McCarthyism and the Cold War

The rising tide of anti-communist sentiment and the "outbreak" of the Cold War were overshadowed by the Korean conflict and the draft in University student's lives. Simply, the real possibility of being drafted and having to fight weighed heavier on the minds of students than the more distant fervor Senator McCarthy and cohorts were creating in Washington. In some respects, McCarthyism was to the faculty what the draft was to the students--a force with life altering power. However, the number of faculty members blacklisted at the University is not known. Student opinion on the rise of anti-communist activity maintained the same cynical humor as with the draft.

The "Virginia Spectator" offered this take on Congress' efforts to, cast the searing light of truth on those communists who have insidiously infiltrated into (among other things) the motion picture industry....In light of some [recent movies]...some of these low-down, lying propagandists for the Comitern have evidently gotten their project well under way....they are trying to bore us...a diabolical plot to nauseate the American public, making them weak and passive so that they may take over the entire nation.

For a strictly non-partisan viewpoint, our source is that genial, ever-tolerant champion of the pure unbiased truth, Walter Winchell...Mr. Winchell, and his courageous sponsor, Jergens Lotion, have given to the great American people their weapons; facts....[exposing communists] Jack Hunter, ubiquitous Topics city editor who said, "Sure, I'm a columnist, and proud of it"....

THE SPECTATOR (we aren't afraid to name names) co-operates with all the freedom-loving truth-seeking peoples, will fearlessly continue to expose all those who would destroy our way of life...we shall print (facts) without bias or prejudice, just like all the big magazines. Our first objective is to remove all vodka from the shelves of the ABC stores, and from this, to a complete purge of everyone who does not believe, as we do, in absolute freedom, truth, capitalism, fraternalism, botulism, embolism, and hyper-thyroidism. University students and readers, YOU can rely of on the SPECTATOR!

Accompanying this diatribe is a comic depicting a crowd of people in a waiting room preparing to testify to the Senate Un-American Activities Committee in which a man holding a bottle tells an appalled witness, "All right, so it is Vodka, so what?"(see appendix). The same comic is rerun in the December 1950 issue. The student newspaper had little to say on the affairs of the Un-American Affairs Committees, not even the famed Jack Hunter--who wrote mostly about sports. McCarthyism seemed just another folly of ungentlemanly bureaucrats. The University's tradition served to check anti-communist fervor amongst the students. However, no communist affiliated groups existed in the 1950s at the University as in the 1930s; had one, it surely would not have met with the openness the Liberal Discussion Group or A.S.U. did twenty years before.

The Cold War, too, garnered little attention as compared to Korea and the Draft, but, as with McCarthyism, students were not unaware or uninterested in these national and international questions. The student paper, "College Topics" and later "The Cavalier Daily", reported news from the Associated Press wire. It even dabbled in a point-counter-point feature entitled "The World Outside" in the spring of 1950--though the first issue tackled was euthanasia. Yet, a series of events commemorating the one hundred twenty fifth anniversary of the opening of the University to students was opened by a three speaker debate on the question "Do we Have an Alternative to the Cold War?". Students clearly were interested in the maintenance of peace, but the climate was not sympathetic towards pacifism.

The fanaticism of McCarthyism and hard line cold warriors did not thrive at the University. While the school's conservativism might have flourished in the climate of the 1950s, students resisted the national trend. Some students likened the hysteria over communism to a witch hunt--people were getting worked up over little real threat (see appendix "The Red Flag"). McCarthyism in particular simply required "sticking one's neck out"; an unappealing posture for the coat and tie clad Virginia gentlemen. While the University's strong sense of tradition kept most students from becoming champions of liberal causes in the thirties, it also restrained conservatism in the 1950s.