Joseph McCarthy

In the early 1950s, United States Senator Joseph McCarthy became the center of controversy regarding his accusations that he believed that Communists were infiltrating America and in particular, the government. During the McCarthy era, many people were accused, manipulated, and suffered great losses in careers and politics. Joseph McCarthy was a powerful man and used similar tactics to Adolf Hitler. Both leaders were excellent in the art of playing on people’s biggest fears. In the 1950s people ran scared, but the evil accusations were all in the minds of the leaders and the people. McCarthy portrayed Communism as the root of all evil and people allowed his baseless accusations to form their opinions. His excuse for America’s problems was that there was supposedly a secret presence of Communism in the government. McCarthy didn’t create the Communist problem, but was an expert at exploiting it. He was a master at playing the press and was in the headlines frequently. No one was safe from McCarthy or his accusations; the unjustly accused were subject to being and in fact were in some instances either fired, blacklisted, discredited and even incarcerated. The forum he used was the so-called “Army-McCarthy Hearings,” in which he attacked and ruined official after official in the U.S. government. The ironic part was that he never produced a shred of credible evidence to support his position.
The initial public response to McCarthy’s baseless information was overwhelmingly supportive. Some praised him as a patriot and congratulated his attacks on Communist influence in the government. The supporters believed that McCarthy was fighting a lonely battle, challenging traitors and subversives and trying to make the country safe for democracy. In 1954 negative reactions towards McCarthy began to surface during the Army-McCarthy hearings. Eventually people began to see that McCarthy’s public accusations were groundless.
Placed in proper historical perspective, it becomes understandable why people believed Senator McCarthy. The support he received was mainly due to the time period during which he exploited people’s fears. It was the height of the Cold War and Americans were uneasy and filled with anxieties. People began to increasingly fear that Communism would take root in the United States. They wanted answers to explain their dilemma and for many, the Communist “conspiracy” in Washington seemed to be the most reasonable explanation. However, the investigation came with a price to many loyal Americans who suffered unjustly from the witch hunt he began.
Suspicion of being a communist was worse than being a murderer or a rapist. When people were accused of being “soft on communism” they found their careers shattered. People were ruined on the flimsiest of evidence while McCarthy’s methods came under increasing attack by the press and his colleagues. Anyone who refused to take the loyalty pledge was blacklisted, and found it impossible to get work. The most intensive focus was on Hollywood, which McCarthy believed was the greatest influence of the public thought. There were great pressures in Hollywood to avoid the controversial subject matter in film or on television. Many writers and performers moved to Mexico or Europe to avoid being put in prison. Some banned screenwriters tried to circumvent their blacklisting by using other writers or pseudonyms as “fronts.” People accused of being members of the Communist party in Hollywood, subpoenaed a group known to the press as the “Hollywood Ten” made up of prominent writers and directors. The group consisted of: Dalton Trumbo, Ruth Gordon, Zero Mostel, Dashiel Hammet, Lillian Hellsman, Jose Ferrar, and Orson Welles, all of whom refused to take the pledge on principle. Each one was banned from working in the industry and careers were effectively ended. The impact of Senator McCarthy had a chilling effect upon America.
McCarthy tried to create a mindset where he was viewed as the champion of American ideals. He used communism as a tool to gain political power and notoriety. He preyed on fears and was able to become partially successful, despite the lack of credible evidence to support his conspiracy theories. Fortunately for America his reign was short lived. Unfortunately for some, this brief period was long enough to cause political and professional damage. This teaches us all about the concept of vulnerability, and the use of fear as a device to control people’s thoughts. The McCarthy Era