“WHAT are you after, John?” said General Eisenhower when John Gunther appeared at his SHAPE office for an interview. “You,” said Gunther, and the General promptly guessed: “What? Inside Ike?”
Gunther’s “ Inside Ike,” more decorously entitled Eisenhower (Harper, $2.50), is a miraculously well-timed quickie which enlarges our acquaintance with the man who is known, for the most part, as the modest hero with the charming smile — as the decent, unspectacular American who has come to symbolize successful leadership and integrity. Gunther’s book does not shed much decisive light on the big unknowns about Eisenhower as President, but no doubt those big unknowns are largely unknowable.
Eisenhower summed up his political credo to Gunther as “driving straight down the middle of the road.” He thinks of himself, says Gunther, as a liberal conservative, but actually “is probably more conservative than that. If he ever mentions the New Deal these days, it is “with a quiver of horror.” In 1940, he took a public stand against Federal aid to education. His views about the TaftHartley Act, never publicly stated, are that it is “partly good, partly bad”; according to Gunther, Eisenhower is out of sympathy with “much that labor advocates.” In at least two major speeches, he declared that too much emphasis is being placed on economic security at the expense of individual liberty.
On the other hand, Eisenhower has on several occasions given big business a jolt. He has warned against the dangers arising from “too great a concentration of finance”; and Gunther reports that his off-the-record remarks at a private dinner for Republican leaders later caused “screams of agony . . . from businessmen all over the country.”
In the field of foreign policy, Eisenhower’s outlook is, of course, well-known. Gunther s account of his record at SHAPE accents the General s deep belief in working toward a European Federation, and it gives fresh emphasis to Eisenhower’s crucial asset — his quiet genius for leading an international coalition.
If Eisenhower becomes President, there will be a shrinkage of openings at the White House for ghost writers. The General, Gunther discloses, is an exceptionally fluent and expressive writer. As a major in the thirties, he was top ghost writer for the then chief of staff, Douglas MacArthur. Before that he was author of the guidebook put out by the World War I American Battle Monuments Commission. His Crusade in Europe, a leading best seller, was written in the remarkable time of seven weeks; and, incidentally, it brought him around $600,000.
As usual, Gunther’s book contains an intriguing haul of human-interest items. Eisenhower “loves to cook and is quite good at it.” Before becoming President of Columbia, he toyed with the idea of joining a publishing firm; his staple reading, however, nowadays, is pulp Westerns, “the gaudier, the better.” He is, says Gunther, “an extremely loquacious man — much more so than is generally known”; and his talk is mildly flavored with profanily, which makes him uneasy about having women in his office. His favorite hobbies are bridge, golf, and painting.
In Eisenhower’s family background, there is a prominent strain of militant antimilitarism, and the General himself is conspicuously “civilianminded.” Some Europeans have coined a name for him which eloquently rebuts Stalin’s main propaganda line. They call him “the peacegeneral.”
Lincoln as strategist
One of the great authorities on war, von Clausewitz, asserted that the essential qualifications for a war leader have to do with mind and character rather than military experience (Eisenhower had never commanded even a platoon in battle when he became Supreme Commander); and Clemenecau made the well-known quip that war is too serious a business to be left to generals. The role played by a civilian as commander-in-chief, a U.S. President, is now the subject of a full-length study, Lincoln and His Generals (Knopf, $4.00), a Book-of-the-Month Club Selection. The author, T. Harry Williams, is Professor of History at Louisiana State University.
When the Civil War started, Lincoln’s generalin-chief, Winfield Scott, was an old man afflicted with dropsy and vertigo, and for the first year of the war there was no officer capable of efficiently administering a large army. The President, though he did not know how to frame a military order, was forced to act as commander-in-chief in fact as well as in name. In Professor Williams’s opinion, he displayed from the start a better natural sense of strategy than most of his military men — he grasped the fact that the North’s policy of restoring the Union called for an offensive war whose objective was the destruction of the Confederate Armies, not the occupation of territory—and in the course of his long search for a winning general, he became, by the power of his mind, a fine strategist.
Professor Williams focuses in turn on all of Lincoln’s leading commanders (Sherman, who had little direct contact with Lincoln until the end, remains on the periphery). There is McClellan, an excellent organizer but devoid of the offensive spirit (Lincoln said of him: “ He is an admirable engineer, but he seems to have a special talent for a stationary engine. . . . He has got ‘the slows’ ”); Don Carlos Buell — “industrious, methodical,” he belongs with McDowell to Grant’s category of generals who “never got started right”; Frémont, “giddy and fumbling”; “Old Brains” Halleck, a first-rate military clerk; Pope, pugnacious, confident, and a poor judge of realities; Rosecrans — a good strategist and aggressive, he lost control in a crisis; Hooker and Burnside, good subordinate commanders but unable to fight a large army; Meade — a fine tactician, he was too defenseminded to counterattack at Gettysburg; and finally Grant, whom Professor Williams considers “the greatest general [on either side] of the Civil War.”
