Joseph Raymond "Joe" McCarthy (November 14, 1908 – May 2, 1957) was an American politician who was a U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957. Beginning in 1950, McCarthy became the most visible public face of a period in which Cold War tensions fueled fears of widespread Communist subversion. He was noted for alleging large numbers of Communists and Soviet spies and sympathizers inside the federal government and elsewhere. Ultimately, the controversy he generated led him to be censured by the U.S. Senate. The term "McCarthyism", coined in 1950 in reference to McCarthy's practices, was soon applied to similar anti-communist activities. Today, the term is used in reference to what are considered demagogic, reckless, and unsubstantiated accusations, as well as public attacks on the character or patriotism of political opponents.
Born in Grand Chute, Wisconsin, McCarthy commissioned in to the Marine Corps in 1942, where he served as an intelligence briefing officer for a dive bomber squadron. Following the end of World War II, he attained the rank of major. He volunteered to fly twelve combat missions as a gunner-observer, acquiring (or perhaps giving himself) the nickname "Tail-Gunner Joe". Some of his claims of heroism were later shown to be exaggerated or falsified, leading many of his critics to use "Tail-Gunner Joe" as a term of mockery.
McCarthy successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1946, defeating Robert M. La Follette Jr. After three largely undistinguished years in the Senate, McCarthy rose suddenly to national fame in February 1950 when he asserted in a speech that he had a list of "members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring" who were employed in the State Department. In succeeding years after his 1950 speech, McCarthy made additional accusations of Communist infiltration into the State Department, the administration of President Harry S. Truman, the Voice of America, and the U.S. Army. He also used various charges of communism, communist sympathies, disloyalty, or sex crimes to attack a number of politicians and other individuals inside and outside of government. This included a concurrent "Lavender Scare" against suspected homosexuals (while homosexuality was against the law at the time, it was also considered a liability for blackmail).
With the highly publicized Army–McCarthy hearings of 1954, and following the suicide of Wyoming Senator Lester C. Hunt that same year, McCarthy's support and popularity faded. On December 2, 1954, the Senate voted to censure Senator McCarthy by a vote of 67–22, making him one of the few senators ever to be disciplined in this fashion. McCarthy died at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland on May 2, 1957, at the age of 48. The official cause of death was acute hepatitis. Some biographers say this was caused or exacerbated by alcoholism.
Decades after McCarthy's death, it has been argued that the Venona project—which decrypted Soviet messages, Soviet espionage data now opened to the West, and newly released transcripts of closed hearings before McCarthy's subcommittee—partially vindicated McCarthy by showing that many of his identifications of Communists were correct, and that the scale of Soviet espionage activity in the U.S. during the 1940s and 1950s was larger than many suspected. These suggestions have been the subject of dispute....LESS