Containment was a foreign policy strategy followed by the United States during the Cold War. First laid out by George F. Kennan in 1947, the policy stated that communism needed to be contained and isolated, or else it would spread to neighboring countries. American foreign policy advisors believed that once one country fell to communism, each surrounding country would fall as well, like a row of dominoes. This view was known as the domino theory. Adherence to the policy of containment and domino theory ultimately led to U.S. intervention in Vietnam as well as in Central America and Grenada.
The Cold War began after World War Two when nations formerly under Nazi rule ended up split between the conquests of the U.S.S.R. and the newly freed states of France, Poland, and the rest of Nazi-occupied Europe. Since the United States had been a key ally in liberating western Europe, it found itself deeply involved in this newly divided continent: Eastern Europe wasn't being turned back into free states, but rather being placed under the military and political control of the Soviet Union.
Further, western European countries appeared to be wobbling in their democracies because of socialist agitation and collapsing economies, and the United States began to suspect that the Soviet Union was deliberately destabilizing these countries in an effort to bring them into the folds of communism. Even countries themselves were dividing in half over the ideas of how to move forward and recover from the last world war. This resulted in a lot of political and military turmoil for the years to come, with such extremes as the establishment of the Berlin Wall to separate East and West Germany due to the opposition to communism.
The United States developed its policy of containment to prevent communism from spreading further into Europe and the rest of the world. The concept was first outlined in George Kennan's "Long Telegram," which he sent from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The message arrived in Washington, D.C., on February 22, 1946, and was circulated widely around the White House. Later, Kennan published the document as an article titled "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" — which became known as X Article because Kennan used the pseudonym "Mr. X."
The policy of containment was adopted by President Harry Truman as part of his Truman Doctrine in 1947, which redefined America's foreign policy as one that supports the "free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures." This came at the height of the Greek Civil War of 1946-1949 when much of the world was waiting to see which direction Greece and Turkey would go, and the United States agreed to help both countries to avoid the possibility that the Soviet Union would lead them to communism.
Acting deliberately (and at times aggressively) to involve itself in the border states of the world and prevent them from turning communist, the United States spearheaded a movement that would eventually lead to the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The group alliance represented a multi-national commitment to halting the spread of communism. In response, the Soviet Union signed an agreement called the Warsaw Pact with Poland, Hungary, Romania, East Germany, and several other nations.
Containment remained central to American foreign policy throughout the Cold War, which saw rising tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1955, the United States entered what some historians consider a proxy war with the Soviet Union, by sending troops into Vietnam to support the South Vietnamese in their battle against the communist North Vietnamese. The United States' involvement in the war lasted until 1975, the year the North Vietnamese captured the city of Saigon.
A similar conflict took place during the early 1950s in Korea, which was likewise divided into two states. In the fight between North Korea and South Korea, the United States backed the South, while the Soviet Union backed the North. The war ended with an armistice in 1953 and the establishment of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a 160-mile barrier between the two states.
The Cold War created many aspects of modern Washington. Military spending sustained Washington's rapid economic growth after WWII. Although federal hydropower projects and World War II had initially industrialized Washington state, the struggle against the Soviets ensured that federal money continued to pour into the state. The Cold War left a physical legacy across the state that can still be seen today. Military bases were created and expanded. The production of plutonium at Hanford created radioactive waste that will exist for thousands of years. Even Seattle's most famous icon—the Space Needle—is a concrete monument to one aspect of the Cold War, the space race. In addition, the fear of communism fueled important political changes in Washington. The Red Scare, which was more intense in Washington than in most states, deprived communists of their First Amendment rights, permanently destroyed several radical political organizations, temporarily frightened many liberals into silence, and allowed conservatives to virtually dismantle Washington's state-level health care system for the poor.
A. Radicalism and Anti-radicalism in Washington Politics
The rise of the Communist Party in the 1930s and the Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s were not unprecedented events in Washington history. Indeed, the ebb and flow of radical movements, and reactions against them, have profoundly shaped the political history of Washington state. In the 1880s, white laborers demanded higher wages and began to form Washington's first successful labor unions. White working-class mobs also forcibly evicted Chinese immigrants from Seattle, Tacoma, and other coastal towns in this same period. The Populist and Progressive movements were both very strong in Washington around the turn of the century, partially because of aid they received from Washington's relatively sizable Socialist Party.
Radical political activity reached a high-water point in the late 1910s, precipitating a forceful reaction against left-wing groups. Numerous radicals vehemently denounced US entry into the First World War, resisted the draft, and urged the U.S. to recognize the Bolshevik government of Russia that came to power in 1917. Despite efforts to quash the "subversives" (including violent attempts such as the Everett Massacre), radicals remained very powerful in Washington until the failed Seattle General Strike of 1919. The Seattle walk-out, the nation's first general strike, convinced many conservatives that the US was on the verge of revolution and thus helped trigger the nation's first "Red Scare." A few months after the Seattle strike, U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer ordered J. Edgar Hoover to round up "subversive aliens"—non-citizens who were Socialists, Communists, or Wobblies. Several prominent radicals in Washington state were captured in these "Palmer raids" and deported to the USSR. In addition, most Washington businessmen vowed to de-unionize the state's economy. The economic downturn immediately after World War I dramatically increased Washington's unemployment, allowing employers to fend off strikes and break unions in most industries. More conservative union leaders—led by Dave Beck of the Teamsters—used this opportunity to take control of the Washington labor movement in the early 1920s. These so-called "business unionists" loudly proclaimed their acceptance of capitalism and ejected communists from their ranks.
In many respects this first "Red Scare" was quite different from the one that would follow in the late 1940s and 1950s. The first Red Scare focused on immigrants; the second primarily targeted U.S. citizens. The first Red Scare also included many violent vigilante actions, while the second worked primarily through state and national government agencies. Nonetheless, Washington's anti-radicals learned several lessons from the first Red Scare that they would apply again in the 1940s. Conservatives learned that branding ideas or policies as "Red" was politically successful. Labor leaders such as Dave Beck learned they could make their unions more acceptable to corporate leaders by fighting radicals.
