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by Oscar Handlin
THE BLAST OF WAR 19391945 (Harper & Row, $12.50) is the second volume of HAROLD MACMILLAN’S autobiography. This thoroughly honest and straightforward account by the Conservative statesman who later became Prime Minister offers an interesting view of the course of the great war against Nazi Germany. It also raises questions with serious implications for the later foreign policy decisions which arose from that conflict.
Macmillan’s earlier volume carried him through the period of his political career when he was critical of his party’s leadership. Now he was to see the bitter consequences of appeasement. Through much of the war Macmillan functioned as Churchill’s deputy, representing his country as political minister in the Mediterranean. He thus was involved in the formulation of Allied strategy from the North African invasion to the end of the war. The policies then adopted had an immediate impact on military affairs. But they also set the outlines of the post-war settlements in France, Italy, and Greece.
Macmillan’s portraits of the leading figures with whom he dealt are generally fair. De Gaulle had already displayed the single-minded sense of determination and the disregard for the sensibilities of others by which he made his presence felt. Stafford Cripps, a “rich and aristocratic revolutionary,” combined socialist principles with Christian puritanism in a way that left an impression of “ineffable superiority.” Eisenhower radiated a sense of fairness and manliness which charmed those who disagreed with him even when he was wrong.
These memorable vignettes set off the serious discussion of basic issues. The British moved placidly through the first months of war, their lack of preparation concealed by a sublime overconfidence. No more than the French were they aware in 1939 that appeasement had rendered them far less capable of resisting Hitler than they had been in 1936. Moreover, Macmillan’s countrymen shackled themselves with curious antique notions of right and wrong, It was thus argued that “there should not even be any question of bombing the munition works at Essen, for, after all, these are private property.” It took a heavy toll of suffering in Britain to overcome these scruples.
Although not himself in a position to make decisions, Macmillan was involved in the great policy conflicts which divided the Allies. Churchill, thinking of the shape of post-war Europe, pressed for an assault through Italy at the heart of Axis power. Roosevelt, for whom shortrun tactical considerations were more important, wished to move across the Channel into France, even if that left the east to the advancing Russians. Macmillan, in the light of hindsight, is critical of the American President, who gave “little weight to political consequences” and “took the view that the only thing that mattered was to beat the Germans,” so “that almost any means were justifiable if they contributed to that end.”
Macmillan’s most interesting comments, and those also most relevant to the present, deal with the situation in Greece and Italy. There Communist partisans, in the field before the fighting ended, endangered the prospect of stable government for the future. In Greece the Allies labored for a long time to work out a coalition broad enough to include the Reds. The English discovered that it was not easy to negotiate a settlement with a determined revolutionary minority willing to use democratic procedures in its own interest, but ready to disregard the rules when it wished. The Communists kept raising their demands, jockeying for ultimate control of the police and the army; discussion with them only postponed the civil war that ravaged Greece after December, 1944.
Allied vacillation in Greece left a bitter heritage that persisted for decades. Reflecting on the crisis in retrospect, Macmillan points out that “Many of my Greek friends reproached us then and later that we had not forced the issue and carried the campaign in Greece to a point at which revolutionary Communism could be totally suppressed. Many of our British friends believed that Communism was only a form of Leftism which could be softened by kindness or cajolery. In the essentials our Greek critics were right. Had we possessed the power; had we not had to face the hostility of Washington and the American government; had we not been committed to a hard and difficult spring campaign in Italy, with insufficient forces; had British public opinion been fully seized of the truth; then indeed we might have completed the task.”
By contrast, the experience of Italy showed that the Allies had learned from the lesson of Greece. In Italy the Americans and English moved to get control of the resistance movement from the start. There it was possible to infiltrate the partisans with British officers and reliable Italians and to create the basis for a government that could survive and sustain itself. Italy was thus spared the trauma of revolution.

