Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition : an Oral History

Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition : an Oral History

Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition : an Oral History

Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition : an Oral History

Excerpt

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

—MILAN KUNDERA

This book of memories spans the two decades from 1945 to 1965, an era largely connected in American recall with tail fins and rock and roll, and with the last time a middle-class family of four could be supported on a single income. But it was also a time of political upheaval, when the question "Are you now or have you ever been a member of Communist Party?" was prologue to personal ruin, life in exile or on the blacklist, a shattered family, imprisonment, suicide, and for some even a violent death. For many who faced that question, the consequences of their answer still haunt them today.

"It was a watershed event in Hollywood—the hearings and the blacklisting and the informing. The memories die hard, although the people involved are dying. We're talking about forty years ago for those of us who were called in '51, and more for the Ten who were called in '47. There are only two of them left." Back then, he was a young screenwriter active in the Communist Party. With a dozen films to his credit, the future looked promising. He would be blacklisted for nearly twenty years.

The memories die hard—yet for many Americans, only the barest sketch of the era remains, or nothing at all. In 1992, a man of thirty, doing well in a San Francisco publishing firm, told me what he knew of the Red Scare: "It was Joseph McCarthy, and he went after Hollywood actors for the sake of publicity. Richard Nixon was in on it." One woman of thirty-five demanded, "When did all this happen?" Another of the same age, after confusing "Reds" with her favorite baseball team, came back astonished: "America had a Communist Party?"

Studs Terkel, in his introduction to "The Good War," laments America's fast-fading memory. "It appears that the disremembrance of World War Two is as disturbingly profound as the forgettery of the Great Depres-

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