THE latest of the top-level memoirs of the Second World War is in several respects the most revealing. Taking the diaries kept by General Sir Alan Brooke (now Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke) and the comments he made on them a decade later — over a million words, all told Sir Arthur Bryant has written a two-volume history of the war of which the first installment, The Turn of the Tide (Doubleday, $6.95), covers the years 1939 through 1943. As Chief of the Imperial General Staff after December, 1941, Brooke, who had saved the British Army at Dunkirk, was Britain’s most important soldier; and it was his strategic ideas, though hotly contested by the American planners and sometimes by Churchill, which were in the main adopted by the Western allies. Ironically, Brooke was so successful in shunning publicity that he has remained the least known of the Allied military chiefs.
The Turn of the Tide has a threefold significance and fascination. As Bryant notes, there is no other instance in which a leading actor in great events recorded them day by day and, without altering his contemporary account, later commented on and criticized it. None of the war memoirs is more outspoken, for Brooke ‘s diary was written as an evening conversation on paper addressed to his wife. Most importantly, perhaps, it brings us into intimate contact with a man of extraordinary quality, a leader whose judgments have been proved right to an astonishing degree, He foretold, for instance, with uncanny accuracy the collapse of the French; and later — convinced that Stalin could not afford to sign a separate peace — he pressed for a stiffer line with the Russians.
The most striking aspects of Brooke’s diaries are the unique pieture of his partnership with Churchill — they worked together almost every day; the account of Brooke’s sharp differences with the U.S. planners over strategy; and the frank impressions of most of the Allied leaders, civ ilian and military.
“Quite the most difficult man to work with I have ever struck,” says Brooke of Churchill, and “quite the most wonderful. . . . [He has] the most marvellous qualities and superhuman genius mixed with an astonishing lack of vision at times.”Brooke, a believer in massing power for a decisive effort, had a harrowing time resisting Churchill’s impetuosity (“It is a regular disease he suffers from, this frightful impatience to get an attack launched”) and Churchill’s passion for “diversions” (one of the pet projects which Brooke repeatedly squelched was an ill-conceived invasion of Norway). Perhaps the most eloquent proof of Brooke’s stature is that he retained Churchill’s complete trust even though he was continually saying “no’ to him — the word that Churchill most detested.
Brooke’s struggle with the American military leaders (with most of whom he developed cordial personal relations) hinged on three main issues: his conviction, in 1942 and in 1943, that it would be suicidal to attempt the opening of a European “Second Front,” for which Marshall was pressing (in Crusade in Europe, Eisenhower acknowledged that “later developments” convinced him the British evaluation was correct); American skepticism as to the importance of the Mediterranean theater; and American unwillingness, especially on the part of Admiral King, to accept fully the implications of the Europe-first strategy agreed upon at the highest level.
Brooke speaks of Marshall as a great gentleman and a great organizer, but not a great strategist; pays high tributes to Eisenhower for making “Anglo-American rivalry the unforgivable sin”; and names MacArthur as the greatest general of the war. The diaries are rich in memorable footnotes to history and memorable trivia: Weygand’s incredible reaction to France’s collapse — what preyed on his mind was that it spoiled his “most successful" career; a vignette of Churchill — “fresh as paint after an uncomfortable all-night (light, two early morning whiskies, and two cigars — demanding wine before breakfast on arrival in Cairo and bursting to start the day’s work; a description of an orgiastic Kremlin banquet, throughout which an uneaten suckling pig stared at Brooke with its black truffle eye and “developed a sardonical smile” on its orange-peel mouth.
“Running a war,” Brooke wrote, “seems to consist in making plans and then ensuring that all destined to carry them out do not quarrel with each other instead of with the enemy.” The history built out of his diaries gives us the most intimate picture we have had to date of the manifold strains of coalition warfare, and of how, by and large, the Allies successfully surmounted them.
Wylie’s one world
The Innocent Ambassadors (Rinehart, $4.95) by Philip Wylie — described on the jacket as a “round-the-world Generation of Vipers” — is the result of a threemonth trip abroad, which took Mr. and Mrs. Wylie to the Far East and India and brought them home with stopovers in the Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece. There is naturally travel reportage in the book, but the heart of the matter is talk. Just as the conventional tourist on his return home proudly displays souvenirs and snapshots, Wylie, after talking his way around the world, proudly reproduces all the words he uttered. He listened, too, and quotes to us what he heard, but often with incongruous effects: for out of the mouths of the unlikeliest people there comes a curious approximation to the frenetic idiom of Philip Wylie, whose prose style for some reason reminds me of traveling hell-for-lealher in a jeep down a peculiarly bumpy road.
Mr. Wylie, it goes without saying, returned astounded, outraged, and desperately alarmed. His message is that the United States is losing the cold war for a variety of reasons: the self-righteousness and obtuseness of Mr. Dulles (“a symbol of a specific odiousness to millions everywhere”), who is disastrously blinkered by his narrow — and to Asia quite meaningless—concept of the cold war as a conflict between Christianity and “atheism”; the continued American belief, conscious or otherwise, in the superiority of the while race; the doctrine, which the H-bomb has made obsolete, that, military power can decide the struggle with Russia - it will be decided solely on the battleground of belief. Mr. Wylie brings to this thesis a good deal of interesting evidence and arguments which I And forceful; and his whole approach to the issues involved in the cold war has a welcome individuality.
