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McCarthyism & Red Scare Terms

Truman Doctrine

The Truman Doctrine, announced in 1947, held that any advance of Communism, anywhere in the world, was a threat to the national interests of the United States.

An American foreign policy doctrine expressed by President Harry S. Truman in a famous 1947 speech, the Truman Doctrine defined the advance of Communism anywhere in the world as a grave threat to the United States' national interest, and therefore pledged American support to foreign governments threatened by Communist revolutions.

Fifth Columnists, Fifth Columnist

Members of a faction of subversives who work to undermine national unity and aid foreign enemies. The term comes from the Spanish Civil War, where fascist General Emilio Mola declared that he had "una quinta columna"—a fifth column—of secret supporters embedded among the populace of Madrid who would join the four columns of troops under his control when they attacked the city.

Industrial Union, Industrial Unionism

A union incorporating all workers within an entire industry into a single labor organization.

Manhattan Project

Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer led this secret American program during World War II to develop an atomic bomb.

The US government's crash program to build an atomic bomb during World War II.

Plead The Fifth, Pled The Fifth

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitutiongrants citizens freedom from self-incrimination. Thus if a citizen believes that answering a question in a judicial hearing will lead to his own conviction, he is allowed to remain silent by "pleading the fifth."

Loyalty-security Apparatus, Loyalty-security Program

Early in the Cold War, the administration of President Harry Truman set up a large government bureaucracy to monitor the loyalty of all federal employees. This sprawling loyalty-security apparatus included loyalty oaths and extensive background checks conducted by the FBI, and applied to all federal employees, from nuclear physicists to mailmen.

Social Democracy

A moderate form of socialism, in which capitalism continues to operate as society's core economic system but is heavily regulated by the democratic state, which intervenes strongly to ameliorate the social injustices that social democrats believe are endemic to unregulated free-market capitalism. Many western European nations built socio-economic systems based upon social democratic principles after World War II, but the United States never moved very far in a social democratic direction; most Americans always favored a more free-market orientation.

Universal National Health Insurance, Socialized Medicine

A government-funded national healthcare system, in which individuals and employers do not purchase their own private health insurance plans because all citizens are covered by the national system. Universal healthcare requires higher taxes but lower insurance premiums and co-pays. The United States is the only major western industrial power that does not have universal national health insurance.

Party Line

The agenda of a particular political party. The Communist Party emphasized a rigid adherence by its members to the official party line; strategic political decisions made in Moscow had to be strictly followed by all Communists, everywhere.

Kremlin, The Kremlin

A fortified palace complex at the heart of Moscow, the Kremlin is the seat of power of the Russian government. "The Kremlin" was often used as a shorthand to refer to the entire Soviet government, as in: "The Kremlin objected to the Marshall Plan."

Southern Democrats, Dixiecrat, Dixiecrats

Members of the Democratic Party who reside in the South. After the Civil War, the Democratic Party held a virtual monopoly on the votes of white southerners, who resented the Republican Party for leading the North to victory in the Civil War. Southern Democrats tended to be extremely conservative, especially on issues of race and civil rights. The forging of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal Coaltion—which also included many northern minorities and liberals—created serious tensions with Southern Democrats, who temporarily broke from the party in 1948 to become "Dixiecrats," then permanently flipped to become Republicans after the 1960s.


(verb): Negate an action; disapprove; reprimand; "to just say no"

(noun): A formal reprimand for inappropriate behavior, issued from a legislative body to one of its members

Existential Threat

A military or terrorist threat to the very existence of the nation. Nuclear attack was the existential threat of the Cold War era.

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