One of the most engaging practices that a student of history may engage in is that age-old game of “what if”? What if Mark Antony and Cleopatra had not fallen in love? What if Napoleon had been taller? What if the Battle of Gettysburg had gone the other way. What if Harry S Truman had decided to run for reelection in 1952?
This last question may seem to be a relatively trivial one. Certainly, Truman was not a bad president, but he is not generally counted among the nation’s great presidents. But answering the question of what would have happened if Truman had run again – and the related question of why Truman did not run again – can help us to understand the roots of the anti-Communist hysteria that swept the United States in the middle of the past century.
In looking to Truman – and Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson – we will find half of the answer as to why there was such an uprising against Communism in the United States. But only half – for while the years of red-baiting in part arose from the specific political and economic circumstances that obtained after World War II, they also arose from fundamental and centuries-old dynamics in American culture.
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