Thursday, July 7, 2011

Whittaker Chambers, Communism, and Islam


July 7th, 2011 by Andrew Bostom |

Whittaker Chambers (April 1, 1901-July 9, 1961) 
Freedom is a need of the soul, and nothing else. It is in striving toward God that the soul strives continually after a condition of freedom. God alone is the inciter and guarantor of freedom. He is the only guarantor. External freedom is only an aspect of interior freedom. Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom.

Playwright David Mamet recently acknowledged that he had been profoundly influenced by Communist apostate Whittaker Chambers’ 1952 anti-Communist memoir, “Witness.” Mamet described how reading Chambers’ opus inspired “the wrenching experience” of forcibly re-evaluating the way he thought, particularly his confessed Leftist herd co-dependence. Echoing the delusive herd mentality of the Left’s ad hominem attacks in the 1950s on Chambers—whose allegations of Communist conspiracism have been entirely vindicated with irrefragable documentation from the captured Soviet Venona cables—Congressman Peter King’s staid initial hearings March 10, 2011 on American Muslim radicalization engendered similarly apoplectic, and equally unwarranted condemnation, evenbefore getting underway.
David Mamet’s invocation of “Witness,” and the repeated hysterical, if groundless objections to the second round of hearings by Rep. King’s Homeland Security Committee (i.e., June 15, 2011, on Muslim radicalization in US prisons),  jointly, are fitting reminders that July 9, 2011 marks the 50thanniversary of Whittaker Chambers’ death July 9, 1961.
Chambers was born April 1, 1901 in Philadelphia, and spent his childhood on the south shore of Long Island, in (then rural) Lynbrook. Upon graduating High School, Chambers left home and worked as a construction laborer on the Washington DC subway system, before drifting to New Orleans, and then returning to attend Columbia University between 1920-1924. Under the tutelage of Columbia English Professor Mark Van Doren (before Van Doren became an internationally known literary critic and poet), Chambers tried his hand at poetry, even completing a book of poems entitled “Defeat in the Village,” before realizing, “I never could write poetry good enough to be worth writing.” This apprenticeship, however, helped teach Chambers “the difficult, humbling, exacting art of writing,” and he would go on to become an exceptionally gifted writer of prose.  He joined the Communist Party in 1925, experiencing great success as a writer at The Daily Worker and as an editor at The New Masses, both communist-controlled publications. In 1932, Chambers was asked to join the underground movement of the Communist Party, and he served in the Fourth Section of Soviet Military Intelligence. Recognizing Chambers’ intellectual prowess, the underground placed him with the Ware Group (a collection of communist cells consisting of government officials and journalists) in Washington, D.C. It was here, among other promising New Deal civil servants, that he encountered Alger Hiss. Chambers and Hiss, along with their spouses, had actually become close friends before Chambers renounced Communism.
During late 1938, overwhelmed by the horrific actions of the Soviet Communist Party, in particular the Stalinist purges, and forced starvation of Ukrainian peasants, and having rejected Communism’s militant atheism, Chambers left the Communist movement. The Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 was a watershed event for Chambers, realizing that much of the confidential information about the U.S. that he had forwarded to the Soviet Union could now be passed to Germany. Thus Chambers, now an ex-Communist apostate, decided to divulge his prior activities for the Communist underground to the federal government. Shortly thereafter, Chambers was able to meet with the head of security at the State Department, A.A. Berle. Although Chambers revealed most of his activities, he withheld the facts of espionage conducted by his cell, largely to protect others, including, notably, Alger Hiss. Regardless, it was not until 1948—nine years later—that the information he provided to Berle was acted upon by the government. Chambers was subpoenaed at that time by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) to corroborate the testimony of Elizabeth Bentley—the so-called “blonde spy queen”—who alleged that Soviet espionage was occurring within the U.S. government. Chambers corroborated Bentley’s allegations, supplemented them with his own, and confronted Alger Hiss on the first day of his testimony (eventually all twenty-one names that Chambers provided to HUAC were confirmed by subsequent Soviet archival research). In 1950, Hiss was convicted for perjury after two federal trials.
A naturally gifted linguist, particularly fluent in German, over the years Whittaker Chambers translated into English “Bambi,” “Dunant—the Story of the Red Cross,” and a number of children’s books.  Chambers joined Time Magazine in 1939, initially as a book reviewer, later as a writer and editor. He wrote many of Time’s cover stories during his tenure, including profiles of historian Arnold Toynbee, vocalist Marian Anderson, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, and Pope Pius XII. Chambers, based upon his experience as a Communist, and intuitive grasp of history, displayed a remarkably prescient understanding of the “Cold War” conflict as an editor and writer for Time’s foreign news section. He also contributed seven brilliant essays to Life Magazine’s 1947-1948 “Picture History of Western Civilization” series. Compelled to resign from Time during the tumultuous Hiss trials, Chambers eventually became an editor and writer on the staff of National Review, from the latter part of 1957 to the middle of 1959. Throughout most of his journalistic career, Chambers continued to operate a farm in Westminster, Maryland, maintaining a dairy herd, raising sheep and beef cattle, and producing various crops.
This essay will explore what can be gleaned from Chambers’ witness-martyrdom in the struggle against Communism, sacrificing himself “a little in advance to try to win for you that infinitesimal slightly better chance,” and applied to the modern threat of resurgent Islamic totalitarianism. First, Chambers’ own brief 1947 comparison of Communism and nascent Islam will be placed in the context of more extensive, independent contemporary characterizations (i.e., made from 1920-2001) by Western scholars and intellectuals who also juxtaposed these ideological systems. Next, I will address Chambers’ searing critique of Communism—as an intimately knowledgeable ex-Communist true believer—and his related criticism of the West’s embrace of Godless secular humanism, rejecting its Biblical roots, in particular the belief in a Judeo-Christian God. Then I will elucidate how Chambers’ understanding that faith in the Judeo-Christian God was conjoined to Biblical freedom, and the antithetical conception of modern atheistic totalitarianism—epitomized by Communism—relate to Islamic doctrine regarding “hurriyya,” Arabic for freedom, and the God of Islam, Allah. The essay will conclude with a discussion of what Chambers’ apostasy from Communism—and the shared insights of contemporary apostates from Islam—can teach the West.
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