Was ‘Operation Red Scare’ McCarthyism?


As the Santa Rosa Junior College school year comes to an end, I suspect I’m not the only person on campus who is hoping to put the ‘Red Star Flyer’ to rest.  It’s an understandable impulse.  Personally, I’d much rather spend my time thinking about philosophy, talking with students, worrying about the San Francisco Giants’ prospects, and spending quality time with my family.


But as we move on with our lives, I do think it’s important to think about the significance of this semester’s controversy; for, I believe, there are important lessons to learn.


I was one of ten S.R.J.C. instructors who were associated with the illegal act of indoctrinating a preference for overthrowing our government and replacing it with a Marxist dictatorship.  The student group responsible for this created a press release claiming they did this “because we believe certain instructors at SRJC are in violation of state law.”  Yet the leader of this group admitted she had “no specific complaints, no threats or specific accusations.” 


The term ‘McCarthyism’ often leads to rolled eyes and disapproving grimaces.  I suspect this is because some people believe the term is used too often and recklessly.  But what is McCarthyism?  The American Heritage dictionary defines it as “The practice of publicizing accusations of political disloyalty or subversion with insufficient regard for evidence.”  The ‘Red Star Incident’ is a clear case of McCarthyism.  The California College Republicans even created a press release giving it the McCarthyist name ‘Operation Red Scare’.


McCarthyism is not some abstract notion without everyday significance.  Such public accusations can provoke strong emotional reactions both toward the accused and from the accused.  And they should!  Political subversion is a serious charge; and publicizing such accusations with insufficient regard for evidence is reckless, dehumanizing, and despicable.


Furthermore, how we respond to McCarthyism matters.   I’m still dismayed by Dana Wright’s March 2nd column.  Despite comparing the ‘Red Star Flyer’ to the infamous 1964 ‘Daisy Ad’, which he claimed “capitalized on people’s fears by falsely claiming that if Goldwater was elected, there would be a nuclear war,” and despite calling the ‘Red Star Flyer’ a “scarlet letter,” Wright began his column by giving “My compliments to the designer of the ‘scarlet letter’ that appeared on the doors and windows of several SRJC instructors…” 


And I remain disappointed in Bailey Hall’s inattentive non-response to ‘Operation Red Scare’.  The silence echoes throughout the campus.


On the other hand, The Academic Senate should be commended for its March 16th ‘Red Star Resolution’; and Sonoma State University’s Academic Senate showed integrity in its April 11th resolution condemning the ‘Red Star Incident’.


So as I approach the end of this semester, and I look forward to putting the ‘Red Star Incident’ behind me, I don’t want to neglect its lessons.  I want to learn from this ugly episode.  I want to forge ahead with a strengthened resolve to identify and resist McCarthyism when I encounter it.  I want to acknowledge those who fail to resist it.  I want to appreciate those who do resist it.  And I want to move forward with a deepened appreciation of such concerns as part of my commitment to democracy.





Michael Aparicio

Philosophy Department