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Alger Hiss: Framed: A New Look at the Case That Made Nixon Famous Hardcover – August 22, 2017
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"Joan Brady's highly readable take on Alger Hiss adds valuable, new personal information to his ever-fascinating story. It will be of interest not merely to scholars of the case, but anyone who cares about history and getting it right.";Victor Navasky, Publisher Emeritus of The Nation, author of National Book Award winning Naming Names
"Joan Brady has written an evocative, graceful memoir filled with novel reminiscences of her friendship with Alger Hiss. It is a most unusual book, using memory and a Talmudic examination of legal texts to explore the still contested terrain of the Hiss trials. As such, it is sure to incense those historians and partisans wedded to the national narrative crafted by Whittaker Chambers and Richard Nixon. Insightful and provocative, Brady has reopened the Hiss case to a new generation of readers. "Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
"Joan Brady's Alger Hiss: Framed, a personal story about the Alger Hiss case, written by one of our most talented and accomplished writers, is a wonderfully vivid account that conveys the intensity of some of the darkest days in our post-WWII history. It's also full of revelatory new material about the case that started young Richard Nixon on his road to the White House and convinced Americans that the Reds really were threatening our freedom. It’s time to revisit this extraordinary story, which historians have been debating for the last half-century; Brady's fresh and compelling book will introduce a new generation to the trial that transformed America."Jon Wiener, Professor of History, University of California, Irvine
". . . a bracing reminder of what indeed was so hateful, so villainous about Nixon and his political ascent."The Spectator
"[an] extraordinary book . . . part autobiography, part memoir of Hiss, part thriller, and also a reminder of what happens when a society becomes infected by the paranoia that produced the American 'Red Scare' after the First and Second World Wars."The New Statesman
"Brady's book . . . offers a unique perspective . . . she is an expert storyteller."The Guardian
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But you can compose such a book, starting with all the changes Chambers made in his story, his odd personality and strange behavior, the lies and exaggerations by Richard Nixon, the off-the-wall statements by members of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and the overheated newspaper coverage. Then add dark hints about J. Edgar Hoover (who, in fact, wrote Chambers off in 1942), the Dulles Brothers (e.g., page 65), the Rockefeller and Bush families (pages 94, 331), a diplomat named Bullitt (e.g., pages 245, 266), organized crime (pages 57, 66), the Bank of America (page 67, and even Nazis (see page 330 et seq.). Finally, you add many pages about your own life and your friendship with Hiss. You have this book.
It is very well written. There is scarcely a hard-to-understand sentence in it.
The book fails, however, to address the three structural flaws in the defense of Hiss. First, why did Chambers lie? He was a reluctant witness and, when he admitted spying, lost the only decent and decently paying job he had in his whole life. Chambers had no motive to lie.
Second, why did Hiss welcome Chambers into his life – letting him live in Hiss’s vacated apartment rent free (and with Hiss paying the utilities), buying him lunch, lending him money, and even (in Hiss’s version) giving him a car? (Have you ever given away a car?) Hiss was not accustomed to letting deadbeats into his life. Au contraire, all of Alger’s friends went to Harvard and shopped at Brooks Brothers. The only reason he would befriend Chambers – of slovenly appearance, smelly, and displaying a mouth full of rotting teeth – is shared participation in the Communist underground.
Third, how did Chambers come into possession of about 70 pages of State Department documents that were in Hiss’ handwriting or were typed on the Hisses’ home typewriter? The book argues that someone made a fake typewriter that typed just like the Hisses’ home typewriter. But Hiss hired three experts who worked at doing that for more than a year and couldn’t do it. Even more improbably, the book claims that the fake typewriter was planted where the real Hiss typewriter had been so that Hiss would find it and think it was his. But if you knew where the real Hiss typewriter was, you’d steal it for a day and type up your incriminating documents on it. That would be much easer than making a fake typewriter. And suppose you had made a fake typewriter. After you had typed your fake documents on it, the next thing you would do is destroy it. Anyone smart enough to make a fake typewriter would be smart enough to destroy it once its job was done.
