How the Threat of Communism During the Cold War Affected the United States
The Cold War lasted from roughly the end of World War II until 1989, when the tearing down of the Berlin Wall symbolized the end of the conflict. Even though the Cold War never resulted in any direct military action between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the threat of communism in the U.S. was especially significant from 1945 until the late 1950s. This influx of communist ideology is often referred to as the Red Scare. Communism influenced American's trust in the government and led to an increase in political conservatism.
1 Widespread Government Suspicion
The threat of communism led to widespread suspicion of federal employees. Many were interviewed, screened and tested to determine if they supported communist teachings. In 1947, President Harry Truman instated the Loyalty Order, requiring all federal employees to be investigated about their loyalty to the U.S. government. Screening boards asked employees about publications they read, religious services they attended and their participation in civic organizations. Some states even required public school teachers to take loyalty oaths. Many Americans protested the investigations because they believed the questioning infringed on civil liberties.
2 Hollywood Allegations
The U.S. House of Representatives formed the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1938 to investigate Communist activity in the U.S. The HUAC specifically focused on Hollywood's proliferation of communist ideology. Due to the negative publicity Hollywood producers, writers, actors and actresses encountered, most big screen executives refused to hire activists who publicly announced their support of communism. Public libraries and schools removed questionable books, magazines and publications that supported socialist ideals.
3 McCarthy's Crusade
Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin was an influential figure in the fight against the threat of communism in the U.S. However, he was discredited for his attempts to purge communism from the government and other influential sources, such as Hollywood, because he made many accusations without sufficient proof to back them. His mean-spirited tactics angered many Americans, including those who were opposed to communism. McCarthy falsely claimed to have a list of over 200 Communist-supporting officials in the U.S. government. When McCarthy accused decorated U.S. Army war heroes of supporting communist doctrine, fellow senators ended the investigations and silenced McCarthy. Americans had seen enough of his questionable behavior and unprecedented investigations.
4 Rise in Conservative Political Values
Many Americans supported conservative political agendas during the Red Scare because the conservatives strongly opposed communism. Leftists were often criticized and ostracized, so citizens didn't want to be associated with unpopular, Communist-supporting movements. Many feared they might lose their jobs if they publicly supported socialist ideology. Even the U.S. Supreme Court took a powerful stance against communism. In 1951, the Supreme Court ruled that accused Communists didn't have the right to free speech because their actions posed a clear and present danger to U.S. citizens and to the government.