This was the period of McCarthyism. The following short summary from Wikipedia outlines the issues of the time:
McCarthyism is the political action of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. The term specifically describes activities associated with the period in the United States known as the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1950s and characterized by heightened fears of communist influence on American institutions and espionage by Soviet agents. Originally coined to criticize the anti-communist pursuits of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, "McCarthyism" soon took on a broader meaning, describing the excesses of similar efforts. The term is also now used more generally to describe reckless, unsubstantiated accusations, as well as demagogic attacks on the character or patriotism of political adversaries.
During the post–World War II era of McCarthyism, many thousands of Americans were accused of being Communists or communist sympathizers and became the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning before government or private-industry panels, committees and agencies. The primary targets of such suspicions were government employees, those in the entertainment industry, educators and union activists. Suspicions were often given credence despite inconclusive or questionable evidence, and the level of threat posed by a person's real or supposed leftist associations or beliefs was often greatly exaggerated. Many people suffered loss of employment, destruction of their careers, and even imprisonment.
"I remember something of the events behind the letter. While in family gatherings before and after his visit to Russia, Henry Batke Jr was known by the family Batke clan to hold forth on his views on the US government, Russia, religion, and unions. I was a high school student at the time of all of this in a conservative - ultraconservative St. Joseph where I simply was too naive to register real understanding of all that was going on that was coming from him. Today we can all say as the result of genealogical studies, I’m speculating, that as Germans from Russia we can understand his and our own interest in Russia. Perhaps he visited family members in his visit to or from Russia. Aunt Anna Batke Pesko might know.
It's important to know that behind the letter he wrote, uncle Henry was a bombardier on a B-17 over Germany who brought to the whole Batke family clan a pictorial history book of WWII after he returned from his tour of duty--and more.
(By the way, it was last Sunday 8/8/10 when 7 B-17's of the 8000+ manufactured at the local Bomber manufacturing plant at Willow Run Airport flew over the Ypsilanti Willow Run airfield at an airshow that spurred memories of Henry. I saw them and remembered the Henry Batke experience. Thanks to son Mark who invited me to view that airshow.
The Pictorial WWII History from Henry Batke Jr contained vivid pictures of bombing runs by the US Air Force which Henry explained in detail to family members. In his favor, I admired his military service, was mesmerized by his description of bomber attacks over Germany as described especially to family members and was mystified by what became his singular views about the soviet union during the cold war (1947-1991 according to Wikipedia). He was a reader, a thinker, and found little sympathy within the immediate and extended family for some of his views based on war duty during WWII and his Russia trip in the '50's. Before I left to go away to junior college, I remember being able to ask him with others of the family some details of his thinking which he was always willing to share. He anticipated the 1960's in the mid 1950's by his views, one could say, because he saw the horrors of war from 30,000 feet from the bombsight which was his tool for directing pilots at pre-bomb release time and apparent reaction to the war and the tragedies common in the headlines.
Because my father Herman worked for 43 years in a union environment at 1900 Corporation and Whirlpool, I understood the need for unions as well as heard of both management and union problems. In my corporate consulting and teaching life and because I was a student of W Edwards Deming, I have been ready to discuss both sides of the union and anti-union issue. It was W Edwards Deming who implored American industry managers and union workers to work together. Deming insisted that "the system" errors were 70% the fault of management, not because management had to work with unions, but because they failed to make the system work well for both sides. Needless to say, unions and management relationships are no less controversial today.
The letter below reflects Uncle Henry Batke’s unfulfilled dream of going to both China and Germany. Unlike uncle Henry, I was not only able to go to the Taiwan version of China but actually serve the Lutheran Church in Taiwan for nearly 5 years there to both learn and teach. I was also actually able to visit Hong Kong with my wife Barbara, a stone's throw from China. Last year Barbara and I visited Germany, if only at an airport on the way to Rome.
Unfortunately, Henry mentioned little of what he experienced in Russia that I concretely remember today. I would recommend that parents urge children of this generation to experience both Russia and China and study these languages as part of the future despite what people may think and because of the benefits of studying first hand other people and their cultures. I will always value Uncle Henry's experience and point of view as controversial in a city like St. Joseph in the post WW II and cold war periods of our country's history.
It is hoped that someone will find the Mar 2 1955 article in the News Palladium and share it."
PS. Thanks Elaine for placing Henry's letter on your blog.
Don, you are right on, regarding your comments about Uncle Henry. I do agree 100% with you regarding the facts about Henry, and his timing for traveling to Russia. He and I have had numerous discussions about that trip, later in life, and the Palladium Article. My Father too was very involved with Henry regarding the "attitudes" in the area over the trip.
I do remember the War Time albums that "Hank" had....very nicely cared for and preserved....all of his Military Years......interesting to have him talk about his involvement.