Study Guide

Have You No Sense of Decency? Timeline

By Joseph R. McCarthy, Joseph N. Welch, et al.

Timeline

April 29, 1945

Germany surrenders (World War II)

The European theater of war closed with Germany's surrender. Germany got chopped in half, the eastern part to be overseen by the Soviet Union and the western part by the United States and allied powers. A divided Germany, with its Berlin Wall, became a microcosm of the Cold War.

August 15, 1945

Japan surrenders (World War II)

War in the Pacific theater ended, but not until the United States dropped the first and (to date) only nuclear weapons ever used in war.

January 3, 1947

Joe McCarthy elected to the Senate from Wisconsin

Just in case you were thinking it was exposure to the culture in D.C. that turned McCarthy evil… nope. He beat his opponent, incumbent Robert La Follette, Jr., partly with baseless accusations that he was a war profiteer.

November 24, 1947

The debut of the Hollywood Blacklist

Studio heads decided that anyone who refuses to testify before HUAC wouldn't be hired. All it took was an accusation of Communist sympathies and they could kiss their careers goodbye. People had to write films and plays under pseudonyms in order to get them produced.

June 15, 1948 – May 12, 1949

The Berlin Airlift

As the capital of Germany, Berlin was divided in half despite existing well within the Soviet-controlled eastern section of the country. The Soviets decided they'd like Berlin all to themselves, and closed all roads leading to Berlin "for repairs." The Soviets then blockaded the city, figuring the people would submit to Soviet rule rather than starve.

The United States freaked out and convinced themselves that if Berlin fell to the Communists, so would the rest of Europe. The Berlin Airlift was a huge humanitarian operation where the U.S. and allies dropped food, medicine, and supplies into Berlin. The Soviets now had the option of backing down or starting a war by blasting those planes from the sky. They wisely chose to back down.

August 29, 1949

The Soviet Union has the bomb

The first successful test of a Soviet nuclear weapon. Bizarrely, the United States code-named it "Joe 1," which implies that someone out there did not like someone named Joe.

October 1, 1949

China goes Communist

Mao Zedong, leader of the Chinese Communist Party, formed the People's Republic of China. This was a big deal and stoked fears of the growing global Communist presence.

January 21, 1950

Alger hiss convicted of perjury

Alger Hiss, formerly a high-ranking member of the State Department, was convicted of perjury for lying about his communist sympathies. The charges stemmed from a 1948 accusation at a HUAC hearing.

Yes, "Alger Hiss" was a human being and not someone's pet snake.

February 9, 1950

Wheeling Speech

McCarthy vaulted onto the national stage with his speech in Wheeling, West Virginia. He waved a piece of paper, saying that on it were 205 active Communist Party members in the State Department. No one ever actually got to see that paper.

February 20, 1950

Wait, how many Communists?

In a follow-up speech in front of the Senate, McCarthy said he had a list of 81 people. No word on what happened to the other 124.

March 8, 1950

Bad Tydings

The Senate Subcommittee on the Investigation of the Loyalty of State Department Employees is pretty self-explanatory, though it was mostly known as the Tydings Committee, for its chair, Senator Millard Tydings (D-MD). McCarthy testified before them on this date with nine names of Communists in the State Department (again…no word about what happened to the other 186). They found no truth to his accusations, but that didn't matter. McCarthy got more popular.

June 25, 1950

Korean War begins

The first big proxy war of the Cold War started. What began as a civil war between a capitalist south and a Communist north had much larger implications as the United States joined in to support the south and the Chinese and Russians supported the north.

November 4, 1952

McCarthy reelected

What, you thought he wouldn't be? At the beginning of his term, he was made the chair of the Senate Committee of Operations. He used this position, which oversaw the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, to take over that subcommittee and put it in charge of ferreting out alleged Communists.

February 24, 1953

La Follette kills himself

Remember Robert La Follette? The guy McCarthy beat to join the Senate? Well, he shot himself. He had told his friends he was worried he'd have to testify before McCarthy, but he'd suffered from depression for much of his life. We report, you decide.

July 27, 1953

The Korean War ends

The Korean War came to a halt after three years with two Koreas existing side-by-side. M*A*S*H, a show about the Korean war, lasted for eleven years. Go figure.

August 31, 1953

McCarthy goes after the Army

For the first time. Here, he was looking into the infiltration of the Army Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, NJ. Needless to say, nothing came of it.

November 9, 1953

The one thing that came of it

Okay, one thing came of it. The Washington Post published a series of reports by reporter Murrey Marder. The substance of these reports? That McCarthy's accusations about the Army were baseless.

March 9, 1954

Edward R. Murrow pulls a Jon Stewart

In a bit that would become famous with The Daily Show, reporter Murrow used McCarthy speeches to have the senator debate himself. This was a great way to point out that there was nothing substantial underneath all the bluster.

April 22, 1954

Army-McCarthy Hearings Commence

The Senate looked into McCarthy's accusations toward the Army. And…McCarthy's slide into irrelevance begins…

June 9, 1954

Welch drops the hammer

This is when Joseph Welch inquires as to whether McCarthy has any decency left. The answer appears to have been a resounding no, given that most people present stood up and cheered.

December 2, 1954

Senate condemns McCarthy

A formal censure would have had some actual teeth, but future president Richard Nixon took that part out. Instead, the Senate voted 67-22 to condemn McCarthy. It was a slap on the wrist in practice, but McCarthy's power was gone.

1955

John McClellan takes over

John L. McClellan, Senator from Arkansas, took over the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations after McCarthy was dethroned. While he continued to investigate the Army (and expanded into investigations of Eisenhower appointees), the committee didn't have the same kind of power without McCarthy at the helm. Maybe he just had too much decency.

May 2, 1957

McCarthy Dies

He died of cirrhosis of the liver, probably brought on by alcoholism.

1969

HUAC Renamed

HUAC got its name changed to the House Internal Security Committee and quit issuing subpoenas. Guess they woke up to the irony of the "Un-American" part.

January 14, 1975

HUAC (well, HISC) disbanded

The committee formerly known as HUAC was formally disbanded.