Compliance versus Defiance essay

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The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was formed by the House of Representative in the United States to investigate people and organizations that were alleged to be conducting Communist activities. This is because communists and fascist were believed to pose threats to the security of the United States and European countries. Some individuals agreed to cooperate with the committee while others refused. The anti-Fascism and left-wing socialism meant to suppress immigrants, thereby denying their freedom (Lillian, 1976). The committee used vague guidelines in carrying out its mandate. In this case, those individuals who did not agree with the government policies would face scrutiny.

The Committee investigated ten Hollywood writers and directors to measure the communist activities. Some of writers and directors, however, refused to cooperate with the Committee, thus they were jailed. Others were blacklisted and could not work in the powerful studios hence their careers were paralyzed.Lillian Hellman, one of the Hollywood authors of screenplays, denounces Khrushchev as an "informer” due to his secret speech that he delivered in 1956. During Purge Trials, he gave false statements. In the HUAC hearings, Lillian Hellman admitted that her membership in the communist party ended in 1940. However, she declined to state whether other members participated in the affairs of the party. She uses the Fifth Amendment, which protected every citizen from self-incrimination (Lillian, 1976). Dashiell Hammett, another member of communist party in the Hollywood industry, did not cooperate with the committee but instead delivered a statement to the committee stating that he could not compromise hurting people that he knew for a long time to save himself.

Elia Karzan, a communist party member and a movie director in Hollywood, agreed to cooperate with HUAC and decided to list the names of eight communist members. Karzan feels alienated and his decision and conscience haunts him later.

Though Kazan was reluctant to give the names during the first hearing, he cooperated with the committee during the following hearing (Kazan, 1988).  He argued that this was a matter of principle and that everyone should do according to his conscience. Many people criticized this decision. They termed him as a betrayer and thought that his action has not been principle-oriented but it was money-driven. Other people who decided to cooperate with the committee were not criticized. This is because the media stressed that there were too many protests made by the members of communist party that were blacklisted. 

The HUAC hearings brought enmity between Kazan and his friends and even his workmates in the Hollywood industry hated him. For instance, Arthur Miller hated his actions. Miller did not approve Karzan’s actions and he says in his statement that he has nothing to do with Karzan. However, Miller criticized McCarthy era and American nation for its stupidity. (Miller, 1987).  The names that Elia Karzan gave to the committee were just to confirm their participation in the communist party since the Federal Bureau of Investigation knew of their participation; hence he should not be criticized for his actions. His action to name the communist sympathizers was right according to the conditions that he was presented with. He was in a dilemma to choose either to cooperate and name some sympathizers or no to cooperate and be blacklisted hence endangering his career. His decision to cooperate was out of his conscience hence he had the right to choose what he felt was fit for him. 

He followed his conscience and was not persuaded by the committee to say the names. Elia Kazan did not violate any law by naming some people; it was his right and was ethical to cooperate with the committee. Some people believe that he testified in order to save his career. His decision to cooperate was genuine since communist activities and conspiracy had been a great threat to the nation. During the hearing he testifies that communists did not want democracy but they wanted control. This was a great threat posed to the nation and would only have resulted to destroying the glue that was linking citizens of the American nation together.

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