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Joseph Mccarthy - America's Witch Hunter

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Table of contents

  1. Background
  2. Joseph McCarthy
    The Witch Hunt
  3. Analysis
  4. Ethics
  5. Conclusion

While freedom is one of the base tenets of America since her inception, there have been times in history in which this concept was not necessarily upheld. In our more modern history, one of the most stark examples of this can be seen in the American quest to deter subversion and engagement in communist belief. Out of this determination to stop the spread of communism on the home front rose one of America’s most notable antagonists- Joseph McCarthy. Ruthless in his efforts to out domestic communist involvement, McCarthy terrorized the nation under the guise of patriotism


Joseph McCarthy

A senator from Wisconsin, McCarthy rose to prominence following his deliverance of a speech in which he asserted that he held the names of 205 governmental employees which were associated with the Communist Party (Simkin, 2015). This metaphorically put him in the public spotlight; and in combination with the recent spread of Communism through parts of Asia, garnered him the position of chairman to the Government Committee on Operations of the Senate. It was during his time acting as chairman that his investigation into subversive activities ensued.

The Witch Hunt

The developments in Asia regarding the spread of Communism created a sense of urgency in protecting the homefront from subversion. McCarthy engaged in interrogation and investigation of people who were deemed a potential threat. The processes he and his committee utilized were hardly fact based, and the manner in which they were conducted earned the image of a witch hunt so to speak. Their quest to rid America of Communism was not limited to sniffing out people alone; McCarthy also had several thousands of publications removed from stores and libraries due to being written by people associated with Communism or because the content supposedly supported Communist ideology.

McCarthy’s reign of terror lasted for roughly two years, until he began questioning alledging communist infiltration of the United States Military. For the first time, his interrogations were televised, enlightening the public on the coercive and illogical proceedings that had been transpiring (Simkin, 2015). McCarthy’s inquiries reached the point that they were seen as more detrimental to society than Communism itself. Not only did the inquiry into the military effectively garner the condemnation of the President, but the court of public opinion found McCarthy guilty of being in many ways a malicious and unethical man.



McCarthy’s tactics in interrogation regarding communist association were at best unethical. He entered into each inquiry with the assumption that the interviewee was guilty, regardless of contradictory information; and was relentless in his attack until the individual named other people that were involved in the Communist Party (Simkin, 2015). What is so severe about this behavior is that it disregards the constitutional rights of the American people. Under the constitution, we as citizens are issued protections against the deprivation of liberty without due process. McCarthy’s tactics and deprieved those he accused of their rights to a just trial before being labled as guilty. Also, by censoring publications to the exent he did, McCarthy is arguably guilty of violating the First Amendment, Freedom of Speech. Not only is thiss unethical, but it is by all means illegal according to our justice standards.

Another ethical concern with how these proceedings were conducted by McCarthy is that there was no legitimate evidence to indicate credible accusations. The initial report that McCarthy used as the foundation for his campaign was issued by the Secretary of State four years earlier; and many of the individuals listed were not associated with communism, but instead indicated on the list due to perceived deviant behavior (Simkin, 2015). Additionally, the majority of subsequent names McCarthy produced were simply the result of coercing people into naming more people as being associated with communism. Today, we would look at this as merely circumstantial evidence or heresay; while McCarthy presented it as damning evidence.

In other ethical regards, it is arguable that Joseph McCarthy insighted an unnecessary panic regarding the domestic Communist threat. Of the 205 names he initially claimed to have, only about 50 were actually found to have any ties to the Communist Party. This exaggeration garnered him authority that would likely not have been given had he been more responsile in his initial reporting. In retrospect, this severely damages his credibility.


Many of the individuals accused initially were found to have no ties to Communism, but instead were found to engage in questionable behaviors such as alcoholism or deviant sexual behaviors. In the 1950’s this referred more to homosexual behavior instead of the types of deviancy we would think of today. Joseph McCarthy and other members of his committee were known to engage in homosexual relations; and McCarthy had noted alcoholic tendencies (Simkin, 2015). In this respect, it appears that he targeted a group of people that he easily could have been associated with.


The beauty of history is that it gives us the opportunity to look back and identify past issues and learn from them. When looking back on the era of McCarthyism and Joseph McCarthy himself it is easy to initially lable him as misguidedly “trying to do the right thing the wrong way”. However, upon deeper reflection, it is evident that this is not the case. McCarthy knowing violated tenets of our constitution and persecuted people unjustly. He essentially terrorized society with the looming threat of a devastating accusation and perpetuated an exaggerated concern to society. It is because of his willful disregard and irresponsible actions that we must not make excuses for him. Instead, we must accept that McCarthy was a blight in our post-WWII history; a demagogue who abused power to hold the nation in a persistant state of panic unnecessarily.

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