Mccarthyism: The Real With Trials Essay, Research Paper
McCarthyism: The Real “Witch Hunts”
Some people nowadays may consider the government, or some of its agencies, corrupt. Today’s scenario is nothing compared to that of McCarthyism in the 1950s. During McCarthyism, the nation was being torn apart. Their loyalty to one another was crushed and common human decency went down the drain (Miller, Crucible xiv). These Communist hunts were eerily similar to the witch hunts and trials of Salem Massachusetts in the 1600s. The Puritans have a strict religion with very strong roots. The whole community was torn apart by this “witch scare” from the children to the elderly to the most devote citizens. As a result of both, lives were shattered, names blemished, and families were blown apart (Corrigan 118). Arthur Miller vividly describes the community of Salem as it turns on itself out of paranoia and false testimonies. The Crucible compellingly similar to McCarthyism in 1950s America in which neighbor turns upon neighbor accusing each of being a “Red.”
Senator Joseph McCarthy is one of the most famous anti-Communist activists. He was a Republican from Wisconsin. In the early 1950s, McCarthy began charging that Communists were taking over the government. He hit two other major areas beside that of the U.S. government. Those were Hollywood and the U.S. Army. McCarthy made one unsupported accusation after another (Miller, Crucible xxiv). These attacks on suspected Communists became known by the term of McCarthyism. Since the 1950s, McCarthyism has been referred to as the unfair tactic of accusing people of disloyalty without providing evidence. McCarthy charged various groups and departments from the Democratic Party to the State Department. He once accused the Democratic Party as being guilty of “20 years of treason” for allowing Communist infiltration into the government (Ferres 30). The Army was accused of coddling Communists and selling top-secret information. As many as 20 million Americans watched the combative senator bully his witnesses who had no chance of defending themselves.
McCarthy ruined lives with the power of paranoia and blacklisting. A blacklist was a list of people who were condemned for having a Communist background. If one was on a blacklist, it was almost impossible to get a job because employers feared accusation of being a “Red” by association. A “Red” was a short term used for Communist. A fair amount of the blacklisting came from the Hollywood industry as a result of the House of Un-American Activities Committee. The HUAC developed from a congressional committee created to search out disloyalty before World War II. The power of the HUAC grew in the late 1940s and during the 1950s because of the Cold War and the “Red Scare.” The “Red Scare” was the hysteria and fear of the American government and public during the Cold War that the Communist may infiltrate and take over the United States (Martine, Politics 67). The Cold War was a period of hostility developed between the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II. This period did not include much direct military conflict though it did include a battle upon Communism and the use of spies.
One of the most famous cases of spies was the case of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. The couple was minor activists in the American Communist Party and convicted of being Communists. As a result the two were found guilty and executed. This is similar to what happened in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1600s.
McCarthyism caused much chaos in America. Average United States citizens were being blamed and persecuted for things that most did not do. It is believed that McCarthy made his accusations out of challenges to his authority. Many scholars have confirmed that his accusations have no proof and were spontaneous. These little spouts spilled over to the citizens. Many would spy on each other out of paranoia of being neighbors with a Communist. One bad result of McCarthyism is that people would use this power in the wrong way blaming an enemy out of spite or revenge, not as a concern for national safety (Miller, Theatre 23). Joseph McCarthy hurt many people and eventually destroyed his own reputation through his Communistic witch hunts.
On January 22, 1953, The Crucible opened on Broadway at the height of the furor stirred up by Joseph McCarthy (Martine, Essays 78). Written by playwright Arthur Miller, it displays the small Puritan community of Salem, Massachusetts in the 1600s trying to “purify” itself from the witchcraft thought to be threatening it even down to its most powerful citizens. The Crucible explores two concepts- 1) the generation of hysteria, and 2) the achievement of moral honesty (Moss 64). The townspeople were pointed out by a group of girls in the community who were caught doing bewitching chants and dancing in the beginning of the play. As it turns out, the majority of religious community is persecuted for being accused of witchcraft.
Abigail Williams, the niece of Reverend Parris leads the group of girls in their accusations. The judges and authorities trust the children because the authorities believe that the “voice and finger of God” will come from the words of children. As the play progresses it is revealed that the girls are convicting the townspeople out of vengeance rather than truth. Many of the girls have personal reasons for these accusations, especially Abigail. Abigail goes as far as to blame, and have one of her friends plant evidence on, John Proctor’s wife because Abigail is in love with Proctor. Thomas Putnam, a power-hungry businessman, points out his neighbor Giles Cory because Putnam wants Cory’s land. As a result many accusations were derived from personal greed.
If anyone was pointed out and suspected of being guilty, he or she was given the right to point out anyone else that they knew was with the Devil and to sign a confession saying they had practiced witchcraft. By doing this, their lives would be spared. Some fall into the temptation and go as far as blaming such “saints” as Rebecca Nurse. Citizens like John Proctor refused to sign or point a finger for the simple task of saving himself and he will have to live with that guilt for the rest of his life. The actions displayed by such characters in the play are very similar to that of real-life Americans during McCarthyism.
