A GOOD work of history must be logical in construction and clear in style; it must be scrupulously careful to state the facts; and it must deduce its opinions logically from the facts as presented. To my mind, Mr. Beals’s book fulfills none of these requirements. The fact that its particular current appeal — the indictment of Machado’ s brutal régime — is graphic and largely true must not mislead the reader into too casual an acceptance of the work as a whole.
The general theme of the book is the decline of Cuba through the corrupting influence of the United States, The book is divided into five parts, describing the ’pattern’ of the land and its people, the war for independence, the early years of the Republic, the crimes of Machado, and American penetration in the island; these parts are divided into titled sections, and these sections, in turn, into subsections with their own subtitles. The result of this fragmentary construction is a lack of sequence or continuity which makes it difficult for the reader to comprehend the book as a whole.
In his more imaginative passages, Mr. Beals’s thought is not precise. I do not know what he means by such passages as this: ‘ With late afternoons hard surfaces and the glare break up into softer patterns: airy rhomboids of shade like palaces thought of in luxurious dreams. Similarly cast through the prism of change, men’s emotions re-form into bland intricacies.’
From the technically historical standpoint, the question of literary form is of less importance than the question of inaccuracy and distortion. There arc a great many small errors which cannot be considered here, and the large ones can only be indicated. At the very beginning, Mr. Beals states: ‘The visitors [tourisls] would be shocked if told our Eighteenth Amendment has converted Havana into a gigantic saloon and brothel, or that American vested interests are ruling Cuba by fraud and murder.’ The saloon and the brothel are old-established institutions in Cuba, and their number was practically unchanged by Prohibition and will in all likelihood remain unchanged by its repeal.
As for the second charge, which is a very serious one, Mr. Beals’s evidence is scanty and is based chiefly upon the fact that the Chase National Bank loaned money to the corrupt Machado Government, and that the Machado Government committed fraud and murder — which is not the same thing as saying that I the Chase Bank committed fraud and murder, or that other American corporations did. The last loan to the Cuban Government took place in February 1930, before the reign of terror really started; it is a loan duly recognized by tlanew Cuban Administration, which would like very much to get another one. In this connection, Mr. Beals’s accusation that Ambassador Guggenheim was in favor of loans to support the Machado Government because he was financially interested in Cuban enterprises, and that Guggenheim owned bonds of the newspaper Diario de la Marina, is absolutely false; neither Guggenheim nor any Guggenheim company has ever owned any property or interest in Cuba.
Mr. Beals’s indictment of the Platt Amendment will undoubtedly receive increasingly favorable consideration as time goes on. As he says, the Amendment impairs Cuban sovereignty and hampers the development of political responsibility in the island. His charge that the American Department of State kept Machado in power, despite the Department’s public statement of impartiality, is questionable — the army kept Machado in power, and when it turned against him he was out in the space of a morning; but the very existence of the Platt Amendment gives rise to misconceptions of that kind.