Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare


From the end of World War II and continuing into the 1960’s, the threat of communism was in the minds of all Americans. Since the fall of Germany, communist Russia has been a major player in the control of power in the world. However, one of the major concerns of communism was that Russia would be looking to spread control over other countries. This was accomplished by controlling East Germany, Cuba, Czechoslovakia and other countries. During this time, Senator Joseph McCarthy believed that communism was infiltrating the United States, and he vowed to put an end to the “red threat” of communism.

Joseph McCarthy was a United States Senator representing the state of Wisconsin. He served in the Senate from 1947 until his death in 1957 at the age of 48. During his life, McCarthy went to law school and became the youngest circuit court judge in Wisconsin. When World War II broke out, McCarthy enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corp. After the war, “Tail Gunner Joe” McCarthy successfully ran for the U.S. Senate seat representing Wisconsin.

His early years in the U.S. senate were not particularly effective, until 1950 when McCarthy made a name for himself. On February 9, 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy gave a speech to the Wheeling, West Virginia Republican Women’s Club. During that speech he pulled out a piece of paper which he claimed “"I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department."  With this shocking statement – McCarthyism and the search for the Red Scare began.

From this comment, the press and public became more and more involved in McCarthy’s assertions. The press and public demanded to know who was on the list and how McCarthy knew they were communists. From this start, everyday people started to look at friends, relatives and neighbors differently. Suddenly, everyday people were being suspected of being communists, without proof.

In the 1950’s, the U.S. Senate had committee meetings to uncover communists, and many Americans were brought in front of the committee to answer questions as to whether they were members of the communist party. During these committee hearings, many people became blacklisted because of their alleged party affiliation. Among famous people who were victims included composer Leonard Bernstein, actor Charlie Chaplin, writer Langston Hughes, playwright Arthur Miller, actor Edward G. Robinson and writer/actor Orson Welles. These people had to suffer through accusations that they were communists, even though it was never proved. These accusations brought the premature end to many careers.

By the mid-1950’s the ideals of McCarthyism started to lose support, and the public started to believe that the chase for the red scare was actually a red herring. By the time of McCarthy’s death in 1957, while the threat of communism around the world was still real, the concern that communists have infiltrated the everyday lives of America was unfounded, and this brought the death of McCarthyism, as well.