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The Red Scare of the 1950’s was a traumatic event that changed the course of American history and ruined the lived of countless people. The Red Scare was led by Joseph McCarthy, a determined communist hunter. During the Red Scare, people were unjustly accused either of being communists or participating in a communist conspiracy to overthrow the United States government. The events of World War II and also the memories of the earlier Red Scare from the 1920’s helped influence and push along the fear of Communism. Senator Joseph McCarthy was the driving force of the Red Scare. By studying McCarthy’s social and political background, we can see it is almost as if his life was one long preparation for the events of the Red Scare. It is not surprising that an event this dramatic would occur during his life. By only concentrating on Joseph McCarthy’s life growing up and his background, can a conclusion be drawn to whether McCarthy became involved in the Red Scare out of love for his country and the hate of Communism or was it rather for attention from the public? Many aspects of his life can be used to help determine this. He was an extremely hard and determined worker, patriotic, and he had the ability to charm and persuade people. His weaknesses were, however, his negative campaigning tactics, he did anything he could for political gain, and his egotistical mindset.
One of McCarthy’s most useful traits was his drive to work hard and his determination. From the time he was a teenager to the end of his career, he pushed ahead with what he wanted at full speed, knocking down or going around any obstacles in his way. His younger sister Ana Mae said, “Joe always wanted to do something big…He never kept still. He was always exploding on something (Reeves 5).” The first time his hard work paid off was when he was in his teen years when he invested the little money he had into a chicken farm. He worked days and nights raising and selling chickens, sometimes driving all the way to Chicago from his home in Wisconsin. His business flourished for many years but after a series of bad events, he had to shut it down. However, he took this as an opportunity to move forward and decided to go back to school. Since he restarted high school in his early twenties, it took a lot of guts for him to enter a classroom filled with children fourteen to sixteen years of age. While working part time jobs to pay his rent, McCarthy excelled through high school by studying day and night and finishing classes ahead of schedule. McCarthy astonished the principal and everyone else by fully finishing and passing four years worth of school in only nine months. McCarthy’s principal said “We never graduated a student more capable of graduating”, and also said McCarthy was “the irresistible force who overcame the immovable object (Reeves 9).” McCarthy would continue to work tirelessly for many more years. He won almost every election he entered by putting his entire mind and body into the work. During his first time running for the senate, McCarthy almost single-handedly managed his campaigning while still working full time as a judge. From knowing how hard and determined of a worker McCarthy was it would not be drastic to say that he really thought he could tackle the Red Scare by himself in an attempt to help his country and the government instead of it being just for the public attention. McCarthy learned patriotism from his family. They were hard working, religious, and proud of their Irish ancestry. McCarthy’s grandparents moved to America with millions of other Irish and worked hard to start a new life. (Reeves 2). After succeeding in America, the McCarthy’s became very patriotic. Many people who had met McCarthy throughout his life considered him to be patriotic, including Colonel Todd who served with him in the Marines. “He was a sincere, patriotic excellent Marine Corps officer and as brave as the rest of us (McCarthy 60).” In 1946, the Wisconsin Sate Journal commented: “He didn’t have to go to war, but he did. There’s nothing forcing him to run for the United States Senate either. Joe just feels that ‘there’s a job to be done’ in Washington (Reeves 61).” Before he was even a Marine and still a part of the Democratic party, he strongly supported Roosevelt, who he claimed “every drop of whose blood and every faculty of whose mind and body is devoted to that great noble, unselfish task….of serving all the American people (Reeves 23).” The main reason he supported Roosevelt when he was a Democrat, was because he felt Roosevelt cared mostly about the citizens and their freedom. Being patriotic helps McCarthy when it comes to him being analyzed for his involvement in the Red Scare. Since it can be proven that he was patriotic his whole life, it would have been normal for him to think he had the right to make such a big deal of there being communists in the country he loved so much.
