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An irreligious and illegitimate, left-handed vegetarian homosexual pacifist with one name and a shock of flaming red hair who dressed as dandy, seldom finished a job, and never published, that is Leonardo from Vinci (1452–1519). He would be banned by the NRA in Alabama, hung by the Veep, and not get a job at a university today.

Never hit a KPI. No tenure. No promotion. Try imagining his 360-degree review. Go on, try!

He was the illegitimate son of a notary and a servant girl.  His father recognised and accepted him though for the first twelve years or so he was brought up by his mother, the servant girl, and her new husband. At about twelve Leonardo went to live in his father’s home.  There is no doubt the first eleven years were formative. Read on.

Leo birth house.jpg His father's house.

While in the care of his mother he was free to roam unshackled by the conventions of the notary’s higher social status and rigidly conventional family life.  Roam he did through hills and dales where he began the close observation of nature that never stopped.  Like the boy who became Peter the Great, he was free of the inhibitions of the status that he later acquired.

His father soon realised that this boy was never going to be a notary. He was dreamy, always scratchy away at things, doodling in the dust, pulling things apart.  His father arranged to apprentice him to an artist's workshop in nearby Firenze. It was hog heaven for the lad.  He did the work assigned to him, starting with crushing shells to make paint, cleaning brushes, and sweeping floors. Then he went on to preparing the surface of boards, walls, and canvases for paint.  He worked his way up from these entry jobs, very quickly, to painting backgrounds like sky and hills.  Next he was painting background figures which soon got him promoted to foreground figures. While a teenager his talents surpassed the master of the workshop.

Leo stayed an apprentice for longer than usual because he was content, but eventually his father staked him to set up his own workshop, and perhaps assisted in getting some early commissions for him. Leo’s talents bloomed. His only ambition was to keep puzzling away at things.

He took commissions and worked on them, in some cases for years, without finishing many of them. As he did so, he invented new techniques, the most significant being oil painting, which in turn led to his famous technique of sfumato.  Together these two measures allowed him to produce colours and dimensions unlike anything previously done in tempura. Later he would stress the goal of creating the illusion of three dimensions on two. As did Ludwig von Beethoven, so Leonardo invented form and content together.

Living in bustling Firenze, Leo extended his close observation to people. He begun to carry a small notebook night and day and he sketched endlessly, as he observed. He also wrote notes and puzzles. About 7,200 half-quarto pages from these notebooks have survived that is, perhaps, a mere portion of the original total. Still this is more on paper than a contemporary biographer of Steve Jobs could find because Jobs worked in digital media from the get-go and most of it has disappeared with the passing of floppy discs, hard discs, and web sites. 

Instead of finishing a commission, Leonardo would spend hours examining the condensation on a glass of cold water on a hot day, ants on a leaf, the faces of men in a pub, or applying the eighteenth coat of oil paint to a tree in the background of a painting. While he concentrated hard on what he did, he did not focus on completing tasks. All trip, no arrival.

The anonymous accusation was a common practice of the time and much emphasised in Firenze.  Write out an accusation and drop in the box. Done. (This was a practice revived by the Naziis in Occupied France.) These accusations covered everything from tax dodging, to cheating business partners or customers, short changing deliveries, adultery, and homosexuality.  While sodomy was a moral sin and a capital crime, it was also much practised in Firenze. Hypocrisy is not confined to D.C.

One such latter accusation was made against Leo but it was unsubstantiated upon investigation and he saw it off.  Other similar accusations, however, followed. Whether any specifics in the assertions were so, it is true that he preferred boys to girls or women. True or not, sustained or not, the accusations and innuendoes were making his life and work difficult. After he left Florence, nothing more is heard of such accusations, though it is clear that was his way of life.

In Milan the usurper Il Moro, was buying legitimacy by attracting entertainers like Sharon Stone to Milan. To make peace with the new ruler of Milan, the Signoria of Firenze commissioned Leo to make a lyre of silver for Il Moro and personally to deliver it. While so doing, Leo also applied for a job as engineer, maestro, painter, and celebrity pet.  The duke commissioned him to do a giant equestrian statue which of course remained unfinished during the seventeen years Leo spent on Moro’s dime.

He did earn his keep by producing entertainments for the duke. These shows included automatons, flying hoists, tableaux, and all manner of smoke and mirrors.  The author makes the point that with these shows, Leo had to deliver on time, on target, and on budget. And he did! Repeatedly.  

Being an impresario distracted him from the equestrian bronze but made a great reputation for the duke. (Later this duke would invite the French to come to his aid and that precipitated more than thirty years of incessant war in the Italian peninsula. The French liked shopping in Italy, and paid with swords, crossbows, siege guns, cavalry, and more.)

In these shows Leo’s engineering and artistry were united. They also demonstrated his management ability to prepare and stage them.  He spent years in Milan and only left when Il Moro’s world collapsed. He returned to Florence briefly and then in a dream come true King Francis I of France offered him a pension, not a commission for a specific work or works, but retainer to do what he liked.

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He set up a house and pottered away.

While he had been a strapping red head in his prime, he aged rapidly and badly. Those who met him for the first time in his fifties and later routinely took him to be ten or more years older than he was.

R Plato.jpg
There is some reason to believe that Raphael used him as the model for Plato, as above, in his great painting of the Academy for a Pope.

Most of Leonardo’s engineering ideas were never tried, and he completed few paintings, yet he was recognised far and wide as the genius of the age. How does he compare to Paris Hilton, that is a question to consider. His recognition infuriated toiling rivals like the religious zealot Michaelangelo who tried to blacken Leo’s name at any opportunity.

To commission a work from Leonardo was difficult and almost always fruitless. He often played hard to get and declined commissions. When he accepted, whatever the notarised contact said, it was done in his way and on his terms. That most famous of all paintings, the Mona Lisa, which the author details at length was never finished. While Signor Giaconda commissioned it, he never saw the completed work. Instead like several other paintings Leo carted it from Milan, to Florence, to Rome, to France, daubing at it off and on for years.

It was not procrastination. His technique took time. In Lisa’s case, the canvas had a base of white lead, which even with other coats of paint over it still reflects light like nothing else. The lead coating took time, and by the way, this unique property of white lead paint was recognised by others and commonly used on the eyes of portraits. An artist who licked his brush to get a point with this lead for the white of eye developed lead poisoning and this killed many.

Over the white lead Leonardo added very thin coat of oil paint and then waited weeks or months for it to dry. Then another with a wait. And so on. At times he changed his mind and altered a painting and waited. He out waited all of his patrons except Francis who had hired him as a companion more than anything else and they seemed to enjoy each others company. When Francis had time off from murdering Protestants or sacking Italy, he visited Leo for a natter. Though I did wonder, without enlightenment, what language they spoke together.

Leonardo was never idle and in the weeks of waiting for paint to dry he would take up a new project and do, say, a series of drawings of water falls, or rivers. He was always fascinated by the motion of water. Indeed at times he speculated that water to the Earth was as blood to the body, and he meant that literally as much as figuratively. Though for all his polymath genius he never understood the fifth grade science of evaporation.

While he learned much from reading, he never published his own research, though he spoke of doing so, but those words became another unfinished project. He had been an autodidact in his early years and had so little education he could barely read, and he was defensive about that for years. More or less secretly he spent years trying, off and on, to learn Latin with little success. (Miss Vera Earl, MA, would have put his declension in order in no time!) Gradually he came to read Italian and learned from the tomes he read. Perhaps there was a psychological barrier to publishing because of his early life in which books were for others.

It is a wonder, in an age without knowledge of germs, he lived as long as he did. That the white lead did not kill him may be down to his slow pace of painting. But also, where local circumstances were conducive, he did hundreds of autopsies with accompanying drawings of the muscles and bones of the human body without much hand washing, sterilising of knives, and such. Since most of the cadavers he could work on came from the poorest strata of society, often they were diseased and infested, yet he lived.

This quintessential embodiment of the Italian Renaissance, this son of Firenze, this Tuscan-speaking Italian died in France and King Francis gathered his mortal possessions, so that in time the Mona Lisa and many of the drawings passed to the Louvre, where I once saw Lisa behind a bullet proof glass and over the heads of and in the storm of flash bulbs from hundreds of Japanese tourists. I also saw for a few seconds two of his completed, smaller religious works in the Hermitage in a squeeze play.

Isaacson has a prosaic explanation for Leonardo’s (in)famous mirror writing, which is best read in its entirety. It demystifies this practice, and disqualifies Leonardo from the Rosicrucian Hall of Fame.

He was a contemporary of Niccolò Machiavelli, who signed for the city of Florence a contract commissioning Leo to paint a triumphal scene. Needless to say it was never completed. Isaacson supposes Machia and Leo were friends, but I rather doubt it. The evidence is circumstantial at best, and as personalities they had nothing in common. Geniuses do not always attract each other.

Still Isaacson’s book is extensively researched, measured in its inferences, and concentrates almost always on available evidence, which is almost always art, paintings, sketches, models, and drawings, much of it from the notebooks Leo always carried. He succeeds in bringing alive this man who could spend hours examining the condensation on a glass of cold water, drawing the shapes as they came and went, or simply staring intently at the glass as if it alone existed in the world.


