Historiography of the Cultural Cold War

by Cole Bates

The Cold War dominated the entire world for much of the twentieth century. The United States was greatly affected by not just the political implications, but the cultural implications as well. Scholarly work has long focused on the political aspect, but recent historians have begun exploring the cultural influence across all aspects of life. Recent historians have focused heavily on social and cultural history regarding the Cold War, while historians of the past focused primarily on the political aspect. By combining both the political and cultural historiography, it is clear that anticommunism was used as a means to reinforce the traditional values that had long been adhered to and would functionally be used to punish anyone stepping outside of this normative society.


John E. Haynes’ work, Red Scare or Red Menace?: American Communism and Anticommunism in the Cold War Era (1996), is the most summative work on Cold War political implications within the United States. Haynes broadens his analysis of Cold War anticommunism and links it to political tactics and sentiments of the 1930s and follows this common thread throughout the work. Haynes argues that “anti-Communists have been defined by what they are against rather that what they are for” and the activity of anti-Communists has been seen through different agendas.[1] Both major political parties took different approaches to anticommunism because of prior political circumstances.

Haynes begins his work by explaining the original political circumstances that likely led to the increased politicization of anticommunism. Traditionally, experts mark the beginning of the Cold War and its mentalities as the end of World War II; however, Haynes shows links to policies from the 1930s and the early 1940s that directly lead to anticommunism policy following World War II. Haynes charges the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration as the root of anticommunism policies and sentiments that dominated the political arena for much of the 1950s.

Although Americans had been suspicious of communism since its implementation in Russia following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the mistrust subsides and shifts towards fascism as Adolf Hitler rises to power in Germany.[2] Communists identified a common enemy with the rise of fascism and formed the “Popular Front” at the direction of Moscow. American Communists put “aside their revolutionary rhetoric and sought common ground with liberals by supporting President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms at home and a foreign policy that opposed fascist aggression abroad.”[3] Along the same lines, American Communists began dissolving their labor unions and began joining the powerful mainstream labor unions as well as entering politics under the Democrat ticket.

In congruence with the rise of fascism abroad, American politicians feared an attempt by fascists to infiltrate American society and ultimately overthrow it. Politicians on both sides of the aisle looked at the Spanish Civil War as a warning sign and began the process of defending America from the “fifth column” of fascism that had infiltrated Spanish society. These antifascist political actions directly influenced the anti-Communist political actions that would occur after 1945.[4]

Haynes argues, the erosion of civil liberties and “guilt by association” policies of the Cold War era can be linked directly to antifascist movements within the United States in the prior decades. In 1936 the Roosevelt administration began increasing the power of the FBI to investigate subversive activities of openly fascist groups and suspected fascist individuals.[5] These groups and individuals soon became subject to censorship and increased scrutiny by the federal government. As a result, civil liberties in America were unfairly limited on certain individuals. “Guilt by association” was the next method that was used in both antifascist and anticommunist contexts. Typically, the American fascists fell on the far-right extremity of American politics. As a result of this, Democratic politicians began using antifascism as a weapon against their Republican opponents.[6]

President Roosevelt quickly implemented antifascist attacks into his political rhetoric during the beginning of World War II. He attacked both Huey Long and the America First Committee as being “Nazi agents” seeking to subvert America from within.[7] These attacks were widely successful which led to the common use of this rhetoric becoming targeted towards political enemies. This primarily took shape as Roosevelt wanted to pursue a more active role in Europe by increasing the government aid to Britain and France. Many Republicans in Congress began taking anti-interventionist and isolationist stances. New Deal Democrats began suggesting these Republicans were secretly loyal to Nazi Germany or were unwitting accomplices and should not be trusted.[8]

The American Communists, under the Popular Front movement, supported both the erosion of civil liberties and the persecution of Republicans by the Roosevelt administration. Things drastically changed with the allegiance of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939. The Popular Front called for the Roosevelt administration to stay neutral in the imperialist war in Europe.[9] American toleration for communism shifted dramatically as a result. Many Popular Front members left their communist beliefs behind and became New Deal Democrats. The Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) was no longer supported from the top down of American society. However, the CPUSA soon changed their views after Hitler betrayed his pact with the Soviet Union and began calling for American intervention in World War II. This action led to the American public’s further distrust in communists. While the Roosevelt administration supported American Communists again, many politicians had become disillusioned by the lack of loyalty the communists had shown. They had shown their loyalties ultimately lied with Stalin and the Soviet Union.[10]

