Many in the United States were unnerved by communism’s success in Russia and in political parties throughout Europe. From 1917 to 1920 America passed through a period known as the Red Scare, where fear of political radicals and European immigrants combined with patriotism during World War I to produce laws that suppressed free speech and labor unions and exploited racial fears, resulting in the loss of property and freedom for tens of thousands.
Fears subsided as the war ended and the prosperous 1920s arrived. America scaled back the flow of immigrants and retreated from the world stage. Still, many in America were fascinated by a scientific approach applied to government, including President Woodrow Wilson’s war-era growth of the federal government. Some took trips to the Soviet Union in the 1920s to study communism under Josef Stalin and fascism under Italy’s Benito Mussolini. Some of these returned to take leadership roles in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration during the depression of the 1930s.
What ardor may have been invested in these systems, however, began to fade as the tyrannical nature of each grew more pronounced, pushing Europe again toward war. Italy’s fascism allied itself with Adolph Hitler’s German nazism and against communism. Country by country, the continent fell beneath the Nazi boot. As Moscow and London groaned under the weight of its attack, Washington moved to shore up both.
Once the United States entered the war, America’s support for Great Britain and the Soviet Union moved from material assistance to formal alliance. By war’s end, the USSR had lost over 20 million people in its fight against Germany, purchasing for itself immense credibility from nations liberated from Axis tyranny. The United States emerged from the war as the unqualified leader of the free world. The stage was set for the working out of Tocqueville’s premonition. Communism and Capitalism were poised to elbow their way into global preeminence. Could the Soviet Union hold on to its credibility? Would America, having attained international leadership, once again abandon it?