SARAH GAINHAM’S NIGHT FALLS ON THE CITY (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $6.95) is a long sprawling novel, somewhat old-fashioned in conception and execution, yet consistently exciting and eminently readable. It tells a clear story in which interesting personalities act against the background of historic incidents; and it succeeds remarkably well in bringing to life the people, the place, and the events of our times.
The setting is Vienna, once the capital of Central Europe, but slipping in the 1930s toward its ultimate degradation. The story opens with the German occupation in 1937; it closes with the arrival of the Russians in 1945. The central character is Julia Homburg, star of the state theater, and therefore a privileged personality. The beautiful actress has some degree of immunity from the events about her. The Nazis at the start of the novel and the Communists at its close both wish to harness the theater to their causes and are willing to protect its members. But there is a price for their patronage; those they help become party tools.
Julia, however, could not adjust as others did. She had no political interests and no understanding of what the Nazis were up to when they first appeared. But her husband, a former member of Parliament, was of Jewish descent. He could not leave the country, and capture would mean death. Without a full awareness of what the task entailed, Julia undertook to hide him. For seven years he lived in her apartment while she and a faithful peasant servant labored to conceal his presence. He died when the Russians came, but Julia emerged from the wreckage of Vienna with only the prospect of serving her new Red masters.
A number of moving subplots, intertwined with the central story, describe the people who went in and out of Julia’s orbit. The Hungarian journalist Georg Kerenyi, who knew what would happen, took refuge in cynicism until the plight of a helpless girl awakened his sense of duty. Nazis of varying shades ot commitment, fanatics, timeservers, and bureaucrats struggled vainly for advantage and safety. And Julia herself became involved in a grating, discordant love affair with an officer, in which concern for her husband and her own physical needs mingled incongruously.
This is not an intellectual novel, nor does it probe deeply the issues of totalitarianism. But it has integrity as a narrative and makes a gripping story. Its chief strength springs from its polished execution of detail. Miss Gainham’s prose conveys a precise and firm sense of place. She brings to life the stalls and their keepers in the Neumarkt before a raid. The railroad yard bustles with activity as Kerenyi scurries through it in search of the transport on which his girl is held. Sinister shadows people the streets of Cracow at night under the German occupation. By contrast the sun sparkles on the countryside when Julia escapes to a Tyrolean gasthaus or passes a brief idyll in a border village with her lover.
Above all, Miss Gainham has a sure feeling of character. The conservative Catholic lawyer Alois Pohaisky and the Socialist secretary Fraulein Bracher discover an unexpected capacity for heroism. The Pichlers are grubby lower-class types who know that to survive is all. Between the extremes move the mass of people of the great metropolis, uncertain, confused, human.
There is no introspection in .Tight Falls on the City, but the novel raises significant issues simply through the unfolding of the narrative and the delineation of character. The city itself emerges not merely as a place but also as a civilization cracking under the pressure of unbearable tensions. Vienna’s population in the post-war period was almost as heterogeneous as that of New York. The old capital of the Austrian Empire had become a gathering place for all the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe. However, cosmopolitanism did not destroy the stratified character of the city or dissolve the rigid social barriers that made it a breeding place of hatreds. Not surprisingly this was the context within which the young Hitler acquired his ideas.
Here the issue of collaboration with the Fascists was extraordinarily complex. The actors in the troupe were all civilized and disdained the barbaric Nazis, not least because of their crude North German manners. Yet imperceptibly the Viennese learn to play the parts the Nazis assign them and gradually come to share a common guilt. Only a visit to occupied Warsaw reveals to the more perceptive actors the extent of their complicity.
As night falls on the city, Julia’s relationship to her husband changes. Her love for him gradually fades as he becomes a pathetically helpless creature. What survives is a more powerful sense of obligation. The responsibility to the man dependent on her prevents her from yielding to chaotic impulses, provides organization for her life, and enables her to endure the pressures of war.
The use of power
Pearl Harbor touched off the war in the Pacific, but American involvement in the European conflict did not follow as a matter of course. Hitler, who declared war on the United States on December 11, was not bound to do so by the letter of his pact with Japan. The Axis agreement called for concerted defensive measures only; and there was no doubt that Pearl Harbor was offensive. Nevertheless, the Fiihrer chose to take on the Americans. His decision raised an intriguing question: Why did Hitler, who had failed to break British resistance and was already in trouble with Russia, deliberately bring the United States into the ranks of his open enemies?
