The "Now It Can Be Told's"

IT is not necessary to dust off the crystal ball or take the Mantle of Prophecy out of the closet or telephone the local augur. The fact leaps to the eye that we reviewers are in for a fairly heavy season. I refer, of course, to the Books of Revelations, already numerous and, tomorrow, innumerable. Now that a spotty but global censorship has been lifted, here a little and there a little, it is inevitable that it will shortly be lifted somewhat everywhere. The forerunners are with us already. And why not? The potential reading public is prodigious. Most of us want to be “in the know" and to take our jungle adventures secondhand. It is less tedious and less dangerous to learn from a book than from personal experience, and one can be just as superior to one’s neighbors after reading about spying in Singapore as if one returned with a case of beriberi or coolie’s foot.
Mankind hankers after secrets and delights in mysterious shenanigans. Right now Mr. Henry Hoke and the Pamphlet Press are doing a brisk business selling a dollar volume bearing the simple but enigmatic title It’s a Secret. Possibly if there were a subtitle on the cover explaining the nature of the book, an appreciable number of potential customers might turn away, sated in advance. But no, the astule publishers toll the so-called reading public that it will cost them a dollar to learn a secret, and the line forms on the left, starting somewhere down in the middle of the next block. As a matter of fact, Mr. Hoke’s book is pertinent and timely, but its appeal to the public is based on sheer mystery.
Three of these “Now It Can Be Told’s" are concerned chiefly or in part with that most controversial chapter in our wartime history, the American political and military effort in North Africa. As I write, only one of them has appeared in book form, Adventure in Diplomacy, by Kenneth Pendar (Dodd, Mead, $3.00).
It is fair to say that no reporting or editorializing by the American press in the whole war effort was as distressing to those of us who had more than a secondhand, long-range knowledge of North African affairs as the misrepresentation of the position and actions of General Eisenhower and General Clark and Mr. Murphy in the North African episode. Press and public, egged on by a skillful propaganda, ignorantly criticized these wise and faithful men, pilloried them as false to American ideals and as intellectually incompetent. With few exceptions, the “liberal” wing of writers went off the deep end, accepted the de Gaullist syllogism as so much gospel, and did their worst to hamper and obstruct our leaders. who were fighting a hazardous campaign under conditions of incredible complexity and confusion.
In his excellent book, Mr. Pendar has given us a candid play-by-play account of our North African policy in action. He is to be congratulated on the careful accuracy of his factual presentation, and this reviewer is not disposed seriously to challenge the conclusions which he reached as the result of his firsthand acquaintance with the personalities involved and his knowledge of the sequence of events.
Mr. Pendar is in a position to supply his readers with an intimate, first hand account of what actually happened in North Africa during the period in question. He was one of the dozen “Vice-Gonsuls” operating under Mr. Murphy who were appointed early in 1941 to control the disposition of goods supplied by the United States to North Africa under the terms of the North African Economic Accord. The second function of these amateur diplomats was, one may admit it now, to learn all they could learn about North African conditions and personalities, and to transmit this information to the right people and places in the home government. After the landings, Mr. Pendar continued in a close, official and personal association with our diplomatic and mililary representatives until the curtain fell on the North African theater and General de Gaulle look all the bows and curtain calls there were to take.
To what degree hindsight has affected Mr. Pendar’s judgment it is difficult to say. Obviously his indignation over de Gaulle’s stubborn intransigence, over the techniques by which he and his entourage eliminated all other Frenchmen from positions of honor and responsibility, and over the pressures affecting our own diplomacy, steadily increased during the months succeeding the landings. But it is fair to say that he gives chapter and verse to justify the growth of his opinions and their gradual crystallization into definite judgments.
De Gaulle, to Mr. Pendar, was an opponent of the democratic ideal, an authoritarian embodiment of the leader principle, always provided that he was the leader. To attain this position which, he felt, he alone could fill, and through which he alone could save and preserve France, any means were justifiable. His success in this effort was almost incredible. At the time of the Allied landings, 95 per cent of the North African French were hostile to de Gaulle. He was mistrusted by the British and the Americans and was allowed no share in the military invasion. Our own military and diplomatic leaders were committed to General Giraud, who seemed to be the ideal head for a risorgimento in French North Africa. Giraud turned out to be an honest and honorable soldier and a man of good faith, but also a man of astonishing political ineptitude.
The event demonstrated that the Allied leaders had backed the wrong political horse. General Giraud went into the discard, de Gaulle received our grudging and unwilling support, and we Americans, at least, ended up with nothing to show, politically, for our pains except the hostility and ill will of all ranks of Frenchmen. In the field, of course, the Allies achieved a superb victory. Mr. Pendar is of the opinion that our diplomacy, though sound in principle, was inadequately implemented and confusing to the public.
