Kathy Knechtges's Blog

Kathy Knechtges

Kathy Knechtges
December 25
Writer and meditator, with an Independent bent. Have written for California and Midwest publications. Interests are the loss of the middle class, American manufacturing, unions, immigration, and the welfare of families and children.


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FEBRUARY 24, 2012 1:01PM

The Trouble With Hate.

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National Park Service Photo--Great Lakes20060803204258 blue lake mich




America's forward thinkers and activists were very worried. A hateful philosophy seemed to be gaining traction in the U.S., even at the highest levels of society, the media and the government. They remembered the dark history of past evil movements like Nazism and Stalinism. These movements had prevailed because individuals had not acted to stop the forces of evil.

Finally, the leaders took decisive action. They organized to research and document recognized purveyors of the philosophy. Surely, no proponents of this evil should be allowed to remain in the mainstream of American society where they could influence others.

The activists finally succeeded in getting a few false cultural icons thrown out of their jobs. Maybe there was hope for the country after all. A few people worried about insufficient and hearsay evidence, and a lack of due process. But the activists and groups responsible were well-respected people who could be trusted.

The people of conscience were eventually stunningly successful. After several years, they had a long list of horrible people who had been fired from their jobs. Here are just a few of the people who were exposed by the campaign:

Nelson Algren, writer

Aaron Copland, composer

Charlie Chaplin, actor and director,

W.E.B. Du Bois, civil rights activist and author

Linus Pauling, chemist and winner of two Nobel prizes

Lena Horne, singer

Artie Shaw, jazz musician

J. Robert Oppenheimer, physicist, scientific director of the Manhattan Project of WWII


The imaginary description  I just wrote above is an example of something called McCarthyism. The famous victims are real, however, and this actually happened to them.

Joseph  McCarthy was a U.S. Senator who held hearings. According to the website word IQ, "the term McCarthyism has entered the American vernacular as a general term for the phenomena of mass pressure, harassment, or blacklisting used to instill conformity with prevailing political beliefs. The act of making insufficiently supported accusations...."

"McCarthyism" was first coined during the period from the end of the 1940's through the 1950's. Many Americans became terrified of Communism after the horrors of WWII, when the Soviets violently took over other countries. The Americans watched China and North Korea also fall to the Reds  The Soviet Union was actually conducting espionage in the U.S. at the time.

Communism had been quite common among intellectuals and liberals before WWII, before it got a widespread scary reputation. But after the war, many Americans began to seriously fear that the country might be subverted from within by all the former, and possibly still current Communists. The FBI and Congress began to hold hearings. Anti-Communist panels, loyalty review boards and even private companies began investigating numerous people.

The Justice Department began keeping a list of groups considered subversive that included 154 organizations. One was the Washington Book Shop Association, a left-leaning cultural group, where the FBI installed a permanent camera crew.

Many of the accusers of the targeted people remained anonymous. So the targets never had a chance to refute the charges. People could be fired not even knowing what they had been accused of.

Supreme Court Justice William O.Douglas was a dissenter to the process. He spoke out against a dangerous law passed during the scare: "The present law proceeds on a principle repugnant to our society -- guilt by association.... What happens under this law is typical of what happens in a police state. Teachers are under constant surveillance; their pasts  are combed for signs of disloyalty; their utterances are watched for clues to dangerous thoughts."

About one in five American workers was eventually forced to sign a loyalty oath. For years, Hollywood kept a secret blacklist of over 300 people who could not be hired because they were suspect. Other occupations kept blacklists as well. By the time the first McCarthyism was over, at least a hundred  Americans had been imprisoned because of it, and around 10,000 people had lost their jobs. A few of the targets were, in fact, Communists. But most of the people were later found to be totally harmless to the country. And innocent lives and careers had already been ruined.


These 1950's activists thought that the people they accused were truly evil and immoral. They honestly thought that the accused had wicked  intentions, that they were a threat and that they must be silenced.

But the activists were simply mistaken.

These 1950's activists thought that in this one dangerous period, it was necessary to violate the American value of free speech.

But the activists were simply mistaken.

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Thanks, Kathy, nicely done. I had to laugh, when after fear-mongering for hours, Newt described himself in one word, "Cheerful."
Lillian Hellman said it for me: “I can not and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions”.
They don't have to go to extreme measures to control the public anymore, the media does it for them. Nice article. R
Excellent post about one of the ugliest periods in American history.
dianaani, it is shockingly depressing how bad the Republican candidate are. Have you heard one new idea? Even the Republicans don't like any of them.

thanks for stopping by Boanerges1, nice quote.
How true Toth! I love it!
torrito, sounds like you know the history!
I'm curious as to why you decided to write about this? Was there anything that prompted it? I had heard of McCarthy and this awful period in our history.
What everyone else says and OMG some troubling things have happened to some artists.
As one who lived through the McCarthy hearings and watched TV with horror as the media seemed to take it all seriously, I applaud you for bringing this to our attention.
Well done, Kathy. This is both informative and enlightening about the period for me. I think most civilized nations have such dark periods in their past, but the sad thing is when the past returns as it is coming back now.
It's a shame that these dark scars on America's history, I can now understand pretty well, because of the times in which we live. :(