Like his great work The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge is a commentary on the anti-communist hysteria that swept America during the middle of the 20th century. An assessment of why this was so pervasive is helpful to understand why the Italian immigrants live in an atmosphere of pervasive anxiety.
During the Second World War, the Soviet Union was a U.S. ally, albeit a complicated one. Having embraced communism during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the country, which was led by Joseph Stalin, was a totalitarian enclave of repression. Many Russians were impoverished due to central economic planning (the Five Year Plan); others feared for their lives, as anyone deemed disloyal or an enemy of Stalin was thrown into the gulag or killed.
The United States overlooked this while the war was going on, although the alliance between the two countries was never a warm one. Once the war ended, however, several things combined to make the relationship even more fraught. The ideological and economic differences could no longer be ignored: the U.S.S.R. was communist and totalitarian, the United States capitalist and democratic. Both, though, wanted to spread their worldview. The U.S.S.R. also stoked American resentment about the delay in opening a second front during the war, and felt like it had paid the lion’s share of the human costs. In short, the two superpowers became increasingly hostile toward each other, especially as the U.S.S.R. began to move into neighboring Eastern European countries, including Poland, and supporting China in its communist revolution.
By the late 1940s, the Cold War was in full swing. The ambassador to the Soviet Union, John Kenneth Galbraith, articulated a policy of “containment”: keeping communism within the borders of the Soviet Union and the satellites, while President Truman pledged aid to Greece and Turkey, both economically unstable and thus prone to communist encroachment. Over the next few years, a divided Berlin, firmly ensconced in a divided Germany, became a site of tension; China fell to communism; North Korea invaded the South; Vietnam kicked the French colonizers out and communism under Ho Chi Minh began to offer a formidable response to the pro-Western government of Ngo Dinh Diem; the Soviet Union moved deeper into Eastern Europe; and Castro started a revolution in Cuba.
It was no wonder, then, that Americans felt an increasing fear that communism was going to infiltrate their own country and threaten everything they held dear. This fear manifested itself at all levels of society. The government required loyalty oaths, the House Un-American Activities Committee forced people to name names, and Joseph McCarthy reigned supreme in the Senate. Teachers were limited in what they could tell students, “anti-American” books and films were banned or censored, and all forms of perceived radicalism or dissent were persecuted. Propaganda was everywhere, trying to impress upon Americans how evil the Soviets were and how diligent they must be in routing the Red Menace. Americans looked upon foreigners, especially from places seen as welcoming to communism, with heightened suspicion. Illegal immigrants would have been frightening because it was expected that they brought with them ideas of destroying the fabric of American society.