What does it mean to be un-American?' For most of the twentieth century, a congressional committee took upon itself the mission of defining that vague and often misused term. The committee went through different iterations and attacked different targets. By 1946, one thing was clear: the most un-American belief one could hold was that of Communism. Before then, however, the McCormack-Dickstein Committee, precursor to the House Un-American Activities Committee, had as its task the investigation of fascism and fascist plots. The very definition of un-Americanism' has evolved at an astounding pace throughout the twentieth century, and continues to change to this day. It was under the chairmanship of Martin Dies, however, that the committee took up the crusade for which it was most infamous and which would last for half a century: anti-communism.
[...] Asked to choose between Communist and Nazi activities as “more important to investigate,” no less than 70% specified Communism as the clearer danger in December of 1939.[xvi] This was the real reasoning behind Martin Dies and his anti-Communist crusade. The early incarnation of HUAC was designed to counter the potential threat, the possible subversion that Communism could bring to the United States. It also became a committee subservient to the whimsical vendettas of politicians hostile to the New Deal. This was a politics born of fear and hostility. [...]
[...] Reflected in the Dies Committee is the definition of un-Americanism that existed between 1938 and 1945. With the end of the Cold War, America faced a period of uncertainty and optimism. The Soviet Union was obviously incapable of sustaining itself in the late 80's, and so the public conception of anti-Communism became a catalogue of civil liberties violations and the frenetic hysteria of McCarthyism. The specter of Communism had passed on, and the 1990's were relatively carefree in comparison with the tension of most of the twentieth century. [...]
[...] In July 1937, he had been approached by officers of the Soviet intelligence service, the NKVD, and by May 1938 he was an agent in their pay, making $1,250 a month in exchange for providing Moscow with “documentary materials about fascist work from government organs” and to “guide actively the committee's attention to those facts of fascist and White Guard activities that [the Soviets would] point out to him.” He was given the code name and while his value declined considerably after his failure to gain a position on the Dies Committee, he was still able to obtain transcripts and other worthwhile information for his paymasters.[vii] Under the leadership of Martin Dies, the committee actively jumped into the anti-communist foray. [...]
[...] Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler. Seal Beach, CA: '76 Press Weinstein, Allen and Alexander Vassiliev. The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America the Stalin Era. New York: Random House Ted Morgan, Reds (New York: Random House, 2004) 146. Gaetano Salvemini, Italian Fascist Activities in the United States (New York: Center for Migration Studies, 1977) 194-195. [iii] Jules Archer, The Plot to Seize the White House (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2007) 15-53. Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Age of Roosevelt, Vol. [...]
[...] The activities of Silvermaster and his group slipped entirely under the noses of the Dies Committee. No member was ever charged with a crime. Espionage was a clear and present danger to the Republic, but just as menacing were the homegrown pro-Moscow organizations. The ‘American League for Peace and Democracy,' or just League,' was investigated as a Communist front beginning in 1939. It dissolved itself in 1940, upon which a leading member declared an end to the “most powerful of the united fronts.”[xiv] Before its demise, the League claimed over four million affiliated members, and as a popular front it enjoyed support from fellow travelers and non-Communists alike.[xv] The fronts proved relatively unsuccessful in terms of action, but in influence, they had a tremendous impact. [...]
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