Red Scare America 1920


World War I was finally over, however, there was a new threat to
Americans. This threat was Communism, which was greatly feared by most
U.S. citizens. Communism is "a system of social and economic organization
in which property is owned by the state or group, to be shared in common
or to be distributed among members of the community equally or in
proportion to their respective needs."* In 1919, no more than one-tenth of
the adult American population belonged to the newly formed Communist
movement, and even this small percentage were greatly persecuted. 
Although American "Reds" caught most of the fury of the raids, it was not
just the Communists who had stirred national panic. Emotions that had
been building since the turn of the century were brought out during World
War I, and then burst into a "xenophobic" (fear and hatred of foreigners)

Late in the afternoon of Friday, January 2, 1920, agents from the
Department of Justice raided a Communist headquarters and began arresting
thousands of people in major American cities throughout the nation. They
poured into private homes, clubs, pool halls and coffee shops, arresting
citizens and aliens, Communists and non-Communists, tearing apart meeting
halls and destroying property. The Agents put their victims in jail, held
them without an attorney, and interrogated them. The prisoners who could
demonstrate that they *As quoted from The Lincoln Library copyright 1961
were American citizens were released. Aliens were released a few days
later unless they were members of the Communist Party or the Communist
Labor Party. These were the two groups that were formed from the American
Communist movement. In two days, nearly five thousand people were
arrested, and nearly five thousand were seized in the cleaning up that
followed during the next two weeks. The arrests were carried out with
total disregard for the rights of the prisoners. 

There are some psychological views that might help to explain why the
events of 1919 -1920 took place. Some Americans during this time were
always on the verge of attacking. They were hostile toward minorities,
extremely patriotic, and ready to rid their nation of any intruder that
seemed to threaten them. The postwar effort for "one hundred percent
Americanism" may have left our citizens with the desire to keep our
country pure. The Russian Revolution in the fall of 1918 also contributed
to America's unrest. In a violent outburst, the Communists took control
of the Russian government and murdered the Tsar and his entire family
along with thousands of "nonconforming" Russians. Communism was
established on the political philosophy of Karl Marx, and was dedicated to
establishing a society where there is no private ownership of property and
where the government would control the making and distribution of all
goods. Americans wondered: If it could happen in Russia, why couldn't
ithappen here? No plot to overthrow the government was ever uncovered. 
Yet, it was the paranoid fear of Communists that drove many Americans to

>From researching this topic, I have learned a number of things. First of
all, America was caught in a web of fear and conspiracy. No one could
trust his neighbor or his father for fear that he was involved in the
Communist movement. Americans were not happy with their government at
this 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 were
particularly suspected. I have also learned that although Communism might
have caused a lot of panic, no plot of Communism was ever found to be
true. However, just because nothing was found doesn't mean that there
wasn't anything to be found. 

During the 1920's, America was extremely prejudiced toward anyone who
wasn't a "pure American". The Red Scare provided Americans with a
scapegoat, now that we were no longer fighting the Germans. People really
believed that Communists were everywhere and were plotting to overthrow
the government. Americans were treated like the women who were accused of
being witches in the Salem Witch Trials. It didn't matter if you were or
were not a Communist if someone accused you of being one. You were
branded for most of your life. Eventually, the Red Scare died down, but
didn't go away completely. There are still Communist organizations to
this day. We really don't need to fear Communism because our government
is more stable than it was in the 1920's. Idealistically, it is the best
form of government we have because it incorporates government regulations
which better the community as a whole. However, careful measures must be
taken to ensure that the central government under Communism does not
become corrupt. In spite of this, we will probably never see America turn
to Communism as a form of governing the people, so there will be no need
to see a repeat episode of The Red Scare.


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