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Mass Hysteria, Witch Hunt And The Red Scare

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Witch Hunt

In today’s society when someone gets sick we don’t blame it on sorcery or witches. This wasn’t the case in 1692. In Salem Village, Massachusetts two girls by the name of Betty Parris who was the daughter of the town’s reverend Samuel Parris, and his niece Abigail Williams were struck sick and unable to wake up, but when they finally did they were hysterical and acted out of sorts. This was the case of several other young girls in Salem. They claimed to be possessed by the Devil and accused several women of witchcraft. This set off a hunt within the village. Widespread fear and hysteria set in causing people to seek out anyone they deemed could be a witch. All it took was someone, anyone accusing you of being a witch and now your life was on the line. This was a witch hunt. A witch hunt isn’t just seeking out witches. A witch hunt is the search and persecution on a specific group of people, it is caused by the unreasonable fears of the majority. They view a group as evil for not following their ways or being out of the norm. The group being prosecuted gets punished with little to no evidence, most of the evidence being hearsay. This however, was not the only time in history we have had a witch hunt. One of the most wide spread witch hunts was the Red Scare of the 1950’s.

The Red Scare

Furthermore, in the 1940’s and 50’s Americans were becoming increasingly concerned with the ever growing communism in Eastern Europe and China. The revolution in Russia, led Americans to have an unreasonable fear that immigrants would come to America and overthrow the government. This event was properly named The Red Scare. Red being the color of the soviet flag and scare being the fear. Fuel was added to the fire when U.S senator named Joseph McCarthy declared that more than two hundred card carrying communists infiltrated the U.S government. The widespread panic and persecution following was baffling. This period in American history started the term McCarthyism which is “The practice of making accusations of disloyalty, especially of pro-communist activity, in many instances unsupported by proof or based on slight, undoubtful, or irrelevant evidence.” (qtd in Dictionary.com). The House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was started in order to sniff out and investigate these so called communists. It grew to have a main target, the Hollywood crowd. They started investigating members of the movie industry, and ended up banning the works of 325 screenwriters, actors and directors. This event was led by opposition, in 1950, ten people known as the Hollywood Ten, defied HUAC and didn’t cooperate with their investigations, stating that the investigation was against their rights. For this opposition they were sentenced to one year in prison. This continued until 1954, the downfall of McCarthyism and McCarthy himself occured when he accused the U.S army of communism. It occured during a televised hearing. McCarthy started making accusations against Army officers for not answering questions about their political beliefs. Joseph Welsh, the attorney for the U.S. Army, responded by calling him out. The public shifted its opinion on McCarthy and President Eisenhower and the rest of the Senate agreed with Welsh. The censure concluded that McCarthy abused his power as a senator. He remained in office but had no power. Charges were dropped and people started picking up the pieces left of their career and lives.

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The Crucible

One of the many accused in the Hollywood scene was Arthur Miller, a playwright that wrote a play that HUAC disapproved of. Arhtur Miller’s 1952 play titled “The Crucible” was what got him in trouble. It reflected the witch hunt going on during the time. In 1956, he was summoned to court after attempting to renew his passport to travel to Belgium for the opening of his play. He was asked to give names of communist sympathisers and refused which got him convicted for contempt of congress. The Crucible is an embodiment of what was going on in America during the 50’s. He used his and his co-workers experiences to pull inspiration on what to write. He became fascinated with the environment of paranoia and how irrational fears can cause pure chaos. He started to research topics he could write about that would identify with his experiences. That’s when he stumbled upon the Salem Witch trials and finally came up with a way to express the themes of the Red Scare on stage. In the Crucible we can see very similar themes to the Red Scare. McCarthy himself is represented in a character named Judge Danforth. Judge Danforth is the lead judge and he sentences most of Salem just based off hearsay and the girl’s like Abigail accusations. “McCarthy used hearsay and intimidation to establish himself as a powerful and feared figure in American politics.” (qtd. In History.com). This is exactly how Danforth’s character is portrayed. He is persistent on sentencing people even if they are innocent.. Miller focused on how the residents of Salem were blaming people for personal gain, mirroring the Red Scare.

Conclusion

In Summary, mass hysteria and witch hunts go hand in hand. A majority is scared and that causes a witch hunt to occur. The scary part is that we are always prone to witch hunts. No matter how much society changes, fear can always undertake us whole. Some may even argue that there’s a witch hunt going on right now fueled by Donald Trump. It’s debated that Trump exploits America’s fear of terroism. He uses McCarthy’s tactics by treating everyone who isn’t with him as an enemy. He also targets immigrants, portraying them in a negative light only causing fear and hatred throughout America. It’s important to talk about McCarthyism, witch hunts, paranoia, etc… We need to stay educated and know the signs so we don’t get sucked into the world of fear and hatred and don’t make mistakes of the past.

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