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PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post Alfred Dreyfus and Alger Hiss
Created by John Eipper on 07/26/21 3:36 AM

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Alfred Dreyfus and Alger Hiss (David Duggan, USA, 07/26/21 3:36 am)

History doesn't play favorites; it doesn't have a side. It simply records what happened and offers later generations to interpret how and why what happened happened.

Consider that if the Nazis had prevailed in WWII, or at least kept their French territory, Dreyfus would have been obliterated from French history books. Later generations may have found about him the same way current generations are re-interpreting Alger Hiss (was he a traitor? He certainly lied under oath which was what he was convicted of). But the re-interpretation of Hiss came about only because of the fall of the Soviet Union and the release of the Venona project files.

Hiss of course had his supporters (Dean Acheson, Secretary of State, famously said, "I will not turn my back on Alger Hiss), and defenders keep coming out of the woodwork (or should I say "Woodstock" typewriter--made 50 miles NW of Chicago) to claim that the coded messages describe someone other than Hiss, but the fact remains that he lied about his not knowing George Crosley, one of Whitaker Chambers' noms de guerre (or pen-names if you will; he was a writer).  Hiss skated on an espionage charge because the operative events occurred outside the 10-year period of limitations.

JE comments:  David, I'll have to disagree with you here.  History always plays favorites.  What happened happened, but "history" is something different.  Long ago Hayden White demonstrated that history has more in common with literary narratives than with the bald facts.

Your comparison of the Dreyfus and Hiss cases is spot-on.  Seventy years later, Hiss's guilt is more or less assumed in the popular imagination.  The name even sounds sinister--Alger Hiss.  Richard Nixon parlayed his antagonism with Hiss into the vice presidency and later, the White House.


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  • I Knew Alger Hiss--and He Was a Gentleman (Leo Goldberger, USA 07/27/21 3:21 AM)
    It is not that I ever would have noted a similarity between the Dreyfus and Hiss cases, but David Duggan made me think --what did they have in common? Yes, they both suffered from the politics of their historical period, with Dreyfus being Jewish and Hiss a suspected communist spy. Needless to say, it was a troublesome period that affected many innocent people--among them, in the USA, unpleasant personalities such as Whittaker Chambers (and the hidden hollowed-out pumpkins on his farm); Richard Nixon, the unappealing but opportunistic congressman; followed by the most disgusting senator McCarthy (of the "have you no shame" fame)-- preparing us all for yet another major political snake in our time--and, incredibly, still featured as newsworthy by TV's never-ending concern.

    It so happens that I was among those "liberals" who followed the Hiss case in every detail as the trials wore on. By now it might require a first-rate "honors thesis" to recount the case in the entirety and the hundreds of details, not just limited to the authenticity of the typewriter's history of Chamber's original spy charge against Hiss--but in the end was dropped due to the time limit. However, it ought to be noted that in 1992 the chairman of the Russian military intelligence service said his review of the newly opened files disclosed "not a single document that Alger Hiss spied." And the charge of perjury that did end him up in prison some years seemed unfair, to say the least. It was simply based on the fact that he had not known the various names, among them a "George Crosley," one of Chamber's noms de guerre as David Duggan points out. Yet David fails to mention that as soon Hiss was confronted with Chambers in person he admitted knowing him.


    As you can tell from the above, I was a staunch Hiss supporter. Perhaps it was because I knew him in person--over several years when he often came to visit with friends in the Berkshires. All I can say, he was a genuine 19th-century gentleman--exceedingly bright, well educated, and a joy to be around, despite his preoccupation with his openly discussion of his legal case in great detail and his preoccupation to gain his law license back after his imprisonment. Not that it has any relevance whatsoever, my wife and I were always impressed with his openness and kindness---and the incredible fact that he could always identify not just the type of wine we and others among his friends were serving, but often specify the vineyard itself! We and his many friends miss him (and his wonderful second wife) here in the Berkshires.


    JE comments:  Leo, you have the most interesting social circle of anyone I know.  Hiss lived just long enough (he died in 1996) to be exonerated by the opened Soviet archives, but he spent nearly half a century under a cloud of suspicion.  Even in the progressive, tolerant Berkshires, the neighborhood tongues must have wagged when Hiss was around.


    Your brushes with history never cease to amaze me!


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