Editor’s note: The following commentary is excerpted from Jack Cashill’s eye-opening new book, “Hoodwinked: How Intellectual Hucksters Have Hijacked American Culture,” where he shows how, over the last century, “progressive” writers and producers have been using falsehood and fraud as their primary weapons in their attack on America.
“I am not and have never been a member of the Communist Party,” Alger Hiss said under oath on Aug. 5, 1948, and calmly refuted the accusation of former Soviet agent Whittaker Chambers. The House Un-American Activities Committee had subpoenaed Chambers two days before. Then a senior editor at Time magazine, Chambers had testified reluctantly.
Hiss, however, was not content to deny his communist ties. “So far as I know,” he added, “I have never laid eyes on [Chambers], and I should like the opportunity to do so.” The unruffled demeanor of Alger Hiss unnerved the HUAC members, who had trusted Chambers, but it did not surprise Chambers. He knew from experience that Hiss had the strength to be a communist, “that sense of moral superiority which makes communists though caught in crime, berate their opponents with withering self-righteousness.” What would have shocked Chambers is if Hiss had yielded and wept and told the truth.
It would take 50 years to satisfy the educable among the cultural establishment that, on this memorable August day, Hiss was lying through his teeth. The only proof that many on the left would accept, and even then kicking and screaming, came from the hardest of lefts, the people who had supervised both Chambers and Hiss, the Soviets themselves. In the interim, Hiss seduced America’s easily led progressive elite into perhaps the most preposterously enduring multimedia fraud in American history, a 50-year road show whose fictions were obvious to the disinterested observer from day one.
Although the contours have not been fully mapped, Hiss chose a speedy route to communism. Having rejected God, he saw FDR’s 1933 inauguration as a “holy moment.” Soon after, he took a post at the new Agricultural Adjustment Administration. There, he fell in with other idealistic young men, presumably keen on changing the world faster than FDR could or would and, by 1935, Hiss had joined a Soviet spy ring known to history as the Harold Ware group.
Chambers meanwhile had been sent to Washington to organize a new apparatus, and as his first apparatchik, he was offered Hiss, a rising star in the Ware Group. Hiss would not disappoint. He left the AAA to serve as counsel for a Senate committee investigating munitions. And from there, he moved on to the State Department. At State, he proved willing and able to funnel documents to Chambers.
Chambers finally broke with the Party in 1938. When he met Hiss again in 1948, the seeming advantage was all Hiss’. Tall and trim, with his academic pedigree and patrician bearing, Hiss had advanced swiftly through the State Department to become director of the Office of Special Political Affairs. In that role, he worked closely with Secretary of State Edward Stettinus.
In February 1945, Hiss had traveled with Stettinus to the Yalta Conference in the Soviet Union. There FDR, Churchill and Stalin divided the world among them, much to Stalin’s satisfaction. At the very least, Hiss helped draft the documents that sealed the deal. After the conference, he was also able to visit Moscow.
In the Spring of 1945, Hiss helped Stettinus plan for the new United Nations, then housed in San Francisco. On an interim basis, Hiss even served as the U.N.’s first secretary general. Also helping Stettinus, oddly enough, was Hollywood Ten communist Dalton Trumbo. “In the two weeks preceding the trip [to the Pacific],” Trumbo wrote casually to a friend, “I went to San Francisco and ghosted Stettinus’ Report to the Nation on the Conference.”
After the war, his increasingly wary superiors finessed Hiss out of the State Department, and he accepted a prestigious position as president of the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace. Elegant and quintessentially Anglo-Saxon, Hiss moved in the best of circles. His establishment friends were appropriately appalled when the self-described “short, squat, solitary” Chambers had come out of nowhere to impugn Hiss before this committee of know-nothings. When Hiss coldly rebutted Chambers’ charges two days later, his friends cheered. Biographer John Chabot Smith described Hiss’s presentation as a “triumph.”
“Most of the press were on his side,” adds Smith. Many of the establishment papers weighed in with scathing editorials about the already unpopular HUAC. Most of its members wanted to drop Hiss and move on to some more vulnerable prey. It took a first-term congressman from California to check the retreat. The young Richard Nixon finally convinced his colleagues that they did not have to prove that Hiss was a communist. That would be admittedly difficult. They only had to prove that Hiss was a liar, and this they could do by showing he knew Chambers.
Hiss and Chambers had to meet. Their first public confrontation, this “sad play” in Chambers’ words, took place 12 days after the Hiss denial. It bordered on the surreal. At first, Hiss feigned uncertainty as to whether he had ever even seen Chambers before.
“Will you ask him to say something,” Hiss said to Nixon. When Chambers began to speak, Hiss looked puzzled. He then said to Chambers, as he might to a small child, “Would you mind opening your mouth wider?” Chambers complied. Preposterous as it seemed to Chambers and Nixon, Hiss wanted to check his dental work.
Still faking ignorance, Hiss asked that Chambers name the dentist who had done the work. Nixon could take no more of this dumb show. As he knew, the two men and their families had been intimates for four years. Chambers had even stayed with the Hisses on several occasions. They all looked much the same as they had just 10 years ago.
“Excuse me,” Nixon interrupted. “Before we leave the teeth, Mr. Hiss, do you feel that you would have to have the dentist tell you what he did to the teeth before you could tell anything about this man?”
“The comedy had gone far enough,” Nixon had concluded and with good reason. A few minutes into this first official encounter, it should have been plain to all who were willing to see that Chambers was telling the truth, and Hiss wasn’t even coming close. Still, the comedy persisted. Hiss pleaded his innocence through multiple hearings and trials before finally being convicted for perjury. In March 1951, after exhausting his appeals, Hiss entered federal prison, a convicted traitor in the eyes of all of America, except, of course, its cultural elite who insisted on his innocence in book after book for the next 40 years.
In July of 1995, however, the U.S. government opened its own files, the so-called Venona archives, a massive collection of the messages it had successfully decoded from the Soviet Union between 1942 and 1946. The files, however incomplete, were stunning. They showed that the Soviets had spies in every significant American military or diplomatic agency, no fewer than 349 in all. Among them was a particularly valuable agent, codenamed “Ales.”
One message from a Washington-based NKVD agent to Moscow in March 1945 provided a good deal of detail about Ales. It told of how he had been working with the GPU since 1935, that he now managed a small group that included his own relatives, that it had been focusing on military information, that the whole group had just been awarded Soviet medals, and that Ales himself had gone to the Yalta conference and stopped afterward in Moscow to meet with the Soviet’s deputy foreign minister. All details fit Alger Hiss, including the Moscow stopover after Yalta.
The Venona files led researchers to look elsewhere in the Soviet archives, and almost everywhere they looked they found gold. Detail after detail confirmed Chambers’ story and shot silver bullets into Hiss’ undying heart.
Still, no evidence could or would ever breach the fact-proof barricades of the hardened left. In 1997, the same year he was declaring Mumia’s innocence, Ward Churchill was declaring Hiss’ as well.
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