Quote of the Day: Wrong Side of the Tracks

 

“For, in America, most of us begin on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. The meaning of America, what made it the wonder of history and the hope of mankind, was that we were free not to stay on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. If within us there was something that empowered us to grow, we were free to grow where we could.” — Whittaker Chambers, Witness

I recently finished reading Whittaker Chambers’s 1952 autobiography Witness for the first time. At just under 800 pages, it was a bit of a slog in a few places, but most of it captured a fascinating time in American history and the remarkable story of a man who went from an active follower of communism to its fearless opponent. I thought these lines, near the end of the book, are ones that should be used more today.

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  1. Vectorman Member
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    OldPhil: For, in America, most of us begin on the wrong side of the railroad tracks.

    Some of us had the railroad tracks behind our back yard.


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    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    OldPhil: For, in America, most of us begin on the wrong side of the railroad tracks.

    Some of us had the railroad tracks behind our back yard.


    The Quote of the Day series is the easiest way to start a fun conversation on Ricochet. There are many dates open on the August Signup Sheet. We even include tips for finding great quotes, so choose your favorite quote and sign up today!

    As did I.

    • #2
  3. Al French, sad sack Moderator
    Al French, sad sack
    @AlFrench

    I started reading Witness a while ago but got bogged down about two thirds through. You have encouraged me to pick it up and finish it.

    • #3
  4. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    As for being naturally from the right side of the tracks:

    The important point about the Washington apparatuses is that, in the 1930’s, the revolutionary mood had become so acute throughout the whole world that the Communist Party could recruit its agents, not here and there, but by scores within the Government of the United States. And they were precisely among the most literate, intellectually eager and energetic young men… – Page 33

    [emphasis added]

    (P.S. I have 14 pages of notes from my reading back in 2015.  I can come back to this all day…)

    • #4
  5. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    Al French, sad sack (View Comment):

    I started reading Witness a while ago but got bogged down about two thirds through. You have encouraged me to pick it up and finish it.

    It had its highs and lows, but I’m happy I didn’t give up.

    Once I start a book, I hate not finishing it. I remember years ago trying to read Joseph Heller’s Something Happened. I had to stop because nothing happened.

    • #5
  6. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    Al French, sad sack (View Comment):

    I started reading Witness a while ago but got bogged down about two thirds through. You have encouraged me to pick it up and finish it.

    It had its highs and lows, but I’m happy I didn’t give up.

    Once I start a book, I hate not finishing it. I remember years ago trying to read Joseph Heller’s Something Happened. I had to stop because nothing happened.

    Yes, but having read it once or twice, I now listen to Catch 22 about once a year. 

    • #6
  7. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    More reference to those who come from the right side of the tracks:

    No feature of the Hiss Case is more obvious, or more troubling as history, than the jagged fissure, which it did not so much open as reveal, between the plain man and women of the nation, and those who affected to act, think and speak for them. It was, not invariably, but in general, the “best people” who were for Alger Hiss and who were prepared to go to almost any length to protect and defend him. It was the enlightened and the powerful, the clamorous proponents of the open mind and the common man, who snapped their mind shut in a pro-Hiss psychosis, of a kind which, in an individual patient, means the simple failure of the ability to distinguish between reality and unreality, and, in a nation, is a warning of the end. – Page 793

    [No added emphasis required…that is wonderfully perfect in its entirety.]

    You will see those “best people” all over CNN and MSNBC and littered among the vocal Anti-Trump minions.

    • #7
  8. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    philo (View Comment):

    More reference to those who come from the right side of the tracks:

    No feature of the Hiss Case is more obvious, or more troubling as history, than the jagged fissure, which it did not so much open as reveal, between the plain man and women of the nation, and those who affected to act, think and speak for them. It was, not invariably, but in general, the “best people” who were for Alger Hiss and who were prepared to go to almost any length to protect and defend him. It was the enlightened and the powerful, the clamorous proponents of the open mind and the common man, who snapped their mind shut in a pro-Hiss psychosis, of a kind which, in an individual patient, means the simple failure of the ability to distinguish between reality and unreality, and, in a nation, is a warning of the end. – Page 793

    [No added emphasis required…that is wonderfully perfect in its entirety.]

    You will see those “best people” all over CNN and MSNBC and littered among the vocal Anti-Trump minions.

    Some of the best parts were when Hiss was testifying before HUAC and the Grand Jury and the verbal and mental gymnastics he had to use to avoid telling the truth.

    • #8
  9. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    philo (View Comment):

    More reference to those who come from the right side of the tracks:

    No feature of the Hiss Case is more obvious, or more troubling as history, than the jagged fissure, which it did not so much open as reveal, between the plain man and women of the nation, and those who affected to act, think and speak for them. It was, not invariably, but in general, the “best people” who were for Alger Hiss and who were prepared to go to almost any length to protect and defend him. It was the enlightened and the powerful, the clamorous proponents of the open mind and the common man, who snapped their mind shut in a pro-Hiss psychosis, of a kind which, in an individual patient, means the simple failure of the ability to distinguish between reality and unreality, and, in a nation, is a warning of the end. – Page 793

    [No added emphasis required…that is wonderfully perfect in its entirety.]

    You will see those “best people” all over CNN and MSNBC and littered among the vocal Anti-Trump minions.

    Some of the best parts were when Hiss was testifying before HUAC and the Grand Jury and the verbal and mental gymnastics he had to use to avoid telling the truth.

    As I said, I have notes:

    “I am amazed,” Hiss answered coolly, “and until the day I die, I shall wonder how Whittaker Chambers got into my house to use my typewriter.” … With a terrible sound the hundred days ended, as grand jurors laughed. – Pages 783-784

    • #9
  10. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    Some of us had the railroad tracks behind our back yard.

    Three houses and across a street away for me. 😁

    • #10
  11. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    philo (View Comment):
    You will see those “best people” all over CNN and MSNBC and littered among the vocal Anti-Trump minions.

    That was exactly my thought upon reading your quote. They were pro-Hiss, but would be anti-Trump. He’s just so icky, dahling!

    • #11
  12. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Thanks, @oldphil. Good quotation.

     

    • #12
  13. James Hageman Moderator
    James Hageman
    @JamesHageman

    Just started it the other day. It is not only autobiography and history, but literature of the highest order. Beautiful!

    • #13
  14. Bob Armstrong Thatcher
    Bob Armstrong
    @BobArmstrong

    I have long considered Witness to be the finest autobiography I have ever read. I do not, however, agree with his conclusion that he was ultimately on the losing side of History.

    • #14
  15. Goldgeller Member
    Goldgeller
    @Goldgeller

    This thread has encouraged me to start it again. I don’t remember why I put it down but I should move it near to the top of my list. 

    • #15
  16. RandR Member
    RandR
    @RandR

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    OldPhil: For, in America, most of us begin on the wrong side of the railroad tracks.

     

    I lived on one side of the tracks and walked to school on the other side of the tracks. I have never been able to figure out if I lived on the wrong side or the school was on the wrong side of the tracks. ;-)

    • #16

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