In the 1950s, a relatively unknown senator from Wisconsin reshaped America by alleging that Communists had infiltrated the U.S. State Department. By 1954, Joseph McCarthy was accusing the Army of harboring Reds. In riding those accusations to fame, the senator created a state of fear and paranoia that ruined careers and destroyed Americans’ trust in their own institutions.
That legacy that lives today, in the litmus tests of political loyalty.
The Red scare, which predated McCarthy, lasted well into the 1960s. It was fanned by publications such as the 1949 U.S. government pamphlet entitled 100 Things You Should Know about Communism.It defined the objectives of the Communist state and told Americans how to identify supporters and spies. “What is Communism?” the first question reads. “A system by which one small group seeks to rule the world.”
Here are two more examples:
Number sixty-two. “How can a Communist be identified? It’s easy. Ask him to name ten things wrong with the United States. Then ask him to name two things wrong with Russia. His answers will show him up even to a child.”
Number seventy-six. “Where can a Communist be found in everyday American life? Look for him in your school, your labor union, your church, or your civic club.”
Image reading this and other Cold War propaganda as a child. What kind of a world would that create? One you recognize today?
Jeff Widmer’s latest book is Distant Early Warning, a novel of the Cold War.