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May 2014

This film comes from Chile and offers an account of the advertizing campaign that unseated the Pinochet dictatorship.


To placate world opinion in 1988 (perhaps in anticipation of the medical care that tyrant might one day need, and mindful of the example of the Shah of Iran in 1977) the dictator of Santiago decided to stage manage a plebiscite.

It was contrived to insure a victory. The proposition was a simple 'Yes' or 'No' to the continuation of the one-man rule of Pinochet.


The graylings of the regime assumed (1) ‘Yes’ could not lose on such an All or Nothing vote and (2) the many opposition parties would never unite but would rather tear themselves apart, confusing and repelling votes by the ever more holy competition among themselves. As additional insurance the campaigning was be limited to two 15 minutes time slots on the television every day. The ‘Yes’ segment to be aired first in prime time. The ‘No’ segment at 11 pm, when honest workers should be asleep. Finally, leaving nothing to chance the voting day and poll hours were chosen to minimize turnout.

As much by accident as design one of the opposition parties hired an advertizing consultant who in time shapes a very simple, very direct, very funny set of television advertizements.

The ad man is reluctant to be hired, the money is laughable, the people are tiresome, it threatens his place in society and the firm to consort with such outsiders. He is threatened and yet, well, his father was exiled, friends from university disappeared, and he feels the pall that hangs over the past, so he took it on after hours.

Then there are the committee meetings. My god, I thought I had endured Dante’s committees, but these surpassed even Mr. Aligheri’s curriculum meetings. They are Olympian in scope, starting at 8 p.m. and going on and on and on, as everyone present airs every grievance they have against the regime with the demand that it be included in every installment of the 15 minute episodes. It is attrition by the self righteous.

There is indeed no agreement among the many opposition groups, several of which depart in moral outrage and make their own episodes, 15 minutes of a very sincere talking head putting any hapless viewer into a trance. Some of the programs seem like televised therapy for the talking head. ‘Now is my chance to tell my story of trial and suffering to indict this despicable regime.’ Others dwell on stern didactic messages documenting the many misdeeds of the past, and there were many, in mind-numbing detail.

The fact that it is all true does not make it either good television or good advertizing.

This is the lesson some of the opposition leaders have to learn and it is an emotionally hard lesson to realize that today’s generation does not much care about the dark deeds of the past. [Pause and consider how much Reader you really care about the dark deeds done in the 1950s and 1960s to aboriginals by people who are still alive and to whom you politely yield your seat on the bus.]

The final indignity to those who had so long risked life and limb to resist the Pinochet dictatorship and its willing thugs was the advertizing jiggle, calculated to catch on! What they wanted was a stirring anthem, what they got was a 30 second lilt!

By the way, the No vote was 55% and the Yes 45% in a 97.5% turnout! Having invited the world media to witness the affirmation of the Pinochet regime, the outcome could not be concealed, but instead led to constitutional revisions that in time eventuated in a reformed regime. (Stan Freberg always said advertising worked, and he was right!)

I am not quite sure what conclusion to draw. Are voters so fickle that a catchy tune sways them? Is voting just another product?

Or, are people motivated more by the future, which was the focus of the episodes? Are viewers more receptive to a message delivered with wit and good humour than one presented in self-righteous hellfire and brimstone?

What I got out of it can be summed up in this way, ‘It is not about me.’ That was the mistake so many of those oppositionists made, too much about me, my suffering, my tears, my journey, my commitment, my sincerity, my trials. Just another kind of self-centred self-absorption that is rife everywhere.

By the way those committee meetings are still going on. The Wikipedia entry for the film and the IMDB page are replete with combatants still claiming that everyone else was wrong!

A sports documentary like no other!

The film tracks eight (8) players making their way to the World Table Tennis championships.

That sounds conventional and boring. NOT!

These athletes, both women and men, are each 80 or older, well Dot of Australia owns up to 100. The Germans Inge and Ursula are in their 90s, Inge having found that her ping-pong training seems to stave off dementia. Rune from Norway jogs to keep fit at 85. Sun from Mongolia is not sure whether he is 82 or 83, the papers having been burned long ago by the invaders, either Chinese, Japanese, or Russian. Who can say?

Ping Pong.jpg

Les has been devoted to body building since he left the RAF and never misses a chance for press ups, or cleaning and jerking twice his own weight! Terry has been repeatedly told he has only a week to live for the past two championships, but there he is, at the bell with paddle in hand.

Then there is that self-described reverse Marshall Plan, the wise-cracking Viennese from Texas Lisa (85) who wants to be first and best at everything! She may have only 1/8th of the camera time but she steals the show and wins the women’s final in a walk. Terry feels a failure when he finishes second, but looks forward to next year, just to prove those doctors wrong.

Les, in between reps in the gym, composes poems about life, nature, and people. Sun decides he has to change his training to compete. Lisa searches for a spot on the mantle to display her latest triumph.

What a crew!

The military career of Douglas MacArthur spanned bows and arrows at the start and finished with thermonuclear weapons. He lived in a fort in the Southwestern United States with his soldier father when Apaches attacked with bows and arrows and left the army in the atomic age.

