The Red Scare USA 1950's



  • USA came out of WW2 as the most powerful nation on Earth. Its enemies were defeated and its allies were exhausted
  • Years after the war they were gripped by fear and suspicion of Communism- a phase known as the Red Scare
  • The USA was democratic, capitalist and largely Christian
  • However, Communists believed in a single-party state, centralised control of all industry and atheism
  • Because of the different beliefs, anti-Communism was a fact of life of the USA

Reasons why the anti-Communist feeling was so strong in the 1950's:
1. the international situation --> particularly the tense relationship with the USSR during the Cold War
2. interntal political developments in the USA --> the activites of Senator Joseph McCarthy

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The International Situation 1945-1950

  • Capitalist USA and Communist USSR fought WW2 as allies- put aside their beliefs to beat the common enemy of fascism. Started to argue about what would happen in Europe after the war
  • USSR had made huge territorial gains at the end of the war- frontier hundreds of kilometres westwards into Europe
  • All the countries of eastern Europe such as Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia etc had come under the control of Moscow by 1948- all either elected Communist governments or had Communist governments imposed on them- division across continent between Communist and Capitalist countries, Winston Churchill describing it as an 'Iron Curtain'
  • The USA tried to halt the Communist expansion
  • 1947, US President Truman proclaimed the Truman Doctrine- promising to help any country trying to resist the Soviet Advance. The US offered Marshall Aid- billions of dollars to help revive the war-damaged economies of Western Europe so they could resist Communism 
  • USSR were determined to advance westwards in 1948- cut all supply routes into Western Berlin. Only an extraordinary 15month airlift of supplies prevented the city from being starved out
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The International Situation 1945-1950 2

  • 1949 NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) was formed- a military alliance against the perceived Soviet threat
  • 1949 was a bad year for the USA:

    1. USSR developed its own atomic bomb- unthinkable possible consequences
    2. China was taken over by Chinese Communists led by Mao Zedong. A new Communist nation of 500 million people had emerged. He had won against opponents massively aided by the USA
    3. Communism was also advancing in Malaya, Indonesia, Burma and the Phillipines
    4. 1950, Communist North Korea invaded South Korea. The USA got United Nations support for a successful counter attack until Communist China sent support to North Korea
    -^ Soon, the USA was bogged down in the Korean War which lasted until 1953
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The Federal Bureau of Investigation

  • (FBI) had a strongly anti-Communist director- J Edgar Hoover, he had been a driving force behind the Red Scare that happened after the Russian Revolution
  • 1947- President Truman allowed him to set up the Federal Employee Loyalty Program which allowed Hoover's FBI loyalty boards to investigate government employees to see if they were curent or former members of the Communist Party
  • 1947-1950, around 3 million were investigated
  • Nobody was charged with spying but 212 staff were identified as 'security risks' (Communist sympathisers) and were forced out of their jobs 
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The House Un-American Activities Committee

  • From the 1930's (HUAC)
  • It had the right to investigate anyone who was suspected of doing anything Un-American (this mostly meant Communist)
  • The FBI had evidence that a number of prominent Hollywood writers, producers and directors (known as the Hollywood Ten) were members of the Communist Party. HUAC called them to be questionned by the committee
  • It was not illegal to be a Communist in a free democratic such as the USA and so the Hollywood Ten refused to answer any questions
  • They were each jailed for a year for contempt of court because they refused to answer questions
  • Hollywood studios 'blacklisted' the ten and most of them never worked again in Hollywood
  • Because film industry was very high-profile, HUAC became front-page news and everybody had now heard of it 
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The Hiss Case

  • 1948- Whittaker Chambers faced the HUAC 
  • Admitted to being a Communist in the 1930's and said that Alger Hiss (a high ranking member of the US State Department) had been a member of his group 
  • Hiss accused Chambers of lying and the case was dismissed
  • However, a young politician- Richard Nixon (a member of the HUAC) decided to pursue the case and found convincing evidence that Hiss did know Chambers and also debateable evidence that Hiss had in fact passed information to the USSR during the war
  • Hiss was never tried of spying, however he was convicted of perjury in 1950 and spent nearly 5 years in prison
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The Rosenbergs

  • The Soviet Union developed its own atomic bomb in 1949- much sooner than the USA had expected as they were sure it would take Soviet scientists 4 more years
  • The US government strongly suspected that spies had passed on its atomic secrets to the USSR
  • 1950, German-born British physicist Klaus Fluchs, was convicted of passing US and British atomic secrets to the USSR. This investigation also led to suspicions against Julius Rosenberg and his wife Ethel
  • March 1951 trial- they denied all charges against them, however were found guilty and sentenced to death. They were executed in June 1953
  • Coded telegrams between the Rosenbergs and Soviet agents that begain in 1944 were discovered and eventually published 
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The McCarran Act

  • The Hiss and Rosenberg cases helped to lead to the Internal Security Act of 1950 (known as the McCarran Act- pushed through by Nevada Senator Pat McCarran)
  • President Truman however, opposed it as he believed it would make a mockery of the USA's Bill of Rights 
  • ^Congress defeated his opposition by voting 80% in favour of the Act.                                The main measures were:
    1. All Communist Organisations had to be registered with the US government
    2. No Communist could carry a US passport or work in the defence industries 
    3. Allowed the setting up of detention camps in emergency situations 
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