January 21, 1950-Alger Hiss is convicted in a second trial on the charge of perjury stemming from his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee regarding his relationship with former defector and Soviet spy, Whitaker Chambers. The Hiss-Chambers case showcased the widespread paranoia and phobia in the United States of the ideology of communism and its believers. Years before Joseph McCarthy went on a tirade and nearly destroyed the lives of an endless number of respectable U.S. citizens, a young congressman from California name Richard Nixon spearheaded the campaign to root out communist and counter espionage in the United States government. The congressman later became President and is the only one to have resigned in office.
Allen Weinstein has painstakingly recreated the case from beginning to end, examining the childhoods of both men and the very different paths each took in life. To this day, the whole truth about what really happened between Hiss and Chambers continues to elude even the most efficient of researchers. Hiss himself sometimes gave conflicting information or in other cases withheld it and Chambers proved to be a believable but questionable witness with many eccentric traits. What started out as case of accusations, eventually turned into an investigation that drew the attention of the President of the United States, the Justice Department and J. Edgar Hoover of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
I first read about the Hiss case after reading the books of author David Talbot. Motivated to learn the full story of this sensational case in United States history, I picked the book up on Amazon and what I’ve found is the definitive account of the case which showcases the political climate of the United States during that era and the deep tensions between the United States government and the Soviet Union. In later years, there would be many more cases of spies defecting such as Kim Philby, Anatoly Golitisin, Yuri Nosenko and the infamous Robert Hanson, portrayed brilliantly by Chris Cooper in the thriller ‘Breach’. The Soviet-U.S. spy defections and paranoia of communist influence would ruin many lives and nearly destroy the intelligence agencies of three nations.