Nanette Bulebosh's Reviews > Alger Hiss and the Battle for History

Alger Hiss and the Battle for History by Susan Jacoby
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Mar 04, 10

Read in February, 2010

The McCarthy era continues to fascinate this reviewer. Maybe it's all the accusations hurled at our president charging that he is a communist, socialist AND a fascist leading our country to disaster (how anyone can be all three at the same time escapes me). That this should be happening 65 years after the height of the anti-communist fever, when access to accurate information has never been more widely available, is a remarkable thing. I started this book in an effort to become better informed about the history of this paranoia, and what drove the original accusers.

I've also long admired Susan Jacoby (loved her "Age of Unreason" and "Freethinkers: The Age of Secular Humanism."), so I thought this book would also be good.

It is. Unlike some liberals, Jacoby believes that Alger Hiss almost certainly WAS a Communist spy, although she says no one has proven this beyond a shadow of a doubt one way or the other. But this is not the focus of her book. What interests her more than whether or not one individual was a traitor is the extent to which this man's story has been hijacked by both the right AND the left to serve various political aims (hence the title, " the Battle for History.") She takes both sides to task.

Conservatives want to use the Alger Hiss story to make the case that Joe McCarthy and the HUAC folks were exactly right, that there WAS a conspiracy to infuse our government, universities, labor unions and entertainment venues with Stalinism, and that if the Reds succeeded we'd all be .... I'm not sure ... wearing heavy fur coats, standing in line for meagerly stocked grocery items, and not going to church, I guess. Of course, they feared much worse than this. Government control of the economy is a frightening notion for those who have succeeded under capitalism. It didn't work so well for the average citizen, either, by all (or at least most) accounts.

Liberals who believe that Hiss was innocent have used his trial, conviction (for perjury, not for having been a Communist) and jail sentence to show that he was just one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Americans whose lives were ruined by unfair, over-blown, inaccurate, and downright un-American accusations by ambitious politicians (Nixon, anyone?) whose real intent was not stopping Communism so much as undermining the New Deal and reigning in labor unions, integration, and anything that smacked of class consciousness.

It's a thin little book, and an easy read for any history lover, especially one interested in this important era.
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02/08/2010 page 35
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02/13/2010 page 189
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