The Peripatetic Reviewer

KISSINGER: Portrait of a Mind by Stephen R. GraubardNorton, $7.95
One bright spot in our political murk has been the accomplishment of Henry Kissinger in his negotiations for peace. This reserved and able man, with his German accent, is an enigma to most Americans unfamiliar with his background, but as Walter Lippmann pointed out, he possesses excellent qualifications: immense stamina, the ability to talk and to listen all night, and a profound education in international affairs. In this “portrait of a mind,” Stephen Graubard appraises Kissinger’s development, gives a careful interpretation of his books, and an analysis, in Kissinger’s words, of our victories and blunders in peacekeeping since 1947.
As a boy of fifteen, Henry Kissinger showed great aptitude in all his studies at a Realschule in Germany, and when his family fled from Hitler, he excelled in the George Washington High School in New York. For a time he worked by day in a downtown Manhattan factory, taking evening courses at City College. The war liberated him from his refuge ghetto: six months in infantry basic training were followed by six months of combat, from which he emerged a staff sergeant in Counter Intelligence, virtually commander of a small town outside Heidelberg. “His Army service,” as Mr. Graubard says, “gave him his citizenship in several senses; it introduced him to a country he would not otherwise have come to know so quickly; it permitted him to see his old country under circumstances that compelled him to be compassionate.” An Army friend urged him to apply to Harvard, where he was accepted in the autumn of 1947 at the age of twenty-four. He first emerged as a critic in the early 1950s when with William Elliott’s help he became the editor of the new journal Confluence, and cofounder of the Harvard International Seminar. To both he invited mature participants from abroad and in both he won the respect of such men as Reinhold Niebuhr, André Malraux, David Riesman, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and McGeorge Bundy. With the backing of the Council on Foreign Relations, he wrote his challenging book Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, in which he rejected the doctrine of “massive retaliation” and the Pentagon’s fixation on the inevitability of “all-out war.” American security, he said, depended on its capacity “to combine physical and psychological factors, to develop weapons systems which do not paralyze our will, and to devise strategies which permit us to shift the risks of counteraction to the other side.” In his books and articles, Kissinger emerged as a formidable critic of American foreign policy under Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. It is difficult to make a novelist at work sound plausible in fiction. In this story there are two of them, drawn to life, and close friends. Arnold Baffin, like the late Hugh Walpole, is a man of irrepressible facility, entertaining, widely read, and superficial, turning out book after book like cookies from a tin; the other is the hero, Bradley Pearson, who wrote a precocious novel, much talked about, when he was twenty-five, and made a second attempt, little noticed, when he was forty, supporting himself meanwhile as an inspector of taxes against the day when he could retire and write the ambitious book of which, despite his waspish temperament, he still believes himself capable. In his early celebrity, it was he who “discovered” Arnold Baffin, and the two men have retained an affection for each other, a critical friendship, since Baffin disdains his friend’s sterility, and Bradley, in self-defense, derides the shallowness of Arnold’s shelfful.
Harvard, like every other university, was then an exciting place crowded with veterans as thirsty for knowledge as Henry Kissinger; it was his good luck to have William Y. Elliott as his tutor, a specialist on international relations and an inspired teacher, who commuted to Washington as consultant to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Elliott gave him heady assignments and was rewarded by Kissinger’s devotion and an honors thesis, a 377-page typescript on “The Meaning of History: Reflections on Spengler, Toynbee and Kant,” the prose labored, the text “passionate, original, and very idiosyncratic.”
When Kissinger made up his mind to become a professor, he chose for his doctoral thesis the Napoleonic era because of its resemblance to our own, and he studied the careers of Metternich and Castlereagh because the peace they devised at Vienna lasted for a century. From his study emerged a fundamental distinction: in a “legitimate” order Kissinger believed that war would be limited and that diplomacy would be an option, whereas in a “revolutionary” order, when a belligerent state was challenging the entire system, diplomacy was excluded.
Mr. Graubard writes as a close friend and with the prejudice of a partisan. There were policy planners, George Kennan for one, who accurately assessed the Soviet intentions, and who resisted the increasing influence of our militant philosophy as the only resource, but Kennan is never mentioned. Kissinger disparaged Dean Acheson while acknowledging that the Marshall Plan, NATO, Point Four, and the decision to intervene in Korea “were major acts of statesmanship.” But he can’t have it both ways. I should say that his criticism was most acute in his analysis of our failures in the Eisenhower-Dulles years. Central in his philosophy is his insistence that “the foreign policy of a state had always to take account of its domestic structure.” One wonders to what extent his negotiations will be affected by this truth in the future.
THE BLACK PRINCE by Iris MurdochViking, $6.95
When he does retire with a modest annuity at fifty-eight, Bradley realizes that he must get out of his rut. As the story opens, he is about to close his London flat and escape to a seaside cottage where he can begin the writing so long deferred. But each time he decides to leave he is thwarted by people who have claims on him. Back from America comes Christian, his divorced wife, whom he once thought a witch, but who now, more elegant and with money, seems intent on making up. To his door comes his sponging, alcoholic brother-in-law, followed by Bradley’s sister, Priscilla, peevish, addled by her unhappy marriage, demanding care. Miss Murdoch is likely to overdo her staging and the interruptions which keep enslaving poor Bradley are so numerous that one begins to smile each time the doorbell rings.
