AAH 3012 America History 2: Research Essay Carlos Santander 3851663 Word Count: 2,292
‘Joseph McCarthy was the product not the cause of the anti-communist paranoia that gripped American society’. Discuss
‘Joseph McCarthy was the product not the cause of the anti-communist paranoia that gripped American society’. Discuss Anti-communist tendencies existed within the American Society before Senator Joe McCarthy ever came into the public limelight with his infamous Lincoln Day speech at Wheeling.1 However, the hatred that stemmed from such anti-communist sentiments were able to masquerade and ultimately publicly parade behind the icon of Joseph McCarthy. He became their voice, their banner and the symbol they needed in order to justify their actions2. It was this voice and icon that was the superficial cause, the public figure behind a deeper force causing paranoiac hysteria across America. McCarthy was the evil product created and nurtured during a time where National Security trumped basic human rights and the very crux of the freedom established in the American constitution3. McCarthy’s brief yet influential tide within the Cold War era and his legacy left behind thousands of lives and reputations destroyed and tattered4. McCarthy was the product of an ideological conflict, anti-communist ignorant fears and a belligerent attitude; ultimately the product of influential personalities feeding and marketing McCarthyism to become one of the most darkest and evil stains on America’s history.
Joseph McCarthy, a relatively unknown in the American political system prior to the Wheeling speech is credited with perhaps the most destructive and devastating legacy in American history. McCarthyism is perhaps best described as an era in which feared witch-hunts reigned and ruled the American people. However his tribute according to Fariello is with due reason, “McCarthy’s villainy is so plain that his name became a malediction in the very year of his ascendancy.”5 In order to understand how vast and influential McCarthy’s reign was in America, it is vital to firstly comprehend the context that cloaked his dominance. His timing seemed impeccable6, his brash and contentious allegations followed the guilty verdict of the Alger Hiss7, the public disclosure of the Soviet’s first successful atomic explosion8, as well as the fall of China to communism9. These events served as a prelude to an apparently genuine, supported and convincing sincerity in McCarthy’s allegations and claims which guided America into a hysteria and overly paranoid witch-hunt for an extensive period of the Cold War. These same events are substantial evidence to suggest that anti-communist sentiments both existed and gave birth to McCarthyism. McCarthy’s rise was a created product of the ignorant fears and misunderstanding of communism coupled with a heightened tension and conflict between these ideologies that were at the crux of the Cold War.
With such a backdrop behind McCarthy’s accession, it becomes easier to understand why February 1950 is arguably McCarthy’s moment10. Powers, contends that McCarthy wasn’t necessary the cause of anti-communism paranoia but rather a product due to his background and upbringing.11 His catholic home life would lead to believe that many anti-communist sermons were drummed into a young Joseph, resulting in an absolute defiant stance towards the evilness of socialism, liberalism, and communism.12 Even his shady political foundation contends that McCarthy rode an already established anti-communist wave. McCarthy publically accused La Follette of being “communistically inclined.”13 His victory of La Follette would not have been so great if it weren’t for anti-communist sentiments and fear already established and accepted by the general American public.
The clash of ideologies during the Berlin Blockade14 and the military fear that the West will be overcome by Reds were already established prior to McCarthy’s name becoming headline news and his allegations dominating radio and television airwaves15. The paranoia and fear of communism was best described years prior to the McCarthyism era by General Clay “When Berlin falls, West Germany will be next... Communism will run rampant.16” Joseph McCarthy was not the cause of paranoia and fear but the product of anti-communist reactions. In essence McCarthy became the banner and the voice that was needed to drive these anti-communist attitudes and fear into the lives of everyday Americans. Perhaps the responsibility of McCarthy’s anti-communism could be attributed to the power and influence of J. Edgar Hoover, more so than McCarthy’s own political and personal background.
J. Edgar Hoover according to biographer Anthony Summers was a hero who had become much more then the nation’s top lawman but the nation’s champion against its most insidious foes17. Summers goes on further to suggest that Hoover became synonymous with the safety of the nation, with the core values of American society18. Essentially Hoover was revered as a heroic patriot of sorts. Yet Hoover was corrupt19. During the time of the Cold War in the 1950s he was a powerful figure and so dominate was his position and reverence amongst politicians, there was not one President that dare to stand against Hoover and he was able to retain his powerful position even well passed his retirement date20. Hoover’s own anti-communist views were strong21 and although he held a powerful position within America, Hoover was in need of a public figure willing to make loud accusations and significant allegations to strengthen his grip within an already paranoid society. McCarthy was Hoover’s godsend. His mouth piece and arguably the puppet that Hoover needed to bring America under the grip of anti-communist fear.22 Richard Fried writes that McCarthy in fact, “came late to the Red menace.23” McCarthy was loaded with material and briefings by experts in the field in which Powers names, Nixon, Bridges and J. Edgar Hoover24. It seems that for Hoover to strengthen the grip and hold of the FBI regarding National Security and his ability to justify the need to insist in obtaining Dossiers and vital information of American leaders including their Presidents, he needed to have the country on their knees frightened of the incoming death germ disease known as communism. McCarthy was his man, a young opportunistic politician, who in his past had already be known to swing from the Democratic party to a Republican to ensure a successful political career.25 McCarthy can be argued was the love child of Hoover’s anti-communist ideals and views. An easy target of manipulation and given a few briefings and cases would become a media demagogue26, thriving on nation who already was in stark fear of a Red invasion.
