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Vigliotti: Why Carroll County should support a Whittaker Chambers monument | COMMENTARY

Sens. Michael Hough and Justin Ready have rightly nominated Whittaker Chambers for a monument in President Donald Trump’s proposed National Garden of American Heroes, reflecting the American spirit of anti-communism. This deserves our support.

After the Civil War, a number of political movements spread in the United States, most notably anarchism, which effectively sealed its own fate with the Haymarket bombing in 1886. Other radical and anti-American movements persisted — with socialism, and later communism, being among the most dangerous.

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The siren calls from the communists for violent revolution in the United States attracted few native-born Americans, and by the 1930s, tactics changed. They scaled back vitriolic language and recast communism as a modernized American way, knowing they would have to adapt in order to succeed in their aim to overthrow and replace the actual American way. They would have to undermine from within.

Their rebranding efforts paid off in terms of membership and infiltration of the federal government by way of the New Deal, the attempt by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to lift America out of the Depression through massive federal government projects, initiatives, and spending. This required hiring. Once several communists gained a foothold, it was easy to hire more, and to transfer them to other stations and departments as their networks grew. They all answered to Moscow.

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In 1925, Philadelphia-born Whittaker Chambers, after a difficult childhood, became a communist following his reading of Lenin. In 1932, as the communists reinvented their marketable image, Chambers moved into underground espionage for them. By 1937, he had taken a job under communist Irvin Kaplan at the National Research Project, through which one network of infiltration flowed.

However, the truth about communism in terms of goals and the necessarily brutal steps it would take to achieve became all too clear to Chambers following the bloody purges by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union and the disappearance and murder of fellow spies who had grown disillusioned. Between finding God, and Stalin allying with Hitler, Chambers had had enough.

Wanting to leave the communists, and to protect his family and himself, Chambers crafted a “life preserver” as leverage — a cache of intelligence and espionage documents. These, Chambers kept at his farm near Westminster. Meanwhile, he began to speak out against communism, bringing into clear focus for average Americans just how evil and potently pervasive the ideology and its followers, were. He also began attending church in Union Bridge.

The House Un-American Activities Committee ultimately called Chambers to testify in its investigations, subpoenaing those documents he had kept. Until the appointed time came, Chambers hid these documents in hollowed-out pumpkins on his farm. These would ever-after become known as the “Pumpkin Patch Papers.”

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Through his testimony, Chambers exposed a number of communist agents, including Alger Hiss, who worked at the State Department. Chambers further underscored the evils of Communism with his book “Witness,” which helped bring about Ronald Reagan’s conversion to conservatism.

Following the defeat of the Soviet Union, the declassification of documents, and projects such as Venona which decoded them, validated assertions made by Chambers, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and other anti-communists: there was indeed a network of communists working against the United States from within, and they were answering directly to the Kremlin. Among their activities, no fewer than 435,000 pages of material had been sent to Moscow by American communists with the goal of undermining America. Because Americans like Chambers pushed back, the communists failed.

Today, amid turmoil, we are actively seeking heroes who rose above the tumult of their times to serve their country in different ways, to remind ourselves of the best of America. In answering President Trump’s call for monuments of such heroes, Ready and Hough have fittingly advanced Chambers. Ready has justifiably described Chambers as “a beacon of moral clarity” and an “absolute hero” who “was smeared repeatedly, and assumed he’d be killed — that’s how strong a hold that ideology had on some people.”

Chambers indeed risked his life and he did it, in part, from Carroll County. Carroll’s extraordinary role in the fight against communism is emblematic of the American experience as a whole, and deserves to be memorialized. As Hough astutely explains, this is vital: “With the resurgence of Marxism around the globe, we cannot forget millions of lives lost to communism and those like Chambers who helped win the Cold War.”

A Chambers monument in the National Garden would be a reminder of many things: of the onslaught of totalitarianism in its numerous, violent manifestations; of Chambers and the Americans who stood against them in favor of freedom; that consequential events become history among even the quiet places we call home; and that American values as simple as faith, courage, and honesty make the difference, as they did for Chambers.

These values are as crucial now as they were then, as America faces a gathering of the old evils — and looks to the past to guide us through the present. Perhaps Carroll County should have a Chambers memorial of her own.

Joe Vigliotti, a contributor to The Flip Side and a Taneytown city councilman, writes from Taneytown. His column appears every other Friday. Email him through his website at www.jvigliotti.com.

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