McCarthyism before McCarthy
“McCarthyism” is a term that was coined by a cartoon by Herbert Block featured in the Washington Post on March, 29, 1950. It was used to describe the campaigned carried out by Joseph R. McCarthy, who at the time was a Republican Senator of Wisconsin.
While McCarthyism described the period which Joseph McCarthy campaigned, there were preexisting attitudes from events over 30 years prior that created what is now known as the McCarthy era.
The start of McCarthyism and the McCarthy era can be earliest tracked from the 1910’s. After World War I, there was an extreme sense of patriotism in American society. From here came the birth of the First Red Scare from 1919 to 1920.
There was a nationwide fear of dissent from the government, particularly from communists, anarchists, and socialists. During this time, many civil liberties were ignored, and innocent people were jailed for expressing their dissent.
Americans were very concerned about the possibility of communists infiltrating the United States, where they could potentially subvert labor unions, schools, and other institutions. There was particular concern with the labor unions, as two of the largest unions had strong objections to WWI and had even held strikes for various reasons. These strikes were often associated to “Reds,” demonizing many of the strikes after as crimes against society to conspire against the government and establish communism.
In the aftermath of World War II and the deconstruction of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Russia was quickly becoming a powerful and influential force on the global stage. Russia was extending communist influence over many parts of Eastern Europe and China was at this point on the verge of becoming a communist state. The Korean War also demonstrated the fight against Communists, as the United States, South Korea, and the U.N. fought against North Korean and Chinese communists.
Both Government and private agencies began to investigate, hoping to find evidence of this subversive activity. In the 1930’s the House Committee on Un-American Activities was formed, and was revived throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s.
In 1950, Joseph R. McCarthy was a young Senator who was hoping to seek political gain. He created an effective and well publicized, but morally questionable campaign using what is now known as McCarthyism, which relentlessly sought to expose Communists in the United States. His McCarthyism-filled Anticommunist campaign, which continued till 1953, attempted to identify and eliminate communists as well as “fellow travelers” in the government.
In the same year, McCarthy claimed he had a list of 205 names of individuals who were Communists working within the State Department, which he never released. Many Congress members approved of his questionable ethics due to the success he received from them. It was the use of these heavy-handed tactics that Herbert Block coined McCarthyism in his cartoon, just weeks after the announcement of this list.
The Senator’s use of McCarthyism was initially endorsed by many voters and politicians, but ultimately McCarthy destroyed his reputation when he attacked the U.S. army by accusing them of promoting communists. He submitted evidence that was found to be fraudulent and after attempting to wrongly discredit one of the attorneys hired by the U.S. Army, his McCarthyism was quickly exposed his popularity effectively vanished, followed by weakened attitudes of McCarthyism.