Larry Schweikart: Alger Hiss ... Guilty Except in History Books

Roundup: Talking About History

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Larry Schweikart, a professor of history at the University of Dayton. He is the co-author with Michael Allen of the best-selling book, A Patriot’s History of the United States. His follow-up book, America’s Victories, led President Bush to invite him to the Oval Office for a discussion of history. His new book is 48 Liberal Lies About American History.

FP: Larry Schweikart, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Schweikart: Hello again. This is getting to be regular. People will talk.

FP: People are already talking about it sir.

Today I would like to follow up on our last interview about your new book. One of the communist spies that you didn’t focus in on in 48 Liberal Lies is Alger Hiss. How do the college textbooks deal with him?

Schweikart: One of the worst offending textbooks, David Harrell et. al.’s Unto a Good Land, mentions Hiss on no fewer than four pages (more than John Glenn or Newt Gingrich). Almost a full page is dedicated to Hiss’s first “flirtation” with communism, and notes that “many of those who embraced the Left during the Depression, including Hiss, would pay a price for their youthful idealism in the fifties (2005 ed., 930).

See kids? Spying is merely “youthful idealism.” But Harrell et. al. are not finished. We later find that the only proof of Hiss’s guilt was the circumstantially confirmed word of the turncoat Chambers.” I guess the evidence in his perjury trial doesn’t count.

While John Mack Faragher et. al.’s Out of Many (combined 4th ed. 2006) gives Hiss less “ink,” it is no less generous to this communist spy. Oh, did I say spy? Pardon me: Out of Many says that he received a conviction “for denying he knew Chambers” and was “released two years later, still proclaiming his innocence.” (719). Really? Search Out of Many and see how many other criminals are afforded such softball treatment. Do you think you’ll see that “Al Capone proclaimed his innocence?” Or would you ever see that Richard Nixon, years later, still “proclaimed his innocence”? Of course not. Republicans are always guilty. Only communist spies are convicted for minor charges (such as lying under oath . . . oh, wait, there’s a former president not named Nixon who did that, too.)

David Goldfield et. al. inform students that “For more than 40 years, the essence of his case was a matter of faith, not fact. Even his enemies agreed that any documents he might have stolen were of limited importance.” This of course becomes the excuse provided for the Rosenbergs--which I covered in 48 Liberal Lies About American History: spies by definition can’t give anything of importance to the Soviets because the Soviets were so brilliant that they already had all this technology and were just “holding it in reserve,” or because even if something was important, it was better that an enemy of American have it because the U.S. is such an evil, racist country that we deserve to be defeated anyway.

FP: Why do the textbooks present Hiss in this way?

Schweikart: Hiss is the patron saint of communist victims in America---he’s the epitome of the persecuted liberal who “happened” to be a communist and wasn’t “involved in anything wrong” except passing information to the enemy. And, I should add, many of them continue to believe Hiss.

FP: If an American historian didn’t hate his own country and didn’t want to teach university students to hate their own country, what would he write about Hiss in an American history textbook?

Schweikart: Alger Hiss was a Soviet agent who luckily escaped incarceration for treason and espionage and was stupid enough to bring a defamation lawsuit against former accomplice Whittaker Chambers, where he was then open to different charges---perjury. He was convicted and served time in jail, technically for perjury but actually for espionage.

FP: If Hiss was guilty, which the evidence suggests he was, why did he bring a defamation lawsuit against Chambers? What is your guess? It doesn’t add up on some logical levels. What do you think he was hoping on?

Schweikart: There is a certain myopia and disbelief on the left. After all, they are never beaten by the opposition, they only “beat themselves.” You see this in the rabid anti-Bush frothing that continues to this day, which stemmed substantially from the 2000 election. For some time they claimed Kerry had the election stolen (though they gave up on this one sooner than 2000). So I made the 2000 election being “stolen” as one of my 48 Liberal Lies. I think with the lawsuit there was also the arrogance that is typical of the left, that surely no prosecutor would ever indict him for perjury. Lying, after all, is such a minor crime, and as we learned in the Clinton years, “Everybody does it.” Well, thank God, some people took lying to courts seriously back then. Then there is something that spy Kim Philby noted: agents perfect their covers so well they actually believe them---it’s one of the natural protection devices that they develop.

FP: Why do you think Hiss betrayed his country? What lurked in the hearts of those who sided with him and insisted on his innocence despite all evidence to the contrary?

Schweikart: Most of these people were true believers. They genuinely thought Soviet Russia was a paradise---read the utterly idiotic statements of Bernard Shaw and some of the other westerners who went to the USSR, some of them during the Great Famine, and never saw a single person dying. And if someone was being executed? Well, he had it coming. Stalin only killed “bad” people. In Hiss’s mind, he wasn’t “betraying” his country so much as “improving” it. This is the same mindset that permits the “Rev.” Jeremiah Wright to castigate the United States up one side and down the other, while professing to “love” America.