The notebooks were numerous and many have been lost. Some were sold off to admirers on his death, and so valuable was anything of his that some notebooks were ripped up and the pages sold separately. In this practice was room for forgeries. Yet much of them remains and they are the only autobiographical source for this remarkable man. On the pages are his many interests, and lists of things he wanted to do, find, understand, know, and test. By the way, though he was pragmatic enough to keep it to himself one entry in the notebooks says that 'the sun does not move.'

He was so remarkable that even in his lifetime apocryphal stories of his powers were circulated and these multiplied after his death. The journalist of the time, as now, were completely unscrupulous in the exaggerations heaped upon his name to peddle their wares. Thus he became encrusted with myth and legend. Part of Isaacson’s achievement has been to strip away those layers that readers may see the man within.

Alfred Deakin (1856–1919) was born in Melbourne and became the second Prime Minister of the nascent republic in 1903. He served two other terms in the big chair. Earlier he had been elected to the Victorian parliament in 1879 at age twenty-two and became a cabinet minister in 1883 at twenty-seven. He was active in the colonial discussions of federation from the earliest days and travelled to England as a representative of Victoria in the continuation of those negotiations with the Crown. During his parliamentary career he represented Ballarat, which by chance we recently visited.

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His parents immigrated to Adelaide from Old Blighty in 1850. His father was a travelling salesman who left little behind in England but his mother was a homegirl from Wales and missed the Old Country for years and years. When gold popped out of the ground in central Victoria, already in Adelaide, they joined the thousands who trooped there. His father had the wit to realise that luck more than anything else determined success in gold mining and turned to supplying the needs of miners by offering transportation to and from Melbourne for passengers, goods, and gold. As a career traveller he knew quite a bit about that. The family lived in Melbourne not Ballarat.

Deakin’s entry into politics came young, as a member of the parliament of the colony of Victoria in his twenties. That became the rest of his life. While as a youth and even when a young parliamentary he was interested in spiritualism, that wore away for more conventional religion. Spiritualism of one sort of another was a fashion in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century, and interest was later renewed by the horror of World War I.

Deakin married a social equal but not an intellectual one, and his wife was relegated to the most conventional role as wife and mother. She did not welcome the meet-and-greet that went with politics, and over the years few people visited the Deakin home.

Deakin saw a great future for Australia, freed from the historic conflicts of Europe, and was an early champion of continental unity of some kind. Into the late Nineteenth Century the separate colonies charged each other tariffs, and competed for precedence in London. They also had conflict over the waterways like the Murray River. The first move was to create a single market. As logical as it seems, it disadvantaged some vested interests and created divisions that remained in new configurations.

There were the Protectionists who dominated Victoria and the Free Traders in the ascendancy in New South Wales. Both types were strongly oriented to Great Britain. There were further divisions within each camp. Deakin emerged as the leader of the Liberal Protectionists in Victoria against conservatives who wanted to privilege property owners by not taxing them. Conservatives opposed legal protections against child labor, working hours, pensions, and the like. By and large Deakin favoured such measures.

He rocketed to the top of the Victoria politics before he was thirty. He liked an audience and was a good speaker, moreover, he was a disciplined and hard worker at the desk. He cut an impressive figure, spoke well, and advocated unity. His father had run a stage coach line between Ballarat and Melbourne and Deakin went to that constituency. Though we saw nothing special about him when we visited Ballarat but then we did not go looking for it. When he rose to the top he was one of the few native born Australians in the parliament and he played that card.

As minister of the crown in Victoria he spent freely with all that gold in them thar hills. Train lines were built and the bridges, culverts, embankments, stations, and switches to make them work. Even today some of these lines are only now being laid to rest, as one of our guides complained in 2017. Deakin never did seem to grasp the relationship of income and expenditure. His affinity with the Labor Party may have stemmed from that.

There were inter-colonial conferences about trade and commerce, e.g., the Murray River. The fiftieth anniversary of Queen Victoria’s ascension was unprecedented, and it led to a massive gathering in London that was the seed from which CHOGM grew via the Empire and the Commonwealth. Deakin was a hit there and liked the whirl, social and political. His prominence there made him a hero in Melbourne when he returned to the adulation these days accorded only to athletes and airheads. He advocated Australian unity with urgency because of renewed interest in the Pacific by the European colonial powers France and Germany. The French penal colony in New Caledonia was next door to Queensland. German incursion into Northern New Guinea was disconcerting. However England had no interest in provoking a European war over some specks in the Pacific Ocean.

While he never lost his British identify, Deakin concluded that Australia must unify to protect itself. Later when Japan became a British ally and England seemed content to let expand its influence in the Pacific, once again Deakin saw a fissure between the interests of England and Australians.

But first came federation. There were many meetings of representatives of the colonial governments in Melbourne, in Sydney, and in Adelaide, all made difficult by transportation. Not all colonial governments sent representatives to each meeting. West Australia, then as now, played hard to get. Queensland was sometimes embroiled in its own soup, though its conflicts with France over sugarcane slavery would drive it into federation, but first its North-South division would have to be papered over. This latter rupture recurs between FNQ and Brisbane, as the second largest city of New South Wales, as we were once told in Cairns.

New Zealand participated in some talks but quit the scene. Tasmania was included in Victoria during the deliberations. The vast interior that is the Northern Territory had no agent.

Though federation was the logical step, the sitting colonial premiers could never quite be satisfied of the terms. It was a John Quick who proposed taking the final decision out of the hands of incumbents with a referendum. That broke the log jam. The fine-tuning led to the supermarket combination of political institutions taken from Westminster and Washington. The smaller states wanted protection from the larger states and that was the role of the Senate. Proportional representation and the preferential ballot evolved from the hostility and distrust of the anti-federationist who feared a large and remote government. This mutual distrust meant that a national capital was stymied in Deakin’s time. It could not be in any state capital for fear that it would be captured by its environment.

As federation came to prevail, the agreement, partly unspoken, was that the first prime minister should come from the Mother Colony from which the others came, namely New South Wales, and George Reid, the premier of NSW was a keen federationist. When the Colonial Office and the Foreign Office in London finally made peace with each other and Australian federation proceeded the plan was to create a whole, single colony and its first Governor-General would be John Hope, Earl of Hopetoun who would then appoint the first prime minister and cabinet, which in turn would superintend the first national election three months later from which a government with the consent of the governed would emerge.

Ah huh. Meanwhile an election was held in NSW. There were not yet coherent political parties by any manner or measure. Parliamentary groups were loose agglomerations around prominent individuals with little or no binding ideology or loyalty. Those in NSW who opposed federation did so because they advocated free trade and feared the dominance of gold-wealthy Victorian protectionists briefly united to undermine Reid.

Peter Lyne had became NSW premier. In these pages he is characterised as a local fixer with no wider horizon. If anything, he opposed federation, though such abstractions were of little interest to him. There were many hasty meetings and much telegraph traffic among supporters of federation to find another way that would avoid Lyne, who as the first Prime Minister might block federation.

The Governor-General felt duty-bound by the agreement to appoint the premier of NSW at the time as the first prime minister and so he asked Lyne to form a government. Deakin and other leading federations schemed to scupper the exercise. Deakin’s profile throughout Australia and in London was so high that a government without him would lack credibility. Yet he could not directly refuse because that would allow personal opponents and enemies of federation to paint him as selfish. Much squirming follows. In such situations Deakin prayed, wrote in his copious diary, schemed, threatened to leave politics, and such, as time passed. But as long as he did not commit to joining a Lyne cabinet, then others held out, too. He said neither yes nor no.

Tom Roberts.jpg Federation

Lyne was under pressure to form a government quickly to organise elections by the three-month deadline and he just could not do that, and he was not greatly motivated to do so anyway, as he was more interested in pork-barreling in NSW, so he conceded defeat. That freed the Governor-General who turned to Edmund Barton of NSW, an arch federationists who collaborated with Deakin. Barton was not a premier but he was from NSW.

It is all confusing because Barton in NSW was a rarity, a Protectionist, but also a federationist. The election was held and Barton had enough support to continue in office, but support was personal and varied from issue to issue in the absence of parties. What galvanised the advent of parties was the entry of Labor representatives, led by Chris Watson, whose members foreswore individual initiative to comply with the line of the whole, i.e., the party line. Such cohesion and surrender of individual conscience repelled Deakin (and others) but he had good personal relations with Watson and they agreed on much.

While Deakin was ready always to legislate paternalist measures to enhance the status and lives of workers under the protectionist umbrella, he was uneasy with their ambition to take part in governmental directly. While they agreed on much legislation, Deakin could never quite accept Labor, though his governments depended on the votes of this bloc.

Deakin garde.jpg Deakin from the parade of Prime Ministers in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens.

A succession of governments prior to World War I came and went, each based on personal followings and informal coalitions. While Deakin depended on and got support from Labor MPs he did not want a formal alliance with the ALP. It is a little like the Red and Blue governments in Canada of Arthur Meighen when Conservatives and Socialists combined against the Liberals of Ontario.