To a very large extent I agree with these conclusions and criticisms. In one respect I take issue with Mr. Pendar’s theses. He seems to me to give too little importance to the fact that our diplomatic and political gestures in North Africa took place during a most difficult and hazardous military campaign. The invasion of North Africa provided military dangers and complications enough, without the added element of potential civil war between the conflicting partisans of Giraud and de Gaulle. To men intent on winning the campaign as the first step toward winning the war, Giraud was a broken reed and de Gaulle a nuisance. Our Adventure in Diplomacy did not take place in a vacuum, but in the midst of turmoil and military conflict. These circumstances will certainly be taken into consideration when history judges the North African episode. After all, we did win the campaign and there was no civil war.
As an almost contemporaneous account of these events, Mr. Pendar’s book is far and away the most accurate, intelligent, and constructive which I have seen. It deserves a wide reading and a careful study.
More authoritative as coming from higher authority are the chapters, on “Eisenhower’s African Gamble” by Brigadier General Julius C. Holmes, which have appeared recently in Collier’s and which I hope will be published soon in book form. This intelligent and well-informed officer was on Genera! Eisenhower’s staff during the North African campaign, acting as a sort of liaison between the military and diplomatic American representatives and as an adviser on French political affairs. His story is straightforward, absolutely clear, and explicit. It should forever silence the critics who accused General Eisenhower and Mr. Murphy of perverse or stupid dealings with the discredited reactionaries of Vichy.
Far from being seduced into collaboration with Darlan, for example, it was necessary for General Clark to imprison the Admiral, to deal with him without gloves, and almost to secure his eobpernlion with shotgun argument. This technique succeeded. Recalcitrant French officials who regarded de Gaulle as a renegade and the British as enemies, who rightly or wrongly — held that their oath of allegiance to the Vichy government was a compelling loyally, yielded to Darlan’s authority. West Africa came into the fold without firing a shot. We had confused but helpful coöperation in North Africa — instead of civil war; and our long and vulnerable fines of communication from Casablanca to Tunisia were secure.
Like every American officer of good will, General Holmes has the utmost sympathy for General Giraud. It is patently unfair to blame “the Americans’ for the more than shabby treatment he received. That so brave and honorable a Frenchman should have been tricked and humiliated as Giraud was by his compatriots is a tragic testimony to the confused and acrimonious thinking of that time and place.
Further clarification of the official American point of view is contained in “My Three Years with Eisenhower,” a diary by Capt. Harry C. Butcher, USNR, available at this writing only in serial form in the Saturday Evening Post. This book, which will be adequately reviewed in due season, gives intimate revelations of General Eisenhower’s thinking in the North African affair. Captain Butcher’s diary is sometimes trivial and often incomplete, but, in this instance, it records for all time General Eisenhower’s constant find loyal support of General Clark and Mr. Murphy and his entire endorsement of their actions. It records, also, the extent of his embarrassment, the added burden of political pressures caused by the indiscriminate criticism of his policies in the United States.
Now comes a rending of the veils which shrouded what was alleged to be the most hush-hush and secret of all our wartime efforts: the mysterious and silent agency known as the Office of Strategic Services. In Cloak and Dagger, the Secret Story of the O.S.S., by Lt. Col. Corey Ford and Major Alaslair MacBain (Random House, $2.50), many of the operations of that agency nre described at length and with commendable gusto. By confining themselves to the spectacular and often heroic exploits of the real Cloak and Dagger Boys, the parachutist teams of spies, the saboteurs, and the subversive elements introduced into enemy territories, the authors have given an exciting but misleading picture of O.S.S. a fact which they would probably be first to admit.
The greater part of Intelligence work consists in the laborious accumulation of facts, of information of all sorts and descriptions. This is not thrilling work. It is merely arduous. The fact remains that no Intelligence service is better than its files. The information must be secured; it must be properly arranged, classified, and evaluated and made available to the government agencies where it will do the most good. F.B.I.’s fame does not rest on spectacular raids and arrests; it is (irmly founded on the millions of records, fingerprints, photographs, dossiers, laboriously acquired, and kept up to dale by unremitting toil. Most of the activities of O.S.S. were about as secret as the Washington Monument and about as thrilling in execution as carrying a hod of bricks. It is to the credit of that organization that it was able, starting from scratch, to build a reasonably efficient going concern, based on a large and growing corpus of intelligence material, and at the same time to put into the field the trained personnel capable of the exploits described in this volume.
There is proper praise in Cloak and Dagger of the brave men who faced the mortal terrors of the underground agent in a hostile world. Many of them paid with their lives for their silent service to their country. All honor to them. But it would be false to the record to accept the story of their exploits, their successes and failures, as “the Secret Story of the O.S.S.” They were the spearheads, the combat troops, the commandos of a secret army. The authors do not altogether ignore this army. They allude to it with praise. But they are writing, deliberately, an exciting book, and in this instance their prevailing concern is exciting material. As such their efforts are successful and their work, if somewhat slapdash, is not too inaccurate. Doubtless there will be others following in this broken path. One hopes they will not be too romantic. Let us, for crying out loud, leave romance to the novelists. Fiction is quite often stranger —and nearly always more romantic than truth.