Two important books published this summer — and they are poles apart in subject matter — focus on the current predominance of zealotry and prefabricated thinking, and on the pressures which are stifling the genuinely liberal spirit. One is The Human Use of Human Beings (Houghton Mifflin, $3.00) by Norbert Wiener, the mathematical genius whose treatise on electronic brains, Cybernetics, created a considerable stir in 1948. The other is Owen Lattimore’sOrdeal by Slander (Atlantic-Little, Brown, $2.75).
“Assassination by guesswork”
Owen Laltimore’s account of his all-in tussle with Senator McCarthy is a masterpiece of factual exposition, a social document of first-rate importance. Over and above that, it is a tremendously stirring human drama. McCarthy attacked when his victim was serving with a UN mission in Afghanistan, and it fell to Mrs. Lattimore to take counteraction. Lattimore seems to have been remarkably fortunate in his choice of a wife, and no less so in her choice of a lawyer. The chapter in which Mrs. Lattimore herself tells of their sudden involvement in the nightmare brings out very poignantly the human consequences of what Edward Weeks termed “assassination by guesswork.”
Press coverage of this cause célèbre gave decidedly more prominence to the charges than to the defense. With the entire record compactly assembled between covers, it is unmistakably clear that McCarthy’s was a trumped-up case and that Lattimore tore it to tatters. Lattimore’s analysis of the China situation may have been wrong, but as Silone once put it, “Liberty is the possibility of making a mistake.” Not a shred of direct evidences was produced that impugned Lattimore’s loyalty. Nothing brings out the extent of McCarthy’s irresponsibility more forcibly than to accept, for the sake of argument, his lurid charge of espionage. For, most assuredly, one is not likely to trap the top spy on the world’s crack team by announcing in the headlines that one is hot on his trail.
One of the most shocking things that emerge from Ordeal by Slander is that McCarthy did not even take a minimum of trouble to get his principal facts straight, He started out with the gross error that Lattimore had until recently occupied a desk in the State Department. His citations from Lattimore’s writing were easily shown to be wicked distortions or quotes out of context — material for the most part lifted verbatim from the propaganda mill of the unsavory China Lobby, whose role in this episode clamors for further airing. The three “Communist agents” who supposedly came to this country to confer with Lattimore turned out to be three well-known Mongol fugitives from Communism. As for the letter in which, according to McCarthy, Lattimore “ordered” a director of the OWI to “fire any man loyal to Chiang” and hire Communists - it was read at the hearings (despite Hickenlooper’s strenuous objections) and scored several points for Lattimore.
When his case had collapsed, McCarthy, as an afterthought, fell back on Budenz; and Budenz, though only too eager to denounce, produced nothing but a sputter of hearsay, contradicted by three former topranking Communists. Testimonials to Lattimore’s loyalty were forthcoming from countless impressive sources, among them the former chief of MacArthur’s counter-intelligence in the Far East.
The gross inequity in cases like this is that only a Pyrrhic victory is possible. Added to the intangible injuries done him, Lattimore — despite his lawyer’s great generosity — used up his entire savings in conducting his defense. McCarthy, of course, reneged on the statement he made twice in the Senate that he would repeat his charges without cloak of immunity or else resign.
The issue which Professor Lattimore highlights is that. McCarthy and demagogues of his stripe are gunning not so much for conspiracy as for independent thinking. Antipathy to scholarship and intellectualism were manifest during the hearings; and Senator Hickenlooper seems to have found it highly suspicious that Lattimore, though he produced many passages in his writings showing opposition to Communism, did not express himself in the red-blooded idiom of Mr. Hearst’s editorials. “The standards that the witch-hunters are trying to impose on us,’' says Lattimore, “are the standards of propaganda, of mob thinking, and of thought control.” In this connection, he warns of the dangers involved in making star witnesses and national heroes of the renegade Communists, deeply conditioned by a totalitarian past and often swayed by devious personal hatreds.
Lattimore’s closing chapters underscore the urgency of reforming the procedure used at Congressional hearings, and draw attention to the need for Congress to impose certain standards of responsible conduct on its members. In this time of semiwar, just how recklessly can a member of the Legislature behave without himself becoming a “bad security risk’’?
