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"McCarthyism" is a term whose origins are traceable to the period that spanned from roughly the late 1940s to the late 1950s, when there was intense, widespread suspicion that Communists and Soviet agents had infiltrated the U.S. government and a host of American institutions. The term itself was named after U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was very vocal and aggressive in attempting to uncover this infiltration. Critics claimed that McCarthy's allegations were unfounded or exaggerated. In the aftermath of McCarthy's heyday, the term "McCarthyism" took on a more general meaning and was used to connote any situation where someone was accused of fearmongering in order to promote a particular agenda.

Historical evidence now shows, however, that many of Senator McCarthy's claims were correct. As this September 24, 2003 RealNews item, titled "
KGB Exonerates McCarthyism," puts it:

The opening of the KGB archives and the release of the VENONA intercepts (decoded Soviet KGB and GRU traffic) proved that in the 1950's Senator Joseph McCarthy was absolutely right about the extensive Soviet penetration of the U.S. government in all the most sensitive sections and its danger to America. According to the KGB archives, the NKVD had 221 agents in the Roosevelt administration in April 1941 and the Soviet military GRU probably had a like number. [McCarthy] was proved right that the Communist Party U.S.A. was an arm of the Soviet intelligence apparatus and [that] the Soviet Union considered the U.S. as their "main enemy."

In his February 26, 2003 National Review ariticle, "Two Cheers for "McCarthyism"?," Jonah Goldberg elaborates:

One of the most difficult things for a conservative to write about is McCarthyism.... The problem is simple: McCarthyism has come to mean anything liberals or leftists consider to be unfair, unjust, un-nice. It's simply another example of the general phenomenon described by George Orwell when he wrote in "Politics and the English Language" that "The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something not desirable.'" ...

What makes McCarthyism so hard to discuss is that McCarthy behaved like a jerk, but he was also right.... [He] was a lout, generally speaking. But he was on the right side of history and, in a broad sense, of morality as well....

[W]herever you come down on McCarthyism, Communism, and the rest is a matter of opinion. What is a matter of fact — unmitigated, irrefutable, undeniable fact — is that there were hundreds of Communists working for Moscow, directly or indirectly, in the United States during the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. The Rosenbergs were guilty and got what they deserved. Alger Hiss too. Victor Perlo, Judith Coplon, Morton Sobell, William Perl, Alfred Sarant, Joel Barr, and Harry Gold were all either pawns or lackeys of a foreign and evil foe. We know the Hollywood Ten were all Communists, but what else they were we can't know for sure, because they believed taking the Fifth was more important than protecting the country.... The American Communist Party (CP-USA) was in fact a Soviet franchise.

In other words, you are free to describe McCarthyism as a witchhunt if and only if you are willing to concede that actual witches existed in our midst. The evidence — from declassified Venona transcripts, Soviet archives, memoirs, etc. — is still mounting, but what we have so far is plenty in itself. In 1996, Nicholas Von Hoffman wrote an essay for the Washington Post that caused no small amount of hysteria on the American Left, which has been milking its myths and denial for decades. McCarthyism was the product of the "paranoid style" in American politics. There were no witches — only zealots and brown-shirted bullies. The playwright Lillian Hellman declared: "The McCarthy group — a loose term for all the boys, lobbyists, congressmen, State Department bureaucrats, CIA operators — chose the anti-Red scare with perhaps more cynicism than Hitler picked anti-Semitism."

Yet, as Hoffman reluctantly conceded, these assessments were in turn lies, myths, and carefully constructed distortions. The reality was that "in a global sense McCarthy was on to something. McCarthy may have exaggerated the scope of the problem but not by much…. The Age of McCarthyism, it turns out, was not the simple witch hunt of the innocent by the malevolent as two generations of high school and college students have been taught."...
Major Introductory Resource:

The Last Refuge of the Left: McCarthy's Ghost (a chapter from Destructive Generation)
By Peter Collier and David Horowitz

McCarthyism: Waging the Cold War in America
By M. Stanton Evans
May 30, 1997

Two Cheers for "McCarthyism"?
By Jonah Goldberg
February 26, 2003

Additional Key Resources:

What Conservatives Need to Know About Joe McCarthy
By Ron Radosh
September 30, 2009

Joe McCarthy Invented the Internet
By Ann Coulter
December 13, 2007

At Last, the Final Word on Joe McCarthy
By William Rusher
December 6, 2007

They'll Never Forgive You
By Ann Coulter
December 6, 2007

The Enemy Within
By Ron Radosh
December 5, 2007

McCarthyism: The Rosetta Stone of Liberal Lies
By Ann Coulter
November 7, 2007

KGB Exonerates McCarthyism
By Real News
September 24, 2003

Symposium: Treason?
By Jamie Glazov
July 25, 2003

The Trouble with "Treason"
By David Horowitz
July 8, 2003

The Red 'Scare' Was Real
By Ronald Radosh
July 10, 2002

The Persistence of Anti-Anti-Communism
By Ronald Radosh
July 11, 2001

Other Resources:

Obama's Communists
By Alan Caruba
September 4, 2009

The Debate Over Soviet Espionage
By Ronald Radosh
August 12, 2009

Documents Show Joe McCarthy Was Right, Author Says
By Terry Jeffrey and Michael Chapman
November 7, 2007

The "Good Old Days" of Communism?
By Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson
July 30, 2007

The Forgotten McCarthyite
By Ron Capshaw
July 2, 2007

The New McCarthyism
By John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr
April 11, 2007

Archbishop 'Grey'
By Matthew Kaminski
January 15, 2007

A New Look at Communism in America
By Pratik Chougule
August 1, 2006

Father of the A-Bomb
What Have We Learned about J. Robert Oppenheimer?

By Harvey Klehr
June 6, 2005

Historians in Denial About Communism
By Jacob Gershman
January 6, 2004

The True Story of American Stalinism
By Stephen Schwartz
November 18, 2003

The Real Menace
By Eric Fettman
May 8, 2003

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