| Christian Valcarce
"Our fear that Communism might some day take over most of the world blinds us to the fact that Anti-Communism already has." –Unknown
Cold War Politics in America
The Cold War drastically affected the lives and society of the American people during the second half of the 20th century. The main cause of the Cold War was due to rising tensions between the United States and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the two dominating world powers at the time. While the United States was built on the foundation of capitalism and democracy, the USSR represented authoritarianism and communism. The Cold War remains a different war than all others due to the fact that much of the war revolved around the concept of propaganda. Such propaganda included McCarthyism, the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. Propaganda struck fear within the American public and as a result the United States government placed restrictions on democracy. Another reason that the Cold War was unique is the fact that the war does not have an official beginning and ending date. Although historians have not been able to agree on an actual time period, it has been stated that the Cold War went from post WWII all the way through the early 1990’s. Considering this broad range of dates, this paper will mainly focus on Cold War events occurring from 1947 to 1975.
The primary reason that the United States government placed restrictions on democracy was due to the fear of communism by the American people as well as the influence of communism over the world as a whole. From the period of 1947 to 1975 the security of the nation became tightened resulting from the concern that communism was going to take over the United States. As a direct result of this fear, numerous anti-communist campaigns would be launched in an effort to keep communism from spreading. These campaigns were successful for the most part in the fact that many people were struck with the fear that communism could potentially spread to the United States and these individuals sought to prevent such an incident from occurring. As a result much of the American public would step forward to join in on the anti-communist movements.
During this period of the Cold War the Federal Government of the United States took major precautions to place restrictions on communism. Due to the fact that communism appeared to be rapidly spreading, all foreign citizens living within the United States were required to register with the federal government in an effort to limit communist ideologies and their influence. According to American Historian Howard Zinn, who wrote A People’s History of the United States, “There are today many communists in America. They are everywhere--in factories, offices, butcher shops, on street corners, in private business--and each carries in himself the germs of death for society.” This quote from Zinn illustrates the fact that communist ideals had the potential to spread like a disease and break down American society. Through the registration of foreign individuals, the United States government could monitor these people and keep such a catastrophe from happening.
Beginning in mid-20th century America, numerous politicians began to state that there were communists living among us in the United States who were responsible for the so-called spreading of communism to America. Among such politicians was Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. was one of these politicians that emerged during this period of time with his McCarthy first gained popularity in 1950 when he gave his renowned Wheeling Speech. It was within this speech that McCarthy stated there were 205 spies in the state department who were spreading their communist ideologies throughout the United States. McCarthy warned the American public that there were communist traitors in American government and society that were threatening to destroy the United States. In one of his quotes McCarthy stated, “When a great democracy is destroyed, it will not be because of enemies from without, but rather because of enemies from within.” Senator McCarthy stated that if the American public wanted to combat communists then there would need to be a “moral uprising” to drive these dangerous communists out of government and society.
McCarthyism and the political and cultural anti-communist views that it created threatened all of America’s basic rights including the concept of democracy. McCarthyism directly resulted in a society that was overwhelmed by conformity. Many individuals were too afraid to offer their opinions on the issue of communism and talk about what was on their mind regarding the war due to concerns that they would be labeled as communists themselves. Since the American public was scared to voice their opinions they were unable to take part in public debate. Such events as these led to great turmoil in the United States as many people were unable to shape and control the government, their own lives, and society as a whole. One of the main reasons that the United States’ democratic institutions as well as civil and political rights were violated was due to McCarthyism in the Cold War.
An excellent account of the McCarthyism and the Cold War is seen in the book Nightmare in Red written by historian Richard M. Fried. This book places communism into context and portrays the experience of living during the period of the Cold War as well as the influence of McCarthyism on the American people. Fried illustrates the concepts of the Second Red Scare occurring in the 1940’s and 50s as well as the mindset, actions, effects, and pervasiveness of anti-communism in our government and in the greater society. Through Nightmare in Red, Fried makes a valid argument stating that anti-communism was not simply a federal issue but that it also influenced individual state and county politics as well as city politics.
