The term Red Scare is used to describe periods of extreme anti-communism in the United States. "Red" comes from the color of the Soviet Union flag. "Scare" comes from the fact that many people were scared that communism would come to the United States.
There were two Red Scare periods. The first occurred after World War I and the Russian Revolution. The second occurred during the Cold War after World War II.
First Red Scare
Communism first became a major system of government in Russia after the Russian Revolution in 1917. The Bolshevik Party that led the revolution was led by Marxist Vladimir Lenin. They overthrew the current government and murdered the royal family. Under communism private ownership was taken away and people were not allowed to openly practice their religion. This type of government rule struck fear in the hearts of many Americans.
The first Red Scare occurred from 1919 to 1920. When workers began to strike, many people blamed communism. A number of people were arrested just because they were thought to have communist beliefs. The government even deported people under the Sedition Act of 1918.
Second Red Scare
The second Red Scare occurred during the start of the Cold War with the Soviet Union after the end of World War II. It lasted around ten years from 1947 to 1957.
With the spread of communism in Eastern Europe and China as well as the Korean War, people were scared that communism could infiltrate the United States. Also, the Soviet Union had become a world superpower and had nuclear bombs. People were scared of anyone who may side with the communists and help the Soviets get secret information about the United States.
The US government was heavily involved in the Red Scare. One of the main crusaders against communism was Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy was determined to out communists. However, he used intimidation and gossip to get information. He often had little evidence when he accused people of working for the Soviet Union. He ruined many people's careers and lives before other leaders in the Congress put an end to his ways.
Senator Joseph McCarthy Source: United Press
The FBI, led by strident anti-communist J. Edgar Hoover, also got involved. They used wiretaps and spied on suspected communists giving the information to McCarthy and other anti-communist leaders.
Also involved in the Red Scare was the House Committee on Un-American Activities. This was a standing committee in the House of Representatives. One area they investigated was Hollywood. They accused some Hollywood executives, screenwriters, and directors of being pro-communist. They wanted the Soviet Union to be portrayed as the enemy in movies and entertainment. Rumor had it that a Blacklist was made of anyone suspected of being associated with the American Communist Party. These people were not hired for work during the Red Scare.
Facts About the Red Scare
McCarthyism is used today in a broader sense than just the Red Scare. It is used to describe accusations of treason or disloyalty without producing evidence.
The Cincinnati Reds baseball team changed their name to the "Redlegs" during the scare so their name wouldn't be associated with communism.
The trials and investigations weren't all bad. They did uncover a number of actual Soviet spies in the Federal government.