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Most of the things this know-it-all thought he knew about Douglas MacArthur turn out to be false, the product of unscrupulous journalism, red-baiting politicians, or dithering Secretaries of State re-writing history.  

1. He did not exceed his mandate Korea.
2. He did not propose nuking China or anyone else while in Korea.
3. He did not provoke Chinese entry into the Korean War.
4. He did not defy civilian authority during that war or before.
5. He did not cower in fear from combat in World War II as in the disparaging phrase 'Dugout Doug.'
6. He did not abuse his role in post war Japan to please himself. 
7. He did not underestimate the Japanese before, during, or after World War II.
8. He did not indulge in personal luxuries in Manila before the Japanese invasion.
9. He did not indulge in personal luxuries in Manila upon his return.
The list could go on.

How did he get so vilified?  Two major reason emerge.
First, in the politically charged environment of Washington D. C. he never did not fit any the conventional moulds, so he was denigrated at times by conservative Republicans, liberal Democrats, and all stations between with their obliging hacks in the press. At other times one or another of these combatants embraced him and that riled the others even more.

Second, he was aloof in person and did not court any journalist.  With personal shyness, lifelong paranoia, and a propensity to magniloquence on many occasions he made an easy target for those seeking a cheap shot. (I always think of Bill Bryson when I think of taking cheap shots which just shows that it works because he has made a career out of it.) MacArthur was always good for copy.

Perhaps more important than those two points is the fact that there was the studied reluctance in his superiors to give him clear, concise, and unequivocal orders in crises.  That master of multiple meanings President Franklin Roosevelt was the Grand Vizer of ambiguity during the siege of Bataan, allowing MacArthur to infer from his radio messages that support and relief were on the way when none was contemplated, let alone on the way.  MacArthur passed these reassurances on to his embattled army and the desperate Filipinos. Accordingly he felt betrayed when no help came and that he had been tricked into betraying the trust of his command and the Filipino people. In this context it made sense for him to say ‘I shall return’ because it was a personal pledge since he no longer trusted Washington D. C. and neither did anyone else in the Philippines at the time.

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It is a similar story in Korea but with a larger cast and with even more at stake in the age of atomic bombs. President Harry Truman, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Omar Bradley, and Secretary of Defense George Marshall all individually communicated directly with MacArthur, as well as in combinations. Then there was the United Nations, and the twenty-three (23) allies to consider. The energetic Secretary of State was capable of sending twelve (12) signals in a single day.  Moreover, each correspondent chopped and changed from one day to the next.  And each of them was conscious of the impending judgement of history and so at times wrote for that future audience as much, perhaps more so, than for MacArthur, who also was aware of posterity and replied in kind.

KW memorial DC-2.jpg The most haunting memorial in that city of memorials, Washington, D. C.

On occasion their communications were phrased as orders, at other times as suggestions.  Some communiques were laid out as alternatives, implicitly leaving the choice to MacArthur and when he chose he was then castigated for the choice. Often the messages were short, so short that the point was not always clear.  Others were long-winded and contradictory.  He asked once for a clarification of a short message and got back sixteen pages (16), written by a committee (the Joint Chiefs), which lent itself to any number of interpretations.

To return to that list of points above.

1. His mandate from the United Nations originally charged him to ‘unify Korea.’  He had had explicit instructions to drive 'the enemy' out of Korea from Truman.  When it seemed he was about to succeed in those aims, the ambiguity went into overdrive because China stirred.  One confusing, contradictory message after another came from his many Washington superiors who would urge him to do ‘anything necessary’ but ‘do not take any risks.’  Doing what was necessary had inherent risks. It was like walking a zig-zagging tight rope in the wind. Yes, Washington D.C. did change that mission but did not want to broadcast it so it was phrased obliquely. But MacArthur was never a man to take the hint. Once engaged he fought to win.

2. In desperation in 1951 he did propose using radioactive nuclear waste as a barrier to stop border crossing by Chinese armies. Crazy, to be sure and immediately rejected with clarity for once but he did not propose nuking Red China as routinely claimed since.

3. We now know that the Soviets and Chinese had planned the incursion long in advance. To organise and equip such a force took months of preparation. MacArthur's provocation was to defeat the North Koreans comprehensively which was the mission at the time.

4. Whenever he had orders he could understand, he obeyed even if he protested and sometimes told the press so, which he should not have done, very annoying to Washington but not a fatal offense.  The exception is Roosevelt's order to him to leave Corregidor, abandoning the 20,000 Americans and 80,000 Filipinos of his army.  He stalled, he temporized, he proposed alternatives, he pressed for reinforcements and supplies, he asked about evacuating the entire force, etc.  The third time he was ordered to leave the message said a great relief force aimed at the Philippines awaited him in Australia.  He took the bait only to find 300 American soldiers in Australia!  

