Interview with Martin Roberts, author of Secret History

Title: Secret History
Author: Martin Roberts
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Pages: 300
Genre: History
Format: Kindle/Paperback

 This book is a fascinating account of a number of criminal cases in the United States and in the United Kingdom, some of which resulted in wrong convictions. The book is part narrative, part analysis. The analysis, in particular the demolition of the reputation of Whittaker Chambers,ex-spy and idol of many Americans (he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom) will arouse debate and rethinking of the real lessons of the cases. The British cases will shock the complacency of many British people. Both parts are relevant to the current debate on how to deal with Islamic terrorists, whose fanaticism recalls that of the IRA and supporters of Communism. The book includes an analysis of Communism and the way in which its supporters manipulate fact for their own ends.  

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QUESTION 1: Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it? 
My book covers the years 1945-70 in the United States and 1974-80  in the UK. It is about a number of trials for espionage in the USA, and for IRA terrorism in the UK. It points out that bouts of public hysteria and paranoia produced wrong judgments in both countries, but argues that we have to preserve due process of law as far as it is possible. 
This issue has relevance to the current attempts to deal with Islamic terrorists. I point out that legal systems and rules are often not able to deal adequately with espionage and terrorism charges, because the defendants then and now have a different  set of beliefs. They will wreck due process or attempts to provide justice and are contemptuous of western values.
My book also describes the activities of the two American informers, Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley. Both had dreadful lives, and the book shows how large a part of their stories were fantasy.
In the course of the book I give an extended analysis of Chambers's book Witness, and show from analysis and comparison how much of it is fantasy. This is important because Chambers  has been treated as a hero, even as a lay saint, in the United States. A group of writers around the National Review have adopted him as the herald of conservatism and a Cold War warrior. Now that the Cold War has been largely won, we can see that the real heroes of the war against Communism are the thousands of men who died in the Korean War, the writers and activists in Soviet Russia, such as Sakharov, who suffered endless persecution and sometimes death for their beliefs, and other less easily seen people.
My book also contains a description of Marxist doublethink, and a highly critical analysis of Professor Allen Weinstein's book Perjury about the Hiss case. In essence I accuse him of bias and produce written examples to prove it. Professor Weinstein is a greatly revered historian and former Archivist of the United States, so this is big box office.

QUESTION 2: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced writing it?
One of the biggest challenges at first was how to do it while earning a living. Fortunately I was given early retirement and was able to make time. Another problem was that I live in a country outside the English-speaking world, where even published sources were hard to find. I spent a lot of money on- for instance- getting access to the online texts of the New York Times, and buying a large number of books which I would have been able to borrow from a library if I had stayed in Britain. Thank  you, Amazon and all the bookshops.
I sent off loads of submissions to publishers, at first in Great Britain, and had to  get over the disappointment of getting rejection slips from up to a hundred of them.  One publisher gave me a contract and asked me to write a further 30,000 words. This I began to research, only to receive a letter cancelling the contract on the grounds that it was politically biased. My book contains a short analysis of Marxism/Communism because several  of the persons involved in it were communists and this affected their testimony. The publishers complained that this was biased, and that I should "balance" this by writing a  chapter on US "imperialism" - as though my book was a political statement. In fact, my book is  a study of paranoia and its consequences in the political and legal worlds.
Finance was another problem, but I got a good settlement with my early retirement. I do not believe that I could have published the book at any other time of my life because I could not have afforded it.
Later on, after the book was published in Britain, I  had to get used to getting the cold shoulder from reviewers and the media generally. The Hiss and White cases have been viewed as settled - they were both spies and there's and end of it, is the general feeling. Much of this view relies on supposed proof in the ex-Soviet Union's spy files - the KGB etc.-  that various data there show that Hiss and others were spies. I do not think that Soviet documents of any sort can be relied on, particularly the spy files. My book is based on evidence from US sources - trial proceedings, testimony before committees of Congress, exhibits(things like the spy documents that were produced at trial), newspapers from the 1930s and so on. These are the products of a free society and much more reliable than those from a closed one like ex-Soviet papers. 

QUESTION 3: Do you plan subsequent books?
I certainly do. I have already begun a memoir of my childhood in Suffolk, which was unusual in many ways. I would like to write a book about Samuel Johnson, a man often viewed by the public as a reactionary old fossil. He was much more interesting than that. I also have plans to write a new account based on the English case of the Tichborne Claimant. I have other still nebulous plans for factual books with a legal background.

QUESTION 4 : When and why did you begin writing?
In 1984 I began a course at night school for the London University Law degree. To get some background I went to the local public library, where, among many obsol ete textbooks, I found a book about the Hiss case. This interested me because it showed the  law in action in a real case. I  read it and was sceptical about the guilty verdict. I then went on to do my law course which filled in a lot of time up till 1996. I found that neither my current employers nor anyone else was interested in my qualifications, so rather than waste them, I went back to the Hiss case and wrote an article about it. I could not get it published, and as my interest in controversial cases broadened, I ended up with the present book, which I finished around 2010.

QUESTION 5 : What is your greatest strength as an author?
This is really a question for others to answer. But so far, I think, persistence. It is something I have really needed.

QUESTION 6 :Did writing this book teach you anything?
It certainly taught me how to use a computer ! But I think it has also taught me how to write. I hope I will be able to profit from it with my next book.

 Martin Roberts is a British subject living in Belgium. He began to study contested verdicts in criminal cases when he started to study for a law degree, and this book is the result. He trained as an archivist and worked in that field for 26 years. This has given him a lot of patience and a bit of scepticism about what records tell us. He has sought to make his book user-friendly by quoting online sources and allowing the reader to find his way through the facts and arguments to reach his own conclusions.

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