Deakin succeeded Barton in one such turn of the wheel, and then he stood aside when key legislation failed and there came the first Labor government with Chris Watson as prime minister for a few months. He was followed by Reid, the NSW federationists Free Trader, who had a turn, and then Deakin, then another Labor government of Andrew Fisher, and then again Deakin. The rise and fall of governments between 1901 and 1914 was largely done in parliament since election results in 1903, 1906, 1910, and 1913 did not produce disciplined majorities.

Through these years, Deakin saw himself as creating Australia, not serving the regional interest of Victoria, or any sectional class interest. Measures that did that he always opposed, including some put forth by Labor.

Hindsight allows a contemporary reader to see the emergence of a consensus behind protectionism with an accommodation from Labor. The Great Tariff Wall of Australia that resulted only wobbled in the 1980s, when another kind of Labor government saw it as a liability in the world of the time. Hindsight also shows the deep divide between the colonies become states, and the divisions within Queensland. These remain.

The Pacific environment fuelled unity and federation. When England proved disinclined to go to war over French, German, and Japanese influences in the region, Australians united. While West Australia was bellicose about its uniqueness and independence and Queenslanders concentrated on arguing with each other about whether it was to be one state or two, when a Japanese fleet set sail, they all rushed to embrace the Australian flag.

The arrangement with England that Deakin negotiated was for Australians to raise funds, through taxes, to pay a subvention for Royal Navy operations in Australian waters. Whether this arrangement was unique, I cannot say, but New Zealand must also have had an interest in such protection. I also wondered about the Canadian west.

Deakin’s career went on but his health failed, mainly his mental health, and he wisely chose to quit politics though there were no generous pension provisions at the time. His memory and mind were no longer as sharp as once, yet he still cut an imposing figure. When World War I came he was conspicuously silent largely because of his mental frailties, but since he looked fit, Faux News of the day criticised hm for a lack manly bloodthirstiness.

As his role decreased his wife Patty’s grew. She began to take part in ceremonial activities and then became a champion in war work, raising money, interceding for returned, wounded, and maimed soldiers, and Deakin’s role become one of supporting her. She and Deakin’s sister had been at odds throughout their lives. There had many tensions and eruptions, but in these latter years Patty came into her own.

Although the book opens with an intriguing parallel between Deakin and the infamous outlaw Ned Kelly, it has nothing to say about the Eureka Stockade of 1854 and any influence that might have had on Deakin. That silence is noteworthy given how strident the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka is that Australian democracy was founded in that event. Deakin seems to have missed this point. Elsewhere on the blog I have commented on this museum.

The book is impressive for its extensive research, considered insights into the man and the times, its careful judgements, and the ease with which the story unfolds. The author resists the temptation that afflicts so many writers to inject herself, her attitudes, her sensitivities, her opinions into the story from another world. Deakin is taken on his own terms and on the terms that prevailed in his time and place, and presented fully in a way that allows readers to draw their own conclusions. Once such an approach was the norm, not it is the exception.

Deakin always kept a diary, he sent and received letters by the score and kept just about every piece of paper it seems. This trove gives the biographer rich pickings which are judiciously employed, though after a time this reader grew weary of another meeting, another diary entry, another pondering of the imponderable.

Brett.jpg Judith Brett

The cool distance taken by the author from the subject is in contrast say to the book I read about the women of the Eureka Stockade in which the author lectures the reader about what to think and why step-by-step. Whoever devised that term ‘public intellectual’ should be, per ‘Clockwork Orange,' strapped down and made to watch and listen to batteries of such self-styled PIs babbling. Regrettably I have had to hear far too much from far too many of these clowns, while dreaming of such punishment. The hallmark of a Public Intellectual is a combination of opinion and volume, i.e., shouting nostrums unencumbered by facts, reason, or logic.

Charles Robert 'Bert' Kelly (1912–1997) was a farmer from South Australia. A Liberal, he served twenty years in the Commonweatlh Parliament, where he waged an often solitary battle to lower tariffs, which he thought kept Australia poor and some in it rich. A 'Liberal' from a farming constituency was a rarity in his day during the agrarian ascendency of the Country Party of Jack McEwan. Kelly did not set out either to be a parliamentarian or to be a Liberal but became both.

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He became a parliamentarian this way. In his community he kept going to meetings and making ever modest suggestions, until others suggested he chair the meetings, perhaps as a way to shut him up. After making so many modest suggestions he could hardly refuse, so he did. Because he liked people and he liked agreement, he found the basis of agreement and that him popular in a modest sort of way.

All modesty aside, his father was very well connected and some of father's friends saw the potential in young Kelly. In time these elders as well as his peers thought he was the man to nominate as the Liberal Country League candidate for the Commonwealth parliament. That is what the party in South Australia was called at the time, 'Liberal Country League.' He won as was predicted. In 1959 the Australian Labor Party had no chance in any rural constituency. Off he want to distant and foreign Canberra.

There he found the Liberal Pary and the Country Party were distinct entities, each having its own caucus, \ meeting room, and pecking order. Which was he, Liberal or Country? To McEwan any rustic came to Canberra to be his pawn and nothing more, so the Country Party sat back and awaited Kelly's obeisance. Liberals in contrast were nice to him, helped him find his way in the labyrinth of (Old) Parliament House and more. There is no sense that this hospitality was a scheme, it just happened that a couple of avuncular Liberals befriended this young fellow wondering about Parliament House looking lost. What is implied is that the iron fist of McEwan, a man who had dominated Prime Ministers three, alienated Kelly from the zero hour. True or not, it is charming story that makes a point in a modest way.

For much of his subsequent career Kelly was the only Liberal of and from the bush. In time that gave him both an authority and an advantage. The authority was that he became the Liberal Party's expert on agriculture. The advantage was that he represented Liberal wedge in the bush, one that some Liberals wanted to increase so holding on to him was an asset for them. Modest though Kelly was, he played both cards astutely over two decades. Yes other Liberals represented rural areas, but most of them were Bourke Street farmers, who visited the constituency a couple of times a year. Not so Kelly who continued to live on and work the family farm. Accordingly, he had an interest and a knowledge of agriculture few Liberals could match.

He went at being a parliamentarian the same way he went at farming, from an hour before dawn to an hour after dark. He was always a reader, and he found much to read in the parliamentary papers and so he read it. In time he became a self-taught economist specialising on one theme, tariffs and protection. The Great Tariff Wall of Australia did not make sense to him. While he was no advocate of free trade he did question the blanket and often secretive approach to tariffs. Though the words are not used in these pages, it seems he also supposed that the constant lobbying for tariff protection led to graft and corruption both among politicians and administrators.

And who was the dark Master of the Tariff in Liberal hegemony? Black Jack McEwan, that's who! I was told once that the sobriquet 'Black' referred to his temper not his appearance.

From the first weeks when Kelly began to ask about tariffs, McEwan marked his card. Then came the Yellow Card in the form a visit from the then Deputy Leader of the Country Party and a McEwan acolyte. The message was 'Shut up.' Still Kelly kept reading, annotating, and asking. The details were so complex in time he changed his focus to the indirect questions of procedure. How were the levels set and for what reasons and then how were they implemented?

In retrospect the secretiveness of this process is surprising. Special Advisory committees with no tenure and no professional support from economists were created and then set the levels without either publication or justification. Again it is not said, but the inference obvious is that these committees promulgated the levels the minister who appointed them wanted set. That minister, Class, was....? Yes, Black Jack.

Any committtee member who resisted was thanked for service and dismissed. This exercise had flourished from 1949 and McEwan, while he did not invent it, brought to perfection. Then in 1961 the Liberal Country Party coalition won re-election by a single seat where a few hundred votes did make a difference, and Jim Killian made a subsequent career out of winning that seat.

Here is a paradox. That result made the support of the Country Party essential, and McEwan ratcheted up the pace of his demands on Prime Minister Robert Menzies, but it also made the voice and vote of the solidarity Liberal from the bush crucial in parliament and conspicuous in the media.

Comes the hour, comes the man. Kelly discovered his true métier. He had long written for agricultural newspapers and magazines, often about technical matters of crops and machinery. And sometimes when writing about new technology he had run up against the prohibitive cost of importing special machinery thanks to that Tariff Wall. He took to the typewriter with renewed vigour and much more detailed information and and won a national audience. He became a columnist not to be confused with the verboten C word of the era. His columns went under a few titles over the decades but 'The Modest Member' was the most enduring. Hence the title of the book and my several uses of the word 'modest' above.

When John Gorton had his brief moment as Prime Minister he put Kelly in the ministry in large part to silence him on tariffs under the rules of cabinet solidarity. Only that desire for silence could explain why this man from the interior of South Australia became Minister for the Navy. There must be a witty image here of him reversing Odysseus and carrying the anchor to the sea but I cannot grasp it.

In those days when the Royal Australian Navy wanted a new Minister a crash occurred. One night Kelly was woken by a phone call telling him the HMAS Melbourne had done it again and within a few days he got another late night telephone call to tell he was dismissed for letting that destroyer run into the ill-fated HMAS Melbourne. Back to the typewriter he went!