These resentments of communist disloyalty carried over into the postwar era politics of the United States. President Roosevelt was seen as weak on communism after his appeasement of Stalin towards Polish postwar policy. Poland had been free prior to Nazi invasion, but Roosevelt and Stalin reached an agreement that essentially transferred control of Poland to the Soviet Union. Republicans quickly seized this opportunity to smear New Deal Democrats as being communist sympathizers, using the Polish debacle and previous support of CPUSA and Popular Front to prove this to the American public.[11] Despite President Truman’s staunch anticommunism foreign policy efforts in postwar Europe, Republicans began an all-out offensive against New Deal Democrats. President Truman’s administration drew significant ire from the very public trial of Alger Hiss on the grounds of perjury regarding being a spy for the Soviet Union that had infiltrated the American government. Truman and Acheson very publicly defended Hiss and denied his involvement, despite significant evidence uncovered by Senator Richard Nixon and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).[12]

The concept of HUAC began in the 1930s because of antifascist sentiments. Within a decade, HUAC would serve as the primary force behind anticommunism and its enforcement across American culture. They set their sights on Hollywood and investigated communist ties within Hollywood out of a fear that communist propaganda would be broadcast to the American public. This investigation led to a blanket blacklist being used against suspected communists across all American media.[13] HUAC’s largest success was sullying the New Deal Democrat image following the Hiss trial leading to the eventual landslide victory of Dwight Eisenhower over Adlai Stevenson in the 1952 Presidential election. Senator Joseph McCarthy and Senator Richard Nixon led this charge that ultimately convinced the American people that the Democrats were weak towards communism.

With the constant barrage of anticommunism in the media, Democrats had to reshape their image. They moved away from the idealism of the New Deal era and focused heavily on supporting anticommunism in their own fashion. The “vital center” was soon introduced into the Democratic platform and as a result, the candidates became much more moderate. The Democrats had to sever all ties to communism out of fear of being accused of being a communist sympathizer. As a result, civil rights groups and labor unions also had to shift their image to prevent accusations of communist ties.[14]

The tactics that both parties were now using had taken their roots from Roosevelt era policies that targeted fascists. These policies were revived in the Cold War era and heavily expanded upon. Under the Truman administration, the Smith Act was used against CPUSA and its leadership, resulting in the Supreme Court upholding the initial ruling in Dennis v. U.S. (1951). Under the Eisenhower administration, the McCarran Act led to the creation of the Subversive Activities Control Board that effectively forced groups with communist ties to report to the government on their members and finances. The precedent for this was set with the Roosevelt administration using the same tactics against fascist groups, most notably the German American Bund.[15]

Although Haynes agrees that both the Smith Act and McCarran Act were influential on anti-Communist sentiment during the early Cold War, he argues that the personnel security programs implemented under President Truman in 1947 and greatly expanded under President Eisenhower had a far greater impact on American society.[16] To combat accusations of communists having infiltrated the government under the Democrats’ watch, President Truman began requiring loyalty pledges and heavy scrutinization into the personal lives of federal employees and future applicants. While these programs were deemed as ineffective for their original purpose, the American public was greatly affected by the intrusion into their personal lives. Marginalized groups were further alienated, and traditional family values were heavily encouraged. Conformity was necessary to avoid the possible label of “subversive” and losing everything.[17]

Haynes declares that the political weaponization of anticommunism had both positive and negative effects on American society. Through anti-Communist reasoning, the Interstate Highway Act was passed and a massive increase in expenditure on schools occurred. Negative effects included Hoover’s attempt to tie civil rights groups to communism and the persistence of McCarthyism among the far right.[18]

Haynes thoroughly demonstrates throughout his work that the political ramifications from the 1930s great affected anticommunist movements in the 1940s and 1950s. These political actions not only changed the political landscape of the United States, but also the culture of the American public. American citizens were encouraged to conform and live traditional lives to avoid raising suspicion and being targeted by the government as communists themselves. Haynes proves many of his arguments using Soviet documents acquired after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Venona Project papers, and governmental documents spanning the 1930s-1960s.

K.A. Cuordileone’s ““Politics in an Age of Anxiety”: Cold War Political Culture and the Crisis in American Masculinity, 1949-1960 (2000) builds on Haynes’ political arguments but ties them into a perceived “cultural crisis” of masculinity that America was facing during the early Cold War period. Cuordileone’s primary argument focuses on the language adopted by politicians during the Cold War that reflected societal views on gender expectations. Cuordileone primarily uses the work of sociologists of the period and Arthur Schlesinger’s The Vital Center (1949) to prove her arguments.

With the shift towards anticommunism by political officials, their language began to change. They typically described liberals as being “soft” on communism and Republicans as being “hard.”[19] The word choice was symbolic of masculinity that caused widespread anxiety of the American people’s perception of masculine ideals. Republicans began depicting New Deal Democrats as being “feminized” and “soft” which were the same adjectives they used to describe communism.

