After World War II, rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union intensified. The result internationally was the Cold War, in which the two countries struggled for the influence of their respective political systems on the other countries of the world. Domestically in the United States, this conflict gave...
After World War II, rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union intensified. The result internationally was the Cold War, in which the two countries struggled for the influence of their respective political systems on the other countries of the world. Domestically in the United States, this conflict gave rise to the Red Scare, during which Americans became paranoid about communist spies infiltrating the nation. This paranoia concerning the Soviet Union and communism had a profound effect on American culture and society.
The House Committee on Un-American Activities, a committee of the US House of Representatives, was begun in 1938, mainly to investigate communist organizations that had arisen as a result of the New Deal. After the war, it became more prominent as a tool to expose communists (or suspected communists) working in government positions and in the film industry in Hollywood. The committee's activities assumed high-profile status as it alleged that communists had infiltrated various levels of government, the entertainment industry, educational institutions, and other organizations. This created an ever-expanding aura of distrust in targeted groups. The committee's preferred tactic was to issue subpoenas and then demand that individuals answer questions about their loyalties and turn in names of other suspected communists. Anyone who didn't answer questions to the committee's satisfaction or did not supply a list of names might lose their jobs and even be imprisoned.
HUAC especially targeted Hollywood actors, directors, screenwriters, and technicians. Studios blacklisted anyone suspected of communist activities, even if those suspicions had no basis or had resulted from a single instance of attending a left-leaning meeting decades earlier. This profoundly affected American culture, because many of the most talented artists in Hollywood found themselves blacklisted and unable to find work. Because Hollywood moguls were terrified of being considered pro-communist, films avoided controversial political topics and became more conservative.
In the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy took advantage of the fears of the American people to launch himself into prominence as a communist hunter. He blatantly lied about the extent of communist involvement in government and for a time became so powerful that politicians feared to oppose him. He eventually exposed his unethical tactics on national television, and as a result, Congress censured him. During the years that McCarthy was spouting his exaggerations and lies, though, irrational fear descended upon American society.
On a personal level, Americans who were accused of being communist sympathizers, whether or not the accusations were justified, had their lives disrupted in numerous ways. They were harassed by authorities, could not hold their jobs, and sometimes became alienated even from family and friends.