Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Chambers, Whittaker (1901–1961)

Title: Whittaker Chambers
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American communist, editor, writer, and informant. Born Vivian Jay Chambers on 1 April 1901 in Philadelphia, Whittaker Chambers graduated from high school in 1919, attended but was expelled from Columbia University in 1922, and joined the U.S. Communist Party in 1925. He spent thirteen years in the party, writing for and editing its periodicals. Beginning in 1932, he worked in the party's underground apparatus under various aliases as a courier for a Soviet intelligence network within the U.S. government.

Appalled by Josef Stalin's notorious political purges, Chambers defected from the Communist Party in April 1938. Like many apostates, he veered sharply to the Right; by the time he joined the staff of Time magazine twelve months later, he was an ardent anticommunist. In September 1939, he outlined to Adolf Berle, an assistant secretary of state, his allegations about communist espionage in Washington and implicated eight individuals, including Alger Hiss.

During the deepening Cold War and as anticommunist activity in America grew more intense, Chambers appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). On 3 August 1948, Chambers publicly identified Hiss as a communist. In a protracted, controversial, and highly publicized series of hearings and trials, Chambers leveled explicit charges of perjury and implicit charges of Soviet espionage against Hiss, who vehemently denied the allegations. Chambers appeared before HUAC and the various courts fourteen times, attempted suicide once, and lost his job at Time.

After the hearings were over and Hiss was convicted and imprisoned for perjury, Chambers drifted, became a Quaker, and wrote his compelling autobiography, Witness. Before his death on 9 July 1961 near Westminster, Maryland, Chambers worked for William Buckley's conservative National Review. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan, himself influenced by Witness, posthumously awarded Chambers the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Phillip Deery


Further Reading
Tanenhaus, Sam. Whittaker Chambers: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1997.; Weinstein, Allen. Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case. New York: Knopf, 1978.
 

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