The Cold War was the longest war that America never fought. From the end of World War II until the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, tensions between the United States and the now-defunct Soviet Union were at an all-time high. The two superpowers were battling over power: strategic power – but more than that, ideological power.
This was the showdown between democracy and communism, the ideologies of the day, and high noon lasted roughly 45 years. It spanned three wars, one missile crisis that put the world on the brink of nuclear destruction, and constituted more polices than we may ever really know.
This is the power of doctrine.
It was in the 1950s that the Red Scare, under the leadership of Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon, took America by storm. All of a sudden, there were communists everywhere: they were here; they were sneaky; and they wanted to take your home, your life insurance and your Buick, and redistribute every hard-earned penny that you had earned to the huddled masses of society.
Communists! They’re everywhere!
Of course, there were communists in America in the 1950s, but they were not planning an armed insurrection. Most were intellectuals or people who had prospered ideologically from the FDR-led social reconstructions of the 1930s. They were not people who wanted to take up arms, but people who wanted to establish an American Socialist Party, to socialize the democracy of the United States, not overthrow it. The Red Scare of the 1950s put an end to all of this. People were blacklisted, imprisoned, questioned, harassed and boycotted, all under the supervision of the House Un-American Activities Committee. People’s lives were turned upside down simply for what they believed in. These were not Russian spies, just Americans whose politics were a bit left of center.
And of course as time went on, it became less important to the committee if the communist really was a communist, but only if they could prove that they were not. Countless people’s lives were ruined, their careers (in which they generated capital) were demolished, and many of these were people who had never even read Karl Marx, people who were accused of ideological treason without any proof.
This period of history is looked back upon as a black day in American democracy. A momentary lapse in judgment fueled by paranoia and fear. Surely we have all learned our lesson and such oppression could not happen again here in America. Right?
At the dawn of a new millennium, we have begun a new ideological war, the War on Terror, and again, we are seeing an institution of silence being constructed upon an ideological principle. Whether it be the Total Information Awareness network tracking your purchases and what you look at on the Internet, or the FBI investigating such anti-American activities as art exhibits where people voice their distaste for President Bush, the sounds of silence are appearing to once again stifle the American people.
It would seem now that just being against the war in Iraq is a good enough reason to be silenced. Michael Moore was booed off stage at the Oscars simply for saying something that you wouldn’t hear on TV elsewhere. Under the rule of the Bush administration, the line between government and big business seems to be disappearing. Take the case of such cotton-candy mainstream artists as the Dixie Chicks and Sheryl Crow. For speaking out against the war, they have been banned from the airwaves by Clear Channel Communications, a company that owns more than 1,200 radio stations across the United States and is responsible for organizing most of the pro-war rallies around the country. Clear Cut Communications also organized an anti-Dixie Chicks rally in which 30,000 Dixie Chicks CDs were smashed with a tractor.
Last week, Visa pulled a commercial from the airwaves featuring Martin Sheen, an outspoken actor who is vehemently anti-war. Also last week, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Peter Arnett was fired by both MSNBC and National Geographic for granting state-run Iraqi TV an interview in which he claimed that the United States’ initial war plan had underestimated Iraqi resistance and that it was pausing to redefine its attack plan.
We are entering a new stage of American history. Above all else, this is certain. How this history will be formed, though, is still to be determined, and how it will be perceived 50 years from now is yet to be seen. But one thing is certain: Every era of silence and persecution in American history has brought shame to the tenets of our society, which most Americans, myself included, feel sworn to protect. If we, ourselves, allow our freedoms to vanish, why should we fear an enemy?