Monday, July 31, 2006

They Were Guilty

Get over it.

Who? Alger Hiss. The Rosenbergs. You don't have to like Nixon or McCarthy to accept the evidence that they were right. But it takes a mature mind to do so. And that still seems to be out of reach for some folks.

For Americans who came of age in the 1930s (as for many who came of age in the 1960s), the spy trials have been litmus tests for a range of issues: Nixon and McCarthy, to be sure; the Cold War and the nature of the Soviet Union as well. Even more viscerally, the Hiss case pointed to the cleavages in American history represented by the Depression, the New Deal, and even Vietnam. The last is not an anachronism, by the way, but a reflection of the degree to which the past is ever active, continually reviewed and refocused in our minds. “Which side are you on?” Woodie Guthrie asked, and an opinion on the Hiss case or any of the other trials of the 1940s and 1950s could answer that question across the spectrum of American public policy issues.

Yes, and some will go to their graves believing O.J. was framed. But ...

Postmodernists will reject the very idea of truth, but new generations of historians may discover that its pursuit and even its imperfect image have value beyond the nihilism current in so much contemporary historical typing. ... In the end, it is truth that sets us free of the dualism that has clouded American discussion of these issues for so much of this century. For too long, the demagoguery of Joseph McCarthy has been used to argue the innocence of Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs. The truth, in the end, is more complex and even more interesting: McCarthy was a demagogue, and Hiss and his colleagues were traitors.