I don't recall the era of the Senator Joe McCarthy hearings on Communist subversion in the United States that allegedly involved his claiming there was a large number of Communists and Soviet spies and supporters in the federal government and elsewhere, particularly Hollywood. It primarily happened before I was born in the very early 1950s. However, I do know that by reading historical accounts that numerous lives were left in ruins by Senator McCarthy's tactics.

I don't recall the era of the Senator Joe McCarthy hearings on Communist subversion in the United States that allegedly involved his claiming there was a large number of Communists and Soviet spies and supporters in the federal government and elsewhere, particularly Hollywood. It primarily happened before I was born in the very early 1950s. However, I do know that by reading historical accounts that numerous lives were left in ruins by Senator McCarthy's tactics.

McCarthy played on the fears of Americans that were prevalent during the Cold War years immediately following World War II. Elected to the Senate from Wisconsin in 1946, McCarthy rose to prominence in 1950 when he claimed in a speech that he had a list of “members of the Communist Party and a spy ring” employed in the State Department.

As the result of McCarthy's relentless pursuit of the Communists in the shadows and his grilling of witnesses during the hearings, the term “McCarthyism” was coined. “McCarthyism”was frequently linked to the practice of making accusations of subversion and treason without proper regard for evidence. It soon took on a broader meaning to describe reckless attacks on a person's character or patriotism of political opponents.

During this era thousands of Americans were accused of being communists or communist sympathizers. There are no exact figures as to the exact number of victims of McCarthy's witch hunt. Several hundred may have been imprisoned and as many as 12,000 may have lost their jobs. In the film industry alone more than 300 actors, writers and directors were blacklisted. Some of the most notables included: Lucille Ball, Elmer Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein, Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein, Danny Kaye, Burgess Meredith, Arthur Miller, Edward G. Robinson, Pete Seeger, and Orson Wells.

Ball was reportedly linked to the Communist Party as the result of having registered with the party to please her grandfather. She denied ever casting a vote for that party. During a press conference, her then husband Desi Arnaz jokingly said, “The only thing red about Lucy is her hair and that comes from a bottle.”

Meanwhile, America became increasingly paranoid about the threat of Communism. A number of Hollywood B movies were made about the subject thinly disguised as attacks from Mars (the Red Planet) and such killer beasts as giant grasshoppers, etc.

The McCarthy era came to an abrupt end in 1954. CBS News analyst Edward R. Murrow aired footage of McCarthy's bullying tactics on his program “See It Now.”

In his closing comments Murrow stated, “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of the law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.”

In 1952, playwright Arthur Miller, who was included on McCarthy's blacklist, wrote the play “The Crucible” that used the Salem witch trials as a metaphor for McCarthyism. The play strongly suggested that such McCarthyism-style persecution could occur any time or place. The play stressed that once accused, a person has little chance of being exonerated.

McCarthy's claims about Communist subversion in America, however, were not totally without foundation. Some declassified documents revealed later that the Soviet Union did engage in substantial espionage activities in the United States during the 1940s and some citizens were indeed recruited as spies.

Does any of this sound remotely familiar? Is history repeating itself? Historians have said if we don't learn from history we are doomed to repeat it. Are we doomed?