5. 'Dugout Doug' exposed himself to enemy fire repeatedly.  In Korea on day four before he was assigned command he went to the front lines for an inspection. To see he stood erect with binoculars amid the huddled ROK soldiers who were reeling from one crushing defeat after another. In the South Pacific he joined patrols more than once risking his life and those of his aides and he watched kamikaze planes attack the ship he stood upon.  In World War I he, a general, was awarded five (5) Silver Stars for personal and conspicuous bravery.  What more could he have done but be killed. (By the way Manchester quotes more than one armchair psychologist who sees in MacArthur’s cavalier disregard for his personal safety a shade of Thanatos. The only way to live up to his father’s standard, they speculate, would be to be killed in battle.)

6. He was indeed a Caesar, an autocrat, who ensured that Japanese women got the vote, and every women who won an elected office while he was there got a letter from him with congratulations. This is one of his many enlightened measures of which we never hear. He redistributed land in Japan far quicker and more decisively than Mao ever did in China. He brought in John L. Lewis to create trade unions. Free public education came next. None of these measures represented the administration in Washington; it was his program.

7. Prior to Pearl Harbor, he asked for air power for Manila in anticipation of a Japanese attack.  He also re-organized his command in anticipation. In battle he was cautious and careful. During his time in Tokyo he assumed the best of the Japanese. The effort to conciliate Japan, Manchester attributes to MacArthur personally, not the State Department, not the President.

8. and 9. He did use furnishings and trappings to impress others, but he had no interest in creature comforts  of any kind, still less personal luxuries. He did not drink alcohol though he often held a glass at receptions he did not drink from it. Though he would deny nothing to his wife,

Jean MacArthur.jpg
Jean, but she asked little.  They both spoiled their son without stint.

It is also true that the frustrations of the restraint, vacillating orders, massive Chinese manpower, decaying ROK army, half-hearted allies, and unremittng Eurocentrism produced outbursts from him in 1951, and then he started making wild proposals, too often public, for bombing Manchuria, for transporting Chiang Kai-Shek back to the mainland, for blockading Russian ports in Asia... Over the edge, indeed. (Mind you he was 71 years old at the time.) Truman bit the bullet and relieved him of command in a way, unfortunately, calculated to be insulting and demeaning. But MacArthur remained so calm, dignified, and unchanged that his humiliation was invisible to everyone, except Jean who knew the man as no one else ever did.

MacArthur was now much more free to speak, and he spoke. Though he did not attack the Truman Administration head-on when invited to do so at a Senate hearing. He did refer to conspiracies, which good hearted liberals then and since dismissed as delusions....until the Moscow archives were read to show that virtually his every Korean message to and reply from Washington D.C. was transmitted verbatim to Moscow and onto Peking thanks to Messers McLean, Burgess, and Philby. If MacArthur’s tactics were less successful in 1951 than in 1950 or earlier it was partly because the Chinese and North Koreans knew what was coming. There are people who still praise in my hearing Kim Philby and his associates. There is no doubt that this intelligence led to many, many deaths that might otherwise not have occurred in the Korean War, and at the highest level it allowed the Chinese to out-wait the United States because they knew how divided, confused, and paralyzed Washington D.C. was.

But then he did become in 1952 what he had despised in others, a general who did not know when to shut up. He travelled the length and breadth of the United States and said, dressed in full uniform ranks of medals agleam, all manner of things to anyone who would listen. He became ever more inconsistent, volatile, intemperate, illogical, and shrill. He craved audiences and loved the applause and grew ever more extreme to get the former and to bask the latter, becoming briefly an incandescent Cold Warrior. Soon enough he destroyed his own credibility, but not before ensuring that Truman would not be re-elected. Indeed this last act of MacArthur’s life is pathos - his thirst for adulation led him to say anything to get the applause. He advocated bigger and more weapons, a swollen standing army, while cutting all taxes to the bone. But no more crazy than any Tea Party Republican today.

The conflict over command between MacArthur and Truman has a parallel in that between Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan, though Truman was no Lincoln, but then McClellan was no MacArthur. The giants in this quadrangle are MacArthur and Lincoln.

There were moments in the 1952 Republican convention when his name was bruited and then faded quickly but, much to MacArthur’s chagrin, Eisenhower was the people’s choice then and later. While MacArthur did not actively undermine Eisenhower, he disregarded him.

It is also true that MacArthur was an egomaniac, thinking most of the world revolved around him. Any hesitation, any demure, any criticism was taken personally and never forgotten. He was driven to live up to the Olympic grandeur of his father (as told to him by his widowed mother) all of his life. Perhaps that also explains the battlefield risk-taking. That comparison may also explain his eloquence for his father was a prolix autodidact.

MacArthur did not have the common touch of Dwight Eisenhower nor the love of the warrior that George Patton had, nor the humility of Omar Bradley, nor the modesty of Joe Stilwell. He was awkward in social settings, shy and reserved which made him seem icy.  He did not visit hospitals to speak to his wounded like Eisenhower. He did not cry on the battlefield at the deaths of his men, as Patton did.  He did not carry a rifle like Omar Bradley.  He did not speak of 'we' when referring to his army as Joe Stilwell did, but always 'I.'

He restored the corrupt Filipino oligarchy in Manila at the end of the war, absent any of the reforming zeal that he showed in Japan. Most of these oligarchs had been happy collaborators with the Japanese who abused their fellow citizens. There was no land reform, no vote for women, no organized labor introduced by MacArthur here.