“The new automatic age”
Dr. Norbert Wiener’s The Human Use of Human Beings is also a broadside against every kind of thought control and pressure for conformity, a manifesto for the spirit of independence and empiricism.
Subtitled “Cybernetics and Society,” Wiener’s book concerns itself with the social implications of the sensational discovery that machines can be constructed with a “built-in memory” — machines with the capacity of exercising judgment and of learning. There are some technical passages in the text which are unintelligible to a layman such as myself, but the main body of the book is perfectly accessible, and it opens up startling new vistas.
The next technological revolution, Dr. Wiener suggests, will owe more to the development of machines which can perform most of the functions of the human brain than to the development of atomic energy. His rough guess is that it will take the new tools “ten to twenty years to come into their own.” The most immediate practical consequence will be “an abrupt and final cessation of demand for the type of factory labor performing purely repetitive tasks” ; and among the other not too distant prospects are devices which will go far toward making up for the losses of the maimed, the deaf, and the blind.
Beyond this lie awesome possibilities. The very same principles which have been successfully applied to the building of a machine able to play chess make it perfectly possible, theoretically, to construct a machine “to evaluate military situations and to determine the best move at any given specific stage.” Infinitely more remote but also theorotically conceivable, according to Wiener, is the possibility of a machine which will replace the apparatus of government: an electronic Leviathan capable of storing up all the information on which government operates and of registering the appropriate decisions.
The operation of some of the newer communication machines, says Dr. Wiener, is precisely parallel to the operation of the living individual: the results of behavior are “reported back” and modify future conduct. The source of the mechanical brain’s stunning potentialities is that the “reporting back” is flawlessly truthful: in human beings a variety of factors — prejudice, external pressures, neurosis — can falsify the “reporting back” and make behavior unresponsive to the evidence. Thus the study of electronic brains casts new light on the crucial role of communicative integrity, both in the development of man’s potentialities and in the health of society.
Any form of thought control or insistence on conformity is, in Dr. Wiener’s analysis, an attempt to make human beings behave in a nonhuman way. “In the United States,” he warns, “we are in the process of developing a new propaganda. . . . We have attempted to synthesize a rigid system to fight fire by fire. . . . For man to be alive is to have the liberty to test new opinions and to find which of them point somewhere. . . . We must resist the psychopathic compulsion to universal likeness.”
The electronic brain, like atomic energy, has infinite potentialities for good or evil, depending on how it is used — depending, too, on who feeds it its original store of information. In a society more concerned with know-how than with know-what, it could readily be exploited for quick profits or put to perverted ends by politicians with authoritarian ambitions.
Gertrude’s brother, Leo
In Dr. Wiener’s view, self-realization hinges on the integrity of man’s response to evidence. Precisely the same idea was arrived at by Leo Stein, the brother of Gertrude. In his middle sixties, Stein claimed to have rid himself of “a crippling neurosis” through a system of selfanalysis which he developed on his own, after two long periods of psychoanalysis. That his improbable claim was more or less justified is apparent in Journey into the Self, “Being the Letters, Papers & Journals of Leo Stein” (Crown, $4.00).
This posthumous volume, edited by Edmund Fuller and with an introduction by Van Wyck Brooks, has four principal strains: Stein’s relations with his wife; his relations with his sister; his theories about art; his neurosis and psychological theories. It is rich in interest on all four counts. For we are offered here a chronicle of one of the most extraordinary modern love affairs on record; a stinging character sketch of Gertrude and a devastating commentary on her work; a profusion of original critical ideas and epigrammatic insights about painting; and a curiously affecting account of a lonely, brilliant individual’s hard-earned victory over the furies of the unconscious.
Stein’s “psychology which never stopped” and endless discussions of “my neurosis” are often extremely tiresome. But the triumphant outcome raises the obsessive self-scrutiny to the status of adventure. In the last decade of his life, Stein experienced a thrilling liberation and awakening. He was able to write the brilliant treatise Appreciation, which earned him a certain measure of fame. His marriage became “a second honeymoon.” During the harrowing war years in Italy—when he was almost totally deaf, reduced to poverty, and threatened with a concentration camp — he was able to devote himself to scholarship and intensive thought with extraordinary serenity. And the letter he wrote when he learned that death was imminent is that of a man who has outfaced every terror.
