“Red Scares” and Civil Liberties

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After World War I, American economy suffered a small slump while trying to return to normal peacetime production. Prices soared and the job market was flooded with returning soldiers, making jobs hard to find. Socialist and communist supporters sprung up and provoked the already violent labor disputes that were taking place all around the country. The United States was in turmoil and many feared an American version of Russia?s Bolshevik Revolution was about to take place. So, prompted by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, the FBI launched a series of raids on immigrants and labor radicals. This period of time became known as the first ?Red Scare?.

Similarly, after World War II and during the outbreak of the Cold War, Americans discovered that the Soviet Union had detonated an atomic bomb long before anyone predicted they would be able to produce one. The Republican Party reasoned that the Soviets must have used an extensive espionage network to acquire the American documents on the atom bomb.

At the time, there was only a little evidence of such espionage, but it was enough to feed the second Red Scare and the anticommunist movement led by Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy.

During both Red Scares, anyone who was not as patriotic as possible? including such people as draft dodgers, ?slackers?, German-Americans, Russian-Americans, and immigrants? was a suspected communist. Many arrests were made at the expense of civil liberties. In the first Red Scare alone, over 5,000 people were arrested and many of them were convicted and even deported or sent to death without the benefit of a court hearing. One man was arrested in Boston for just ?look[ing] like a radical? (2). One well-known court case of this nature involves two men, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. They were charged with murdering two people at a shoe company. Upon arrest they told lies about what they had been up to, and they both were admitted atheists, anarchists, and both objected to World War I. They were also both Italian aliens. They were convicted for the murders and sentenced to death, but appealed their convictions numerous times. They never won. Their entire case was simply built on circumstantial evidence and they had many supporters who believed they were victims of the anticommunist frenzy sweeping over the nation. At his execution, Bartolomeo Vanzetti even stated that that is why he thought they were singled out: ?I am suffering because I am a radical; I have suffered because I was an Italian, and indeed I am an Italian.? (1).

Vanzetti and Sacco were not the only people to have their rights stepped on during either of the Red Scares. According to the Bill of Rights, when accused of a crime, a person has a right to know what they are being accused of, and they have a right to an impartial jury. During the Red Scares, if a person was accused of being a communist, it was almost impossible to find an unbiased jury. The jury members were already dead-set against the defendant, and even if the evidence was insufficient they would still convict. Sometimes the accused communist were not even given a trial and were just sentenced on the spot. People were stripped left and right of the civil liberties guaranteed to them by the Bill of Rights. All for the sake of ?national security?. While some of the accusations against people may have been rightly justified, many others who were the victims of the ?Palmer Raids? or McCarthyism were only innocents who were deemed ?weird? or ?wrong? by society. For example, many homosexuals were thought to be communists, and if you were a communist, then you were thought to also be a homosexual.

Although the idea behind the Red Scares? keeping the nation safe? was a noble one, the government was seriously flawed in their approach and went about it in a less-than-noble fashion. According to the Bill of Rights, a person?s civil liberties are absolute, and although sometimes it is necessary for the public to forgo some of them, like in times of war, the Red Scares took that sacrifice to the extreme which needn?t have been done. And some civil liberties should never be taken away, even if the world was on the dawn of the Apocalypse.

Here is an example of a right promised by the Bill of Rights that can be taken away to protect public safety: the freedom of speech. There is actually a law that says a person can be prosecuted for his speech if it presents a ?Clear and Present Danger? to the state. As Justice Holmes stated in 1919, while presiding over the case that produced this law: ?You cannot shout fire falsely in a crowded theatre? (4). Any speech that provokes people to act in a way that is dangerous to the country?s welfare can and will be prosecuted, despite the first amendment that promises the right to free expression.

A right promised by the constitution that should never be taken away is stated in the 5th Amendment: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. (3) Many of the people accused were denied this right during the Red Scares. They were arrested and subjected to beatings in prison. They did not get fair trials or impartial juries (which is stated in the 6th Amendment? another right that should never be taken away). They were denied life, liberty, and property all because they viewed the world in a different light, or they were viewed by the world in a different light. It never should have happened to them? both scares happened after a war, during peacetime, so there was no excuse to deny the accused communists their rights. War or times of great crisis are the only times the public should have to give up the constitutional rights their government had promised them, and even during wartime, the public should be asked to do it voluntarily. And if they refuse, then they should not be forced. After all, this nation was built on the value of individual liberties, so if it is going to collapse, shouldn?t it also fall because of those same treasured rights? Biblography 1.) For The Record: A Documentary History of America, vol. II by Shi and Mayer, eds.

2.) http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/SaccoV/redscare.html 3.) http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761553383/Bill_of_Rights.html#s14 4.)The Unfinished Nation, vol II, 4th ed. Brinkley Alan