Cuordileone notes that it became important for liberalism to distance itself from Communism.[20] The New Deal Democrats were perceived as being less masculine because of their ties to high society and Ivy League educations. Cuordileone argues that Democrats to leave this image in the past and move to a more center political attitude and prove themselves to be masculine and strong. This transformation would finally be complete with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 after the two failed campaigns of Adlai Stevenson.

These fears of the perception of masculinity carried over into American culture. Men were encouraged to exude “manly bravado” and to stay strong to fight communists domestically.[21] However, according to Schlesinger, American culture was perceived as becoming less masculine as the idea of “togetherness” and homogenization persisted throughout the 1950s.[22] Cuordileone further explains Schlesinger’s argument by underscoring that while many blamed women in society for this “feminization” of America, he declares this as untrue. Women were not the reason for this degradation of American society, but “the group” mentality was.[23] Group mentality had taken away from American ingenuity and caused society to become complacent and the Republicans were solely responsible for this.

Society in the Cold War era began to target reasons for this “feminization.” The initial target was women. The argument of the time focused solely on women being in the workforce and being domineering at home, emasculating men in both arenas. The other group targeted was the homosexual community. After the Kinsey report in 1948, the American public feared “sexual chaos in American culture.”[24] The target of these fears was the homosexual community and many alleged that male homosexuality was caused by “the burdens of manhood and thus a flight from masculinity.”[25] This fear “loomed over manhood discourse” for most of the early Cold War.[26]

Republican politicians and religious leaders, such as Reverend Billy Graham, linked homosexuality, and sexual perversion to communism. They argued that liberals had allowed homosexuals to prosper within American society, leading to their subversion by communists. This led politicians of the era to call for “sexual containment for the containment of Communism.”[27] As a result of this, attacks on politicians’ sexuality became common on both sides of the aisle. Victims of this included Joseph McCarthy/Roy Cohn, Adelai Stevenson, and Alger Hiss.

Cuordileone’s overall argument depicts American society as fearing a collapse into “weakness” and “femininity” that is underscored by the political rhetoric of the time. Democrats were the primary targets of this, but due in large part to Schlesinger’s Vital Center, they absorbed the attacks and became less liberal and more “hard.” Schlesinger’s argument regarding conformity as the reason for “feminization” proved to be an effective point as the Republican reign of the 1950s was depicted as “dull” and “boring” by the new era of Democrats in the 1960s.[28] This change gave way to the “strong” liberal, John F. Kennedy, winning the 1960 election and reshaping the image of American leadership while reinforcing the individual American’s self-image.[29]

“Booting a Tramp: Charlie Chaplin, the FBI, and the Construction of the Subversive Image in Red Scare America” (2003), by John Sbardellati and Tony Shaw, furthers the argument Haynes makes regarding anticommunism encroaching into American culture. Sbardellati and Shaw use a case study of the FBI’s investigations into Charlie Chaplin to argue that anti-Communist sentiments greatly influenced the popular culture of the era. The evidence used is based on news reports regarding the investigations and FBI documents.

J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI was aware of the use of propaganda abroad and feared that Hollywood could be a primary target for communist infiltration. Chaplin had raised suspicion since his immigration to America decades before the Cold War and was targeted beginning in the late 1940s. His “crimes” included political support of communist regimes, sexual subversion, and refusing American citizenship.[30]

According to FBI documents, Charlie Chaplin had long supported groups that were “fronts” for communism and being linked to known communists. Chaplin denies this by pleading ignorance to political affiliations of the people around him. However, Chaplin had supported the U.S/Soviet allegiance in World War II.[31] This tie became the crux of Hoover’s investigation. Chaplin felt like he was being unfairly scapegoated due to his political views and his fame. Despite communist media support of Chaplin, no charges of political subversion could be proven. Chaplin was subpoenaed to testify in front of HUAC in 1947 but blacklisting him served no purpose as he was “too independent.”[32] Other tactics would have to be pursued to stifle Charlie Chaplin within American society. The FBI began making charges of “sexual perversion” against Chaplin and eventually caused him to flee America and have his immigration status revoked. This tactic worked amongst conservative groups within America and Charlie Chaplin’s reputation had been tarnished.[33] Society upheld their gender and sexual views, and Chaplin went against both societal norms.

Sbarellati and Shaw use this case study to show how effective the anti-Communist political rhetoric of the era was. Charlie Chaplin was one of the most popular figures in America, but he was still vulnerable to the strict societal norms of the era. Anticommunism had made its way into pop culture and was highly effective in changing the perceptions of the American public. Anticommunism greatly changed American culture.

