Example research essay topic: Alger Hiss – 1,696 words

In August 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a former
Communist appearing before the House Un-American
Activities Committee (HUAC), charged that Alger
Hiss, was a Communist spy. Chambers claimed that
he and Hiss had belonged to the same espionage
group and that Hiss had given him secret State
Department documents. This group was a network of
American spies recruited by the Soviet Union to
collect useful information for Moscow. Alger Hiss
was a Harvard-educated lawyer and a distinguished
Washington figure. He had been responsible affairs
for the State Department and had played a
significant role in the planning for and
development of the United Nations. Hiss’s accuser
seemed to be his opposite Whittaker Chambers came
from an unconventional middle-class WASP family.
His father went during a difficult marriage to
live with a man, and his alcoholic brother killed
himself at 22.

He attended Columbia in the early
1920s, winning a reputation as a brilliant writer.
Whittaker Chambers, a senior editor of Time
magazine and an ex-Communist, appeared as a
witness before HUAC. Chambers testified that in
the 1930’s he had been attached as a messenger to
a Communist organization formed in Washington,
D.C. The group had been organized by Harold Ware,
a well-known Communist, and its members included
eight government officials. Chambers confessed
that espionage had been one of the Ware Group’s
“eventual objectives” and identified its members.
One of them was Alger Hiss, a former Assistant
Secretary of State. His also had control over the
founding conference of the United Nations in 1945
and in February 1947 had left the government to
assume the presidency of the Carnegie Endowment
for International Peace. Alger Hiss emphatically
denied the allegations of Chambers’s.

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From that
moment forward, the Hiss defense has rested on the
argument that Hiss was a far more credible
witness. Hiss also referred to Chambers as a
“psychopathic liar.” A Federal grand jury summoned
both Chambers and Hiss in September 1948. Hiss
sued Chambers for slander. In November, Chambers
handed over 65 typed pages of State Department
documents, four pages of word-for-word copies of
its cables in Hiss’ handwriting, plus two strips
of developed and three cylinders of undeveloped
microfilm. The HUAC then accused Hiss of perjury
in denying that he had conveyed documents to
Chambers. The statute of limitations had expired
on charging Hiss of spying.

In the first trial,
Hiss lawyer got a hung jury by attacking Chambers
personally and presenting his client as a symbol
of the New Deal. In this trial, only Chambers and
his wife testified against Hiss. In the second
trial, Hiss’ new lawyer based his strategy on
unsupported claims that the documents had been
stolen by Chambers or by Julian Wadleigh, another
member of the Ware Group. However, Chambers’s had
another witness, Hede Massing, a former Soviet
espionage controller. The judge at the earlier
trial had barred her from testifying because she
had no firsthand knowledge of the Hiss-Chambers
connection. The second judge let her tell the
court that in 1935 she and Hiss had argued over
whether Noel Field, a spy at the State Department,
would work for her spying organization or his.

addition, the typewriting of the documents would
prove to be important to the case. The Hisses had
owned a Woodstock, a brand of typewriter. In a
comparison of copies of letters typed in the 1930s
by the Hisses on their Woodstock, the Department
of State indicated that the documents came from
the same machine. Alger Hiss was convicted,
serving 40 months of a five-year sentence. From
archives in the Czech Republic, previously
unavailable documents that further confirm that
Alger Hiss was a Soviet agent have been secured.
These files concern Noel Field, a NKVD (later KGB)
agent who served with Hiss at the State Department
prior to World War II. Noel Field and his wife
were friends of Alger and his wife Priscilla.

two families had a friendly relationship with one
another. Noel made little secret of his pro-Soviet
alignment after leaving Washington for a League of
Nations post in 1936. After the war, he fled to
Eastern Europe. During Stalin’s purge trials,
Field was arrested in 1949. He was transported
from Czechoslovakia to Hungary being accused of
having been a spy for the U.S. During his 1949
questioning, Field named Hiss as a Soviet agent.
In a summary of the 1949 interrogation which was
classified after Field’s release from prison, it
says that both the Hungarians and the Czechs had
come to accept that Field and Hiss had both been
Soviet agents.

In his testimony, Noel Field
asserted that he was on friendly terms with Hiss
when he worked in the Department of State, and
that Hiss did intelligence work on behalf of the
USSR. He also claimed to know this based on
conversations with him and that Hiss also
attempted to recruit him. However, at that time
Noel Field was already working for Soviet
intelligence. The following is an actual statement
by Field while being questioned in prison. We
[Field and his wife] made friends with Alger
Hiss–an official of the “New Deal” brought about
by Roosevelt–and his wife. After a couple of
meetings we mutually realized we were Communists.
Around the summer of 1935 Alger Hiss tried to
induce me to do service for the Soviets.