By 1922 Washington radicals seemed thoroughly defeated. Washington's Communist Party dwindled to only a few dozen members, and the Wobblies and Socialists also virtually disappeared. Conservative Republicans controlled the governorship and 90% of the state legislature for the rest of the 1920s. However, the economic catastrophe of the 1930s set off a new wave of radicalism in Washington. The Great Depression hit Washington's two largest industries—timber and agriculture—especially hard. The state's unemployment rate reached 30% in 1933. Discontent with capitalism was probably at all-time high in the early 1930s, but the Communist Party (CP) still made only limited gains in this period. The CP's growth in the early 1930s was inhibited by its focus on doctrinal purity, its refusal to cooperate with other leftist groups, and its denunciation of popular President Franklin Roosevelt.
Roosevelt's Democratic Party was the initial political beneficiary of the Depression. After decades of being the minority party in Washington state and the nation as a whole, Democrats swept to power in the 1930 and 1932 elections. The popularity of Roosevelt's New Deal reforms—especially hydroelectric projects and Social Security—kept Democrats in office. Although the New Deal was popular, it did not end the Depression. Washington's unemployment rate dropped to 17% in 1937 and then hovered around 20% for the rest of the decade.
When reform failed to end the Depression, the CP's call for fundamental economic change became more appealing. Furthermore, the CP became less radical and changed its tactics in the mid-1930s, allowing the Party to reach a much wider constituency. In 1935, frightened by the rise of fascism throughout Europe, the Soviet Union changed its foreign policy, abandoning isolationism and pursuing a "United Front" (or "Popular Front") with capitalist democracies. Communist parties across the globe followed suit and sought to forge anti-fascist alliances with liberals. The American CP swung its support behind the New Deal, which it saw as the best bulwark against the spread of fascism in America. During the "United Front" period, the CP was not revolutionary, but reformist. At CP rallies in the late 1930s, one could usually find pictures of FDR hung beside posters declaring, "Communism Is 20th Century Americanism." In addition, the Party no longer required members to disavow religion and proclaim faith in Marxist theory. Not surprisingly, CP membership in Washington skyrocketed in the late 1930s. Washington's radical history made it an attractive recruiting ground for the CP. Indeed, Seattle and San Francisco were widely considered to be the strongest bases of CP support west of the Mississippi River.
During the United Front, communists were elected to leadership positions in a handful of left-wing organizations. (These groups were called "communist fronts" because many members did not know the leaders were communists. Many members did know, but didn't care.) The largest communist-controlled group in the state was the Washington Commonwealth Federation (WCF). The WCF was formed by liberal Democrats in 1935, but most of its leaders were communists by 1937. The WCF functioned as the left wing of the Washington State Democratic Party. The WCF endorsed candidates in Democratic primaries, and its members went door to door campaigning for them. Through the efforts of the WCF, roughly five communists were elected to the Washington state legislature on the Democratic Party ticket in 1936 and ten in 1938. (The WCF, however, endorsed more liberals than communists.) Although the WCF was somewhat powerful in the late 1930s, it never grew strong enough to take control of the Washington State Democratic Party away from the conservative and moderate supporters of Governor Clarence Martin.
The Washington Pension Union (WPU), another fairly powerful communist front, had somewhat more success fighting Governor Martin. The WPU was formed by liberals and by angry senior citizens of all political stripes in 1937 after Governor Martin refused to raise the state's meager appropriation for Social Security. Led by the charismatic William Pennock, communists won control of most of the WPU's leadership posts in 1938. The WPU drafted and circulated Initiative 141 to guarantee that all Washingtonians over 65 had a minimum income of $40 per month. With 58% of voters supporting it, the measure passed in 1940.
Communists also helped build many of Washington's labor unions from the bottom up. Even dedicated anti-radicals such as Dave Beck occasionally hired communists because they were frequently the best, most tireless union organizers. But communists rarely achieved positions of power in American Federation of Labor (AFL) unions. They did, however, have substantial influence in some Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO) unions, especially the large International Longshore Workers Union led by Harry Bridges.
The American CP suffered a tremendous setback in August 1939, when Stalin signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Later that year, as Germany conquered western Poland, the Soviets invaded eastern Poland and all of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. The Soviet Union, once the most avowedly anti-fascist nation in Europe, was now openly abetting Hitler. After several weeks of confusion, the American CP reversed its "line." The CP had previously supported FDR's preparations for war, but it now declared FDR to be a "war-monger" and an "imperialist." The CP denounced FDR's efforts to assist Britain when Nazi planes incessantly bombed the island nation. The WCF lost credibility with Washington voters when it followed CP's change of policy, and the organization soon dissolved. The WPU and communist-influenced unions lost many members but survived. Overall, the CP's membership in Washington state declined by more than half in 1939 and 1940 as most Party members could not stomach the new tolerance of Hitler and were repulsed by the CP's willingness to follow a "Party line" dictated in Moscow. Many people who left the Party in this period were so embittered that they later testified against the CP during the late 1940s and 1950s and welcomed the persecution of communists.
The Nazi invasion of the USSR in mid-1941 revived the CP's call for a "United Front" and restored much of the Party's lost popularity. As soon as the Soviets were invaded, the CP urged FDR to increase the aid given to the USSR and Britain. Many people were initially disgusted by the CP's second reversal of policy in two years, but once the US entered the war in December 1941, a large proportion of Americans were impressed by communists' unflagging dedication to the war effort. The American CP abandoned its calls for social reform and became downright conservative. The CP cooperated with employers to put down strikes during wartime and urged people to work longer hours without pay increases. CP membership in Washington state rose, but never again reached the plateau of the late 1930s. The WPU once again became a power in the Democratic Party, and its efforts led to the election of a half-dozen communists to the Washington state legislature on the Democratic ticket in the early 1940s.
When the U.S. and USSR defeated Germany in mid-1945, the CP in Washington state prepared to resume its advocacy of social reform and reclaim its role as the left wing of the Democratic Party. This strategy became increasingly untenable as the American-Soviet rivalry after the Second World War soon developed into a "Cold War."