Mary Dudziak’s 2004 work, “Brown as a Cold War Case” focuses primarily how anticommunism affected the Civil Rights Movement. Dudziak exclusively argues that the Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954 was directly influenced by anticommunism and the reputation of America within the international community. She uses the case itself and international correspondence regarding segregation in America as the basis of her argument.

Dudziak asserts that the American focus on anticommunism “gave civil rights activists important leverage” by allowing the Soviet Union to depict America as unfree for minorities and the United States government trying to repair this image.[34] This forced the hand of the government to work with civil rights groups, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored (NAACP), to enact social change. Not only did social change begin to happen, but the red baiting of these organizations proved highly ineffective.[35]

The results of Brown allowed the American government to film school integration and ultimately “came as a relief to the State Department.”[36] American racial progress could now be used a propaganda piece. The government went to great lengths to protect this image. The greatest test was in 1957 at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Much of the South had supported segregation, but the federal government forced the observation of Brown. President Eisenhower sent the U.S. Army into Little Rock to force integration and “successfully protected the image of American democracy” while not actually desegregating schools.[37] Dudziak uses this example to show how “the Cold War simultaneously harmed the movement and created an opportunity for limited reform.”[38]

John Drabble’s 2004 work “To Ensure Domestic Tranquility: the FBI, COINTELPRO-WHITE HATE and Political Discourse” shows another side of the FBI and liberal communism that had not been explored by previous historians. By 1960, Democrats had taken back the White House and brought their new anticommunism sentiments with them. Throughout the 1950s, the FBI had primarily targeted leftist groups, but with the political and cultural changes, they set their sights on rightist groups – particularly the Ku Klux Klan. Drabble uses memoirs of prominent politicians and FBI documents to prove his argument.

Although the FBI had tried to discredit civil rights groups as being communist fronts, a large swatch of the American public could not believe this.[39] As civil rights progressed, groups in the American South began to push back through vigilantism and racist rhetoric. However, most Southerners did not support these groups and saw them as “un-American.”[40] The Soviet Union began using this racial violence as a propaganda message, embarrassing the United States internationally. This notion unified the liberals, Libertarians, and traditional conservatives to label the KKK and its affiliates as subversive and tie them to communism.[41]

The FBI was then called to “protect domestic tranquility” by delegitimizing the KKK throughout the United States. They began using the same tactics they had used throughout 1950s and leaked compromising information about the leaders and declaring the KKK as being “unwitting” accomplice of Communists.[42] The American people began believing the KKK was an equal threat to American culture as Black Nationalists and criminality, further strengthening the anticommunism sentiments of the era and the new form of liberalism that had emerged.[43] In retaliation, the leadership of the KKK began trying to combat the government by accusing them of communism through increased government intervention in the American public.[44] Ultimately, by 1964 the racial violence had made the KKK appear as subversive by both political parties and the FBI had become successful in destabilizing an organization through anticommunism.

“Out of Chinatown and into the Suburbs: Chinese Americans and the Politics of Cultural Citizenship in Early Cold War America” (2006), by Cindy I-Fen Cheng, introduces the idea of a multicultural middle-class that began to form in the early Cold War period. Through multiple sources regarding Asian Americans in America and articles from the San Francisco Chronicle, Cheng argues that Asian Americans were more easily accepted into white suburbia than other races. Asian Americans had begun conforming to the gender and sexual norms of the time and increasingly moved to the suburbs.

Cheng effectively argues that suburbanization had not fixed “the place of race in U.S. society” but involved its negotiation. Her argument mainly focuses on Chinese Americans and how the women were responsible for disproving the stereotypes and assimilating into heterosexual nuclear families.[45] White Americans had held beliefs of Chinese immigrants as being “hypersexual” and having a culture that promoted prostitution and promiscuity.

As the housing boom began following the end of World War II, white inhabitants of urban areas began moving to suburbs and settling down in nuclear families. Chinese Americans soon followed, after assimilating to “traditional American values.” However, once in nonethnic neighborhoods, Cheng argues that they began losing their cultural identity and minority status.[46] The ease at which certain ethnic groups could become accepted by the white middle-class was not shared by African Americans. White society judged ethnic groups on their ability to assimilate and used the Chinese as an example of success.[47]

Cheng promotes the idea that the increased domesticity of Chinese women and visible monogamous heterosexual relationships was the driving force to being accepted by white suburbia. However, another option she presents is by American society trying to entice China away from communism by accepting its immigrants openly.[48] With these arguments, Cheng strongly believes that there was an ongoing negotiation regarding race within America. Chinese Americans had to prove to white Americans that they could assimilate correctly, and Chinese women were the driving force behind this assimilation.

