Every so often, we need to stop, decompress from the tension in our present lives and look back at the human traps that were set in order to punish the foreign and the strange — and then we must vow to never let that happen again. Today, let us look back in fury at the “Red Scare” that throttled everything good about America after World War I.
Shortly after the end of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the Red Scare took hold in the United States. A nationwide fear of communists, socialists, anarchists, and other dissidents suddenly grabbed the American psyche in 1919 following a series of anarchist bombings. The nation was gripped in fear. Innocent people were jailed for expressing their views, civil liberties were ignored, and many Americans feared that a Bolshevik-style revolution was at hand. Then, in the early 1920s, the fear seemed to dissipate just as quickly as it had begun, and the Red Scare was over.
During World War I, a fervent patriotism was prevalent in the country, spurred by propagandist George Creel, chairman of the United States Committee on Public Information. While American boys were fighting the “Huns” abroad, many Americans fought them at home. Anyone who wasn’t as patriotic as possible–conscientious objectors, draft dodgers, “slackers,” German-Americans, immigrants, Communists–was suspect. It was out of this patriotism that the Red Scare took hold.
At the time the World War I Armistice was executed in 1918, approximately nine million people worked in war industries, while another four million were serving in the armed forces. Once the war was over, these people were left without jobs, and war industries were left without contracts. Economic difficulties and worker unrest increased.
That Red Scare paranoia crept into the depths of society and America lost her innocence and her compassion as everyone was suspect and we were all assumed to be “Red” instead of “Red White and Blue.”
The climate of repression established during World War One continued after the war ended: this time, government interest focused on communists, Bolsheviks and “reds” generally. The climactic phase of this anti communist crusade occurred during the “Palmer Raids” of 1918-1921. A. Mitchell Palmer, Wilson’s Attorney General, believed communism was “eating its way into the homes of the American workman.”
In his essay “The Case Against the Reds,” Palmer charged that “tongues of revolutionary heat were licking the alters of the churches, leaping into the belfry of the school bell, crawling into the sacred corners of American homes, seeking to replace marriage vows with libertine laws, burning up the foundations of society.” With a broad base of popular support, in 1919 Palmer intensified the attacks on political dissent that had begun during the war.
The American “Red Scare” was the War on the People fought between World War I and World War II — and the casualties were freedom, the pursuit of happiness and the determined right to privacy.
As we wander home from our breast-beating war with the Middle East, and as our economy sours, and as our neighbors become our colonial competitors for the basic staples of life instead of our amicable friends — we must be forever vigilant, not fall from our toes, and struggle to keep alive the notion that no one deserves to be blamed for the behavior of others — because proven or suspected affiliations between ideas and the activists only serves to sever the very sinew that keeps the USA bound to its founding ideals.