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“Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been . . .” – Guilt By Association – 1949 – Past Daily Reference Room

Pointing fingers
Fingers of suspicion were everywhere.
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Fingers of suspicion, guilt by association – all elements of the era known as The Red Scare. The fear of subversion, the fear that America was going to be turned into a Communist regime, just like what was happening all over Eastern Europe. That our country would be undermined by sinister forces, bent on our destruction – and of course, they were everywhere – they were dug in and they were ready.

And it was an era of distrust and division. People who knew people who knew people were now objects of suspicion. It was an era of loyalty oaths and ruined careers, based very often on innuendo and not actual fact.

It was an era that culminated in the infamous Army/McCarthy Hearings on Capitol Hill in 1954 and one of the first government hearings to be broadcast in their entirety on both radio and Television – the only one that garnered as much, if not more attention were the Kefauver Crime Committee Hearings of 1950-1951.

But the issue, and the issue as part of this discussion on the weekly radio series University Of Chicago Roundtable, was one of guilt by association. That you didn’t actually have to be one of the sinister forces or one of the perpetrators, you merely had to know, directly or indirectly someone vaguely connected – or you merely expressed sympathy.

And it extended beyond the Red Scare, it encompassed many different groups and many different aspects of our society. In 1949 the legendary German Conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler and German pianist Walter Gieseking had U.S. tours rescinded because of allegations of Nazi activity during the war, even though both had been cleared of any wrongdoing – the damage had been done.

But it also extended to other groups and other political/ideological movements at the time – some benign and some malignant.

To get an idea of the extent this guilt by association existed, here is a discussion of that rather sordid, and ironically somewhat topical subject from The Chicago University Roundtable of March 13, 1949.

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