B. The Cold War System of International Relations
The Second World War destroyed the old diplomatic system of "great powers" and replaced it with a polarized world of two superpowers. Germany, Japan, and Italy were occupied and demilitarized. France, Britain, and China had all suffered heavy losses, and their economies were in shambles. Although the Soviets had suffered over 15 million casualties during World War II and witnessed the burning and bombing of much of European Russia, the USSR still possessed the most powerful infantry in the world. The US undoubtedly emerged from the war as the world's most powerful nation. The US had the largest navy and air force, and its economy had grown massively during the war. (Unemployment in Washington fell from about 20% in 1939 to 2% in 1942.) Perhaps most importantly, the US had a monopoly on the atom bomb.
Relations between the superpowers, which were fairly amicable at the end of the war, rapidly soured. Although they did not realize it at the time, FDR and Stalin's decision to partition Germany at the end of the war served as a model for the division of all of Europe into eastern and western "blocs." After the war, the Soviets consolidated their power in eastern Europe and banned dissent against the communist satellite governments they had established throughout the region. A handful of American politicians, such as former vice-president Henry Wallace, saw Soviet actions as defensive. The Russians, after all, had been repeatedly invaded from the west in the past three centuries, and their desire to create a buffer zone of satellite states was not irrational. President Harry Truman and the vast majority of his advisors, on the other hand, thought Soviet policy was aggressively expansionist. They saw Stalin as another Hitler seeking world domination, not as a leader pursuing national self-interest in calculated but limited fashion. Truman's advisors were determined not to repeat the policies of appeasement and isolationism that had allowed Hitler to become so powerful. They believed the best way to prevent World War III was to contain communism within its existing boundaries.
Truman, realizing containment would not be cheap, took the advice of Senator Arthur Vandenburg and decided to "scare the hell out of the county." In March 1947 Truman spoke to Congress to request $400 million in aid for Greece and Turkey, which were fighting civil wars against communist rebels. Truman's speech outlined what became known as the Truman Doctrine. This doctrine shaped U.S. foreign policy for the next 40 years. Truman equated communism with fascism, labeling both as "totalitarianism." Truman argued the world was divided into two types of nations, one based on the "will of the people" and another based on the "will of a minority" enforced by "terror and oppression." This dualistic thinking reduced complex geostrategic rivalries into a framework of "good versus evil," which dramatically simplified America's choice of allies. Sure, the Greek and Turkish governments might be corrupt, Truman argued, but they weren't dictatorships and they fought communists, so they therefore must be part of the "free world" and worthy of American aid. The Truman Doctrine also relied on a sort of domino theory: "If Greece should fall, . . . disorder might well spread throughout the entire Middle East" and "free peoples" throughout Europe would be "discouraged and demoralized."
Despite Truman's urgent rhetoric, America's containment policy initially relied on economic, rather than military, means. Truman sent rifles and money to Greece, not GIs. The most famous, and most successful, containment policy from this period was the $20 billion Marshall Plan, initiated in 1947.
The Soviet blockade of West Berlin in 1948 prompted the U.S. to adopt more "militarized" containment polices. The blockade led the U.S., Canada, and ten European nations to create a permanent military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The first Soviet explosion of an atom bomb and the victory of Maoists in China in 1949 convinced the US State Department that "this Republic and its citizens . . . stand in their deepest peril." In early 1950 the State Department drafted a report, known as NSC-68, to persuade the Truman Administration that the "fundamental design of those who control the Soviet Union and the international communist movement is . . . the complete subversion or forcible destruction of the . . . countries of the non-Soviet world." NSC-68 argued the U.S. must raise taxes and cut spending on social programs in order to fund the development of hydrogen bombs, expansion of conventional forces, and "intensification of . . . covert operations . . . with a view to fomenting and supporting unrest and revolt in selected strategic satellite counties." Truman, not certain the U.S. could afford all this, referred NSC-68 to his economic advisors. Before they could respond, communist North Korea invaded its southern neighbor. Truman, assuming Stalin had ordered the attack, dispatched troops to South Korea. The U.S. implemented NSC-68 and more than tripled its military budget during the Korean War.
The same belief in a communist conspiracy masterminded by the Kremlin that led the U.S. to militarize its containment policy also allowed Senator Joseph McCarthy to rise to power. In February 1950 McCarthy catapulted himself to national prominence by announcing communists had infiltrated the State Department. He remained in the center stage of American politics until the Senate stripped him of much of his power in 1954. McCarthy was popular with many Americans because he provided a convenient explanation for why the US, undeniably the most powerful nation in the world, seemed to be falling behind in the Cold War. America wasn't losing the Cold War—it was being betrayed by traitors from within. (The revelation in 1951 that Ethel and Julius Rosenburg actually had sold some atomic plans—albeit not very important ones—only added to McCarthy's credibility and popularity.) In addition, the Truman administration had helped pave the way for McCarthyism by using rhetoric that simplified international relations into a struggle between the "free world" and evil communists. Thus, the logic of McCarthy's persecution of communists and suspected communists was congruent with the logic of U.S. foreign policy.
Even after the fear of domestic subversion declined and the Supreme Court overturned many of the McCarthyist restrictions on communists' liberties in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the fear of an overarching communist conspiracy continued to underpin American foreign policy. Beginning with the Korean War, the US interpreted every communist insurgency as a simply a pawn advanced by the Kremlin to test American resolve. This logic made every nation seem strategically vital since any failure to contain communism would make America appear weak, leading Moscow to redouble its aggression. The U.S. thus backed repressive, but anti-communist, governments in Iran, Pakistan, and most of Central America. American diplomats also repeatedly misinterpreted nationalist and anti-colonialist movements across the globe as Soviet-led ploys. This type of thinking eventually led the U.S. into the Vietnam War. American leaders could not comprehend that Ho Chi Minh's strength derived less from Soviet and Chinese support than from his promise to expel the colonialists. Most Americans simply thought those pesky Soviets were at it again; it was just like those devious fellows in the Kremlin to test American willpower in some far-away place that appeared to have little strategic importance.