Through his concept of McCarthyism, Joseph McCarthy allowed for the government to violate the rights of Americans during the Cold War. During the late 50’s and early 60’s many government agencies, among them the FBI, all stalked and harassed political groups that challenged the government’s policy for dealing with the Cold War. The government’s so-called goal was to get rid of those American citizens who did not give way to the United States Cold War policies by labeling such individuals as Communists and then arresting them for questioning. As time passed the truth about government violations of the laws and of American's basic rights would eventually be revealed. As a direct result of this many individuals began to question the government and its commitment to democracy.
It should be stated that communism not only threatened Western Civilization, but also countries such as Vietnam. Beginning in 1959, the Vietnam War was sparked by the symptoms and components, as well as consequences of the Cold War. Vietnam had a brutal history with France in which the entire country was under control of the French Empire. France had taken over Vietnam in the middle of the nineteenth century and the French had maintained control of the country until the end of World War II. At this point in time Vietnam was taken over from France by neighboring country Japan, which would eventually retreat its forces leaving Vietnam as an independent country. Ho Chi Minh, a Vietnam native and Communist was later declared the leader of North Vietnam and he was able to form the Vietnamese rebellion group known as the Vietminh. Ho Chi Minh believed that the Vietminh would help to fight both Japan and the French colonial administration to gain total independence in Vietnam.
In response to the war after Vietnam had been divided into two separate countries, South Vietnam issued a treaty with the United States in 1961 to help them fight off the influence of communism coming from the North. The United States responded in an effort to prevent this spreading of communism by sending in 2,000 military advisors to aid the South in battle. It has been argued that the only reason that the United States did get involved was due to the fact that they wanted to limit the influence of communist ideologies in Eastern Asia. The United States was able to gain public support in this through the Domino Theory established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This theory stated the concept that communism was taking over every country one by one and that once communism ended up taking over one country, others would fall with it like a chain reaction or domino effect. This theory sums up what the United States was trying to avoid.
The involvement of the United States with South Vietnam, resulted in the occurrence of numerous incidents. One of the most renowned events was the Gulf of Tonkin Incident which occurred in August 1964 when North Vietnamese warships purportedly attacked two United States warships, the U.S.S. Maddox and the U.S.S.C. Turner Joy. President Lyndon Baines Johnson claimed that the United States had done nothing to provoke these two attacks and that North Vietnam was the aggressor. Because of this incident the United States Congress ended up issuing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. In addition to this incident the Vietminh begin attacking United States troops just over the North/South Vietnam boarder although in the end the United States would suffer much fewer casualties than Vietnam did.
Eventually President Nixon began drawing up a plan to withdraw United States troops from Vietnam. In 1968 Nixon had his plan, which he referred to as Vietnamization. This agreement was based solely on the peace of the nation although in spite of Nixon’s efforts to support peace, in the year of 1968, 347 South Vietnamese citizens were killed by United States soldiers. By the mid 1970’s the initial Cold War issues had changed significantly to the point that the two “superpowers”, the Soviet Union and the United States had to exist in reaction to each other. For example, the relationship between the United States and China had improved and this appeared to directly affect the relationship between the Soviet Union and China in a negative way. The United States officially withdrew from the Cold War in 1973 after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords.
In conclusion, the primary reason the United States Government curtailed democracy between 1947 and 1975 was due to the fear of and overall reaction to the spreading of communism. It has been stated that the American public went along with this because they did not want the United States to become significantly involved in affairs relating to international countries. It is believed that the American public may have been forced to go along with the anti-communist movements to protect and prevent themselves from being labeled as communists. This violated the American peoples’ rights to democracy as it was during this era (and one of the few times in the history of our country during the Cold War) that the people did not govern America, but rather America governed the people, limiting our freedom and our everyday rights granted to us by our founding fathers.
“Excerpt from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.” New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 31 May 2007. Web. 13 Dec 2011. .
Fried, R. M. (1990). Nightmare in Red.
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