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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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Soon after it was discovered that the Russians had the bomb, the
U.S. Congress started investigations into so-called Un-
American Activities, and one of the men they put in charge was
Joseph R. McCarthy, a senator from Wisconsin. McCarthy
claimed America was in great danger from a Communist
conspiracy to take over the world. And, as if he were a surgeon
hacking away tumors in a body riddled with cancer, he tried to
root out every trace of Communism he could find. It soon
became clear that very few people were completely free of any
connection with Communism. To find out why, we have to go
back in time a little bit.

Arthur Miller had just turned 14 when His family's savings were
wiped out by the stock market crash of October, 1929. Almost
literally overnight, the lives of many of his friends changed
from reasonable comfort to poverty. Over the next 12 years-the
time of the Great Depression, as it is called-Arthur Miller came
to know and work with people who had joined the Communist
Party. These people weren't spies, they simply were desperate,
and they saw Communism as a way out of a desperate situation.
And although Communism worried a few people in the 1930s,
most were too busy with their own problems to give it much
thought. Besides, Soviet Russia was not yet an enemy of the
United States. In fact, Russian and American soldiers later
fought side by side against the Germans at the end of World
War II. It wasn't until after the war, when-as so often happens-
the victor's turned against each other, that Communism began to
be considered a very serious threat.

By the late 1940s when the Congressional hearings first began,
there were quite a few people who had flirted with Communism
at some time or other, although most had renounced it long
before. But even if you had no Communism in your own past,
you could easily be in the same position as Arthur Miller-you
knew someone who did. That was more than enough to get you
in trouble with Senator McCarthy and similar investigators.

Imagine what it was like being called in to testify. McCarthy or
his aides might say, "Are you now, or have you ever been, a
member of the Communist Party?" No. "Do you know anyone
who is or was a Communist?" No. McCarthy holds up some
cards. "We have the names of people who have already
confessed. Your name came up in connection with their
testimony. Why do you suppose that is?" You say you don't
know, but you can tell that no one believes you. Maybe you're
not so innocent after all, you think. Maybe you've been sucked
into the conspiracy without realizing it. Have you signed
anything, donated any money, said anything to anybody that
might sound suspicious?

Once you start thinking like this, it's almost impossible to stop.
You begin to feel guilty either way: even if you don't have any
Communist connections, you've done nothing to stop the spread
of this evil; You may have even helped the enemy by being
stupid or naive. You did it, it's your fault, their questions seem
to say. And they won't let you go until you make up for it in
some way. So you tell them about your friend who's never home
on Tuesday nights, or your mother's uncle who used to quote
Communist slogans all the time, or anyone you know who's
been acting a little odd the last few weeks. You name names,
and they let you go.

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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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