The McCarthy Era

This fear of Communism abroad had its domestic corollary. The American public become alarmed during the late 1940s and early I950s, when it was disclosed that several people with Communist sympathies had held government positions. This gave rise to the widespread fear that American institutions might be in danger from internal subversion. The ensuing search for Communists in the American government was spearheaded (and exploited) by an unscrupulous and hitherto unknown Senator from Wisconsin-Joe McCarthy. His wild accusations, usually without substantial evidence, disrupted, if not ruined the lives of many prominent Americans. Similar investigations attempted to reach into other segments of American society, including the motion picture business.

McCarthy eventually overplayed his hand and fell from prominence, but the fact that he was able to operate nearly unchecked for the better part of three years, was a frightening example of just how tenuous democratic liberties can be, even in a country that takes great pride in the existence of such freedoms.