Tuesday, 17th June, 2014
On 3rd August, 1948, Whittaker Chambers appeared before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. He testified that he had been "a member of the Communist Party and a paid functionary of that party" but left after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August 1939. He explained how the Ware Group's "original purpose" was "not primarily espionage," but "the Communist infiltration of the American government." Chambers claimed his network of spies included Alger Hiss.
Chamber's accusations made headline news. Hiss immediately sent a telegram to John Parnell Thomas, HUAC's acting chairman: "I do not know Mr. Chambers, and, so far as I am aware, have never laid eyes on him. There is no basis for the statements about me made to your committee." Hiss asked for the opportunity to "appear... before your committee to make these statements formally and under oath."
On 5th August, 1948, Hiss appeared before the HUAC: "I am not and never have been a member of the Communist Party. I do not and never have adhered to the tenets of the Communist Party. I am not and never have been a member of any Communist-front organization. I have never followed the Communist Party line, directly or indirectly. To the best of my knowledge, none of my friends is a Communist.... To the best of my knowledge, I never heard of Whittaker Chambers until 1947, when two representatives of the Federal Bureau of investigation asked me if I knew him... I said I did not know Chambers. So far as I know, I have never laid eyes on him, and I should like to have the opportunity to do so."
G. Edward White, the author of Alger Hiss's Looking-Glass Wars (2004) has pointed out: "By his categorical disassociation of himself from even the slightest connection with Communism or Communist-front activities, Hiss set in motion a narrative of his career that he would devote the rest of his life to telling and retelling. In that narrative Hiss was simply a young lawyer who had gone to Washington and became committed to the policies of the New Deal and international peace. His career had been a consistent effort to promote those ideals. He had never been a Communist, and those who were accusing him of being such were seeking to scapegoat him for partisan purposes. They were a pack of liars, and he was their intended victim."
Richard Nixon now joined in the controversy. He argued that "while it would be virtually impossible to prove that Hiss was or was not a Communist... the HUAC... should be able to establish by corroborative testimony whether or not the two men knew each other." Nixon now became the head of a subcommittee to pursue the inquiry of Alger Hiss. HUAC called Hiss back for an executive session in New York City. This time he admitted that he did know Whittaker Chambers but at the time he used the name George Crosley. He also agreed with Chambers's testimony that he had rented him an apartment but denied that he was ever a member of the American Communist Party. Hiss added: "May I say for the record at this point that I would like to invite Mr. Whittaker Chambers to make those same statements out of the presence of the committee, without their being privileged for suit for libel. I challenge you to do it, and I hope you will do it damned quickly."
On 17th August, 1948, Chambers repeated his claim that "Alger Hiss was a communist and may be now." He added, "I do not think Mr. Hiss will sue me for slander or libel." At first Hiss hesitated but he realised that if he did not sue Chambers he would be considered guilty of being a communist. After lengthy discussions with several lawyers, Hiss filed a suit against Chambers on 27th September, 1948.
On 15th December, 1948, the grand jury asked Alger Hiss whether he had known Whittaker Chambers after 1936, and whether he had passed copies of any stolen government documents to Chambers. As he had done previously, Hiss answered no to both questions. The grand jury then indicted him on two counts of perjury. The New York Times reported that he "appeared solemn, anxious, and unhappy" with a grim and worried look". It added that to "observers it seemed obvious that he had not expected to be indicted".
The trial began in May 1949. Hiss later recalled in Recollections of a Life (1988): "Running the gauntlet of the press was, in a sense, a more wearing ordeal than the trials themselves. Inside the courtroom, I not only had the support of my lawyers, but about half of those who daily filled the courtroom were friends or evident sympathizers. But almost every morning as my wife and I left the door of our apartment house at Eighth Street and University Place, unaccompanied by supporters, we were besieged by reporters and often photographers. New York then had several more newspapers than it does now and all the papers and the wire services covered the trials. Dutiful lawyer to the core, I answered no questions, pointing out as politely as possible that it would be inappropriate for me to comment while the case was still in progress. Likewise, I also would not stop to pose for photographers, although they were of course free to take shots as we walked along. In consequence, we were often a public spectacle, Priscilla and I walking resolutely along with photographers walking backward a few paces ahead of us."
