“If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a state has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his house, what books he may read or what films he may watch. ” Thurgood Marshall MCCARTHYISM, THE FIRST AMENDMENT AND AMERICAN LITERATURE: ARTHUR MILLER – A CASE STUDY INTRODUCTION Over time we have watched the method of literary expression evolve from a traditional manner using predictable formats and ideas to a more modern and creative flow of opinions, morals and feelings.
Through this transition and growth in the literary movement, nothing has become more important than the beliefs and fundamental concepts embraced by the rights and protections provided by the First Amendment. Not only has this amendment allowed for thoughts that would challenge the status and rules of society, but also ideas that would question its morals and obligation to its citizens. It has allowed the writer to freely express their viewpoints without fear of prosecution.
It has provided the audience with an opportunity to become more enlightened and educated about the world in which they live. No time in history was this concept and freedom more challenged or threatened than during the time period known as the Cold War. With fear and anxiety mounting over what was perceived as the looming threat of communism, much of the principals encompassed by the First Amendment were questioned as possible promotion for the spread of non capitalistic ideas.
It is the aim of this paper to view this amendment in context of the time period and the impact it had on the literary world and in particular author and playwright Arthur Miller. By coming to understand the challenges and the fears experienced by Hollywood, the literary world and society as a whole we can come to better understanding of how truly important our freedom is and how we must work to continue to preserve our First Amendment rights.
UNDERSTANDING MCCARTHYISM “Our job as Americans and as Republicans is to dislodge the traitors from every place where they’ve been sent to do their traitorous work. -Joseph McCarthy, speech before the Republican National Convention (1952) McCarthyism defines a time period in history that occurred during the early 1950’s that was influenced and perpetuated by the fears associated with the spread of communism. The beginning of concerns over the spread of communism started around World War I, but it turned to panic when Alger Hiss, who was a high-ranking State Department official was convicted of espionage in 1947 under the democratic presidency of Harry Truman (“McCarthyism”).
This fear was even further exacerbated with news that the Soviet Union had exploded its first A-bomb in 1949 and the world’s most populated nation, China, declared it had become communist (“McCarthyism”). It was at this time that a Wisconsin Senator by the name of Joseph McCarthy came to be known nationally for declaring that he was aware of a significant number of communist party members who worked in the United States Department of State.
His claims initiated investigations into determining if any public official, high rank armed forces officers and even decorated war heroes were actually communist spies. His rampage continued on through 1954 when he made the fatal mistake of televising the hearings. The public could now see and hear how ruthless and vengeful his campaign against communism had become and turned against him. Soon thereafter other members of the Senate censured him and the investigations were abruptly halted (“McCarthyism”).
Although McCarthyism does not appear to have impacted the literary world and entertainment as a whole during this time period, it provided inspiration for another agency to begin questioning those in the creative arts field and their possible ties to communism. THE HUAC AND THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY “In the present cases, it is not a matter of violent extortion of the accused but a matter of using people as tools for the prosecution of others that one wants to label as “unorthodox” and pursue through an economic campaign of destruction.
It is a misuse of Parliament’s immunity, carrying out practices that should fall into the machinery of the judicial fury (police). ” Albert Einstein “The House Un-American Activities Committee was charged with investigating allegations of communist influence and subversion in the U. S. during the early years of the Cold War” (“Hollywood Ten”). The HUAC became highly influenced and inspired by the McCarthy hearings. It began its own investigations into the world of entertainment and the manner in which information was dispersed to the public as a whole.
Anyone who was once associated or still known to associate with the communist party or any of its members was subject to scrutiny. During these hearings it was not uncommon for those being investigated to be asked to offer up names of friends or co-workers who might have possible connections with the communist party. School teachers were even looked at as possible threats for spreading the ideals of communism. Those who failed to cooperate with the HUAC were cited for contempt.
They were often blacklisted and could not return to work until their name had been cleared of the contempt charges and they declared that they were not communist. The FBI was enlisted to help ensure that those who were blacklisted were not given opportunities to work (Schrecker). A group known as the Hollywood Ten which comprised of screenwriters and directors refused to cooperate with the investigations stating that they violated their First Amendment rights which gave them the right to be associated with whichever political party they chose to (“Hollywood Ten”). These men not only were blacklisted but also received jail time as well.