During the 1950s, thousands of ordinary people from teachers to autoworkers to high government officials shared Ruth Goldberg's disturbing experience. Rumors and accusations of Communists in the United States and of Communist infiltration of the government tapped into fears that the Communists were trying to take over the world. The Red Scare began in September 1945, when a clerk named Igor Gouzenko walked out of the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa, Canada, and defected. Gouzenko carried documents revealing a massive effort by the Soviet Union to infiltrate organizations and government agencies in Canada and the United States with the specific goal of obtaining information about the atomic bomb. The Gouzenko case stunned Americans. It implied that spies had infiltrated the American government. Soon, however, the search for spies escalated into a general fear of Communist subversion. Subversion is the effort to secretly weaken a society and overthrow its government. As the Cold War intensified in 1946 and early 1947, Americans began to fear that Communists were secretly working to subvert the American government.Following the federal gov- ernment's example, many state and local govern- ments, universities, businesses, unions, and churches began their own efforts to find Communists. The University of California required its 11,000 faculty members to take loyalty oaths and fired 157 who refused to do so. Many Catholic groups became strongly anticommunist and urged their members to identify Communists within the church.
The Taft-Hartley Act required union leaders to take oaths that they were not Communists, but many union leaders did not object. Instead they launched their own efforts to purge Communists from their organizations. The president of the CIO called Communist sympa- thizers "skulking cowards" and "apostles of hate." The CIO eventually expelled 11 unions that refused to remove Communist leaders from their organization.
In early 1947, just nine days after his powerful speech announcing the Truman Doctrine, the president established a loyalty review program to screen all federal employees. Rather than calm public suspicion, Truman's action seemed to confirm fears that Communists had infil- trated the government and helped increase the fear of communism sweeping the nation.
Between 1947 and 1951, over 6 million federal employees were screened for their loyalty—a term difficult to define. A person might become a suspect for reading certain books, belonging to various groups, traveling overseas, or even seeing certain for- eign films. About 14,000 employees were subject to intensive scrutiny from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Some 2,000 employees quit their jobs during the check, many under pressure. Another 212 were fired for "questionable loyalty,"
though no actual evidence against them was uncovered.
n 1948 Whittaker Chambers, a Time magazine editor and former Communist Party mem- ber, testified to HUAC that several government offi- cials were also former Communists or spies.
After Hiss sued him for libel, Chambers testified before a grand jury that in 1937 and 1938 Hiss gave him secret documents from the State Department. Hiss denied being either a spy or a member of the Communist Party, and he also denied ever having known Chambers.
The committee was ready to drop the investiga- tion until Representative Richard Nixon of California convinced his colleagues to continue the hearings to determine whether Hiss or Chambers had lied. As the committee continued to question Hiss, he admit- ted that he had indeed met Chambers in the 1930s. When Chambers continued to claim that Hiss was a Communist, Hiss sued him, claiming that his accusa- tions were unfounded and malicious.
To defend himself, Chambers produced copies of secret documents along with microfilm that he had hidden in a hollow pumpkin on his farm. These "pumpkin papers," Chambers claimed, proved thathe was telling the truth.
The McCarran Internal Security Act In 1950, with the Korean War underway and McCarthy and others arousing fears of Communist spies, Congress passed the Internal Security Act, usually called the McCarran Act. Declaring that "world Communism has as its sole purpose the establishment of a totali- tarian dictatorship in America," Senator Pat McCarran of Nevada offered a way to fight "treach- ery, infiltration, sabotage, and terrorism." The act made it illegal to "combine, conspire, or agree with any other person to perform any act which would substantially contribute to . . . the establishment of a totalitarian government." The law required all Com- munist Party and "Communist-front" organizations to register with the United States attorney general and publish their records. The act also created other restrictions for Communists. For example, they could not get passports to travel abroad.
The McCarran Act did not stop there. In case of a national emergency, it allowed the arrest and deten- tion of Communists and Communist sympathizers. Unwilling to punish people for their opinions, Truman vetoed the bill, but Congress easily passed it
over his veto in 1950. Later Supreme Court cases, however, ensured that the McCarran Act would never be very effective.\
Law enacted in 1950 required members of the Communist Party to register with the government.
Worries about nuclear war and Communist infiltration filled people's imaginations. Cold War nightmares soon appeared in films and popular fiction.
Matt Cvetic was an FBI undercover informant who secretly infiltrated the Communist Party in Pittsburgh. His story captivated magazine readers in the Saturday Evening Post in 1950 and came to the screen the next year as I Was a Communist for the FBI. Another suspense film, Walk East on Beacon (1951), features the FBI's activities in an espionage case. In 1953 television took up the theme with a series about an undercover FBI counterspy who was also a Communist Party official. Each week, I Led Three Lives kept television viewers on edge.
In 1954 author Philip Wylie published Tomorrow! This novel describes the horrific effects of nuclear war on an unprepared American city. As an adviser on civil defense, Wylie had failed to convince the fed- eral government to play a strong role in building bomb shelters. Frustrated, he wrote this novel to edu- cate the public about the horrors of atomic war.
At the same time these fears were haunting Americans, the country was enjoying postwar pros- perity and optimism. That spirit, combined with McCarthyism, witch hunts, fears of Communist infil- tration, and the threat of atomic attack, made the early 1950s a time of contrasts. As the 1952 election approached, Americans were looking for someone or something that would make them feel secure.