Assessment of the Cold War Threats


The Cold War was the global geopolitical, military, economic and ideological confrontation between the Soviet Union and the allies on one side and the US and its allies on the other side. It lasted for almost half a century from 1946 to1989. This confrontation was not a war in the international legal sense. One of its main components was ideological struggle as a consequence of contradiction between capitalist and communist models of a political system. Although the United States and the Soviet Union did not formally enter into direct military confrontation, their competition had led to outbreaks of local armed conflicts in various parts of the Third World, usually taking the form of proxy wars between the two superpowers. The Cold War was followed by the race for nuclear weapons that in different times threatened to lead to the third world war. Moreover, it led to persecution of outstanding people who sympathized with communists ideas in post-war period. Although the original witch-hunting process in the New World took place in Salem in the XVII century, the ‘witch-hunt” in the US repeated with characteristic medieval irrationality and cruelty in the middle of the XX century. The search for an ‘internal enemy’ hit the supporters of the left ideas. The paper claims that the threat of communism was more a fake than reality. In many cases, ideological persecution and killing of people on political basis was no less merciless and unjustified than the Salem Witch-Hunt hysteria that took place three centuries ago.

Reasons and Threats of the Cold War

After the victory over fascism in 1945, the world had two superpowers: the USSR and the USA. Europe was liberated from the fascist plague, but the President Harry Truman warned that the Western World had to worry about communist contagion that was trying to take over the world. Co-existence of the two powerful countries with conflicting ideologies was the reason for the beginning of the Cold War. The internal logic of the confrontation required the parties to participate in the conflict and intervention in the development of events in many parts of the world. The efforts of the US and the USSR were sent mainly to the dominance in the political sphere. Both countries established their influence through the military-political blocs of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Moreover, they extended propaganda of their primary political approach. Capitalism competed communism worldwide.

In America of the 1950s, competition turned out into persecution of people who sympathized with communists or belonged to the Communist Party. Mass imprisonment and abuse of any left adherents revealed irrational and merciless accusation of people for their convictions. The popular name of the phenomenon was a “modern Salem witch hunt”.


The commission investigating the cases of anti-American activity worked out 14 traits that were the criteria for determining the involvement of any person of the country in the Communist Party or the Communist movement. Those symptoms were formulated inaccurately; as a result, any resident of the US who had remote connection with some left organizations was under suspicion. Therefore, one of the fourteen traits was signing petitions that promoted the Communists. In 1950, 2.5 million Americans signed the petition on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. They all fall under the law of 1954.

During these years, many progressive Americans were persecuted and dismissed from their jobs. The witch hunt continued for nearly four years, and people lost their dignity, property and sometimes life. Throughout history, any phenomenon has an ideological inspirer. In American politics, Senator Joseph McCarthy was the person who focused public attention on so-called communists’ threat. He was a republican of extreme right-wing views, whose name was associated with the period of political persecution named after him. Between late 1940 and 1957, a movement in the public life accompanied by the worsening of the anti-communist sentiment and political reprisals against the “anti-American” took place in the United States. McCarthyism became the time of sever trial to the American democracy and real threat to its canons.

McCarthyism as ‘Salem Witch-Hunt’ of the Twentieth Century

On February 9, 1950, Joseph McCarthy made a speech and declared that the communists completed the State Department. He assessed that their number had reached 205 people. Many politicians and Republican senators were very surprised and shocked by allegations against senior officials. Robert Taft and Richard Nixon favored the actions of the senator and supported him. Thus, persecution, often called the ‘witch-hunt’ began in the US.

McCarthy contributed to the pre-election TV propaganda of the President Eisenhower, who was elected the President of the United States in 1952. When it happened, the impact of McCarthyism intensified even more, and it was on the verge of becoming an official state policy of the country. 1953 was the ‘golden year’ of McCarthyism as the presidential obstacles had been eliminated. McCarthy conducted an investigation through the various commissions of the Congress and became the head of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and the permanent subcommittee on investigations.

