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A Son's Own Story | The Nation

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A Son's Own Story

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Chambers's accusations of perfidy in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities created a firestorm in the tense atmosphere after World World II. The ambitious young Richard Nixon led the charge to nail Hiss and, not incidentally, attack the "twenty years of treason" of Roosevelt's New Deal.

About the Author

Jack Gelber
Jack Gelber is a playwright whose latest work is called Chambers.

Tony writes, "Of course, Alger's letters weren't being written to refute Whittaker Chambers." That doesn't stop Tony from trying. According to Chambers, he and Alger were intimate friends. Alger brought home State Department papers that Prossy retyped. Chambers often visited the Hisses, and described with dramatic flourish a scene in which he informed Alger that he was breaking with the party and a teary Alger was overcome with anguish.

Tony's half-brother, Timothy Hobson, is the last living witness to the events described by Whittaker Chambers. Tim, who was home with a broken leg during that time, said, "No visits then at all. No typing and no documents either.... Tim assured me that maybe 1 percent of [Chambers's testimony] was either real or based on something real."

Tim is still resentful that he wasn't allowed to tell what he knew in court. Kicked out of the military because of his self-confessed homosexuality, Tim, along with his friends, was hounded by the FBI. Alger would not allow him to testify. "I'd rather go to jail than see Tim cross-examined about his private life."

Further complicating the issue was Chambers's 1949 confession to the FBI of the secret, violent homosexual life that he claimed he led in the late thirties. Were all those nights prowling in city parks undercover work or cruising? Speculation abounded on Chambers's motives in pursuing Hiss. Was it love? Jealousy?

Against the advice of his younger brother, Donald, and many friends, a stunned and angry Alger Hiss sued Chambers for libel. Prossy's brother warned him,

Be prepared for underhanded, sly, dirty, slugging, foul kinds of tactics. Don't rely on the armor of righteousness. You may, and my guess is probably will, be attacked through your personal and domestic relations, Pros, Timmy, Anna, Donie, etc.... I do not think it is personal, but I do think that "they" will be ruthless and vindictive--and artful.

Pre-prison, stubborn Hiss would not listen. He believed truth would out. Hiss's long relationship with the law, particularly with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, for whom he clerked, convinced him that he would be vindicated. Instead, the libel proceedings exploded into countercharges of espionage, of passing documents to the Russians. These allegations eventually led to a perjury trial (the statute of limitations on espionage charges had run out), which ended in a hung jury. Tried a second time for perjury, Hiss was convicted, essentially on the basis of Chambers's testimony.

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