Red Scare -1920 America

World War I was finally over, however, there was a new threat toAmericans. This threat was Communism, which was greatly feared by mostU.S. citizens. Communism is "a system of social and economic organizationin which property is owned by the state or group, to be shared in commonor to be distributed among members of the community equally or inproportion to their respective needs."* In 1919, no more than one-tenth ofthe adult American population belonged to the newly formed Communistmovement, and even this small percentage were greatly persecuted. Although American "Reds" caught most of the fury of the raids, it was notjust the Communists who had stirred national panic. Emotions that hadbeen building since the turn of the century were brought out during WorldWar I, and then burst into a "xenophobic" (fear and hatred of foreigners)repression. Late in the afternoon of Friday, January 2, 1920, agents from theDepartment of Justice raided a Communist headquarters and began arrestingthousands of people in major American cities throughout the nation. Theypoured into private homes, clubs, pool halls and coffee shops, arrestingcitizens and aliens, Communists and non-Communists, tearing apart meetinghalls and destroying property. The Agents put their victims in jail, heldthem without an attorney, and interrogated them. The prisoners who coulddemonstrate that they *As quoted from The Lincoln Library copyright 1961were American citizens were released. Aliens were released a few dayslater unless they were members of the Communist Party or the CommunistLabor Party. These were the two groups that were formed from the AmericanCommunist movement. In two days, nearly five thousand people werearrested, and nearly five thousand were seized in the cleaning up thatfollowed during the next two weeks. The arrests were carried out withtotal disregard for the rights of the prisoners. There are some psychological views that might help to explain why theevents of 1919 -1920 took place. Some Americans during this time werealways on the verge of attacking. They were hostile toward minorities,extremely patriotic, and ready to rid their nation of any intruder thatseemed to threaten them. The postwar effort for "one hundred percentAmericanism" may have left our citizens with the desire to keep ourcountry pure. The Russian Revolution in the fall of 1918 also contributedto America's unrest. In a violent outburst, the Communists took control

of the Russian government and murdered the Tsar and his entire familyalong with thousands of "nonconforming" Russians. Communism wasestablished on the political philosophy of Karl Marx, and was dedicated toestablishing a society where there is no private ownership of property andwhere the government would control the making and distribution of allgoods. Americans wondered: If it could happen in Russia, why couldn'tithappen here? No plot to overthrow the government was ever uncovered. Yet, it was the paranoid fear of Communists that drove many Americans toviolence. >From researching this topic, I have learned a number of things. First ofall, America was caught in a web of fear and conspiracy. No one couldtrust his neighbor or his father for fear that he was involved in theCommunist movement. Americans were not happy with their government atthis 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 wereparticularly suspected. I have also learned that although Communism mighthave caused a lot of panic, no plot of Communism was ever found to betrue. However, just because nothing was found doesn't mean that therewasn't anything to be found. During the 1920's, America was extremely prejudiced toward anyone whowasn't a "pure American". The Red Scare provided Americans with ascapegoat, now that we were no longer fighting the Germans. People reallybelieved that Communists were everywhere and were plotting to overthrowthe government. Americans were treated like the women who were accused ofbeing witches in the Salem Witch Trials. It didn't matter if you were orwere not a Communist if someone accused you of being one. You werebranded for most of your life. Eventually, the Red Scare died down, butdidn't go away completely. There are still Communist organizations tothis day. We really don't need to fear Communism because our governmentis more stable than it was in the 1920's. Idealistically, it is the bestform of government we have because it incorporates government regulationswhich better the community as a whole. However, careful measures must betaken to ensure that the central government under Communism does notbecome corrupt. In spite of this, we will probably never see America turnto Communism as a form of governing the people, so there will be no needto see a repeat episode of The Red Scare.

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