That year, McCarthyism gained an incredible scale and shape. All those who gave a slightest cause for doubt were subjected to accusations of anti-Americanism and treason. McCarthy smashed unions, dismissed employees and government officials. Strong “cleaning” was conducted in the state apparatus. In the first few months 800 people were dismissed and more than 600 employees resigned themselves. In addition to the state apparatus, many famous figures faced ‘cleaning’. They were also fired, convicted or put in the ‘black list’. McCarthy conducted investigations at universities, where he fired professors and burned books. All the courts went under the supervision of McCarthy, including the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice. In 1954, McCarthy passed a new law called the Communist Control Act. Under the Act, the Communist Party was declared illegal, thus depriving its members of all rights and privileges that other parties enjoyed. Moreover, he forbade Communists to get a passport and American citizenship.

During the rise of McCarthy in Congress and the US government nobody argued with him. Even the US President Dwight D. Eisenhower was talking of his common interests with McCarthy in 1952. Supporters of McCarthy considered him as a patriot and a faithful guardian of the spirit of true Americanism, but many people viewed him as irresponsible witch hunter who undermined national traditions of civil liberties. As Senator McCarthy advocated strengthening the Cold War, the adoption of anti-democratic and anti-labor laws, inciting a number of events in 1954 marked the end of his political career. The Special Commission against the Senator’s activities had to investigate his violations and official misconduct. In 1955, McCarthy introduced his latest resolution on changes in the socialist countries in the Senate building, which was rejected by 77 votes to 4. Despite a relatively short term at power in the democratic American society, McCarthy showed that the threat of mass hysteria, resembling the Salem witch hunt could still exist in the twenty first century.

American Victims of the Witch-Hunt Hysteria of the Cold War

The first known prosecution of communists took place in the USA in the late forties. In 1947, Hollywood studios developed a “Black list” of actors, directors and other artists, who were forbidden to take part in the film industry. The list included not only people who were members of the official communists’ party, but also people who were simply sympathetic to the idea of the left, including the character of the musical Singing in the Rain by Gene Kelly. When ten residents of the list refused to testify to the state commission, they were convicted of anti-American activities and spent one year behind bars. In the future, many of them until the end of life had difficulty in finding a job. Only a few were able to leave their name in the history of cinema. So, a screenwriter Dalton Trumbo managed to work on the film Spartacus by Stanley Kubrick. A director Herbert Biberman in 1954 left the film Salt of the Earth about the strike of workers in New Mexico.

In 1950, at the meeting in Wheeling (West Virginia), Senator Joseph McCarthy said that he had a list of 205 people who were known to the Secretary of State as members of the Communist Party and at the same time continued to work and to formulate a policy of the State Department. In a while, three thousand of the US officials were added to the list. After checking the book collections of public libraries, 30 thousand books of leftist pro-orientation were seized. Like medieval inquisitors, the followers of McCarthyism burned communist books, focused and even created a set of ‘signs of a communist’ similar to medieval witch-finding instructions.

In 1953, Arthur Miller, American playwright, who later was married to Marilyn Monroe, held parallels between the political situation in America and Salem processes in those times. He made it in his play The Crucible. Among the scientists who had suffered from McCarthyism were the names of widely known physicists Bohm, Sweezy and Einstein. The Princeton University broke the contract with Bohm. For participation in the publication in the left magazine Monthly Review in 1954, Paul Sweezy was summoned to court and charged with contempt after he refused to split up accomplices.

After ‘McCarthyism witch-hunt hysteria’, Albert Einstein finally became a supporter of anti-capitalist ideas, which he publicly expressed in the famous article “Why Socialism?”. The scientist expressed his idea of the socialist transformation and proved inevitable economic anarchy of capitalist relations, which are the cause of social injustice, and the main vice of capitalism was “neglect of the human person”. The article was written at the invitation of a Marxist economist Paul Sweezy in the midst of the “witch-hunt” and expressed the ideological position of the scientist. Einstein advocated the construction of democratic socialism, which would connect social protection of the population and planning of the economy with a democratic regime and respect for human rights. He has always been a supporter of rapprochement and cooperation of the Western democracies and the socialist camp. The archives of the FBI suggested that the physicist had been under scrutiny by the security services. In 1937-1955, Einstein “was the sponsor and honorary member of the 34 communist fronts, an honorary chairman of three of these organizations, and among his relatives and friends were sympathizers of the communist ideology”.

