Mccarthyism Essay, Research Paper
To talk about McCarthyism we must first look at what was going on in the United States at the time. WW II had just ended a few years prior, and the cold war was in full swing. Following WW II, for the US Government to be able to spend so much of the taxpayers money on the cold war, the Government had to get the US citizens behind them. To do this the US government started a propaganda campaign to scare the public into thinking the communists were bad and very dangerous people. That the communist people, their way of thinking, and their type of government had to be contained. There were several things that happened to help in-force what the government was saying. First Czechoslovakia and China fell to communism. Then the Russians had a successful explosion of an atomic bomb. There was also the arrest and conviction of the Rosenbergs as spies who were giving our atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. The Korean War was also starting up, Russia was supplying the North Korean Communists with military equipment to invade the non communist South Korea (Reeves 1). With all of this going on in the world and in the United States, the stage was set for McCarthy.
In 1950 after 5 years of the cold war, a relatively unknown Senator Joseph McCarthy, delivered a speech to the Ohio Country Women’s Republican Club. In this speech he talked about the spread of communism around the world. McCarthy pointed out that this was the “time of the cold war” (Chafe 50). He said that the world was split into two camps, that of communistic atheism and that of Christianity. He also says that communism is on the move and that “the chips are down-they are truly down” (Chafe 50). So he is telling these women that communists are trying to take over the world and he is putting a religious spin on it calling the communists atheists and pitting them against Christianity. McCarthy then starts backing up his position by quoting some very large numbers. He quotes that there were 180,000,000 Russians under Soviet rule after WW II and 6 years later there were almost 800,000,000 now under Soviet rule. He points out that this was an increase of over 400%. He then puts the numbers in ratios saying that the “odds have changed from 9 to one in our favor to 8 to 5 against us.” (Chafe 50). In this he is emphasizing the us against them and selling the idea that Communism is growing fast and that the United States is loosing the cold war.
This is where McCarthy starts the real setup for his bombshell. He is quoted, “When a great democracy is destroyed, it will not be because of enemies from without, but rather because of enemies from within.” (Chafe 50). He then says that these traitors are not the minority of this country but are of the wealthiest of this country, and have the finest jobs in the Government. So he is telling these people that it is not them, but those rich people in the government who are selling out this country. This is where he drops the bomb. McCarthy insinuates that one of the most important government agencies, the State Department “is infested with Communists” (Chafe 50). He then says that he had a list of 57 people he believed to be “either card carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party” (Chafe 50). The truth is there was no list, no names, it was just made up to get his speech recognized by the press. He then goes on to explain how this happened to the American people, and that our morals have not been distorted. He then ends his speech with the idea that this will only end “when the whole sorry mess of twisted, warped thinkers are swept from the national scene .” (Chafe 50). Here he is saying we need to find these traders and remove them from Government.
So who is McCarthy and why did he give this speech. Well, Joseph R. McCarthy was an unknown Wisconsin Republican Senator who was up for reelection. He needed a reelection issue and needed to get his name known. He was good at talking to the press and knew what they wanted, and he gave it to them. The Republican party also encouraged McCarthy as they could use him and his “list” as a weapon against the Liberals and Democrats. It was also well known that politicians who have served on some of the anti-Communist committees had boosted their political careers significantly. So McCarthy would target people and if it did not work out he would just pick another person. The one thing that seemed to make McCarthy perfect for this job is that he seemed to have no conscience. It did not seem to matter to him who he targeted, what he said about them, truthful or not, or what happened to them as a result of his accusations.
It is hard to tell who was really behind McCarthy. It appears middle and lower class Americans may have been the only group behind him. That was probably because of the perceived threat of communism and communist traders in our society. Don’t forget we already found two spies giving nuclear secrets to Russians. It may have also been because McCarthy was targeting the wealthy and powerful in this country. The middle and lower class Americans did not necessarily trust or like these people anyway. If it weren’t for the lower and middle class voters along with the media, McCarthyism may have never taken off. It seems that most people in the government, major corporations, the media, and major universities did not like McCarthy. However in the public eye they went along with him. No one spoke out against him in fear of being put on his list of people to be investigated. Many of the major corporations would even fire people from their organizations and companies, who were identified as a communist. Those who took their 5th amendment rights, were considered to be unfriendly to the committee, and it would probably mean that you would loose your job. Corporations and organizations felt it was good public relations to do so as they were afraid that if they kept these people there would be severe repercussions from it. As it turns out many of the companies who did not fire its employees had little or no trouble (Chafe 58). From about 1952 to 1954 when the McCarthy subcommittees had finished running through the government looking for communists they switched their attention to collages and universities. The net results were the same, if you were found to be a communist or you refused to cooperate with the committee you would most likely loose your job. It seems the collage presidents were afraid of loosing the financial backing of its alumni if they did not act on the findings of the committees.
During this time of McCarthyism it appears that about 10,000 people may have lost their jobs, and about 150 people went to jail. (Chafe 57,64). It also marked the end of the left wing political groups in America, as well as many left wing union leaders were also removed from power. The American Communist Party had about 75,000 members just after WW II, and by the end of 1957 there were fewer than 10,000. It is also believed that many of the 10,000 had been informants for the Government and that is why they remained (Navasky 1). But this may not have been the most significant impact of McCarthyism.
The real impact of McCarthyism may be that people just fell in line. Everyone seemed to become the “perfect Citizen” supporting the government, or at least not speaking out against it. For during this time it would have been suicide to speak out against the government or any of its policies. The fear was that you might be labeled a Communist or a Communist sympathizer. You could also end up on one of the many “Black Lists” that were in effect. If this happened it would be impossible to get a job in your industry of expertise. This fear was widespread, from top government officials and large corporations, right down to professors and students in universities who were afraid to do anything out of the “norm”.
During his height McCarthy was so powerful that no one would challenge him. The White House tried to stop McCarthy in the beginning but the subcommittee was to slow in getting its findings out. This only helped McCarthy and gave him greater credibility. So in essence, because of this fear, people did not challenge the government on many issues, and the government went unchecked in its policies and practices.
With this kind of environment to work in you have to wonder how many things were not done. For example we know that National Health Insurance was one of the policies that got dropped (Chafe 65). You have to wonder how many other things went undone, books unwritten, movies never made, voices not heard, all because of the fear of being labeled a communist. We will never know how McCarthyism really affected the US economy, because we don’t know how many ideas were not pursued. I wonder how Bill Gates would have been perceived in this environment.