A Warning of the End

On December 28, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, War, by marc

This passage from Witness gave me the chills, mostly from recognition of our current state in the U.S. today:

Alger Hiss

Alger Hiss

No feature of the Hiss Case is more obvious, or more troubling as history, than the jagged fissure, which it did not so much open as reveal, between the plain men and women of the nation, and those who affected to act, think and speak for them.  It was, not invariably, but in general, the “best people” who were for Alger Hiss and who were prepared to go to almost any length to protect and defend him.  It was the enlightened and the powerful, the clamorous proponents of the open mind and the common man, who snapped their minds shut in a pro-Hiss psychosis, of a kind which, in an individual patient, means the simple failure of the ability to distinguish between reality and unreality, and, in a nation, is a warning of the end.

It seems to me that one could replace “Alger Hiss” with any number of leftist social causes and issues (not the least of which would be “health care reform”) and you’ve got America circa 2009.  Frightening.

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The Child

On December 13, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, by marc

According to Whittaker Chambers (writing in Witness), in the 1930s committed American Communists were opposed to the notion of having children, seeing them as a distraction from the important work of fomenting revolution within the United States.  Chambers himself said that he”…took it for granted that children were out of the question.”

Whittaker Chambers

Whittaker Chambers

In early 1933, his wife informed him that she was pregnant.  After first assuming that an abortion would occur in order to avoid the inconvenience to the cause that a child would cause, it became clear that his wife intended to keep the baby.  Chambers goes on a bit later to describe the experience of meeting his daughter for the first time:

[my wife] was scarcely out of the anesthetic, and reeking of ether, when I sat beside her bed.  As I looked at her white, hollowed face and the deep, leaden circles under her eyes, and felt her feverish fingers, I thought: “What have I done to her?”  At that moment, I cared only for my wife and nothing at all for the child.

My wife kept urging me feebly to go and look at it  She wanted me, of course, to approve and love what had so nearly cost her life (the birth had been terrible).  I went into the hall.  Through a glass panel, I peered into the antiseptic nursery where banks of babies lay in baskets.  A nurse, with a wonderfully personal smile,  considering the miscellaneous fathers to whom she pointed out their babies, pointed out mine.  The child had been born long enough to have lost the puckered, red, natal look.  Her face was pink, and peaceful.  She was sleeping.  her long lashes lay against her cheeks.  She was beautiful.

I went back to my wife who was no longer only my wife but the mother of our child – the child we all yearn for, who, even before her birth, had begun, invisibly, to lead us out of that darkness, which we could not even realize, toward that light, which we could not even see.

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“a torturing thought”

On December 2, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, by marc

Whittaker Chambers, from Witness, describing the effect of Stalin’s purge on communists like him:

Nikolay Ivanovich Bukharin: an architect, and eventual victim, of Soviet Communism

Nikolay Ivanovich Bukharin: an architect, and eventual victim, of Soviet Communism

Since the purge, millions of men, women and children in the world have died violently.  the 20th century has put out of its mind, because it can no longer cope with the enormity of the statistic, the millions it has exterminated in its first fifty years.  Even among those millions the number killed in the Purge makes a formidable figure.  But, on a Communist, not only the numbers, but the revolutionary stature of the purgees, had a shattering impact.  To the Western world, those strange names – Rykov, Bukharin, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Piatkov, Rakovsky, Krylenko, Latsis, Tuchachevky, Muralov, Smirnov, Karakhan, Mrachkovsky – were merely tongue twisters.  To a Communist, they were the men who had made one of the greatest transformations in human history – the Russian Revolution.  The charge, on which they were one and all destroyed, the charge that they had betrayed their handiwork, was incredible.  They were the Communist Party.  If the charge was true, then every other Communist had given his life for a fraud.  If the charge was false, then every other Communist was giving his life for a fraud.  This was a torturing thought.  No communist could escape it.

More on Bukharin here, and his death cell letter to Stalin here.

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Witness

On November 23, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, by marc
Witness by Whittaker Chambers

Witness by Whittaker Chambers

Digging through the library here at work, I happened to stumble across a 1952 first edition of Whittaker ChambersWitness.

Two faiths were on trial.  Human societies, like human beings, live by faith and die when faith dies.  At issue in the Hiss Case was the question 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.  At issue was the question whether this man’s 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…

…On a scale personal enough to be felt by all, but big enough to be symbolic, the two irreconcilable faiths of our time – Communism and Freedom – came to grips in the persons of two conscious and resolute men.

This is a real gem; I wish there was a way for me to take ownership of this particular book, but that’s unlikely.  I’m looking forward to reading it, though; that much is sure.

More:

The deeper meaning of the Soviet underground apparatus, and all the apparatuses that clustered hidden beside it, was not so much their espionage activity.  It was the fact that they were a true Fifth Column, the living evidence that henceforth in the 20th century, all wars are revolutionary wars, and are fought not only between nations, but within them.

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