Imagine what it would be like to be labeled a Communist for the mere fact that you happened to sport a goatee? It happened in the 1950’s McCarthyism period! Doesn’t this sound strangely similar to the Salem witch-hunts? Perfectly normal people accused of being witches just because they were seen dancing strangely in the woods. McCarthyism and the Salem witch-hunts were both attempts by power-hungry people to diminish their competition without any concrete evidence.
The causes of the Salem witchcraft trails and “McCarthyism” were irrational fears that witchcraft and communism were going to infiltrate society if drastic measures were not taken. Once the idea that witchcraft might really be going on got started, the behavior of normal citizens was open to suspicion of witchcraft. Likewise, the real fear of a Communist take-over had Americans in the 1950’s so frightened, some actually believed that there neighbors might be spies because McCarthy was planting this suspicion so strongly into their minds. Once the hysteria began, it snowballed out of control.
In the Salem witch hunts two young girls, Betty Paris and Abigail Williams, were exhibiting strange behavior and were diagnosed to have been touched by the hand of the devil. When pressured to reveal the witch or witches who had caused this, the young girls named several outcasts of society. These accused witches were guilty until they prove their innocence. Many were tortured until they confessed they were in fact witches so they did not have to endure any more pain. A few who admitted their guilt were spared, while the rest were quickly executed. These confessions became the “proof” of the existence of witches.
The hysteria of McCarthyism began when Senator Joseph McCarthy landed a series of highly publicized investigations that intended to bring forward Communists in the State Department and Hollywood. McCarthy eventually let his “Red Scare” get out of control and said the U.S. Army was concealing foreign espionage activities. His accusations contained little evidence and McCarthy eventually fell into disfavor.
The Witch-hunts of Salem resulted in the execution of 20 individuals. People accused of witchcraft were considered guilty until proven innocent, and tests were devised to identify the guilty. Those who passed the treacherous tests were considered witches and put to death. Eventually, the madness ended but not before the slaying of twenty innocent people.
The McCarthy Communism scare turned very negitive toward Senator McCarthy when the hearings to investigate whether the secretary of the Army was not cooperating to uncover Communists in the U.S. military. These hearings were given a great amount of media coverage and that did much to end the anti Communist “witch-hunt” led by McCarthy. A resolution of censure against McCarthy was soon introduced in the Senate. On December 2, 1954, Senator Joseph McCarthy was condemned in a vote of a special session of the U.S. Senate for his conduct in Senate committees.
Garraty, John A. “The Rise of McCarthyism.” The Story of America. Cincinnati, OH: Pantheon Books, 1990: 458-459.
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