Red Menaces and Green Men
America in 1951
Buddy Holly is thirteen years old. Frank Sinatra's career is in bad decline as he plays for half-full rooms in Vegas; next year he'll sing at a county fair in Hawaii, which isn't even a state yet.
After taking Pyongyang and pushing the North Koreans almost across the Yalu River and into China, American forces in Korea have suffered a shattering defeat at the hands of Communist China's army. Seoul has fallen, and UN troops are retreating to the coastal city of Pusan. Here they hope to hold out long enough to be evacuated, leaving the peninsula to the Communists. In the skies above Korea, American and Russian aircraft (the latter disguised with North Korean markings) have engaged in pitched dogfights. Many people, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believe it's possible the United States and the Soviet Union will be at war in Europe by 1955, if not sooner.
In 1949, the USSR exploded its first nuclear bomb, developed with the help of Communist spies in the American atom bomb project. The year before, a Soviet-sponsored coup ended Czechoslovakian democracy. In 1947, the Chinese Communists, lead by Mao Tse-Tung, had evicted Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalists from the mainland and onto the island of Formosa (now known as Taiwan). Under FDR and Truman, the US government had poured millions of dollars and thousands of tons of war material into Nationalist coffers, but endemic corruption and incompetence on the part of the Nationalists squandered it all. Many Americans blame Truman and the Democratic party for "losing China", either by failing to directly intervene militarily or because it's suspected that the State Department has been infiltrated by Communist sympathizers.
The immediate post-World War II era has been characterized by a sense of deep unease; the war solved the problem of Nazi and Fascist world domination, but seemingly did so by transmuting it into the threat of Communism and nuclear war. Problems that were papered over during the war are re-emerging into the light: the struggle between big business and organized labor; fear of juvenile delinquency; and endemic racism, manifested most violently in the South. Already by 1948, the Russian phrase "А у вас негров линчуют" ["And you are lynching Negroes"] has achieved a status akin to The Iliad's "rosy-fingered Dawn" in Soviet retorts to American critiques. J. Edgar Hoover, the immensely powerful head of the FBI, is more concerned about the possible Communist affiliations of anti-lynching pressure groups than he is in catching and prosecuting the murderers.
The Second Red Scare kicked into high gear in 1950, when Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) informed the Republican Women's Club of Wheeling, WV that there were at least 205 Communists in the State Department. The widespread belief that FDR had made a bad deal with Stalin at Yalta meant that this fell on fertile soil; how could Roosevelt have not made a bad deal, when he was advised by traitors?
The most popular program on television is the variety show Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, sponsored by Lipton and headlined by the adenoidal egomaniac Arthur Godfrey. The number two show is the Texaco Star Theater, hosted by Milton Berle. The brand-new sitcom I Love Lucy will take the third spot in 1950, displacing last year's Philco TV Playhouse.
EC Comics is at the height of its popularity; their three horror titles, Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear, popular with teenagers, are igniting the first sparks of a moral panic about the the minds of America's youths. Thanks to licensed properties from Disney and cowboy television programs, Dell Comics controls a third of the comic book market, despite producing less than 20% of the titles.
It's 1951, and people are afraid and uneasy. When aren't they.