McCarthy’s blessed personality enabled him to charm and persuade people easily, which has been considered one of the main reasons he was able to get people to vote for him. From the time he was young, he was known for having an outgoing personality: “Joe was an almost totally extroverted boy, loud, fun-loving, constantly in the thick of things and extremely popular (Reeves 4).” This would only be the beginning of his desire to be the center of attention. His friendly personality helped him on many occasions. When he was in his teens he worked at a local grocery which was the smallest in the whole town. After he started working their the profits from the store were higher than any of the other stores around. He helped the store increase its profits by advertising outside of the store by walking up and down the streets talking and chatting to random people and asking them to stop by the store (Reeves 6). Helpful to his political career was his stunning ability to remember the first names of almost anyone he ever met. McCarthy had a very good reason behind this also. He would tell his friends that some people could care less about politics and they only needed one thing to be convinced of who to vote for and he said, “That reason could be a handshake, a smile, a note telling them that they were remembered, and implying that they were special (Reeves 26).” By taking the time to actually remember a strangers’ name, McCarthy could guarantee himself another supporter. Another technique McCarthy used to persuade people to vote for him was to go door to door. During his campaign to become the circuit judge he had to find a way to get his almost unknown name out to the public, including the farmers. “For three months, six and seven days a week, Joe traveled over icy rural roads, knocking on doors, shaking hands, swapping farm stories, complimenting wives on their cooking, patting children on the heard and he even milked a few cows (Reeves 26)”. By driving hundreds of miles and introducing himself in person to the farmers, he made them feel as if someone actually cared about them. Besides the mixture of his charming personality and loving attitude, his words also helped win him many admirers. He always seemed to know when and what to say. On one Independence Day McCarthy made a moving speech: “Democracy has never been bestowed upon a people by an outside paternal hand. It is only when their liberty is purchased by their own blood and courage that people are willing to fight to preserve that liberty (Reeves 33).” Not only was this quote moving and true, he said it at a perfect time in history. World War II was still going on and people were in fear and this helped encourage them. There is absolutely no doubt that McCarthy had a great personality and a way with words. However, this is one of those things that can be used for good and also for bad. He could have used his personality to get people to like him and to persuade them of something or on the other hand, he could have truly been sincere about everything he said. Something that would come back and haunt McCarthy was his negative campaigning techniques. Joseph McCarthy was interested in politics in his early years. In his late twenties, just being out of law school and not making that much of a salary, he was elected the president of the Young Democratic Clubs of the 7th district of Wisconsin. This was the first time he practiced his campaigning skills which would carry on with him for the rest of his life. He was accused of being vicious at campaigning and making false accusations as one of his opponents once said in a newspaper interview that, “He was an ‘unscrupulous’ politician who had ‘grossly’ misstated the facts (Reeves 23)”. Since he won, McCarthy learned a skill and he continued his immoral ways in all his campaigns in the future. As long as he won, he didn’t care what he had to do. Another occasion where he was accused of changing facts was when he amazingly won the election against a circuit judge in Wisconsin that was highly respected and had been around for decades (Reeves 30). By misstating the facts, McCarthy convinced the public that his opponent was too old to be a judge and also that he was overpaid (Oshinksy). The son of the judge McCarthy beat was upset at the results and the effect it had on his father and claimed, “He accused him of all sorts of evil. It was amazing how one man could wreck the reputation of a man loved and honored in this community (Reeves 31).” Not only did McCarthy lie, but he also attacked what his opponents did. During his campaigning for the Senate, McCarthy was going up against tough competition, La Follette. He damaged La Follette’s reputation by repeatedly attacking him on the grounds that he didn’t enlist during the war even though he was exempt since he was forty-six years old. However, McCarthy claimed that while he had been away fighting for his country, La Follette was too busy making money. This deeply hurt La Follette’s image and turned a lot of people against him. Winning became top priority for McCarthy as his life progressed. As he found better ways to do things and also learned that he could achieve what he put him mind on, he kept pushing higher and higher to the top. The more people told him something was impossible, the harder he worked no matter who got hurt in the process, what he had to do, or how much money he would have to spend in the process.
