11. 5 The McCarthy Period
Another feature of the post-war period in the American
domestic scenario was the phobia of communism. This fear pervaded
the government machinery in the U.S. Although there were only 20,000
communist party members in the country then, many Americans suspected
that there was a communist conspiracy against the government. In
1946, a Canadian Royal commission found that 23 persons in official
positions had turned over secrets to Russia. There were rumors that
this network of secret agents had entered the U.S.
In November 1946, the President set up a temporary
Commission on Employee Loyalty. This in turn led to the formation
of a Loyalty Review Board, which screened federal employees.
The President further asked the attorney general to draw a list
of organizations suspected of being subversive.
Further, the Congress set up the House of Un-American
Activities committee. Its primary work was to uncover spies within
the government. Joseph McCarthy, a Senator from Wisconsin,
used this opportunity and shot into national fame. In February 1950,
he said: "In my opinion, the State Department, which is
one of the most important government departments, is thoroughly
infested with communists. I have in my hand 57 cases of individuals
who would appear to be either card carrying members or certainly
loyal to the Communist Party, but nevertheless are still helping
to shape our foreign policy." But when a sub-committee
of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee looked into these
charges, they found not a single communist. The public swallowed
all that was being said about the spread of communist agents in
the U.S. government. There was an air of suspicion and fear.
McCarthy went on to attack those in government
institutions he considered were "soft on communism." His
list included the President, Secretary of State and several prominent
members of the Senate. Anyone who dared to question his policies
or methods was dubbed as a communist. This period of fear and encroachment
on the natural rights of men in the name of communism is very well
portrayed in Howard Fastís novel, Silas Timberman. Popular
demands for anti-communist legislations led to the enactment of
several laws in the states. These laws required the employees to
take a loyalty oath to the U.S. government. In September 1950, the
Congress approved the McCarren Internal Security Act, which
made it necessary for all communist and communist-controlled organizations
to register with the attorney general.
The Congress also set up a Subversive Activities
Control Board to look into charges of treason. In a court case
Dennis v/s United States, the court held that "the
teaching or advocacy of a revolutionary doctrine created a clear
and present danger to the country."