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LESSON EIGHTEEN

1954: Communist and AntiCommunist Propaganda

Introduction: After several years in the Senate, Joseph McCarthy made headlines when he announced in a 1950 speech in Wheeling, West Virginia that he knew that 205 communists were currently working in the State Department. Since American men and women were getting ready to die in combat against a communist enemy in Korea, this speech garnered great publicity. Capitalizing on people’s fears, McCarthy launched a public campaign aimed at eliminating the supposed communist infiltration of the U.S. government that provided a strong platform for his reelection. Easily reelected in 1952 and chosen chair of the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, McCarthy tried to expose communists and their sympathizers throughout American political and cultural life.

His Subcommittee interrogated more than 500 people privately and publicly; being called to testify before it ruined political, literary, and business careers. Citing national security, McCarthy often refused to reveal sources of information. Fearful of being named communist sympathizers themselves, many leaders of labor unions and professional organizations joined in the “Red Scare.” Other intellectuals and activists refused to answer his questions or appear before his committee despite the threat to their personal wellbeing. Several famous Hollywood producers and scriptwriters were among the bestknown citizens “blacklisted” by their employers for refusing to cooperate with his committee. McCarthy’s 1953 accusation that the military was harboring communists ultimately led to his downfall. TV commentator Edward R. Murrow successfully exposed his tactics and publicly denounced his actions as a threat to American’s core democratic values. In December 1954, the Senate rebuked him for “conduct unbecoming a senator.”

Background Reading: “Joseph McCarthy: A Modern Tragedy.” http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1104

Document to Analyze: “Wanted! Your support for Sen. McCarthy’s battle against these communist mouthpieces.” http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1120

Who, What, Where, When, Why: This pamphlet was probably produced in 1954, when McCarthy was battling for his reputation but before the Senate censure. We do not know precisely who authored it, or which organization published it. But in a lastditch effort to gain support for his position, McCarthy or his supporters cite articles and quotes from communist and socialist publications that oppose him.

Related Documents: “What has McCarthy done for Wisconsin?” http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1121 and “McCarthy: a documented record.” The Progressive. (1954) http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1124

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