Alger Hiss: The Cold War Figure He Won't Slip Queitly Away

Roundup: Talking About History

Michael Ollove, in the Balt Sun (June 13, 2004):

Alger Hiss won't go away.

No matter that his conviction was more than half a century in the past. That the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union have vanished. That Hiss himself -- traitor or martyr -- is nearly eight years dead. Somehow, some way, Alger Hiss manages to slip back into the public conversation.

So here he is again, this time as sideshow in the debate over the Bush administration's nomination of Allen Weinstein as the new national archivist, the executive who oversees preservation and access to historic government records.

The fight involves issues far removed from whether Hiss, the debonair, Baltimore-born diplomat and New Dealer, was really a spy in the employ of the Soviets, as Weinstein has written. But it nonetheless has brought out old Hiss antagonists, including Weinstein and The Nation magazine, the publication most steadfast in defense of Hiss.

"In the Hiss case, emotions still do run high," said John Earl Haynes, a historian at the Library of Congress who is convinced that Hiss was a Soviet spy.

The nomination of Weinstein, a historian of Soviet espionage, has aroused critics who say his practice of withholding access to his own research materials violates the norms of scholarship. Many of them suspect the Bush administration has championed Weinstein as the next archivist because he will reliably keep certain government records closed....

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