Hiss was the Wrong Martyr

This is an older post, as previously published, it was quite controversial. Students frequently ask me of this during our discussions of the Second Red Scare. Alger Hiss was not a victim of McCarthyism and he was definitely not a martyr. The American Communist Party of the 1930’s was not simply a social club our citizens could freely associate with; they were avowed Stalinists sworn to ending liberal democracy. Please click on the links provided for historical sources and evidence. Like this link to the most incriminating evidence–

Alger Hiss was ‘Ales’

AP Photo-public record

Alger Hiss was a Soviet agent… a spy, spook, traitor- all the same.  Hiss’s story was never frustrating, but the academics who defended him provided more than enough consternation over the decades.  Academia saw a victim, a noble man wronged by the excesses of McCarthyism and the ambition of Richard Nixon.  In many ways, it was the perfect script for Hiss- people never stopped talking about him.  He could have gone down as just another middling diplomat who briefly served at the UN– get in line, professor; but no, Hiss wanted it both ways.  He wanted the recognition, but on his terms- history be damned.

Even as the evidence mounted against him… Alger Hiss refused to surrender to the facts.  He was a hero in the minds of many, the case against him  had to be an elaborate plot.  Poor Whitaker Chambers first warned the State Dept. of Hiss in 1938, ten years before the infamous HUAC encounter.  Soviet defector Igor Gouzenko confirmed the bulk of Chambers’ accusations, but still the Hiss charade soldiered on.  Hiss’s popularity carried over the generations as Hollywood made certain the public couldn’t forget the poor American communists victimized by the Red Scare.  Even the appearance of Hiss in decrypted Soviet messages weren’t enough- he may have been ALES, but to the American left, he was a martyr.

Liberal historian, Allen Weinstein… wanted to write the definitive work vindicating Hiss in 1977.  His exhaustive research provided just the opposite- the evidence, even in 1977, definitively proved Hiss had lied. Alger Hiss died in 1996 as thousands of left-leaning academics continued to proclaim his innocence.  And another crime emerges- Hiss let it happen, he lived a lie and allowed his followers to ruin their reputations- all for his vanity.

Remarkable Restraint

Abraham Lincoln could have curried much political favor in the West had he ordered the executions of 303 Dakota Sioux – Instead, he reviewed each case.

Despite the crushing defeat at Second Bull Run, the horrific carnage of Antietam, and the political fallout of issuing the Emancipation proclamation Lincoln still listened to the facts of the 303 condemned to hang in the Minnesota Sioux uprising of 1862.

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Lincoln pardoned all but 38 of the defendants.  Nearly 800 white settlers had been slaughtered in the uprising, and the public demanded retribution.  Lincoln was not going to allow these murders to go unpunished, but he was determined to use his pardoning power judiciously.

General John Pope encouraged his Commander-in-Chief to order all 303 hangings, sighting the popularity of such a decision on the Minnesota frontier.  Lincoln famously responded,

“I could not hang men for votes…”

 

 

 

Seventy-Five Years Since the Mass on Mount Suribachi

Almost Chosen People

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Seventy-five years ago today the Marines raised the flag over Mount Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima and a mass was said at the summit.  Iwo Jima probably has the sad distinction of being the most expensive piece of worthless real estate in the history of the globe.  Expensive not in something as minor as money, but costly in something as all important as human lives.  In 1943 the island had a civilian population of 1018 who scratched a precarious living from sulfur mining, some sugar cane farming and fishing.  All rice and consumer goods had to be imported from the Home Islands of Japan.  Economic prospects for the island were dismal.  Eight square miles, almost all flat and sandy, the dominant feature is Mount Suribachi on the southern tip of the island, 546 feet high, the caldera of the dormant volcano that created the island.  Iwo Jima prior to…

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Abigail Adams: On Virtue, Duty and Manners

Presidential History Blog

Abigail Smith Adams was a Puritan born and raised.

Abigail Adams: Intellectual Puritan

Abigail Smith (1744-1818) was born to William Smith and Elizabeth Quincy of Weymouth, MA, a family peppered with Congregational clergy. Her father was a minister of solid repute, and also an educator with a fine library.