Owen Lattimore, one of the China hands, who was accused by McCarthy’s loud mouth of being a communist, was quick to realise the puppet and the puppet master. Lattimore claimed that McCarthy’s predecessors of anti-communism where joyful, “When they found the willing hands and innocent mind of Joseph McCarthy.27” Despite McCarthy being perceived as a puppet, he was strengthened by the Korean War. Fried explains that the “Korean War ensured the persistence of the politics of disloyalty on which McCarthy thrived.28” It meant that the fears from within as McCarthy articulated now had an outward expression. The American public could see the reality of the conflict with communism being outworked and paid with the currency of young men’s blood. However Fried further suggest that although Korea enhanced McCarthy’s longevity, it also lead to McCarthy being marginalized.29 McCarthy had become the most feared man in the United States.30 If he was merely Hoover’s puppet, there is no reason as to why McCarthy fathomed the impudence to make outrageous accusations such as those of General George C. Marshall31, his battle with Eisenhower and the eventual downfall of the Army-McCarthy hearings.32 McCarthy had moments of madness which rings truth with the Tydings report claiming that McCarthy was nothing but a fraud and a hoax.33 It is these very moments of madness which strongly suggest that McCarthy was not a product of anti-communism but rather the very creator of paranoia and confusion that reign within the United States during the McCarthyism era. It can be clearly suggested that it was his zeal in an anti-communist crusade that lead the nation to forget about its own democratic values and morals and reason as to why many communist hate mongering followers were attracted to McCarthy’s appeal34. He was able to fight communism and hand over a tool to Americans to do so likewise. McCarthyism, as Powers describes, “Was anti-communism conducted on the level of symbolic politics.”35Individuals, innocent Americans, were converted into symbols of communism despite the lack of evidence supporting such insinuations. McCarthy had proven in the manner of which he won the Senate of Wisconsin that he was corrupt, a liar and capable of making false accusations.36 There is strong evidence to suggest that McCarthy was no one’s lackey but rather a man with purpose and intention to stamp his position, belief and legacy amongst American politics.
Gibbons suggest that McCarthy’s followers would hold him in similar regards to Hoover, a protector and champion in the war against communism.37 These are valid and compelling arguments to suggest that McCarthy was an opportunistic politician who used the detestation against communism for his personal gain.38 Despite clear affirmation of McCarthy’s desire to increase his political profile, the very fact that his demise was as rapid and sudden as his breakthrough39 into the political realm conveys that there were forces at hand which assisted McCarthy in both his coming and going. There is no denying that the atmosphere of the Cold War, the confusion in American politics, and the fear mongering that existed, all assisted in making McCarthyism possible. Fried depicts this by stating, “They had built McCarthy up.”40 There is no other clear explanation as to why a young unknown Senator41 could have amassed such power within a short period of time and cause a nationwide hysteria.
McCarthy arguably could have been more than just a product of anti-communism and perhaps did define himself as a politician who exploited the Red scare for his political gains and public appeal. It can conceivably be noted that his political strategy, most certainly his political origin, was based on such exploitations and false accusations. Anti-communist fears occurred throughout America before McCarthyism, all be it without a symbol, a banner and an icon. Joe McCarthy will forever be known as the evil man whose lack of decency42 exhausted a nation, drove fear and destroyed a vast array of innocent lives, careers, reputations, marriages and children.43 However he was a mere product of other, higher personalities anti-communism and not the creator of such notions. Joel Kovel writes that Hoover was in essence, “Both chief instigator and mastermind of the great inquisition known as the McCarthy Era.44” Kovel further suggest that McCarthyism and thus McCarthy could not have occurred if not for Hoover’s own anti-communism which was in tune with American society.45 There is no denial that McCarthy’s reign of terror destroyed lives and effectively striped America of its democratic values and morals. His fraudulent allegations and lies caused a rift in American history so dark and deep that his name will forever bare the curse of being acquainted with hatred and evil. His demise and death, a much celebrated affair by many,46 suited the true nature of his political tenure. He was a madman, a fake, a hoax of the highest degree and the very fact that once the Republicans had taken the Presidency was the beginning of his end, points to the very fact that he was nothing more than the most evil and extreme product caused by anti-communism. The tragedy however lies not within the fact that his fear mongering anti-communist crusades were a hoax; but that his greatest victim were the lives of countless children whose lives will forever bare the scar of McCarthyism47, an evil product, a poison that will forever remain one of the darkest stains on America’s history.
References BBC GCSE Bitesize, ‘The Berlin Blockade and airlift’, BBC [web page] accessed 15th August 2011.