Every terror except Gertrude; Leo never quite outfaced his formidable sister, if one can judge from the asperity of what he has to say about her: “Gertrude . . . hungers and thirsts after gloire, and it was of course a serious thing for her that I can’t abide her stuff and think it abominable. . . . Both [Picasso] and Gertrude are using their intellects, which they ain’t got, to do what would need the finest critical tact, which they ain’t got neither, and are turning out the most Godalmighty rubbish that is to be found.... If Gertrude had been able to express herself effectively in English she would never have taken to jargon. . . . Anyone so stupid as that can hardly have a dependable sensitiveness. . . . I simply cannot take Gertrude seriously as a literary phenomenon.” The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas he described as “that farrago of rather clever anecdote, stupid brag and general bosh.”
The pointedness of Stein’s aesthetic generalizations is best suggested by direct quotation. “Art is an excited equilibrium. Classical art tends toward the equilibrium and romantic toward the excitement.” “Keep your eye on the object and let your ideas play about it.” “My ideal of a picture is that every part of it should oblige the looker-on who has any real sense for a whole to see the rest.”
“I thought like a scientist,” Stein once said, “but I saw like an artist.” The estimate is apposite and it defines the two exciting qualities of Journey into the Self: exploratory thinking and creative seeing.
“Black List Forty”
The war in Korea gives great timeliness to a scholarly study of that country sponsored by the Institute of Pacific Relations, Korea Today (Harvard University Press, $5.00) by George M. McCune in collaboration with Arthur L. Grey, Jr. Mr. McCune, who died in 1948, had spent half his life in Korea; his study was completed and carried forward to the early part of 1950 by his wife and Mr. Grey. Korea Today — a starkly utilitarian volume —is the most comprehensive and up-to-date background book on Korea currently available. Its appendices reproduce the basic documents bearing on Korean foreign relations and contain twenty-two pages of tabulated facts and figures.
“Black List Forty” was the code name for Korea to the U .S. combat troops who landed there, and the label was to prove prophetic. In South Korea, just about every problem and form of disturbance that have cropped up in the liberated countries reached acute proportions. Leftist riots and Rightist terrorism (in the 1948 elections 589 persons were killed, 10,000 jailed for violence), inflation and black-marketeering, depletion of resources, unbalanced budget—the list could be extended for a page or two.
One of the central difficulties, according to McCune, is that the Koreans — under Japanese rule from 1910 to 1945 — have not had a chance to acquire experience in political leadership and high-level administration. The leaders who emerged after the war were avid for independence but clearly not prepared for responsibility, and their record of non-coöperation with the American authorities is pretty dismal.
At the same time, McCune is sharply critical of U.S. policy for failing to support vigorously the liberal elements in Korean politics— President Syngman Rhee and most of his ministers stand far to the right — and for failing to recognize “the importance of economic reform for the development of political democracy in a country such as Korea.’'
In North Korea, for several reasons, the Russians have found the going rather easier than the Americans have in the South. In the first place, the Russians were able to fill the “Provisional People’s Government" with Communist stooges, and thereafter kept themselves in the background, with the result that they created the impression there was more independence in the North than in the South. Secondly, economic difficulties were somewhat less severe in the North. Thirdly, “The Soviet System . . . was more easily adopted by the Koreans [long conditioned to Japanese despotism] than was Western Democracy.… As an individualist, the Korean was inclined to be irresponsible.”
The introduction to Korea Today states that U.S. responsibility for the failure to unify Korea was “enormous . . . a responsibility shared, but not lessened, by Russia.” Here, it seems to me, the author bends over backwards too far in the effort to be objective. His own account shows that the Russians were at no time willing to Consider unification, except entirely on their own terms. Meanwhile, from the very start of the occupation, they were training and equipping the North Koreans — obviously for the eventual attempt to conquer the country.