Americans' faith in the righteousness of the Cold War unraveled rapidly after the Tet Offensive in 1968. Although relatively few Americans believed that the whole concept of containment was fundamentally flawed, a majority came to question many tenets of Cold War orthodoxy. Why should the US prop up a government despised by most of its own citizens? Why should the US fight a major war in a strategically insignificant country? The Vietnam War thus eroded the American public's confidence in its military and political leaders and reduced public willingness to support repressive regimes or to deploy US troops abroad.
In addition, Vietnam convinced many Americans—including Richard Nixon—that more skillful diplomacy could reduce America's dependence on military force to contain communism. Unlike previous presidents, Nixon realized the Kremlin was not ruthlessly pursing world domination and that communism was not a monolithic force. In 1971 Nixon exploited a growing Sino-Soviet rift and normalized diplomatic and economic relations with Beijing. As intended, Nixon's deals with China placed pressure on the Soviets, making them more willing to seek détente—a general relaxation of Cold War rivalries. In 1972 the U.S. and USSR signed a treaty limiting the size of their nuclear arsenals and agreements re-opening trade between the nations. Both sides took advantage of détente by reducing their military budgets.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and Ronald Reagan's defense build-up in the early 1980s temporarily ended American-Soviet cooperation, but these events did not renew the direct superpower confrontations that had defined the pre-détente Cold War. The Cold War finally ended in 1989 and 1990 when pro-democracy uprisings in eastern Europe and pro-independence movements in many Soviet republics led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its sphere of influence. When the U.S., with Russian approval, fought the Gulf War in 1991, Americans learned the end of the Cold War had not ushered in an era of peace. Indeed, many Americans now occasionally wax nostalgic about the Cold War—an era when the U.S. had a clear enemy to hate, when the Soviets were powerful enough to keep rival ethnic groups in the Balkans from killing one another, and when international relations were clearly structured and generally predictable.
C. Hunting Reds in the Evergreen State
The Cold War profoundly affected domestic politics as well as international relations. As we have seen, the logic of America's foreign policy supported the logic of McCarthyism. In Washington state, however, the "Red Scare" began before most Americans had heard of Joseph McCarthy and even before Truman had committed the US to containing communism. Since communists were more powerful in Washington than in virtually every other state in the union, it was perhaps not surprising that conservatives in Washington latched on to the "Red issue" before anti-radicals elsewhere. Events in Washington often provided a model for other states to follow. Several states copied the resolution that created Washington's Canwell Committee. The University of Washington's decision to fire three pro-communist professors in 1949 set off a wave of similar dismissals on colleges throughout the nation. Although the Red Scare in Washington state was unique in many respects, it also helped establish a national pattern and contributed to the growing persecution of communists across the country.
Washington Republicans made anti-communism the central theme of their 1946 campaign, charging that Democrats had "sold their soul to the Communist Party." They concentrated their fire on Hugh DeLacy, a US Representative from Seattle who advocated friendly relations with the Soviets. Republicans asserted (quite accurately) that DeLacy was secretly a member of the CP. The accusations that Democrats aided communism, combined with a mild post-war recession, led Republicans to sweep the elections, regaining controlled of the Washington state legislature for the first time in 16 years.
Albert Canwell was one of the many Republicans whisked into the state house in the 1946 landslide. Canwell, who later described himself as a "one-man FBI," had previously worked undercover to monitor CP activities for Boeing, Washington Water Power, and the Spokane Police Department. During the 1947 legislature, he introduced a resolution to create a committee with broad powers to investigate "organizations whose membership includes communists." (Canwell's resolution is document 2.) The resolution passed by a wide margin since a majority of Democrats decided to support it. Most Democrats knew all too well that their tolerance of communists, which had broadened their base of support in the late 1930s and early 1940s, was now a massive electoral liability. Voting against Canwell's resolution seemed like political suicide. Disgusted by this treatment from their former allies, Washington's communists walked out of the Democratic Party and joined the Progressive Party led by former vice-president Henry Wallace. The Democrats never let the communists back in.
The newly-created Joint Legislative Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities made Canwell its chairman. The press referred to the group simply as the "Canwell Committee." The Committee planned to hold public hearings to convince the public that the Washington Pension Union and several CIO unions were communist fronts controlled by Moscow. Canwell's task was simplified by the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in mid-1947. This act required every leader of a union to disavow membership in the Communist Party before the National Labor Relations Board could recognize the union. The leaders of many unions, including some in Washington, responded by purging all communists from positions of power. With the communists already being evicted from the labor movement, Canwell could focus the first hearing solely on the WPU.
At the start of the first public hearing, Canwell laid down a series of rules that ensured that the proceedings would be rather one-sided. Only the Canwell Committee's hand-picked witnesses and its investigators could speak at the hearings. Those accused of being communists could neither question their accusers nor make statements in their own behalf. Canwell ordered the State Patrol to eject anyone in the audience who tried to make a speech or otherwise "disrupt" the hearings. (Document 4 is a photo of WPU vice-president E. L. Pettus being thrown out of the hearings.)
As the Committee had intended, the first set of hearings made the front page of newspapers across the state in January and February 1948. The Committee began by taking testimony from several ex-CP members who had become professional anti-communist witnesses. The Committee paid these witnesses for testifying that the American CP was subservient to Moscow, that communists' participation in seemingly reformist "front" groups was simply a ruse to attract soft-headed liberals the CP wanted to convert, and that the ultimate aim of the CP was the violent overthrow of the US government. (See document 8 for an example of this testimony.) The Committee then heard a large number of local ex-communists who swore they saw WPU officials at closed meetings of the CP where only "comrades" were allowed. (See documents 7, 13, and 14.) These local witnesses offered fairly convincing proof that most WPU leaders were communists and that the WPU had consistently supported Soviet foreign policy through all its twists and turns. The hearings, however, fell far short of proving that the WPU received frequent instructions from Moscow or that the group was really unconcerned with helping the elderly. The hearings weakened but did not destroy the WPU. Membership in the WPU dropped somewhat after the hearings, but the organization still had little trouble gathering enough signatures to place on the 1948 ballot a measure to provide free health care to impoverished Washingtonians.