Kelly was an engaging figure, a writer with a perfect pitch for the general reader, a polemicist who argued from first principles when that was appropriate and from down to earth examples when that was the best place to start. He was no ideologue but rather he thought high, secret, and blanket tariffs held back Australia. The high, blanket, and secret tariffs were paid for by the consumer at the start, including farmers, and by would-be exporters, like farmers, in the end. Moreover, the high and ever higher tariffs encouraged sloth in both management and labour practices, affirming the historic compromise between Alfred Deakin and Billy Hughes a century ago. Kelly thought tariffs to shelter embryonic industries that otherwise would not be viable and which were vital made sense, but not five car manufacturers in a market smaller than some European cities! Such tariffs ought to be publicly justified and rationally explained, and not the product of lobbying by gift-giving agents.

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Irony of ironies when the Whitlam Labor government cut tariffs by 25% one of the few voices raised in support of this revolution was the Liberal Kelly. Though many supported the move, few were brave enough to say so publicly. None of the thirty members of Whitlam's cabinet uttered one word of support for this initiative. Kelly was one of the first of the few. One of the speeches excerpted in this book is an address he was invited to deliver to a convention of Labor economists. A generation later when the Hawke Labor government floated the Strine dollar, again he applauded. Again many Liberals agreed but kept silent. Again Labor cabinet ministers, apart from the Treasurer, kept silent.

Kelly-3.jpeg Kelly at work.

Despite the title, this book is not a biography, more is the pity, but rather a string of excerpts from Kelly's many publications with comments and transitions. There are asides about his early life but nothing chronological that shows the man emerging from the boy. Moreover, it jumps around in his career. We see glimpses of the man as rustic, parliamentarian, farmer, Minister, advocate but never the man whole at any stage. It is easy to read but in this respect disappointing. Tant pis.

The short Wikipedia entry on Kelly styles him a passionate free trader, something he spent years denying. in addition that entry mistakes effect for cause in saying he was ousted from the Gorton Ministry because of his opposition to tariffs. On the contrary he was put in the ministry because of disagreement on tariffs to silence him on that subject. Once sacked he was free to say his piece and he did.

He saw freer trade to be a means to cheaper consumer goods like cars, refrigerators, and footwear and the easier export of wheat and beef. Freer trade was a means to an end and not an end in itself as it is for ideologues.

Behind the Great Tariff Wall of Australia the automobiles were expensive and poor quality but many workers were employed in making them. Because of their cost and poor quality there was no export market. The same applied to refrigerators, fans, and every other manufactured product. Moreover, the Australian dollar was vastly overvalued at $US 1.47 in 1974, making agricltural exports too expensive for anyone to buy. A farmer paid high prices for tractors and could not sell any surplus overseas to earn the money to import new agricultural equipment which was over priced by the addition of the tariff. For a time the Commonwealth Government bought agricultural surpluses and distributed it as foreign aid, sometimes to places that did not need or want it, but all of this was a house of cards. Though it goes unmentioned in these pages the Oil Shock of 1973 finally blew this structure down once and for all.

Modest Kelly was but also at times mercilous. Consider Kelly's comment on Andrew Peacock. He 'has all the attributes I envy most: grace, charm, intelligence, and eloquence. But he gives the impression that he is waiting to be called to be Prime Minister' and in the meanwhile he would rather not get involved in anything. Indeed.

There is in this book no account of the war years (1939-1945) except to say agriculture was an exempt occupation and Kelly stayed on the farm. But did he want to join the army at 28 and only reluctantly stay? Many men that age and older joined the army. Did he contrive to stay home? If so, how did he live that down? Later going to Canberra presented no problem to the farm. This defining hour for his generation of Australians is passed over. Gorton was a year older but served, and bore the scars thereafter.

Though later it is said a knee had been injured in youthful sports, there is nothing about that. Yet sports would have been a major social outlet for him.

And what about Lorna? She is often mentioned but we learn next to nothing about her or any children.

Colebatch RGB.jpg Colebatch is a widely published poet.

The book is a guide to some of the high points of his life but not a biography. To make a geologic comparison, it describes the sites but does not explain the geological forces that shaped them.

I was inspired to read this title at last (for a biography of Bert had long been on the assigned reading list) by the Australian Democracy Museum in Canberra, one of the failings of which was to give no recognition to the role and work of parliamentary backbenchers, the focus being almost entirely on prime ministers as though they governed alone. This the only ostensible biography I found.

Brownie Wise (1913-1992) liberated thousands of women from household labor and fostered hosts of small business women.

She was born in Buford north Georgia where women stayed at home and in their spare time sewed for clothing and textile mills. Spare time! It was a way to earn cash income. This cottage industry set terms, conditions, and wages and the women either took it or went without the cash income.

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Brownie’s mother became a single parent AND a labor organiser for these seamstresses in Northern Georgia, carrying along baby Brownie. That was her given name ‘Brownie’ for her big brown eyes at birth. Brownie learned from then on about self-reliance, strength in combination with others, fortitude, resilience, and the deceitful ways of men in suits. Her mother had successes, and Brownie learned from that, too: a win today is good and perhaps it can be multiplied tomorrow, i.e., keep at it.

Brownie_Wise.jpg Brownie Wise from the cover of 'Business Week.'

In the period after World War I much of the population of the United States was either rural or lived in small towns. Life for such denizens was often confined to a few miles from home. Transport was uncertain, expensive, and dangerous. In addition, the term housewife was literal. The woman tended the house. There is a searing example in a chapter of Robert Caro’s magisterial biography of Lyndon Johnson called ‘Sad Irons’ about wash day in Texas. Not for the faint of heart.

These people did not go to big cities to shop in department stores. Rather the retailers came to them via mail-order catalogues or callers at the door. It was the age of the door-to-door salesman or drummer as they were called in an earlier time. Why not mail? Because the postal service in rural and sparsely populated areas was irregular and expensive, this was long before RFD. The most famous door-to-door sales representative was perhaps the Fuller Brush Man, who rang the bell and slid a foot in the door and traded on the politeness of the door opener to get in and make a hard sell. Many times they were welcomed in because social contact was a rarity.

Other companies did the same, selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door later. (Indeed, true in Europea, too, and Adolf Eichmann did it for a while.) The young Brownie Wise worked for Stanley Home Products (sponges, mops, dusters) where she was a successful sales representative and an even more successful trainer, organiser, and manager of sales representatives. She was married to Mr Wise for five years before he abandoned her with their son to disappear into the mist. (In these pages he does not even reappear when she became nationally famous, as she did.)

Then a young protégé saw something in a hardware store that looked promising. He borrowed it from the store and took it to Mrs Wise and the rest became history. It was a plastic box with a burp from Earl Tupper (1907-1983). When Stanley Home Products refused to sell these boxes because it did not make them, she set up her own business selling them plastic boxes.

Tupper was a chemist who had been experimenting with plastic for years on his own time. He had worked for Dupont for years.

Earl tupper.jpg Earl Tupper

Tupper started and then continued his experiments because the World Wars had absorbed the primary materials of steel and wood, creating a void for other materials to make everyday items like telephone handsets, ergo Bakelite. Tupper tried a great many techniques and finally hit upon something like the plastic we now see in food storage boxes. He sold some locally to fund further experiments. Old friends at Dupont gave him waste byproducts for his experiments. From these he made his first burping boxes.

Wise wrote to him about his burping boxes and they soon came to an agreement in 1946, whereby she marketed and he manufactured. While working for other direct marketing firms, Wise had already hit upon the party-plan method of sales but with Tupperware, as it became known, it went into high gear. There were benefits all around.

Instead of trudging door-to-door, Wise’s sales representative went to a home and set up a display. Instead of being interrupted by a stranger at the door while changing a diaper, the housewife spruced herself up and went to a neighbour's home for tea and cakes and heard an amusing sales patter. There was no hard sell but rather information about the value of saving leftovers for later consumption, the convenience of visibility, the ease of stacking, the best way to clean and store the boxes and bowls, and the trick in closing that burping seal that was long the de facto trademark of Tupperware. That trick had once impeded sales, but Wise turned it into an asset by making it the crescendo of the standard exposition.

Nearly all of the direct sales reps on the road were men with no domestic responsibilities day by day. The job therefore excluded women. A lone woman trudging down country road lugging samples, and then dashing home to make dinner, nurse babies, and iron clothes did not compute. The party-plan made it possible for women to enter this workforce.

Wise recruited, trained, and directed the sales force and in the course of so doing created careers for countless scores of women. Some women were so successful that they became the primary income earner, and some husbands quit their jobs to act as assistant in the family business. For others the Tupperware Party was a high point on the social calendar. Tupper withdrew his products from stores and relied exclusively on party-selling. For a manager or sales representative Tupperware offered flexible working hours, did not require going to an office or factory, and was tolerant in others way, too, about taking children along.

Tupperware soon had a nationwide sales force numbering 10,000 and became, in three years, a multi-million dollars enterprise. Nearly all these workers were women in sales. Earl Tupper had trouble meeting the demand, while continuing to experiment and improve the products. The factory never employed more than a hundred at a time, and usually less, partly because Tuppper liked to do everything himself. Not a good delegator.