He saw to it that Japanese Generals Masaharu Homma and Tomoyuki Yamashita were convicted and executed when their crime was to have fought MacArthur to a standstill.

The book is superb, representing years of research, facts have been tripled-checked and cross referenced. It pulls no punches about MacArthur's many failures and faults. Failures and faults that seem intrinsic to the man who was Caesar out of time. Yet it also leaves the impression that he was a giant. In reading this book at times I thought of him as Achilles, mercurial, audacious, preternatural, sulking, personally loyal, and altogether difficult to deal with. MacArthur had no Patrocalous to act as a trusted buffer. He had subordinates but he, unlike, Achilles recognized no equal.

It is also superbly well written, finely judged, subtle, insightful, penetrating. The highest praise I can give it is that it stands on the same level as Robert Caro’s monumental studies of the years of Lyndon Johnson.  

A fabulous book about a titan. It will take two entries to review the basics. This is part 1.

It is all there in the title, and I do not mean that word ‘Caesar.’ What I do mean is that it includes neither the definite article ‘the,’ nor the indefinite ‘an.’ MacArthur is beyond those mundane grammatical considerations: one of kind, sui generis. A giant and a midget in one. Astounding achievements combined with a pettiness that seems out of character but was not. He was all one package.

Manchester MacArthur.jpg

He was widely maligned after the Korean War, and had a lot of buckets dumped on him earlier in World War II. He brought much of this criticism on himself by his unending paranoia that everyone in Washington was out to get him, by his colossal ego in which he was always trying to live up to his father’s mythical reputation, by his absolute determination to see through whatever he put his hand to despite changing circumstances, by his use of moral arguments rather than military one to justify his strategies and tactics though these were genius, by his unsocial nature through which he preserved his mystique but held most people at a distance, by his completely one-eyed devotion to and utter dependence on his wife Jean. He was a hard man to like.

Yet, as William Manchester shows MacArthur was born to the sword though he never carried a weapon yet he was in battle time and after time. He led, he directed, he observed, but he did not pull a trigger. The exception is in Manila when Tokyo Rose
in 1941 broadcasted that Japanese squads were descending on the city to capture him and his family to deliver them to torture, ignominy, and execution. The aim of the broadcast was to frighten MacArthur and thus to show to Filipinos that not even their Field Marshall was safe.

Then he pocketed a revolver with three bullets, giving the rest of the bullets back to the ordinance officer to put to other uses. A typical beau geste from a man who made so many grand gestures that they became irritating. (Reader, tax that brain, figure out why only three bullets were necessary.)


He went over the top in World War I with riding crop in hand wearing the star of a general on his shoulders without either a helmet or a gas mask, he led patrols into No Man’s Land in the night, he stood in trenches attacked by Germans... Those exploits won him five Silver Stars for valor, each well deserved. But his theatrics drove Jack Pershing mad. No division commander should go on a patrol, go over the top, or even be in a front line trench, let alone one under attack.

When carpeted by Pershing and threatened with censure, MacArthur -- clearly thinking of Douglas Haig who had never seen a trench, Joseph Joffre who bragged of not have heard a rifle shot, but not mentioning these Allied generals -- said he wanted to see what it was like for himself and also it heartened the men to see a general sharing their risks and hardships. Pershing took that as an implicit criticism of himself and ordered him removed from command, Pershing forever joining the mental Enemies List MacArthur carried around for his whole life. As happened repeatedly MacArthur had arranged for his exploits to be publicized to acclaim in France, England, and the United States, and Pershing could not then censor a hero.

It gets worse because Pershing had commanded George Marshall to prepare the order for removal, which he did, and that entered Marshall’s name, too, on MacArthur’s Enemies List. Once on that list, there was no remission.

The occasions in World War II when MacArthur was shot at, bombed, strafed, sniped at, are all too numerous to mention. He exposed himself to enemy fire time after time, in a garrison hat with the stars of command visible. He was on the point with an Australian patrol in Borneo when the two officers with him were killed by enemy fire. An Australian captain pushed him down and screamed at him to leave. Chastened, he did. More Silver Stars came. He had a child-like delight in medals and awards throughout his life. Each one was precious to him. If the Sultan of Obscuria proposed giving him a medal, he wanted to have it. Yet he seldom wore them.

Leaving aside the details, which William Manchester assembles and presents in a compelling prose (without recourse to the adolescent present tense), the best testament to MacArthur’s military genius comes from Japanese war records. They show that they found him unpredictable, deceptive, cautious and bold, and never where they could hit him. In 1942 they thought he would give battle on the plain north of Manila, instead he withdrew into the Bataan peninsula with his forces intact in a move the Japanese described as brilliant. The Japanese had not expected that and were neither supplied nor organized for a siege.

The tunnel was the headquarters on Corrigedor, the island off the Bataan peninsula.

In 1944 he sewed confusion among the Japanese in the Southwest Pacific leap-frogging over their strong points (Rabaul, Wewak) and cutting them off.