The Canwell Committee held a second set of public hearings in July 1948 about "Communist activities at the University of Washington . . . and Seattle Repertory Playhouse." Canwell again refused to permit cross-examination of the witnesses the Committee chose to put on the stand. Unlike the first hearings, the Committee also subpoenaed people suspected to be communists or former communists. The second professor to take the stand, ex-communist Garland Ethel, set a courageous example by testifying about his own activities in the Party, but refusing to give the names of people he had seen at communist meetings. (Ethel's testimony is document 10.) All the subsequent professors followed Ethel's lead and refused to name names. All in all, six professors, including Ethel, admitted they had once been members of the CP. Professors Melvin Rader and Joseph Cohen vehemently denied they had ever been communists; they proclaimed that the witnesses who had said otherwise were lying. Three professors and Florence and Burton James, the directors of the Seattle Repertory Playhouse, declined to answer any questions about their political affiliations. (The Jameses explain their decision not to testify in document 21.)
The Seattle Repertory Playhouse never recovered from the negative publicity generated by the Canwell hearings. During the hearings, several witnesses alleged that the Playhouse produced "communist plays" and served as a "recruiting ground" for the CP. The witnesses supplied little evidence to corroborate their charges, except for the fact that some members of the Playhouse had occasionally provided entertainment at CP fund-raisers. Nevertheless, attendance at the theater declined precipitously after the July hearings, and the Playhouse's income fell by two-thirds the following year. In early 1950 the Playhouse filed for bankruptcy.
University of Washington (UW) administrators sought to "clear the University's reputation" by preparing to dismiss six professors—Garland Ethel, Harold Eby, Melville Jacobs, Joseph Butterworth, Herbert Phillips, and Ralph Gundlach. The UW tenure code required the Faculty Senate to create a Tenure Committee to try the administration's charges against the professors. The Tenure Committee had to find the professors guilty of "incompetency, neglect of duty, incapacity, dishonesty, or immorality" before the administration could fire them. (The Tenure Committee's rules are described in document 26.) The tenure hearings stretched from October to December 1948. The administration contended that Butterworth, Phillips, and Gundlach were all present members of the CP and that their unswerving devotion to communist dogma rendered them incapable of fulfilling their scholarly duty to "seek the truth wherever it may lead." The assumption was that "the truth" could never lead to Marxism. The administration also argued these three professors were immoral because they belonged to an organization dedicated to overthrowing the government. Ethel, Eby, and Jacobs—all former communists—were charged with having committed these offenses in the past. All six were also accused of having been dishonest with UW President Raymond Allen when he questioned them about their political affiliations.
Each professor offered a different defense, but all six introduced abundant evidence that their colleagues and students found them to be objective and thoroughly competent scholars whose teaching did not reveal pro-communist biases. (See document 29.) Rather than attempting to refute this testimony, the administration insisted it was irrelevant. The administration asserted that regardless of how qualified the professors appeared to be, the fact that they were (or had been) members of the CP rendered them inherently unfit. The professors' lawyers argued that the since the administration could not prove their clients' individual guilt and incompetence, it had fallen back on the unsound doctrine of "guilt by association." (Document 27 contains the administration's case, while document 30 sets out the professors'.)
The Tenure Committee voted to dismiss Ralph Gundlach and retain the other five professors. The Committee unanimously supported keeping Professors Ethel, Eby, and Jacobs on the faculty. These professors had proved their competence by leaving the CP. The most controversial cases were those of Phillips and Butterworth, who admitted they were still active members of the CP. Of the 11 members of the Tenure Committee, three thought Phillips and Butterworth should be immediately dismissed, three asserted communists had every right to be part of the faculty, and five contended the UW should amend the tenure code to ban communists from teaching in the future but could not fire Phillips and Butterworth because existing rules did not allow it. (The Committee's recommendations regarding Phillips and Butterworth can be found in document 31.) The Committee recommended dismissing Ralph Gundlach even though he was the only defendant to claim he had never been a communist. The vast majority of the Committee admitted the evidence was insufficient for them to determine whether or not Gundlach had participated in the CP, but they voted 7-4 to dismiss Gundlach for being dishonest with President Allen. They saw this dishonesty as part of a larger pattern of unsatisfactory relations with the UW: Gundlach had sponsored numerous controversial speakers, had clashed repeatedly with some administrators, and had leaked data from UW-sponsored public opinion surveys to Hugh DeLacy's campaign in 1946.
The UW Regents, the seven gubernatorial appointees who supervised University affairs, made the final decision about the professors in January 1949. While UW administrators were bound by the tenure code, the Regents were not. Angering much of the faculty, UW President Allen advised the Regents to ignore the Tenure Committee recommendations and dismiss Butterworth and Phillips, as well as Gundlach. Some state legislators pressured the Regents to remove all six professors. Indeed, conservatives in the legislature blocked hearings on the UW budget until after the Regents made their decision. That Teamster leader Dave Beck was a Regent did not help the professors' cause. At the Regents' meeting, Beck moved for the dismissal of all six professors; his motion was narrowly defeated, 3-4. The Regents then unanimously decided to discharge Butterworth, Phillips, and Gundlach and place Eby, Ethel, and Jacobs on probation for two years.
The dismissals set a national precedent. Newspapers throughout the US praised the Regents for their "bold, forceful, but fair decision." When the American Association of University Professors failed to protest the UW's actions, universities across the nation began investigating allegedly communist professors. A large number of college administrators looked to the UW cases as a model and echoed Allen's claim that communists were not fit to teach because they were not intellectually independent. Nearly 200 American professors were dismissed for being communist or "subversive" in the 1950s. A much larger number of liberal or ex-communist academics, fearing for their jobs, cut their ties to left-wing groups, toned down their lectures, and generally concealed their political views. With the tide of public opinion running against communism, liberals often acquiesced in the dismissals.
