by Whittaker Chambers - reprint published by Regnery History, 2014
"A man is not primarily a witness against something. That is only incidental to the fact that he is a witness for something." — Whittaker Chambers, Witness, 1952
"Witness," by Whittaker Chambers, is one of the most important books of the last century, and I predict it's a book that will never go out of print or at least prove unavailable in one way or another to anybody using the new technologies!
Why is that? Because it is a great true story of conversion from a false god to the true God of the Bible, set against a backdrop of the mid-20th century battle between good and evil.
I first read Witness as a high school student and then again at Columbia University, where Chambers also studied under still-famous professors such as Mark Van Doren.
Evidently it was in his time at Columbia that he was attracted to communism. Without telling the whole story, which really must be read in solitude, he fell for the great line of communism as the savior of humanity.
Unlike the many armchair communists among intellectuals of his time, Chambers from the start joined as someone actually wanting to effect change, identifying deeply with those suffering poverty and injustice (reading Les Miserables was a groundbreaking experience in this regard). Within a few years he went underground as a communist spy.
His break with communism came in stages. At one point in his journey he realized, "Economics is not the central problem of this century. It is a relative problem which can be solved in relative ways. Faith is the central problem of this age." Interestingly enough, when Chambers finally broke completely with communism he did not immediately denounce the agents with whom he had worked, the best-known being Harvard blueblood Alger Hiss, a lawyer who worked for the State Department and was a member of the circle advising President Roosevelt on foreign affairs.
Would that Hiss had likewise seen the light and confessed, but evidently he never repented. After the collapse of the Soviet empire, government records unearthed there showed clearly that Hiss had, indeed, functioned as a communist spy for many years, receiving orders ultimately from Moscow.
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