Resource Listing February 1950

Senator Joseph McCarthy launched a crusade to rout out communism in America. During a speech before the Republican Women's Club of Ohio County in Wheeling, West Virginia, Senator McCarthy claimed that the State Department was infested with Communists, "I have in my hand 57 cases of individuals who would appear to be either card-carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party."

Later many Americans became frustrated with U.S. involvement in the Korean War (see June 1950), and McCarthy tried to turn public resentment of the war to his political advantage by accusing a long series of public figures of communist sympathies. Accusing people of subversive or communist activity, without necessarily having evidence, became known as "McCarthyism."

One prominent casualty of McCarthyism was Robert Oppenheimer, the leader of Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory during the Manhattan Project and chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission's (AEC) General Advisory Council. A leading critic of the hydrogen bomb and of the United States' increasing reliance on atomic weapons for security, Oppenheimer had also been associated with some left-wing organizations in his past. After a closed hearing, the AEC declared him a security risk and removed him from his position.