As the anti-communist wave convulsed academia, Gundlach, Phillips, and Butterworth soon found they had been effectively blacklisted. None of them found another job in higher education. (See document 39 for an account of what happened to the professors after the tenure hearings.)
Professor Melvin Rader, on the other hand, successfully fought back against the Canwell Committee. During the July 1948 hearings professional anti-communist witness George Hewitt swore he had seen Rader at a secret CP training school in New York in the late 1930s. (Hewitt's testimony is document 15; see also documents 16 and 17.) The Canwell Committee did not give Rader a chance to cross-examine Hewitt before Hewitt left the state. Shortly after the hearings were over, Rader filed perjury charges against Hewitt. Canwell and other conservatives pressured the King County prosecutor to drop the case. Although they failed in this effort, they did convince a New York judge (in a highly irregular legal proceeding) to refuse to extradite Hewitt back to Seattle. When it became clear the courts would not address the issue, the Seattle Times assigned reporter Ed Guthman to investigate the case. In September 1949 the Seattle Times began running a series of Guthman's articles about Rader's mistreatment at the hands of the Canwell Committee. Guthman described how Committee investigators had taken a hotel register which seemed to vindicate Rader and how this register was later "lost" in the Committee's files. Guthman won a Pulitzer Prize for these articles. (Rader describes his ordeal in document 24.)
The Canwell forces suffered another setback in the November 1948 election: four of the six members of the Committee, including Canwell, failed to win reelection. The defeat of Canwell and his allies had little to do with the Rader affair (which had not yet grabbed front-page headlines) or with the WPU's campaign against the Committee. The coattails of Harry Truman's surprising 1948 reelection victory wiped out many inexperienced Republican legislators and helped Washington Democrats recover much of the ground they had lost in 1946. Control of the 1949 legislative session was thus divided. When the Republican-controlled state house passed a bill renewing the Canwell Committee, the Democratic-controlled state senate enacted a counterproposal that would create a less powerful investigative committee. The Democrats' committee would hold hearings closed to the public and would give alleged subversives a chance to cross-examine their accusers and to call witnesses in their defense. Both parties refused to compromise, and neither bill became law. This impasse occurred again in the 1951 legislature with the same result. The Canwell Committee was never revived.
The 1948 election also brought the WPU back into the political spotlight when 57% of Washington voters passed Initiative 172. (See document 43.) This WPU-sponsored measure provided senior citizens a minimum income of $60 per month and guaranteed health care to all Washingtonians on public assistance (Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, etc.). Liberals in the US Congress held up Initiative 172 as a possible model for a national health care law.
Ironically, the passage of Initiative 172 did not lead to further extensions in the social "safety net," but instead set the stage for the demise of the WPU. Seeking to maximize political support, the WPU did not include a funding mechanism in Initiative 172; the measure simply ordered the state legislature to find a way to pay for the new programs. Republican Governor Arthur Langlie urged the 1949 legislature to raise taxes, but legislators refused, triggering a fiscal crisis. Washington's budget surplus turned into a rapidly growing deficit in a matter of months. The growth of welfare spending, which now consumed 49% of Washington's total budget, threatened the state's ability to pay for schools and highways. In late 1949 Governor Langlie gave up trying to cajole new taxes out of the legislature, and resorted to red-baiting to destroy public support for the popular measure. In a series of radio addresses, Langlie proclaimed Initiative 172 was a "communist plot to bankrupt our state."
The 1950 election thus featured a duel between Langlie's proposal to dramatically restrict Washington's health insurance for the poor and a WPU measure to increase social security payments by $5 per month and tie future pension increases to the rate of inflation. Pundits initially thought both measures would fail. In June 1950, however, the Korean War began, prompting the WPU to denounce Truman as an "imperialist" for sending US troops to defend South Korea. The WPU's communist leaders had placed their foolish commitment to Soviet foreign policy above their commitment to their health care program. Langlie intensified his attack on the WPU, and his measure won a smashing victory at the polls in November. The WPU's initiative barely garnered 30%. The membership of the WPU plummeted precipitously after 1950. The organization was never again able to collect enough signatures to place an initiative on the ballot.
After the demise of the WPU and the legislature's failure to renew the Canwell Committee, the locus of the anti-communist crusade in Washington moved from the state government to the federal government. The state legislature did outlaw the Communist Party and pass laws requiring state employees to sign loyalty oaths in the early 1950s, but these laws were tied up in the courts and not enforced. The federal government, on the other hand, had entered its period of unrestrained McCarthyism and deployed its considerable power against the remnants of the CP in Washington state. In 1952 the Justice Department arrested seven leaders of the CP in Washington-including the WPU's president and vice-president—for conspiring to overthrow the US government. The defendants, known as the "Seattle Seven," produced proof they had never openly advocated the overthrow of the government. The prosecutor argued, and the judge concurred, that such evidence was irrelevant because the defendants participated in an organization that conspired to attack the government at some unspecified point in the future. During the course of the trial, WPU President William Pennock committed suicide. The remaining six defendants were found guilty and sentenced to five years in jail and fined $10,000 each. They served roughly a year of the sentence before they were released pending appeal. Their convictions were finally overturned on appeal in 1958.
In addition, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) visited Seattle in 1954 and 1955. HUAC's star witness was Barbara Hartle, one of the "Seattle Seven" who had become an informant for the FBI after her conviction. Hartle listed literally hundreds of people she had seen at CP meetings, including minor WPU functionaries and people who had only attended three or four communist gatherings before dropping out of the Party. Many of the people Hartle named had left the CP over 15 years earlier, and some vehemently denied they ever had anything to do with the CP. Although very few of those named during the HUAC hearings lost their jobs, many of them found their friends and colleagues suddenly unwilling to talk to them or be seen with them.