Manchester shows that his casualty rate and use of supplies set against destruction of the enemy (Japanese soldiers incapacitated, area taken, time taken) was about ten times, yes 10 times, better than that of Dwight Eisenhower in the European Theatre of Operations, and 20 times better that Admiral Chester Nimitz (he of Saipan, Tarawa) in the North Pacific. The priority of Europe meant supplies were lavished on Eishenhower's command, while Nimitz hit objectives head-on, signaling long in advance his next target - no subtlety there.

MacArthur would not have attacked a stupendous fortification like Saipan or a deathtrap like Tarawa but would have bombed and shelled each in a demonstration, and then leap-frogged over each to the next weakest island to cut their communication and supply. He would then have left them quarantined and boxed in. He put out of the war a dug-in Japanese army on Rabaul of 120,000 front line troops shipped there especially to give him battle by taking two barely defended islands north of it with the loss of some hundreds of casualties. Nimitz had 27,000 dead marines to take Saipan with its 80,000 defenders. The Japanese on Rabaul stayed there on ever decreasing rations until the Emperor told them to lay down their arms in 1945, so there was never a dramatic American flag raising on it like Iwo Jima, but then there was no comparable butcher’s bill.

On the offensive his many victories were often so quick and, in contrast to the gruesome backdrop of Tarawa or Saipan, so bloodless that they were even not reported back home, and did not enter the annuals as the great strokes they were. In fact, in the Philippines in 1944 he was criticized for moving too slowly by maneuver and not by head-on assault with the overwhelming fire power at his command. His response was public and clear, and as always in the first person: ‘I will take any objective I can by maneuver and feint to preserve every life I can, and I am sure that mothers, wives, sisters, fathers at home want it that way.’ We can be pretty sure the Grunts agreed. But for him to call a press conference and answer criticisms in this way was JUST NOT DONE! But that was the MacArthur way, his way.

Like Napoleon at Waterloo, Lee at Gettysburg, or Haig anytime, MacArthur blundered. There are many recorded instances of very successful generals in the midst of a crisis lapsing into nearly a waking coma. Napoleon at Waterloo stood silent for hours, not replying, seeming not to hear the reports and requests of subordinates, which grew more and more urgent. Lee at Gettysburg seems to have entered a trance after he gave the order for Pickett’s Charge early in the morning and stayed that way for the rest of the day, even though it was clear things were going wrong even before Pickett’s men moved into position to carry out the order. Who can wonder at it?

The pressure, the burden these generals had borne for so long, the momentous events before them, the responsibility of the blood, these would crush most of us.

MacArthur had such moments, too. During the New Guinea Campaign, he had tried everything to avoid a direct assault with aerial bombardments, naval attacks, feints around the island, commando raids, and none had sufficed. Time demanded action before the Japanese could be reinforced. The result was the Kokoda Trail. No Australian needs to be told about this battle (though the spellchecker does not know it) in which nature took five (5) soldiers for everyone lost in action. While it raged in conditions straight out of Dante’s Hell, MacArthur had such a comatose period when he seems to have tuned out, sitting at his desk at times like an effigy of himself, silent, motionless. He was impervious to the explanations of General Robert Eichelberger about those conditions; he never stirred himself to examine the ground; he barely spoke to the Australian General Thomas Blamey whose troops did the foul work; he seems almost to have been in denial that it was happening. For MacArthur to sit quietly for hours on end was extraordinary because he was usually a restless pacer, either on his own, thinking, or with a retinue of subordinates. In fact his office space was chosen to allow him to pace, as was his accommodation. For him to be sympathetic and attentive would have made no difference whatsoever to the ordeal that had to be endured, but it would have been human.

This is the first of two parts.

I read this book in my Presidents Reading on the grounds that MacArthur, like Eisenhower after him, had many supporters who pushed him as a candidate, first in 1944 and again in 1952 after President Harry Truman dismissed him.

Showcase for IVth Honours Research

The fifth annual presentation of undergraduate student research in the Honours from the Department of Government and International Relations took place on Tuesday 13 May at Parliament House. The presentations were punctuated by two question times. A reception with light refreshments and finger food followed the formalities.

The five panelists were Dominic Jarkey, Christine Gallagher, Luke Craven , Aishwarrya Balaji, and Charles Cull. The proceedings were chaired by Cindy Chen herself a panelist in 2013.

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Aishwarrya BALAJI, Charles CULL, Dominic JARKEY, Cindy CHEN, Luke CRAVEN, and Christine GALLAGHER

There were more than 160 registrations for the event. Those present included parliamentarians, solicitors, journalists, researchers, economists, public servants, sponsors of prizes in the study of Government and International Relations, other who have hosted interns or collaborated on research projects, members of the Department, and current IVth Honours students, and other alumni.

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Volunteers from the Politics Society staffed the welcome desk, ushered, and managed the floor microphones.

More photographs will be posted in due course.

Congratulations to one and all.

Jacques Barzun is a great scholar.  His essays are powerful microscopes that zero in on important topics. His 'The Modern Researcher' is not only a useful reference, but also a pleasure to read. He must have published thirty books and edited as many more. Among them is 'A Catalogue of Crime' with Wendall H. Taylor (1989) (Rev. ed).

