“At issue in the Hiss case”, wrote Whittaker Chambers in his autobiography Witness, “was the question of whether this sick society, which we call Western civilization, could in its extremity still cast up a man whose faith in it was so great that he would voluntarily abandon those things which men hold good, including life, to defend it.”
In August 1948, Chambers, an editor at Time, identified Alger Hiss, a former assistant to the Secretary of State and former General Secretary of the United Nations, as a fellow member of his underground Communist cell in the 1930s. Hiss was ultimately convicted of perjury for denying his espionage activities and sentenced to five years in jail. Chambers was further vindicated in the mid 1990’s as the Venoma transcripts, secret KGB and GRU messages during World War II, were released and confirmed that Hiss had been a Soviet spy not only in the 1930s, but at least until 1945.
In Witness, Chambers goes on to write that at issue in the Hiss case was whether his “faith could prevail against a man whose equal faith it was that this society is sick beyond saving, and that mercy itself pleads for its swift extinction and replacement by another. At issue was the question whether, in the desperately divided society, there still remained the will to recognize the issues in time to offset the immense rally of public power to distort and pervert the facts?” This is ultimately the question of our time as our society is losing the power not only to distinguish between reality and fantasy, but the ability to distinguish between good and evil.