McCarthy charges communists are in the CIA - HISTORY
Year
1954

McCarthy charges communists are in the CIA

Senator Joseph McCarthy charges that communists have infiltrated the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the atomic weapons industry. Although McCarthy’s accusations created a momentary controversy, they were quickly dismissed as mere sensationalism from a man whose career was rapidly slipping away.

Senator McCarthy first made a name for himself in 1950 when he charged that over 200 “known communists” were in the Department of State. During the next few years, he alleged that communists were in nearly every branch of the U.S. government. His reckless accusations helped to create what came to be known as the Red Scare, a time when Americans feared that communists were infiltrating all aspects of American government and life. Despite the fact that McCarthy never managed to unearth a single communist, his ability to whip up public hysteria and smear opponents as communist sympathizers made him front-page news for several years. By 1954, however, his power was slipping. His earlier charges had been leveled at the Democratic administration of President Harry S. Truman, and Republicans had embraced McCarthy as a useful weapon. When Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower stepped into the presidency in 1953, however, McCarthy’s wild accusations became a nuisance and source of embarrassment to the Republican Party.

Sensing that his base of power was eroding, in 1954 McCarthy embarked on a spectacularly unsuccessful effort to recapture public support by opening investigations into alleged communist infiltration of the U.S. Army. By early June 1954, the McCarthy-Army hearings had been going on for nearly a month. This was the first opportunity for the American public to get a firsthand view of McCarthy, as the hearings were televised. His bullying style and hysterical behavior quickly turned off the audience. In a desperate attempt to regain momentum, McCarthy charged that communists had also infiltrated the CIA and atomic weapons industry. No one took the charges seriously, and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, his brother, CIA Director Allen Dulles, and President Eisenhower brusquely dismissed McCarthy’s accusations as reckless and without basis.

Just a few weeks later, McCarthy was thoroughly disgraced when the lawyer for the U.S. Army, Joseph Welch, gave him a devastatingly effective tongue-lashing, which ended with Welch asking the senator whether he had any sense of “decency” at all. The McCarthy-Army hearings collapsed soon thereafter, and the U.S. Senate voted to censure McCarthy. He died, still holding office, in 1957.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

The Indian Citizenship Act

With Congress’ passage of the Indian Citizenship Act, the government of the United States confers citizenship on all Native Americans born within the territorial limits of the country.Before the Civil War, citizenship was often limited to Native Americans of one-half or less ...read more

Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

On June 2, 1953, Queen Elizabeth II is formally crowned monarch of the United Kingdom in a lavish ceremony steeped in traditions that date back a millennium. A thousand dignitaries and guests attended the coronation at London’s Westminster Abbey, and hundreds of millions listened ...read more

American Civil War ends

In an event that is generally regarded as marking the end of the Civil War, Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi, signs the surrender terms offered by Union negotiators. With Smith’s surrender, the last Confederate army ...read more

Babe Ruth retires

On this day in 1935, Babe Ruth, one of the greatest players in the history of baseball, ends his Major League playing career after 22 seasons, 10 World Series and 714 home runs. The following year, Ruth, a larger-than-life figure whose name became synonymous with baseball, was ...read more

English football clubs banned from Europe

On June 2, 1985, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) bans English football (soccer) clubs from competing in Europe. The ban followed the death of 39 Italian and Belgian football fans at Brussels’ Heysel Stadium in a riot caused by English football hooligans at that ...read more

Coolidge signs Indian Citizen Act

On this day in 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signs the Indian Citizen Act, granting automatic American citizenship to Native Americans born in the United States. The law attempted to finalize Indian assimilation into white culture while permitting Indians to retain some of ...read more

Ashley’s fur trappers attacked by Indians

Arikara Indians attack William Ashley and his band of fur traders, igniting the most important of the early 19th century battles between Indians and mountain men.Two years before, William Ashley and his partner Andrew Henry had started the business that would eventually become ...read more

Raymond Carver quits drinking

On this day in 1977, Raymond Carver quits drinking after being hospitalized four times in 1976.Carver, the son of an Oregon sawmill worker and a waitress, had recently established his reputation as a powerful short story writer with his story collection Will You Please Be Quiet ...read more