2nd Red Scare

The second Red Scare takes place during the immediate post-World War II era. Once again the Red Scare revolved around an American fear over the spread of communism and a fear of communist sympathizers. Americans were afraid of another depression after the Great Depression for fears of communism growing in response to that. There were many aspects of the second Red Scare including a growing fear of nuclear war, Truman’s Loyalty Program, the Smith Act of 1940, Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs, the McCarran Internal Security Bill of 1950, Hollywood Blacklisting, and McCarthyism.

After the war, the Soviets soon developed an atomic bomb which is really when the arms races started and tensions elevated. This is when the fear of a nuclear war began to be had and less than a decade later the Americans developed the hydrogen bomb and soon after the Soviets would develop one too. At this point, humankind finally had the ability to end civilization.

President Truman created the Loyalty Review Board which was created to investigate the loyalty of federal employees. The LRB investigated 3 million federal employees and loyalty oaths were increasingly demanded of employees, but especially teachers. The LRB prohibited government employees from criticizing US foreign policy, advocate for the equal rights for women, own books on socialism, and attend foreign films.

Communism was greatly feared at home and many people believed that communist spies had infiltrated the US government. This can be seen in the cases of Alger Hiss and Rosenbergs. In the case of Alger Hiss, the House Un-American Activities Committee had accused him of being a communist. Richard Nixon had even led a movement to indict Hiss. While Hiss denied being a communist supporter, he was later convicted of perjury in 1950. For the Rosenbergs, the couple were avowed communists. They were convicted and executed by electric chair for giving atom bomb secrets to the Soviets. As a result, Americans were rightfully horrified that an American couple sold out their country. From here, communist hysteria and fears grew.

Two bills were passed by the federal government. The McCarran Internal Security Bill of 1950 and the Smith Act of 1940. The McCarran Internal Security Bill of 1950 required for communist organizations to register with the attorney general and prevented their members from doing defense work and prohibited them from travelling abroad. President Truman vetoed the bill but Congress overrode Truman’s veto. The bill authorized the president to arrest and detain any suspicious person during an internal security emergency. The Smith Act of 1940, on the other hand, made it illegal to advocate for the overthrow of the government by force or to belong to any organization that advocates such a position. Additionally, any immigrant that belonged to such an organization risked deportation. The Truman Administration used the law to jail the leaders of the Communist party. As a result, 11 communists were brought to trial in New York and sent to prison.

In the 1930s, Communism was considered fashionable in Hollywood so many actors, writers, and directors dabbled with the Party here and there. 10 people in the industry, later on, also known as the Hollywood Ten, refused to testify and decided they would rather go to prison rather than testifying to the House of Un-American Activities Committee, claiming protection from the Constitution. Soon after, the entertainment industry would respond to all this be denying work to over 250 actors, writers, and directors, blacklisting them.

The last aspect of the second Red Scare I want to cover is also the most well known in our culture and that is McCarthyism. McCarthyism began because of a Republican Senator from the state of Wisconsin named Joseph R. McCarthy. McCarthy became America’s most notorious demagogue by playing on America’s fears of communism. He claimed that over 200 unknown communists had infiltrated the State Department. McCarthy always made sweeping accusations and always employed guilt by association and always sued documents and photos out of context on purpose. At first the public was convinced that he was looking out for National Security. However McCarthy was unable to substantiate his claims but still ruined the careers and lives of many government officials. McCarthy started losing support when he went after the military. McCarthy had also claimed that the Democratic Party was guilty of decades of treason and wanted Truman impeached for being too soft on communism despite the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, NATO, the Berlin Airlift, and the Korean War. McCarthy also claimed that Eisenhower was soft on communism and that Secretary of State George Marshall was an instrument of a Soviet conspiracy.


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