JAMES V. COMPTON’S THE SWASTIKA AND THE EAGLE (Houghton Mifflin, $5.95) answers that question. The book contains a careful analysis of Hitler’s view of the United States and its relationship to the war. It rests upon a thorough examination of the German archives as well as of other related material. The product is a judicious analysis particularly fascinating at a time when the world seems bent on repeating many of the errors of the 1930s.
The crucial element in the German error was a gross miscalculation both of American intentions and of the consequences of American intervention. The German diplomats in Washington were conscientious and well informed and gave Berlin a realistic survey of conditions in the United States. Hitler’s judgments rested, however, not on diplomatic reports but on his racist and socialist prejudices. He had profound contempt for the social structure of the United States. Americans, he thought, lived like pigs, although in a luxurious sty. The country was weak in morale and would remain isolated. Roosevelt’s rearmament was a big bluff.
The reports of his military attache reinforced Hitler’s prejudices. General Friederich von Boetticher believed that he had connections of unusual reliability. His conversations in Washington persuaded him that intervention was out of the question. Moreover, the United States could not possibly influence the outcome of the war.
In the three years before December, 1941, therefore, the Germans discounted the possibility of American participation and made their plans as if the United States were a force of negligible value. In 1941, they urged the Japanese to attack the United States rather than Russia.
Why the grotesque miscalculation? Hitler’s personal idiosyncrasies contributed to the error. But they had the support of General von Boetticher s dispatches. In the General’s view, the United States was not a great power because it did not act as one. The country was torn by dissension, it had not conducted an active foreign policy in the 1 920s and 1930s, and its intervention in the First World War had brought it no gain. All the signals of power that the trained military man was taught to recognize were absent. The Germans misinterpreted the lack of mobilized force, internal disputes, and professions of peace as signs of weakness. Hitler thus repeated the error the Kaiser had made a quarter century earlier.
There is a curious parallel in an earlier failure to recognize new power vividly described in R. F. DELDERFIELD’S RETREAT FROM MOSCOW (Atheneum, $5.95). Napoleon’s ill-fated thrust to the east in 1812 led to a military disaster that ultimately doomed the emperor, weakened France, and left the Continent unstable for decades to come. Yet Delderfield’s well-written account shows that the invasion of Russia was not just a harebrained adventure, but the climactic measure of a careful plan to reorganize Europe.
The plan came to grief because of a fatal miscalculation. Napoleon, thinking of power in the conventional terms of his times, underestimated the Russian ability to resist and to strike back. The romantic, liberal young Czar Alexander, who dreamed of peace and love, did not in advance seem a formidable antagonist. Only when it was too late did the French learn what power he commanded.
Unfortunately, Hitler and Napoleon were not the only ones to suffer from these errors. Millions of deaths and frightful social devastation were also part of the price. And while in any just reckoning of the guilt the blame falls entirely on the aggressors, those who had power but hesitated to show or use it must share the responsibility. We shall never know what difference a positive rather than a neutral American foreign policy would have made in the 1930s. Hitler might have been mad enough to fight even had he accurately appraised the strength and intentions of the United States. But he might also have been shrewd enough to pause.
I he reluctance to use power, except as a last recourse, has also been characteristic of American foreign policy since 1945. Such hesitations probably misled Stalin in Germany and Korea, and were basic to many of the Near Eastern difficulties of the past twenty years.
WILLIAM R. KINTNER in PEACE AND THE STRATEGY CONFLICT (Praeger, $6.95) explores some of the longterm implications of American policy. Phis is a somber yet a necessary book. It draws heavily upon the extensive literature of theories of thermonuclear warfare and attempts to analvze the issues dispassionately. To some the tone will seem excessively objective. There is a ghoulish quality to any discussion of megaton explosions and of casualties in the hundreds of millions. Yet the weapons exist, the launching pads are ready, and the bombers stand on a fifteen-minute alert. To refuse to think about their use is to turn away from reality.
Kintner argues that the relative peace of the past two decades depended upon American strategic superiority, which acted as a deterrent and restrained Soviet aggressive intentions. In the last ten years the margin of superiority has nan owed and is now dangerously thin. Given the long time required for research and for the development of new weapons, an immediate response is essential. Kintner pleads for the prompt deployment of an antiballistic missile system and a civildefense shelter program along with the rapid multiplication of the weapons in its existing arsenal. At the same time, the United States should convey to the Soviet leadci ship a determination to maintain strategic superiority, at whatever cost, until an agreement is reached on general arms reduction.
