Term Paper: Mccarthy and the Cold War

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[. . .] Again, it did not matter that the evidence was flimsy. Although admitting to be members of the American Communist Party, the Rosenbergs denied any involvement in espionage. They accused Greenglass of making up the story to protect himself. Federal prosecutors and the FBI were seeking the death penalty, but offered a more lenient punishment if they pleaded guilty. The Rosenbergs stood by their earlier statements, despite the fact that if found guilty they would be the first in the U.S. To be executed for espionage. In 1951, the Rosenbergs were convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917; they were put to death two years later (Bennett, 1988, p. 251).

McCarthy kicked off his anti-Communist campaign in 1951 at a Republican women's dinner gathering in Wheeling, West Virginia, to celebrate the 141 birthday of Abraham Lincoln,

Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity. The modern champions of communism have selected this as the time. And, ladies and gentlemen, the chips are down -- they are truly down.

The reason why we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not because our only powerful, potential enemy has sent men to invade our shores, but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who have been treated so well by this nation.... This is glaringly true in the State Department. There the bright young men who are born with silver spoons in their mouths are the ones who have been worst....(ibid, p. 293)

He then went on to say that he had in his hand a list of 57 individuals who are shaping the countries foreign policy, but are card-carrying Communists or loyal to the party. The Hiss case was used as an example of what could happen within the government.

After the speech, a controversy arose whether McCarthy said 57 or 205 of individuals on his list. Since a copy of the speech did not exist, he stated 57 at the next speech. The next time, in front of the Senate, he came up with the number 81. He took six hours, from the late afternoon to just before midnight, explaining in detail a number of cases of supposed Communists in the State Department.

McCarthy always used the press to his advantage. His name was constantly in the headlines, "McCarthy Outlines New Red-Hunting Plan. Television was just coming into its own, and it gave McCarthy a new way to reach out to millions of people. He may have been controversial, but he was followed. Now recognized from coast to coast as an enemy to Communism, the donations began flooding in. Some people sent him several dollars, and some sent him thousands. He responded to each donor with a thank you and another request to keep up the fight against Communism. In a nationwide poll, a full fifty percent approved of McCarthy and his methods, with twenty-one percent undecided (Rovere, 1959, p. 23).

For publicity, he had a talent unmatched by any other politician of the century," states Rovere (ibid, p.162). "Or perhaps it was instinct." Today, politicians are well trained in sound bites. Then, McCarthy knew how to "top" or "blanket" a story unfavorable about him. A journalist remembers the time when McCarthy could top a story of foreign affairs with a picture of him at a barbeque, while political scientists called him the worst senator in the U.S. history. He just knew how to make something out of nothing.

In 1951, the Senate was discussing McCarthy's defiance of the Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections. Things were not going his way -- he had accused the members of the Subcommittee of stealing the taxpayers' money, by spending it on an investigation on him. He was able to get the story buried in the press with a resolution calling for the continuation of the investigation and for an extension of it to Senator Benton.

The Senator was also a master at using inflammatory rhetoric that covered up his untruths. These early sound bites stuck in the minds of his listeners and made newspaper headlines. It did not matter whether or not they were substantiated. For four years, the public watched McCarthy rant and rave about "left-wing bleeding hearts," "egg-sucking phony liberals," "Communists and queers who sold China into atheistic slavery," and "Parlor Pinks and Parlor Punks" (Lewis, 1978, p. 74-75)).

For four years, McCarthy also fed the Red Scare fear with the pledge to continue his fight against communism "regardless of how high-pitched becomes the squealing and screaming of the those left-wing, bleeding heart, phony liberals." (Oakley, 1986, p. 62). Communism in government was a helpful ploy to further his own gain. He could just as easily have ridden the fears of a fascist, Jewish, or black "menace" to the top of the glory pole. He may have never uncovered one communist, but he had the support of millions of Americans (ibid, p. 63).

While McCarthy's comments in public hearings often included the accusatory "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party," he also had the way of rephrasing the witnesses' testimony into something with more sinister implications than they intended.

In October, 1953, McCarthy began investigating Communist infiltration into the military. He made attempts to discredit Robert Stevens, the Secretary of the Army. The president, President Eisenhower, was furious and realized that it was time to end McCarthy's activities. The United States Army thus passed information about McCarthy to journalists who were known to oppose him. In addition, media people such as Edward R. Murrow used their TV program to fight back. Newspaper columnists such as Drew Pearson,

Walter Lippmann and Jack Anderson also became more open in their attacks. Ironically, the senate investigations into the United States Army were televised, which helped expose the tactics of McCarthy's tactics. Some newspapers went as far as to say that McCarthy's work was evil and unmatched in malice. Leading politicians in both parties had been embarrassed by McCarthy's performance, and on in December of 1954 a censure motion condemned his conduct by 67 votes to 22.

Information that has come out in recent years from closed files repeatedly shows that McCarthy truly did not base much on facts. Regardless, a controversy still continues on the value of his efforts. Individuals such as William E. Buckley, Jr. claim that they were needed because America was at internal war with Communism. Others say this Red threat was also not true, since the Communist Party in the U.S. had been losing ground and had little power by the time that McCarthy came into vogue.

Then why was McCarthy so popular? The Red Scare and the Cold War were surely part of the reason. McCarthy clearly saw that fear of Communism was under the American's skin. No matter what, it would be something that has been a part of the society and would be for some time. In fact, even after the Supreme Court overturned many of the McCarthyist restrictions on Communists' liberties in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the fear of an overarching Communist conspiracy continued to underpin American foreign policy. Starting with the Korean War, the U.S. saw every communist uprising as the plan promoted by the Kremlin to test American resolve. Cuba was, and continues to be, another example. The U.S. has thus often backed the anti-Communist and, many times, fascist governments in Iran, Pakistan, and most of Central America. U.S. diplomats also repeatedly misunderstood nationalist and anti-colonialist movements across the globe as Soviet-led ploys, which led to the Vietnam War. Instead of seeing the issues as complex, it was once again the "white hats vs. The black hats."

In 1955, a group of social scientists offered one set of answers: he represented the status anxieties of the upwardly mobile in an age of opportunity (Bennett, 311). "Status concerns, as opposed to real economic interests, distorted realities and led followers to subsume their fears and hatreds into allegiance to McCarthy, the practitioner of irrational politics of resentment."

That is another thing that history has shown repeatedly. Sometimes, events occur because the situation is ripe and serendipity plays its hand. Some people have compared McCarthy to Hitler. In one way this is true: The pieces were all in place and the individuals just had to put them together.


Barson, M. Red Scared (2001). San Francisco: Chronicle.

Bennett, D.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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