The trial began in May 1949. The first piece of evidence concerned a car purchased by Chambers for $486.75 from a Randallstown car dealer on 23rd November, 1937. Chambers claimed that Hiss had given him $400 to buy the car. The prosecution was able to show that on 19th November Hiss had withdrawn $400 from his bank account. Hiss claimed that this was to buy furniture for a new house. But the Hisses had not signed a lease on any house at that time, and could produce no receipts for the furniture.
The main evidence that the prosecution produced consisted of sixty-five pages of re-typed State Department documents, plus four notes in Hiss's handwriting summarizing the contents of State Department cables. Chambers claimed Alger Hiss had given them to him in 1938 and that Priscilla Hiss had retyped them on the Hisses' Woodstock typewriter. Hiss initially denied writing the note, but experts confirmed it was his handwriting. The FBI was also able to show that the documents had been typed on Hiss's typewriter.
In the first trial Thomas Murphy stated that if the jury did not believe Chambers, the government had no case, and, at the end, four jurors remained unconvinced that Chambers had been telling the truth about how he had obtained the typed copies of documents. They thought that somehow Chambers had gained access to Hiss's typewriter and copied the documents. The first trial ended with the jury unable to reach a verdict.
The second trial began in November 1949. One of the main witnesses against Hiss in the second trial was Hede Massing. She claimed that at a dinner party in 1935 Hiss told her that he was attempting to recruit Noel Field, then an employee of the State Department, to his spy network. Whittaker Chambers claims in Witness (1952) that this was vital information against Hiss: "At the second Hiss trial, Hede Massing testified how Noel Field arranged a supper at his house, where Alger Hiss and she could meet and discuss which of them was to enlist him. Noel Field went to Hede Massing. But the Hisses continued to see Noel Field socially until he left the State Department to accept a position with the League of Nations at Geneva, Switzerland-a post that served him as a 'cover' for his underground work until he found an even better one as dispenser of Unitarian relief abroad."
Alger Hiss wrote in his autobiography, Recollections of a Life (1988): "Throughout the first trial and most of the second, I was confident of acquittal. But as the second trial wore on, I realized that it was no ordinary one. The entire jury of public opinion, all of those from whom my juries had been selected, had been tampered with. Richard Nixon, my unofficial prosecutor, seeking to build his career on getting a conviction in my case, had from the days of the congressional committee hearings constantly issued public statements and leaks to the press against me. There were moments when I was swept with gusts of anger at the prosecutor's bullying tactics with my witnesses and his devious insinuations in place of evidence - tactics that unfortunately are all too common in a prosecutor's bag of tricks... It was almost unbearable to hear the sneers of the prosecutor as he cross-examined my wife and other witnesses."
The second jury found Hiss guilty of two counts of perjury and on 25th January, 1950, he was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. The Secretary of State Dean Acheson, was asked later that day about the Hiss trial. He replied: "Mr. Hiss's case is before the courts, and I think it would be highly improper for me to discuss the legal aspects of the case, or the evidence, or anything to do with the case. I take it the purpose of your question was to bring something other than that out of me... I should like to make it clear to you that whatever the outcome of any appeal which Mr. Hiss or his lawyers may take in this case, I do not intend to turn my back on Alger Hiss. I think every person who has known Alger Hiss, or has served with him at any time, has upon his conscience the very serious task of deciding what his attitude is, and what his conduct should be. That must be done by each person, in the light of his own standards and his own principles... My friendship is not easily given, and not easily withdrawn."
Alger Hiss lost his license to practice law and his fear that "informal blackballing" would make it difficult for him to obtaining employment. As Alger later pointed out, that "Priscilla wanted us to flee the scenes of her torment. She suggested we change our names and try to get posts as teachers at some remote experimental school oblivious to public opinion." Hiss disagreed and wanted as much publicity as possible to show the world he had not given government secrets to the Soviets. As part of this campaign he published his memoirs, In the Court of Public Opinion (1957).
In 1957 Fred J. Cook was asked by Carey McWilliams, the editor of the Nation Magazine, to look into the Alger Hiss case. Cook replied: "My God, no, Carey. I think he's as guilty as hell. I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole." Two weeks later McWilliams contacted Hiss again. "Look, I have a proposition to make you. I know how you feel about the case, but I've talked to a lot of people who I trust. They say if anybody looked hard at the evidence they'd have a different opinion. You're known as a fact man. Will you do this for me? No obligation. Will you at least look at the facts?"
