McCarthy and the second Red Scare

As the Soviet and the U.S. united their forces in fighting the axis of evil during World War 2, they did not address their ideological differences. Immediately, after world war two, tensions between the two states began to emerge. The communist Soviet Union began to establish puppet authoritarian regimes in central and eastern Europe with the U.S. fought hard to ensure that the world would not fall under communist rule. This marked the beginning of the cold war. The cold war was an ideological war pitting communism as advanced by the Soviet Union against the liberal democratic ideals of capitalism propagated by the Western world.


The period between 1949 and 1950, was marked by certain events which further fuelled the tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. In 1949, the U.S. air force planes detected high radiation levels in the Russian atmosphere confirming their worst fears that the Soviet Union was testing an atomic bomb. This was seen as a great security threat to the U.S and the world at large. In the same year, Mao Zedong, an outspoken advocate of communism, successfully captured mainland China defeating the U.S. backed Kuomintang. In 1950, the Korean War begun with the U.S., U.N. and South Korean forces fighting against Communist forces in North Korea and China.


The U.S. feared that the ideals of communism were rapidly spreading around the world.  America panicked and began to aggressively hunt down any suspected communists and communist sympathizers in the U.S. Loyalty campaigns were set up at home and anti communist missions funded abroad under Harry Truman’s administration. Loyalty Boards headed by federal administrators were also set up to prosecute communist sympathizers in the U.S. Those found guilty were laid off from their jobs. The Justice Department also made up a list of the organizations which were opposed to America’s anti communist foreign policy. The Attorney General’s office distributed this list warning public members of dire consequences if they were found to have any associations with these organizations.

Hollywood was also implicated in the communism saga prompting The Congress’s House Un-American Activities Committee to launch investigations into its involvement with communism. HUAC interrogated writers, actors, directors and studio executives on whether they had any links with the communist party. Hollywood panicked and as a result, they began hunting down any members suspected to have communist affiliations within. They even went to the extent of hiring former federal agents to help hunt down communists within Hollywood. Media houses followed suit and began to clean up their houses by getting rid of all suspected communists.

It was at the height of this American anti communism euphoria that the red scare campaigns, which first began in 1917, re-emerged. The Red Scare was an anti communist campaign aimed at ridding America of all communist sympathizers. The most prominent figure of this campaign was Joseph McCarthy, a member of the U.S. Senate representing Wisconsin. John McCarthy was elected to the U.S. Senate where he served for one term characterized by his errant behaviour and alcohol addiction. During his tenure in the U.S. senate he earned himself the nickname, The Pepsi-Cola Kid after he accepted a bribe from the soft drink giant so that he could pressure the government to continue controlling sugar prices. He successfully managed to do so but this did not go well with his fellow Senators who publicly renounced his actions. With his public image being dealt a blow by the scandal, he had to get a controversial re-election theme and the communism threat provided the greatest opportunity for his return to the senate. McCarthy would exploit the communist threat to the extreme accusing everyone and anyone of being a communist no matter how remote and misplaced the accusation was. He fight against the so called communist sympathizers extended to the media, Hollywood and ended in the military where he was unable to substantiate his claims their involvement in the communist movement.



His anti communism crusade began in February 1950 during the Lincoln’s Birthday Dinner hosted by the Republican Ladies’ Auxiliary Club held at the Wheeling, West Virginia. It was here that he claimed that he had a list of 205 communist sympathizers working inside Harry Truman’s State Department. The battle lines had been drawn and his next stop would be in Salt Lake City where he informed a charged crowd that he knew 81 communists who were employed knowingly by the State Department. He later met with the leaders of the Grand Old Party and informed them that he had leads to 57 Communists operating within the State Department.


His anti communist crusades paid off when he was appointed the Chairman of the Senate’s Government Operations Sub-committee. It is from here that he would launch scathing attacks on suspected Communists in what would come to be referred to as McCarthyism. He would publicly accuse perceived opponents of the Red Scare crusade of being communists even if they had genuine concerns about the path the crusade was taking. It was only after he was pressured to substantiate his claims that he would back down for a while before turning to his accuser with the same anti communism rhetoric. Many people shied off from directly confronting him in order to save their reputations. He personally campaigned against the re-election of congressmen who were opposed to his crusade in their home states. He claimed that America would fall under communism as well as the rest of the world would if the communist agents were left scot free as they would infiltrate the American state bureaucracy to the point that the Soviet Union would have access to all classified information. With nuclear power in their hands and the support of the communist governments of China and North Korea, America would not be able to defeat communism.


With sixty nine percent of Americans behind him, McCarthy charged even harder. One of the most unfortunate victims of this slanderous campaign was John Henry Faulk, a budding radio presenter working with CBS. McCarthy established a professional anti communism corporation known as AWARE, Inc which was used to destroy Faulk’s career. The company would conduct investigations on behalf of big media networks for a fee to ascertain whether individuals working for them as broadcasters and even advertisers had any communist links. Faulk felt that the company was acting in breach of the freedom of the media and challenged the authority of the company in deciding who could work for the media houses and who would not. As usual, Faulk was accused of being a communist and consequently blacklisted him. His career as a result took a deep dive and would not recover even after he had successfully sued AWARE and had the slander against him stopped.


However pressure for him to produce evidence of the communist accusations he made against the suspected communist agents began to increase. To save face he decided to take his war to a new and hopefully more intriguing level. In 1954, He took his war to the United States Army and the CBS television network. He made allegations to the effect that top military officials were either communists themselves or communists’ sympathizers. He also accused CBS television anchor Edward R. Murrow of being a communist. However he had no evidence to support his accusations.


The Army McCarthy were televised hearings were consequently televised and people got to get the real story behind the red scare crusades. Many of the claims levelled against the army officers were dismissed due to lack of evidence. McCarthy blamed this on the media claiming that they had conspired against him. He dismissed Edward Murrow as another communist sympathizer claiming that he was the one behind his woes. McCarthy ratings with the public fell drastically after this hearings.  The senate took this opportunity and stripped him of the chairmanship of the Senate’s Government Operations Sub-committee. He died three years out of alcohol complications.




















 Brian. F (2007).  McCarthyism: The Red Scare. Minneapolis. Compass Point Books.


Richard M. F. (1990) Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press.


Earl. J.H. (1996) Red Scare or Red Menace? American Communism and Anticommunism in the Cold War Era. Chicago.


Derek C.M. (2006) Living Through The Red Scare. Detroit: Greenhaven Press,



 Richard M. F. (1990) Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press.

Earl. J.H. (1996) Red Scare or Red Menace? American Communism and Anticommunism in the Cold War Era. Chicago.


Derek C.M. (2006) Living Through The Red Scare. Detroit: Greenhaven Press,



 Brian. F (2007).  McCarthyism: The Red Scare. Minneapolis. Compass Point Books.



 Richard M. F. (1990) Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press.


Earl. J.H. (1996) Red Scare or Red Menace? American Communism and Anticommunism in the Cold War Era. Chicago

Richard M. F. (1990) Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press.


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