MLA Platinum Award Press Release

McCarthyism: Background information when reading The UnAmericans

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The UnAmericans

Stories

by Molly Antopol

The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol X
The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 2014, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2014, 272 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
Buy This Book

About this Book

McCarthyism

This article relates to The UnAmericans

Print Review

McCarthysim Cartoon by Herbert BlockIn "The Unknown Soldier," one of the stories in Molly Antopol's The UnAmericans, a young actor, Alexi Liebman, has to serve jail time because he comes under suspicion that he is a member of the American Communist party. This fictional account is based on very real events that took place in the United States.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s, Americans were growing increasingly worried about the spread of Communism in China and Eastern Europe. Espionage cases unearthed at home, where government officials had been convicted of sharing secrets with the "enemy," only compounded fears. The collective nervousness was enough to fuel mass hysteria around the "Red Scare."

Movie Poster for Storm CenterIt is in this environment that Senator Joseph McCarthy found an opening to catapult himself onto the national stage. The junior Republican senator from Wisconsin entered politics in 1946, but it was during a speech at a prominent breakfast that he made waves by wielding a list of 210 government members, accusing them of Communist sympathies. Since being a member of the Communist Party was not actually a crime, the senator instead tossed around allegations of subversion — that these citizens were looking to overthrow the government, which was illegal.

Original Hollywood Ten with their Two LawyersSoon thousands of Americans were rounded up in front of the Senate Committee on Government Operations that McCarthy headed (It should be noted that McCarthy's committee was distinct from the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), originally established in 1939, which was reactivated to ferret out Communists after World War II). An accusation alone was enough to tarnish the reputation of many who lost jobs and careers as a result. Most notoriously, Hollywood was brought under the microscope starting with the "Hollywood Ten" who were high-placed artists charged with Communist tendencies. Even though they all denied it, they were jailed for contempt of Congress. "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of the United States" was an interrogation question that became notorious during these hearings. The playwright Arthur Miller compared the McCarthy hearings to the Salem Witch Hunt trials in a play he wrote later.

Joseph Welch and Senator McCarthyStrong-arming the accused and threatening them with severe punishment was par for the course during these trials. It was when McCarthy started going after senior members of the Army — and most important, when these hearings were televised — that popular opinion reared against the Senator and he subsequently fell out of grace. "Have you no sense of decency, sir?" was a classic line thrown at McCarthy by Joseph Welch, Head Counsel for the U.S. Army. (See video here.)

It is ironic that while the hearings were going on there indeed were many who were loyal to Communist principles, but the nasty interrogation techniques and harsh lights that McCarthy used were blatant violations of civil rights. Shortly after the Army hearings, the senator was censured and stripped of power. He died three years later at the age of 48 from liver disease.

McCarthyism cartoon from Herbert Block, Herblock: A cartoonist's Life (1993), original owned by the Library of Congress
Movie poster for Storm Center, the first Hollywood movie to overtly take on McCarthyism, made by Columbia Pictures.
Hollywood Ten courtesy of Authentic History Center. Front row (from left): Herbert Biberman, attorneys Martin Popper and Robert W. Kenny, Albert Maltz, Lester Cole. Middle row: Dalton Trumbo, John Howard Lawson, Alvah Bessie, Samuel Ornitz. Back row: Ring Lardner Jr., Edward Dmytryk, Adrian Scott
Joseph Welch and Senator McCarthy courtesy of the US Senate.

Filed under People, Eras & Events

Article by Poornima Apte

This "beyond the book article" relates to The UnAmericans. It originally ran in February 2014 and has been updated for the October 2014 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Pew
    Pew
    by Catherine Lacey
    A quote often attributed to Leo Tolstoy states that "All great literature is one of two stories; a ...
  • Book Jacket: Waiting for an Echo
    Waiting for an Echo
    by Christine Montross
    Dr. Christine Montross had been a practicing psychiatrist for nearly a decade when she decided to ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Flight Portfolio
    by Julie Orringer
    At once a sweeping historical narrative, an insightful character study and a tender romance, Julie ...
  • Book Jacket: The Color of Air
    The Color of Air
    by Gail Tsukiyama
    Daniel was raised in Hilo, Hawaii by Japanese immigrant parents. Having traveled to the U.S. ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Woman Before Wallis
    by Bryn Turnbull

    The true story of the American divorcée who captured the Prince's heart before Wallis.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    With or Without You
    by Caroline Leavitt

    A moving novel about twists of fate, the shifting terrain of love, and coming into your own.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Last Flight
by Julie Clark

The story of two women and one agonizing decision that will change the trajectory of both of their lives.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Every Bone a Prayer

Every Bone a Prayer by Ashley Blooms

A beautifully honest exploration of healing and of hope.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

T Real M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.