The Contributors' Column
‘Go ahead, Berlin!’ And with those words CBS brought to us a voice which is by now familiar to many an American household, the voice of William L. Shirer (p. 265), radio’s ace commentator behind the German lines. Those who have listened to Mr. Shirer will know the flashes of humor and irony which he was able to convey, sometimes by inflection, sometimes by the simple juxtaposition of news details. Only a foreign correspondent of experience could have handled so delicate a meaning with such accuracy.
Mr. Shirer’s career has been a romantic one. Graduating from Coe College, Iowa, he went straight to Paris on his first assignment with the Chicago Tribune. He witnessed the Stavisky riots in Paris, in 1934, which first revealed the corruption of the French state, saw the occupation of the Rhineland and knew the trepidation of the German Staff, and was in Vienna at the time of the Anschluss.
During the Czech crisis, he lived in one suit for twenty-one days, shuttling between Prague, Gottesberg, Munich, and Berlin, initiating at that time a new technique in broadcasting. On his recent return from Europe, Mr.
Shirer gave the Atlantic the exclusive right to a diary which he kept as he followed the spear point of the German Armies through Holland, Belgium, and France.
In his rooms on Boston’s Beacon Hill, and on his perambulations at Breadloaf Mountain and along the Esplanade, Robert Frost (p. 284) has been gathering the poems for his new book, Talks Walking, which is to appear this autumn.
‘Bartimeus’ (p. 288) is the pen name of a retired British sea captain with many vivid stories to his credit. Readers will remember his account of ‘The Beaches of Dunkirk,’ which was almost the first to reach this country and which the Atlantic published last August.
Because of the guidance which its radio beams supply to German bombers, BBC has had to discontinue its evening broadcasts. To fill the gap, a short-wave station in Boston, Massachusetts, WRUL, has invited New England communities to prepare programs for their namesakes on the other side. Thus the little town of Bristol, Vermont (population 1800), was asked to say a friendly word to Bristol, England. The message that resulted, Vermont Speaking, for which Mr. Merritt Allen is largely responsible, comes straight from the heart.
An American of Scandinavian origin, Hugo Johanson (p. 298) is a Jack-of-all-trades who periodically finds times to contribute good stories to the Atlantic, among them ‘June in St. Petersburg’ (June 1937) and ‘Barbro and Her Menfolk’ (November 1938).
A member of the New York Stock Exchange, Shelby Cullom Davis (p. 305) is a business observer who speaks with firm confidence and close knowledge of our major industries. His article on the automobile industry appeared in the January number. In the present issue he has written about steel. His next assignment will take him to the shipyards, where our newfleet is building.
Few Americans realize that the doctrine of Lebensraum was spread throughout Germany long before Hitler came to power. A. Whitney Griswold (p. 314), a professor of government and international relations at Yale, identifies those who prepared the German people for the coming of Hitler — and the present war. Mr. Griswold tells us that ‘an idea unites all groups and classes in Germany, and amounts to a national obsession, the idea of Lebensraum. Compounded of historical and economic data, clothed in mysticism, the notion that Germany was suffering for want of “living space” has acquired in Germany a symbolic appeal, and the men who preached this doctrine have paved the way for Hitler and for war with England.’
Born in the Delta, a vigorous spokesman of the South, David L. Cohn (p. 322) takes reasonable pride in that university with a spirit, Chapel Hill. ‘Chapel Hill seems a rural Arcadia tilled with woodsy innocence and naïve delight,’writes Mr. Cohn. ’But don’t be deceived. Beneath the surface there is an immense ferment. The University of North Carolina is widely known for its liberalism. The term and the school are as inevitably associated in the Southern mind as are breakfast grits and bacon.’
Among the casualties of the war is the European theatre. Before the curtain was rung down by fascism and conquest, many of the leading playwrights and actors had found sanctuary in the United States. The Atlantic turned to John Gassner (p. 329) for an explanation of what this will mean to Broadway. Mr. Gassner is head of the Play Reading Department of the Theatre Guild, a member of the New York Drama Critics Circle, and chairman of the theatre department of the New School for Social Research. ‘Here alone,’ Mr. Gassner tells us, ‘can dramatists still have their say and theatricians experiment to their heart’s content without interference by the state. A vigorous Broadway can be America’s answer to the responsibility of preserving the free theatre. To strengthen it is, moreover, one way of looking to our defenses, which include spiritual resources as well as material ones.’
In her two books of prose, North to the Orient and Listen, the Wind, and more recently in her verse, Anne Morrow Lindbergh (p. 338) has established herself as one of the most poetic writers of our time.
Edmund Wilson (p. 340) has made a close and penetrating study of Rudyard Kipling and the source material of his best work. ‘Something in him, something perhaps connected with the Methodist ministers who were his grandfathers on both sides,’ says Mr. Wilson, ‘betrayed Kipling into dedicating his talents to the glorification of the practical man. Instead of becoming a man of action, he fell into the ignominious rôle of the artist who prostrates his art before the achievements of soldiers and merchants, who is always declaring the supremacy of the doer over the man of ideas.’ The first half of his essay appeared in the February issue. Here beyond doubt are the answers to those questions which have troubled every Kipling lover. Why did his short stories come to such an abrupt halt? And why did he turn so bitterly against this country in the autumn of his career?
Born in Newport, Rhode Island, Jane Wattach (p. 355) feels most at home when she is within walking distance of the Atlantic coast. Nantucket. is her heart’s delight, and of it — and particularly of Nanny, the little dog who shared her life there — she writes most engagingly in her present memoir.
Friends, and for a time business associates, Ray P. Calt of (Chicago and Hiram k. Smith of Detroit (p. 362) have explored the possibilities of having a community chest for the food we want to keep. ‘It is no Jules Verne dream,’ they tell us, ‘to predict the day when locker storage of food will be a decisive factor in America’s independence. A nation adequately equipped with lockers to store food in emergencies would have little to fear from blockades, or from the famine which Europe faces this winter.'
Thornton Cooke (p. 366), who makes his first appearance in the Atlantic, is president of the Columbia National Bank of Kansas City and son of a Union veteran who ran off to enlist when he was fifteen. Mr. Cooke took it upon himself to return — after sixty-two years — a Bible which had been ‘borrowed’ from Wilmington, North Carolina, during the War between the States.
One of the leading women writers of our time, Rebecca West (p. 373) reaches a high point with her new, true story of the Balkans. After Alexander Woollcott had read the first three hundred pages of the manuscript, he wrote, ‘I foresee that Miss West’s new book will be not only far and away the best thing she has ever written but a timeless book in a sense that Arabia Deserta is.