A Climate of Fear
On May 1, 1950, communist forces invaded Mosinee, Wisconsin. Early in the morning members of the Council of People’s Commissars arrested the town’s mayor and shot the police chief after he refused to surrender. The communists then nationalized the town’s major factory, a paper mill, and raided local churches, the high school, and the library. Local restaurants were forced to serve a limited menu of potato soup, black bread, and coffee. Stores enforced rationing and the secret police interrogated local citizens. The town’s newspaper, the Mosinee Times, published a special edition under a new name, The Red Star. The new communist paper extolled the virtues of communism and praised the leadership of the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin. The paper also included proclamations issued by the Council of People’s Commissars, including measures that ended private property, voided the United States Constitution, and created a new labor code that included provisions outlawing strikes and demanding extra hours from employees without an increase in pay. The communists staged a parade through the center of town with participants carrying signs with pro-communist messages, including “Competition is waste” and “Religion is the Opium of the People.”
How had communism been able to gain a foothold in America’s heartland? Fortunately for the residents of Mosinee, the events of May 1st were not real. Instead, they were a part of a dramatization created by the American Legion called “Day Under Communism.” While the communist takeover might not have been real, the sense of fear inspired by the day’s events was.
During the 1950s, Americans lived in a climate of fear as the threat of communism and nuclear war loomed large. The Cold War fueled this anxiety. The Cold War was the name given to the conflict that emerged between the Soviet Union and the United States immediately following World War II. The war was “cold” in the sense that it did not lead to any direct battlefield engagements between the two countries. Instead, the war fueled international tension and ideological conflict as the United States and the Soviet Union struggled to gain spheres of influence around the world. This protracted struggle would shape United States foreign policy and influence all aspects of American society for nearly half a century.
During the 1964 presidential election, Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign played on Americans’ fears and ran a highly controversial television commercial called “Daisy Girl” or “Peace, Little Girl.” The ad ran only once before being pulled off the air.