Today a man was released from the Federal Penitientiary in Lewisburg, PA. Met by his two lawyers, wife, and son he gave a brief statement to the scores of journalists covering the end of his sentence. Then he and his family drove back to New York City.
Who was he? Why do we care?
Alger Hiss. He can be viewed as a product and symbol of his times. Today I present him as a reminder to excerise caution in the present.
Accusations of spying require investigation. When the accuser is an admitted former spy I expect the truth to be hidden within a knot of lies, half-truths, and evasions. How to extract the truth? Carefully – please.
An investigation of one Communist Party member (he admitted former membership) led to the initial accusations against Hiss when he worked as an assistant in the State Department. The case languished for five years. When revived, the House Un-American Activities Committee and Rep. Richard Nixon move to the forefront.
It required two trials to convict Mr. Hiss of perjury.
Mr. Nixon gained a positive reputation that contributed to being vice-president under Eisenhower.
The entire United States suffered from a “Red Scare” and the blacklisting of celebrities and organizations signled out by Joseph McCarthy and his senate committee.
A good day to remember our history, learn from it, and proceed with caution – lest we repeat it.