THE story is told of President Wilson’s arrival at the Union Station in Washington just when a huge hospital train of wounded was being unloaded. The stretchers were laid out in the rotunda, and as his aides urged him down the aisle, expecting perhaps that he would commiserate, so moved was our last war President that he could not trust himself to say a word to the mute youngsters below his knees.
Such a scene would be impossible today, for this is a war without parades and without display. The convoys sail without fanfare, and the hurt men are flown or spirited home on the q.t. This is probably the way the men themselves would have it. Certainly it keeps the emotional pressure down.
The civilian arriving in the caldron of the Union Station this summer sees no stretchers as he threads his way through the concourse of bronzed and sweating servicemen. Bag in hand, he lurches heavily toward the west portico and the taxis, there to stand like a bleating sheep in the craziest cattle yard in North America. They say that misery lovescompany. The blast of heat which hits you at the Washington tracks withers your impatience; you give in; you grin and perspire with the rest, and, packed five in a cab, you begin comparing notes almost before the wheels roll.
I was the hist passenger by the time my taxi turned toward Georgetown, and the driver was talking freely. A big, square-shouldered blond with a Western accent. “You are not from these parts,” I said. “No,” he said, “my home is Berkeley. This isn’t my regular work. I was a C.P.A. before the war. But I was with the Marines in Guadalcanal and I was plenty lucky. Got five bullets in me. One is still here in my shoulder. When they let me out of Walter Reed, I just couldn’t settle down to those figures. So the doc, he suggested this.” “I should think driving in this traffic would get you down,” I said. “No,” he said, “I watch myself. Soon as I begin to get tired, I get off the road, go home. Doc says in another ten months or so I should be able to go back to my figures.”
The writing on the wall
That boy from Berkeley opened my eyes to some of the sensitive work which is being done by civilians for the hurt men who are coming back. I heard of Henrietta Sharon, who began making sketches of the men in the amputation wards — drawings which were sent home to show the family how the boys were doing, how they looked. She noticed that being sketched would sometimes rouse a melancholy patient from his lethargy. I heard of Eugene Power, of the University of Michigan, a past master of the microfilm, who has devised a mechanical projector which, like a little magic lantern, reflects the pages of a book on the ceiling for those boys who must lie horizontal. boys who must lie horizontal.
For the wounded man permanently or temporarily blinded, the talking book is a godsend. A decade ago the Library of Congress began experimenting with the talking Honk on a generous grant from Congress. Today some 23,000 of fhesp machines have been constructed (largely by blind workmen), which play slow speed records, each side containing the equivalent of from eight to ten printed pages. U. S. Foreign Policy by Walter Lippmann is complete in eight records, Tolstoy’s War and Fence in 119, The authors themselves and some of the best voices procurable have done the reading. The late Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt read his father’s Letters to His Children, with side comments of his own. Eva Le Gallienne recorded the poems of Emily Dickinson. Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele ommager took turns reading their volume, The Growth of the American Republic. Our Hearts Were Young and Cay comes in fourteen records and is read by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Norma Chambers. The Iago from Paul Robeson’s Othello (a Spaniard by the name of José Ferrer) has just finished recording A Bell for Adano.
IN THIS ISSUE
TIME MUST HAVE A STOP . BY ALDOUS HUXLEY ......
Reviewed by Theodore Spencer
ARGENTINE DIARY . BY RAY JOSEPHS . . . . .
Reviewed by Duncan Aikman
KEEP THE PEACE THROUGH AIR POWER . BY ALLAN MICHIE Reviewed by William Henry Chamberlin
JOSEPH THE PROVIDER • By THOMAS MANN ........
Reviewed by James F. Fullington
CARDINAL OF SPAIN • BY SIMON HARCOURT-SMITH.
