Jan 18, 2023
If you were Chambers, how would you walk the tightrope, trying to alert the government about the Soviet underground without exposing your own role in its crimes and incriminating your best friend in those years, with whom you committed those crimes?
If Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers both witnessed an event and gave different accounts of it, which one would you be more inclined to believe? Hiss, the public man, has the resume to die for and all The Top People vouching for him. Chambers, the creature of the underground, has been a professional liar for years and loves to tell melodramatic tales. But is there something too good to be true about Hiss? Do you wonder who is the real man behind the resume? And while no one would say that Chambers is the embodiment of moderation, he is painfully honest in many ways and he does not hide all his past sins.
Even if your first inclination would be to believe Hiss, what would make you change to put more faith in Chambers?
Episode 3: Professor Weinstein’s book and Chambers’ memoir, referenced above, contain much about what Chambers called “the tranquil years.”
Re Chambers’ emergence from the Communist underground, interesting memoirs are “The Autobiography of Mark Van Doren” by Mark Van Doren at 218-19 (Harcourt Brace & Co, 1958), “Navigating the Rapids 1918-1971: From the Papers of Adolf A. Berle” edited by Beatrice B. Berle & Travis B. Jacobs at 249-50 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1973), and “Eyewitness to History: Memoirs and Reflections of a Foreign Correspondent for Half a Century” by Isaac Don Levine at 179-200 (Hawthorn Books 1973). Levine was the journalist who accompanied Chambers to see Berle the day World War II began.
The best books about Chambers’ career at Time are “Harry & Teddy: The Turbulent Friendship of Press Lord Henry Luce and His Favorite Reporter, Theodore H. White” by Thomas Griffith (Random House 1995) and “One Man’s America: A Journalist’s Search for the Heart of His Country” by Henry Grunwald (Doubleday 1997). Look in each book’s index for references to Whittaker Chambers.
Concerning the disillusionment with Communism by intellectuals who had been bedazzled by it, see “The God That Failed,” edited by Richard Crossman (Columbia Univ. Press 2001, first published in London in 1950), “Up From Communism: Conservative Odysseys in American Intellectual History” by John P. Diggins (Harper & Row 1975), and “A Better World: The Great Schism: Stalinism and the American Intellectuals” by William L. O’Neill (Simon & Schuster 1982) 259-368 passim. Chambers’ admirer in Columbia and later a great Comparative Literature Professor there, Lionel Trilling, wrote a novel about leftist disillusionment with radical leftism. Originally published just before the Hiss-Chambers scandal broke, it was reissued in 1975 (around the time of President Nixon’s disgrace). “The Middle of the Journey” by Lionel Trilling (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1975). A major character in the novel, Gifford Maxim, is based on Chambers and the 1975 reissue contains an introduction by Trilling that describes his long relationship with Chambers.