in an Increasingly Irrational World
HUAC created to investigate disloyalty
and subversive activity by anyone
suspected of having communist ties.

Walt Disney's Testimony before HUAC

October 1949
China fell to communism;
Mao declares the creation of the
People's Republic of China
Communists entering Beijing in 1949.
February 1950
Wisconsin Republic Senator Joseph McCarthy delivers
"Enemies from Within" speech in Wheeling, WVa
  • How does McCarthy cast his anticommunism in a populist light?
  • Why would McCarthy target who he does, the State Department in particular?
  • Why is McCarthy's rhetoric effective? What fears, sentiments, and beliefs does he invoke?

June 1950
Korean War Begins:
North Korea invades South Korea
to reunify the nation under
the government of the North.

July 1950
Julius Rosenberg arrested, charged with spying;
Ethel arrested several months later.
Both were convicted of spying for the Soviet Union
and executed in 1953. (FBI)
October 1957
USSR lauches Sputnik into orbit.
It is the first successful orbit of the earth by a
man-made satellite and ushers in a new
political, military, scientific and technological era.
   During the late 1950s, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev boasted that his nation had thousands of long-range bombers and new intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had two concerns: national security and avoiding a rapid arms buildup in the U.S. He personally authorized the use of a new high-altitude reconnaissance plane, the U-2—which the Soviets could track by radar but not shoot down—that could determine the numbers of Soviet bombers and missiles. The U-2’s photographs showed that Khrushchev’s boasts (“we will produce missiles like sausages”) were empty: the Soviets had few bombers and even fewer missiles capable of reaching the U.S.

Thus, the concerns over an alleged “missile gap”—an issue Democrats used to criticize Eisenhower as weak on defense—had no validity. The Catch 22: Eisenhower could not publicly reveal this information without acknowledging the spy flights.

In the spring of 1960, the president had to decide whether or not to allow these sensitive missions to continue; he was counting on an upcoming four-power summit conference to set a new tone for U.S/Soviet relations during the last months of his presidency. 

Now, Mr. President, what do you do? *
October 1960
Nikita Khrushchev in a speech before the
UN General Assembly allegedly bangs
his shoe in angry disagreement
with being criticized for
imperialist ventures in Eastern Europe


* On May 1, 1960, the Soviets, now with improved high-altitude missiles, shot down a U-2 flight piloted by CIA agent Francis Gary Powers. Two days later the U.S., assuming that the pilot was dead, released a cover story that it was a research weather plane forced down because of a mechanical failure. On May 7, Khrushchev announced that the pilot was alive and had confessed to being a CIA agent. Two days later, the American secretary of state announced that, under presidential direction, an “extensive program of aerial surveillance” had been conducted over the USSR since 1956. On May 11, Eisenhower acknowledged that he had approved the U-2 flights, an unprecedented admission of spying by a head of state. At the summit talks in Paris, Khrushchev angrily denounced the U.S., and Eisenhower’s hopes that his administration would end on a note of better relations were dashed. However, as a result of the intelligence supplied by U-2 flights, the president did possess an accurate assessment of Soviet military capabilities, which enabled him during his presidency to avoid a huge U.S. arms buildup.