Remarkably, the book speculates that the person who typed up the forged documents was Pat Nixon (page 266).
If Chambers was such an obviously untrustworthy slime ball who never drew an honest breath or did a decent deed, how did he become Senior Editor of Time Magazine and have among his friends and admirers several leading intellectuals of the mid 20th Century? If Chambers had incriminating documents all dating from 1938, why (other than forgetfulness) did he originally say that his dealings with Hiss ended in 1937 – why would the diabolical conspiracy be so inept? Why did two other men that Chambers named as members of his spy ring confess? If the case against Hiss was so weak, why did Hiss lose 20 out of 24 jurors, why did his most hard-working and distinguished lawyers come to believe that he was lying, and why did so many liberals and Democrats come to believe he was guilty despite their wishes and loyalties? If Chambers got the fake spy documents (from the FBI or Pat Nixon or whoever) in 1948, how could he write an article describing one of them in 1938?
The book hints that the Dulles Brothers started the post WWII concern with Soviet penetration in order to divert public attention from their dealings with German cartels – the Nazis again (page 74). It also hints that the War on Terror is designed to divert attention from the emerging New World Order of The Military-Industrial Complex and multinational conglomerates, and that it is these dark forces that have produced the steady flow of books and articles concluding that Hiss was guilty (pages 331-34). The book cannot contemplate that reality is simpler. The overwhelming majority of people who have studied the case – from left, right, and center – are honest and uncorrupted and have concluded after thorough examination, rational thought, and honest analysis that Hiss was guilty. The files of several communist secret services have only strengthened that conclusion.
On page x, Brady tells of that Richard Nixon said Alger Hiss had passed " 'microfilm' of 'top secret' army documents" to the USSR. (Sneer quotes in the original). But nobody knew what was in the microfilm, because Nixon refused to turn it over to the Department of Justice, kept "top secret for a quarter of a century," and that it eventually turned out to be "Home camera snapshots of maintenance manuals from a public library."
The transcript of the trial that convicted his is available on the web, at the Internet Archive, in ten volumes, plus an eleventh volume indexing it all. The Government's exhibits are in volumes 7-9. There you can see the MICROFILMED STATE DEPARTMENT DOCUMENTS that Hiss was charged with turning over to Chambers, plus photographs of the hand written summaries and copies of STATE DEPARTMENT DOCUMENTS that Hiss was charged with providing Chambers, plus photographs of the STATE DEPARTMENT DOCUMENTS that were summarized on a typewriter (this was before the days of the Xerox machine, remember). All the original photographs produced in evidence were taken on a Leica camera on 35mm film. The person who took them, and many more, was named Felix Inslerman. He confessed they were taken in order to be passed on to the Soviet Union, that he was trained to use a Leica in the Soviet Union, and that the camera was provided to him for the purpose of document photography. The defense conceded that the microfilm had been taken with Inslerman's Leica.And Inslerman was one of only three photographers Chambers testified he used.
And while then Congressman Nixon did indeed refuse to turn the original microfilms over to the Department of Justice, whose officials he and the House Committee on Unamerican Activities distrusted, he did personally deliver them to the FBI. The Truman White House, of JFK's, or LBJ's could have declassified any part of those documents at any time. The ones that weren't made public were the ones that were NOT part of the Hiss trial, because Chambers said Hiss had not turned them over. (And the microfilms not used in evidence were of Navy Dept. technical documents, not Army materials). The transcript of the hearings of the Committee on Unamerican Activities concerning Hiss are also at the Internet Archive.
As I said, all defenses of Hiss I've ever read were filled with lies, but usually they aren't quite so blatant, so early, or so obvious. I could provide many other examples of error and dishonesty. If you know the real case forwards and backwards, you may have fun picking through this steaming pile of steer fertilizer and identifying the lies. If you don't, I recommend reading Allen Weinstein's Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case first, and using the trial transcripts and HCUA transcripts when you need to an original source.
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Joan Brady wrote several novels and her memoir “The Unmaking of a Dancer”. This is her second work of non-fiction.Read more