Manfred Berg’s 2007 article, “Black Civil Rights and Liberal Anticommunism: The NAACP in the Early Cold War,” continues to build on the ideas of Haynes and Dudziak regarding the relation of civil rights and the Cold War. Using Civil Rights historiography, Berg puts the movement within the context of the early Cold War and McCarthyism era. He argues that the NAACP takes an anticommunism stance to survive the communist accusations that plagued leftist groups in the postwar world and keep civil rights on the agenda.[49]

Before the Cold War, the NAACP had worked closely with far-left labor groups and their cause was supported by the CPUSA. However, once Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the CPUSA wanted to focus exclusively on the war effort and forgot about civil rights. The NAACP continued working for civil rights throughout the war.[50] In 1941 Franklin Roosevelt worked with the civil rights groups and issued an executive order “banning discrimination on account of race, creed, color, or national origin in government agencies and defense contracting.” This allowed African Americans to be able to work in factories on the home front and propelled the NAACP as the “leading voice for African American civil rights.”[51]

Leadership within the NAACP supported anticolonial efforts in the postwar world, which was not supported by America or Western European powers. This tied the colonial issue to the Soviet Union and ultimately communism. A major split happened within the NAACP between Walter White and W.E.B. Du Bois. White supported President Truman’s liberal anticommunism and Du Bois supported the new Progressives and Henry Wallace in the 1948 election. President Truman wanted to oppose communism entirely, while Wallace wanted to return to the alliance the two nations had once had.[52] As a result of this split, Du Bois was shunned from the NAACP and President Truman won his reelection with a large majority of the African American vote. Despite this moment of victory, the Korean War caused civil rights to be sidelined. The NAACP was then forced to weather the storm of McCarthyism and maintain a strong policy of anticommunism. Berg concludes that the NAACP did what was necessary to survive the political atmosphere at the time and waited on America culture to come back around to their cause. He does agree that the Cold War stalls civil rights, but the cause was not a victim of the hysteria.[53]

“Unacceptable Mannerisms: Gender Anxieties, Homosexual Activism, and Swish in the United States, 1945-1965” (2007) by Craig Loftin uses records from the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles to argue that gender anxieties within American culture had created an internal strife within the homosexual community. Loftin proposes that the anxieties about declining masculinity in American culture pitted masculine homosexuals against “swishes,” the more effeminate appearing homosexuals.[54] Loftin follows up on Cuordileone’s argument regarding American masculinity but takes it much further.

The anxieties over gender conformity had invaded all aspects of American culture. It was most evident in the middle-class as they typically had more to lose. This caused middle-class closeted gay men to resent “swishes.” The visibility of “swishes” caused great fear within the secret gay community, thus causing the more masculine gay men to shun the more effeminate. This argument extends into the push for homosexual rights as the more masculine of the group saw the “swishes” as a liability to the cause.[55] Both political parties strongly opposed homosexuality and they ultimately persecuted gay men and purged them from jobs.

Loftin goes on to argue that gay men were influenced by masculine American culture and became interested in the body-building movement. This movement accepted gay men and gave them the ability to learn how to perceive masculine mannerisms.[56] This broadened masculinity to include gay men, but further ostracized “swishes.”[57] Despite the conversation America was having about homosexuality, the government continued seeing the community as a threat to American society and further persecuted them.

Elaine Tyler May’s 2011 work “Security against Democracy: The Legacy of the Cold War at Home” suggests that American culture prioritized security above all else. This security was not only evident within a military context but was extremely evident within American culture. May argues that in the postwar era, America citizens retreated to the suburbs seeking security from the world. This led to the major focus on crime and safety throughout the duration of the Cold War. May uses articles and ads from the Cold War to show how the media depicted crime as out of control.

Crime was used to create fear regarding communism and the media targeted this message towards parents with young children.[58] The American media focused heavily on rare, heinous crimes and exaggerated the likelihood of random acts of violence while Hollywood focused vigilante justice.[59] May concludes by suggesting that this intense focus on crime has shaped American society throughout the Cold War and was paramount to domestic efforts to curb communism.

Markku Ruotsila’s 2013 work, ““Russia’s Most Effective Fifth Column”: Cold War Perceptions of Un-Americanism in U.S. Churches” explores the anticommunism adopted by fundamentalist Christians during the Cold War. Ruotsila uses Christian newspapers of the time and letters to explain the shift in religious views on communism. He primarily argues that there was a schism within Protestant churches in America which centered around fundamentalism and traditional values as opposed to liberalism.