Cook agreed and he later recalled that he changed his mind on the case after he examined the testimony of Whittaker Chambers. He later recalled: "Well, here was a guy who committed perjury so many times - admittedly so. I didn't see how anybody could trust anything he said. The typing process as he described it didn't make sense. Why would the Hisses spend all that time typing the documents when they supposedly had a whole system set up to photograph them? It was like that with the whole damn thing. When you looked at the government's case, it didn't make any sense down the line, anywhere. One after another as the arguments against Hiss fell apart, I realized I had been brainwashed by my own profession. Until then, I thought that if the story against him was generally accepted, then it had to be true. I should have known better, but I didn't."
Cook's article on Alger Hiss was published in Nation Magazine on 21st September, 1957. He argued that Hiss was a victim of McCarthyism and was not guilty of the accusations made by Whittaker Chambers who had accused Hiss of being a Soviet spy while working for the State Department. Hiss later commented: "It was the times. There was this great wave of hysteria about the great Russian communist menace, and I think the jury was susceptible to that. A lot of average people were. When you have an hysteria like that built in and bastards like Joe McCarthy are beating the drums, it affects the average person. They figure when there's smoke, there has to be fire."
Cook argued that both the FBI and HUAC had political reasons for victimizing Hiss. He also suggested that the FBI would have had the resources to build a typewriter with a typeface that appeared to match that of the Hiss family. Hiss, Cook concluded, might have been "an American Dreyfus, framed at the highest level of justice for political advantage". Cook's book on the case, The Unfinished Story of Alger Hiss, appeared in 1958.
In 1971, the historian, Allen Weinstein, wrote an article where he argued that he was not convinced that Hiss was guilty, but doubted whether Hiss could be proven innocent given the evidence about the case that had thus far been made public. He suggested that a definitive understanding of the case would not be possible without the release of "the executive files of HUAC," "the relevant FBI records," and "the grand jury records." Weinstein contacted Hiss and he agreed for him to have access to his defense files. In 1972 he supported Weinstein's Freedom of Information suit to obtain FBI and Justice Department files on the case.
The journalist, John Chabot Smith published Algar Hiss: The True Story in 1976. In the book he argued that Hiss had been framed by Whittaker Chambers, who had typed the copies of the stolen documents himself. Smith claimed that in the spring of 1935 Chambers stayed at Hiss's "empty apartment" when it was "still full of its owner's furniture." Smith suggested that this included the Woodstock typewriter and therefore enabled him to use it to type up the stolen government documents."
William A. Reuben was probably Alger Hiss's greatest supporter. In 1974 he started his own campaign to persuade the FBI to release all the files on the Hiss case. David Remnick claimed that he had "devoted much of his adult life to vindicating Alger Hiss and clearing the Rosenbergs". Victor Navasky described Reuben as "to the left of Alger and just about everyone else" among Hiss's supporters, and suggested that if he had heard that on his deathbed Hiss had confessed to being a Communist and Soviet agent, he "wouldn't believe it."
In April 1976, the journalist, Philip Nobile, published an article on Alger Hiss in Harper's Magazine. He argued the prosecution's failure "to link Hiss to the actual typing of the documents" and "the lack of any witness supporting Chambers's party association with Hiss," Nobile felt, "troubled many open minds." Hiss told Nobile "the same old story of an unsound informer, forgery by typewriter, ruthless enemies of the New Deal, anti-Communist hysteria, and a poisoned jury." Nobile asked: "Why would he be peddling this tired line of defense... if it weren't true."
Allen Weinstein began his investigation of Alger Hiss with the belief that he was innocent. Hiss agreed to cooperate with Weinstein in his attempts to obtain information from the FBI. As Weinstein pointed out: "Given the fact that I published an article which had argued for his innocence, and given the fact that... my premise was that he seemed to be innocent. Why not cooperate fully with me? I expected to be finding evidence that would help clear him."
The FBI refused to disclose these documents and so Weinstein concentrated on investigating Hiss's defense files. He discovered that his lawyer in the first perjury trial, Edward McLean (Debevoise, Plimpton and McLean) had doubts about his innocence. McLean believed that Priscilla Hiss was probably a Soviet spy and that Hiss was "at the very least, Alger was shielding Priscilla Hiss". His lawyers were concerned that he had originally lied about her membership of the Socialist Party of America. They were also convinced that she was fairly close to Whittaker Chambers. In February, 1950, Mclean withdrew from the case. William Marbury (Marbury, Miller and Evans) was also highly skeptical of Priscilla's evidence. Marbury was interviewed by Weinstein in 1974: "He (Marbury) had begun to have some very serious questions about the completeness of Hiss's account."