Jacques Barzun

At a time when Edmund Wilson, he of the 'Finland Station,' and Robert Graves, who said 'Goodbye to all that,' deprecated mystery and crime fiction as 'degrading to the intellect,' Barzun took his stand, and what a stand it is. The 'Catalogue' is just that, thousands of thumbnail sketches of crime novels. Some examples follow below.

In the introduction Barzun maps out the country in his pellucid prose, the purpose being to guide other aficionados like himself through the forests of mediocrity to the mighty oaks within.  It is a catalogue raisonné which I have used for years but over time it disappeared behind the silt of newer titles on the double-ranked bookshelves, recently rediscovered in my campaign to catalogue all my books, a long, slow process that yields, as on this occasion, pleasures anew.

When it came to hand unexpectedly, I paused to re-read that introduction. Against the likes of Wilson and Graves, Barzun sets Dr Johnson who wrote lovingly, in another context, of 'the art of murdering without pain' which is the starting point for Barzun's tour of the trails and vistas of krimie literature.  He turns to that philosopher and mystic R. G. Collingwood who opined that 'the hero of a detective novel Is thinking exactly like a historian when, from indications of the most varied kind, he constructs an imaginary picture of how the crime was committed and by whom' in his 'The Idea of History' (1946), a largely unintelligible work. Thus do intellectuals justify their human weakness.  That Marxist titan Ernst Bloch had a far more basic explanation: it is fun and satisfying to see villains get it, since in real-life they so seldom do. That is the gist; it took three weighty volumes for Bloch to grind that message out through the mill stones of Marxist clichés.

Barzun spends many words distinguishing the crime novel from thrillers and other interlopers in the scared grove, including some rather doubtful remarks about chick crim lit (p xiv).  Umberto Eco's 'In the Name of the Rose' is likewise banished from the inner sanctum by definition (p xv). Lines have to be drawn and these will do as well as any, but I did not find the explanations enlightening or interesting enough to summarize.  Suffice it to say that Barzun is right at the core with Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ross Macdonald, Margaret Millar, and so goes the honour roll. He tosses off shafts of insight along the way, Chandler and Macdonald only make sense in a highly mobile (geographic and social) society where people do not know each other, and Christie and her ilk make sense in the Little England of Burkean communities of past, present, and future. 

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Barzun strives with his many powers of persuasion to argue that a great writer cannot write a krimie, for in their works crime and punishment are but plot devices to reveal character. When great writers put this noble purpose aside to write a krimie the result is left-handed at best, citing the unarguable example of William Faulkner's 'Knight's Gambit' which is a poor thing indeed compared to ‘Absalom, Absalom!’ but then so is most of 20th Century literature when set against this marvel. (Barzun thus implies that the krimie is destined always to be a second-class book no less that Wilson or Graves, it seems.)

The flood of mystery book titles that Barzun saw in the 1980s is today a tsunami with subcategories galore and specialities undreamt of in his time.  Added to that is the profusion of translated works from Europe, not just those Nordic tales of angst, and the once-red world of Russia and China, along with every corner of the globe from Africa to Zagreb.  There is so much from which to choose that readers like writers may now specialise.  I, for one, prefer continuing characters whom I get to know, like Philip Marlow, Mary Russell, Lew Archer, Jane Marple, or Jules Maigret, and always, Sherlock Holmes.

As a reader, I have also become merciless at casting aside books, no matter how well received, that do not win my attention.  Why press on when it becomes a duty and not a pleasure?  Under that flag I have surrendered to the depths Nicholas Freeling's 'Van der Valk' novels, despite my affection for the eponymous television series and for Amsterdam itself.  I have also dismissed Jan Wilhem Van Vetering's endless efforts to be different as boringly adolescent.  For a taste of Netherlands vice give me A. C. Baantjjer with the redoubtable Inspector de Kok.

I reproduce here Jacques Barzun’s 'Taxonomy of the Phylum Detective (Mystery) Literature.' The opening essays offers an exegesis of this taxonomy. In cutting and pasting it, I lost the formatting of numbers.

I. Genus ‘Detection’
A. Species
Short (1845)
Very Long (1860)
Long (1912)
medium Long (1940)
Short short (1925)

Police routine
Acroidal [?]

C. Habitat
Limited (train, ship, castle, etc.)
Big City
Open country (moor preferred)
Exotic (Nile River, Suva)
Underworld (Los Angeles)
Institutional (hospital, school. convent, etc.)

D. Temper
Humorous (farcical)
Historical (real crime reconstructed)
Amateur (boy-and-girl team, et al.)
Ineffectual (drunk, fool, boor detective)
Private eye (decent or deplorable)
Official (and a Yard wide)

II. Genus ‘Mystery’
A. Species
Social (cult, blackmail, conspiracy, etc.)
Private (revenge, triangle, etc.)
Stabilized (‘suspense,’ Gothic, Rebecca, etc.)
Aggravated (HIBK, EIRF) [?]
Ghosts (sin punished)
Pagan (elemental forces)
Witchcraft , orgies (always nameless)

B. Varieties
Chase (paper, necklace, girl)
Napoleon of crime (Shakespeare manuscript, the Drupe Diamond, white power bitter to taste and such)
Mysterious East (idol’s left eye, curse of SingSingLong)
Domestic (poison pen, poison swig)
Commercial (stolen formula, child, white slave, black slave)
International (new math: 007, MI5, ect.)

