View the h-diplo Discussion Logs by month
View the Prior Message in h-diplo's July 2003 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
View the Next Message in h-diplo's July 2003 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
Visit the h-diplo home page.
>Dr. Alterman wrote: > >I have no desire to reopen this can of worms and if I were forced to >make a judgement, I would probably guess that Chambers (the admitted >perjurer, liar, and traitor) is probably closer to the truth than Hiss, >who has admitted none of these things, but I should like to point out for >the benefit of the list that the case remains contested. Indeed. However, the number of Hiss partisans and " Hiss agnostics" has steadily diminished over the years as the weight of evidence has accumulated. Chambers probably did not, I agree with Dr. Alterman, tell the full story of his relationship with Alger Hiss but the fact there is a story to tell in the first place is what was so damning to Hiss in court. The United States was not " the main adversary " of the Soviet security services in the 1930's which in any event had the run of the American embassy in Moscow. The networks run by the NKVD, the GRU, AMTORG and the underground CPUSA were providing intelligence that was mostly relevant regarding third parties - Trotskyites, Japan, Great Britain, Germany, American leftists in Spain and the like. Moreover, it is also true that Stalin's paranoia and purges shaped the Intel reports he received because Soviet intelligence officers greatly feared making a political misstep and sought to curry Stalin's favor. These caveats are peripheral however to the main point of the Hiss case. The crux is that a foreign power rather easily inserted spies, some of who like Hiss and Harry Dexter White and others later became agents of influence in very high policy positions of the American government. Whether White and Hiss performed " active measures " at the behest of Soviet controllers at that point in their careers is less important than the fact that their deep and emotional allegiance to the Soviet Union rendered them unfit for their posts. Secondly, the reaction by FDR and Truman ( or Eastern Establishment elite if you want to throw in Dean Acheson and John Foster Dulles) to information regarding potential disloyalty by Hiss and others was to wave it away (FDR) or obfuscate, cover-up and attack the bearers of bad news (Truman). The Hiss case continues to resonate after fifty years because to a great extent the above reactions remained for decades the reflexive response of the Left to the Hiss case; Dr. Alterman did so when he wrote that Chambers was a " perjurer, liar and traitor " - all true but Hiss' legal problems began in earnest when Chambers stopped rather than started those activities. More pointedly, from the New Left forward, this reaction was also their general response to any assertions of a threat posed by Communism. That is, in my opinion, why the Hiss case remains a touchstone; it's an ideological shorthand for the Left and Right on a host of related issues. Mark Safranski