JUNE 28, 1949
HYDE PARK, Monday—Yesterday I had the company of two people who attended two sessions of the Alger Hiss trial. I was interested in their reaction. I have not attended any sessions of the trial because I have been busy and also I have felt it would be difficult to be objective. The two people I spoke to were women—one young and one nearing middle age, and their feelings were very similar.
One of them had been thinking over the fact that Whittaker Chambers during some time past had access to much confidential information as an analyst for Time magazine. This woman had experience in Washington and said that she knew that in conferences with government officials it was frequently the custom at a press conference for an official to give background information, much of it confidential. He gave it off the record, of course, but nevertheless those present knew it. She was searching in her mind for the reason that had brought about Mr. Chambers' disclosures.
Was it just remorse that he had been a Communist and prepared to act against his own country? That might lead to his divulging what he himself had done. Would it lead to his picking out certain people who had been particularly kind to him when he needed help? Even though it was the casual kind of help, which many of us extend to people we know slightly in the course of our daily existence, it is not always extended by everyone, and most people are grateful when they find it. Or was there some other reason for these disclosures? Might Mr. Chambers still be playing the Communist game of creating confusion and suspicion in the ranks of the enemy?
Both of these women said that to them Mr. Hiss had told what seemed a very plausible story. He seemed to be the victim of the kind of thing that might happen among any decent group of people with kindly instincts who were not suspicious of each other and who took an interest in those with whom they happened to come in contact.
The older woman remarked that the trend today, however, was creating so much suspicion among us that she thought in the future all of us would think carefully before we said anything that might be misconstrued. Certainly, we would be less apt to risk any action that might be questioned at some future time.
As she talked I could not help thinking of the numbers of times when I have attended meetings just because I wanted to hear what was being said, not because I had the slightest connection with anyone present. With the present hysteria that would be a dangerous thing to do, if the group were later to be considered to be subversive, since now you can be considered subversive by association and it is not necessary for you to have said or done anything yourself.
Funny world we are living in. I wonder if it is quite as free for any of us along any line as it was, say, 50 years ago.