Many Are the Crimes
The period of McCarthyism brought strong anti-communist campaign in the United States which started in the 1940s and ended in the 1950s. This era was also known as the Second Red Scare. There were fears of Communist infiltration on American organizations and “espionage by Soviet agents” (Fried, 124).
It was a troubled time during the McCarthy era where many Americans where charged of being Communists or being Communist sympathizers. Many of them went through a series of investigations and interrogations by government committees and agencies. These investigations were directed at individuals who work for the government, those in the entertainment business, union members and educators. Although evidences were weak and often exaggerated, suspicions were given more weight. As a result, many Americans lost their jobs and some were even incarcerated (Fried, 150).
In Ellen Schrecker’s book Many Are the Crimes, the author describes the persecution of the Communist Party in the U.S. from the 1920s until the 1950s. Schrecker believed that McCarthyism contributed to the downfall of Communism in America and thrusted the country into a gulf of right-wing sentiments which plagues the U.S. until now ( Reeves, Are You Now…A new study of McCarthyism and the legacy of HUAC, 1998).
The first three chapters of Schrecker’s book explain the Communist Party’s emergence in the 1930s in America. She explained why the Communist Party was susceptible to attacks by the U.S. government. The second chapter “Red Baiters, Inc.” is an extensive analysis of people and institutions which characterized anticommunism in the 1920s and 1930s (Schrecker, 41).
The author outlines Franklin D. Roosevelt’s stance on Communism. According to Schrecker, President Roosevelt’s approach to Communism was “non-ideological” (p. 87), there were occasions that he did not pay attention to the existence of the Communist Party and there were times that he supported political suppression. Roosevelt authorized the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover to look into the Communist Party’s movement because they saw it as “a threat to national security” (p. 89).
In Chapter 4, Schrecker discusses the U.S. government’s propaganda that the Communist Party was being influenced by Moscow.
In Chapter 5, the author talks about how Americans saw Communism as a national threat through “subversion, espionage and sabotage” (p. 181).
In the third part of Ellen Schrecker’s book, explains the “instruments” of anti-communism and how the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover used different tactics to purge communists in America by wiretapping and surveillance (p. 239).
Schrecker discussed the role of Senator John McCarthy in the “anti-communist crusade”, and his “disregard for civil liberties” (p. 265).
The last chapters of the book Many Are the Crimes, Schrecker talks about the experiences of Clinton Jencks and members of the workers union and how they were persecuted and eventually lost their jobs. Schrecker explains the impact of McCarthyism in the American society, how it “destroyed the left” and paralyzed the Communist Party (p. 369).
In context, Schrecker’s book exposed the effects of the McCarthy era not only in politics but also in the entertainment business wherein the Hollywood blacklist dictated who would produce movies and star in those films. Screenwriters, actors and actresses did not escape interrogation by the anticommunist committees and those found guilty of espionage were sent to jail (Whitfield, p. 194).
The unions played an important part in those days because they talked about racial concerns in terms of equality. The union also provided support for women’s issues. It showed the inequality in terms of salaries that female workers get and how they are poorly-paid in comparison with the male workers. The union also encouraged women to be strong leaders. These progressive attempts of bringing change in the role of women in society and the work force were halted during the McCarthy era (Cherny, p.10).
For the most part the greatest damage done during the McCarthy era was the destruction of the American left and the decline of the Communist Party in America. In terms of social policy, McCarthyism interrupted the reforms needed for health insurance. The country’s “cultural and intellectual life” became stagnant because of censorship during the McCarthy era (Schrecker, The Legacy of McCarthyism).
The downfall of the McCarthy era was due to the decline of public support and court decisions which upheld individual rights and freedom (Fried, p. 197).
With the current situation in the U.S., people are more vigilant and aware of the effects of McCarthyism. This episode will serve as a “cautionary tale for future generations” (Rosen, Could It Happen Again?).
Cherny, Robert W., William Issel and Kieran Walsh Taylor. American Labor and the Cold
War: Grassroots Politics and Postwar Political Culture. New Brunswick, New
Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2004.
Fried, Albert. McCarthyism, The Great American Red Scare: A Documentary History.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Reeves, Thomas C. “Are You Now….A New Study of McCarthyism and the Legacy of
HUAC”. 14 June 1998. http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/06/14/reviews/980614.
14reevest.html. Retrieved on 7 January 2008.
Rosen, Ruth. “Could It Happen Again?” 12 May 2003. http://www.commondreams.org/
views03/0512-01.htm. Retrieved on 7 January 2008.
Schrecker, Ellen. “The Legacy of McCarthyism”. Retrieved on 7 January 2008.
Schrecker, Ellen. Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. Princeton, New Jersey:
Princeton University Press, 1999.
Whitfield, Stephen J. The Culture of the Cold War. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University