Except in two cases — Banks and McClernand — where Lincoln’s judgment went thoroughly astray, the commanders he tried out were, by and large, the most promising available. Lincoln was extraordinarily patient and humble in his relations with his generals; and more than once he deferred to a plan about which he had well-founded misgivings. But as the war went on, he did not hesitate to give advice: he pressured his commanders continually for greater speed and more aggressive action; and when he was convinced they had failed, he removed them. He made mistakes; but he was right on a major issue — that the generals grossly overestimated the manpower they were up against, and that on several occasions a vigorous offensive could have brought the North close to victory. “He did more than Grant,”says Professor Williams, “to win the war for the Union.”
On the afternoon of April 6, 1949, during the trial of the eleven Communist Party leaders, the District Attorney asked the Bailiff to call on Mr. Herbert Philbrick to take the witness stand. That summons brought to a close the incredible light rope act which Herbert Philbrick had performed for the past nine years. He had lived the life of an ordinary citizen —a rising voting advertising executive in Boston, a leader in church activities, a husband with a growing family; he had lived the life of a dedicated Communist and had become one of the Party’s important underground operatives; and from the starl he had been a volunteer counterspy, a pipeline to the F.B.I. Mr. Philbrick has told the story of those nine extraordinary years in I Led three Lives (McGraw-Hill, $3.50). He tells it without sensationalism and without hate — in an artless manner that carries the stamp of a thoroughly decent personality.
When Philbrick was a 25-year-old salesman, he made a routine business call at the offices of the Massachusetts Youth Council; he was attracted by its anti-war pamphlets and jumped at the suggestion that he set up a branch in Cambridge. As chairman of the Cambridge Youth Council, he soon found that policy was being dictated by a group whom he suspected of following the Communist Party line. He took his suspicions to the F.B.I, and was advised to play along with this group and try to get closer to it. In due course, he was invited into the Youth Communist League, then into the Party; later, after an ultra-special “teacher-training course, he was posted to one of the “ Pro”-cells which channel information directly to the four Soviet espionage networks in America.
Philbrick’s story gives a marvelously detailed picture of the organizational and operational methods of the Communist Party. And the human aspects of his book are as fascinating as the political: the family problems, the subterfuges, the moments of crisis (Communists at the door and an F.B.I. man in the living room), the triple working schedule, and the supreme ironies of the situation — at one time the Party, fearing inroads by the F.B.I., recruited Philbrick as a counterspy.
The “message of this book is that the real danger to America is the Communist underground, the Professionals who keep away from the “front” groups, belong to conservative bodies, maintain a façade of flawless respectability — and that this élite can only be got at by counterspies working from the inside. Philbrick shows how the F.B.I.’s work has been made considerably more difficult by “the hysteria that seized the nation.” “The fight against the professional Communist leader,” he writes, “will not be won by flagwaving or name-calling. Amateur Red Hunters, ambitious politicians and rabble rousers are no match for him.”
Paul Bowles’s second novel, Let It Come Down (Random House, $3.50), is, like its predecessor, the story of an American who goes to North Africa to escape from his emptiness and depression. The books qualities, which are considerable, and its over-all failing are sharply reminiscent of The Sheltering Sky. The plot in this case is perhaps more intriguing, more entertaining in a raffish way.
Mr. Bowles is one of the very few writers to depict the part Arab, part colonial-cosmopolitan life of North Africa without any trace of romanticizat ion. He has a remarkable gift for evoking its atmosphere with graphic authenticity; and, at the same time, he externalizes in that atmosphere the inner drama he is unfolding the drama of The Hollow Man, the man things are done to. As he imprints on our senses the physical texture and the moral climate of Tangier
— its seediness; its maggoty vitality; its cheerful yet terrifying familiarity with the extremes of human corruption— this world progressively imposes its coloration and its sinister will on the novel’s hero, Nelson Dyar.
Bowles also displays a keen eye and an aptly suggestive touch in his portraits of the people who belong to this cosmos — Thami Beidaoui, the black sheep of a leading Arab family, who drinks like an infidel and lives by smuggling; Hadija, the gracelul, greedy young prostitute; her employer. Madame Papaconstante, proprietress of the Lucifer Bar; Eunice Goode, a middle-aged American derelict with enough money for her to keep cozily intoxicated; the wealthy Marquesa de Valverde, a forceful, rather bewildering woman, whose pleasure is to know all the scandals and intrigues of Tangier.
Nelson Dyar has worked for ten years as teller in a New York bank, and, feeling that he is being stifled by a kind of paralysis, he has seized upon the offer of a job in a travel agency opened by an acquaintance of his, Jack Wilcox, in Tangier. The story opens with a hint of suspended disaster — Dyar finds Wilcox strangely harassed and in no hurry for him to go to work — and it takes on the quality of a disturbing dream as Dyar gets caught up in the febrile life of the International Zone. When a certain Madame Jouvenon, repuledly a Russian spy, offers him $500 for information about the American colony. Dyar finds that, unaccountably, he has accepted her check; he also finds himself serving Wilcox as courier in a black-market currency deal. A wild attempt to pull out leads him info an adventure in which, under the influence of hashish, he drifts somnambulistically into a fatal predicament.
The weakness of both Bowles’s novels is that a man as hollow as Nelson Dyar (and, previously, Port Moresby) — a man without purpose or will; a cipher—is not a hero whose fate can stir us deeply. If fiction is to have life it must see something more in life than a dreamlike drift from nullity to nothingness. Mr. Bowles has impressive gifts and there is much in his books I enjoy and admire. But they leave a final impression of sterility.