Did President Eisenhower support the McCarthy hearings?

The unstoppable descent of Senator McCarthy

When the communist hunter himself became the hunted

Senator McCarthy turned the USA into a surveillance and informing state in the 1950s, as he proclaimed a vision of all-corrosive communism. Many prominent actors and scientists ended up on his blacklists, mostly unjustifiably. More and more extensive assaults put an end to McCarthy's career, who died shortly afterwards of cirrhosis of the liver and gave his name to a very dark period in US history.

An Arte documentation gives a brief overview of the domestic and foreign political environment of the American Senator Joseph McCarthy, who became known as a communist hunter. The main part of the film deals with the McCarthy case, which began when the Senator tried to extend his hunt for spies and dissenters to the army and encountered powerful opposition.

At the instigation of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the hunt for communists in the United States reached a climax between 1950 and 1954. While elsewhere May 1st was celebrated with Labor Day parades, in the United States there were parades on this day to fight communism. Hollywood is being scanned for “anti-American activities”, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and especially Charlie Chaplin are among the most famous victims, while the then actor and later US President Ronald Reagan and director Elia Kazan are among the perpetrators. But the McCarthy era of hysterical communist hunt, named after Joseph McCarthy, actually lasted from 1948 to around 1956.

The danger that communism seemed to pose justified in the eyes of many politicians extreme and even illegal methods of monitoring and persecuting people suspected of espionage and those of certain groups of people such as federal employees. Post censorship and wiretapping are becoming part of everyday life. At the State Department, 31 officers whose mail has been intercepted are charged with homosexuality and are dismissed. America is entering an age of the Inquisition. 26,000 employees of the American federal authorities are screened, 7,000 quit the service and 739 are dismissed.

On June 25, 1950, North Korea invades South Korea. While the Korean War, in which the USA intervened to fight communism, also provided the pretext for intensifying the persecution of communists in their own country, the Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin made anti-communist speeches more publicly in the media. He was supported by the Californian MP and later US President Richard Nixon, among others.

His influence and power were great, even if he was not the only communist hunter and organizations such as the HUAC (House on Un-American Activities Committee), which are now associated with his name, had been against infiltration years earlier the German Nazis had been founded and not against the communists.

When McCarthy - driven by hatred and paranoia - set out in 1953 to screen the army for communist activities, he encountered strong opposition. From April 22 to May 24, 1954, a committee spent 36 days investigating Senator McCarthy's allegations against the Army. This so-called Army / McCarthy hearing was broadcast live on American television, with an unimaginably high rate of 20 million viewers today.

The hearing exposed McCarthy as a witch hunter. US President Dwight D. Eisenhower forbids military personnel to testify in the hearings. FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover also distances himself from McCarthy. In December 1954, the Senate expressed its distrust of him. McCarthy died on May 2, 1957 of complications from alcoholism.

The archive footage also repeatedly shows a good-looking young official in the background who is a member of the Democrats' committee. This young man is the future Senator Robert Kennedy.

Grimme Prize winner William Karel was already shooting for Arte CIA, Who rules the White House? and the remarkable Kubrick, Nixon and the man in the moon, who shows how easy it is to prove even the most obscure conspiracy theory with original documents. In his new documentary, he relies primarily on the famous film Point of Order by the independent US filmmaker Emile de Antonio, who in 1964 processed 188 hours of television recording of hearings of suspects into a 97-minute film. However, the time difference makes it possible today to place what happened back then from a distance in a larger historical context and to shed light on its continued impact.

The unstoppable descent of Senator McCarthy , Documentary, director: William Karel, Arte France, France 2004, 52 minutes.
German premiere on Arte TV, Wednesday, October 19, 2005, 8.45 p.m., repeat: Friday, October 21, 2005 at 4.40 p.m.

(Wolf-Dieter Roth)

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