Behind Closed Doors, “The Secret History of the Cold War” (Putnam’s, $3.75), is a rather flamboyant compendium of “inside dope,” analysis, and prophecy, capped by a ten-point policy program. The authors— Rear Admiral Ellis M. Zacharias, USN Ret., formerly deputy chief of Naval Intelligence, and his collaborator, Ladislas Farago — have been operating for some time as a sort of free-lance Intelligence Bureau, collecting information from fugitive Red Army officers, former members of the Soviet and satellite secret polices, atomic scientists, and diplomats and spies of all nations.
Thunks to an ex-aide of Marshal Voroshilov’s, the reader sits in on the special session of the Politburo of January 28, 1949, at which it was decided — on the basis of an ‟Estimate of the Situation" prepared by Stalin’s experts and reproduced in the book — to gird for an inevitable showdown with the U.S. The affidavit of another onetime Soviet official describes the drafting of “The Stalin Doctrine" on the night of October 21, 1940, and lists, in order of priority, the areas of magnetic attraction to the U.S.S.R. From Swedish sources, the authors learned that an atomic bomb exploded, accidentally, in the Soviet Union one year before the explosion announced by President Truman. At present, according to “Professor X,’Russia is producing four atomic bombs per month.
The factual material in Behind Closed Doors covers a tremendous amount of ground, and a good deal of it is high-powered stuff, fascinating and enlightening. It’s a great pity that the authors have been so unbridled in prophecy, faultfinding, and straining for sensationalism, thereby involving themselves in a welter of contradictions.
At the outset, they advance the dramatic proposition that Stalin has ruled out an old-fashioned war even with newfangled weapons, and plans to reduce the U.S. to impotent isolation; elsewhere they speak of an “inevitable atomic showdown.” In one place, the authors charge that our policy-makers have been criminally soft; in another, that they have been provocatively intransigent. They make much of Washington s blindness to the importance of the psychological battle front, but they themselves prescribe steps whose psychological repercussions would be catastrophic: scrap the Atlantic Pact and slough off weak allies.
The cloak-and-dagger manner in which the book is written is sometimes carried to preposterous lengths. As a preface to revealing what they call “The Bolshevik Master Plan,”the authors announce that this is the first time in history that the most secret of all documents, an operations plan, has been given away free. The supersensalional document turns out to be one of Stalin’s university lectures, and it is just like a dozen other Communist pronouncements on the strategy of world revolution. Behind Closed Doors is certainly very lively reading and genuinely informative, but the analysis is blunted by inconsistency and the “action program” unimpressive—“a return to the principles and policies which made the Allied victory possible.”
Remembrance of things past
The House of Breath (Random House, $2.75), a first novel, is yet another indication that Hemingway′s influence on young writers is on the way out. William Goyen’s prose is as sonorously emotional and lushly spangled as the previous generation’s was muted and bare. His book is in effect a prose poem, an incantation which conjures up the narrator′s small home town in Texas— his family, his neighbors, and his own experiences— in the years of his childhood and adolescence. Here is a sample of the novel’s intricately embroidered texture:—
Your River . . . was ornamented with big, drowsy snapturtles sitting like figurines on rocks; had little jeweled perch in it and thick purple catfish shining in it and sliding cottonmouth water-moccasins. It crawled, croaking with bullfrogs and ticking and sucking and clucking and shining, round through meadows of bottomland palmettos (fanning in a breeze like a meadow of Methodist women in July Prayer Meeting), between muscadine vines that plashed up like fretted fountains. . . .
In The House of Breath‚ the narrator is seeking to uncover his real self through remembrance and reliving of things past. Goyen’s is an ambitiously experimental book, which is all to the good, but it cannot be said that the author has realized his intentions with much success. The novel abounds in passages that have a poetically original sheen; in strong feeling sensitively recaptured, But doyen has neglected to pay his dues to the sage dictum of Buffon which included sound thinking in the trinity of values essential to good writing. The House of Breath is deficient in coherence and cohesion, and its meaning remains muffled. One sometimes has the impression that the author is simply indulging in linguistic pyrotechnics, and boredom is apt to creep in.
That The House of Breath is decidedly flawed is, in the final count, of less consequence than the fact that it has exciting qualities. Coming as it does from a very young writer, it announces a notable talent which already has great verbal resources at its command.