Unfortunately, as is customary in Wylies work, the intelligent and provocative thinking is mixed up with a sizable quota of naïveté and portentous platitude. Wylie is constantly reacting hyperexciledly to some “terrific insight" of roughly the same order of terrificness as the bourgeois gentilhomme’s discovery that what he had been writing all his life was prose.
I am forced to report, too, that Wylie indulges in an unconscionable amount of corny posturing. He mysteriously plays the Secret Agent (the frightening cold war “assignment” given him by “certain friends in Washington” turns out to be to take a stroll through the refugee district in Hong Kong). He keeps reminding us, ruefully, that he is a world-wide literary celebrity and, pompously, that he is a Civil Defense Consultant with “Q-clearance” (Look, Mom, I’m Q-cleared). He writes fatuously about winning the applause of Bangkok night-clubbers by performing a nifty rumba, and he celebrates his conjugal love in slush like “The music of her moody bliss is the melody of What-might-have-been, in some truer world.” (His wife’s remarks show her to be a remarkably sensible and attractive woman.) In all of this, there is an embarrassing vein of unconscious farce. It is hard to know whether to take Wylie as a serious thinker with a broad streak of foolishness or as a figure of fun with a lot of bright ideas.
Admen and the id
The Hidden Persuaders (McKay, $4.00) by Vance Packard explores what the author eonservatively calls “a strange and rather exotic new area of American life" — the use of mass psychoanalysis to guide campaigns of persuasion in advertising and in politics. In the early 1950s, it seems, some giant brains on Madison Avenue made the shattering discovery that people often don’t want what they say they want; and that consequently the research method known as “nose-counting,”which consisted in asking prospective customers hat they wanted, was partially if not basically unsound. Having concluded that the consumers conscious responses were unreliable, the persuaders decided to carry their surveys into the realm of the unconscious. Now, several thousand social scientists with psychiatric credential’s have been enlisted in a inultimilliondollar industry labeled Motivation Research, or simply M.R. Two thirds of America’s hundred largest advertisers are using strategies inspired by the “depth approach.” In fact, bucksterism has entered a new era, in which its oracle is the psychologist and its slogan might well be: The proper study of the adman is the id.
The various ways in which M.R. operates, the findings it has produced, and their application to selling goods (and political candidates) are described by Mr. Packard with a wealth of documentation which is often appalling, often very funny, and continuously fascinating. His book, which deserves to be widely read, guides us through a world in which the American male’s association of the sedan with wife, the convertible with mistress, inspired the hard-top convertible; in which a once unsuccessful cigarette (Marlboro) was discovered to be “sexually maladjusted” and was made successful by changing its appeal from feminine to masculine; a world where the discoveries of Freud are used to glamorize the prune, to de-sissifv tea and the cigarette holder, to determine the most successful image for greeting cards (a barren, gnarled tree on a windswept, graceful hill — the majority of senders apparently feel lonely and gnarled and are still trying to be graceful), to overcome consumer “resistances” in areas as diverse as banking, air travel, and men’s wear.
Just how reliable are the findings of M.R. is a highly debatable point, but it certainly has come up with no end of curious revelations — for instance, that the blink rate of women in supermarkets falls to the level of “a light trance” (they feel like queens to whom all those lovely, accessible products are whispering “buy me, buy me”); or that housewives need to be reassured that timesaving products and foods will not rob them of their worth and creativity (this has been found to apply especially to cake mixes, because “baking a cake is acting out the birth of a child”).
What disturbs Mr. Packard about this invasion of “the privacy of our minds’ is that the depth manipulators, by scientifically catering to the brational, are creating a progressivey less rational society. Their activities are particularly sinister in the polilical sphere, in which they played an important role for the first time in the last presidential election. All in all, they are pushing us toward a singularly unbrave new world.
“The amorous mess”
“The role of sex in American culture” is the subject of a spirited essay entitled The Decline and Fall of Sex (Harcourt, Brace, $3.00) by Robert Elliot Fitch, Professor of Christian Ethics and Dean of the Pacific School of Religion in California. It is moderately startling to find a theologian announcing that sex is in need of vitalizing ministrations, and still more surprising to find one who writes with the lack of verbal inhibition, the light-fingered brio, and the wittiness of phrase displayed by Dr. Fitch.