The fundamentalists specifically targeted liberal Christians that were critical of capitalism. Fundamentalists believed that since America’s founding was based uniquely on Christianity that capitalism was inherently Christian.[60] These fundamentalist groups charged left-leaning churches as being “un-American” and trying to institute “a controlled socialist order.”[61] Building on the “fifth column” hysteria of the antifascism decades, fundamentalists charged liberal Christians as “Russia’s most effective fifth column.” Religion had officially co-opted anticommunism and used it effectively within their communities.

Elaine Tyler May’s 2017 book, Homeward Bound, is the summative piece regarding the cultural Cold War within America. May focusing solely on the home front of the Cold War and how the family was altered by anticommunism. Using results from the Kelly Longitudinal Study, May effectively argues that to combat communism, American’s were urged to conform to traditional nuclear families, and this affected every member of the family in different ways.

Following the end of World War II, Americans flocked to the suburbs and began marrying and having children at a much younger age than previous generations. The government greatly encouraged this new lifestyle. Women left the workforce and returned home, and men resumed their pre-war occupations.[62] Society had begun to change to support this lifestyle. College curriculums focused on home economics for women and men were encouraged to continue in their educational careers. These changing lifestyles led to May coining the term “domestic containment” to describe the similarity to the containment of communism. Women were contained in the home and men were contained in the workplace. No subversive activity was encouraged.[63]

Sexuality was also part of domestic containment. Traditional sex lives were highly encouraged, and “sexual perverts” were just as dangerous to society as communists.[64] Sex within marriage was the only acceptable form of fornication during this period. Even if this example was followed, women began being accused of causing men to turn homosexual and lose their masculinity. This was evident in “frigid” marriages, but also being too overbearing of a mother.[65] This led to a difficult balance for women of this period.

May goes further and argues that by stigmatizing premarital sex, young couples began getting married at younger ages to “legitimize the sex.”[66] This led to a massive increase in the national birth rate, commonly referred to as the baby boom. Motherhood became the central source of a woman’s identity, and the home was seen as their workplace. This led to an increase in consumer goods and focus on “virtuous consumerism.”[67] The life effectively centered around the home.

May concludes her work by arguing that the children of the baby-boom rejected domesticity and became increasingly involved in countercultural movements.[68] While the youth rebelled, their parents’ generation was in power and instilled traditional values throughout society. This continued with the emergence of the New Right and resistance to the cultural revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s.


The cultural Cold War is a new field that historians have been researching. The historiography began centered in the realm of politics and evolved from there. Haynes’ 1996 work is the foundation of the cultural Cold War. Throughout the work he thoroughly displays the vast effect the Cold War had on American political culture. The immediate period following World War II was an idealistic time, but as the power of the Soviet Union grew, American politics and society began to harden. Anticommunism became a central foundation of both political parties and blended over into their voting bases, greatly affecting American culture.

Within a few years of Haynes’ work, historians began adding to his ideas of anticommunism and illustrated what aspects of American culture were affected. Cuordileone’s 2003 work and Loftin’s 2007 work both describe how American masculinity was affected by anticommunism. Cuordileone primarily argues that politicians began being associated with either masculine or feminine adjectives regarding their position on anticommunism. Masculinity was associated with anticommunism and America was declining into a “feminized” society, according to several social scientists and politicians of the time. A “feminized” society was akin to communism, so both liberals and conservatives adopted anticommunism into their messages and created a new image for the ideal presidential candidate.

Loftin also discusses masculinity’s relationship to anticommunism, but he uses the lens of sexuality to argue his point. Loftin asserts that anxiety around masculinity crept into the homosexual community, wreaked havoc, and divided the community. Masculine homosexuals were afraid that more feminine homosexuals would expose them, and they would both fall prey to anticommunism messaging that compared “sexual perversions” to communist sympathizers. Both works ultimately argue that anticommunism created a massive amount of anxiety around the perception of masculinity within American culture.

Sbardellati and Shaw’s case study of Charlie Chaplin (2003) continues the argument of Haynes that anti-Communist governmental policies were creeping into American life. Their work shows that these policies began targeting Hollywood and popular culture so that communist propaganda was not broadcast to America leading to subversion from within. Charlie Chaplin was first targeted as a communist sympathizer, but then was labeled a “sexual pervert” and suffered because of xenophobia. Despite almost no evidence of any of these labels, American culture turned on him and rejected him due to a broad belief in anticommunism.

The next phase in the historiography relied on the lens of the civil rights movement and racial aspects. The works of Dudziak (2000), Drabble (2004), and Berg (2007) all discuss the cultural changes of the Cold War because of anticommunism with different primary focuses.