Weinstein also interviewed Meyer Schapiro, a close friend of Chambers (he had died in 1961). He confirmed that Chambers had a close association with Hiss. He was also with Chambers when he purchased a rug for Hiss in December 1936. Hiss had claimed that he had broken off his relationship with Chambers in 1935. Weinstein checked with the Massachusetts Importing Company that had sold the rug to Chambers and they agreed that the transaction took place in 1936.
After a legal struggle the FBI began releasing files on the Hiss case in October 1975. In February 1976 Weinstein told the New Republic that the files showed no evidence of an FBI conspiracy, only that the FBI had occasionally been inept or incompetent. Other documents released included the transcript of an interview with William Edward Crane, a FBI informant and a member of Chambers's network. He confirmed much of what Chambers had said about Hiss. Weinstein told the New York Times that "a preliminary look (at the declassified files) fails to bear out the most commonly raised conspiracy claims" against the FBI.
Allen Weinstein met Hiss in March 1976. He told him: "When I began working on this book four years ago, I thought that I would be able to demonstrate your innocence, but unfortunately, I have to tell you, that I cannot; that my assumption was wrong... I had a number of unresolved questions about Whittaker Chambers's testimony when I began. Even then I wasn't convinced that either of you had told the complete truth. I thought, however, that you had been far more truthful than Chambers. But after interviewing scores of people, looking at the FBI files, finding new evidence in private hands, and reading all of your defense files, every important question that had existed in my mind about Chambers's veracity on key points arose, and... none of them have been answered satisfactorily." Hiss replied: "I've always known you were prejudiced against me."
Weinstein's book, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case, was published in the spring of 1978. Victor Navasky, the editor of Nation, made a bitter attack on Weinstein: "Whatever his original motives and aspirations, Professor Weinstein is now an embattled partisan, hopelessly mired in the perspective of one side, his narrative obfuscatory, his interpretations improbable, his omissions strategic, his vocabulary manipulative, his standards double, his corroborations circular and suspect, his reporting astonishingly erratic.... His conversion from scholar to partisan, along with a rhetoric and methodology that confuse his beliefs with his data, make it impossible for the non specialist to render an honest verdict in the case."
Alexander Cockburn published an article in Village Voice on 28th May, 1979, where he reported that Samuel Krieger had successfully sued Weinstein over his allegations in his book that he was a fugitive from arrest for a murder. "Weinstein's scholarship and research procedures have been plainly damaged by the whole Krieger affair." Weinstein argued that Chambers had recruited Samuel Krieger (alias Clarence Miller) into the American Communist Party. He then went onto say that Clarence Miller had escaped from jail in North Carolina in 1929 and became a fugitive in the Soviet Union. He wrote: "Krieger became an important Communist organizer during the Gastonia textile strike of 1929. After being jailed by local authorities, Krieger and several other union leaders fled to the Soviet Union." What the author did not know was that there were two communists using the name "Clarence Miller". It was the other one who fled to the Soviet Union. Krieger had admitted to being a Communist organizer but had been misidentified as a fugitive."
In December 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the individual republics contained within it faced the prospect of becoming autonomous governmental units. The largest of these republics, Russia, seized the property of the former Soviet government, including the archives of the Communist Party. The following year Hiss wrote a letter to several Russian officials, seeking information about himself in former Soviet archives. In the letter he stated that he was 88 years old and wanted to die peacefully, and he asked for evidence that would confirm that he was "never a paid, contracted agent for the Soviet Union." He also told them he was sending his representative, John Lowenthal, to Moscow in a few weeks time.
Lowenthal met with General Dmitri A. Volkogonov, a Soviet official historian, in September 1992. Volkogonov arranged for Yevgeny Primakov, the head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Agency, to search KGB archives. The following month Volkogonov presented Lowenthal with a letter stating that after examining "a great amount of materials... we have not found a single document... that substantiates the allegation that Mr. A. Hiss collaborated with the intelligence sources of the Soviet Union... Hiss... had never and nowhere been recruited as an agent of the intelligence services of the USSR and was never a spy of the Soviet Union." Volkogonov added: "The fact that Hiss was convicted in the 1950s was a result of either false information or judicial error... You can tell Alger Hiss that the heavy weight should be lifted from his heart."
