July 18

This Day in History

Cold War

Jul 18, 1945:

Charges of communists in the U.S. Army raised

In testimony before the House Military Affairs subcommittee, the subcommittee's chief counsel, H. Ralph Burton, charges that 16 officers and non-commissioned officers in the U.S. Army have pasts that "reflect communism." The charges, issued nearly 10 years before Senator Joseph McCarthy would make similar accusations, were hotly denied by the U.S. Army and government.

By July 1945, with the war in Europe having ended just two months before, Cold War animosities between the United States and the Soviet Union were already beginning to arise. The two nations, allies against Hitler during World War II, were dividing over issues such as the postwar fate of Germany and the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe. One aspect of the growing tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States involved charges that communist agents were at work in various sectors of American society, such as Hollywood and the federal government. In July 1945, House Military Affairs subcommittee chief counsel H. Ralph Burton testified that his investigations revealed at least 16 officers and non-commissioned officers in the U.S. Army had communist backgrounds. As evidence, Burton cited the fact that some of the men had contributed writings to radical journals such as New Masses. In addition, some of the men had served in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a volunteer fighting force that battled against the fascist forces of Franco in Spain during that nation's civil war in the 1930s. The U.S. Army quickly fired back, declaring that its own investigation revealed that none of the men named by Burton "was disaffected or disloyal." Whatever activities prior to their military service the men might have engaged in, "the real criterion always remains: Is the individual at the present time whole-heartedly loyal to the United States?" In the celebration that accompanied the U.S. victory over Japan less than three weeks after Burton's testimony, the charges against the U.S. Army were forgotten.

Burton's charges are of interest, however, coming nearly 10 years prior to Senator Joseph McCarthy's similar accusations against the U.S. Army in 1954. In the latter case, McCarthy was completely disgraced during his hearings into communism in the Army. The 1945 accusations indicate that McCarthy was not the creator of the so-called Red Scare that swept the nation after World War II. Indeed, even before World War II came to an end, charges of communist infiltration of the U.S. government and military were being issued.

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