Resistance to McCarthyism in Washington state grew stronger in the mid-1950s, especially at the UW. Professor Melvin Rader became head of the Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and toured the state speaking against the excesses of the fight against communism. In late 1954, the majority of the UW faculty vigorously protested when administrators canceled a one-week series of lectures about nuclear physics to be given by left-wing physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who was widely seen as the "father of the atomic bomb." UW professors argued it was absurd to deny students the chance to learn from one of the world's most brilliant physicists. The "ban on Oppenheimer" generated terrible publicity as newspapers across the nation charged that "thought control" and political orthodoxy were turning the UW into a second-rate college. After the Oppenheimer incident, the UW became more willing to hire controversial professors. In addition, in the late 1950s a group of UW professors challenged the legality of the loyalty oaths required by Washington law. This case, Baggitt v Bullitt, languished in the courts for several years, but in 1964 the US Supreme Court declared Washington's oaths unconstitutional. Indeed, the Supreme Court's decision went even further and proclaimed that no public institution (except those directly related to national security) could require a loyalty oath as a condition of employment. Just as the UW's dismissal of pro-communist professors in 1949 had helped trigger a nationwide Red Scare in academia, the UW professors' victory against loyalty oaths in 1964 helped end the persecution of political dissenters in American universities. (Documents 41 and 42 relate to loyalty oaths.)
Thus, by the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Red Scare was fading. The Supreme Court helped this process with a string of decisions like Baggitt v Bullitt. However, a more important factor in the decline of the anti-communist crusade was simply Americans' increased sense of security in this period. After the Korean War ended in 1953, America's policy of containment appeared to be working and communists seemed less of a military threat. In addition, the American CP had already been virtually destroyed by the early 1950s; hunting the remnant bands of communists hardly seemed worth the effort. Furthermore, rising personal income levels throughout the 1950s and 1960s made many Americans optimistic about the future and convinced them that their society was stable and secure. By the early 1960s, belief in a widespread communist conspiracy to subvert the US was largely confined right-wing groups such as the American Legion and the John Birch Society (JBS). JBS-backed candidates won some seats on city councils and school boards in Washington state in the early 1960s, but they tended to discredit themselves fairly quickly by applying the "Red" label to everyone who disagreed with them.
The end of the Red Scare allowed Washington politics to once again move in a more reformist direction in the 1960s. Throughout the 1950s, conservatives had been able to defeat many reforms by denouncing them as "communist-inspired." But by the end of the decade, conservatives' favorite electoral strategy—calling their liberal opponents "soft on communism"—had clearly lost its magic in Washington. After 1957 Washington voters began to elect more Democrats and liberal Republicans to the state legislature. In step with John Kennedy's "War on Poverty" and Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" programs of the 1960s, the Washington state legislature began to see persistent poverty in the midst of a prosperous economy as a problem. The legislature modestly expanded education and welfare programs like unemployment insurance, Medicaid, and food stamps, but never restored Washington's comprehensive state-level health care system. In addition, the emergence of strong civil rights groups (which barred communists from joining in order to protect themselves from red-baiting) drew attention to a new set of political issues centering on segregation and the exclusion of African-Americans from most of the economic gains made since the Second World War.
D. The Cold War and Washington's Hot Economy
Cold War military spending helped create many of those economic gains in Washington. The Pentagon pumped billions of dollars into Washington's economy during the "boom years" of Cold War defense spending between 1950 and 1970. While Washington's unemployment rate had averaged about 10% in the first four decades of the twentieth century, unemployment in Washington was less than 5% during the 1950s and 1960s. Washington's population jumped from 2.37 million in 1950 to 3.41 million in 1970. In addition, most of the positions created by defense spending were high-wage jobs. Military spending thus contributed to the substantial growth in Washingtonians' median income in this period.
This was hardly the first time that Washington's economic development had been tied to federal spending. The federal government's Indian treaties and land grants to railroads had laid the basis for Washington's timber- and wheat-based economy in the nineteenth century. During the First World War, federal spending fueled the growth of shipyards, beginning to give Washington an industrial base. The sudden cancellation of shipbuilding at the end of the war, however, wiped away this base and once more left the state primarily dependent on the export of wheat and lumber. The construction of Bonneville and Grand Coulee Dams in the late 1930s laid a more durable foundation for later industrialization. The Second World War rapidly transformed Washington into a veritable hive of military bases and arms factories. At the end of the war, many people feared that, just as after WW I, the federal government would cut military spending, once again dissolving Washington's nascent industrial base. Indeed, as the US demobilized, many parts of Washington experienced a recession in 1946 and 1947. Defense spending began to rise in the late 1940s when Truman decided to adopt a policy of containment. As we have seen, the start of the Korean War and the adoption of NSC-68 tripled the U.S. defense budget, ensuring that Washington would retain an industrial economy.
Washington received more than its share of federal military spending. Geography partially accounted for Washington's favored status. The Puget Sound was large, deep, and relatively easy to defend militarily, making it an ideal center for the U.S. Navy. The presence of two large Army posts, Fort Lewis and the Yakima Training Center, also made Washington a logical choice to receive Army dollars. However, one should not underestimate the influence of Washington's two powerful Senators, Warren Magnuson and Henry "Scoop" Jackson. Both were liberals who were endorsed by communists when their political careers began in the 1930s. However, both men distanced themselves from communists during World War II and wholeheartedly embraced Truman's philosophy of containment after the war. They realized a vigorously anti-communist foreign policy was good for Washington's many defense contractors. Their influence helped insure that the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton remained one of the largest shipbuilding centers in the US during the Cold War. (See document 49.) This shipyard also served (and still serves) as the home port for part of the Navy's Pacific fleet. In the 1960s, when the Navy wanted to build nuclear-powered Trident submarines, Jackson guided the proposal through the Senate and won funding to build a Trident Support Site at Bangor, Washington. Today, Bangor is the home port of virtually all U.S. nuclear submarines based in the Pacific. Jackson and Magnuson also successfully championed the expansion of the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station and the Yakima Training Center. In addition, Magnuson's efforts led the military to award more than a few research grants to scientists at the UW and Washington State University. After the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, Magnuson convinced Congress that spending $10 million on a US Science Exhibit for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair would be a timely investment in national security that could persuade American children to study science in school. (See document 50 for a description of how the Cold War shaped the space-themed design of the fair, including the Space Needle.)
