It is axiomatic that when one bases his or her decisions out of fear or anger, they turn out to be very bad decisions indeed. The same is true when countries act irrationally, instead of with calm, common-sense deliberation. A trip down 20th century milestones will further illustrate how people and nations injure themselves badly by making decisions when angry or afraid, instead of taking a step back and rationally deciding what’s in their best interests.
Prior to WWII, the American populace was just the opposite of being fearful. For the most part, complacency and isolationism ruled the day. Even as an horrific world war was breaking out all around them in the late 1930s, most Americans felt they were protected by vast oceans to the east and west of the U.S., and friendly neighbors to the north and south. It took the bombing of Pearl Harbor of December, 1941 to finally shake off this complacency, and force the U.S. to swing into action. By then Nazi Germany had occupied almost all of Europe, with just England and Russia remaining free, but hanging on by their fingernails before the Nazi onslaught. In the Pacific, Imperial Japan was gobbling up one nation after another, and threatened to acquire the biggest prize of all, China. It took U.S. entry into WWII to save both Europe and the Pacific. The U.S. was considered the world’s savior at that time, adored by all allied countries. When American tanks rolled down the Champs-Elysees in 1944, freeing Parisians of the murderous Nazi regime, thousands lined the streets in grateful adoration. French Mademoiselles blew kisses and threw flowers at American tank commanders. Think the U.S. would receive a similar reception today?
Amidst all the glory, however, a very dark chapter in American history was about to unfold on U.S. soil, because tragic decisions were made out of fear and haste.
The Roosevelt Administration, fearful that U.S. citizens of Japanese heritage living on the West Coast would switch their allegiance from the U.S. to Japan, should that country invade us from the Pacific, rounded up all such Asians and shipped them off to concentration camps in Texas. Well, maybe they weren’t as horrendous as Nazi concentration camps, and they didn’t have gas chambers, but they were still pretty bad. Decades later, recognizing the cruel and senseless injustice of this action, attempts were made by the government to undertake reparations for survivors of that deplorable experience.
After the war, the U.S. tried to return to a so-called policy of normalcy, as millions that had been drafted into the military were discharged and returned to civilian life. However, this desire for normalcy vanished almost overnight. In Europe, the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, who had been our ally during WWII, began taking over East European countries such as East Germany, Poland and several others, and installing friendly Communist regimes under this new Soviet umbrella. In the Pacific, the established Chinese government was overthrown and a new Communist dictatorship, allied with Russia, came to power. The spread of Communism throughout the globe seemed unstoppable. Then in 1948, when Russia first tested a nuclear bomb, panic set in among the American public. The”Red Menace” was on the march to take over America.
A new era fear and anger, to say nothing of outright hatred of anything Communist, oozed like a giant blob throughout the land. Americans that had expressed complimentary remarks about the Soviet Union when it was our ally during WWII, were now looked upon as enemies. If people had the misfortune of actually joining the American Communist Party during that period, they were now considered traitors. The popular refrain from that era was”better dead than red.” And of course, unscrupulous politicians in Congress, seeing electioneering “gold in them thar hills” were all to eager to capitalize on this anti-communist frenzy. And by far, the most unscrupulous of them all was a Republican senator from Wisconsin named Joe McCarthy, or tail-gunner Joe as he was fond of being called, (based on his WWII record.)
McCarthy headed up a senate committee that probed into “un-American” activities in the U.S. government, in the entertainment industry such as Hollywood, and other institutions. Hundreds of people, almost all innocent, were hauled before McCarthy and denounced as traitors who had committed treason by being underlings for the Soviet Union. Innocent lives and reputations were destroyed through these anti-communist witch hunts. Some people, so branded, committed suicide, while other lost their jobs and careers and became outcasts of society. (These same anti-communist tirades also took place in the House, where future president Richard Nixon sat on the House Un-American Activities Committee.) This deeply dark chapter of anti-communist hysteria lasted from the late 1940s to the late 1950s, when almost all Americans lived in fear of being labeled a communist.
Finally, in the late 1950s, McCarthy decided to cross a a bridge too far. He made the accusation that the U.S. Army was “riddled with communists” or “pinkos” as term was used in those days. He held hearings to prove his point which came to be known as the Army-McCarthy Hearings. What became unique about these hearings, however, was that for the first time, they would be carried on that new medium that was rapidly gaining popularity, known as television. The public, at last, would be able to see live McCarthy’s smear tactics. McCarthy called up dozens of Army personnel, and accused them of being communist traitors or sympathizers.
The Army was represented by a mild mannered attorney named Joseph Welch. When McCarthy grilled a low-grade black woman who was an Army file clerk and accused her of being a communist spy, his goose was cooked. Mild-mannered lawyer Welch rose in his chair and angrily cried out-“Have you no shame, sir. Have you no shame?” The public at last, could view in real time the sham that came to be known as “McCarthyism” which is today listed in the Oxford dictionary as an official word. And not in a good way. McCarthy also recognized that his gig was up and began to drink even more heavily than he normally did. He died of alcoholism, shortly thereafter, at age 56. But, as a result of this anti-communist hysteria, the U.S. became deeply enmeshed in Viet-Nam for no valid reason, where almost 60 thousand American lives were lost, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Viet-Namese that were killed.
Today there are new fears, panic, and hysteria spread across the U.S. because of Islamic Jihadist terrorism. And, as in those earlier decades, there are unscrupulous politicians today all too eager to exploit the current situation for their own pursuits in acquiring power. I’ll leave the names unsaid for now, but you know who they are. Will this lead to more bad decision-making based on fear and anger. It probably will. History tends to repeat itself.