IKE | Witches’ Sabbath
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Witches’ Sabbath

The Crucible

Witches’ Sabbath

In Norse mythology. Friday is named for Frigga, the goddess of love and fertility. As Christianity gained popularity among the Norse tribes, Frigga was banished to a mountaintop and labeled a witch. It was believed that every Friday, she gathered with her coven to plot evil for the coming week. For many centuries in Scandinavia, Friday was known as “Witches’ Sabbath.”

It’s Friday, so let’s talk about witches&#8212or more precisely&#8212witch hunts…

In 1692, nineteen men and women and two dogs were convicted and hanged for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. Arthur Miller mined this historical event to write his fictional allegory about McCarthyism in his Tony award-winning play, The Crucible.

At the time, Senator Joseph McCarthy was one of the most powerful men in America. He had whipped up the country into a frenzy over Communists infiltrating the government. Miller was aghast at the vast over-reaction and decided to fight back the best way he knew how – through his writing. It was a huge risk for Miller.

Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?

That was the question that hung in the air in the spring of 1954 during the Army-McCarthy hearings. Miller describes the paranoia. The hearings lasted nearly three months. The final two months were televised live on ABC and the Dumont network. What the television audience saw in McCarthy was a reckless bully who played fast and loose with the facts. Edward R. Murrow summed it up best:

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.
&#8212Edward R. Murrow

Recently, wingnuts like Ann Coulter and Jonah Goldberg have tried to resurrect McCarthy’s image. It would be easy to dismiss their actions as publicity stunts, but we ignore them at our peril. When people make outrageous claims, we owe it to everyone to ask them for proof. Otherwise, we risk suffering the same fate as those nineteen men and women and two dogs in Salem.

David Isaacson
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