Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Roots of Anti-Communist Hysteria in the United States...

...run deep, and are inter-joined in our stump with others. Whenever a leader sets about directing our energies away from hunting down menacing Injuns outside to building up public commons within, hysteria recurs. I wonder when or if we can ever recognize we're no longer a frontier nation putting the last touches on its Manifest Destiny. The tendency is reflexive.

Contrast the myriad recent freak-outs with a Vanity Fair article by Sam Kashner on how William Manchester’s book on John F. Kennedy’s assassination came to be describes the morning of Nov. 22, 1963:

“In that third year of the Kennedy presidency,” Manchester wrote, “a kind of fever lay over Dallas country. Mad things happened. Huge billboards screamed, ‘Impeach Earl Warren.’ Jewish stores were smeared with crude swastikas.…Radical Right polemics were distributed in public schools; Kennedy’s name was booed in classrooms; corporate junior executives were required to attend radical seminars.” A retired major general ran the American flag upside down, deriding it as “the Democrat flag.” A wanted poster with J.F.K.’s face on it was circulated, announcing “this man is Wanted” for—among other things—“turning the sovereignty of the US over to the Communist controlled United Nations” and appointing “anti-Christians … aliens and known Communists” to federal offices. And a full-page advertisement had appeared the day of the assassination in The Dallas Morning News accusing Kennedy of making a secret deal with the Communist Party; when it was shown to the president, he was appalled. He turned to Jacqueline, who was visibly upset, and said, “Oh, you know, we’re heading into nut country today.”

Fortunately, in the ensuing 46 years our political discourse has improved greatly. (h/t to Blog on the Run)

5 comments:

Vincent said...

I'm still left wondering why, though. Here in England, the communists were a lot more respectable than the fascists, as represented by Sir Oswald Mosley, and these days the British National Party. You wouldn't have got a job in the Foreign Office if you were a paid-up member of the Communist Party, but you could have been one in the Thirties and it would have been put down as youthful folly.

Naturally if you identify some group as evil, to be hunted like vermin, they will tend to be hostile back, from sheer self-defence, but why did America pick the quarrels in the first place (with communists, then Islam)?

That's what I would expect in a post headed "roots". Or perhaps you have answered it already in your second sentence. Perhaps the States were only United by having a common enemy. Once the Injuns were no longer menacing, it had to be someone else. And what was the legacy of the Civil War, I wonder, on the American psyche?

Zoey and Me said...

". . discourse has improved greatly" ?? Oh really. You wouldn't know it by what I'm watching.

MarcLord said...

Vincent,

It has been only 120 years here since the Natives were fully put down, with palpably greater aggressiveness over the state-by-state geographical recency as you travel in the US.

Imagine if bands of drunken Welshmen had come raiding in the night in England, raping and torturing families, skinning them alive and hanging them outside for their neighbors to see in the day.

I suspect the urge to anti-communism is connected to both the history of violent conflict with native peoples and to fear of slave revolts. English people by and large feel safe in their homes. Americans do not, and must still have a place to name this dread.

MarcLord said...

Z&M,

next time I'll set the snark tag on "vaporize." ;-)

MarcLord said...

Vincent,

I meant to, but failed to directly, say that one cannot expect such rationality out of this political environment such as yours could enjoy with regards to entertaining socialist or communist viewpoints. I've also ignored mention of the inimical economic threats they pose.

The Constitution of this country was quite literally written by men whose wealth was made upon the backs of slaves; that also goes a long way to explaining a brutal, instantaneous institutional instinct against any collective labor action. If people strike here, they are ordered back to work, fined, jailed, beaten, or killed to this day.