The American media as well as the public were preoccupied by anticommunism themes between the years of 1947 to 1954. Some of the topics that hit the local dailies included the Korean War, the Czechoslovakian coup, Alger Hiss, Joseph McCarthy and the Rosenbergs saga.
In February 9, 1950 a little known US senator delivered a speech in his state West Virginia to a group of women. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s speech was not received with wide acclamation as he had only been voted as the worst Senator in Washington by the press. However, according to the dailies in the next day it was reported that McCarthy had dropped a bombshell by saying that “The State Department was infested with Communists”, he went further to claim that he had a list of 205 names known to the Secretary of State as being “members of the communist party” whom he claimed were still working on shaping out the State Department policies (Sam, 1953).
His revelations caused panic ripples across the country since it was at this period that the US was tangled in the tense Cold War against the Soviet Union. McCarthy after making these allegations catapulted himself to prominence against the backdrop of his accusations against President Harry Truman. This in turn made his name synonymous with the decade long investigation that would follow with a view of uncovering Communist infiltration in the US.
The reason why McCarthy’s sentiments received such attention was that he was riding on the wave of trying to eradicate communism in America. The government had been vocal way before McCarthy’s scathing attack in trying to eradicate the vice. In 1917, thousands of communists in the U.S. were arrested and periodically deported soon after the Bolshevik Revolution turned Russia into The Soviet Union. This period in history was later coined as the Red Scare.
Towards the end of World War II, the Soviet Union had taken control of most parts of Eastern Europe where it had infiltrated countries such as Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, Romania and Hungary. These events in 1947 made these countries communist puppets and it was by this that in 1947, President Truman ordered what was commonly referred to as “loyalty investigations”. This was meant to counteract his critics who criticized him of doing little to contain the rise of communism. It was during this year that congress led a high profile investigation with Hollywood being the stage. The House Un-American Activities Committee managed to win the Hollywood’s co-operation in their quest to rid off the movie industry from Communist Sympathizers who may influence films. The end product of these investigations as reported by a daily was the “Hollywood blacklist”.
The fear of communist infiltration by the public was at its peak in 1949 after the communists took control of China where the Soviet Union led by Mao Zedong managed to detonate an atomic bomb. This came as a big surprise to the US who had thought that the Soviets did not have the expertise to do so. The US concluded that the technology they used must have been a result from an inside job by Soviet spies. This brought shivers to the entire American Community who saw a nuclear raid by the Soviet Union as imminent. Weekly air raid drills and a talk of apocalyptic nuclear devastations was the talk of country (Stevens, 10). The media captured all this in almost every edition of newspapers produced.
Alger Hiss who was a former Assistant Secretary of State was convicted of perjury. He was suspected to be a spy and this led to panic throughout the country since many now believed that Washington itself had been infiltrated and thus suffered the danger of being compromised. McCarthy after his damning report was viewed as a brave hero in fighting communism. He catapulted to fame day by day and this also made him more vocal in his anti-communism antics. He would ardently accuse those who opposed him in government for either having communist ties or being soft on it. General George C. Marshall felt the blunt of McCarty’s rise to prominence after the war veteran was accused as captured by a local daily in "a conspiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any previous venture in the history of man." (Sam, 1953)
Critics have often argued that McCarthy was leading a smear campaign in the path of anyone who crossed him with the main intention of grabbing power. Sam Roberts a renowned author with the New York Times coined the term “McCarthyism” in which he described it as the unscrupulous accusation of a person of disloyalty without any evidence. This was after Rosenberg and his wife were accused of passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. They were executed in an electric chair even though doubts still remained of their involvement (Woodward, 1954).
McCarthy was growing big in his anti-communism chants but his down fall came about when he clashed with the army. McCarthy together with his counsel Roy M. Cohn was accused of misusing their influence in order for David Schine (McCarthy’s former aide) to get preferential assignments.