After World War II, the United States focused on putting an end to Communism. The economic climate of the immediate postwar years was conducive to the rise of the political left. The detrimental effects of depression and global war generated popular demands for widespread social, political and economic reforms. Furthermore, wartime controls made ordinary citizens believe that economic planning was the best way to restore economic growth and equity (Painter, 1999). The United States, however, underwent a shift to the right.
Republican domination of both houses of Congress after the 1946 midterm elections led to the strengthening of conservative opposition to the New Deal. Despite this accomplishment, the Republicans were unable to contain the main achievements of the New Deal – unionization of heavy industry, Social Security, agricultural subsidies and civil rights militancy. Throughout Europe and in parts of the Third World, meanwhile, chaotic social, political and economic conditions resulted in the emergence of Communist parties and other leftist groups (Painter, 1999).
The aforementioned developments prompted Washington to assume that a new foe was in its midst – Communism. McCarthyism: The Great American Red Scare The period from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s was characterized with the rise of Communism in China and several nations in Eastern Europe. As a result, the US became fearful that it was losing the power struggle against the Soviet Union – a battle that was later known as the Cold War. This apprehension was exacerbated by suspicions that traitors within the American government were aiding the spread of Communism (Fitzgerald 2006).
Such paranoia on the part of the US eventually resulted in the era of McCarthyism, a chapter in American history that was synonymous with state-sponsored Communist witch-hunts and anticommunist hysteria among the populace. Red Alert On the night of February 9, 1950, a senator from Wisconsin named Joseph McCarthy gave a Lincoln Day speech to the Republican Women’s Club of Wheeling, West Virginia. His speech on that particular evening, however, had absolutely nothing to do with Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.
McCarthy’s address instead focused on the hostile relations between the US and the Soviet Union. He warned the audience that the Soviet Union intended to spread Communism throughout the US by sending spies to infiltrate the US government (Fitzgerald 2006). To prove this claim of his, McCarthy held up a piece of paper and reportedly stated: I have here in my hand a list of 205 (men) that were known to the secretary of state as being members of the Communist Party and who, nevertheless, are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.
(p. 10) This was a very grave allegation. The State Department is the government institution responsible for the establishment of foreign policy. The presence of Communists in such an important organization would therefore cripple the US in its fight against Communism worldwide. They would most likely work as spies, providing the Soviet Union with sensitive information about atomic weapons and US military and political strategy (Fitzgerald 2006).
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