Dudziak asserts that Brown v. Board of Education (1954) was not just a civil rights case, but a Cold War case. She expands on Haynes’ argument that the government of the United States had a heavy focus on anticommunism in the 1950s. The Brown decision was rooted in proving to the communist world that American democracy was superior, and everyone was treated fairly. Prior to this, the Soviet Union had issued propaganda charging America as a racist country and depicted communism as being truly free. Brown gave America a rebuttal to this propaganda and elevated the status of the country internationally.

Drabble takes the argument of Haynes and furthers it into the 1960s. Haynes describes a shift in liberal politics towards anticommunism and Drabble shows evidence of this exhibited by the American government regarding racial hate groups, specifically the Ku Klux Klan. Drabble argues that the same methods of the McCarthy era were employed against the KKK to tie them to communism and to de-legitimize the organization to the eyes of the country. Finally, Drabble also ties his argument to Dudziak by using the international stage as the reason for social change. The Soviet Union began using racial violence perpetrated by the KKK in their anti-American propaganda.

Berg draws primarily upon Haynes’ and Dudziak’s works to argue that the NAACP shifted towards a more anti-Communist stance to survive the McCarthy era. Despite the early NAACP’s ties to radical leftist groups, the organization severed ties and tied themselves to liberal anticommunism. He concludes by arguing that the Cold War may have stalled parts of the civil rights movement, but the gains made possibly may not have happened as early as they had without the NAACP’s shift.

Cheng builds on the work of Dudziak, Drabble, and Berg but primarily focuses on Chinese Americans. She suggests that ethnic groups that assimilated quickly were much more accepted by white America. However, Chinese Americans essentially had to negotiate their acceptance by proving their worth through the transition to domestic lifestyles. Cheng also adds to this historiography by suggesting that the American government aided Chinese America integration to propagandize the efforts to show Mao’s China that they were welcome in democracy.

Markku Ruotsila article regarding religious anticommunism takes a completely different angle from other historians in the recent era. He primarily argues that Cold War anticommunism invaded into religious life and was used to target liberal Christians and label them as “Russia’s fifth column.” Fundamentalist Christians regarded traditional lifestyles as the ultimate way to combat communism and these liberal churches were guilty of mass subversion. Ruotsila demonstrates that this religious sentiment began in the early Cold War era and influenced the rise of the New Right decades later.

Both works by Elaine Tyler May, focus on relatively the same idea. They build on Haynes’ work and demonstrate how anticommunism affected American society on a grand scale. Her 2011 work primarily arguments that the obsession with crime caused a need for the feeling of safety, which ties to Cuordileone’s work regarding masculine anxiety by demonstrating the build up a “hard” and “masculine” society to combat these crimes that the media was focusing on. May extends this point in her larger work, Homeward Bound. She argues that Americans fled to the comfort of the suburbs and nuclear families to feel safe during the uneasiness of the Cold War.

Homeward Bound demonstrates that Haynes’ anticommunism argument extended into the America household. Traditional gender roles were encouraged, sexual containment was practiced, and subversive political ideals such as feminism were heavily discouraged. The policies based in anticommunism affected almost every aspect of the American at home. The work ultimately integrates the ideas presented by Haynes, Cuordileone, Loftin, and Sbardellati and Shaw.


Although the historiography of the Cold War is new, it is growing rapidly. Recent historians have focused primarily on gender, sexuality, politics, and race. However, not every race has been explored as deeply as African American civil rights movements. Native American and Latinx history in relation to anticommunism during the Cold War period should be further explored in the future of this historiography. The most important aspect of future research regards the continuation of anticommunism into the late Cold War era. There are no secondary sources that explore the 1980s and 1990s in this fashion.

Scholarly work in American culture during the Cold War, primarily focused within the realm of politics but has transitioned to social and cultural history analyses of the American Cold War culture. Overtime the historiography has focused more and more on marginalized groups and their ties to anticommunism. Questions regarding different races and other aspects of sexuality should be further researched. The most difficult part within the field is the limited number of secondary sources. Since the era is so recent, most of the sources are primary sources and a new generation of historians must begin exploring the later years of the Cold War.

[1] John Earl Haynes, Red Scare or Red Menace?: American Communism and Anticommunism in the Cold War Era (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996), 3.

[2] Haynes, Red Scare or Red Menace?, 6.

[3] Ibid, 12.

[4] Ibid, 19.

[5] Ibid, 23-24.

[6] Ibid, 27.

[7] Ibid, 28.

[8] Ibid, 29.

[9] Ibid, 34.

[10] Ibid, 35-36.

[11] Ibid, 42-48.

[12] Ibid, 79-80.

[13] Ibid, 73-74.

[14] Ibid, 136.

[15] Ibid, 167-169.

[16] Ibid, 169.

[17] Ibid, 176-179.

[18] Ibid, 183-189.

