McCarthy Information

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August 23rd, 2006 McCarthy Information

Arthur Miller


Sen. Joseph McCarthy

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s America was overwhelmed with concerns about the threat of communism growing in Eastern Europe and China. Capitalizing on those concerns, a young Senator named Joseph McCarthy made a public accusation that more than two hundred “card-carrying” communists had infiltrated the United States government. Though eventually his accusations were proven to be untrue, and he was censured by the Senate for unbecoming conduct, his zealous campaigning ushered in one of the most repressive times in 20th-century American politics.

While the House Un-American Activities Committee had been formed in 1938 as an anti-Communist organ, McCarthy’s accusations heightened the political tensions of the times. Known as McCarthyism, the paranoid hunt for infiltrators was notoriously difficult on writers and entertainers, many of whom were labeled communist sympathizers and were unable to continue working. Some had their passports taken away, while others were jailed for refusing to give the names of other communists. The trials, which were well publicized, could often destroy a career with a single unsubstantiated accusation. Among those well-known artists accused of communist sympathies or called before the committee were Dashiell Hammett, Waldo Salt, Lillian Hellman, Lena Horne, Paul Robeson, Elia Kazan, Arthur Miller, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Charlie Chaplin and Group Theatre members Clifford Odets, Elia Kazan, and Stella Adler. In all, three hundred and twenty artists were blacklisted, and for many of them this meant the end of exceptional and promising careers.

During this time there were few in the press willing to stand up against McCarthy and the anti-Communist machine. Among those few were comedian Mort Sahl, and journalist Edward R. Murrow, whose strong criticisms of McCarthy are often cited as playing an important role in his eventual removal from power. By 1954, the fervor had died down and many actors and writers were able to return to work. Though relatively short, these proceedings remain one of the most shameful moments in modern U.S. history.

PBS American Masters

McCarthyism: In the 1940s and 1950s Americans feared the encroachment of Communism. The Soviet Union was growing in power and the threat of a nuclear holocaust was on the forefront of American minds. Eastern Europe had become a conglomerate of Communist satellite nations. Throw in China and Americans began to feel they were surrounded by a Communist threat. Paranoia ensued.

The Crucible: Salem established itself as a religious community in the midst of evil. Salemites considered the forest the domain of the devil. Salem was surrounded by forest. Paranoia ensued.

McCarthyism: Joseph McCarthy, U.S. Senator, made unsubstantiated claims that more than 200 "card carrying" members of the Communist party had infiltrated the United States government. He had no proof.

The Crucible: Delusional girls make unsubstantiated claims about the existence of witches in Salem. They have no proof.

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McCarthyism: McCarthy's unsubstantiated claims ruined lives and led to increased hostility.

The Crucible: The girls unsubstantiated claims ruin lives and lead to increased hostility in Salem.

McCarthyism: Those who were accused were assumed guilty, put on trial, and expected to divulge the names of other Communist sympathizers. Failure to do so led to sanctions.

The Crucible: Those who are accused are assumed guilty, put on trial, expected to confess, and expected to accuse others of being witches. Failure to do so leads to death.

McCarthyism: The media were not willing to stand up to Senator McCarthy for fear of being accused of being a Communist.

The Crucible: Townspeople are not willing to stand up to the court for fear of being accused of being a witch.

McCarthyism: Arthur Miller was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and subsequently blacklisted.

The Crucible: Arthur Miller wrote it.

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.

May 31: Arthur Miller and HUAC

by Lawrence Bush on May 30, 2010

Arthur Miller, author of Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, among other enduring plays, was found guilty of contempt of Congress on this date in 1957 for refusing to name the names of Communist writers during hearings held by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. Miller denied being a communist but testified that “there were two short periods — one in 1940 and one in 1947 — when I was sufficiently close to Communist Party activities so that someone might honestly have thought that I had become a member.” His contempt conviction was overturned on appeal a year later. That his marriage to Marilyn Monroe had “some connection with . . . being subpoenaed was confirmed,” Miller wrote years later, “when Chairman Walters of the HUAC sent word to Joseph Rauh, my lawyer, that he would be inclined to cancel my hearing if Miss Monroe would consent to have a picture taken with him.”

1958: Arthur Miller cleared of contempt

Washington's Court of Appeals has quashed playwright Arthur Miller's conviction for contempt of Congress after a two-year legal battle.

In May last year, a judge convicted Mr Miller for refusing to tell the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) the names of alleged Communist writers with whom he attended five or six meetings in New York in 1947.

He had been questioned by the HUAC in 1956 over a supposed Communist conspiracy to misuse American passports and willingly answered all questions about himself.

But the playwright, married to actress Marilyn Monroe, refused to name names on a point of principle saying: "I could not use the name of another person and bring trouble on him."


Today his lawyer, Joseph Rauh, argued that the committee simply wanted to expose the playwright and that "exposure for exposure's sake" was illegal.

Mr Rauh added that the timing of the hearing - just before his marriage to Marilyn Monroe - would ensure maximum publicity and humiliation for the writer.

He also said the questions he would not answer were not relevant to the passports issue.

However the appeal court ignored this argument finding instead that the way the questions were put to Mr Miller by the HUAC made contempt charges untenable.

Mr Miller had asked the committee not to ask him to name names and the chairman had agreed to defer the question.

The court today ruled that at the time Mr Miller was led to believe this line of questioning had been suspended or even abandoned altogether.

Good news for Arthur Miller and his wife, actress Marilyn Monroe

In Context

The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was set up in 1938 to investigate fascists as well as communists within federal government.

In 1947 it turned its attention to the arts. A group of writers, directors and actors known as the Hollywood Ten were subsequently convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about their political beliefs.

They were blacklisted by Hollywood and over the course of the next 10 years some 320 people were barred from work in the film studios over their alleged membership of the Communist party.

As more convictions of contempt were quashed by the courts of appeal, the committee's influence declined and it was abolished in 1975.

Arthur Miller later said his trial only went ahead because he had refused one of the members of the HUAC permission to be photographed with Marilyn Monroe. The couple divorced in 1961.

Arthur Miller died in 2005, aged 89.

McCarthy Information

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