The visitor who really springs him free is, of all people, his friend Arnold’s twenty-year-old daughter, Julian, whom he has known since she was in diapers. She comes to him for help with her classwork on Shakespeare, and in their casual exchange, vulnerable as he is in his fretted state, he falls in love, lies about his age, and hungers for their next meeting. Bradley’s behavior when by love possessed is as brilliant a passage of characterization as his early and envious antagonism of the girl’s father, and the affair leads on to dramatic fury which the novelist, not I, must describe.
The two men are superbly drawn, and when they berate each other, affectionately in the early stages, in anger at the close, the talk crackles. Here is Arnold’s summing up of the fastidious Bradley: “Finish nothing, publish nothing, nourish a continual grudge against the world, and live with an unrealized idea of perfection which makes you feel superior to those who try and fail.” But it is Bradley in his wry way who brings out the more quotable truths and it is he whom we most like in his loneliness. The women are meant to be nuisances, even the poppet Julian, whose affections the reader perceives more clearly than her elderly lover. It is in prison, not in a seaside cottage, that Bradley writes the book he dreamed of, and how he got there is one of Miss Murdoch’s most readable and ingenious stories. Doane was an ambitious but witless officer who contrived to get himself appointed to the command of a party assigned to make a winter exploration by boat of Snake River “from Yellowstone Lake to Columbia River.” This was in 1876, late enough in time so that somebody should have had better sense about both winter weather and navigation of the Snake. Doane’s party, which incidentally included neither scientific instruments nor any sort of trained observers and could not possibly have served any useful purpose, blundered from difficulty to disaster to starvation and back again, surviving by pure luck what Mr. Calkins sums up as “a remarkable journey both in the imbecility that inspired it and the heroism with which it had been accomplished.” In 1933 when Eugene Meyer purchased the Washington Post, it was the weakest of the papers in the capital. In the following two decades, first under the editorial direction of Herbert Elliston and of James Russell Wiggins, and later under the publisher Philip Graham, the Post rose to pre-eminence, the conscience of the capital, and admirably written. One of the reporters most responsible for this transformation was Chalmers M. Roberts, a native of Pittsburgh and a graduate of Amherst College. For four years Roberts covered the Supreme Court, one day a week reading the briefs, another day writing up the decisions, with extra time for the arguments in the major cases. Candor and discretion are two of his strong points, and Justice Frankfurter’s opinion of him went up when “Chal” protested that the Court had no right to dump its opinions on reporters on Monday decision-days and then complain that the press did not do justice to its words.
JACKSON HOLE by Frank CalkinsKnopf, $7.95
After a two-year hitch in the Navy, Frank Calkins became a warden with the state of Utah, and his first book. Rocky Mountain Warden, based on his experiences in the open country he loved, made him a free lance. With his wife he settled down in what is probably the most magnificent terrain in the United States, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, intent on writing about its history, its legends, and the wonder of its wilderness.
He has his own pragmatic method of estimating the reliability of the records about the early exploration. He follows the travelers’ presumed route, with the equipment of the period (very little altered in any case) and a packhorse misnamed Lady, and takes note of the major difficulties encountered. If the old records make no mention of a notably vile ford, or a pass blocked with snow, Calkins concludes that the actual route lay elsewhere. This on-the-spot detective work leads to some amusing reassessments of how and when and by whom Jackson Hole was first visited.
The place seems to have attracted from the start an exceptional number of rogues, rustlers, and mountain men. Calkins spends little time on such well-known figures as Jim Bridger, but a good deal more in resurrecting people like Teton Jackson (for whom the Hole was not named) and Lieutenant Gustavus Cheney Doane.
The book reads like racy talk around the campfire: gossip, bits of irrelevant history, amusing anecdotes, vivid flashes of description, and much experienced advice for potential visitors to Jackson Hole. It covers the proper camping equipment, the remote trails, and how to avoid screaming children and fat men in undershirts. National parks are for people, but in Mr. Calkins’ view a great many people are not for national parks. The photographs are part of the invitation to see for ourselves.
A Journalist’s Journal of Our Times by Chalmers M. Roberts Praeger, $10.00
In the first weeks of the Eisenhower Administration, Roberts was promoted to the diplomatic beat and for nearly a decade was the single staff reporter covering foreign affairs. In this capacity he shone. He soon discovered that Secretary of State Dulles was in the habit of dropping some hard news items at each private session, but when Roberts found that Dulles had totally altered a statement in the transcript of the conference, he complained so hotly that the Secretary accepted the rebuke and thereafter revealed to him details not given to others.
Roberts won the confidence of men as different as Dulles, McGeorge Bundy, RFK, and LBJ; he knew when they were using him as a sounding board, and when his front-page stories occasionally angered them, it usually developed that his independence was justified. He was Dulles’ favorite reporter and he speaks most approvingly of the Eisenhower statecraft (more than I agree with). He feels that President Kennedy was out of his depth, both at the Bay of Pigs and in his unsuccessful confrontation with Khrushchev, and that he did not live long enough to begin the withdrawal from Vietnam which he had half intended. His quotations from Lyndon Johnson are pertinent and amusing, as when Johnson said of Dean Acheson, “I wish he had just once run for sheriff.” I value this book for its clarity, for its off-the-record detail, for its insight, and most of all for the honesty of Roberts’ private judgment.
Melvin Maddocks’ review of the novels of Thomas Pynchon and John Gardner appeared in the March Atlantic.
Richard Todd is an associate editor of this magazine.
Edward Weeks and Phoebe Adams write regularly for these pages.
Kathryn Ungerer (page 41) is a young Vermont poet.
W. H. Auden’s (page 70) most recent book of verse was Epistle to a Godson.