Its Origins, Its Impact on US Society and What People Were Afraid Of
The term McCarthyism is named in memory of the US Senator, Joseph McCarthy, the founder of of this concept. McCarthyism refers to the ‘withchunt’, the investigation and persecution of ‘communist sympathizers’, that is people who believed in or supported communism in the United States in any form. Also the term is descriptive of the outbreak of panic and worry about communism that flooded American society at the time.
McCarthyism originated from the mouth of Senator Joseph McCarthy. The Alien Registration Act had been introduced into the United States and everyone who had the slightest chance of being linked to communist aggression was required to register, or face being ‘Blacklisted’. This prevented the accused from finding work and made life in general very difficult. The Blacklist also affected, to a further extent perhaps, people with public and/or social influence. This included writers, directors, actors and actresses who pressured film studios to produce movies promoting the ideals of the Communist Party.
The American Communist Party was also investigated and leaders and members were arrested for violating the code of the Alien Registration Act. Irony of this action against the American Communist Party is that some members were abolished due to screening of their files revealing drinking problems and sexual preferences and Joseph McCarthy, had he been screened also, would have made it onto the Blacklist.
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The list didn’t exclude objects promoting communist aggression either. A list was compiled stating 30 000 books which were considered inappropriate to the McCarthyism campaign and were therefore removed from libraries throughout the country.
When the McCarthyism witch hunt ventured into the military and leading officers were wildly and circumstancially accused, other military and political figures, including the president at the time, realised that it was time to bring McCarthyism to a long-awaited end.
This was achieved by information derogatory to McCarthy’s reputation being passed to journalists. Journalists and cartoonists proceeded to achieve the desired effect, with McCarthy losing his influential stand in politics and McCarthyism dying alongside him.
McCarthyism had a strong impact on the United States, politically and socially. Politicians became extremely wary of standing up to Senator McCarthy and his campaign, for fear of being accused and Blacklisted. This statement was published in the Boston Post, regarding politicians relationship towards McCarthy (and invariabley, McCarthyism), “…attacking him in this state is regarded as a certain method of commiting suicide…”.
Socially, some people were affected directly through inclusion of their name on the Blacklist or even by being under investigation. This made it difficult to seek employment and virtually impossible to receive financial assistance. Through others’ fear of also being incriminated, people who were Blackisted were basically rejected by society.
Americans were also affected indirectly. Films that were produced seeked to hold no political values or morales, for fear of being accused of communist aggression. The lack of in-depth political literature of this era is a result of McCarthyism. This brought rise to the entertainment industry embracing the likes of Doris Day and simple, amusing, although shallow, forms of entertainment.
American citizens, and politicians alike, followed McCarthyism because at the time, there was incredible hysteria over communist aggression and fear of communist invasion of their country. The US was fighting the war on someone else’s territory over seas, and did not want the communists to infiltrate America. McCarthyism was invented at the peak of hysteria and accepted as the only possible way to prevent communism in America for many years.
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