Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Passion of Whittaker Chambers

From The Avocado:
On August 3, 1948 HUAC (absent Thomas, nursing a bleeding ulcer) convened in the Ways and Means Committee Room for a surprise witness. Bystanders, reporters and congressmen filled the room, which soon became unbearably hot. In shuffled the witness, Whittaker Chambers: a portly, rumpled-looking man in a wrinkled suit, sweaty and exhausted (he’d managed only a few hours of sleep), his voice an indistinct murmur, his face looking haunted as Karl Mundt swore him in. Few onlookers, aside from the reporters, would have recognized Chambers as an editor for Time-Life. More importantly, he was an ex-Communist. 
Reading a prepared statement “in a rather detached way, as if he had an unpleasant chore to do,” as Richard Nixon recalled, Chambers dropped a bombshell. “Almost exactly nine years ago…I went to Washington and reported to the authorities what I knew about the infiltration of the United States Government by Communists,” he declared. “For years, international Communism…had been in a state of undeclared war with this Republic. With the Hitler-Stalin pact that war reached a new stage. I regarded my action in going to the Government as a simple act of war, like the shooting of an armed enemy in combat.” 
Chambers summarized his career as a Communist. A gifted but aimless student at Columbia, he befriended Professor Mark Van Doren, who waxed rhapsodic about the USSR (“All the walls are falling down!”). Chambers spent 1923 in Europe, then read Lenin’s Soviets at Work, which impressed him with its forceful picture of Utopia. In 1925 Chambers formally joined the Communist Party, writing for the Daily Worker, collecting dues from members and creating fake passports for the mysterious J. Peters (a Hungarian operative named Sándor Goldberger). More importantly, in 1932 his comrades convinced him to join the Communist underground, adopting several pseudonyms for his clandestine work. (Read more.)

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