The late 1940s and the 1950s were anxious years for Americans. Despite their prosperity they were worried by fears of war. The nation they feared was the Soviet Union. They believed that the Soviet Union's communist way of running a country was cruel and wrong. Some Americans saw communism as a spreading disease.
Communism was thought to threaten both the freedom of individual Americans and the "capitalist" economic system of the United States. They wanted to destroy communism, not merely contain it.
In 1949 such people received two unpleasant surprises. The first was when communist rulers won control of China. The second was when the Soviet Union exploded an atomic bomb. Only the Americans had possessed atomic bombs until then.
A wave of fear swept across
the United Sates. Many Americans started to see communist plots everywhere. When soldiers from communist North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950, their fears became stronger still. Some even believed that the government itself was full of traitors plotting to betray the country to the Russians.
An ambitious and unscrupulous politician named Joseph McCarthy used these fears to win fame and power for himself. He started what came to be called a "witch hunt"- a search for people he could blame for the supposed threats to the United States. In the early 1950s McCarthy accused all kinds of people-government officials, scientists, famous entertainers-of working for the Soviet Union. He never gave proof, but Americans were so full of fears about communism that many believed him. McCarthy ruined hundreds of innocent people. People grew afraid to give jobs or even show friendship to anyone he accused. If they did, they risked being named as traitors themselves.
The people began to doubt McCarthy. They watched him questioning "suspects" on television. They saw that he was a bully and a liar. By the mid 1950s McCarthy had lost his power. He went on making wild accusations, but nobody listened. In 1957 he died. Bur McCarthyism had done serious damage to the United States' reputation for justice and fair play.
The McCarthy Witch Hunts written by Herminne Tonita for FamousWhy.com
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