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Reports & Essays: History - American History

"AND""OR"


Red Scare America 1920
World War I was finally over, however, there was a new threat to Americans. This threat was Communism, which was greatly feared by most U.S. citizens. Communism is "a system of social and economic organization in which property is owned by the state or group, to be shared in common or to be distributed among members of the community equally or in proportion to their respective needs."* In 1919, no more than one-tenth of the adult American population belonged to the newly formed Communist movement, and even this small percentage were greatly persecuted. Although American "Reds" caught most of the fury of the raids, it was not just the Communists who had stirred national panic. Emotions that had been building since the turn of the century were brought out during World War I, and then burst into a "xenophobic" (fear and hatred of foreigners) repression. Late in the afternoon of Friday, January 2, 1920, agents from the Department of Justice raided a Communist headquarters and began arresting thousands of people in major American cities throughout the nation. They poured into private homes, clubs, pool halls and coffee shops, arresting citizens and aliens, Communists and non-Communists, tearing apart meeting halls and destroying property. The Agents put their victims in jail, held them without an attorney, and interrogated them. The prisoners who could demonstrate that they *As quoted from The Lincoln Library copyright 1961 were American citizens were released. Aliens were released a few days later unless they were members of the Communist Party or the Communist Labor Party. These were the two groups that were formed from the American Communist movement. In two days, nearly five thousand people were arrested, and nearly five thousand were seized in the cleaning up that followed during the next two weeks. The arrests were carried out with total disregard for the rights of the prisoners. There are some psychological views that might help to explain why the events of 1919 -1920 took place. Some Americans during this time were always on the verge of attacking. They were hostile toward minorities, extremely patriotic, and ready to rid their nation of any intruder that seemed to threaten them. The postwar effort for "one hundred percent Americanism" may have left our citizens with the desire to keep our country pure. The Russian Revolution in the fall of 1918 also contributed to America's unrest. In a violent outburst, the Communists took control of the Russian government and murdered the Tsar and his entire family along with thousands of "nonconforming" Russians. Communism was established on the political philosophy of Karl Marx, and was dedicated to establishing a society where there is no private ownership of property and where the government would control the making and distribution of all goods. Americans wondered: If it could happen in Russia, why couldn't ithappen here? No plot to overthrow the government was ever uncovered. Yet, it was the paranoid fear of Communists that drove many Americans to violence. >From researching this topic, I have learned a number of things. First of all, America was caught in a web of fear and conspiracy. No one could trust his neighbor or his father for fear that he was involved in the Communist movement. Americans were not happy with their government at this time, but this didn't mean that they wanted Communism as an option. Americans no longer welcomed the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" (The inscription on the Statue of Liberty). Hyphenated Americans were particularly suspected. I have also learned that although Communism might have caused a lot of panic, no plot of Communism was ever found to be true. However, just because nothing was found doesn't mean that there wasn't anything to be found. During the 1920's, America was extremely prejudiced toward anyone who wasn't a "pure American". The Red Scare provided Americans with a scapegoat, now that we were no longer fighting the Germans. People really believed that Communists were everywhere and were plotting to overthrow the government. Americans were treated like the women who were accused of being witches in the Salem Witch Trials. It didn't matter if you were or were not a Communist if someone accused you of being one. You were branded for most of your life. Eventually, the Red Scare died down, but didn't go away completely. There are still Communist organizations to this day. We really don't need to fear Communism because our government is more stable than it was in the 1920's. Idealistically, it is the best form of government we have because it incorporates government regulations which better the community as a whole. However, careful measures must be taken to ensure that the central government under Communism does not become corrupt. In spite of this, we will probably never see America turn to Communism as a form of governing the people, so there will be no need to see a repeat episode of The Red Scare.

 



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