She set up sales headquarters in Florida, and he remained in New England. He and Wise had no rapport. On his infrequent visits to Florida, he avoided her and talked only to the accountants. She never set foot in the factory. While the relationship was profitable for both, it was not happy. He was the withdrawn scientist, happiest in his garage laboratory, and she was the effervescent party girl into middle age. His factory and workshop were painted white and spotless. Everything ran to timetable. Her sales headquarters was a complete contrast, decked out in a riot of colour, with people, mostly women, coming and going with no apparent purpose. It was creative but to his eye it was chaotic.

Wise spent money on motivating the sales and management teams she had created. There was much of what we would today recognise as staff development. Very successful managers would have all expenses paid sojourns to the Florida headquarters in January for motivational talks, training seminars, demonstrations of new product lines, expositions of the dress code, etiquette for the parties, scripting the patter, and networking. Ladies were invited, even required, to bring along the husbands. Imagine managers in New Hampshire or Minnesota in September realising that with a few more sales before Christmas they might qualify for an all expenses paid trip to the Florida sunshine for a week. Stand back!

Wise Florida.jpg Wise at a training session in the Florida sun.

Regional sessions were also organised to bring together managers and sales representatives. Tupper never understood or cared about these sessions and saw in them only the expenses, not the benefits in motivation, solidarity, commitment, loyalty, unity, and knowledge shared. It was collision course.

When a new sales representative started, she would first go door-to-door in a neighbourhood and offer the carrot test. The carrot test? She would lend a Tupperware container and two carrots to the housewife at the door with the suggestions that she, the housewife, keep one carrot however it was she usually kept vegetables and the other carrot in the Tupperware container. She would then call back some days later, and voilà, she had someone interested because one carrot was soggy and droopy while the one in Tupperware was still fresh-picked crisp. After the Great Depression, after the privations of war rationing, the morality and the economy dictated that no food be wasted.

When a woman comes down the street with a bag of carrots, Tupperware is coming!

The dress code meant sales agents had to keep up with fashions and dress in the latest, conservative style. with stockings, hats, coats, and gloves. That meant buying clothes was a business investment, not a frivolity, and a tax deduction, and those training courses explained how to claim that deduction from the IRS.

The business was successful beyond any expectation. Many women took to it enthusiastically. It was so successful that several large manufacturing firms wanted to buy Tupperware, and Earl Tupper wanted to sell, but Brownie Wise did not. He owned the patents and in the end he pushed her out. Some think this was done to make the sale easier, that is, even if she had agreed to the sale, no self-respecting buyer at the time would touch a firm with a woman Vice-President. Tupper made a mint, renounced his US citizenship to dodge taxes, and set up in Costa Rica to potter away in another laboratory.

Tupper may also have resented the accolades bestowed on Wise by ‘Business Week’ and ’Time’ magazines as a genius businesswoman. She was the first woman on the cover of 'Business Week.' Then there was the fire and water personality clash between them. Finally, he hated the cost of that staff development.

Despite the acrimony of the split, she landed on her feet, becoming CEO of a cosmetics firm and when that lost its appeal she turned to real estate in booming Florida. While she made a good living from these later ventures, they did not offer the stimulation (read national limelight) that the Tupperware years had, and soon she retired to philanthropic endeavours, particularly rating money for fellowships for artists. She herself was a lifelong hobby potter.

She raised a son by herself in the Tupperware years and became a devoted grandmother to his children.

The scripts she wrote remained in use by Tupperware into the 1980s and the party sales model is still in use in more than one hundred countries, including Australia and New Zealand. Its biggest sales these days, per Wikipedia, are in Indonesia and Germany. As Roy Kroc standardised fastfood, so Brownie Wise standardised the sale of kitchen ware.

Some say the pressure to buy at these parties is a deterrent. Perhaps. But when the parties started it was a different world, and the social contact, the women only gatherings, the freedom to bring children, all of these broke the social isolation of the housewife in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. The parties were welcome to many, many women.

When teaching Power I used Brownie Wise as an example under the heading of charisma and leadership. Imagine the reaction, especially from the men, for whom charisma and leadership means generals and presidents, guns and rockets. For some, like the army reserve officers in one class, it confirmed the nonsense of higher education.

Fergus Mason has pages and pages of titles on Amazon, each short like this one, which is about one hundred pages. I could not find a picture of him, probably because he is never away from the keyboard long enough for an exposure.

Juan Perón (1895-1974) dominated the political life, and more, of a large, diverse, far flung, and advanced society for two generations, and even today his name is magic for some Argentines. He did so without coercion or force. His rule was authoritarian but not with a gun, and at least in one moment of truth when he was urged to order combat to save his regime he refused.

Peron cover.jpg

Ergo while he might, on some grounds, be classed with Hitler, Franco, Stalin, or Mussolini no one ever imagined such restraint from them. Moreover, while he did everything to hamstring critics and opponents, they were not rounded up and sent to Patagonia or worse on an industrial scale. Indeed, at times he boasted of the freedom conceded to his critics. If at times that was more lip service than reality, it is still not something that those others would not have done.

Argetnine flag.jpg

Nor did he unleash a social revolution to purge the society of undesirables as the dictators did. Rather he tried to balance the contending forces, seeing himself as a conductor. Indeed, he liked to be called El Conductor. The orchestral image is intentional for he always liked orchestra music for the way it blended the diversity of sounds and instruments into a smooth whole. At the start that was his aim though at the end things spiralled out of control.

Finally, there is no doubt that in his early years in government, first as an eminence gris, then a Vice-President, and then President, he had a social program to redistribute wealth to urban and rural workers. To do that he more or less created labor unions in Twentieth Century Argentina.

He was born in 1895 under the sign of Libra. As a youth he lived with his family in Patagonia for several years where they worked the land before attending boarding school in Buenos Aires. He was a poor student and on a schoolboy dare took the entrance examination to a military academy. He passed and took it as a way to escape another poor report-card from the boarding school.

He liked the order and regularity of the army and soon found himself an officer where he excelled at instruction. At the time he was popular with subordinates because he was considerate of their dignity. When a private proved inept or a made a mistake, there was no shouting or punishment. Rather, after the unit was dismissed he could call the malefactor aside and give him one-on-one instruction or correction and encouragement. This was so odd that his own superiors wondered if it disqualified him from advancement, on the other hand his unit performed above the norm, and so he continued in the army.

He travelled to Europe in 1938-1939 to visit Italy and Spain. He admired the social mobilisation and energy he saw in Italy, in contrast to the disarray of France through which he passed. He attributed the virtue of Italy to Mussolini and the disorder of France to democracy. Even more striking to him was the devastation and hatred he found in Spain; that the Spanish had nearly destroyed their own country and were so divided that they hated each other more than any external enemy left him with a lasting memory. The biographer suggests that is one reason he did not resist the coup d’état that ousted him. He had no wish to start a civil war.

The Argentine army often interfered with civil life and government and in 1929, while a young colonel, he was directed to settle a wildcat strike. He did this by negotiation and not with rifles. Odd again, but success was enough.

Later in yet another military government, someone had to be secretary for labor, a minor post at the time, and because of his success with that strike he was appointed. Rather than repressing trade unions, as other Latin American military governments did, he set about creating them. He sold this approach to his superiors and their oligarchical supporters on the ground that, while it would redistribute some wealth through wage settlements, it would produce a profitable stability in which most of the wealth would remain in the hands of oligarchs. He was quite a salesman and he prevailed over much resistance. Likewise he sold the unions to labourers as a new benefit that could be achieved now.

In this marketing campaign he perfected two techniques he would use ever after. First, he set so many hares running there was confusion among his opponents. He encouraged the formation of so many unions, that they collided with each other, and he become the umpire of their disputes. Second, he learned to play his opponents off against each other because the oligarchs were not homogenous and he saw rifts among them, and likewise within the army.

There was third technique that came later and that was simply to deny everything and start over. Like an athlete, he did not dwell on failures or mistakes but pressed on.

He might have laboured at this level for the rest of his days but for an act of god. A terrible earthquake destroyed whole cities and killed thousands in 1944. The military government had to mount an emergency relief effort far beyond its own means. Civilian help was required. Who was the man of the hour? The man with contacts among all of the unions of truck drivers, entertainers, stage hands, waiters and cooks, stevedores, nurses, porters, water engineers, sanitation workers, and other working stiffs? Came the hour; came the man.

He threw himself into the work and in those days he had a very competent office staff to shoulder the task. In no time at all a whirlwind of aid developed. He went further.

Giving a blood donation made him think of using a thermometer to chart the collection not only of blood donations but also money and two large symbolic ones were erected in downtown Buenos Aires.

To raise money and blood, gala performances by entertainers of all kinds were staged before them. He attended the inaugural event, resplendent in a white uniform, modelled on those worn by Red Cross officials, and that is where he met Eva Duarte (1914-1952).

Peron in white.jpg He was called the man with the toothpaste smile.

The story goes she was one of many in a group of twenty sitting far away from Perôn at the start of the evening, but by the end they were side by side and stayed that way for the rest of her life. He had a knack for publicity with his ready smile and quick wit. She added to that timing, contacts in show business, and a sense of the dramatic. They were a power couple par excellence from that night onward.

Eva and Juan.jpg Juan and Eva.