Cold War Museum, ‘The Berlin Blockade’, The Cold War Museum [web page] accessed 15th August 2011.
The Cold War Home Front: Political Relationism, ‘Tydings Committee Hearing Final Report’, Authentic History [web page] < http://www.authentichistory.com/1946-1960/4-cwhomefront/1-reactionism/index.html> accessed 27th August 2011.
Deery, P. Spy Stories (Draft, 2011)
Fariello, G. Red Scare Memories of the American Inquisition An Oral History (W.W. Norton & Company, 1995)
Fried, R. Nightmare in Red the McCarthy Era in Perspective (Oxford University Press, 1990)
Gibbons, S. R. The Cold War (Longman, 1986)
Kaplan, J. & Shapiro, L. Red Diapers: Growing Up in the Communist Left (University of Illinois Press, 1999)
Kinloch, N. “McCarthyism”, BBC History, Vol. 5 No. 6 (June 2004)
Kovel, J. Red Hunting in the Promised Land Anticommunism and the Making of America (Basic Books, 1997)
Lieberman, R. (Ed.), “The Alger Hiss Case”, History in Dispute, Vol. 19 (2005)
McCarthy, J. “Lincoln Day Address” February 20 1950, McCarthy – Welch Exchange, ‘Have You No Sense of Decency’, American Rhetoric [web page] < http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/welch-mccarthy.html> accessed 29th August 2011.
Powers, R. Not Without Honour the History of American Anticommunism (The Free Press, 1995)
Smith, R. Reds Under the Bed American Anti-communism in the 1950s (History Teachers’ Association of Victoria, 2005)
Summers, A. Official and Confidential, The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover (London, Corgi Books, 1994)
1 Joseph McCarthy “Lincoln Day Address” February 20 1950, < http://faculty.txwes.edu/csmeller/Human-Prospect/ProData09/03WW2CulMatrix/ColdWar/lincolndayaddress.html>
2R. Powers, Not Without Honour the History of American Anticommunism (The Free Press, 1995), 236.
3 R. Smith, Reds Under the Bed American Anti-communism in the 1950s (History Teachers’ Association of Victoria, 2005), 9.
4 N. Kinloch, “McCarthyism”, BBC History, Vol. 5 No. 6 (June 2004), 89.
5 G. Fariello, Red Scare Memories of the American Inquisition An Oral History (W.W. Norton & Company, 1995), 27.
6 Ibid., Loc. Cit.
7 R. Lieberman (Ed.), “The Alger Hiss Case”, History in Dispute, Vol. 19 (2005), 155.
8 R. Smith, Op. Cit. 40.
9 P. Deery, Spy Stories (Draft, 2011), 3.
10 R. Fried, Nightmare in Red the McCarthy Era in Perspective (Oxford University Press, 1990), 120.
11 R. Powers, Loc. Cit.
12 Ibid., 237.
13 Ibid., Loc. Cit.
14 Cold War Museum, ‘The Berlin Blockade’, The Cold War Museum [web page] accessed 15th August 2011.
15 R. Fried, Op. Cit. 123.
16 BBC GCSE Bitesize, ‘The Berlin Blockade and airlift’, BBC [web page] accessed 15th August 2011.
17 A. Summers, Official and Confidential, The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover (London, Corgi Books, 1994), 23.
18 Ibid., Loc. Cit.
19 R. Smith, Op. Cit. 10.
20 Ibid., Loc. Cit.
21 J. Kovel, Red Hunting in the Promised Land Anticommunism and the Making of America (Basic Books, 1997), 94.
22 Ibid., 88.
23 R. Fried Op. Cit. 121.
24 R. Powers Op. Cit. 241.
25 R. Fried, Op. Cit. 122.
26 Ibid., 123.
27 R. Powers, Op. Cit. 243.
28 R. Fried, Op. Cit. 129.
29 Ibid., 131.
30 R. Powers, Op. Cit. 235.
31 S. R. Gibbons, The Cold War (Longman, 1986), 64.
32 R. Fried, Op. Cit. 137.
33 The Cold War Home Front: Political Relationism, ‘Tydings Committee Hearing Final Report’, Authentic History [web page] < http://www.authentichistory.com/1946-1960/4-cwhomefront/1-reactionism/index.html> accessed 27th August 2011.
34 S. Gibbons, Op. Cit. 63.
35 R. Powers, Op. Cit. 245.
36 Ibid., 237.
37 S. Gibbons, Loc. Cit.
38 Ibid., Loc. Cit.
39 Ibid., 64.
40 R. Fried, Op. Cit. 135.
41 G. Fariello, Op. Cit. 27.
42 McCarthy – Welch Exchange, ‘Have You No Sense of Decency’, American Rhetoric [web page] < http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/welch-mccarthy.html> accessed 29th August 2011.
43 R. Smith, Op. Cit. 13.
44 J. Kovel, Op. Cit. 88.
45 Ibid., Loc. Cit.
46 J. Kaplan & L. Shapiro, Red Diapers: Growing Up in the Communist Left (University of Illinois Press, 1999), 133.