This letter from Volkogonov made headline news in the United States. Alger Hiss told the New York Times: "It's what I've been fighting for 44 years... I think this is a final verdict on the thing. I can't imagine a more authoritative source than the files of the old Soviet Union". He told the newspaper that he "rationally, I realized time was running out, and that the correction of Chambers's charges might not come about in my lifetime... but inside I was sure somehow I would be vindicated." Hiss also gave an interview to the Washington Post and used the opportunity to attack J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI at the time: "J. Edgar Hoover acted with malice trying to please various people who were engineering the Cold War."
However, Volkogonov came under attack from some leading experts on the KGB. The historian, Richard Pipes, pointed out that "there are a lot of things Volkogonov might not have seen... There are archives within archives... to say that that there was no evidence in any of the archives... was not very responsible." Alexander Dallin of Stanford University took a similar view, pointing out that "given the labyrinthine nature of the Soviet bureaucracy and the sensitivity of military and foreign intelligence operations... Volkogonov might have unknowingly overstated his findings."
Dmitri A. Volkogonov gave an interview in a Moscow newspaper in November 1992 that admitted that he had looked for only two days in the KGB archives for material on Alger Hiss. He pointed out that "what I saw gives no basis to claim a full clarification". Volkogonov went on to say that John Lowenthal had "pushed me hard to say things of which I was not fully convinced" and that he was aware that Hiss "wanted to die peacefully".
In the early 1990s several American academics were given access to KGB files. This included Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes. Their book, The Secret World of American Communism was published in 1995. The book was a collection of 92 documents from the 1930s and 1940s, with commentary by the authors. The documents consisted of communications between members of the American Communist Party and officials in Moscow. The authors argued that these documents conclusively demonstrated that the party's actions and policies were being directed by Joseph Stalin.
Klehr and Haynes were unable to find Hiss's name on any documents, they did find plenty of evidence to support the testimony of Whittaker Chambers. This included the information that Joszef Peter was the controller of the American Communist Party's secret apparatus between 1932 and 1938. In his book, Witness (1952), Chambers had argued: "The Soviet espionage apparatus in Washington also maintained constant contact with the national underground of the American Communist Party in the person of its chief. He was a Hungarian Communist who had been a minor official in the Hungarian Soviet Government of Bela Kun. He was in the United States illegally and was known variously as J. Peters, Alexander Stevens, Isidore Boorstein, Mr. Silver, etc. His real name was Alexander Goldberger and he had studied law at the university of Debrecen in Hungary."
Tony Hiss has claimed that by 1995 Alger Hiss's body was "almost completely worn out" making him "a prisoner of his own physical frailties." In March 1996, Hiss was distressed when the newspapers carried stories of a cable that that had been sent by Anatoli Gromov, on 30th March, 1945, had been intercepted by the National Security Agency (NSA). Gromov was the controller of Washington-based NKVD agents. The cable included details of a conversation that had taken place between Iskhak Akhmerov and an agent with the codename Ales. The cable claimed that Ales had worked for the Neighbors (GPU) since 1935 and that he had been to the Yalta Conference and afterwards visited Moscow. An analyst at the NSA had written on 8th August, 1969, that Ales was "probably Alger Hiss".
Eric Breindel, writing in the Wall Street Journal, described the cable as "the smoking gun in the Hiss case". He went on to argue: Folks who refuse to recognize this document's implications, are likely to be the sort who would insist on Mr. Hiss's innocence even if he confessed." Hiss was contacted by journalists but he was too ill to be interviewed. However, his son Tony, denied his father was "Ales" and had only spent a brief time in Moscow after the Yalta Conference.
Alger Hiss died on 15th November, 1996. Evan Thomas, writing in Newsweek, suggested that Hiss "probably was a Soviet spy" and that in protesting his innocence he "was just a very good spy, deceitful to the end." However, some commentators, such as Peter Jennings on ABC News, had concentrated on the early statements of Dmitri A. Volkogonov, claiming that he had been vindicated by the Russians. Robert Novak pointed out that Volkogonov had retracted his statement and referred to a "deep-seated reluctance within the American liberal establishment to acknowledge that Hiss was a liar, spy, and traitor."
