In the era of the Cold War between the two large political camps, namely the United States of America and the Soviet Union, the tensions were omnipresent. In the context of the dominant views that opposed any manifestation of the anti-democratic approach, such streams of opinion as McCarthyism appeared. They aimed to unveil the threats of communism to outweigh the threats of the Soviet Union and its allies in the international arena. Such a prevalent fear of threats from the side of the Soviet Union to the internal affairs of the USA was claimed as the Second Red Scare. This case study is devoted to analyzing Senator Joseph McCarthy’s speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, and the anti-communist sentiments during the Cold War that were validated by the threats of communist dominance in the world.
Communist Nations: Definition and Threats
The wave of anti-communist sentiments in the US politics and society started with McCarthy’s speech. In that speech, McCarthy (1950) defined communist nations as those representing atheism in opposition to American Christianity and those aimed at dominating the world by warfare means. Indeed, McCarthy (1950) quoted Stalin’s and Lenin’s accounts of building communist societies with non-peaceful efforts to demonstrate his claims. Moreover, the author of the speech claimed that the threats posed by communists in the Soviet Union were growing rapidly due to the increase of their supporters in the world. In such a manner, communist nations were at risk of increasing their power of influence and diminishing the success of the USA in the Cold War (McCarthy, 1950). In addition, the USA was exposed to treasons at a high governmental level, which induced the disclosure of information about internal affairs to the Soviet Union. In such a manner, there was a threat to the competition within the framework of the Cold War between the USA and the Communist Block.
Charges’ Accuracy Assessment
McCarthy’s charges expressed in his speech were not completely accurate and were claimed to be accusations without a solid basis. Indeed, according to Feighery (2021), “McCarthy was famously evasive about details” (p. 133). For example, while claiming to have the list of names of communist supporters within the government of the USA, the speaker did not disclose any particularities. Moreover, the number of individuals on the list was inconsistent across his further references and interviews. Indeed, they ranged from 205, as claimed by Madden (2017) to 57, as claimed by McCarthy (1950). Indeed, in his speech, he stated “I have in my hand 57 cases of individuals who would appear to be either card-carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party” (McCarthy, 1950, p. 3). Moreover, his speech was based on generalized data and opinion-related statements on the accounts of the threats from the side of the Soviet Union. In particular, McCarthy (1950) appealed to the international threats of communist advancement globally with an unproven discussion of the cases of so-called “enemies from within” (p. 2). Thus, these accusations, without a factual basis, instigated a wave of Red Scare across the USA.
Anti-Communist Sentiments during the Cold War Era
The Cold War period as an era following World War II was a significant socio-political aspect of international relations. Indeed, the two conflicting powers, the USA and the Soviet Union were competing over global dominance in terms of ideology, warfare, economy, and political power. Some of the sentiments within the anti-communist context were valid and were supported by the growth of the Soviet Union’s influence. Indeed, immediately after World War II, the Soviets developed nuclear weapons imposing a threat to US security (Michaels, 2017). Moreover, the change of the Chinese ideology to communism also threatened the democratic future of the USA (Michaels, 2017). In addition, the arrests and executions of real spies that worked for communists from within the US government validated the claims of fearing the red flag representing the Communist Party (McCarthy, 1950). Thus, in the political arena, the threats of the Soviet Union’s ideology were validated by the advancement of intelligence there, as well as the growth of international influence and military development.
On the other hand, however, these sentiments were significantly exaggerated. They provoked an uncontrolled “particularly bullying and reckless anti-communism” across the state that resulted in an almost irrational fear of communists (Madden, 2017, p. 46). Indeed, as one of the studies conducted across US colleges in the 1950s showed, students were reluctant to express their opinions for fear of being accused of being communists (Michaels, 2017). According to Michaels (2017), “students were worried, “wary” of “speaking out on controversial issues, discussing unpopular concepts and participating in student political activity” because they were afraid of being labeled “Pink” or even Communist” (p. 3). Thus, the scale of the sentiments and their interference with the principles of democracy were invalid.
Similar Examples from Modern History
Sentiments and movements in the political and social spheres that might resemble Red Scare have occurred throughout modern history. Indeed, after World War II, the campaign against fascism was also of a strong influence due to the inhumane politics used by Hitler. In a similar manner, the involvement of Russian hackers in the US elections and the contemporary escalation of the conflict in Ukraine have induced anti-Russian movements. Indeed, the support of any manifestation of fascism is regarded as a threat to national security. However, none of the examples has been developed to the scale Red Scare achieved in the 1950s.
Fifth Amendment Communists
During the hearings about the membership in communist parties, people who referred to the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution were accused of being guilty of affiliating with communists. According to this amendment, an individual has the right to remain silent in order to ensure they do not risk their innocence by stating a controversial opinion. In general, the use of the Fifth Amendment allows a person to obtain the right not to respond, while it was not the case in the context of the Red Scare. In particular, people who invoked the Fifth Amendment or did not appear in court were labeled as Fifth Amendment Communists since they did not reject their sympathy with the communist ideology (Michaels, 2017). In such a manner, the accusations were significantly prejudiced due to the induced omnipresence of anti-communist movements aimed at eliminating any resemblance of Soviet interests inside the USA.
In summation, the presented case study demonstrated that the Red Scare as an anti-communist movement reinforced in US society due to McCarthyism was a complicated period in US history. McCarthy’s speech in 1950 started a wave of anti-communist sentiments during the Cold War, called McCarthyism, which emerged into the second wave of the Red Scare. While international threats of the spread of communism validated anti-communist movements, they were implemented in an uncontrolled way, igniting irrational fear and biased accusations.
Feighery, G. (2021). A “moral challenge”: Journalists, Joe McCarthy, and the struggle for truth, 1950–1955. American Journalism, 38(2), 127–149. doi:10.1080/08821127.2021.1912989
Madden, G. (2017). McCarthyism, Catholicism and Ireland. History Ireland, 25(3), 46-49.
McCarthy, J. (1950). “Enemies from within” speech delivered in Wheeling, West Virginia. Web.
Michaels, J. (2017). McCarthyism: the realities, delusions and politics behind the 1950s red scare. Routledge.