In what way was the US government a bystander towards Mccarthyism?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that elements of the government helped to raise McCarthy.  Like the characters of the Putnams and Reverend Parris from Miller's The Crucible, these individuals benefited greatly from the trials and their fallout.  Individuals like McCarthy himself, Roy Cohn, and even Richard Nixon and Whitaker Chambers benefited from the trials.  These forces of government made the HUAC hearings so powerful, destroying so many people in their wake.  Government remained silent in this, as government forces refused to indict McCarthy and his committee when it became so evident that it was a runaway train, losing focus and causing hurt and irreparable damage to so many.  At this point, the government would be analogous to the town of Salem, who willingly accepted the direction and consequences of the trial without question.

Yet, if we are going to cast aspersions on the government for causing McCarthyism, we might also have to point out that some elements of the institutional framework did much to stop McCarthy.  Like the citizens in Salem, who at first were silent, but then rose up in anger to protest what was happening, elements of the United States government checked McCarthy's committee and exposed it for the fraud it was.  Consider the hearings, themselves, as an example of this.  The exchange between McCarthy and Welch could be an example of how Giles Corey stood up to the judges Hathorne and Danforth.  Welch's indictment of McCarthy in one sentence illuminated America as the hypocrisy of the trials and the fraudulent nature of McCarthy, similar to what happened to Parris in Miller's drama:

Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?

If government is going to be indicted for enabling McCarthy to do so much damage, then it must also be given the credit through the hearings of raising awareness to McCarthy's own inauthentic nature. Along these lines, Edward R. Murrow could be seen as a figure of dissent, similar to anyone in Miller's work.  Murrow was able to use the power of his own medium to bring out how much hypocrisy was present in what was happening.  While the media is independent of the government, it has to be given credit for serving as "the fourth branch" of government in the downfall of McCarthy.  I would also suggest that Miller, himself, with his refusal to answer questions could be seen as a Corey or even a Proctor figure. Here again, the focus of government could be seen as speaking out when it was sorely needed.  There is more than enough blame for government and the American society, in general, in describing the rise of McCarthy.  For this, there are ample parallels in Miller's work.  Yet, I believe that some level of credit has to be given for government is able to rise up against McCarthy when it was evident that his power needed to be curtailed.


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