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Mccarthy & The American Psyche

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The American psyche has always been a point of discussion among other cultures; they are often called stupid, ignorant and war-happy. During the McCarthy era of 1950-1954, however, they were more so being cautious of the Communist threat than being paranoid. Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957) knew "how to win power, headlines and a passionately loyal following by manipulation" (Hugh Brogan). It was said "The McCarthy witch hunts were not born of fantasy," (Alan Axelrod) that is, the American people had reason to believe that perhaps there was a half-truth in McCarthy's accusations. McCarthy rose to national infamy not due to his skill or persuasiveness in the political field, but rather his saying the right thing in the right place at the right time. "He didn't create the situation of fear; he merely exploited it, and rather successfully." (Ed Murrow, "See it Now", CBS) If he had done the same at any other period in history it would have been a somewhat different story. The Americans, however, are responsible for letting it get as far as it did. McCarthy should never have been given such power, regardless of the situation. National security is the president's responsibility, the American people should vote in a competent leader who is bound by oath to the country's wellbeing.

"The Cold War...spawned a veritable legion of spies, including those who communicated U.S. atomic secrets to the Soviets." (Alan Axelrod)

It was 1950. Robin Hood had been taken away from classrooms due to his 'steal from the rich and give to the poor' message, which could be correctly identified as a Communist principle, not appropriate for American children. It was three years after Alger Hiss was found to be guilty of espionage. It was the year after the atomic bomb secret had been leaked to the Russian's allowing them to develop their own. Also, the loss of China to the Communists had happened only months prior and was a major blow for the USA. In only a few months the United Nations would go to war against the Communist rebels of North Korea (48% of troops would come, naturally, from the USA).

"With the Korean War going on there were many people prepared to believe him and some prominent politicians chose to support him." (Nigel Smith)

It isn't hard to imagine that, given the circumstances, the American people were searching for a character who was willing to defy the Government for the sake of the people; to expose the Communist spies infiltrating positions of power.

On February 9, 1950, Joseph McCarthy addressed the Ohio Country Women's Club in Wheeling, West Virginia. He informed them,

"I have here in my hand a list of 205 people that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party, and who, nevertheless, are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department". (Senator McCarthy)

Finally, the American people had found their guy. 'Tail-Gunner Joe', as he was labelled, had spent much of his life as a District Attorney. In his early career, up until 1942 when he joined the US Marine Corps, he was a Democrat; ironically he was the major figure opposing any movement slightly left wing come the early 1950's. As has been said in almost any document mentioning his name, McCarthy was a demagogue, that is, his popularity was gained by feeding on the prejudice and fear of the public. He fed on the "intense fear and hatred of Communism by most Americans" (Nigel Smith). He was "a mover of masses in a queer, negative way" (Leslie Fielder).

The attitude in America at the time would have been against Communism regardless of McCarthy; however it was he turned the attitude from defensiveness to aggression. He has been described as "the leader of patriotic Americans determined to root out Communist traitors" (Nigel Smith). Anyone who could gain bulk American support would no doubt also gain great power. The power given to McCarthy put the USA in great danger, they were lucky McCarthy had no ambition or he could have caused a lot more internal damage. How could the Americans trust such a character? He was a nobody until he made his allegations, was there not one person who could have checked his background and realised that he was in no position to be receiving any confidential documents about Communists from the hierarchy? "McCarthy provided no evidence to back up his allegations and never uncovered a single Communist agent in the government." (Nigel Smith)

A point that is commonly missed is the similarity McCarthy held to Stalin during the

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