The McCarthy Era - The Red Scare of the 1950's

posted Feb 27, 2017 by Kathy Pinna
Tags: Political, 1950s
Attacking political opponents with unfair or unsubstantiated accusations is nothing new. Today's "fake news" may be more widespread but it is an old tactic - inuendo, making up stories, name calling, and accusing the press were part of the political tactics of Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1950. Then, it was the "red scare" - McCarthy accused the State Department, President Truman's administration, the U.S. Army, and Hollywood of harboring U.S. citizens who were "Communist sympathizers." He also hunted down homosexuals (while his own closest advisor, a former mentor to our current President, was gay). Some of the accused committed suicide - thousands were blacklisted and could not find work. You may be surprised at the people who helped him ruin the lives of others (including a future President) but it was a courageous and respected journalist who called him out. Watch and listen to this video of Edward R. Murrow, in 1954, before McCarthy was censured - it resonates as well today as it did then. It is a powerful call to reason and justice.
Background Joseph McCarthy was a Republican Senator from Wisconsin, elected in 1947. He came to national prominence in 1950 when he claimed that there were Communists, communists spies, and Communist sympathizers in all levels of government. He began hearings to root them out. He was finally censured by the Senate in 1954 after he began attacking the Army and after a Senator committed suicide because of his hearings. Helping him were his chief counsel, Roy Cohn - an attorney, disbarred for misconduct in 1986 - who later became Donald Trump's attorney and his political mentor. Cohn also worked with another Trump mentor, Roger Stone, on Ronald Reagan's campaign for President in 1979 - 1980. He died of AIDS in 1986. Future Attorney General (and Presidential brother) Robert Kennedy was an assistant counsel on the same Senate committee.

President Ronald Reagan, as president of the Screen Actors Guild, testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, as did Walt Disney. Eventually, actors and screenwriters were blacklisted in Hollywood, leading to their being unemployable under their own names (or at all). The movie "Trumbo" portrays the life of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo during this time (he wrote, among many other screenplays, Exodus and Spartacus - actor Kirk Douglas, as a producer of the movie, insisted that he get credit for Spartacus).


J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI, almost doubled his staff and efforts, which led to thousands of workers losing their jobs. The American Legion supported all of these efforts. Both conservatives and some liberals joined the "movement" - united by their opposition to "internationalism" (particularly the United Nations), opposition to social welfare programs, (particularly those established by Roosevelt's New Deal), and opposition to efforts to reduce inequalities in the social structure of the United States.

Sound familiar?

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