After the Second World War came to an end in 1945, an intense rivalry emerged between the United States and the Soviet Union. While the US was democratic, the Soviet Union was communist. The two nations became engaged in several economic and political clashes called the Cold War. This conflict raised concerns among the Americans that there could be communists and leftist in their country working as spies for the Soviet Union, thus posing a threat to US national security. The ensuring anxiety resulted in a series of actions that had an intense and lasting effect on the American government and society. This essay looks at Anti-Communism in the US after World War 2.
Americans were quite confident following the end of World War 2. They had been among the allies that defeating the mighty Germans and Japanese. They had the worlds strongest economy given that their country had not been ravaged by the war. America was the only nation in possession of a nuclear. However, it was only a matter of time before that confidence was dashed.
Over a period of the next five years or so, relations between the Soviet Union and America deteriorated into the Cold War. To make things even worse for them, it appeared as if the Soviets were gaining the upper hand. In 1948, power in China, the most populous country in the world, was seized by a communist government. The Soviet Union successfully tested a nuclear bomb of its own the following year. In 1950, North Korea started a conflict with their southern neighbors. The above events seemed to suggest that another world war was looming, and this time America might be on the receiving end.
In 1950, less than 50,000 US citizens out of the countrys total population of about 150 million belonged to the Communist Party. Yet, at around that time, panic over the threat seemingly posed by communists in America had reached alarming levels. The fear associated with communism was not completely irrational. The Soviet Union has for a long time conducted spying activities inside the United States with the help of America citizens, especially during the Second World War. As anxiety about Soviet influence increased when the Cold War intensified, US leaders decided to do something about it. Investigations were carried out on federal employees to figure out they were royal enough to the government. This was in accordance to an Executive Order by President Truman called the Loyalty Order. Hundreds of individuals in the film industry were blacklisted due to their alleged political inclinations. Some states required that public employees such as teachers take loyalty oaths. In addition, certain books that were perceived as too leftist were removed from library shelves. These actions by the government were a surprising development for a democratic nation that cherished the concepts of freedom of political organization and personal liberty.
Among the initial efforts anti-communism activities occurred in the US House of Representatives following the formation of the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) in 1938. The committee frequently carried out investigations that concentrated on exposing communists in the federal government or suspicious elements in the film industry. Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy was the individual most closely linked to the anti-communist crusade and the excessive manner of its activities. He used intimidation and dissent to make himself a feared and powerful figure in US politics. He accused various people of disloyalty, including intellectuals, celebrities or anyone who went against his political views. Most of the people he targeted lost their jobs and reputations.
J. Edgar Hoover, a long-serving director of the FBI, assisted in many of the investigations carried out on communist activities in America. He was an enthusiastic anti-communist, and directed the Bureau to use seemingly unorthodox means to flush out communists. They included compiling detailed files on suspects by using surveillance, wiretaps and infiltration of suspected leftist groups. The information that the FBI gathers proved crucial in persecution of several high-profile figures and officials of the US Communist Party.
As anti-communism efforts gathered momentum, the US political climate became rather conservative. For instance, elected officials from both the Republican and Democratic parties tried to make themselves be perceived as steadfast anti-communists. Not many people dared to question the unorthodox tactics applied in flushing out suspected radicals. Leftist groups saw a reduction in their membership as it became apparent that association with them could result in far-reaching consequences. Rebellious individuals from the political spectrums left side kept quiet on a number of important issues. For instance, support for civil liberties such as free speech in judicial affairs eroded substantially.
American citizens also personally felt the anti-communism effects as thousands of people who allegedly sympathized with communists saw their lives interfered with. They lost their jobs, were hunted by law enforcement officers, and were alienated from family members and friends. Post World War 2 anti-communism eventually subsided in the late 1950s. However, it still influences political debates even today, and is a good example of how civil liberties can be compromised by unfounded fears.
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O'Reilly, Kenneth. "" Racial Matters": The FBI's Secret File on Black America, 19601972." New York (1989).
Schrecker, Ellen. The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History With Documents. Macmillan, 2002. Print.
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