What Was the Red Threat?

Mary McMahon

The “Red Threat” was a term which was used to refer to the Soviet Union and to the spread of Communism during the Cold War. The Cold War was a period marked by hostilities between Western powers and Communist nations, complete with subversives, spies, and other components which sound like tales from thriller novels. In the United States, many politicians believed that Communists posed a serious threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the United States, and the terms “Red Menace” and “Red Threat” were often heard in political speeches throughout the Cold War and well into the Presidency of Ronald Reagan.

The Soviet Union exerted influence through its military might.
The Soviet Union exerted influence through its military might.

The color red has often been used as a symbol by Communist and populist movements. Red is associated with the blood of workers, and it is also a universal symbol of warning. Many radical groups adopted the color as part of their symbolism, probably partially because it helped them stand out from a crowd. Several Communist countries including China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) used predominantly red flags. The symbolism of the color red was used in slang terms which referred to Communist, such as the ubiquitous “reds.”

Joseph Stalin was a key figure during the Cold War, when the Red Threat was dominant.
Joseph Stalin was a key figure during the Cold War, when the Red Threat was dominant.

Get started

Want to automatically save money while you shop online?

Join 3 million Wikibuy users who have found 
$70 million in savings over the last year.

Wikibuy compensates us when you install Wikibuy using the links we provided.

The United States government in particular was fond of using the Red Threat as a political tool during the Cold War. Many politicians argued for an assortment of policies which were meant to counteract the Red Threat, from routine wiretapping of suspected Communists to involvements in foreign conflicts such as Korea. Historians often use the term “Red Scare” to describe the tactics used to keep citizens of Western countries in a state of fear about Communist takeover.

A portrait of Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong.
A portrait of Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong.

Ronald Reagan, an extremely conservative American President, is often closely associated with the Red Threat, since it was a constant theme in his speeches and writings. Under his Presidency, the United States built up large numbers of weapons and troops to deter a Communist invasion, and the nation directly engaged Communism around the world. These policies were viewed unfavorably by some people in the American public, although the full details of military actions and other activities sponsored by Reagan's administration did not emerge until much later.

Communist forces fielded several potent weapon systems, like the Typhoon class submarine, during the Cold War.
Communist forces fielded several potent weapon systems, like the Typhoon class submarine, during the Cold War.

Despite his often aggressive tactics with the Soviets, Ronald Reagan is also credited with helping to end the Cold War by engaging in negotiations with Soviet leaders such as Mikhail Gorbachev. When Reagan realized that military approaches to combat the Red Threat weren't working, he turned to diplomacy, participating in a number of treaties and agreements to end weapons proliferation and establish a tentative peace between Russia and the United States.

Early Soviet achievements in spaceflight heightened the American public's sense of a "Red Threat".
Early Soviet achievements in spaceflight heightened the American public's sense of a "Red Threat".
A map of the Soviet Union, with the star, sickle, and hammer that appeared on its flag.
A map of the Soviet Union, with the star, sickle, and hammer that appeared on its flag.
Ronald Reagan was very concerned with the Red Threat.
Ronald Reagan was very concerned with the Red Threat.
An illustration of China with the Chinese flag superimposed on it.
An illustration of China with the Chinese flag superimposed on it.
The U.S.S.R. was able to develop the hydrogen bomb shortly after the U.S. did because of spies like Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
The U.S.S.R. was able to develop the hydrogen bomb shortly after the U.S. did because of spies like Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments

anon262632

What did all of the colors represent during the cold war

because my teacher told me that each color is represented differently!

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register: