Civil Rights / Cold War
Fear of Commies 04 Commies in Radio and TV Fear of Commies 03 The Rosenbergs Fear of Commies 01 Comic Book Cover Fear of Commies 02 Joseph McCarthy

Dig Deeper: Why did Americans fear communism?

After World War II, Americans became fearful of the spread of Soviet communism. This fear was fed by the news media and politicians who portrayed the Soviets as bent on world domination.  

In communist nations, people were not allowed to own land, follow their religious beliefs, or speak and act freely. Americans were afraid that the Soviets would take over the U.S. and take away their freedoms.
 
President Harry Truman established a policy of “containment” towards the Soviet Union. The idea was not to fight a war with the Soviets, but rather to keep them from extending their existing boundaries. American leaders believed that the Soviets were determined to impose its beliefs and control on the rest of the world.
 
After the Soviets developed an atomic bomb with the help of information stolen from the U.S., some politicians, like Senator Joseph McCarthy, began to seek out suspected communists in the U.S. This culminated in the execution of convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, two former communists, in 1953. 

Other people, only accused of being communists, lost their jobs. Although these hunts for American communists, called McCarthyism, had waned by the mid-1950s, the term "communist" was applied to Civil Rights protesters and others who sought social change in America.
 
Read how McCarthyism ended.



Picture Credits:
  • A photograph of a comic book cover entitled "Is This Tomorrow:  America Under Communism!"  The comic book was published in 1947 by Catechetical Guild.
  • Photograph of Senator Joseph McCarthy, taken in 1954.  Library of Congress
  • A photograph of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, separated by a wire screen as they leave the courthouse after being found guilty of spying for the Soviet Union.  The couple were Americans who had been accused of passing American atomic bomb secrets to the Soviets.  They were both executed for their crime. 
     
    They proclaimed their innocence until their death, and many people believed that they had been unfairly convicted.  But in 2008, an associate of Rosenberg admitted that they both had stolen secret information and passed it on to the Soviets.  There is still some doubt that Mrs. Rosenberg, while knowledgeable about her husband's activities, was actively involved.  New York World-Telegram Photograph Collection, Library of Congress 
  • A pamphlet published in 1950 about the Communist influence in radio and televison.  It is titled "Red Channels."  The publisher was Counterattack, a newsletter "of Facts to Combat Communism." 
     
    It listed names of entertainers and the organizations they had been associated with that the publishers considered communistic.  Many of these performers were blacklisted which meant that it was harder for them to find work.  Producers didn't want to hire people who were blacklisted since that action might get them in trouble.   Photograph from the Authentic History Center online.


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