Julius and Ethel Rosenberg The outcome of the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg trial for espionage in 1951 and their subsequent execution in 1953 was directly related to the political climate at that time. The governments evidence against the Rosenbergs was not overwhelming, but due to a combination of fear and political pressure, the guilty verdict was inevitable. Even though Julius did not deliver the secrets of the atomic bomb to Moscow, nor did they cause the Korean War, as Judge Kaufman claimed, the pair were sentenced to death. Their death confirmed their guilt because America would never kill innocent people. Their execution also reinforced the heinous nature of their crime and other soviet spys crimes as well. The fear of communism and the cold war sealed the fate for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
The cold war was the general term for the post-1945 political, ideological, strategic and military conflict between the western allies led by the United States and the Soviet Union and other communist countries. 1 This global confrontation was fuel by mutual fear and distrust. Both camps defaulted on postwar agreements which, led to further alienation.2 The end of WWII saw Europe economically devastated and in political turmoil. 3 The defeat of Germany left the European continent vulnerable to outside influence. In addition to the economic strength shown by the western allies, the United States not only had nuclear capabilities, but also without hesitation used the power twice. 4 The Soviet Union, in an effort to contract the economic and military might of the United States and its allies, set about tightening its grasp on the east European countries it had occupied during WWII.
5 In the years between 1945 and 1948 the Soviet Union gained control of Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia. The Soviet Union hoped that by adding these separate governments and militaries, it could offset the United States nuclear capabilities and provide its western boarder with a buffer zone. 6 Though the Soviet Union was actively developing its own nuclear capabilities, the communist power realized that the U.S. had used its atomic bomb with devastating results. 7 Although the United States was putting much fear into the hearts of many Soviets, the post WWII conflict was affecting the United States in much the same way.
The United States was worried about the leader of the Soviet Union and his power over many countries. 5 The United States would come to realize that this would not be an easy fight to win. The leader of the Soviet Union at that time was a man named Joseph Stalin. He had much control over peoples ideas and beliefs and he used that to his advantage. 8 The United States feared his leadership because of his power and his dishonesty.
Stalin went back on his word to create a more democratic government inside the Soviet Union, and took total control of Poland when he said he would not at the Yalta conference in 1945. 5 Iran became the starting point of East-West confrontation. The United States and the Soviet Union had occupied parts of Iran during WWII in order to protect allied oil supplies. Both countries agreed to withdraw at wars end. But in 1945 the Soviet Union refused to withdraw its troops. The conflict ended in 1946 when the USSR pulled out its troops in return for oil rights in Iran.
9 Later in 1946, Stalin gave a speech declaring ideological war against the West. 10 To counter Stalins aggressive actions in 1947, the president proposed the Truman Doctrine. The Truman Doctrine was designed to give military aid to Greece in its battle against communist-backed rebel forces. 11 It also gave economic aid to Turkey, whose economy was being stressed by the need to maintain a large army in order to resist the USSR and its demand for a naval base within its boundaries. President Trumans pitch to Congress was meant to scare the American people into action.
It succeeded in getting the Greek-Turkish aid bill passed and it also set the tone for the cold war. Less than a year later the United States pressured Iran to take back the previously granted oil rights to the USSR, thus creating more suspicion between the two superpowers. After seeing favorable results from the Truman Doctrine, the United States implemented the Marshall Plan. This $13 billion program was a second part of the overall containment policy. By restoring Europe’s economy, it would make communism less appealing and also give the United States strong trading partners.
Angered by this program, Stalin extended his control over Eastern Europe. This in turn created possible threats for the West’s position in Germany, and forced Truman to create a military alliance in order restore confidence in the European countries that were allying with the United States. 12 In an effort to counter the integration of the Western zones of Germany into a Western block, the Soviets blockaded access to Berlin by the West. This blockade not only failed in its attempt to drive the United States, Britain and France from Berlin but it also strengthened the cooperation among western allies. This strengthened unity among western allies led to the formation of a military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The fight against communism was not only occurring overseas, but in the United States itself.
People started to view communism as the downfall of human civilization thanks in big part to a senator from Wisconsin named Joseph McCarthy. Joseph McCarthy made communism a household word and being communist a sin. By using convincing speeches, and intimidating and threatening accusations, he lit the spark that ignited a series of witch hunts and caused America to question its own loyalty. McCarthy made his debut on February 9, 1950, when he announced to a women’s Republican club in West Virginia that he had a list of the names of 205 communists in the State Department. 13 This was the birth of McCarthyism. 14 He continued to travel through out the West on his campaign for the Republican Party, but when asked about the list his specifics changed from state to state.
15 He began to change the number of names on his list when questioned by reporters, telling some it was 57 and then the next day somewhere else it was 81. 16 His allegations would come to evolve as well from full-fledged communist to loyalty risks or people with connections to the communist party. 17 Even though McCarthy was the most influential Senator to speak out about communism, he was not the first. 18 Many Republicans had spoken out in past years. 19 In fact, most of McCarthy’s accusations were made by previous Republicans. Even his speeches were not original. One reported time, one of McCarthy’s speeches contained several paragraphs taken almost word for word from a speech Nixon made a few days before.
20 Although many of his charges were false or had no evidence, McCarthyism changed the way a lot of people inside and outside of the government thought about communism. He made a lot of people scared with his redbaiting and blacklisting. The members of the Truman administration were constantly trying to defend themselves from the accusations from McCarthy that they were soft on communism and that they had communists working for their party. 21 These charges led to the governments loyalty and security programs that would show just how scared this country was of communism. Congress was putting pressure on the Truman administration to implement some type of security program to fight against treason in our government.
Truman then implemented the Temporary Commission on Employee Loyalty. This program was designed to evaluate a government employee’s feelings on communism. The Truman administration got mixed reactions to this program. Many civil rights activists felt that it was taking away peoples rights and throwing away due process. On the other hand, many Republicans thought that this program was still not enough and that more steps needed to be taken to rid the government of communists.
22 These types of loyalty oaths did not just affect jobs in the government, but others all over the United States. Many job applications had some type of loyalty oath that had to be signed. Because of these types of procedures many people were turned down for jobs and many others who had jobs lost them. 23 An example of this was the Hollywood Ten. The Hollywood Ten was a group of actors and writers in Hollywood who lost their job and were eventually jailed for their connections to communism. 24 Another way the government tried to control the subversive activity that was happening in the United States was the HUAC.
The HUAC stood for the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The main job of the House was to investigate activity that could endanger American life. It was often criticized for using thoughtless and harmf …