America and the Red Scare

Home Education Unit Plans America and the Red Scare America and the Red Scare

America and the Red Scare

This lesson was designed for students to learn about the Red Scare portion of the Cold War era in American history. Students will begin by reading two publications: one with anti-Communist sentiments, and one with anti-McCarthy leanings. Both authors introduce a particular concept of America's strengths and purpose, which they then accuse their opposition of violating. Students will examine the authors' motivations in writing these editorials and compare/contrast their arguments. They will then use the knowledge gained in class discussion to inform their arguments for a mock trial between Senator Joseph McCarthy's camp and those accused of Communist ties.

If time permits, the teacher may choose to conclude the lesson by showing the 2005 film Good Night and Good Luck, which demonstrates American journalists' responses to the McCarthy hearings and raises questions of the responsibility of the press in interrogating the political establishment.

Essential Questions

What role do multiple causations play in describing a historic event?
Why is time and space important to the study of history?


Students will:

  • Understand who Senator McCarthy was and be able to discuss the impact of his anti-Communist campaign on American society.
  • Be able to analyze a primary source by discussing its various points and then comparing/contrasting it with a different contemporary source.
  • Actively engage with the concept of civil liberties by discussing the appropriateness of governments suspending these inherent rights in the name of public safety.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

  1. The teacher will provide background information on the Red Scare era and the different groups involved, such as the House Un-American Activities Committee, Senator McCarthy's camp, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
  2. Students will read the American Women Against Communism mailer and fill out the appropriate side of Question 1 on the Document Analysis Worksheet. The class will then read the Civil Rights Congress's "Let Freedom Ring" editorial and fill out the other half of Question 1.
  3. As a class, students will discuss the two publications, examining the authors' motivations and comparing/contrasting their arguments. They will then answer Question 2 on the Document Analysis Worksheet.
  4. The teacher will organize a mock trial, with students acting as judge, jury, and lawyers for the prosecution and defense in the style of a McCarthy/HUAC hearing. Students will offer arguments for and against the charges of Communist sympathies and treason. The defense and prosecution groups will each present an opening statement, and then answer questions from the judge/jury.
  5. The teacher will conclude the lesson by leading students in a discussion of past incidents of backlash against a minority such as the Salem witch trials or the Japanese internment during WWII. The class should then discuss how the same major issues and concerns are present in contemporary politics. The teacher should ask students: Is it ever okay for a government to restrict its citizens' civil liberties in order to maintain order and peace? Do you agree with Benjamin Franklin that, "They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety?"
  6. As an optional third class period, teachers may show students the film Good Night and Good Luck, a 2005 docudrama about journalist Edward R. Murrow's challenge to Sen. McCarthy's anti-Communist crusade.
  7. Students will then write a 2-3 page response paper, contrasting the two factions and their points of view. 


ACLU: The American Civil Liberties Union is an organization whose stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States". They work mainly through legal action and lobbying.

Communism: A theory or system of social organization in which all property belongs to the state and all economic and social activity is controlled by a single political party.

HUAC: The House Un-American Activities Committee was an investigative committee of the House of Representatives. It investigated American organizations and people accused of disloyalty or Communist ties.

McCarthyism: The practice of publicly accusing somebody of Communist activities or sympathies, especially without real evidence to support the accusation.

Sedition: Actions or words intended to incite rebellion against a government.

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