The generals pushed each other into and out of the office of president, and one such elderly general left most of the work of president to his aide-de-camp, Colonel Perón, who remained simultaneously the secretary of labour creating a working class constituency for himself. That may be the wrong way to say it because there is no sense that he was planning ahead. Rather he found the exercise of managing events fascinating and discovered he could do it.

Then he was Vice President and in that position ran ever more of the government. His programs built roads and bridges to allow crops to reach cities at affordable prices, social insurance, hospitals and schools, severance pay, accident insurance, and more. He had no ideology but he saw in such measures stability and harmony.

Eva’s influence led to reforms concerning women and children, including, in time, the franchise, divorce, and creches. While he was an average public speaker, she was a firebrand and she became the voice of Perón. He was measured and rational; she was immediate and emotional. Together they covered all bases and they often spoke in tandem.

EVa speaking.jpg

At times these benefits were reduced to meet other economic goals and he spent a lot of time explaining this to those affected. Our author suggests that in other circumstances he would have been happy to be a teacher since he enjoyed such exercises.

He made enemies, of course, and the ride was rough at times. He masked his efforts behind the smokescreen of a myriad of projects and activities. Confusion was his strategy. Divide and conquer was his tactic.

When an incumbent military government went through the motions of an election to placate world opinion and attract foreign capital, he became a candidate and the Perón and Eva combination overwhelmed opponents. He got two-thirds of the vote. He was aided by the clumsy efforts of the US ambassador to defeat him. Perón added the anti-American card to his tactical arsenal.

The suspicion existed that Perón was a fascist. His influence then explained why Argentina stayed out of World War II for so long. Leave aside the fact that Argentina had no interests involved in the war, apart from satisfying the United States. That there was a resident German colony of long standing in Argentina, come originally for engineering projects, was used to explain how he learned his fascism. Leave aside the fact that he had nothing to do with them. That together with public admiration for Mussolini’s Italy as he saw it in 1938 was conclusive in Washington.

In 1944 while the war in Europe continued no expense was spared in Washington to research captured German records to find something on Perón, producing a Blue Book that contained nothing of substance. I noticed some of this was recycled lately from copies of the same German records seized by the Soviets. The one part I read had Perón instructing Argentine diplomats to encourage French citizens who did not want to continue living in France or to return there to migrate to Argentina. He also encouraged the local German community to recruit technically skilled Germans to start over in Argentina. How damming was that! He personally did not stamp Eichmann's passport, honest.

One of the hallmarks of European fascist regimes was social revolution that changed the society, usually by genocide or proscription. There was never any of that in Perón. On the contrary he liked diversity, the better to play one part off against another.

As president Perón put a lot of pressure on British interests, which were deeply rooted in Argentia, especially in the railroads. He did nationalise some British assets but also paid off a billion dollar debt to the Bank of England at the same time. He created marketing boards for crops and some industrial products that would negotiate international sales. One was the Argentine Wheat Board later to be the unstated model of the Australia Wheat Board.

None of this was programatic and that needs to be born in mind. He had no ideology. He just tried things, and if they worked, then fine. If not, he walked away to try something else. He had a capacity to recognise defeat and quit, unlike the ideologues today who keep trying the same thing again and again, willing it to work despite the costs.

In the Cold War he was a vigorous anti-Communist not as a matter of principle so much as because it was foreign and godless. He tried his hand at international statesmanship by giving speeches in Chile and Brazil about a third way between capitalism and communism. Capitalism in the much of South America was identified with the rapacious practices of some American businesses, and communism was anathema to Roman Catholics. He had a tin ear for diplomacy and soon gave it up.

Thereafter sports was the one field in which he promoted Argentina on the international stage, and the bid of Buenos Aires for the 1956 Olympics was defeated by one vote, and the games went to Melbourne.

He promoted economic independence in the post war world and shunned the Bretton Woods agreement that created the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the International Monetary Fund. While Great Britain owed Argentina huge sums for food imported during the war, it could not pay in hard currency. Some of this debt was offset again the British owned railroads.

Inflation beset Argentina and Perón had no remedy. Belt righting by workers was a help but not enough. Higher taxes on wealth helped but not enough. And each of these measures made enemies.

He won a second election in a campaign that was heavily restricted. Only in the two weeks before the election were political parties allowed to exist and campaign, and by then radio and newspaper were either controlled by the regime, some owed by Eva, or obedient to it.

‘La Prensa' was a newspaper the regime targeted and one that fought back. Its resistance to the censorship of the regime, and physical attacks on its plant, rallied the international press to its side. The irony is that at the time ‘La Prensa’ was a rag (think News Limited) that supported the oligarchs but all this international attention somehow caused its writers and editors to live up to the image of embattled heroes of free speech and ‘La Prensa’ became, thereafter, as a result of this ordeal, a very fine newspaper. Something it had not been before.

A few numbers might indicate the scale of activities in his first two terms. more than 4,300 health care facilities were built and staffed. There were 8,000 new schools with teachers, and several hundred technical institutes to train nurses, mechanics, midwives, and others. More than 600,000 homes were built for low income families.

Investment was also made in industrial projects like dams and harbours.

Eva Perón created a foundation and Juan directed that a one percent of the national lottery funds go to it and influenced (ordered) the tame trade unions to see to it that their members contributed to the Foundation one day’s pay a year. The Foundation employed 15,000 people to run clinics, transport midwives, build old-age home, workers holiday resorts, build playgrounds, orphanages, and create soccer leagues. To play in the soccer leagues the boys and girls had to have a physical examination by a doctor, the first time for most of them. At practices and games they got a hot meal designed by dieticians. The Foundation paid for all of this.

She was on track to be his Vice President when cancer laid her low. Her death and the subsequent treatment of her cadaver are the stuff of legend. Juan was rendered speechless for days after her death. He who had hardly ever had a sick day refused to believe she would die, until she did.

The inescapable conclusion is that even before Eva’s death, Juan had grown bored with politics. He needed a new challenge, hence the dabble in international statesmanship, and so he provoked a conflict with the Catholic Church. It was needless, but once it started he went at it hard. proposing to tax church property. Churches were burned by some of his enthusiastic supporters whom he encouraged, though did not direct. This was madness in the confessional society that was Argentina.

His enemies who had been squabbling among themselves for years, now united behind the church. No sooner was he re-elected, in 1952 another coup succeeded. Several earlier ones had failed due to rivalries among the plotters.

There is no doubt that the Perón regime had its ugly side. Thousands of teachers were dismissed because they were insufficiently enthusiastic about Perón. More importantly, Peronism changed from measures aimed at social harmony to measures aimed at keeping Perón in office as an end in itself. The means had become the end. One of the strengths of this study of the man is that it shows how he changed. After ten years he no longer felt the need to sell his ideas. He just gave orders. He did not have the instincts of a democrat.

And Perón wanted to stay in office, not to accomplish anything in particular, but to continue to play the politics game.

To his credit, however, Perón did not fight the coup, though there were armed Peronist militias ready to do so, and he had still many army supporters in the lower ranks. Instead he went into exile. The shadow of the Spanish Civil War remained with him.

Despite all the rumours circulated by his domestic and international enemies he had no ill-gotten fortune. He lived on the largess of his hosts in Paraguay, Panama, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and finally Spain. That is one reason way he moved on each time, his welcome was worn out. The new Argentine military regime spent millions of pesos to eradicate every vestige of Juan and Eva Perón. Teachers from Patagonia to the Amazon basin spent one summer blackening their names out of textbooks. Street names were painted over. Statues destroyed. Back files of newspaper were burned. The Mausoleum to house Eva's embalmed remains that was under construction was demolished overnight to become a carpark.

Then Argentina went through a long period of instability with coup and counter coup as the military factions brought order and discipline to the society! If the succession of musical chairs military governments promised stability, they did not deliver it. One president after another came and went. Planes bombed the presidential palace on occasion.

Coup 1.jpg Coup 2.jpg coup 3.jpg

Naval personal kidnaped a president. Another was assassinated by a rival’s supporters. On it went.

Civilians took up arms, too, some encouraged by Perón from Spain. He termed them ‘special formations.’ Once off the leash, they stayed off the leash.

Five years after Perón was expunged from Argentina, a military government made tentative steps towards civilian rule through elections, as much to placate foreign investors as to satisfy domestic demands. From exile in Madrid, Perón advised his followers to cast blank ballots. They did and that was the plurality result, about 30%. In the rush to appear democratic that fact was ignored and a civilian government with 25% of the vote was installed and it fell at the first feather. The generals returned.

Peronism -- with or without Perón -- came to dominate Argentine politics. There were first those who were anti-Perón, the land owners, industrialists, bankers, intellectuals like Juan Luis Borges, and much of the older generation of the army who felt he had betrayed the uniform by siding with workers who were all closet communists. That was one-third. The Peronist made up the other other two-thirds. One portion of them were ideologues who saw a program in what the Peróns had done and these became the left-Peronistas. Another portion became followers of the man himself. Whatever Perón says goes. It was a messianic cult as much as it was a political bloc. These were the right-Perónistas. In between were the trade union moderates who concentrated on the sewer socialism of wages, accident insurance, and medical coverage. (The term ‘sewer socialism’ is explained in an earlier post on Milwaukee.)