Naval diplomacy

In “OLD BRUIN,” COMMODORE MATTHEW C. PERRY (Atlantic-Little, Brown, $12.50), SAMUEL ELIOT MORISON adds a striking figure to his pantheon of American naval heroes. This is a lively biography of an officer who devoted a long and exciting career to the service of his country. Born in 1794, Perry entered the Navy as a young man, following the course his father and older brother had already taken. Called “Old Bruin” because of his commanding voice and powerful figure, Calbraith Perry was as close to a professional as the Navy boasted in the nineteenth century
Before the Civil War, the United States was a minor force in international affairs. However grandly the rhetoric of its citizens puffed up its future destiny, it disposed of little power and therefore scarcely counted in the calculations of European foreign offices. The main energies of Americans were, after all, focused on internal expansion in the West. Nevertheless, they were not isolationists, and their interests were worldwide. In this anomalous situation, the government of the United States, which lacked a professional diplomatic corps, often relied upon whatever instruments were available. among them its small navy.
That accounts for the breadth of Perry’s experience. He took part in the War of 1812 and in the Mexican War, but in addition played a significant peacetime role. He participated in the establishment of Liberia, chased pirates in the West Indies, and acted as a diplomat in Turkey and Italy. He was instrumental in pushing such reforms as the introduction of steam and the use of the shell gun, as well as the recruitment of seamen by apprenticeship. He was best known for his leadership of the naval expedition which opened Japan to the world.
Admiral Morison tells the story with his accustomed skill. He has read all the documents, unearthed some previously unpublished correspondence, and has personally visited all the sites that were important in the life of Commodore Perry. He writes with verve, and the touches of humor that enliven the narrative reflect the warmth of his own identification with the subject.
Perry’s achievement in Japan contains elements of paradox. He was a tough commander and had to be, given the character of the men who shipped aboard American vessels in the nineteenth century. Flogging was still a common practice, and shipboard life was often brutal, as the vivid account of the mutiny on the Somers demonstrates. Yet Perry, who spent his whole life in this environment, was capable of undertaking the most delicate negotiations in Japan with a proud and sensitive people who were about to be coerced into modernity. That he was able to bring this task off successfully and without a residue of hard feelings was evidence not only of his personal skill but also of his understanding of the uses and the limits of power.

Fear and laughter

The mass media have always suffered from the lack of serious criticism. By their very nature, they address a vast audience which does not talk back. Consequently, the producers of movies and television rarely find an opportunity to take stock, to review their achievements or evaluate their techniques. The audience too suffers from the inability to reflect upon the evanescent images which flash once across the screen and are rarely seen attain, The poverty of criticism is as characteristic of the movies which have a long history as it is of the more recent forms of television.
HITCHCOCK by FRANÇOIS THUFFAUT (Simon and Schuster, $8.95) is a welcome addition to the meager list of works which treat the cinema seriously but sensibly. The book, which reads well and is handsomely illustrated with 300 stills, records the thoughtful and illuminating conversations of two distinguished directors, Hitchcock is the veteran whose career reaches back to the silent days, but who successfully made the transition to sound and color and the wide screen, and whose latest efforts still show the play of a vigorous imagination. There is probably no other modern director more widely respected by his peers, Truffaut, creator of Jules and Jim and of The 400 Blows, is among the young men who led the French new wave in an effort to transform the modern cinema.
Truffaut’s is the more analytical, more probing mind. It is he who asks the questions. Hitchcock is alert and responsive, having reached the age and status at which he can answer the challenges of the young without self-doubt about his own achievements. The interchange is therefore more than a casual exchange of views. It constitutes a coherent and reflective review of Hitchcock’s career and of its import for the art of the cinema.
The problems of technique interest Truffaut most. How does the director in Sabotage convey to the audience by purely cinematic means the frame of mind of a woman who plans to kill her husband? Not by statements from her or by changing her facial expressions, but by allowing the camera to pan back and forth between the knife in her hand and the figure of her victim. How in Notorious or The Girl Was Young does the camera, set up high where it takes in a thronged hall, dolly down to focus on a single object or face and thus tell a story without dialogue? Hitchcock was a remarkable innovator in devising means for purely visual narration. These discussions explain how he did so and also account for his influence upon all subsequent directors.
The analysis of technique is so engrossing that the subject matter of the films seems almost of secondary importance. Often, the story is treated as if it were no more than an excuse for the director’s display of virtuosity. This is a valid point of departure for criticism. One need not, after all, identify the kings or saints in order to understand renaissance painting. But in Hitchcock’s case, the subject matter has an importance of its own. This director plays upon the emotions of an audience which is drawn to the theater less by an awareness of technique than by involvement in a story which he has told and retold throughout his career. Hitchcock himself describes his theme as suspense. Truffaut is more perceptive. Hitchcock, he explains, wins the audience by rousing its fears — “by reawakening all the strong emotions of childhood. In his work the viewer might recapture the tensions and thrills of the games of hide-andseek or blindman’s buff and the terror of those nights when, by a trick of the imagination, a forgotten toy on the dresser gradually acquires a mysterious and threatening shape.”
The source of these fears — Hitchcock’s and the audience’s — is not social but personal. Even in The Lady Vanishes, which comes closest of all his films to treating a subject of social significance, the nature of the totalitarian regime from which Miss Froy escapes remains obscure. There is some suggestion that Hitchcock’s Catholic upbringing may explain his fears; and there is a certain parallelism between his work in the 1930s and that of Graham Greene. But the universality of the emotions upon which Hitchcock plays may derive from a somewhat different personal experience that remains fixed in his memory. “I must have been about four or five years old. My father sent me to the police station with a note. The chief of police read it and locked me in a cell for five or ten minutes, saying, ‘ This is what we do to naughty boys.’ ”
Fear also shows through the clowning of some popular comics, who flail about destructively, pulling down an order which may have no place for them. WILLIAM K. EVERSON in THE ART OF W . C. FIELDS (Bobbs-Merrill, $7.50) argues against an excessively autobiographical interpretation of his subject; and indeed, it is not necessary to link antisocial attitudes to the incidents of childhood. Yet Everson’s careful account reveals the extent to which hostility and fear permeate the comedy of W. C. Fields.
The value of this well-illustrated book lies in its patient reconstruction of Fields’s career. Everson has read widely and has viewed all the surviving films. He writes judiciously and patiently corrects the errors of earlier accounts. He thus provides the material for an understanding of the development of one great American comedian.
Fields’s base was in vaudeville; his films in the 1920s simply transferred to the screen the gags and the tricks the juggler had used on the stage. But his most creative years lay in the next decade, when he himself had passed beyond the age of fifty. He then deepened the role he had already created — the perpetual Eustace McGargle, the amiable charlatan ready to exploit any sucker by reversing the familiar morality of the times. An absurd hatred of babies and dogs, of mothers and bankers, of hard work and sobriety is usually the source of the Fields humor. And that hatred springs from fear; in The Pharmacist and The Bank Dick, a shrewish wife turns the family into an instrument of personal torture, and, more generally throughout the final years of his screen career, Fields is the individual whom society wishes to crush.

