Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Chifley, Joseph Benedict (1885–1951)

Australian politician and prime minister (1946–1949). Born in Bathurst, New South Wales, on 22 September 1885, Joseph Chifley hailed from Irish Catholic ancestry and was active in the union movement during his formative years. A committed democratic socialist, he embodied many of the traditional values of the leftist labor movement. The liberal internationalism that he shared with U.S. presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman made him a key player in forging postwar Australian-American relations.

In 1940 Chifley rose to prominence within the government of John Curtin and in November 1946 became prime minister. Chifley implemented programs similar in nature to Roosevelt's New Deal. The Chifley government was markedly affected by the growing Cold War hysteria that began to pervade American politics in the late 1940s. Chifley, for example, forcibly broke a 1949 coal strike, perceiving it as a potential menacing move by the Australian Communist Party. In spite of this measure, his political opponents, led by Robert Menzies, used rising American anticommunist fervor to wedge labor from its communist affiliates, thereby portraying Chifley and the labor movement as soft on communism. These perceptions, combined with Chifley's arrogant governing style, ultimately led to an election victory for Menzies and the Australian Liberal Party in late 1949. One of Chifley's greatest legacies was the founding of one of Australia's premier intelligence agencies, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), in response to the Soviet threat. This was an ironic twist for a man who lost an election based on his perceived softness toward communism. Chifley died in Canberra on 13 June 1951.

Josh Ushay


Further Reading
Johnson, Carol. The Labor Legacy: Curtin, Chifley, Whitlam, Hawke. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1989.; McMullin, Ross. "Joseph Benedict Chifley." Pp. 246–268 in Australian Prime Ministers, edited by Michelle Grattan. Sydney: New Holland Publishers, 2000.
 

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