Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Alger Hiss and the Permanent War

The public confrontation between Alger Hiss and Whitaker Chambers was one of the great flash points of the Cold War.  Chambers, a journalist, charged Hiss with being a communist spy in the state department.  How did Chambers know?  He was in the same communist cell that Hiss was him, and actually worked with him in the Soviet espionage effort.

Hiss eventually went to jail--on perjury charges.  But Chambers account of the whole episode, his book Witness, will go down as one of the greatest autobiographies of the 20th century.  Chambers was not only a former Soviet agent, he was a truly great writer.

Meanwhile, there are still liberals in denial about Hiss's guilt.  During the Cold War, it was part of the blood oath liberals apparently swore to one another as part of the general campaign to either support or enable the Soviet Union.  It's just what you did if you were on the political left: it was part of what it meant to be a liberal.

But the case against Hiss was based on compelling evidence, the case in his favor on ideological sympathy. The case against him was buttressed by the otherwise inexplicable promosthinary warbler and the Woodstock typewriter (you'll have to read the accounts of the case to get the full import of these); the case in his favor by the fact that he never confessed and that he was a nice guy.

Today, despite the growing evidence from foreign intelligence files and other sources confirming Hiss's involvement in espionage, his son, Tony, carries on the fight for his father's vindication.  It's a touching, but ultimately tragic effort.

Read Matthew Richer's informative account on First Principles


Lee said...

Reading about the Hiss-Chambers case was probably my first introduction into the sheer obstinacy of liberalism. Anything, but admit that Richard Nixon was ever right about anything, ever.

Martin Cothran said...

You nailed it.