During the hot period of the Iraq “war” (really, a theater in a war) debate, I used to challenge people who said they “loved their country” but opposed the war putting support for the nation in the context of a marriage. A man says he loves his wife but . . . he won’t wear any symbols attaching him to her (a ring, or in the case of patriotism, a flag pin, or fly a flag at his house, or wear a sticker on a car); he says he loves his wife but . . . in public all he does is point out her flaws and note how much the Europeans don’t like her; he says he loves her, but associates with other women (nations) that routinely bash her. And on and on. Any woman in her right mind would say, “You don’t love me.” So it is with patriotism. When people don’t act like patriots, I do question their patriotism.

FP: What were some of the facts that really exposed Hiss’s guilt?

Schweikart: The key, and really unimpeachable, pieces of evidence were the State Department documents given to the prosecution by Chambers that contained notes written by Hiss. In one case, the typed documents were produced on Priscilla Hiss’s infamous “Woodstock” typewriter, and Hiss’s own attorneys accepted their authenticity. Thus the only way to defend Hiss was to raise the ridiculous claim that someone had “forged” the typewritten documents to match Hiss’s typewriter. One conspiracy theorist claimed the documents came from “German sources.” Hiss himself, in a charge out of the Twilight Zone, claimed Chambers sneaked into his house and typed the documents on Hiss’s typewriter, then skulked out.

FP: How come there hasn’t been more said about Priscilla Hiss and Chambers’ wife? They knew a lot and what they knew was crucial. Why don’t we hear more about their cases? Do you have any info on them and how they were handled by investigators and how they handled themselves? How come they didn’t come out and say something?

Schweikart: I know little of them, and what I know I have gotten from Weinstein’s book. Priscilla Hiss was an avowed leftist who denied that she was a communist, yet “hung out” with well-known communists such as Henry Collins. Although she never flinched from defending her husband (who ran off with another woman), neither did she become a public advocate of his case, which caused a “rupture,” as Weinstein put it, with her younger son in the 1970s. Neither she, nor Esther Chambers, wanted to become involved in re-fighting the case.

FP: What classified documents can still tell us something?

Schweikart: I think we pretty much have all we need to close the (jail) door on old Alger. Remember, the standard line from the Left is that if a former Soviet source says it, “He’s only trying to curry favor with the West,” or “He covering his own tail,” or---the one I love the most, considering the irony---“You can’t believe a spy!”

FP: So, in the eyes of the Left, a communist spy is never guilty because he is innocent, but then when the guilt is proven the Left still defends him because, deep down, the Left hopes that the spy did what he did, is that it? There is a long pattern, like with the Rosenbergs, that the Left denies the guilt of these people and then when the guilt is proven, the Left excuses and justifies it. In other words, they never really cared about the guilt or innocence in the first place. So there is something deeper going on here. Can you illustrate the psychology for us a bit?

Schweikart: You’re captured that pretty well. It’s like this: since the U.S. is inherently (fill in the blank---racist, oppressive, imperialistic), then even if the communist spies did what they, er, did, then they had a good reason for it. It’s very much like that line from a terrific Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie, “True Lies,” where his wife, Jamie Lee Curtis asks, “Did you kill people?” and in a drugged stupor, Schwarzenegger slurs, “Yes, but they were all bad.”

FP: Why do you think Hiss never confessed? He kept his secret till the day he died. More strangely is he was trying to get the Soviet archives looked at in a supposed hope to have himself cleared. What sense did this make? What was the calculation here? Perhaps he had been tipped off that there was nothing in those files that were looked at?

Schweikart: I think it goes back to the fact that some spies are so good they convince themselves.

FP: So do you think your book will be included on the curricula of American history courses to help balance out the liberal lies?

Schweikart: Not a chance. But A Patriot’s History of the United States has been adopted by many instructors, at name universities, and by far more who use it in student assignments paired up with Zinn’s People’s History. And that’s fine. Mike Allen and I feel confident we’ll win a side-by-side comparison with Zinn in the minds of most students eight times out of ten.

FP: Larry Schweikart, thanks for joining us.

Schweikart: Once again, my pleasure. One more appearance and I get a free set of steak knives.

FP: We’ll see what we can do.
Read entire article at Jamie Glazov at frontpagemag.com

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More Comments:

Arnold Shcherban - 9/26/2008

First of all, one may just wonder what
Hiss' story (regardless of whether he was or wasn't a Soviet spy) has to do
with comdemnation of American imperialistic policies
in the Middle East, in general and towards Iraq, in particular.. or Bush's presidency.
Secondly, in such a wholesale accusation of liberalism and almost divine, self-righteous view of the US policies the fascist, anti-democratic character of the American ultra-patriotism (as any other ultra-patriotism) shines in all its chovinistic ugliness.