Saturday, May 23, 2009

Alger Hiss and the Battle for History

Susan Jacoby has written a new book about Alger Hiss. David Chambers, grandson of Whittaker Chambers, sets the record straight (once again) in a review of Jacoby's book, saying:
This book could never serve as a review of the Hiss case or its impact because its sloppiness undermines the credibility of the author's arguments. At least when it comes to errors, however, Ms. Jacoby finally achieves some semblance of balance - she errs almost equally about Alger Hiss.

Perhaps strangest is this book's omission of new findings by another recent Yale publication. Spies (May 2009) opens with the bold chapter title, "Alger Hiss: Case Closed." It claims to seal the coffin (if not bury the grave plot) on Mr. Hiss' guilt. Nothing from "Spies" appears in Ms. Jacoby's book. According to "Spies" co-author Harvey Klehr, Yale's editor Jonathan Brent offered her access to the book's new findings. Apparently, Ms. Jacoby took a pass. Overall, it is distressing to read this book. Clearly, Ms. Jacoby prizes secular, liberal intellectualism. Yet her book is compromised by the very type of bias she claims to despise in her intellectual opposites.

Ms. Jacoby finds no middle-ground audience, either. As a point of reference, Mr. Hiss defines her political spectrum. He is "a bogeyman for the right." He is a "delusion for the extreme left." "Right" and "extreme left" leave Ms. Jacoby's middle decidedly left of center.

In today's America, right reads not left, nor left read right. Who then will talk to the masses between extremes? I will, claims Ms. Jacoby at the beginning of her book, aiming at "people in their thirties, forties, and fifties." Swiftly did her own memory eclipse in this volume. Quickly she winds up preaching to one half of the choir - left only, please.

"What each side truly hates is the other's version of history," she notes. Sad to say, she is as guilty as the rest.

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