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The Red Scare

By Luke R

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When comparing the "Red Scare" in America in the 1950s to the Salem Witch trials in America at the end of the 1600s, some similarities are obvious. Both events created hysteria by stirring up people's irrational fears. The "Red Scare" refers to the fear of communism in the 1950s. This was actually the second "Red Scare." The first took place earlier and referred to the fear that a Bolshevik revolution would take place in America. The second "Red Scare" was also known as "McCarthyism" due to its most famous supporter, a man named Senator Joseph McCarthy. After World War II, many people feared communism. Then, things like Soviet Union spying, the Berlin blockade, the Iron Curtain, and the Chinese cultural revolution increased this fear.

In the 1930's, communism seemed good to some people in the United States. After World War II began, the United States Congress passed something called the Alien Registration Acts. These acts made it a crime to organize a group that would overthrow the U.S. government. The Alien Registration Acts also required that all foreigners in the United States register with the government. This act was mainly directed at communists.

In the 1940's there was an organization called the Communist Party of the U.S.A. or the "CPUSA." It had a slogan that: "Communism was Americanism." The CPUSA tried to make communism acceptable in the United States. In March 1947, President Harry S. Truman created the "Federal Employees Loyalty Program." This program established review boards that assessed the Americanism of various people, especially government employees. This board recommended that people who spied for the Soviet Union be fired. These people would be considered "un-American." The United States House of Representatives created a committee called the "Un-American Activities Committee" or HUAC. Together with Senator Joseph McCarthy, the HUAC investigated people that they suspected were communist spies. In this investigation, the HUAC came to believe that there were many more Soviet spies in the U.S. than anyone had imagined. However, this was actually not the case. They were afraid of Communism becoming popular in the United States and so they accused a lot of people of being communist's and Soviet spies even though none of them actually were. This made the fear known as the "red scare" worse. People thought that their fears of Communism infiltrating the United States were confirmed by these investigations.

This "red scare" had a huge impact on American society. The fear of communism that the Red Scare created among Americans was a theme in many American books and movies. For example, there were a lot of movies that came out showing how bad communism was and how it was trying to take over the United States. Some examples of these movies are The Commies are Coming, the Commies are Coming, released in 1957 and The Red Menace released in 1949. People were very afraid of becoming "red" or being taken over by " the reds." The Cincinnati Reds, a baseball team, even changed their name to the "Cincinnati Redlegs," so that people affected by the red scare would not stop watching their baseball games.

The Salem Witch Trials took place long before the communist Red Scare in America. However, these trials were also a terrible event that scared many Americans, making them think that the Devil had taken over their society. Luckily, the ordeal only lasted about one year. In 1692, some young girls began acting strangely. It started in the home of a minister, the Reverend Samuel Parris. Reverend Parris had a slave from the Caribbean named Tituba. She and her friends had the reputation of dancing and screaming wildly. Their behavior started to spread to other girls. Many of the local minsters became afraid. Not even the local doctor could figure out what was going on. The Puritan people thought that these girls had become witches and that their spell had to be broken. They had to find the tormentors who were doing this to these girls. The girls were tried as witches in Salem. The girls who were accused had to pass certain tests. Birthmarks, warts and moles were considered possible places where Satan entered their bodies. Just like the HUAC and many Americans during the Red Scare were afraid of communism taking over the United States, the puritans during the Salem Witch Trials were afraid that the Devil was taking over these girls' minds. They were afraid that the Devil would gain power over their lives and families. They were puritans so they had a very strong belief in God and wanted to be "pure" so if there was anyone in the community that was being influenced by the Devil they should get rid of them because that is what the Bible told them to do. In fact, in the Bible in Exodus, chapter 22, verse 18, it says, "Do not allow a sorceress to live". This kind of belief is where they were coming from and what led them to act in the way that they did concerning these girls once they believed they were witches. The girls accused as witches were told that if they confessed they would be let go. After 1692 was over, the witch scare started to die down. Once the governor heard that his wife had been accused of being a witch, he ordered the superior court to stop the trials. At least twenty people and two dogs were killed in the witch trials.

Even though both the Red Scare and the Salem witch trials each had grains of truth to them, such as that communism was on the rise during this period and was popular in certain countries and the girls believed to be witches in the Salem Witch Trials were in fact acting foolishly, they were mainly movements based on false fears. Both movements scared a lot of American people into worrying that America would be taken over by the Communists during the Red Scare and the Devil during the Salem Witch Trials. The two situations were extremely similar in that there was a lot of fear surrounding an idea that was not actually true but because people started to be afraid and then influence others to be afraid it became a much more intense fear and movement. The people in both these events were afraid of different things but their fear spread throughout their communities and grew to a mass hysteria. Today, most people realize that the Red Scare and the Witch trials were just "scares" that rational people do not need to worry about. But, there are still some people today, who fear that communism or the devil might take over the country or world.

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