Boeing was, of course, the real titan of Washington's Cold War economy. Throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, Boeing provided well over half of the industrial jobs in the Seattle area. The economic health of the entire Puget Sound region depended largely on the economic condition of Boeing, which was, by far and away, Washington's largest employer. The Air Force's decision to buy Seattle-built Boeing B-52s spurred the rapid growth of the Seattle area after the late 1940s. The profits from B-52s allowed the company to develop its first commercial jetliner, the 707. (See document 47.) As Boeing became the world's largest supplier of commercial jets in the 1950s and 1960s, the region's dependence on military spending lessened somewhat. (The growth of firms providing consumer goods and services also contributed to the diversification of Washington's economy in this period.)
Nonetheless, it became painfully apparent in the early 1970s that Washington's economy was still intimately tied to defense spending. In 1970 Boeing simultaneously faced a stagnant market for commercial jets and a loss of military contracts as the US began to withdraw from Vietnam, pursue détente with Moscow and Beijing, and cut its defense budget. When Boeing dismissed nearly three-quarters of its workforce in the next three years, Washington's economy took a nose dive. (See document 48.) The state's population declined for the first time in over a century. The population of Seattle fell so rapidly that residents put up a billboard along Interstate 5 at the city line which asked, "Will the last person leaving Seattle please turn out the lights?" Only a strong market for 747s in the mid-1970s pulled Boeing, and Washington, out of the recession. President Reagan's defense build-up greatly contributed to the Boeing-led economic boom of the 1980s.
The economy of Washington's Tri-Cities-Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick—has been even more intimately tied to American foreign policy. Before the coming of the Manhattan Project, the population of the Tri-Cities was 6,000. During World War II, the Army build a large company town, a "secret city," at Richland, near its Hanford site. By 1945 Richland alone held 15,000 residents. The relative calm of the immediate post-war years generated a slight decline in the Tri-Cities' population. The U.S. decision to produce hydrogen bombs, however, spurred further growth of Hanford and the Tri-Cities in the late 1940s and early 1950s. (See document 51.) Throughout the early Cold War, Hanford was America's largest producer of weapons-grade plutonium. The slowing down of the nuclear arms race in the middle to late 1960s brought economic stagnation to the Tri-Cities. The Tri-Cities are still dependent on federal spending. Now, however, federal money is devoted not to building bombs, but to cleaning up the highly toxic by-products of plutonium production that contaminate the Hanford site.
E. The Legacy of the Cold War
Simply by looking at a map, one can see ways in which the Cold War has affected Washington. The large Hanford Nuclear Reservation fills a fair amount of the southeastern part of the state. Of the many lasting impacts of the Cold War on Washington state, the radioactive waste at Hanford is perhaps the most apparent, and certainly the most enduring. It will be over 10,000 years before many of the compounds created at Hanford stop emitting dangerous levels of radiation. Other places also still bespeak the influence of the Cold War—especially the submarine base at Bangor and the enlarged Yakima Training Center and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. The expansion of Washington's military infrastructure during the Cold War is one of the main reasons why about 7% of the land in Washington state is now owned by the military or the Department of Energy. Although the gradual diversification of Washington's economy has made the state less reliant on defense spending, military bases and defense production continue to play a substantial role in the Washington economy. Indeed, many Washington bases have grown even larger after the end of the Cold War. As the federal government closed scores of military posts during the 1990s, it redeployed troops and equipment to stations that remained open. The strategic location of Washington bases, combined with the ability of Washington politicians to keep these posts stocked with the most up-to-date military hardware, has allowed Washington's military bases to prosper during the post-Cold War contraction of the American military as a whole.
The long-term political effects of the Cold War are harder to spot. The Red Scare obviously cut a broad swath across Washington state politics in the late 1940s and 1950s—propelling conservative politicians to power, destroying the Washington Pension Union and other radical political groups, temporarily silencing liberal dissenters, and leaving a trail of besmirched reputations and shattered careers. Identifying the lasting consequences of these events, however, is not a simple task because it requires speculating on what might have happened in the absence of the Red Scare. How would Washington's 1948 health care plan for the poor have fared if it had not been doomed by conservatives' vigorous red—baiting and the WPU's commitment to Soviet foreign policy? How would Washington politics have developed differently if Canwell and his allies had not systematically destroyed the far left wing? Communists and leftists could have simply faded away, discredited by their apologies for Stalinism, or they might have survived as an organized force and strengthened the political movements of the 1960s.
Although the American CP was extinguished as a political force, communists eventually won a series of victories in court, setting important precedents. During the height of the Red Scare, courts condoned the persecution of leftists by accepting the principle of "guilt by association" and by granting incredibly broad powers to the Canwell Committee and HUAC. However, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Supreme Court declared many anti-communist tactics unconstitutional. The Court narrowed the definition of conspiracy to making definite and detailed plans to overthrow a government, prohibiting the "guilt by association" arguments used against the "Seattle Seven." It also declared that the First Amendment prohibited legislative committees from forcing private individuals to testify about their political beliefs or affiliations. Similarly, the Court proclaimed that loyalty oaths, laws banning or restricting the CP, and other laws designed to prevent communists from obtaining employment were clear violations of the First Amendment. One of the legacies of the Red Scare—or, more accurately, the fight against it—was thus the strengthening of First Amendment protections.
Perhaps the most important change the Cold War brought to Washington state was sheer growth. Over 1,000,000 people moved to Washington between 1950 and 1970, the apex of Cold War military production. (See document 46 for population statistics from several Washington cities.) The majority of those newcomers settled in the rapidly expanding suburbs of the Puget Sound region. As development sprawled along much of the Puget Sound, residents became increasingly concerned about the loss of green spaces, the increasing air and water pollution, and the ever worsening traffic problems. (Of course, most Washingtonians liked suburbs and wanted further economic development; they just didn't care for the "side effects.") While Washington politics had revolved around struggles between radicals and anti-radicals from the 1880s to the 1950s, by the 1960s a new set of issues, centering on growth and the environment, had risen to the fore. By promoting rapid economic growth and by destroying the far left wing, the Cold War had thus refocused Washington state politics.