The Art of Fear Mongering – America and the Red Scare

Document Based Question Assignment:

This assignment was to choose a topic in history, around any time period or issue, and begin to construct a DBQ project around it. Given that the frame around the assignment was large, almost overwhelmingly so with possibility, our distinguished instructor gave us some pragmatic advice which I found helpful. His advice was to choose a topic that unites two key principles: a topic that is engaging, and a topic that has a profusion of useful and available forms of primary sources.

Keeping those two principles in mind, I began to rack my brain for the intersection where they meet for me. When I began to think about designing this lesson or unit for my current and future students of history, I start by thinking of today. What is going on around us now? What are we in the USA tweeting about and musing about around the water cooler right now? The first thing I thought of was the recent headlines and attention being paid to the Ebola crisis in Africa. Some Americans with access to a radio wave or television show microphone, have seemed intent on riling American’s fear on the topic. While others work to calm the fears of American’s and alleviate possibly unnecessary hysteria. That’s where my brain was when it found it, fear. The American propensity to be afraid. It isn’t a new condition or situation. The world is a scary place no doubt but it often seems to me, with our access to 24 hour news cycles and many hours to fill, fear has transformed itself into a new form on entertainment or viewership scheme. This idea of fear mongering in America caused me to look back in our history to other significant times where American’s were afraid. That is how I ended up at the Red Scare being the focus of my assignment.

Anti-Communist Propaganda
Anti-Communist Propaganda

I believe the Red Scare adequately fulfills the two principles of access to resources and level of engagement. It was a fascinating time of extremes. On one hand you have post-war America, often idolized today as a simpler time bathed in the golden glow of retrospect. While on the other hand it was a fiercely turbulent time in world politics and world history. There were poodle skirts and soda shops to be sure – but also the lingering fear everyone was going to get wiped off the face of the earth and communists were lurking behind every corner.

Key questions I will work to refine and develop for the unit:

  • What is fear mongering in America? What does it look like, does anyone profit from it?
  • Who and what spread the ideas of fear during the Red Scare?
  • Did Americans during the Red Scare and the Cold War have a legitimate reason to be afraid? Why or Why not?
  • Communism still exists in the world today. Why aren’t we raised to be afraid of it anymore? Has something else replaced it?

Reflection:

One concern I have as I craft this unit is that I work to maintain a focus and align my collected materials toward a central theme. There are many avenues one could take when providing primary documents to facilitate learning about the Red Scare and communism. I will endeavor to edit myself and the documents I choose, to make sure they align with the questions I am posing. I also think it would be great to track down some pro-communist propaganda of the time and do my best to weave in both sides of the anti and pro-communist narrative. We shall see how it evolves as I continue to explore the possibilities.

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