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The judgment of history
Posted By Craige McMillan On 01/07/1999 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled
“I will give you an answer: I was a witness. I do not mean a witness
for the Government or against … the others. Nor do I mean the short,
squat, solitary figure, trudging through the impersonal halls of public
buildings to testify before Congressional committees, grand juries,
loyalty boards, courts of law. A man is not primarily a witness
against something. That is only incidental to the fact that he is
a witness for something. A witness, in the sense I am using the
word, is a man whose life and faith are so completely one that when the
challenge comes to step out and testify for his faith, he does so,
disregarding all risks, accepting all consequences.” –Whittaker
Chambers, Witness, 1952.
Historians, liberals, and media pundits today are braying for
their chance to speak for History and to offer on her behalf their
judgment of Bill Clinton’s legacy. They rail against Republicans for
impeaching — and now insisting on a trial in the Senate to remove — a
president who, in their words, has done so much for the country.
“History,” they collectively warn, wagging the finger that Mr. Clinton
wagged at America as he denied the Monica affair, “is going to judge
Today that judgment seems to hang upon what the meaning of “is” is.
Tomorrow, at least for us; and yesterday, for those to whom we bequeath
this nation, may take a rather different view.
Fifty years ago, Whittaker Chambers was a witness against Alger Hiss.
During the intervening years, historians, liberals, and media pundits
refused to believe that Alger Hiss, the promising young diplomat who sat
behind Roosevelt at Yalta, was a traitor to his country and a Soviet
spy. Instead, they judged Whittaker Chambers a fraud. They never forgave
Chambers for providing the evidence that resulted in a perjury
conviction, ending Hiss’ government career.
A single word now silences their voices: Venona. When the National
Security Agency released the Venona Intercepts several years ago, the
debate ended. Not only had Hiss been the traitor that Chambers claimed,
our government (at least the intelligence apparatus) knew that he was.
As human beings, we are prisoners of the moment. History will indeed
judge us: not only our action, but our inaction as well. But as
prisoners of time and space, we do not have the luxury of waiting fifty
years to determine Mr. Clinton’s contribution to history.
We are forced to deal with the record to date. If the Constitution is
followed, 100 United States Senators will soon hear evidence that
President Bill Clinton used the power and prestige of the presidency to
sodomize a contributor’s daughter in the Oval Office, lied about his
relationship to a judge and a grand jury, and used the power of the
presidency to obstruct the investigation into his misdeeds.
One hundred Senators do not have the luxury of waiting for History’s
judgment of Bill Clinton. They are obliged to give it within the next
As they sit in judgment, We the People would be wise to remind them:
Do not be so concerned with what History will say of you in 50 years.
But please be concerned with what History will be in 50 years as a
result of your judgments today.
What will happen to We the People, if the rule of law is not applied
equally to each of us? What will happen to our children and
grandchildren, if you allow the machinery of government to be used from
this moment on to satiate the private lusts of those holding the reins
of power? What will happen to the Republic, when those who know the
truth fail to act upon their sworn duty, preferring instead the fickle
flattery of the pollster’s craft? To whom will the world’s tired, its
poor, its huddled masses yearning to breathe free turn, when America
turns her back on the most lofty freedoms ever gained during the course
of human history, disdaining the blood of martyrs poured out on the
world’s battlefields to secure each inch of freedom clawed from the
despot’s throne? Where will the world be in fifty years, as a result of
your vote today?
As Chambers wrote so well, reflecting on that Christmas in 1947 when
he finally understood “that the force of words alone was not enough
against the treason of ideas. Acts were also required of a man if there
was something in him that enabled him to act.” (Witness, 1952,
Regnery Gateway by arrangement with Random House.) That Christmas, in a
cover essay for Time on Rebecca West’s new book, The Meaning
of Treason, Chambers wrote:
“The horror of treason is its sin against the spirit. And for him who
violates this truth there rises inevitably Bukharin’s absolutely black
vacuity, which is in reality a circle of absolute loneliness into which
neither father, wife, child nor friend, however compassionate, can bring
the grace of absolution. For this loneliness is a penalty inflicted by a
justice that transcends the merely summary justice of men. It is the
retributive meaning of treason because it is also one of the meanings of
Hell.” –Whittaker Chambers writing in Time Magazine, Christmas,
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