Year
1952

Red Scare dominates American politics

As the presidential election of 1952 begins to heat up, so do accusations and counteraccusations concerning communism in America. The “Red Scare”—the widespread belief that international communism was operating in the United States—came to dominate much of the debate between Democrats and Republicans in 1952.

On August 27, 1952, the New York Times front page contained three stories suggesting the impact of the Red Scare on the upcoming election. In the first story, the Republican-dominated Senate Internal Security Subcommittee released a report charging that the Radio Writers Guild was dominated by a small number of communists. The Guild, whose members were responsible for producing more than 90 percent of the programs on radio, had purportedly been run by a small clique of communists for at least the last nine years. According to the subcommittee report, communist subversion of the Guild was merely one step in a larger effort to control the media of the United States—including radio, television, movies, and book publishing. The second front-page story was a report that the American Legion was demanding, for the third year in a row, that President Harry S. Truman dismiss Secretary of State Dean Acheson for his lack of vigor in dealing with the communist threat. The Legion report declared that the Department of State was in desperate need of “God-fearing Americans” who had the “intestinal fortitude not to be political puppets.” The organization demanded a quick and victorious settlement of the Korean War, even if this meant expanding the war into China. The third story provided a counter of sorts to the previous two stories. It reported a speech by Democratic nominee for president Governor Adlai E. Stevenson, in which he strongly criticized those who used “patriotism” as a weapon against their political opponents. In an obvious slap at the Senate Subcommittee and others, such as Senator Joseph McCarthy, Stevenson repeated the words of the writer Dr. Samuel Johnson: “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.” The governor claimed that it was “shocking” that good Americans, such as Acheson and former secretary of state General George C. Marshall, could be attacked on the grounds that they were unpatriotic.

The three related stories from the front page of the Times indicated just how deeply the Red Scare had penetrated American society. Accusations about communists in the film, radio, and television industries, in the Department of State and the U.S. Army, in all walks of American life, had filled the newspapers and airwaves for years. By 1952, many Americans were convinced that communists were at work in the United States and must be rooted out and hunted down. Republicans and their allies were obviously planning to use the Red Scare to their advantage in the presidential election of that year, while the Democrats were going to have to battle the perception that they had been “soft” on communism during the administration of President Truman (who came to office in 1945 following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt). The Republicans were eventually victorious, with Dwight D. Eisenhower scoring a victory over Stevenson.

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