McCarthyism and the Crucible

10 October 2016

In The Crucible, Arthur Miller draws a parallel between the Salem Witch trials of 1692 and McCarthyism of the 1950s, when communism became the devil and a community of people used “evil” as an excuse to take out their personal spite on those they had always wished ill. Miller sets up the parallel by showing Salem to be a theocracy, which would make the devil and those communing with him enemies of the town; it follows that America, then, is a democracy, which would make communism the modern devil and communists enemies of America (“The House of Un-American Activities”).

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Reverend Hale’s books are similar to the books, lists, and pamphlets of the McCarthy era that listed communists. The climate of fear in the 1950’s of communism in the United States was in part caused by the effects of the Korean War. The Korean War was one of several military conflicts that occurred during the Cold War, as the United States and its allies attempted to stop the spread of communism. The Korean War was the direct result of the splitting of Korea after WWII into two zones, the communist North, and the democratic South.

The United States feared the spreading of communism because America was just coming out of WWII and saw the Soviet Union emerging as a super power. If Communist forces were allowed to expand their power it is said that it may create a domino effect which was a theory in the 1950’s that speculated that if one region came under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow in a domino effect. This frightened Americans because their political systems were different, meaning that conflict is unavoidable. To preserve democracy and stop communist so that they wouldn’t have to go through another ictatorship. America and other democratic nations sent troops to fight communist China, the USSR, and North Korea. The war helped preserve the essence of democracy over communism throughout the world. The loss of the American nuclear monopoly also contributed to a fear of communism in the United States because the Russians had acquired information through a spy and had developed nuclear weapons. With the U. S no longer only with the knowledge of the Atomic Bomb this led a rise in fear in the citizens and a paranoia gripped the public.

Also with Russian becoming a nuclear power this led to the fear of a bomb being dropped at anytime and anywhere. In response to this fear bomb shelters were made everywhere so that individuals could be prepared and feel safer if one was to ever be dropped on the country. In response to the Paranoia that gripped the nation McCarthyism arose to get rid of communists. It is a term describing the intense anti-communist suspicion in the United States in a period that lasted roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1950s.

This period is also referred to as the Second Red Scare, and coincided with increased fears about communist influence on American institutions. Senator McCarthy was a demagogue he was a leader that used popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power The term “McCarthyism” was used to criticize the acts of the senator but later took on a more widespread meaning which is the use of reckless and unfair accusations so that political disloyalty could be hidden. Joseph McCarthy was elected to the United States Senate in an upset victory over incumbent Senator Robert La Follette, Jr.

McCarthy ran a dirty campaign. He lied about his war record, claiming to have flown thirty-two missions during World War II when he actually worked a desk job and only flew in training exercises. La Follette was too old for service when Pearl Harbor was bombed, but McCarthy attacked him for not enlisting and accused him of war profiteering. He also announced that he had a list of 205 State Department employees who were “card-carrying” members of the American Communist Party, some of whom were passing classified information to the Soviet Union.

When the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations asked McCarthy to testify, he was unable to provide the name of a single card-carrying communist in any government department. Undeterred by the absence of facts, McCarthy began an anti-communist crusade in the national media. Playing on real popular fears, McCarthy used scare tactics to discredit his opponents. He began by claiming that communist subversives had infiltrated President Truman’s administration. When the Democrats accused McCarthy of smear tactics, he responded that their accusations were part of the communist conspiracy.

As a result of his tactics, the Republicans swept the 1950 elections. The remaining Democrats in Congress were reluctant to criticize him. McCarthy, once voted “the worst U. S. senator” by the Senate press corps, was now one of the most influential men in the Senate. Similarly the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in the same way like McCarthy had emerged with the purpose of ridding America of communists. Although McCarthy’s actions and those of the HUAC were often very similar, McCarthy was not, in fact, associated with this committee, as he was a member of the Senate, not the House.

The House Committee on Un-American Activities was an investigative committee of the United States House of Representatives. It investigated allegations of communist activity in the U. S. during the early years of the Cold War. It used various scare tactics such as blacklisting. This tactic was used to intimidate people so that they would snitch on their friends to avoid being blacklisted. Most of those who were blacklisted were people that belonged to the entertainment industry such as actors, writers and directors.

However the HUAC did find some people who were adjudged as communist spies and there were about 300 people that were accused by Joseph McCarthy as either being communist or sympathizing with communism. When the lists were made public, all of these individuals were illegally blacklisted. This means that they were fired from their jobs, shunned, and were unable to find others. Additionally there were two major events that stopped McCarthy. First were the army-McCarthy hearings. They were conducted by the US Senate and had to do with McCarthy taking on the Army because the Army had refused to give special treatment to G.

David Schine a man who was a McCarthy staffer. Secondly was the “See It Now”, a CBS program by Edward R. Murrow an American broadcast journalist. It exposed McCarthy’s inconsistencies and led to a call for the US Senate to reprimand McCarthy. Arthur Miller wrote the Crucible after was called to a meeting of the HUAC were he was asked to tell the committee who was involved in communism. He refused and then he thought that history was just repeating itself. He thought of the witch hunts were they used to hang and burn woman for witchcraft.

He wrote the Crucible to highlight what was going on in many parts of the world in 1962, how the people felt and what was happening to those who were convicted. This links into the McCarthy trials. It talked about how would you decide who’s guilty in the court, the book was a debate on the ruling of the court in a time were many people were being accused, by children, and as in that time children were beleived more than adults. Also, the love affair between John Procotor and Abigail Williams represent the love affair that Arthur Miller had with Marilyn Monroe.

The Salem witch trials of 1692 throughout the book compare to the McCarthy trials of the 1950’s in that they both deal with the community turning on each other due to false accusations, in the Salem Witch trials, Abigail is the one accusing other towns people of their witchcraft, in almost all case’s she does not have any evidence, except the acting she puts on for the community she starts to use fear to keep people who know the truth from speaking out, and she accuses anyone she who gets in her way.

McCarthyism, happened when Joseph McCarthy started falsely accusing people of being a communist, a lot of them lost their jobs and ruined there reputations for the rest of their lives. Most of the accusations had no proof to back them up and yet got such publicity by the media that most of the accused names were never fully cleared. The character Judge Danforth can be seen as Joseph McCarthy in the novel as they both went up to a higher praise-worthy standard by believing in or appearing to support the hysterical gossip of unconfirmed claims of heresy, treason and crimes against incorruption and nature to build up their authority.

On the other hand the character John Procter can be seen as Edward R. Murrow because in the crucible John took a risk and gives his live to defend his own beliefs of justice and truth. In the same way he risked his television show and career by going against Joseph McCarthy to defend democracy and truth, which he felt were being threatened. These men are similar in that did was dangerous, but their actions were not in vein because it was necessary to defend their liberty and truth when they are under siege.

If people like Procter did not stand up for what they believed in, more people would have ended up being hanged or burned alive. If people like Edward R. Murrow did not fight against McCarthyism, the United States could be a very different place today. Lastly to sum everything up Arthur Miller draws a parallel between the Salem Witch trials of 1692 and McCarthyism of the 1950s, when communism became the devil and a community of people used “evil” as an excuse to take out their personal spite on those they had always wished ill.

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