Church services and long sermons exhorting congregants to exemplary behavior, and pious thought and deeds through reason and morality, was part of her unquestioned upbringing. While Abigail was taught the domestic arts of cooking, sewing and housekeeping, it was not her strongest suit. She was intellectually inclined and a conceptual thinker. She relished difficult, thoughtful books on government and philosophy, on history and political theory. Perhaps most important, she treasured the precepts of moral behavior and a sense of upright duty.

John and Abigail Adams, Puritan parents.

At nineteen, she married John Adams, and for the next fifty-four years enjoyed a…

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TV Review- History Channel's "Washington"

Historical documentaries have changed forever. Reduced attention spans have spelled the end of the wistful images and genteel music of the Ken Burns style of documentary making. Now, actors and live action fill the time between the insight provided by “experts.” The word of historians apparently ring hollow, so the new style also interjects opinions from biographers, celebrities, and even former Presidents.

Doris Kearns-Goodwin’s production of “Washington” exemplifies this new breed of historical documentary. British stage actor, Nicholas Rowe, has the unenviable task of humanizing the marble face of George Washington. The purpose of this production is to present the Father of our country, “warts and all.” The production values are commendable and most of the actors do justice to their historical characters. All of the historic vignettes are competently staged, though do not rise to the level of a Hollywood production. It is not too hard to imagine what an extra episode could have contributed, as large segments of Washington’s career are passed over. Too often, the depictions rely on the performances, which are acceptable, but not necessarily moving.

A diverse collection of scholars is assembled by Kearns-Goodwin. Joe Ellis, Jon Meacham, Joanne Freeman, and Alan Taylor provide valuable insights into 18th century American life, as well as Washington’s complicated character. Ellis stands out as the authoritative voice among the academic contributors. Colin Powell’s insights into military logistics, strategy, and leadership are especially valuable. Bill Clinton’s contributions are surprisingly pedestrian, his presence must be seen as promotional. To emphasize Washington’s slave-owning, Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Annette Gordon-Reed are called upon to explain these experiences, though both offer plenty of digression. The most interesting contributor is “biographer,” Alexis Coe. She’s recently written an irreverent biography of Washington and served here as a co-producer. The producers must have seen her value in appealing to millennials.

It is most satisfying to see the History Channel producing content about history again. Despite the cinematic limitations and inconsistent insights, “Washington” does make for three nights of enjoyable viewing.

Stalin Takes Over at Yalta

“It was not a question of what we would let the Russians do, but what we could get the Russians to do.” Future Secretary of State James Byrnes commented on the Yalta conference which began on February 4, 1945.

Most historians now agree that Yalta… is where Stalin exerted his will upon the European continent.  Theories abound as to how this came to pass- Roosevelt’s illness, Churchill’s weariness, Soviet agents posing as American diplomats (Alger Hiss)- regardless, the Soviet Union came out of the conference a world power.  Byrnes’ observation was optimistic to say the least…

What seemed at the time to be reasonable compromise… laid the foundations for the Eastern Bloc.

Big Three
  • Free elections in Poland- clearly stacked in Stalin’s favor, the exiled Polish government in London stood little chance against the Provisional Communist state built by the Red Army in 1945.
  • Red Army occupation of eastern and central Europe was accepted- and despite assurances to Churchill of peaceful intentions, Stalin told Molotov, “Never mind. We’ll do it our own way later.”
  • The Red Army would occupy half of Germany including the entirety of Berlin. The seeds of the Cold War are planted out of what was thought to be military expediency.

Bring Back Washington's Birthday Celebration

There is something absurd in our generic observances of “Presidents Day.” Do we truly wish to venerate Warren Harding, Zachary Taylor, and Franklin Pierce? Should Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump really be exalted in our collective memory?

President’s Day is a workplace convenience contrived by the government to limit available vacation days in February. Lincoln’s assassination necessitated observance of his birthday, yet it also caused the government to view Washington’s birthday as expendable.

The limited observance of Washington’s birthday has diluted his resonance in our national consciousness. Our understanding of his historic contribution to the national story cannot be told by “woke” children regurgitating foolish drivel from Howard Zinn.

George Washington is the essential man in our history. Without him, there would be no United States. His birthday should be celebrated and his legacy should be taught to our future generations. It is time to do away with President’s day.