Whittaker Chambers's Odyssey from Communist Spy to Conservative HeroHistorians in the News
tags: Red Scare, Cold War, Communism, McCarthyism, Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, anticommunism
In this episode, Matt and Sam go deep into the life and times of Whittaker Chambers, most famous for his role in the "trial of the century"—the trial of Alger Hiss for perjury after Chambers accused Hiss of being a Communist spy during his years working in the federal government, especially the State Department. The two figures, once friends, came to symbolize a clash that was bigger than themselves, and prefigured the turn American politics would take at the onset of the Cold War. Chambers would become a hero of the nascent postwar conservative movement, with his status as an ex-Communist—one of many who would congregate around National Review in the mid-to-late 1950s—bringing his moral credibility to the right as one who had seen the other side and lived to tell his tale. Before all that, though, Chambers's life was like something out of a novel: a difficult family life, early brilliance at Columbia University, literary achievement in leftwing publications, and years "underground" engaging in espionage for the Soviet Union against the United States. "Out of my weakness and folly (but also out of my strength), I committed the characteristic crimes of my century," writes Chambers in his 1952 memoir/jeremiad Witness. Your hosts break it all down, assess his crimes and contributions, and explore one of the most consequential American lives of the twentieth century.
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