Intolerance - Social Studies - Extend

McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities
  1. McCarthyism: a mid-20th century political attitude characterized chiefly by opposition to elements held to be subversive and by the use of tactics involving personal attacks on individuals by means of widely publicized indiscriminate allegations especially on the basis of unsubstantiated charges; broadly: defamation of character or reputation through such tactics. (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
  2. McCarthyism relates specifically to U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and his conduct while in office. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 2003 published original transcripts of executive sessions held while Senator McCarthy was chair. (We have included a PDF of Volume One, Executive Sessions of The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of The Committee on Government Operations.) The following questions pertain to the “Preface” of Volume One, which you may read aloud or print out for your students to read to prepare to answer and discuss them:
      • When and why the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations was originally created?
      • When was Senator McCarthy the Chairman of this Subcommittee? Why is the period under Senator McCarthy “remembered differently”?
      • How/Why was Roy M. Cohn chosen by Senator McCarthy? What was Cohn’s recollection of his conversation with Senator McCarthy? How did Cohn’s lack of professional experience reflect on the way the hearings were conducted?
      • How was McCarthy managing his staff and members of the subcommittee?
  3. Read and discuss how the rights of the witnesses were violated.
      • By whom and when was the term McCarthyism coined? How were the “executive” hearing procedures manipulated by McCarthy? How would you describe McCarthy’s questioning approach?
      • What was a “fifth amendment communist”? What is the Bill of Rights?
      • How did the Supreme Court change direction after the 1957 ruling in Yates vs. U.S.? How did this decision affect the Bill of Rights?
      • How did the rules for conducting Subcommittee hearings change? What happened in 1954 to Senator McCarthy?
      • How many people were actually imprisoned for perjury, contempt, espionage, or subversion during McCarthy’s chairmanship?
  4. In their hunt for subversion and espionage, Senator McCarthy and chief counsel Cohn conducted hearings on the State Department, the Voice of America, the U.S. overseas libraries, the Government Printing Office, and the Army Signal Corps. There is a five-volume collection of Senate hearings transcripts available online: Volumes 1-4 cover the 1953 hearings; the 1954 hearings are found in Volume 5. To find out more about McCarthy’s questioning tactics research these primary sources.
  5. The “Preface” was written by members of the Senate Historical Office.
      • Where could you find other sources of information with different points of view of these events? Why do you think it’s important to do this?
  6. The transcripts of testimony during the hearings provide rich primary source materials for your students to further explore and better understand the type of questions that were asked of witnesses and how they responded. Select testimonies for students to read aloud in class and facilitate a discussion about the committee’s questions and answers of the witnesses.
  7. There are also multiple historical documents, both print and non-print, that deal with issues of intolerance and its symptoms (isolation, scapegoating, paranoia, power over others, and distrust). History provides us with rich resources and the list of documents below contains primary sources and texts in a variety of media:
      • The Twentieth Century: A People’s History by Howard Zinn; Chapter 5: A People’s War? This chapter focuses on the Korean War into McCarthyism and the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
        The Hollywood Ten and HUAC hearings. (1947)
      • Peter Seeger, “Thou Shall Not Sing” (1989) written in response to the Peekskill riot in September 1949
      • Edward R. Murrow’s news commentary critical of McCarthy and the HUAC on his "See It Now" show (1953)
      • I. F. Stone, “But It’s Not Just Joe McCarthy” (March 15, 1954). A noted journalist who challenges the entire anti-Communist hysteria and Cold War framework.
      • United States Department of Homeland Security, “If You See Something, Say Something™” Campaign