George Will, writing in the Washington Post, denounced Hiss and his supporters: "Alger Hiss spent 44 months in prison and then his remaining 42 years in the dungeon of his grotesque fidelity to the fiction of his innocence. The costs of his unconditional surrender to the totalitarian temptation was steep for his supporters. Clinging to their belief in martyrdom in order to preserve their belief in their "progressive" virtue, they were drawn into an intellectual corruption that hastened the moral bankruptcy of the American left."
In 1999 Allen Weinstein published The Hunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America (1999). He had spent several years examining the KGB archives and came across a considerable amount of material that showed Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy. This included a memorandum sent by Hede Massing, a Soviet spy based in New York City, to Moscow. It concerned her attempts to recruit Noel Field. According to Massing's report he had been recently approached by Alger Hiss just before he left to attend a conference in London: "Alger Hiss (she used his real name because she was unaware of his codename) let him know that he was a Communist, that he was connected with an organization working for the Soviet Union and that he knew Ernst (Field) also had connections but he was afraid they were not solid enough, and probably, his knowledge was being used in a wrong way. Then he directly proposed that Ernst give him an account of the London conference."
Hede Massing continued in the memorandum how another spy in the network, Laurence Duggan, was being involved: "In the next couple of days, after having thought it over, Alger said that he no longer insisted on the report. But he wanted Ernst to talk to Larry and Helen (Duggan) about him and let them know who he was and give him (Alger Hiss) access to them. Ernst again mentioned that he had contacted Helen and Larry. However, Alger insisted that he talk to them again, which Ernst ended up doing. Ernst talked to Larry about Alger and, of course, about having told him 'about the current situation' and that 'their main task at the time was to defend the Soviet Union' and that 'they both needed to use their favorable positions to help in this respect.' Larry became upset and frightened, and announced that he needed some time before he would make that final step; he still hoped to do his normal job, he wanted to reorganize his department, try to achieve some results in that area, etc. Evidently, according to Ernst, he did not make any promises, nor did he encourage Alger in any sort of activity, but politely stepped back. Alger asked Ernst several other questions; for example, what kind of personality he had, and if Ernst would like to contact him. He also asked Ernst to help him to get to the State Department. Apparently, Ernst satisfied this request. When I pointed out to Ernst his terrible discipline and the danger he put himself into by connecting these three people, he did not seem to understand it."
In a review of Weinstein's book, Thomas Powers argued: "Much additional evidence about Hiss's involvement with the Soviets has turned up since the voluminous and explicit claims by Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley in the 1940s, claims which no serious scholar of the subject any longer dismisses... while the excesses of McCarthyism may be fairly described as a witch hunt, it was a witch hunt with witches, some in government.... What Whittaker Chambers had claimed was true, and it was convincingly and obviously true by the time Hiss went to jail for perjury. Hiss's denial, and his persistence in it for decades, and his support in it by so many otherwise smart people, was one of the great intellectual contortion acts of history. The evidence now... is simply overwhelming."
Powers went on to ask the question: "What continues to astonish and bewilder me now is why Hiss lied for fifty years about his service in a cause so important to him that he was willing to betray his country for it. The faith itself is no problem to explain: hundreds of people shared it enough to do the same thing, and thousands more shared it who were never put to the test by a demand for secrets. But why did Hiss persist in the lie personally? Why did he allow his friends and family to go on carrying the awful burden of that lie?"
G. Edward White, the author of Alger Hiss's Looking-Glass Wars (2004), attempts to answer this difficult question: "Alger Hiss can no longer be seen as a figure of ambiguity. This is so even though his psychological makeup was highly complex, and his motivation resists easy characterization. The ambiguity associated with Hiss was created by his regularly asserting things about himself and his life that were not true, and by others - for their own ideological reasons and because of Hiss's extraordinarily convincing persona - choosing to believe them.... In short, many Americans found qualities in Hiss they could identify with or admire. And many found qualities in Hiss's antagonists that, retrospectively, they found distasteful. The anti-Communism of the Cold War era appeared to many as simple-minded and repressive. Richard Nixon demonstrated that becoming president of the United States did not divest a person of mean-spiritedness and a lack of principles. J. Edgar Hoover's carefully constructed image as a virtuous G-man came apart under closer scrutiny. When one totaled up Hiss's favorable associations and the notoriety of his enemies, his continued professions of innocence took on to some an air of nobility."
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