Historical Notes: Death of the Witness

In the summer of 1948, a squat, rumpled man took the witness stand before the House Un-American Activities Committee and made a series of accusations that changed the temper of his times. The accuser was a journalist named Whittaker Chambers. The accused was Alger Hiss, a longtime high-ranking State Department official who had been at Franklin Roosevelt's side at Yalta and had helped to write the Charter of the United Nations.

Chambers' sensational charge: he and Hiss had once worked hand in glove for a Communist spy ring operating in Washington during the...

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