[19] K. A. Cuordileone, “‘Politics in an Age of Anxiety’: Cold War Political Culture and the Crisis in American Masculinity, 1949-1960,” The Journal of American History 87, no. 2 (September 2000): pp. 515-545, https://doi.org/10.2307/2568762, 515.

[20] K. A. Cuordileone, “‘Politics in an Age of Anxiety’: Cold War Political Culture and the Crisis in American Masculinity, 1949-1960,” 517.

[21] Ibid, 522.

[22] Ibid, 524.

[23] Ibid, 524.

[24] Ibid, 529.

[25] Ibid, 530.

[26] Ibid, 531.

[27] Ibid, 537.

[28] Ibid, 544.

[29] Ibid, 545.

[30] John Sbardellati and Tony Shaw, “Booting a Tramp: Charlie Chaplin, the FBI, and the Construction of the Subversive Image in Red Scare America,” Pacific Historical Review 72, no. 4 (November 2003): pp. 495-530, https://doi.org/10.1525/phr.2003.72.4.495, 497.

[31] Sbarellati and Shaw, “Booting a Tramp: Charlie Chaplin, the FBI, and the Construction of the Subversive Image in Red Scare America,” 499.

[32] Ibid, 505.

[33] Ibid, 507-511.

[34] Mary L. Dudziak, “Brown as a Cold War Case,” The Journal of America History 91, no. 1 (June 2004): pp. 32-42, https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315245423-3, 36.

[35] Dudziak, “Brown as a Cold War Case,” 36-37.

[36] Ibid, 38.

[37] Ibid, 39.

[38] Ibid, 41.

[39] John Drabble, “To Ensure Domestic Tranquility: The FBI, COINTELPRO-WHITE HATE and Political Discourse, 1964–1971,” Journal of American Studies 38, no. 2 (August 2004): pp. 297-328, https://doi.org/10.1017/s002187580400845x, 301.

[40] Drabble, “To Ensure Domestic Tranquility: The FBI, COINTELPRO-WHITE HATE and Political Discourse, 1964–1971,” 302-305.

[41] Ibid, 306.

[42] Ibid, 309.

[43] Ibid, 314.

[44] Ibid, 322.

[45] Cindy I-Fen Cheng, “Out of Chinatown and into the Suburbs: Chinese Americans and the Politics of Cultural Citizenship in Early Cold War America,” American Quarterly 58, no. 4 (December 2006): pp. 1067-1090, https://doi.org/10.1353/aq.2007.0003, 1068-1069.

[46] Cheng, “Out of Chinatown and into the Suburbs: Chinese Americans and the Politics of Cultural Citizenship in Early Cold War America,” 1071.

[47] Ibid, 1075.

[48] Ibid, 1083.

[49] Manfred Berg, “Black Civil Rights and Liberal Anticommunism: The NAACP in the Early Cold War,” Journal of American History 94, no. 1 (June 2007): pp. 75-96, https://doi.org/10.2307/25094777, 76-77.

[50] Berg, “Black Civil Rights and Liberal Anticommunism: The NAACP in the Early Cold War,” 78-80.

[51] Ibid, 81.

[52] Ibid, 81-85.

[53] Ibid, 95-96,

[54] Craig M. Loftin, “Unacceptable Mannerisms: Gender Anxieties, Homosexual Activism, and Swish in the United States, 1945-1965,” Journal of Social History 40, no. 3 (2007): pp. 577-596, https://doi.org/10.1353/jsh.2007.0053, 577-578.

[55] Loftin, “Unacceptable Mannerisms: Gender Anxieties, Homosexual Activism, and Swish in the United States, 1945-1965,” 579.

[56] Ibid, 585.

[57] Ibid, 591.

[58] Elaine Tyler May, “Security against Democracy: The Legacy of the Cold War at Home,” Journal of American History 97, no. 4 (March 2011): pp. 939-957, https://doi.org/10.1093/jahist/jaq026, 943.

[59] May, “Security against Democracy: The Legacy of the Cold War at Home,” 943-949.

[60] Markku Ruotsila, “‘Russia's Most Effective Fifth Column’: Cold War Perceptions of Un-Americanism in US Churches,” Journal of American Studies 47, no. 4 (November 2013): pp. 1019-1041, https://doi.org/10.1017/s0021875813001333, 1030.

[61] Ruotsila, “‘Russia's Most Effective Fifth Column’: Cold War Perceptions of Un-Americanism in US Churches,” 1031.

[62] Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books, 2017), 25-27.

[63] May, Homeward Bound, 88.

[64] Ibid, 90-91.

[65] Ibid, 93.

[66] Ibid, 116.

[67] Ibid, 155-157.

[68] Ibid, 207-208.

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