Throughout the early 1950’s, the nation was deeply engrossed in fears of a Communist takeover. At a time when America’s fears were at their very height, Joseph McCarthy, a Republican Senator from Wisconsin pushed America’s fears to an extreme. As a ploy to get himself re-elected, and to make America hate Communism as much as he did, the Senator devised a devious scheme. McCarthy, while giving a speech, held up a piece of paper and exclaimed, “I have here a list of 57 known Communists who are currently employed by the U.S. State Department” (Fried, 89). A few days later, McCarthy raised the number of people on the list from 57 to 205. The reaction to McCarthy’s announcement was absolute panic. Until that time, the nation had a sense of security. Now all peace of mind was lost, and America wanted these people that were on McCarthy’s so called “Blacklist” (Fried, 65). So began a long-term search by Congress to seek these individuals. One group that was extensively looked at was Hollywood. By Joseph McCarthy abusing his powers, he not only destroyed many people’s lives, but he also wronged the American public.
To begin with, the type of person that Joe McCarthy was must be considered. McCarthy was a hard-line Republican who played along strict party lines. By all considerations, he was an extremist or a reactionary. By holding a piece of paper, and saying that the enemy who everyone feared was so close, McCarthy diminished all thoughts that America was truly safe. The actual piece of paper was blank; McCarthy had no writing on the paper at all. He knew that by telling the people of the U.S. that the enemy was so close, he could finally see a war erected against Communism. He simply used the people’s ambitions and fears to make a mountain out of a molehill. Communism in America before McCarthy’s debacle was simply a buzzword. Everyone knew about it, but no one ever talked about it. The first knowledge many American’s had of Communism came from Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain Speech” (Matusow, 45). Churchill basically said in his speech that the Soviet Union was pushing forward a global Communist takeover. And Churchill also said that he believed, “We should not let such a force loose on the planet” (Matusow, 46). That was the first time many American eyes were opened to Communism, and McCarthy made sure it was not the last. The entire chaos that Senator McCarthy caused had become collectively known as “The Red Scare” (Feuerlicht, 34). McCarthy used this entire “Red Scare” idea to boost his hopes for re-election. But an elected official is supposed to be a representative of the people. All McCarthy did was abuse his power and pull the wool over the people’s eyes. McCarthy did not work for the benefit of the people. He only worked for the benefit of himself.
Next, the people whose lives McCarthy destroyed must be looked at. In the immediate aftermath of McCarthy’s speech came many accusations. America wanted the people that McCarthy said were on his list. But when asked for the list, McCarthy said he lost it, and he could not remember which individuals were on the list. But he said he did see some key Hollywood figures on it. That was when the focus shifted to all of Hollywood. If anyone thought that an actor or actress seemed suspicious, they would simply start gossip about them. Eventually, the special Congressional committee appointed to investigate the issue would hear of it. And when they did, they would bring the individual in question before Congress, and they would basically tear them apart. They would ask them about their lifestyles, their fellow employees, and their friends. And then they would determine if the individual in question were guilty or innocent. But it really made no difference if they were innocent or not. Once they were brought before Congress, their careers were basically ruined. Movie companies refused to hire them. They were afraid that the people would boycott any movies they made, if they hired “Communist sympathizers” (Matusow, 88). And when the accused did get jobs, the people did not want to go see “Dirty Communist bastards” (Fried, 67). All these actors and actresses worked for years to build their reputations, and now Senator McCarthy stepped on every single one of them.
Finally, the way the trials were conducted has to be looked into. When all these prestigious actors and actresses were brought before Congress, they did not receive a fair trial. Some individuals were brought before Congress with absolutely no evidence against them. Congress overstepped its boundaries by placing people they knew had nothing to do with Communism on the stand. All that Congress wanted to do was look busy. So when they had no leads on anyone, they made them up. When a witness did not exist, one mysteriously appeared. They called some people simply to get them to mention other people. What was actually going on was a giant loop. Nothing was getting done. All they were really doing was randomly picking people whose lives would be ruined. Most members of Congress knew it was a witch-hunt. That was when Arthur Miller came into the picture. Miller himself knew a lot of the people involved in the trials. He was once married to Marilyn Monroe, and he also directed a few notable films. Miller found a high level way of criticizing Congress. The Crucible was Miller’s depiction of what was going on in America at the time. Miller wrote a play in which the Salem witch trials of the 1600’s were brought to light. He directly compared the witch-hunts of the past, to the congressional proceedings of the present. It was a brilliant idea, until Congress called him in for questioning. During the trial, Miller made every attempt to criticize Congress and their handling of the proceedings. He was eventually jailed. Once again this is another example of how Joe McCarthy ruined the life of another innocent person. McCarthy had the entire nation in an uproar and all he had to say about it was “Vote McCarthy” (Fried, 104).
In summation, Joseph McCarthy ruined many lives and caused general panic in America. McCarthy was the type of person that would do whatever it took to get what he wanted. By all means he was an opportunist, and he just disregarded the aftermath of anything he did. The people who had their lives destroyed in this entire situation lost years of work, finances, family, and homes. Many night of sleep were lost over that
Single blank piece of paper. Many careers were also lost over that same piece of paper. And in McCarthy’s mind, that piece of paper should have said “suckers”. Only since McCarthy played the entire country for fools. It is amazing how simple gossip can become so much more. In most ways this situation was identical to what happened in Salem. Congress conducted a modern day witch-hunt. The entire nation was left shocked and scared. They had more fears of an atomic bomb being dropped by the Soviet Union now then they ever had before. In some ways, a bomb was dropped. McCarthy basically dropped his own bomb on the country when he held up that piece of paper.