Was the Red Scare over and done with?

Background Information

  1. Senator Joseph McCarthy encouraged anti-Communist feelings. He accused people of being Communists, stating that he had a list of Communists who were working in government, in the army and in other important posts.
  2. With no evidence against them, hundreds of people were accused of secretly working for the Soviet Union.
  3. The Communist Party was banned from the USA. McCarthy ruined people’s lives.
  4. After McCarthy had accused 45 army officers of being Communists, he was asked to prove this – he had no evidence and so he lost his job. The court case was broadcast on television.

Was the Red Scare over and done with?, figure 1

This illustration from the time shows McCarthy surrounded by news coverage and media hysteria. McCarthy played a pivotal role in ‘McCarthyism’, whipping up fervour against perceived Communist threats. He played the media’s love for a scandalous story, by continually spinning more and more outrageous lies.

The Impact of the Cold War

The fear of Communism developed in the USA in the years after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia. Although the USA and the Soviet Union were allies during the Second World War, American distrust of communism continued. In the years after 1945, a Cold War developed between the USA and the Soviet Union. This led to an increase in fear and hatred of communism by most Americans. Communists, or those thought to have Communist sympathies, faced great intolerance and the eventual loss of their political and other rights. ‘Better dead than Red’ became a popular slogan.

The Cold War particularly grew around the fears on nuclear war – whilst America had invented the first atomic bomb, they were paranoid about keeping it from the Soviets. When the Soviets did swiftly invent their own nuclear bomb, this massively heightened tensions.

A member of the US government, Alger Hiss, was accused of spying for the Soviet Union. Two Americans – Ethel and Julius Rosenberg – were also accused of spying and were executed in June__ 1953__. These scandals became news headlines, and the fear that there were Communists at work across America grew.

Was the Red Scare over and done with?, figure 1

During the Cold War, a key American strategy was called ‘Containment’. This involved stopping Communism from spreading any further out of the U.S.S.R. (and later, China). It was a common belief that the public had just as much of a role to play in Containment as the military, and the government encouraged people to stop Communism from taking hold within American society. This helped boost the power of McCarthyism.

The Loyalty Programme

This program was sponsored and justified by the American government, and was a way to try and ‘root out’ soviet sympathisers in business and everyday life. The loyalty programme gave loyalty review boards the power to fire government employees when “reasonable grounds” existed for belief that they were disloyal. Evidence of disloyalty included not only treasonous activities, but “sympathetic association” with a long list of organisations deemed by the Attorney General to be “Communist, fascist, or totalitarian.”

Was the Red Scare over and done with?, figure 1

This photograph shows the HUAC discussing a case brought to them through the Loyalty Programme. The HUAC helped enforce the Loyalty Programme, and people could refer colleagues and neighbours whom they were suspicious of.


A committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, investigated allegations of Communist activity in the U.S. during the early years of the Cold War (1945-91). The Committee was established in 1938; however, really began to vamp up in the 1950s. The Committee used its power as weapon and called citizens to testify in high-profile hearings before Congress. This intimidating atmosphere often produced dramatic but questionable revelations about Communists infiltrating American institutions. HUAC’s controversial tactics contributed to the fear, distrust and repression of the Red Scare.

The Impact of Mc Carthyism

Many hard-working citizens had lost their jobs because they were labelled as “Communists”. While many fired college professors returned to their jobs in universities, public school teachers could not. Those who retained their jobs realised that their career has been destroyed. Many, failed to convince everyone that they were in fact innocent. McCarthyism also had a huge effect on the psychological aspect of life. Innocent people had to go through the trauma of being prosecuted by their own country. Relationships were destroyed because one could never know who to trust or would turn you in. The children of the accused were victims as well. Their peers at school were often told by their parents to stay away from them.

Was the Red Scare over and done with?, figure 1

This picture shows McCarthy presenting his plans to shut down the U.S. Communist Party to an early version of the HUAC. He was successful in his plans, and went on to ban any Communist meetings in America.

The Role of Mc Carthy

In 1950, an ambitious and dishonest Republican senator, Joseph McCarthy, claimed he had a list of 205 members of the Communist Party of the United States who worked for the State Department. This man, who was the nation’s most ardent anti-Communist, became the symbol of the ‘Red-hating crusader’ and gave his name to era - McCarthyism. Over the next few years McCarthyism became associated with a Communist witch hunt, in which over 2,000 men and women were summoned to appear before the Senate’s House Un-American Activities Committee. By the time he was exposed as a fraud and liar, he had created an atmosphere of fear and ruined the lives of many.

How Does Mc Carthyism Compare to the Red Scare?

If anything, McCarthyism had a greater and deeper impact than the Red Scare. The HUAC and Loyalty Programmes represented an escalation in paranoia. In particular, the level of active government involvement was significant higher in McCarthyism than the Red Scare. This meant that more people were directly affected – as investigations and the anti-Communist paranoia invaded peoples’ everyday lives.

It is also arguable that McCarthyism also showed the strength of the American Constitution, and peoples’ tenacity and awareness of their rights. McCarthy was taken down in trial, and the American people did eventually fight for their rights which were being infringed. This showed how embedded the Constitution was in the American consciousness, and how tightly people prized it.

Define the following terms:

Your answer should include: Republican / Senator / ambitious / dishonest / list / McCarthyism
Your answer should include: House / Representatives / un-American / Activities / Committee
Your answer should include: paranoia / anti-Communist / trials / HUAC
Alger Hiss
Your answer should include: member / US / government / accused / spying
Loyalty Programme
Your answer should include: root / out / soviet / sympathisers / business / every / life