In addition, in 1954, Robert Oppenheimer, one of the developers of a nuclear bomb, was nearly declared a Soviet agent. Oppenheimer, however, was a true American liberal who initiated the dismissal of a few really pro-communists. The FBI monitored Oppenheimer before the war, when he was a professor at Berkeley, showed sympathy for the Communists, and was acquainted with members of the Communist Party, who included his wife and brother. In June 1949, Oppenheimer testified before the Committee on Un-American Activities, where he admitted that he had links with the Communist Party in the 1930s. After World War II, Oppenheimer became the director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He also became the chief advisor to the newly formed US Commission for Atomic Energy. He witnessed support of the international control of nuclear energy with the aim of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear arms race. In 1954, after the investigation of his case by the Committee of Atomic Energy Commission, Oppenheimer was denied admission to secret work.

The Consequences of the Witch-Hunt in the Third World

During the Cold War confrontation between the two superpowers was expressed not only in a direct military threat and the arms race but also in an effort to expand the areas of influence. Consequently, the twentieth century Salem Witch Hunt was a sign of many other minor republics of the Third world on the way to the establishment of the new political order. The Soviet Union tried to organize and support liberation of the socialist revolution in the communism-oriented countries by the support of ‘national liberation movements’ of various kinds, often sending weapons and military experts, trainers and limited military contingents. In case of victory of such revolution, the country became a member of the socialist camp. The Soviet Union built military bases and invested considerable resources. Such assistance was often gratuitous and aroused much sympathy from the poorest countries in Africa and Latin America. Adhering to a similar policy, the United States also stimulated revolutions for democracy and supported pro-American regimes. Typically, the preponderance of forces was on the US side. They supported Western Europe, Turkey and some Asian and African countries such as South Africa.

The global ideological confrontation led to mass massacres and merciless killings without court and investigation in the countries of the Third world. For example, massacres in Indonesia 1965-1966 were a merciless ‘witch hunt’ represented as an anti-communist political repression in the country. According to the most common estimates, the number of victims amounted to more than half a million dead and about one million imprisoned. Repression was the key way of transition to the ‘new order’. The Communist Party of Indonesia had been destroyed as a political force, which subsequently led to the ouster of the President Sukarno and the beginning of the Thirty Years’ dictatorship. The cleaning of all people who were members of the CPI or suspected of sympathizing with the communists were expelled from the armed forces and the civil service and deprived of political rights. The Communist Party itself became illegal in March 1966. A merciless massacre began in the capital Jakarta. It reached the greatest scope in the areas where the CPI traditionally enjoyed the greatest influence – in Central Java, East Java, Bali and in North Sumatra. Unfortunately, the example of Indonesia was not a single case of unjustified murders and persecutions under the guise of combating the communist threat that took place all over the world in the twentieth century.


The Cold War showed that ideological antagonism can be no less harmful than a real military contest. The American ‘McCarthyism witch-hunt hysteria’ led to the justification of merciless executions worldwide during the twenties century. McCarthyism penetrated into all spheres of American life, and communism was the cause of all problems. Under the guise of anti-communist propaganda, McCarthy struggled with liberal intellectuals, trade unions as well as pursued the policy of negotiations with the socialist countries. The other countries of the capitalistic camp followed the American example. The contest of ideologies became the reason for violation of human rights to life and dignity. That ideological war spread everywhere: from the polar ice caps to equatorial jungle, from submarines on the ocean floor to the military satellites in space. It reached institutions, colleges, libraries, movie studios, television channels and radio stations. However, the question remains if the communist ideology had that profound threat and the ground for the capitalistic world. Maybe, the costs spent on the arming race could have helped combat poverty and improve social welfare. Democracy is just a word without accepting and protecting the rights of every citizen, even if his/her views do not coincide with the general ideological trend. Communism was a weaker opponent of capitalism, and the threat of its total invasion throughout the planet was just a profitable political approach providing the achievement of certain political interests. The witch hunting hysteria and annihilation of dissidents on the background of the Cold War ideological antagonism were unjustified and violated human rights to life and freedom of expression. Moreover, the American witch hunt hysteria moved to the countries of the Third World and resulted in new examples of violence and merciless cruelty. 

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