The Beginnings of McCarthyism (February 9, 1950)

The Beginnings of McCarthyism (February 9, 1950)

On February 9, 1950 in a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, Republican Senator Joseph McCcarthy waving a list says, "I have here a list of 205 people who the Secretary of State knows are affiliated with the Communist Party and who nonetheless are in office and shape the policy of the State Department." This is the start of what has been called the McCarthyism, witch hunts (Witch Hunts), or red fear (Red Scare), a vast anti-communist repression movement that will befall American society.

McCarthyism, an avatar of the cold war

In 1949, the arrival of Mao Zedong to power in China and the testing of an atomic bomb in the USSR led to a resurgence of anti-communism in the United States; Republicans try to blame Truman's administration, and its officials, for these events, arguing that traitors worked for the Communist cause inside the civil service. The discovery of Communist "atomic spies" in the British and Canadian nuclear science community brought the situation to a head.

Symbol of the excesses of the Cold War in domestic politics, Senator Joseph McCarthy, in February 1950, accused the State Department of being infiltrated by 205 Communists. In a national climate marked for several years by fear of the penetration of communism into all aspects of American life and society, McCarthy's allegations lead to the public meetings of the Committee on Un-American Activities and to some major trials (such as the Hiss case or the Rosenberg couple trial). In this context, Senator McCarthy's accusations against the subversive activities of several senior politicians are taken seriously, despite the absence of any evidence.

Controversial methods of investigation

Re-elected senator in 1952, McCarthy was appointed chairman of the standing subcommittee of inquiry on the Senate committee on government operations. In this position, he embarked on a veritable "witch hunt" targeting the public service as well as artistic and intellectual circles. Then begins an inquisitorial campaign which will put on the grill more than 12 million Americans, anonymous or famous (in Hollywood, the denunciation will make a lot of noise). A multifaceted movement (between official institutions such as parliamentary commissions of inquiry and partisan movements) it will maintain an atmosphere of generalized paranoia in the country, the victims of which will be many and varied (from General Marshall to Marlene Dietrich and Charlie Chaplin).

In 1954, he accused certain members of the US military of protecting espionage activity. He was absolved of the trial between him and the army - very widely publicized - but, totally discredited, he was censored by the Senate because of its methods of investigation. However, he remained a senator until his death in 1957. The climate of fear and suspicion he helped create will take a long time to dissipate.


- Witch hunt, McCarthyism, by Marie France Toinet. Complex Editions, 1999.

- To put an end to McCarthyism, by Jean-Paul Torok. Editions L'Harmattan, 2000.

Video: Senator McCarthy Claims Communist Infiltration