I was
indiscreet enough to tell him he had come too
late. Naturally I did not say a word about the
Massings. The Hungarian classified index also
includes letters to Field from Hiss. Furthermore,
evidence supports the claims of Hedda Massing, a
Soviet intelligence officer in the 1930s. In Alger
Hiss’s perjury trial, Massing testified that Hiss
had tried to recruit Field into his own ring.
Massing said she and Hiss had even got into a fist
fight on one occasion over which of them would get
Field. Massing told the jury that Hiss wanted
Field in his own espionage organization.

Field was already working for Moscow under
Massing’s supervision. At his trial, Hiss denied
the conversation, along with any memory of ever
having met Massing. Hiss also denied knowing that
Field, his friend, was a Communist. Another
document that was found emphasizes the fear of
returning to the U.S. Noel Field had. This fear,
according to the document, was triggered by
concern that he himself would be called to testify
in the Hiss trial, and that his name would be

In addition, he felt this would hurt
his writing career. The evidence is a handwritten
statement by Herman Field, Noel’s brother. Herman
Field prepared it during his 1949 interrogation by
the Polish secret police. Other evidence includes
Noels reaction to the testimony of Chambers. He
said, “My first reaction was to explode with as
audible a yell as I could produce from these
distant lands. .

. .I am only too aware of the
fact that my publishing aims–whether in
periodicals or book form–have hardly been
advanced by the type of publicity my name has
gotten.” A March 30, 1945, a NKVD message was
intercepted by the U.S. government. The
communication was between Soviet agents in America
and Moscow. The US governments reported that the
two agents were NKVD officers Ishkak Akhmerov and
an agent code-named “Ales.” “Ales” was described
as having worked for Soviet military intelligence
since 1935. Chambers, of course, testified that
Hiss had served the GRU (military intelligence)
beginning in 1935.

“Ales, was also the leader of a
small espionage group that included his family
members. Chambers had identified Hiss’s wife and
brother as members of Alger’s organization. “Ales”
according to others worked at the State
Department, attended the Yalta conference and went
on to Moscow from Yalta. Hiss, a member of the
Yalta delegation, was one of just four State
Department officials who traveled from Yalta to
Moscow. Neither of the three others, ever had
their loyalty to the U.S. questioned.

All of this
evidence seems to point out that “Ales” was indeed
Alger Hiss. There has been other evidence that
there were government officials that tried to
suppress evidence to avoid the Hiss scandal. Days
after the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact,
Chambers, accompanied by journalist Isaac Don
Levine, gave Assistant Secretary of State A.A.
Berle a full account of the espionage group in
Washington, which included Hiss. Berle had taken
this information to Roosevelt, who told him to
perform an investigation. In frustration, Berle
passed on to the FBI his full notes, headed
“Underground Espionage Agent.” However, when the
great controversy about the Hiss case was raging,
Berle testified under oath that Chambers merely
had mentioned a “Marxist study group.” In
addition, Berle has said privately that classified
material that Hiss was handling was reaching the
Russians. This seems the most damaging piece of
information against Hiss.

Berle was not the only
one to have knowledge of Hiss’ participation in a
Soviet spy ring. On May 17, 1935, U.S. Ambassador
William C. Bullitt was in Warsaw to attend the
funeral of Marshal Jozsef Pilsudski. While there,
he gave confidential assurances to the Polish
government that the United States would support
Poland if they resisted Nazi aggression to the
point of war. Bullitt then formally reported to
the State Department that he had made these

At this time, Hiss was in the
department. Hiss passed on this highly classified
information to the NKVD. The Soviet secret police,
which maintained relationship with German
intelligence, transmitted the information to the
Nazis. It was used by Joseph Goebbels of Germany
to depict Roosevelt and the entire United States
as supporter of war. In 1938, as U.S. Ambassador
to France, Bullitt was told by Premier Edourd
Daladier that Alger Hiss, a government official,
was a Soviet agent.

Later in 1940, Bullitt was on
a call with Stanley Hornbeck, chief of the State
Department’s division of Far Eastern Affairs.
Bullitt testified that Hornbeck was interrupted by
Alger Hiss. He then informed Hornbeck of what
Daladier had told him and urged an investigation.
There was no investigation, and Hornbeck swore on
the witness stand during Hiss trial that he had
never heard anything to challenge Hiss’
reputation. Alger Hiss died on November 15, 1996,
at the age of 92. Although Hiss insisted upon the
fact that he was innocent, the majority of
evidence does indeed confirm that Alger Hiss was
guilty. Bibliography:.



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