Fitch’s argument, whoso principal frame of reference is the novel and the stage, can be summarized as follows. The modern cult of sex has led to the conclusion that, since sex is the essential, “the important thing is to get down to essential sex ... [to what is] popularly known as acting natural” — a viewpoint Fitch finds typified by the late Dr. Kinsey, this Nature Boy clad simply in the loincloth of the biologic.” In order to act natural, we have subtracted from sex romance, love, morality, its procreative function, even its hedonistic aspects. The residue, says Fitch, is a vastly depressing mess — the celebration of sex as a wallowing in ennui and banality (Françoise Sagan); “the mystique of obscenity” (Hemingway, Mailer, Jones); the fascination with, and quasi glorification of, the pimp, the prostitute, and the pervert (Tennessee Williams and others); the icily detached, clinical approach of intellectuals like Mary McCarthy. Sex, says Fitch, has entered “the ice age. . . . [It] used to be hot stuff, but by the time the modern intelligence is through with it, what sex gives us is not a burn but a frostbite. It isn t wicked, and it isn’t any fun. It’s just biologic. . . . The asceticism of the scientific intelligence . . . has assassinated sex.” The conclusion which emerges from Fitch’s primarily critical exposition is that sex must be coupled with love and morality if it is to regain its “significant vitality.”
It could be argued that Fitch’s picture of “the amorous mess” and of sex’s loss of sex appeal is decidedly exaggerated; and it has, of course, frequently been argued that sex is, indeed, “just biologic. But the operative point is that Fitch certainly has something provocative to say and develops his case in terms which cannot possibly be dismissed as puritanical or obscurantist. He has a vigorous mind and a lively pen, and the perspective he brings to bear on contemporary writers yields suggestive insights. For its literary criticism alone, Mr. Fitch’s book is well worth reading.
Remembrance of things past
Memories of a Catholic Girlhood (Harcourt, Brace, $3.95), Mary McCarthy’s account of her childhood and adolescence, has made clearer to me the traits which make her the particular sort of artist, she is. They are, I believe, perfectionism, a fanatical striving for honesty, and a fierce sense of hierarchy — a combination calculated to produce a thoroughly disturbing vision of life. For to the perfectionist, things-asthey-are appear for the most part lamentably worse than they ought to be; the cult of honesty makes it a duty to portray this state of affairs as unsparingly as possible; and in a hierarchical order, it is always easy to disgrace oneself but almost impossible to behave so well as to transcend one’s station.
In the writing of her memoir, perfectionism has tempted Miss McCarthy into doing some minor retouching of events so as to make “a good story ” out of them; and honesty has impelled her to tell the reader, in interchapters, exactly what she has guessed at or invented — a unique approach, I would say offhand, to autobiography.
One of the charming singularities of this personal history is that, in broad outline, it is a real-life version of a classic fairy tale drama filtered through a highly sophisticated mind. Mary, the eldest of four children, was six when both her parents died in the influenza epidemic of 1918 and a regime of bliss came to an end — the foods that children dote on, Japanese houseboys, the possession of an ermine muff and a diamond ring, “spoiling and coddling” of all sorts. Her rich McCarthy grandparents arranged for and subsidized the children’s upbringing by impecunious relatives in Minneapolis, who had a genius for making life arid and ugly.
Uncle Myers (who dominated his wife) behaved to his wards remarkably like the wicked stepmother of mythology. They were dressed like scarecrows; the staples of their diet were corn-meal mush, root vegetables, prunes or rhubarb, and castor oil; and they were incessantly beaten — even Mary’s winning of a state essay prize earned her a whipping designed to teach her not to become “stuck up.”
Eventually a good magician intervonod, Mary’s maternal grandfather; and at eleven she went to live with him, a Protestant, and his Jewish wife in Seattle, At ihis point the simple overtones of fairy tale give way to the ironies of reality. Grandfather Preston, a man of “rigid and fantastic probity,” insisted that his Catholic ward go to convent school; and then’, to make an impression on the “desirable” girls, she staged a dramatic “loss ol faith only to discover that her failh was really lost. Miss McCarthy’s narrative carries her through the hazards ol a “boy crazy” stage to the end of her high school days, at which time her sights were set on becoming an actress.
Out of her polychrome background Miss McCarthy has pieced together an altogether fascinating memoir. The portraiture in her recollections is more tolerant of human frailly than in her fiction and therefore more attractive and richer in vitalty the Jewish grandmother, for one, is a memorable re-creation. As to the book’s literary qualities, they reinforce my belief that Mary McCarthy, today, is one of the half-dozen finest stylists among American writers.
The adventures of Aunt Dot
The Toners of Trebisond (Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, $3.75) by Rose Macaulay is the most delightful novel of her long career. The book has three main elements seemingly so discordant as to guarantee disaster — a scholarly travelogue about Asia Minor; a Graham Greeneish subplot having to do with adultery and religious longing: and a main plot, as deliciously farcical as any devised by Evelyn Waugh, in which an eccentric English spinster (who rides to church on a white camel “with mental trouble”) and an ancient clergyman named Chantry-Pigg go to Turkey as missionaries of Anglicanism and feminism and presently vanish behind the Iron Curtain, thereby precipitating an international cause célébre à la Burgess and Maclean. A tour de force on Miss Macaulay’s part has woven these materials into a sparklingly original and completely captivating novel: a book packed with entrancing humor, comic characterization, fantastic escapades, and serious insights. The final note is one of haunting sadness, for the farce has been an allegory; and its subject is man’s eternal striving for that which he cannot quite attain.