Something very surprising is how McCarthy managed to continue to win elections after changing from a true-hearted Democrat to a Republican. The sad thing about his quick change of political parties was that “He left the party not out of ideology but because the Republicans offered a better opportunity (Johnson).” However, he was not accepted by all the Republicans in Wisconsin. One Republican made a statement about him in a newspaper article saying “He is a DEMOCRAT-climbing on the Republican band wagon (Reeves 58).” But even with some opposition, his change in political parties ended up helping him since the Republican dominated state of Wisconsin helped elect him into the Senate. Another drastic thing McCarthy did for political gain was join the Marines because a close friend mentioned to him it would help after the war was over if he could say he fought in the war. If joining the Marines wasn’t enough of a political advantage, McCarthy decided to take it farther by lying about an injury he got to his leg. A simple injury caused by falling off a ladder was turned into, what he claimed was a war-related wound. He also managed to convince the press that he had been “wounded in action (Reeves 47).” Many people by then were already suspicious of anything McCarthy said or did; however, he still managed to receive unearned medals from his time in the military. One critic said, “McCarthy learned early in life that a bluff served him well… He falsified documents to attain an undeserved World War II medal and continually exaggerated his military service record (Hanneman).” From this we can see that McCarthy chronically misrepresented the truth to suit his needs, something that he would continue doing for year to come and would eventually be the cause of his own downfall. This aspect of his personality is one of the main reasons people doubt his motives for the Red Scare. If he would go through so much just to get attention and to make himself look better throughout his life, why would he stop when he made it to the Senate? Not only was almost everything McCarthy did for political gain, it was also for personal gain. Even though McCarthy was very determined and a hard worker, most of his driving ambition came from trying to prove himself better than others. It was good that he believed in himself, but perhaps part of his downfall was that he believed he could do more than he really could. The problem with being egotistical is the drive to prove people wrong and to prove how great one’s own self is. McCarthy was barely known and not that successful when he first mentioned to his friend that he wanted to run for circuit judge. When his friend laughed and told him it would be too hard, McCarthy wanted to prove he could do it if he wanted. About the election, he said: “I figured I could win. They told me that was impossible. I didn’t like that (Reeves 30).” The fact that McCarthy won that election can be seen as something negative. Since he won, he proved to his friends he could achieve what he wanted, but it also caused him to become more driven and egotistical. This led to his stronger desire to be elected into the Senate. For McCarthy to want to be a judge and in the Senate were not bad ambitions. What was wrong was that he was too young and inexperienced to truly be capable of serving the public better than his opponents. McCarthy said about himself: “I don’t claim to be any smarter than the next fellow, but I do claim that I work twice as hard and that’s what I intend to do in Washington the next six years (Herman 40).” If anyone had any doubt of how serious he was, after he reached the Senate he made his name known. Within his first two weeks in the Senate he found out how easy it was for anything a senator said to be quoted in newspapers and on TV. He took this to his own personal advantage and would often give interviews with reporters in order to get his ideas out and heard by the public. Another negative side effect of being so hard-headed is the inability to listen to others thoughts and ideas. One friend of McCarthy said, “He usually saw things in black and white…. When he thought himself on the side of justice and truth, he could be inflexible toward the opposition (Matusow 34).” This proved to be true throughout his life even if it meant lying to people in order to get them to see things the same way he did. An example of this can also be seen during his process in carrying out the Red Scare. He kept pushing and pushing even after everyone told him he was going overboard and needed to stop. McCarthy was too egotistical and thought and wanted to do more than he could actually do and it took a dramatic event for him too learn he had his boundaries. “The great difference between our western Christian world and the atheistic Communist world is not political, gentlemen, it is moral (history).” This was said by Joseph McCarthy during his famous “Wheeling” speech in West Virginia more than half a century ago. This quote, plus many others from the same speech caught the publics’ attention right away and this was the start of McCarthy’s Red Scare crusade. This sounds like it would come out of the mouth of a good-hearted man who only wants the best for the people. The ironic thing about McCarthy talking about things being moral is that he spent his whole life doing things that were immoral. He would do anything to win and be on the top, even when it meant bringing down opponents with lies and cheating. No one bothered to study McCarthy’s background until after the drama was over and it was not until then that the truth of his past became revealed. If the public had known about the countless times he lied, how he campaigned so harshly, and how he did things just for political and personal gain, would they have believed a word he said during his speeches? Joseph McCarthy was a complex man. On the outside he had a charming personality, a great determination and drive to do well and he was very patriotic. However, on the inside where he was hidden from the public, he lied and cheated during his campaigns, he did anything and everything he could for political gain and also he was very egotistical.
I think by only concentrating on McCarthy’s background it can be said that he carried out the Red Scare for his own gain and attention. Yes, he did have many good qualities and he was a great man who had good ideas and influenced many in good ways. However, the negative parts of his personality took over him and overshadowed everything else. I truly believe McCarthy loved his country and was patriotic, but those where not the reasons why he caused such an uproar. It was all for himself and his image. He had a problem of always needing to be at the top and at the center of attention. He was loud and wanted people to know who he was. The biggest part of his personality growing up that shows that he led the Red Scare for attention was all the evidence of his drive to do things purely out of political and personal gain. Once, McCarthy said, “…He has lighted the spark which is resulting in a moral uprising and will end only when the whole sorry mess of twisted, warped thinkers are swept from the national scene so that we may have a new birth of honesty and decency in government (Center for Media).” Little did McCarthy know, but he was talking about himself here. It was not the communists causing all the problems in the government like McCarthy claimed, instead it was people like himself who were vying for the attention of the public. In the end, all the positive things studied about him he used for the bad. He used his determination and being a hard worker to throw himself straight into the problem. He used his charming personality and ability to persuade people to convince the public and the government officials that there really were communists in the government even though he was partially lying. Also, he used his patriotism to make the public believe everything he did was for the country.