The McCarthy Hearings

Joseph N. Welch (left) being questioned by Senator Joseph McCarthy (right), June 9, 1954

In 1954, Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin decided to eliminate communist threats within the American army. He was –a zealot according to all accounts and his zeal led to a series of lengthy court proceedings between both parties. The politician believed that thousands of communists had infiltrated the important positions within the federal government. Today it is said that he had paranoia but no one really knows.

Senator Joseph R. McCarthy was known to have been an overzealous opponent of communism who resorted to harsh interrogation techniques and intimidation against people who were suspected of harboring Marxist values.

Eventually, the senator decided to target the security of the American army itself, which eventually led to the ruin of his political career. In an infamous televised program of the 1954 congressional hearing, the senator started to pinpoint members of the army, who retaliated by drawing attention to the senator for his violation of political power in the appointment of a former staff member.

The senator responded by dragging out the communist background of an attorney working with a lawyer, Joseph Welch, who described the senator as a “cruelly reckless character assassin” and retorted with, “have you no sense of decency?”.

Since the congressional hearing was one of the first of its kind to be televised, a great deal of national attention was raised. The cameras were focused on McCarthy and his brusque methods of accusation which led to his downfall.

The senator died shortly thereafter, estranged from his political peers and possibly due to complications caused by alcoholism.

We acquired the modern-day expression “McCarthyism” from this sensational event, which has gone on to refer to any public practice or behavior that accuses disloyalty and treason without enough proof.

Talk about leaving a legacy.

“Have you no sense of decency, sir?” The McCarthy Hearings, 1954

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