Aug 23, 2009
Sovietologist Dr. Amy Knight approaches the politically charged Hiss-Chambers Case on the side of Alger Hiss. For her, Whittaker Chambers was one of many tools in the hands of the FBI to attack the administration of President Harry S. Truman. She presents Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, and others involved in pre-McCarthy investigations to be victims, equally and alike.
Like a number of others who write about the case from either side, she also shapes her narrative according to prejudiced views. She carefully (or not) selects or omits facts, then presents unproven conclusions. Then of course there are outright errors (unintentional or not). Such shaping works particularly well for her when referring to the Hiss-Case in this book on Igor Gouzenko.
Page ix – Error: Lumps Whittaker Chambers with Elizabeth Bentley as testifying before HUAC from January 1947 to July 1948, when Chambers did not appear before HUAC until August 3, 1948
Page 212 – Selectivity, Omission: Intimates that Chambers dredged up the Pumpkin Papers (which Dr. Knight avoids naming on numerous occasions) at the instigation of HUAC member Richard M. Nixon; omits details about the Hiss-Chambers Case — like Hiss’s slander cases against Chambers, for which Chambers produced the Pumpkin Papers; avoids mention of the contents of the Pumpkin Papers, including handwritten papers by both Hiss and Harry Dexter White
Page 213 – Selectivity: Cites differences in Chambers’s defection date (1937 and 1938) as fact a point most pro-Hiss writers have already accepted, namely that people have a hard time remembering specific dates ten years after the fact (recently conceded by the pro-Hiss Susan Jacoby in her book Alger Hiss and the Battle for History — Chambers later described his defection in detail in Witness
Page 214 – Omission: States that both Bentley and Chambers were “prone to contradicting earlier testimony” when in fact Chambers only contradicted himself one time of any note, viz., when he admitted that his Washington apparatuses had engaged in espionage, thus knowingly exposing himself to possible indictment for perjury (and why the Department of Justice indicted Hiss instead of Chambers receives legal explanation by G. Edward White in Alger Hiss’s Looking-Glass Wars)
Page 300 – Selectivity, Omission: Lumps Chambers again with Bentley by characterizing both their FBI and congressional interviews as follows: “Their stories changed after almost every interview they had…”
There are other factual problems in the book. Dr. Knight seems to disbelieve that Walter Krivitsky met his death at the hands of Soviet agents. She states that he committed suicide (pp. 4-5). She does acknowledge that at least one of his claims proved true–that a young British aristocrat in the Foreign Ministry was a Soviet mole (Donald Maclean of the Cambridge Five). Of course, Krivitsky also predicted that Stalin would form a secret pact with Hitler–but rather than mention that, Dr. Knight only mentions that interest in Krivitsky dwindled after the Soviets changed sides to oppose Nazi Germany.
(Mentions of “Whittaker Chambers”: pages ix, 3, 61-62, 91-92, 194, 300, 212-215, 267, 329n7)