The Red Scare

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The Red Scare was a growing fear of Communism in America that was most prevalent after each of the World Wars. Being a Communist was made illegal on the grounds that the Communist party was a revolutionary movement that promoted rebellion and violence. The fear that was caused by the formation of the Soviet Union after World War I, and the rise to power of the Soviet Union after World War II caused widespread fear among many. Americans were encouraged to keep an eye on their friends and neighbors to ensure that they were not Communists or Soviet spies passing secrets to the Communists. The Red Scare would serve to divide America by turning citizens against each other.







external image communism.jpgFollowing the end of World War I, the first major Anti-Communist movement began in the United States. This first period of the Red Scare movement was primarily focused on dealing with domestic Communists and a possible homegrown revolutionary movement. In 1917, the first major Communist overthrow of a government occured in Russia when the Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional government that had been established after the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. This event more than anything else caused concerns that the same thing could happen in the US.

This fear combined with the widespread patriotism following World War I motivated a massive crackdown on labor movements in addition to radical Communists and Anarchists. The driving force behind this first movement which lasted from the end of World War I until mid-1920 was Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. This push against Communism was characterized by many arrests and searches without warrents, deportations of suspected radicals, and other civil rights violations. The movement eventually lost steam in mid-1920 when Palmer predicted a massive Communist demonstration on May Day, and nothing happened.


external image 225px-Alexander_Mitchell_Palmer.jpg Alexander Mitchell Palmer


- United States Attorney General from 1919 to 1921
- After being the target of two seperate assassination attempts by leading anarchist, Luigi Galleani, Palmer began to crack down on radical Anarchist and Communist groups within the US
- He directed the controversial Palmer Raids, a campaign to deport foreign radicals
- As a result of these raids more than 500 immigrants would be deported for suspected radical involvement
- Palmer was known for having little respect for proper legal proceedings when it came to dealing with foreign radicals
- He initially did not get caught up in the Anti-Labor feelings that were a part of the Red Scare
- In 1919 however, Palmer cracked down on the United Mine Workers union when they attempted to strike. Some accused the miners of being funded and supported by Vladimir Lenin though Palmer did not personally say this. He attained an injunction from the courts ordering the miners to go back to work.
- Palmer's hardline attitude towards the coal miners earned him a great deal of respect from average Americans





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Communism would become an issue again during the late 1920's and throughout the Great Depression. The economic troubles of the United States caused many Americans to believe that Communism might be a better economic system. Thousands of Americans emigrated to the Soviet Union looking for jobs and hoping that they would have more opportunities under Communism.

Although the hunt for Communists had slowed significantly, the movement continued steadily through the 1920's and 1930's but this would change in the early 1940's. At the start of World War II, when the US and the USSR fought on the same side, the government changed policy and tried to make Communists seem like acceptable allies. This would not last however. After the war, when the alliance between the two "superpowers" broke down, the Red Scare would make a comeback.





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The Second Red Scare began in the years following the end of World War II with the rise of the Soviet Bloc. When much of Eastern Europe fell under the influence of the Soviet Union, the fears of the 1920's returned in full force. This time, much of the fear was not directed towards homegrown Communists, but towards infiltration by foreign Communists. The fears only increased when China was taken over by Mao Zedong and the US was dragged into the Korean War to prevent the Communist north from overrunning the American-supported south.

The leading figure of this second Anti-Communist movement was the leader of the House Committee on Un-American Activities Joe McCarthy, a Republican senator from Wisconsin. The investigations headed up by McCarthy gave rise to a second round of civil rights violations on the grounds of hunting down Communists. His overzealous approach when pursuing possible Communist threats led to the coining of the term McCarthyism which is used to describe the act of accusing someone of treason or disloyalty without any real evidence. Despite his unconstitutional methods, McCarthy was actually correct about Soviet and Communist infiltration of the US government. This period also saw the first example of Americans being executed for treason when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, two American Communists, were executed for passing information on the atomic bomb to the KGB. Although the 1950's is characterized as an era of prosperity for America, the threat of Communism was always looming in the background.







external image 250px-Joseph_McCarthy.jpg Joseph McCarthy

- A Republican Senator from Wisconsin, McCarthy would become infamous for his vigorous pursuit of Communists
- McCarthy used the widespread fear of Communist infiltrations to advance his own political career
- He used his chairmanship of the House Committee Un-American Activities to hunt alleged Communists within the US government
- He often clashed with sitting Presidents including Truman and Eisenhower
- McCarthy accused the Democratic party of not doing enough to fight Communists while President Truman called McCarthy "the best asset the Kremlin has"
- He had many other political enemies who believed that his tactics of spreading fear were in fact helping the Communists
- Eventually, McCarthy's political career was ruined when he was officially censured by the Senate for his unconstitutional methods of searching out Communists






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America's fight against Communism and the Soviet Union would define much of the period between the end of World War II, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Much of the world was drawn into the sphere of influence of one of these two "superpowers". The United States and its' allies would form NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as a means of mutual security. This would be the first time that the US would enter into any permanent alliances. At the same time the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe would form a similar organization known as Warsaw Treaty Organization and the conflict between these two groups would be known as the Cold War. This war was defined by a series of "proxy conflicts" fought by allies of the US against allies of the Soviet Union within their native countries. The US would become involved in struggles against Communist elements within many countries including Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Vietnam.




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After the fall of the Soviet Union the fear of Communism and the Red Scare that had been a part of American culture for so long finally came to an end. The most powerful Communist country that had given support to all of the other Communist countries had turned to the free-market and so did all of the Eastern European countries under its' influence. There are still Communist countries in the world today such as Cuba, China, and North Korea but the fear of Communism in the US is mostly gone.















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