But the best use of the book is leafing through it, reading the tart comments on obscure works relieves me of the need to do more, reading encomiums on old friends like Georges Simenon reminds me of pleasures past, and references to hitherto unknown titles of merit promise pleasures future.  Here are a few specimens to give a foretaste.

'Raymond Chandler, The Lady in the Lake (1943)
The exposition of situation and character is done with remarkable pace and skill, even for this master. A superb tale that moves through a maze of puzzles and disclosures to its perfect conclusion. This is Chandler’s masterpiece.'
chandler lady.jpg

'Alan Hunter (James Herbert), 'Too Good to be True' (1969)
A suitable title for this tale, which has a little suspense but in which the detection is pathetic, consisting of as it does in waiting for the appearance of the accused man’s half-brother. the trial collapses as does the tale.'

'William McGivens, 'Night of the Juggler' (1975)
Formerly a writer of good police procedurals in the terse style, McGivens has fallen under the spell of the new fad for excessive detail. The killer rapes and tortures young girls, always on a fixed date and for insufficient reasons. Go if you must on the case after the man and girl through the wilds of upper Central Park.'

'Ngaio Marsh, 'When in Rome' (1971)
The flame still burns steady and strong. The writing is elegant and Det. Supt. Alleyn is impressive as he works with the Roman police in a case of double murder set in an ancient basilica. Blackmail is neatly interwoven with the the activities of a delux tourist agency. The participants in one of these excursions form the group of skillfully depicted suspects, including a remarkable brother-and-sister pair.'

marsh rome.jpg

'Margot Neville (Margot Goyder), 'Drop dead' (1962)
Laid in Australia, written with something too much of female softness, but not disagreeable; composition choppy, characters and love relations perfunctory. Withal suspense in maintained and the part of official detectives are good.'

There are 5,000 entries in the book like these. Read on.


The versatile novelist Ron Hansen strikes again.  One change of pace after another from his 'Mariette in Ectasy' (1992) to 'Isn't it Romantic' (2004), the first a study religious devotion in a turn of the century convent and the second a contemporary screwball comedy and this, an examination of the BEAST seen through the eyes of one of his very few relatives, a niece, the daughter of his half-sister.  

Hansen Hitlers niece.jpg

It concentrates on the period between late 1919 and early 1930 and is based on biographical details spun by the novelist's creative imagination into a tale of obsession, confusion, and demonic egotism.  Hitler is almost human on occasion, but often playing a role to elicit the response he wanted from individuals at this early stage of his career: Pandering to some, bullying others, reasoning with a few, briefly avuncular.

I have never read anything about or by this the most famous man of the twentieth century, Adolph Hitler, so it was all new to me. The messianic self-confidence from the early 1920s that he WAS Germany (‘Du bist Deutschland,’ as Rudolph Hess always said), punctuated by lapses into exhaustion and doubt (human weakness) followed by a resurgence of manical energy charged with certainty.

The fulcrum of the novel is the niece Angela 'Geli' Raubal's seduction by his aura, the prestige, and material wealth he increasing commanded with his periodic moods of sexual attraction to her and then revulsion from her.  She became a canary in a gilded cage.  Spoiled and then abused by turns, and at crucial moments lacking the will to break away when that might still have been possible. 


This tension opens a window on Hitler, the man, through these crucial years.  Hitler had at the start an iron self-control in public, and volcanic temper tantrums in private, but as his successes piled up, the line between public and private decayed for he discovered that he could get away with anything in public and still be hailed a genius.  The temper tantrums were unleashed in his tirades.

Hansen gives us Rudolph Hess, Jospeh Göbbles, Hermann Göring, and others, all mesmerised by Hitler's charismatic personality.  'Charisma' is a tried and trite word these days, and I try never to use it, yet there is no doubt it applied here.  Hess and the others simply melt in Hitler's presence, losing their wills and personalities.

The same applies to the thousands in the audiences of his harangues, though at a greater distance, they too are also compelled, lifted out of themselves by his exhortations.  Hansen shows all of this, disgusting as it is, to be genuine, authentic.  There is no cynical or instrumental calculation to explain their adherence, obedience, and the ensuing terrible deeds.  

Long before he became Chancellor this man Hitler had a power over people that was tangible though invisible.  There is the mystery at the core that continues to fascinate. After the explanations of time and circumstances are exhausted there is still that element left that defies conventional, rational explanation.

Yes, there were aristocrats, financiers, and industrial barons who thought they could manipulate this rabble rouser to combat the menace of communism, and then discard him, but they, too, as they drew nearer to him soon enough submitted to his will.  Scenes in which Hitler seems almost deliberately to turn on his magnetic gaze -- think Superman engaging his X-Ray vision -- and bring to heel a millionaire, a full general, an heiress, a professor, a titan of industry, each his intellectual, organisational, or social superior yet all bowing down to this corporal without an education, with a grating Austrian accent, with a crude manner, spouting vitriol is .... astounding.  There can be no other explanation but that word 'charisma.' The novel is a case study of that C Factor. ('Charisma,' for those who have not been paying attention.)

