History of McCarthyism

In 1917, there was a revolution is Russia. After years of oppressive rule, Russia’s Czars were expelled, and a new form of government was installed. This was considered revolutionary, but little did we know that it would take vicious totalitarian rule to enforce it. Many admired the Russians, or Bolsheviks as they were called, for delving into the unknown depths of communism, but we would soon bear witness to what a death trap it was.

In America, large numbers of people began changing their political beliefs. There were now communists, and anarchists who were inspired by Russia to speak up. Most Americans viewed these people as a threat to our government. Many, like Alexander Mitchell Palmer feared a communist revolution. The government wasn’t taking any risks. Congress passed the Espionage and Sedition Acts in 1917 making it illegal to interfere with the military and to speak out against the government. President Woodrow Wilson established the Committee on Public Information to circulate anti-communist propaganda. The Overman Committee was also created to investigate communist subversion, and to prevent the overthrow of our Government.

This fear of communism escalated to the point where institutions like Labor Unions were considered communist, and strikes were viewed as potential revolutions. When bombs exploded at the homes of several anti-communist leaders, in 1919, America went crazy. Communism was now a dangerous belief, and America seemed paranoid as a whole. This feeling continued until the early 1920’s, when it declined, then disappeared. We seemed glad that it was over, but little did we know that this was just the beginning.

We all know the story of what happened after World War Two. Russia took control of the weak, war torn European nations. Soon much of Europe was under communist control, and America didn’t know what to do.

In the meantime, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy was serving his first term in the Senate. Rather than becoming the success he had imagined, the Senator was caught taking bribes, and was rightly accused of lying about his past. By 1950, it was quite clear that he stood little chance of winning the next election. In May of that year, he held a meeting with his closest advisers on how to improve his image. Edmund Walsh, a Catholic priest, and friend of McCarthy’s decided that the Senator should start a campaign against communists in the Democratic party. McCarthy loved the idea, and within two months his campaign began.

He came into contact with journalist Jack Andersen. In return for giving the journalist important information about the political plans of a number of Senators, Andersen gave McCarthy a list of “card carrying communists”. In August of 1950, Joseph McCarthy gave a speech in front of the Republican Women’s Club claiming that he had a list of 205 communist subversives in the State Department. The State Department sent McCarthy a telegram asking for the names of these communists. McCarthy didn’t reply. At a speech in Denver the Senator claimed that he left the list on the plane. Later, he admitted that it was actually just a “laundry list” and that many of the people on it were more security risks than communists. In actuality, the list had actually been made in 1946 after the State Department screened 3,000 employees to test their loyalty, and found 285 to be dangerous and disloyal. Many of the people on the list were there because of their alcoholism, and sexual preferences. In fact, had McCarthy been screened, he would have been on the list. 79 of those 285 people no longer worked for the State Department in 1950. McCarthy reached his list of 205 by incorrectly subtracting 79 from 285; it’s actually 206.

Despite the fact that the Senator’s claims held little truth, America had no problem believing them. They were terrified of communism, and it almost seemed easier to believe McCarthy. For four years, Joseph McCarthy ruined people’s lives. People listened to what he said, and were overcome with such fear that they turned their friends in. Even worse than this, is that anyone who spoke out against him was pinned as a communist.

In 1954 many of his claims were proven to be false through the Army-McCarthy hearings, and Congress decided to censure him. From there, people realized their stupidity, and ceased to believe McCarthy. Three years later, he was dead of liver cirrhosis; he had drunk himself to death.

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