I can't say I remember the Fifties from when they happened; when they happened, I was in grammar school. I remember the nuclear duck-and-cover drills (yeah, right. Even at the age of 11 I thought that was pretty weird.); I remember everyone freaking out over Sputnik. But most of the current events I read about, I got from Scholastic magazine, or whatever it was.
Later, I began to read about the Cold War, and the Communists, and the loyalty oaths, and the Hollywood blacklists, and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Anyone else remember HUAC? And Joe McCarthy? I thought you did.
In those halcyon days, you didn't need any proof to destroy a man's career. All you needed was an accusation - "He's a Commie." (Do we hear echoes of the Salem witch trials? We should.) At that point, the principle that the accused is innocent until proven guilty went out the window, and the accused was in the impossible position of trying to prove a negative. "You're a Commie." "No, I'm not." "Yes, you are." And then what? Usually, the accused ... lost his job. And didn't get another.
I'm thinking about all this because of the appalling cover on the New Yorker, showing Michelle Obama in fatigues and an ammo belt, and Barack Obama in a turban and robe, doing what Fox News really did call a "terrorist fist-jab." (Note to Michelle: next time, do a high five.) No, I don't think the New Yorker really thinks Barack Obama is a Muslim terrorist. I also don't think the New Yorker staff devoted any thought to the fact that there's a small (I hope it's small) but visible group of uninformed people out there who really do think that Barack Obama is a Muslim terrorist. Or, at least, a Muslim. I heard one of them being interviewed on NPR, just the other day - a member of "Latinas for McCain."
I can't find it right now, but I read someone quoting BHO telling some idiot interviewer that it isn't an insult to call someone a Muslim; and I wanted to cheer. One of the things that encourages me about his campaign is the web site, FightTheSmears.com - he's actually trying to fight the rumors about him with facts. Wotta concept: a Presidential candidate who thinks he can reason with the American people. I hope he's right.
What is it about us as a society, that makes us create some Awful Thing to fear, and then accuse people we don't like of being part of the Awful Thing, so that they're in the position of having to prove - that they are innocent. Our legal system says, we have to prove the accused is guilty. But we don't believe it, or at least we don't act like we believe it. Witch. Royalist. Kraut (WWI). Nazi (WWII). Commie. And now - Muslim terrorist. (Disclaimer: there was no attempt to make this a complete list.) And once the accusation is raised, it's up to the accused to convince us, who already believe it, that we're wrong.
We'd be much nicer people if we didn't behave this way. And I don't think we'd be any less safe.
But next time - do a high five.