May 2 – Have You No Decency?

On May 2, 1957, Senator Joseph McCarthy died. McCarthy is famous as the Senator who, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, relentlessly pursued communists believed to have infiltrated the American government. However, once started, McCarthy’s plight was more than just to rid the government of communists; he engaged in a crusade to rid the government of those who opposed him using communism as a tool. He would target those who disagreed with him and search their past for communist links, not necessarily any direct connection to the communist party.

Through hearings, public statements, and speeches, he was so dogged that the term McCarthyism now refers to anyone engaged in a campaign based on unfair allegations and accusations. McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade reached a crescendo during his Army hearings in 1954, a portion of which is shown in the clip. When Chief Counsel of the Army Joseph Welch asked him, Do you have no sense of decency? the balloon was ruptured and very quickly McCarthy fell from grace. He was condemned by the U.S. Senate in 1954, and never recovered. He died of alcoholism in 1957, at the age of 48. McCarthy’s legacy took an interesting turn following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. For a short while, Soviet archives were open to inspection, and many more of those accused by McCarthy and others to have been Soviet agents turned out to be so. The final record is far from being settled. One aspect of his legacy is beyond dispute, however. McCarthy’s partisan approach meant that anti-communism, which had been a bipartisan issue, became a partisan one. Increasingly, the parties diverged on the threat of communism, of the Soviet Union, and the Cold War.


  1. Suppose it were discovered, today, that agents of a new Fascist movement had infiltrated the American government and were trying to subvert it. What would be the appropriate response?
  2. Can you think of examples today of how cries of fascism have led to a McCarthyism type of response?
  3. Treason is the only crime defined in the Constitution. Why do you think it is so important?
  4. The last person convicted of treason and sentenced to death was Tomoya Kawakita, a Japanese American who tortured U.S. prisoners during World War II. His sentence was commuted, and he was later deported. More recently, American Adam Yahiye Gadahn was charged with treason for supporting Al-Qaeda, but not tried. President Obama ordered him killed in a drone strike in 2015. Do you think Americans engaged in treasonous activity should be dealt with in this way?
Image Citation:

26, April 2018, Red Menace warning . Retrieved from <>.