Reviewed by Leo Lerman
In ten years this library of talking books has grown to more than a thousand titles, with new additions coming in as fast as money will permit. (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn costs $2.75 in the bookstore ; it costs $33.50 in the talking book edition.) The books are refreshing both in their tone and substance. Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, and The Pilot of James Fenimore Cooper are listed beside E. B. White’s One Man’s Meat and Under a Thatched. Roof by James Norman Hall, Tristram. Shandy (in forty records), Candide (in six), Wodehouse, the King James version (sponsored by the American Bible Society), Virginia Woolf, Little Women, Rupert Brooke, Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, Alfred North Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World, G. K. Chesterton’s Dickens (read by Alexander Woollcott and John Knight), W. H. Hudson, and the dust So Stories— these are books to light up the darkness.
A shop like Brentano’s reflects the book taste of the Capital. The display shelves immediately to the left of the door, like the front left-hand column of a newspaper, are today devoted exclusively to books on Latin America. Those to the right hold books on aviation. There is a center display of atlases and dictionaries. After Latin America come India, China, and Japan not novels, but diverse and solid books of non-fiction.
15 You’d never have arranged your books that way in 1939,” I grinned to Mr. Avery, the manager at Brentano’s. “Not much,” he said, “The novelists and the foreign correspondents wore getting the play then.” So we began to compare notes. Mr. Avery has been selling books in Washington on and off since 1912. I was curious to know which of the Presidents was his best patron. “Oh, Wilson, without question. He’d come in any time of the day, stand in front of a shelf, stand just where you are, - pulling out books, reading a little, building up a pile. Soon he’d be surrounded by four or five Secret Service men, and then all business would stop until he left. Now Harding was different.” he said. “He bought books once a year.”“Christmas?" “Right. His aide would telephone ahead and say, ‘Mr. Avery, can you have the shop cleared for the President at 6.15?' And at 6.16, there he’d be, with two Secret Service men. He’d wander all over the place—juveniles, mysteries, gift books.” “How many would he buy?" I asked. “Ten? Fifteen?" “Ten nothing. Two or three hundred dollars’ worth.”
The look and echo of Wilson’s Washington comes to mind as one turns the pages of a new kind of hybrid, 80 per cent pictures, 20 per cent text and captions, Woodrow Wilson: The Unforgettable Figure Who Has Returned to Haunt Us. In a terse and admiring Foreword, Gerald Johnson traces Wilson’s Presbyterian heritage. He shows what the boy must have learned of dirty politics in South Carolina in the 1870’s. He shows us the young scholar at Davidson College and at Princeton, the law student who was the best speaker at the University of Virginia. He carries Wilson through his teaching, his writing, and his marriage until he reaches the presidency of Princeton in 1902. Then the pictures, which have been arranged by the editors of Look, begin. They have quaintness and veracity; they have an exhilaration as Wilson climbs toward, his European triumph, and they have a tragic suspense as he barnstorms the countn in 1920, pleading fruitlessly for his big idea, with Admiral Grayson and the shadow of death at his elbow.
These photographs are revealing and edifying. The occasional cartoons hold the ridicule and emphasis of the moment. Wilson’s ovation as he rode with Poincaré, the implacable picture of Senator Reed, the President’s ghastly visage in the Union Station after his breakdown, are scenes you don’t forget. The deficiency, it seems to me, is in the captions. They are oversimplified. One cannot explain such contending forces in a few sentences. See, for instance, the obscurity in such telescoped phrases as: “Against the advice of professional soldiers, even Theodore Roosevelt couldn’t get a commission. He blamed Wilson, but the objection came from the Army.” This attempt to convey so much in so few words becomes confused: what emerges is uncritical and, in its extreme, hero worship. One looks for, but cannot find, the truth of how much humanity failed Wilson, and how much Wilson failed humanity.
The picture book
When you have a veteran reporter like Lt. Max Miller, U.S.N.R. (author of I Cover the Water Front), teamed up with an official Navy photographer like Lt. Charles E. kerlee. U.S.N.R., and better still when the div ision between prose and photographs is three to one, the result will be a book as graphic, as masculine, and as valuable as Daybreak for Our Carrier.