None of these positions was satisfactory and in the 1970s the fissures opened. A wave of urban guerrilla warfare arose with the Montoneros and then their rivals. There were also armed labour factions that battled out union elections with bullets rather than ballots. Foreign investment disappeared. Inflation ran out of control. Strikes were daily. Infrastructure repair ceased, as did buses and trains. A flight of capital occurred allied with a brain drain.

In this turmoil another general-president looked to Perón for help. No doubt this general overestimated Perón’s potential influence, but Juan Perón was not going to disabuse him. Courtship was undertaken. Perón was rehabilitated, given an Argentine passport, his back pay and pension were resumed, his statue appeared once again in the line of presidents in the official residence. (What a line-up that is, since one held the office for two days and an another for two weeks between coups.)

While in exile Perón had long continued his game playing by mail, by telegram, through emissaries, while those who aspired to bask in his glow travelled to Madrid at their own expense for an audience with him.

Presidential elections occurred and Perón’s handpicked candidate, Hector Cámpora, a dentist, won a resounding victory. Perón returned, Cámopra resigned, and in new elections Perón won again, a third time. This election was much more fair than the last one in which he triumphed, but his win was just as decisive.

While exiled Perón had met Isabel Martinez (1932+) and married her. She too was a performer and bore a slight resemblance to Eva before cancer took its toll. He was 66 and she was 30 and looked younger. In no other way was she like Eva. Indeed she was very insecure about her place in Perón’s life.

Early in his career the dynamic Perón had attracted a lot of capable people and put them to work. Gradually he shed most of them, because he wanted to be the master of the situation not upstaged by any minor players, still less to nourish a successor. His entourage then swelled with acolytes, yes-men, toadies, and the like. He had little or no interest in these hangers-on but took their service - door opening, bodyguard, floor sweeping, typing, housekeeping, dog walking, telephone answering, car maintenance - for granted, though he was unfailingly polite to one and all. For an Argentine a few months in the Perón household could be translated into celebrity back home. There was never a shortage of volunteers who paid their own way.

The chronic instability of Argentina and the extremes of the military governments attracted much attention from Washington during the Cold War, lest it become another Cuba. The American interests could never find evidence to support the charge against Perón that he was a Nazi or sheltered war criminals despite much effort, nor could they ever find the illicit millions he had allegedly drained from Argentina. He lived modestly in Madrid, dependent on admirers and the Franco government. Later when his army pension was restored he wanted a lump sum for the back pay to settle debts. Though, by the way, Franco choose never to meet him in the twelve years Perón spent in Spain.

He returned to an Argentina that was demoralized, broke, and riven. Armed bands roamed the streets looking for trouble which they found. The damage done in the last coups, shell holes in buildings, and wrecked vehicles were left in situ. The army was torn by personal rivalries and enmities. After years of repression few civilians ventured into politics. It was a devil’s brew.

Yet Juan Domingo Perón became president for a third term at age 78. For comparison Ronald Reagan took office at 70 and left at 78. Perón’s heart was poor but this was concealed from nearly everyone.

The touch he had had in years gone by remained. While he could match the contradictory confusion of Joh Belke-Petersen, he had no plans and no staff to execute them. He tried to rein in the violence, much of it done in his name, by meeting leaders of the factions but without success. It was as though all waited for a miracle.

Eva’s body had an odyssey of its own. When the putsch ousted Perón plans for her mausoleum were shelved, but the body had already been embalmed for display.

eva deceased.jpg

No one wanted to be the one to destroy it, so it was boxed up and left in a basement marked as ‘Radio Parts.’ When a new building manager came along later, not knowing what was in the box, he moved it into a hallway to make use of the space in the basement. There it sat. By this time those who had boxed it up were displaced, some killed by rivals, others themselves in exile. Then a new Minister took office and wanted to reorganise the building. The box was a fire hazard in the hallway. He ordered it moved. To move it the workmen decided to open it. Surprise!

The box was quickly sealed and put back in the basement while the matter went to then president. Before he could act, there was another coup and there followed another pause. Then it was decided to bury her, but not in Argentina. The body was transported to the Argentine embassy in Rome and then buried in Milan under her mother’s name.

Were she buried in Argentina the location would inevitably leak out and then most likely become a site of pilgrimage for Peronistas. Hence the decision to send the remains abroad. Argentina had good relations with Italy so blind eyes were turned and the deed done.

When a moderate general=president restored Juan’s citizenship and pension, the general-president also arranged for her body to be disinterred in Milan and delivered to Perón in Madrid who accepted it and put in an unused bedroom upstairs, where it stayed even after he returned to Argentina with Isabel.

While the body was in the bedroom, one of the entourage who dabbled in Brazilian black magic convinced Isabel to take part in seances, let us call them, to conjure Eva’s spirit into her own body. The individual in question was certainly nutty enough to do this and Isabel was very easily led, so she may have played along in the hope of securing her position as Perón’s paramour. (Argentine’s are quick to label anything they dislike as Brazilian.)

Shortly after the third election Perón had a serious heart attack, that sapped his vitality. It seems to have been a spontaneous gesture by his supporters to put Isabel on the ticket with him as Vice President and he had let it ride.

Isabel Peron.jpg Isabel.

The author is sure it was not his intention to elevate her because he was using that card to tempt and control rivals. That dabbler in the black arts, Daniel José López Rega, became his personal private secretary and controlled access to the man himself.

Peron 1873.jpg He was 73 in this photograph. Hair dye?

Perón had no new cards to play and the 1973 oil shock hit hard. The armed conflict continued, mostly between the ideological left Peronistas and the trade union Peronistas. Many believe López Rega formed the first Death Squads and turned them loose on one and all. Rather than peace and stability, Perón’s return led to an escalation in violence.

newspaper re terror.jpg Yet another murder.

He worked hard in his third term, but to little avail. Then in June 1974 he had a series of heart attacks and on 1 July 1974 he died. Millions mourned Perón. Isabel succeeded him, and she was heavily dependent on López Rega and the state terrorism became systematic. The Dirty War had begun. In March 1976 yet another coup d’état displaced her. By the way Amnesty International estimated that the Dirty War killed 30,000, imprisoned a multiple of that, leaving them scarred, and intimidated most of the population. Though what is was about is lost in the mists. It became score settling as end itself, and discredited most state institutions, the police, the army, government officials, and school teachers for the subsequent two generations.

A peron crowd.jpg A crowd to hear Eva speak.

The word ‘charisma’ is so overused I am reluctant to employ it but that does seem to be the word to use here. Juan bore a message and for a while subordinated himself to it. Eva added an emotional touch to that. It was interpreted as a message of hope by the rural and urban working classes. He delivered a lot to them, certainly more than ever before or after. It is estimated that about a third of the nation’s income was redistributed, directly in income, to these peoples, and more indirectly through the social welfare programs.

He also had John Ford luck, a phrase from Hollywood that explained why the sun always shone when Ford scheduled out door filming. When Perón had an outdoor rally it never rained and always shined. So it was said. He was personally attractive and a tireless worker.

But his luckiest break was to be in exile when all the wheels fell off, so that he was untouched by the endless corruption and conflict of that seventeen year period. Though experienced and connected he returned with clean hands.

On the debt side is his later preference for sycophants and his willingness to encourage violence, perhaps on the mistaken assumption he could quell it with a word. He could not.

He was an authoritarian populist who did deliver to his supporters, but less and less. He gave no thought to succession. Isabel was in way over her head. Unlike Salazar of Portugal, Perón was bored by routine. He never quite had the grip on sprawling Argentina that Salazar had on compact Portugal and so devoted an inordinate amount of his time to securing his own position and over time that displaced any social or economic goals.

No doubt there are those who know this era of Argentine history better than do I, because they have seen the movie! But I am reminded of the film reviewed elsewhere on this blog, 'The Secret in Their Eyes' which offers insight into Argentina after the 'Dirty War.'

This is an excellent book. Carefully phrased, thoroughly research, slow to judgement, and measured in expression.

page-joseph_1.png Joseph Page


Ed Murrow (1908-1965) did much to create, found, and shape broadcast news on radio and later television for two generations. His imitators have been many but none had the gravity and grace of the original.

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Son of a lumberjack in Washington, Murrow worked his way through college as a sawmill hand. He became active in student politics with the quiet fervour of his Quaker upbringing in the belief that the educated must serve the community and each individual must strive to leave the world slightly better.

He was tall at 6 feet 2 inches and in college developed a command of the language and a speaking voice that compelled attention.  His major was speech and his teacher was a gnarled and crippled woman who was nearly a dwarf.  He saw the light in her demanding eyes and she saw the future in this gangly youth.  Even at the height of his fame she wrote to him with critiques of his work which he integrated into his approach.  

Why dwell on his college speech teacher here at the outset?  Because many years later when Murrow was instrumental in the final downfall of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the junior senator from Wisconsin, that specimen would imply an unholy union between the boy Murrow and this teacher.  McCarthy was a twit but at least he did not tweet.

Murrow became student president and represented his college, Washington State at Pullman, at meetings of such student leaders.  Though personally shy and diffident, at the podium he made a mark, and soon became national president.  

