentiality a reality...within the United States, Communist penetration should be exposed and eliminated..." America feared that the communists would be able to infiltrate the government system and violently uproot the United States "free" society. This was the beginning of the hysteria. Citizens across the nation were crazed with the notion that they would be invaded and their personal rights stripped from them.

Truman's personal attack against the communists was his radical movement of executing Executive Order 9835. This "...authorized investigations into the beliefs and associations of all federal employees." Between the launching of his security program in March 1947 and December 1952, some 6.6 million persons were investigated. Not a single case of espionage was uncovered, though about 500 persons were dismissed in dubious cases of "questionable loyalty." All of this was conducted with secret evidence, secret and often paid informers, and neither judge nor jury. In the process of ratting out communists in order to preserve American citizens' rights, the personal rights of millions of people were destroyed. As early as 1938 the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) emerged. Within the first few days of its existence, witnesses charged some 640 organizations, 483 newspapers, and 280 labor unions with being communistic. Witnesses even questioned the loyalty of the Boy Scouts, the Camp Fire Girls, and child movie star Shirley Temple. The HUAC was not the only organization to seek out communists. States, counties, cities, even organizations such as, corporations, educational institutions, and labor unions obliged themselves to hunt for the reds as well. Loyalty checks were common, within these personal freedoms were impeded upon, conservatives ferreted out not communists but liberals, New Dealers, radical labor leaders, civil rights activists, pacifists, atheists, anyone appearing at all strange or different, anyone a non-conformist was liable to be accused of being labeled a communist.

Propaganda played an important role in turning peoples fears, accusations and irrational behavior towards communists. The popular image of a communist was that of a nearly superhuman demon, a devious and highly skilled fiend, the master of techniques of hypnotic intellectual seduction who would be more than a match for ordinary "...mortals operating under the lawful ways of democracy." In a 1954 national survey, over half of those interviewed agreed that all known communists should be placed in jail. Civil liberties were considered much less important than ending the communist threat; fifty-eight percent of the populace questioned in this survey favored finding all communists "...even if some innocent people should be hurt." Seventy-eight percent thought it was a good idea to report to the FBI, neighbors or acquaintances whom they suspected of being communists. Seventy-seven percent of those polled wanted to strip admitted Communists of their citizenship, while fifty-one percent were in favor of imprisoning them, however only three percent of those polled had ever met and admitted communist. Though ten percent had suspicions about acquaintances. "He was always talking about world peace...I saw a map of Russia on a wall in his home...I just knew. But I wouldn't know how to say how I knew...She had more money to spend and places to go than seems right...He had a foreign camera and took so many pictures of the large New York bridges.." theses are some of peoples reasoning behind their suspected communist neighbors. The search for communists inside the United States quickly switched from the salvation of personal freedoms to the destruction of civil-rights for non-conformist.

Joseph R. McCarthy, on February 9, 1950 released a statement to the Wheeling Women's Republican Club, which boosted the national craze to unseen levels. McCarthy's manifestation "I have here in my hand a list of 205 that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist party and who, nevertheless, are still working and shaping policy in the State Department," brought about a questioning of the United States government. A statement by J. Howard McGrath, "There are today many Communists in America. They are everywhere in factories, offices, butcher shops, on street corners, in private business-and each carries in himself the germs of death for society...they are busy at work-undermining your Government, plotting to destroy the liberties of every citizen, and feverishly trying, in whatever way they can, to aid the Soviet Union," gathered attention towards an investigation of the national government. In April of 1953 President Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10450, establishing a program in which all new government employees and workers in firms with government contracts regardless of position were to be investigated. Any derogatory information, no matter what its source, was grounds for dismissal. The lives of government employees were drastically altered in this time of Red-hunting, however normal citizens were also effected by this craze.

The American fright of communist overrule effected all walks of life. From the average citizen to government officials. No one was immune to the effects of a national hysteria. Cities put in place "red squads," police patrols whose main purpose was to rid the United States of communists. Neighbors would report neighbors, students would report each other and their teachers. Hollywood was even susceptible to the evil forces of paranoia.

Americans were forced into conformity by their own actions. Their dogmatism forced themselves into a craze. Americans became tolerant of violence committed against the supposed communists. In 1951 Congress overwhelmingly passed the McCarran Internal Security Act, which required communist and so-called communist-front organizations to register with the government and to clearly label all their mail and literature as communist. This act also established a five-member Subversive Activities Control Board, with the jurisdiction to investigate the thoughts and beliefs of citizens, a most totalitarian provision. The board set up concentration camps and authorized the government to lock up communists and other suspects any time a national emergency was announced. Citizens suspected neighbors if anything out of the ordinary was noticed. Liberals were the epitome of evil in the minds of the conservative propagandists, those with radical views could easily be communists. A fear of liberals was devastating to Hollywood.

Liberals and free-thinkers are ingredients to a Hollywood film maker. In the time of this hysteria a blacklist was initiated. The Hollywood Ten, was a group of ten film makers who were held in contempt of Congress for communist affiliations. Film makers were forced to make movies within tight guidelines or else face possibly being added to the infamous Black List of movie studios. Controversy was not to be a topic of discussion in movies or throughout the nation. The American imagination was placed on hold as the supposed communist threat bared itself down upon the nation.

America underwent a national hysteria throughout the years following the second World War. The United States and USSR the only two remaining world powers entered a bitter Cold War. America fearing the giant foreign nations political control began an anticommunist craze. In an attempt to savor personal freedoms America reacted harshly against mere hint of communism. The result of these harsh actions towards communism were the near downfall of American society. False propaganda exploded the fears of the citizens whom intern reacted harshly to any notion of communism. The effect this "Red Scare" had on America was quite opposite to its original intentions, rather than preserve the rights of its citizens, it raped them of their ideals, and liberties.


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