Why They Call It “McCarthyism”

“Do remember you are there to fuddle him. The way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would supposed it is our job to teach!” Screwtape

Most history textbooks use the word “McCarthyism” to describe the backlash against Soviet espionage and influence that took place in America from the mid 1940’s to the late 1950’s, despite the fact that Senator Joseph McCarthy played no role in “McCarthyism” until 1950, and his role in it was always limited to Senate hearings.

Joseph McCarthy was never part of the House Un-American Activities Committee. He never had anything to do with blacklisting Communists in Hollywood. He had nothing to do with the 1947 Loyalty Program that cost hundreds of government employees their jobs. He didn’t put Alger Hiss or the Rosenbergs on trial.

The almost universal use of the word “McCarthyism” among college professors and other liberals reflects the desire of people on the political left to discredit the whole anti-Communist movement of that era, through the use of a convenient villain. Senator McCarthy was his own worst enemy at times, and some of his personal failings have made him the right person to use to put a an ugly face on a movement leftists resent.

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The Party and the Kremlin

In 1949 federal prosecutors indicted twelve leaders of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA). Eleven of these men would stand trial for violations of the Smith Act, which makes it a crime to advocate violent overthrow of the federal government. (Retired party secretary William Foster escaped prosecution because of his poor health.) The eleven party officers who did stand trial were convicted and sent to prison.

The CPUSA was an agency under direct Soviet control, formed and operated to help the Soviet Union weaken and conquer the United States. But leftist college professors typically forget to mention that part of the story while teaching America’s next generation about the Smith Act trials of the party’s leaders.

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“The Great Witch Hunt”

During the late 1940’s and early 1950’s conservatives in Congress, and in the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, conducted hearings and investigations aimed at rooting out Soviet agents in the federal government. This campaign was widely supported by the general public at the time. Today college professors and other leftists refer to the hunt for Communist spies as “McCarthyism,” and the public support for it as “anticommunist hysteria.”

The part of this story that you won’t learn in college is that there actually were many Soviet spies in the government before and during the “McCarthy Era,” and that “McCarthyism” forced many of these enemy agents out of the government.

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