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McCarthyism & The Salem Witch Trials
Transcript of McCarthyism & The Salem Witch Trials
The Salem Witch Trials
Factors Leading to McCarthyism
After the end of WW II, America became locked in political rivalry with Communist Soviet Union. This is, in a nutshell, known as the Cold War.
The Cold War witnessed the two superpowers locked in an arms race, which further created an international mood of suspicion and fear.
In June 1950, when communist China began to expand into Southeast Asia, America embarked on the Korean War in an attempt to stem the tide of Communism in Asia.
Fear & Hysteria
HUAC asked the accused to confess, and prove their innocence by naming others.
As people began to realize that they might be condemned as Communists regardless of their innocence, many “cooperated,” attempting to save themselves through false confessions, thus creating the image that the United States was overrun with Communists and perpetuating the hysteria.
This policy resulted in a whirlwind of accusations. There were many suicides.
Those who were revealed, falsely or legitimately, as communists, and those who refused to incriminate their friends, saw their careers suffer, as they were blacklisted from potential jobs for many years afterward.
Through intensive interrogation by Senator Joseph McCarthy, using tactics of distortion, a witch-hunt began.
Those who were sympathetic to the communist cause, or those who had connections with Russia, could be summoned before the committee to explain their involvement.
People were told to recant communist beliefs and name their former friends and associates in the communist cause. When people denied allegations or refused to name names, they were punished.
Citizens were blacklisted, unemployed, and in some cases, isolated from this country for over thirty years.
The author, Arthur Miller, made a conscious attempt to link the two ideas – the Salem witch trials, 1692, and McCarthyism of the 1950’s.
The parallelism of the two historical times makes one aware of the insidious results of the mass hysteria that characterized both time periods.
This conflict had an enormous effect on the political climate within the United States.
Political, social and business leaders were increasingly concerned that communism threatened the American “way of life.”
This so-called Red Scare contributed to widespread paranoia.
In this tense era, American federal workers were all required to take loyalty oaths to pledge their allegiance to America, and the U.S. government established loyalty boards to investigate reports of left-wing communist sympathizers.
Senator Joseph McCarthy
This intense fear that communists were infiltrating America eventually led to the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the most prominent figure in the
House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)
which was established to scrutinize possible communist suspects and uncover their subversive infiltration into American life.
McCarthy’s highly controversial investigations were aimed particularly at university teachers, artists, trade unionists, and anyone suspected of left-wing sympathies, which showed his deep-seated fear of the intellectual’s power and influence.
The liberal entertainment industry, in which Miller worked, was one of the chief targets of these “witch hunts.”
Among the accused, some caved in; others, like Miller, refused to give in to questioning.
Here is Miller’s response to HUAC’s questioning:
Miller's name was given to the committee by a close friend who caved in.
Extremely depressed about his friend’s inability to stand up to the committee, Miller drove north to Salem, Massachusetts, to begin his research on The Crucible, which would be another community rocked by hysteria, the betrayal of friends under pressure, and one man’s refusal to name names in order to save his own skin.
The lunacy of McCarthyism and the terror of Salem had merged into one central image, in which the average citizen was willing to accept insanity as a routine.
Joseph McCarthy, a republican senator from Wisconsin, spent his first three years in office “undistinguished.”
Some described him as a “lazy and ineffectual senator, and an easy captive for any lobbyist willing to put a few extra bucks into his personal or political bank account.”
He sought fame and power.
His political career was fading, until he used the charged political climate to boost that career.
On February 9, 1950, Republican senator Joseph McCarthy dropped a political bombshell. McCarthy gave a speech at the Republican Women's Club of Wheeling, West Virginia, in which he attacked the Truman administration and claimed to have a long list of Communists in the State Department. No one in the press actually saw the names on the list, but McCarthy's announcement made the national news.
McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) worked to root out all Communist sympathizers in the country. He began an investigation into the lives of citizens who appeared to have communist ideals. He held public trials and encouraged FEAR and PARANOIA.
It is widely accepted that McCarthy made up these accusations solely to AGGRANDIZE his political power. In fact, he often changed the number of people accused because he could not remember what he stated in previous speeches. The number of government officials in Truman’s administration accused of being “card-carrying members of the communist party” went from 205 to 136 to 57 to 81.
Many people were willing to believe his charges without evidence because people wanted to feel secure. His focus on weeding out corruption made people feel that someone was doing something to keep them safe.
McCarthy became the most sought-after public speaker in America. He was named one of Washington’s most eligible bachelors. His office was flooded with donations to help his cause of eliminating the communist threat. At one point, he received an average of $1000.00 a day in the mail.
Eventually, he had to escalate his accusations and not just speak generally of government officials, but actually NAME NAMES. He branched out to intimidate and attack private citizens– journalists, professors, artists, and those in professions that were considered “LIBERAL.”
A Position of Power
“When I say this I want you to understand that I am not protecting the Communists or the Communist Party. I am trying to and will protect my sense of myself. I could not use the name of another person and bring trouble on him. I take responsibility for everything I have done but I cannot take responsibility for another human being”….
“Nobody wants to be a hero... but in every man there is something he cannot give up and still remain himself - a core, an identity, a thing that is summed up for him by the sound of his own name on his own ears. If he gives that up, he becomes a different man, not himself.”
“…Astounded, I watched men pass me by without a nod whom I had known rather well for years; and again, the astonishment was produced by my knowledge, which I could not give up, that the terror in these people had been knowingly planned and consciously engineered, and yet that all they knew was terror. That so interior and subjective an emotion could have been so manifestly created from without was a marvel to me. It underlies every word in The Crucible.
Arthur Miller, Collected Plays (1957)
“If I hadn’t written The Crucible,” Miller said, “that period would have been unregistered in our literature on any popular level…”
The Crucible is the work that Miller feels “proudest” of because, as he puts it, “I made something lasting out of a violent but brief turmoil.”
Commenting on the hostility of the audience, Miller writes that “as the theme of the play was revealed, an invisible sheet of ice formed over their heads, thick enough to skate on. In the lobby at the end, people with whom I had some fairly close professional acquaintanceships passed me by as though I was invisible.”
In the eyes of the public, the play seemed to confirm Miller’s reputation as a dangerous man.
Many reviewers and playgoers believed that viewing and approving this play might taint them as sympathetic to communism. People in those highly charged times had lost their jobs for less.