Here is what it looks like to work on one of our carriers in the Pacific; here is the never ceasing daylight ballet on a steel stage which can move at thirty knots: here is the scuttlebutt and here are the letters home; here are the sensitive relations between crew and pilots; here is the Old Man; here are the unexpected humor and the tragedy of the rubber boat. There are forty-one magnificent pictures, and they carry no captions, for they speak for themselves. The Navy will have a special lien on this book. My only complaint — and I do not press it—is that this is a rather anonymous chronicle. The carrier is the queen bee, but the men aboard her have little more individuality than the drones.
I respect Howard Fast as one of the ablest and most patriotic of our novelists, and I see in his new book, Freedom Road, a valiant effort to inform us of a period when, in the aftermath of the Civil War, blind emotionalism and black hatred defeated the very ideals for which our ablest men had been fighting. This story concerns the South Carolina, which Woodrow Wilson knew as a boy - the Charleston and the back country of 1867-1877 when a motley collection of poor whites, Negro delegates, and suspicious aristocrats began to rewrite the state constitution and, if you please, to re-educate one of the proudest states in the Confederacy. Gideon Jackson was one of the 200,000 Negroes who served in ihe Federal Army. Honest, uneducated, and a natural leader, he is put forward as their representative by the freed slaves of the vast Carwell Plantation. We follow him on his long walk to Charleston, feel the humiliation with which he finally presents his credentials, and watch with a kind of Horatio Alger awe his incredibly rapid education during the ninety days of the Convention.
In the writing of Freedom Road, Mr. Fast the historian has sometimes been out maneuvered by Mr. Fast the moralist. The latter has pretty surely whitewashed the picture of the Convention in Charleston. It is hard to belive that there was so little unscrupulousness among the delegates - and that little voted down. Vindictiveness I am sure there was in plenty, but I think it would have been only human to have found it more evenly divided. The moralist in Mr. Fast reminds me at times of John Bunyan. His Gideon is a paragon whose integrity and courage are spotless white: his antichrists, the planter Stephan Holms and Jason Hugar, are blacker than hell. What redeems this book is the sure narrative skill of the novelist when at last the forces of darkness, the Klan, are closing in.
Men on their own
Harry Brown was contributing poems to the Atlantic before he left Harvard in 1938. After a trial run on the New Yorker, he became Acting Managing Editor of Yank and in crossed to England to help publish the British edition. Here he must have heard the firsthand, unembellished accounts of our invasion of Italy which were fused by his imagination in his short, stirring novel, A Walk in the Sun.
The story begins in the early dawn, as the landing barge, with its platoon of infantry, comes within range of the shore batteries. The lieutenant and the “top” are rubbed out almost before the men have taken cover, and the command passes down the line from sergeant to sergeant, and finally to a corporal, each of whom has only a dim notion of how to reach the objective, a fortified farmhouse some five miles inland. Here, then, is the story of men who are lost and bewildered, who press forward under sporadic fire, and who have to improvise their leadership as they go. These are veterans of the Sicilian campaign. They respect but have no panicky fear of the Germans. They depend on each other, and their dependence takes the form of kidding and, when the going gets tough, of a suppressed affection.
The meandering of this steadily dwindling company is told partly in dialogue, partly in a lean, powerful prose which catches a man in action or in speech with complete authenticity. The author passes you down the line, from man to man; momentarily you catch the features, the character. Some are wounded, some are killed, but the survivors form that little knot in whom your sympathies are centered. What give this story its racy, American flav or are the snatches of talk, the evanescent bull sessions which never cease. Here is the mainspring of this remarkable little book: —
The funny thing was that they were not very much concerned with what was facing them ahead. Each had his own problems, his own desires and wishes. They kept these personal things uppermost in their minds, as they had always done ever since they came into the Army. The war was incidental to a man’s thoughts, It entered into them, of course, but it did not take them over bodily. There had been too many years of life, too many memories, before the war had come along. A man could exist on these memories, he could withdraw into them, he could construct them into an unpierceable shell. They were his defense against the violence of the world. Every man in the platoon had his own thoughts as he walked along, and they hovered unseen over the little group, an indefinable armor, a protection against fate, an indestructible essence.