Senator John McCarthy’s speech “Enemies from Within” can be described as an embodiment of America’s anti-communist sentiment during the Cold War. In the speech, his views and definitions of communism are apparent. This paper argues that to some extent his fears were justifiable, even though the true extent of the threat might have been exaggerated. This paper aims to construct his speech by explaining the definition of communism, the threat it posed, the validity of McCarthy’s charges, and to assess other events similar to the Red Scare. Additionally, the paper will examine the consequences of invoking the Fifth Amendment.
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The keyword, which appears multiple times as McCarthy refers to communism is atheism, meaning that he defines communists as atheists or people without a religion. The truth in this statement is hard to explain, as there are no historical records that indicate that all states or individuals pursuing communism are atheists. Joseph Stalin and Lenin stated that communism and Christianity could not coexist, which may have prompted the use of the term “atheist” (McCarthy, 1950).
However, the speech depicts communists as rebels and not revolutionaries with a justifiable course because their acts of revolution constitute a fight against the Christian world. Therefore, communism is seen as a violent revolution that seeks to eliminate or destroy the democratic Christian world. The term ‘violent’ is used here because of the quote from Stalin, which highlights that communism cannot be achieved peacefully unless the revolutionaries have openly and grossly rejected the movement (McCarthy, 1950). Communist nations are, according to McCarthy, totalitarian and enemies of democracy.
The specific threat posed by the communist nations was the destruction of the Christian democracies as hinted by the statements by both Stalin and Lenin (McCarthy, 1950). Additionally, these statements highlight that Christianity and communism cannot coexist and indicate that one has to triumph over the other. As evidence, McCarthy (1950) states that the number of people dominated by Soviet Russia had increased from 180 million to 400 million, representing a 400% increase.
At the same time, the number of people on the American side declined to approximately 500 million (McCarthy, 1950). Such shifts in the levels of domination have an immediate implication on American democracy, as the state was likely to lose control over its territories. However, the speech does not expressly state the specific threats posed by communism. It can be construed, therefore, that McCarthy was worried that growing Soviet influence would undermine that of the United States and he felt that armed confrontation to avert this threat was inevitable.
The accuracy of McCarthy’s charges was subject to the interpretation of the communist revolution. Additionally, the accusations regarding the enemies within the country depend on whether or not the individuals mentioned played a direct role in helping the communist revolution. The threats of war can be considered exaggerated because the Soviet Union had not declared any war against the United States.
Paranoia was a common phenomenon during the Cold War as explained by Cummings (2020) who states that this condition persists today. Additionally, the fears resulted from the perception that the communist parties would overpower countries, topple their government, and abolish national borders. According to Cummings (2020), the immense paranoia today, both in the United States and the United Kingdom, is fuelled by fears that Soviet Russia interferes with their elections. The main point is that it is hard to examine the accuracy of the charges by McCarthy in such a state of paranoia. There are chances that extreme exaggeration was making the situation worse than it was in reality.
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The anti-communist sentiments are visible in the “Enemies from Within” speech. However, their validity is affected by the level of paranoia and propaganda that were the defining features of the Cold War. The media was to blame for creating and spreading these sentiments based on false information. According to White (2021), the television during the Cold War was anti-communist. Additionally, media personalities such as Jack Webb and their police stories helped spread the fears across the entire nation. The Americans were taught to fear the Soviets and to prepare for imminent attacks on American soil. The only validity in these sentiments was that the arms race was real and that the United States was not an assured winner at the time.
There are some examples of events similar to the Red Scare that can be observed in the history of the United States. The most recent is the anticipated Cold War with China, where instances of paranoia such as a travel ban on the Communist Party of China (CPC) members as highlighted by Xin and Hui (2020) have started to emerge. The situation was deemed to be similar to the Red Scare because the same approaches to Chinese growth and influence were observed during the Cold War with Russia.
Additionally, China is predominantly communist, which could mean that Americans’ sentiments regarding communism persisted. In such a case, new threats are caused by China instead of the Soviet Union. Robert Zoellick, a US Deputy Secretary of State, stated in 2005 that China was huge and growing. He further expressed that the implications for the United States and the rest of the world included how China intended to use its influence over the world. Most importantly, he highlighted the need to make China a responsible state. The argument made by Zoellick was similar to McCarthy’s speech where a threat was perceived out of paranoia.
Another interesting question is what happened to those who evoked the Fifth Amendment, refused to appear, or were found in violation of the law as defined by the Congressional Committee. Under normal circumstances, individuals who use such a tactic tend to suffer no recrimination. During the Cold War, however, invoking the Fifth Amendment was seen as an admission of being a communist, which often resulted in being blacklisted making it impossible for one to find employment.
According to Blackerby (2016), the Red Scare was an era when domestic communism was perceived as the leading concern in the United States. Several agencies, including the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), were formed and relentlessly pursued suspected communists in a manner that exposed the tension between security and liberty. Therefore, the fact that the Fifth Amendment could not rescue these individuals explains that the country was willing to break the law to suppress communism.
The Cold War and anti-communism are phenomena which persists to date. The speech by Joseph McCarthy is evidence that the Americans were taught to fear the Soviets. As expressed in this paper, not all accusations and charges were accurate as most information given by politicians and the media was highly exaggerated. Propaganda and paranoia are the two key defining features of anti-communism. Such a situation could be repeated with the new perceived threat of the rise of China.
Blackerby, C. (2016). Pleading the Fifth: Lillian Hellman and the HUAC investigation of Hollywood. Social Education, 80(6), 316-320. Web.
Cummings, M. (2020). ‘Rigged’ details long history of Russian and U.S. electoral interference. Yales News. Web.
McCarthy, J. (1950). “Enemies from Within” Speech Delivered in Wheeling, West Virginia. Digital History. Web.
White, A. (2021). When television was anti-communist and Jack Webb was king. National Review. Web.
Xin, L., & Hui, Z. (2020). US travel ban on CPC members ‘paranoid,’ risks dragging ties to 1972: Analysts. Global Times. Web.