by Joe Ptak, JVLA

McCarthyism! For most people, the term brings to mind the Communist "witch hunts" of the early 1950s, fueled by the fear that insurgents had infiltrated many of America's institutions...from the federal government to Hollywood's sound stages. How is it possible for a modern nation such as the United States to fall into the grips of such fear? This WebQuest will examine that question.



                     "Fear Poster"                       Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI)

As the Second World War was drawing to a close in 1945, the war-time "marriage" of the United States and the Soviet Union was dissolving quickly. Once the common enemies---Germany and Japan---had been defeated, the stark ideological differences between the two Allies became glaringly apparent. Democratic America and Communist Russia rapidly drifted apart, ushering in a new period in world history known as the "Cold War." In the first 10 years following the Second World War, fear of Communism grew exponentially and rumors abounded that Soviet agents were infiltrating America's institutions. Fear manifested itself in newspapers, books, television, radio, motion pictures, posters (see above), and talk on the street.

Amid this post-war climate of fear, distrust, and whispers stood Joseph McCarthy, the Republican junior Senator from Wisconsin. Little known before this period, he soon became the central driving force behind the efforts to eradicate the country of the Communist infiltrators he knew were operating in America. His methods were harsh and bordered on the edge of Consitutionality and reason. Eventually, he was censured by the U.S. Senate. What causes a panic such as this? How could a nation as modern as the United States fall into the grips of such fear? That's the topic for this WebQuest...Senator Joe McCarthy, McCarthyism, and the "2nd Red Scare" of the early 1950s.