McCarthyism and witch hunts are very similar in the idea of trying to purge a community of impurities and cleanse it of an undesirable concept. Both hold trials, one to rid a society of Communists and the other to rid a society of witches. As the accused are brought before the judges in the witch trials, they are given an opportunity to point out any associates. This also happens when accused Communists are brought before the House of Un-American Activities Committee headed by McCarthy.
In one such incident, Arthur Miller himself was brought before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. In some aspects, Miller could be compared to John Proctor in his play. Miller was brought before the HUAC as a result of association. As a result of Miller’s presence before the HUAC, he lost many associates. He was greatly disturbed as he watched men who had known him for years pass him by “without a word” (Martine, Essays 35). When brought before the HUAC, Miller would not answer the questions the committee presented and denounced the idea of pointing a finger at any friend or enemy of his. In sense, these are actions taken by Proctor of the Crucible. Proctor felt guilty as a result of his association with Abigail Williams and his wife Elizabeth Proctor, who was accused of witchery. When brought before the magistrates, he broke down and tore up the certificate of confession and refused to sign any name. One thing that both Proctor and Miller are both concerned with are their names, their reputations. Lies are what got these occurrences started and both men refuse to take part in such dishonesty. In the play, Proctor proclaims the following- “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life (Martine, Politics 69)!” As Proctor wrestles with his conscience, a former Miller associate told the truth about his past membership in the Communist party and mentioned several other names. Miller refuses to say anything against his associate though he was aware of such actions. They fear losing their reputation, and in Proctor’s case his life, but neither will further any of the dishonesty.
Miller’s theme encompassing both the McCarthy and witch trial is man judging man. Similar to those people convicted in the McCarthy trials, the “witches” hanged were not upholding witchcraft against the true church; they were upholding their own personal integrity against an insanely mistaken community (Corrigan 119). What lies behind the procedures s of both was a familiar American need to assert a recoverable innocence even if the only guarantee of such innocence lay in the displacement of guilt onto others (Miller, Crucible x).
A horrible aftermath accompanied both trials. Senator McCarthy built up a style of contention that was to be admired by his supporters and to be deplored and even feared by his opponents, a style of which the principle elements were recklessness in accusation, careless inaccuracy of statement, and abuse of those who criticized him (2). The first year of the Eisenhower era saw McCarthy at his peak. In the second, he was brought down and condemned. The reason why McCarthy was brought down was well said by Arthur Miller – “The army defeated McCarthy. He attacked a general, and that was a deadly mistake” (Corrigan 38). McCarthy went too far in his accusations. In 1954, he accused the U.S. Army, which resulted in a nationally televised Senate investigation. McCarthy’s bullying of witnesses alienated the audience and cost him public support. The Senate condemned him of improper conduct and the HUAC lost all credibility. Three years later after McCarthy’s removal, he died a broken man, suffering from alcoholism. Though McCarthyism had damaged effects on society such as blacklisting and persecution, McCarthy’s reign of terror was being brought to an end.
As for Salem, Abigail lost her credibility also. Her open minded accusations were found out and out of fear of a public uprising, the officials of Salem ended the trials. There had been an uprising in a nearby town called Andover, and fear was rising that is might happen in Salem. As for John Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, and Giles Gory, Proctor and Goody Nurse were hanged. Cory died from being crushed under a pile of rocks, all the while uttering the words “more weight” when asked a question. Abigail left town by ship using her uncle’s money. Parris’s reputation was destroyed as result of being an advocate for Abigail’s honesty. In the end of both, lives were lost, reputations were destroyed and chaos and hysteria reigned supreme. Critics analyze the book as a historical allegory. The witch trials have ever aspect of hysteria, fear, guilt, and shame. These four things make up McCarthyism. Critical analysis has pointed out many times that the damage of the trials was done out of personal rather than political reasons (Ferres 26).
The Crucible, by Arthur Miller vividly describes a Puritan town in the 1600s paranoid over witchcraft that is ideally similar to 1950s America with the scare of Communism. McCarthy’s false accusations led to harsh downfall and Abigail’s accusations led to her cowardly retreat. The accused stood up for something different and when fear took over, people were hurt. Those people were labeled as different. In this case those were labeled as witches and Communists. These accusations had a main cause – greed. John Proctor said it well when he said, “Is the accuser always holy now (Ferres 83)?” McCarthy and Abigail have showed a very good lesson. That lesson is with great power, comes great responsibility. They abused that power, abused others with that power and hurt themselves the most.
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Ferres, John. Twentieth Century Interpretations of the Crucible. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice
Martine, James. Critical Essays on Arthur Miller. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1979.
Martine, James. The Crucible: Politics, Poetry, and Pretense. New York: Twayne’s
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. New York: Penguin Group, 1995.
Miller, Arthur. The Theatre Essays of Arthur Miller. New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1978.
Moss, Leonard. Arthur Miller. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1967.