These are extreme proposals, and there may be a tolerable level of security short of their full implementation. But the issue requires serious discussion rather than evasion. Peace will be preserved not by wishing for it but by facing up to the “relationship among repeatedly affirmed Soviet Communist revolutionary goals, reiterated Soviet intentions to achieve strategic superiority, and a steadily growing Soviet strategic arsenal.”
In the interim, we can hope for little more than such intermittent local conflicts as we fought in Korea and are fighting in Vietnam, NO PLACE TO DIE by HUGH A. MULLIGAN (Morrow, $5.95) is a good closeup view of the war in Southeast Asia. The author, correspondent for the Associated Press, spent a year in two visits to the battlefront in 1965 and 1966. He is a conscientious, careful observer and presents a clear view of the details of the struggle.
Mulligan is hardly concerned with the political issues or with the overall strategy of the conflict. His is a local view which focuses on individuals and describes graphically and concretely what the fighting actually means. The vivid descriptions of helicopter warfare, of naval aviation, and of the men in the field convey a striking impression of the complexities of the American role in Vietnam.
The visual impression left by a city owes less to its topography or climate than to the character of its people and to the accretions of buildings and places left by history. The charm of DUBLIN: A PORTRAIT by V. S. PRITCHETT (Harper & Row, $15.00) emanates from its sensitivity to the residents of the city and from the author’s awareness of the history that made it. Illustrated with a generous collection of photographs by Evelyn Hofer, the book is a splendid portrayal of the westernmost capital of Europe.
First encounters subtly influence the traveler’s estimate of a place. Pritchett came to Dublin in 1923, just when the high drama of revolution reached its last act. The damage from the lighting was everywhere evident, and the shape of the future was still unclear. Forty years later the future, having become the present, proves less glamorous, more stolid than was anticipated. Yet the glow of the young man’s initial exposure to stirring events still illuminates his prose.
The Dublin of 1923 was the Dublin of Joyce and of the literary renaissance that enriched the alien language while calling for a revival of Celtic. It also remained an eighteenth-century city, in which time had all but stood still since the Act of Union had ended the separate Irish parliament and drawn the gentry to London. Georgian Dublin appears prominently in these pages in the restrained lines of the houses on the quays, of College Green and the Customs House, and of the doorways on Merrion Square. A century of stagnation preserved these places while the smoke of industrialization spread across other European cities. In 1923, the intellectual climate also was a product of the Enlightenment: Sean O’Casey was a latter-day Voltaire.
The most prominent figures in the struggle to establish the Irish Republic were also eighteenth-century men. Their nationalism was infused with humanitarian concern, and they clung to a faith in reason which had little connection with the world of their own times. The essays collected by F. X. MARTIN in LEADERS AND MEN OF THE EASTER RISING (Cornell University Press, $5.95) deal thoughtfully with some of the issues that flared up in Dublin in 1916 and that led ultimately to independence. The Rising was a Dublin affair, ineptly planned and imperfectly executed. It enlisted the support of only a small minority in the population. Yet it touched off a chain of events that eventually forced the British to withdraw.
Fhe sketches in this volume reveal the extent to which the struggle for identity was personal as well as national. The core of the revolutionary movement consisted of marginal people, with Protestant or English antecedents. For many of them, the insistence upon establishing an Irish and Catholic nation reflected the peculiar influences of an upbringing in a city which time had passed by.
The accepted version of the prehistory of the Western Hemisphere traces a mass migration from Asia to America by way of Siberia and the Arctic. The Eskimos, by that account, are the descendants of wayfarers who halted en route.
J. Louis GIDDINGS in ANCIENT MEN OF THE ARCTIC (Knopf, $10.00) challenges that interpretation and suggests instead that for long periods of time people, ideas, and techniques drifted around the North Pole in a wide arc that stretched from Central Siberia to Greenland. Professor Giddings was primarily an archaeologist, and he arrived at his conclusions on the basis of evidences of a pre-Eskimo culture discovered in Alaska. At Cape Krusenstern near the Bering Strait he found a series of parallel ridges, each of which was once the coastline. Here were buried survivals from the successive occupants of the area preserved in an order which permitted some guess at chronology.
As in the case of much of the best archaeology, the narrative of the process of discovery is as interesting as the exposition of the evidence. In this well-written and carefully illustrated account, Professor Giddings reveals a nice sense of the exciting physical environment as well as the ability to handle his data judiciously.