There were actually two eras that became known as the Red Scare in the United States. The first occurred following World War I, and the second took place after World War II. Both had to do with the fear of communist influence in the United States. These events became known...
There were actually two eras that became known as the Red Scare in the United States. The first occurred following World War I, and the second took place after World War II. Both had to do with the fear of communist influence in the United States. These events became known as Red Scares because the Soviet flag was red.
The first Red Scare happened as a result of the 1917 Russian Revolution in which the Russian monarchy was overthrown and replaced by a Bolshevik government under Vladimir Lenin. Labor unrest in the United States led to sensational news coverage and an impression that outsiders were threatening the American way of life. This in turn led to the Sedition Act of 1918, which made it a crime to abuse or insult the US government, military, or flag, or to advocate or teach these acts. Eventually Alexander Palmer, the US Attorney General, authorized a series of raids against leftist individuals and groups, leading to a long-term period of unrest known as Red Summer.
The second Red Scare came about as a result of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States after World War II. Americans became alarmed that espionage activities were being carried out in the United States by the Soviet Union. Several international events exacerbated anti-communist feelings. For instance, in 1949 China was taken over by communists led by Mao Zedong. In the same year, the Soviet Union successfully tested a nuclear bomb. In 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of being Soviet agents and of stealing atomic secrets from the United States. From 1950 to 1953 the United States waged war in Korea against communist forces invading from the north. All of these events created a sense of fear in the United States that communism was a very real threat to the country.
Stoking the fears brought on by real events were opportunistic men who used the Red Scare to advance their own political careers or agendas. One of the most notorious of these was Senator Joseph McCarthy of the House Un-American Activities Committee, who created a reign of terror during which he ruined the careers of many people, including Hollywood executives, movie stars, intellectuals, and others.
Another important figure who misused his authority during the Red Scare was J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI. Under the cover of the Red Scare, Hoover went after public figures whose politics he did not agree with, notably the civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Even though early on Hoover realized that King was not a communist, he continued to use wiretaps and surveillance to observe him. Hoover also did, however, investigate and expose real undercover communists, such as the Rosenbergs.
In conclusion, we see that the two Red Scares were brought about by real world events that caused American citizens to fear communist influence and infiltration. However, the Red Scares were made worse by men like Joseph McCarthy, who exaggerated the threat for political gain.