As World War Two came to an end the United States began to assert itself on the international scene. No longer would the country sit back and confine itself to a foreign policy based on the antiquated Monroe Doctrine; no longer would the nation be steeped in isolationism. However, with this new role also came new distraction, new problems, and new enemies. By the end of the 1940's the United States had dived head first into the Cold War, a conflict that would endure for the second half of the 20th century. This conflict would be fueled by one of the greatest threats to our democratic life; communism. More than ideologically different, communism would challenge our perception of right and wrong, moral and immoral, and of friend and foe. On the home front, an equally important battleground in the Cold War, a fierce battle would ensue; a veritable witch-hunt disguised as patriotism. Joseph McCarthy, the junior Senator from Michigan, would bring to the nation a stand on communism that could hardly be ignored and charges that required attention. In his public speeches McCarthy was the voice of a movement. Although the Senator was seeking only political advancement in a movement already heading toward its own demise, McCarthy would nonetheless define the role government would play in combating communism on U.S. soil.
In opposition to McCarthy stood Edward R. Murrow who dared to attack the public giant via the airwaves and risked his own stature as a respected journalist and newsman. The battle that took place on air would be instrumental in defining what America ought to be. Furthermore, the standards of journalism created by Murrow would define the role of television and the media as a source of information.
This unit will explore historical topics linked to this final confrontation. It is impossible to fully grasp the motives of McCarthy in a vacuum, and an exploration of the Cold War, its causes and implications is necessary to understand McCarthy. Likewise, exploring the history of television, the news media, and the ideas of the first amendment is implicit to understand Murrow and his own crusade.
The end product of the unit is a pretrial indictment hearing of Joseph McCarthy on charges of inciting undue fear among the citizens of the United States. As a classroom activity, a trial, or its close equivalent, is a wonderful assessment tool. The trial allows students to wrestle with complicated and difficult ideas and to truly evaluate the person being tried and examine all the complexities of that person. Trials, therefore, need not be exact replicas of the justice system. It is possible to create such an assessment; however, in the end, the lesson then lies in how a trial functions and not in the evaluation of the historical figure. Modifications of a standard trial format are acceptable, and often necessary, to fit the specific needs of the teacher and the particular group of students in the classroom. It is imperative that the teacher creates a trial that can be argued clearly and adequately for both the prosecution and the defense. Therefore, in selecting the historical figure, the charges to be brought before the tribunal, and in some cases the evidence that students have access to, the teacher must use great care. If a fair trial is to occur at the end of the unit, then adequate and balanced resources must be utilized throughout the unit.