Beware of the Red Scare

It’s trademark Red Scare.

A U.S. flag going up in flames and officials oppressing innocent citizens – this poster clearly reflects the American fear of communism and terror at the potential infiltration of its ‘red’ believers.

DEMOCRACY TODAY, COMMUNISM TOMORROW - This Red Scare propaganda poster depicts an impending communist uprising and takeover of American politics.

Two periods in U.S. history are characterized by Red Scares: the first in the early 1920’s following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 and the second following World War II, from 1947-1957. The second is of course tied to Joseph McCarthy, the notorious Republican Senator who accused a number of prominent and influential American citizens of secretly being a part of the Communist Party.

The American fear of communism as a political ideology is a long-standing one, and thus has produced some powerful examples of psychological propaganda. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, America was subject to mounting anxiety that a similar revolution would occur on the home front, spurred by workers angst and fiery beliefs of radical anarchism. These testy times provoked aggressive police investigation of accused persons, unwarranted jailings in many instances, and even deportation of peoples suspected of being associated with either communist or radically left-wing political ideologies.

The second Red Scare, arising after World War II, was popularly known as “McCarthyism” after its most famous supporter and namesake, Senator Joseph McCarthy, who claimed he had names of suspected communists which included A-list individuals like movie stars, writers, and government officials.

McCarthyism coincided with increased popular fear of communist espionage, nuclear holocaust, and news reports detailing atrocities committed by communist officials. Paranoia grew further following the confessions of spying for the Soviet Union given by several high-ranking U.S. government officials. As a direct result of swirling paranoia and suspicion, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAAC) began investigations of communist organizations and suspected communist party members. Again, countless innocent people were accused and their reputations ruined.

Posters like this one only exacerbated the problem by surrounding citizens with images that portrayed a communist uprising or takeover as impending, when in actuality, such a development was entirely improbable. The intention was that people see red everywhere they looked; that way, when a friend or neighbor was accused, it didn’t seem so unlikely.

Classic propaganda, that—seeing what isn’t real, and believing what is seen.

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