In David Fraser's 'Knight's Cross: the Life of Erwin Rommel' (1994, p. 433) there is an occasion when the war in July 1943 is going badly and Rommel, who had doubts about its conduct which as a good soldier he stifled, is scheduled to go to Berlin. This trip he welcomes because, he said, he would warm himself by the Füher's radiance and gain re-newed confidence.  It is a wistful, school-boy-with-a-crush kind of remark made by a decent, mature man who knew better and yet even he could not help himself.  Rommel, like so many others, near or far, was hopelessly and helplessly in love with one Adolph Hitler.

There are many memorable scenes and events.  Perhaps the best, for this reader, is the description of one of Hitler's early speeches in an beer hall with an unruly crowd. Hitler is tight as a spring beforehand, nervous, angry, best avoided. He takes ten pages to the rostrum microphone in the hall, while the noisy crowd continues to drink beer and talk. ( We later learn that on each page is a bullet point in 10-15 words or so as a cue.) He begins…(after a few minutes the beer drinkers grow silent). The tirade mounts… (the beer drinkers lean forward to hang on every word). He continues … (the beer drinkers shout approval and applaud and he waves his hand and they fall silent like puppets on a string, this long before anyone even knew his name). HIs sermon becomes ever more explicit about what the problem is, what is to be done about it, concluding that Hitler alone sees the problem clearly and is willing to act on it with the merciless violence necessary to destroy the evils within Germany.

One crowd awaiting its master's voice

He rants for more than two hours. The reaction is spontaneous and tumultuous. The beer drinkers rush to sign up for the Nazi Party. This is early in his career, there is nothing coerced about the response as would be the case later. He has jolted a nerve shared by members of this crowd - the western nations are eating Germany and Germans alive through their despicable agents the Jews, Jews and Communist are one and the same, wicked oriental cannibals, and the crowd's response is galvanic. BANG! The poor, the uneducated, the impoverished veterans, dispossessed craftsmen, angry layabouts, the day labourers, the unemployed, the ignorant, these are the meek and they are being disinherited of their earth. For these, his is the voice. Hear it! Heed it! Obey it! (Christopher Isherwood says in this 'Berlin Stories' [1945] he went to a Nazi rally in 1938 and heard Hitler speak. Amid the shouting and frenzy he heard a familiar voice and turned to spot the speaker, only to realize it was he himself shouting his approval, even though he did not approve.)

After his speech Hitler is whisked away to a car out of sight. Sprawled on the back seat, he is drenched in sweat, reeking of vile emanations, exhausted, pale, his gaze unfocussed, twitching in throes, his clothes in disarray as if he clawed at himself. This description reminded me of Biblical accounts of John the Baptist channeling God’s will. It nearly killed John, but do it he must. Hitler, also, seems to be a messenger for something larger than himself. The agitator is himself agitated, as Harold Lasswell said all those years ago in 'Psychopathology and Politics' (1930).

Many were resistent to Hitler's appeal like Geli herself who laughed in his face more than once.

Surprising to this reader was the cunning with which at times Hitler carefully tailored his message in the 1930 election so as not frighten voters.  I had not credited him with that kind of calculation. But by that time, like the racism that infests contemporary American politics, it was so well embedded that it need not be said for it was communicated by signs and whispers. The red star of communism was also the Star of David. To attack communism was implicitly to attack Jews even if they were not mentioned.  

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Ron Hansen

False notes, there are a few. The most striking to me was the way Emile at the end seemed not to be bothered by Geli's death.  

Minor missteps? I wondered about the reference to a crossword puzzle in 1927 when the first crossword appeared in the ‘London Times’ in 1930, and the crossword being an Anglo-American invention it would have taken time to migrate to Germany. There is also a reference to a zinfandel-coloured carpet. I stopped at this, because the zinfandel grape skin is black and the use of it as a wine grape is American. (Yes, I know it has a long history and has been used in Croatia for centuries as a blender, but I doubt a German in 1927 would reach that far for a colour.) I also found jarring the reference to Kaiser rolls and Ferragamo shoes. The Kaiser roll is Austrian and may be named for a baker, not The Kaiser, and more generally called Vienna rolls. Salvatore Ferragamo started making shoes in Florence in 1927 and went bust in 1933, to be reopened in the 1950s, leaving me unsure that Geli could buy such shoes in a shop in Munich in 1930.

One contrast to Hitler of these pages is his contemporary Charles De Gaulle who also felt himself to be the saviour of his country and as a result grew a kingsized sense of his own importance, and yet he seems modest, even self-effacing in comparison.  I read Jean LeCouture's three-volume biography of Le Grand Charles years ago.  De Gaulle did not use up people and then murder them when it was convenient as Hitler often did, like Ernst Röhm and perhaps Geli, among many others.

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Thoughts on the canon of poltical theory and life.

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