Men under stress

MR. THEODORE MUNDSTOCK by LADISLAV FUKS (Orion Press, $4,95) is a brilliant short novel sensitively translated from the Czech by Iris Urwin. Its subject is by now distressingly familiar, the tribulations of Jews in a Europe occupied by the Nazis. But the treatment in this story is far from hackneyed. Here a simple tale, told without sentimentality, illuminates the situation of human beings under stress.
At the start Mundstock, like the other Jews of Prague, is totally disorganized. Brief staccato passages convey his utter sense of bewilderment and also evoke the memories of his former life. The people about him appear in a haze, but dimly perceived by the reader, for Mundstock is himself uncertain of where he stands in relation to them. So long as he harbors messianic delusions or subsists on false hopes, he can bring no order to his life and remains a victim ready for destruction. But from the moment that he surrenders illusion and recognizes his position for what it is, he can begin to cope with it and to organize his existence. A subtle change in the author’s style reflects the growing coherence of the protagonist’s activities. The people and places around Mundstock come into focus. He understands and slowly, painfully, prepares for deportation, which has supplied meaning to his experience.
HAROLD COURLANDER’S THE AFRICAN (Crown, $5.95) also deals with the reactions of a man under stress. This unusual novel is an imaginative reconstruction of slavery. It begins in Dahomey early in the nineteenth century when the boy Hwesuhunu is captured and transported to America. In Georgia, he becomes Wes Hunu, and passes through the hands of a variety of masters before he attempts to escape. In the process he discovers his identity as a man.
Courlander tells his story sympathetically yet without sentimentality. He is strikingly successful in reconstructing the character of Wes Hunu and in tracing the reactions of an African who makes the transition from one culture to another under the harsh conditions of slavery. Fate, for Wes Hunu, ceases to be an implacable and ungovernable external force and becomes an inner imperative that moves him to action.

Man without stress

THE LOST REVOLUTIONARY by RICHARD O’CONNOR and DALE L. WALKER (Harcourt, Brace & World, $6.95) is an enlightening biography of John Reed. Based on competent research and pleasantly written, the book traces the self-discovery of a young man who wandered into a critical moment of history.
Reed was a romantic for whom the very idea of revolution was exciting and meaningful. The youth, who had everything by the time he left Harvard in 1910 — looks, brains, and family connections — yearned for experience, for something real to do. The heady talk of Mabel Dodge’s New York salon, the reading of fragments of socialist literature, and a glimpse of actual class war in the Paterson strike persuaded him to flex his muscles in remaking the world. But there was still a fundamental lack of seriousness in him when he went off to the German front lines as a correspondent and fired a few shots at the French for the fun of it.
He met reality at last in the Petrograd of 1917 and at first found it exhilarating to change the world in ten days. But reality had its revenge in the years that followed as Reed watched the revolution take a course that betrayed the men who made it.