The uncles Jo - a story from the 1950s

I suspect that I am among the older ranks in Blogland and I feel it my duty to make sure that the younger folk have at least a basic understanding of significant historical events. This way, conversations or exchanges of opinions we have through Blogs may be of greater value to all parties. I will start with McCarthyism, since my reference to it in my last blog seemed to touch a cord, here and there.

McCarthyism was the US incarnation of cultural and political forces that in the Soviet Union took shape in the form of Stalinism.

In the 1950s, the USSR felt itself threatened, encircled by the forces of its capitalist enemies and at risk of facing a war even more savage than the recently concluded Patriotic War (known as the Second World War in the West) against Nazism. Stalin, who was a man with deep psychological problems, reacted to this threat by taking steps he thought would strengthen the USSR internally, to make it ready to face this new, nuclear-armed enemy.

Stalin developed a strong nuclear capacity of his own - and he purged all enemies of the state, as he called them. He persecuted, imprisoned and killed anyone who was not totally with him or who could provide an alternative locus of power. Thousands died and tens of thousands, if not millions, suffered because of this mania for internal security at all costs, verging on the psychotic.

These same forces were at play in the USA, but, because of cultural, historical and personal differences - Truman and Eisenhower were nothing like Stalin - the way they manifested in the USA, McCarthyism, differed - it was less malignant, more neurotic than psychotic.

The focus in the USA was, as in the USSR, on finding and removing or neutralising individuals who were seen as a threat to internal cohesion in the face of a great external threat. The steps taken to effect this, thankfully for residents of the USA at the time, were not as drastic as Stalin's.

People were purged, yes, removed from positions of responsibility or even prevented from working all together. This happened to many, across public services and in the world of entertainment, in particular. There were deaths causeMcCarthyarthy and his cronies, but not many and always by means of suicide, not through state sanctioned killing.

With all these differences, Stalinism and McCarthyism were phenomena of a similar character, attempts to purge the body politic of the presence of the other, of the enemy alien, real or imagined. With the wisdom of hindsight, both phenomena are judged to have been wrong, ill-judged, evil. Those who participated or colluded with the main perpetrators have been judged harshly - rightly, in my opinion.

Those of us who nowadays are focusing on the threat posed by another class of enemy alien, real or imagined, should be mindful of how history will judge us, if we get it wrong.

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