He organised a national meeting of students in Atlanta and went to great lengths with some sleight of hand to ensure it was colourblind.  There was resistance but he had thought it through and had adequate counter-measures, one of which was the press and publicity.  

Radio was new and to fill up the air, a program was offered to the National Association of College Students, and its president, Murrow, began his broadcasting career.  He filled the space by asking leaders to use the hour to address the youth of the nation, like Albert Einstein, like the Soviet ambassador, like Joseph Kennedy, like John Dos Pasos....  Murrow was twenty-one at the time. Some preferred question and answer and so he began to interview them.

When he graduated he went to work for the International Institute of Education in New York City in what was in effect an unpaid internship that offered room and board. This Institute ran student exchange programs between the United States and Europe.  He proved invaluable and money was found to pay him.

As the field representative of the Institute he travelled the United States promoting international exchange, and to Europe to recruit students and see the conditions for American students.  

So what? In Germany he saw Adolf Hitler speak in 1931. While he understood little German, he felt the rage, the palpable hatred, and the spewed malevolence and was repelled.

When Hitler became a force Murrow tried to exclude German students who were Nazis coming to the United States on exchange.  When the purges of German universities began, the Institute became a fundraiser and placement bureau for intellectuals, like Thomas Mann, Herbert Marcuse, Hannah Arendt, Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, and more than three hundred others. Better than nothing but there were 6,000 others. He was a callow twenty-five.

He solicited funds from the large foundations like Ford, Sage, and Rockefeller to support the intellectuals and then convinced universities to take them with their salaries paid by the foundations. Harvard refused, but most others were only too glad to have the free gift of their services.  

Thereafter the volume and pace of the work he did re-doubled never to abate until the cigarettes killed him. 

He reported the Battle of Britain from London rooftops, inspiring the bold souls among subsequent generations of journalists to imitation. Some called him the poet of pain for his vivid descriptions of death and destruction for the radio audience in the States. All stated calmly and clearly as the rain of bombs drew ever nearer.  He endured the Blitz along with Londoners from whom he took his signature phrase 'Good night, and good luck.'  The 'good luck' referred to surviving the night's bombs.  

Murrow at BBC.jpg At work in a BBC studio.

A few of his rooftop broadcasts can be found on You Tube.

He flew as an observer on twenty-five RAF combat missions on some of which the plane was shot up and crewmen wounded and killed, yet he was disturbed, and said so, by the policy of city bombing.  

Murrow plaque.jpg A plaque in London.

He stood and watched as U.S. Army Rangers shot the padlocks off a gate of a death camp at Bergen-Belsen and with the medics walked through it in stunned silence.  He knew of the Holocaust and had spoken of it on the air but seeing is ....... [unspeakable].  He did later do a broadcast about Buchenwald.

In the 1950s he forced CBS Television to line up against the egregious Senator McCarthy while 'I Love Lucy' dominated the other networks.  Having once refused Hoover J. Edgar's demand for airtime, Murrow went on the FBI’s long Enemies List and an FBI file was generated out of mist: Murrow was friend to Harold Laski, had interviewed Earl Browder when he was on the presidential ballot in thirty-nine states, employed journalists who had once gone to communist talks, the college speech teacher was a second-generation Russian, refused censorship about lynchings, spoke at civil rights rallies, hired women to broadcast and not to answer the telephone, had been to Moscow, emphasised the Soviet war effort, and other thought-crimes.  

Murrow Time 1957.jpg August 1957

Murrow reciprocated, and opened a file on Hoover J. Edgar and the FBI. He turned loose his own investigators to compile an exposé on the corruption, nepotism, and incompetence of both. It was never made or aired but the file existed and was known to exist. (See Fred Cook, 'The FBI Nobody Knows' [1964].) FBI innuendo campaign abated.

While the sunshine patriots like several recent Presidents of the United States remained Stateside, Murrow went to South Korea and walked on one night patrol. Back in D.C. Hoover and his puppet in the Senate continued to denounce him, the more so when Murrow interviewed black GI’s and compared their service in Korea to the racism at home.  

Murrow korea.jpg Frontline interviews in Korea.

As executive producer at CBS Television Murrow had complete control of ‘See It Now,‘ a weekly current affairs program at prime time, and he dedicated one episode to demolishing the Junior Senator from Wisconsin. Whoa!  CBS management ran a mile to disown it with a display of corporate cowardice familiar to anyone who has worked in a large organisation full of self-proclaimed leaders who disappear at the first rumble, leaving Murrow and his team out in the cold. Most of them, including Murrow thought it was a suicide note. This episode can be found on You Tube.

In the swirl that followed President Dwight Eisenhower said in a press conference that Murrow was a personal friend whom he admired. This was the beginning of the end for the Wisconsin midget.

In 1961 Murrow sat in President John Kennedy's cabinet as Director of the United States Information Agency. Senate confirmation was vexed but successful.  Quoting Rudyard Kipling, Murrow said, he reported things as they were, good and bad.  News, not propaganda.  That riled many a senator but they stayed their nays. Why such restraint is not specified. The first test was The Bay of Pigs and Murrow lived up to his motto.  

He respected President John Kennedy but distrusted Robert Kennedy for his past affiliation with McCarthy. In both cases the feelings were reciprocated.

These are the high points; the details are many.  He interviewed Fidel Castro with sympathy but later reported the barbarity of the Castro regime in murdering its defeated foes and their families through show trials, thus Murrow alienated both the regime's enemies and its apologists. 

When CBS management claimed sponsors did not want to support his critical programs, he went directly to the sponsors to explain and justify his subjects, wInning the life long friendship of some like the president of ALCOA who thereafter stood by him when the CBS management did not. So many leaders and so little leadership as on most larger organisations.  

Well into the 1970s CBS News still basked in the reputation Murrow had created for it.  In those days news and public affairs dominated the prime time programming of CBS. Fearless and factual in deed as well as in word. Against that standard the cartoons of Fox News are trivial, trite, and tiresome.  

Murrow credo.jpg

The cigarettes -- sixty a day -- killed him.  In 1963 he had major surgery, but he 'had absolutely no hope,' as he said, and was largely incapacitated thereafter. The book closes with the funeral without any summing up.  Too bad, because some effort to conclude would have been welcome.  What was the major formative experience in his life?  What was his legacy in the profession?  Will we see his like again?

Ever the realist, Murrow expected the worst from the development of the mass media, and often said so. Those fears are now reality. Fact and fiction have blended in an opinion soup made by the hot air of rumour.  Entertainment dominates all.  Think of those people who say they know an historical event or person because they 'have seen the movie.'  Dr Goebbels wins again. Journalists will happily assert there is no truth. Another win for Goebbels.

It is a large book only available in print, not Kindle, and only second-hand, running to eight hundred pages.  His life and times are fascinating and the prose is clean and clear just like Murrow himself, as they used to say in the newsroom, 'a straight lead.'  

I could not find a photograph of the author. But Sperber has at least one other title on Amazon.

The Salazar regime in Portugal was eternal and ephemeral. It was granite and then poof, it disappeared over night!

Portugal flag.gif

Salazar was one of the great dictators of the age of dictators and yet he was unlike any of the others of that ilk. Portugal was a fascist associate while a Western ally.

Salazar’s regime was authoritarian and yet tolerant in ways none of the other dictatorships were. Salazar’s regime looked backward and yet adapted to change. Salazar’s Portugal was a tiny country at the end of the line, more often forgotten than remembered, yet it coloured the world map with an empire that rivalled those of Great Britain and France in its extent and surpassed those of the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy in volume.

The paradoxes could be extended, but let that suffice to show what mysteries Portugal and Salazar offer.

First to some facts. António de Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970) dominated Portuguese political life from 1926 to 1968. The regime he created lasted until May 1974 when winds of change blew it down.

salazar cover.jpg

His singularity starts with his name. In the conventions of the Iberian peninsula children take the surnames of both the mother and father and in that order. In his case, they are reversed for his father was Oliveira and Salazar his mother. There is no explanation in these pages of this oddity.

He was born in a village to a modest but prosperous family, the fifth surviving child and the only boy, who was doted on by his four sisters and his parents. They educated the girls to read and write, and him, too.

In 1900 Portugal had a population of 5.5 million, comparable to the Netherlands, Sweden, and Canada at the time, while France, Britain, and Germany were 40 million or more.

In 1415 Ultramar Português became the first European empire to span the globe; it began with Ceuta (later ceded to Spain) in North Africa. In 2017 the territories that were once part of the Empire lie in sixty different sovereign states! (Well, so says our author but I could not verify that figure by examining entries in Wikipedia.) Vast and diverse.

Of course not only had Ceuta been lost by Salazar’s day, but also Ceylon and Brazil. Gone these lands were, but not forgotten, especially the latter.

The geographic imperative had at times pushed Portugal into the arms of Spain and at other times the impulse for independence drove it away from Spain. The rivalry had something of that of a little brother and a big brother, with the difference that the identity of each changed. Sometimes Portugal was the big brother, and at other time the little brother as the fortunes of the two countries waned and waxed in changing circumstances.

In facing the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal has long been a major trading partner with the dominant sea-power of those northern waters, England. In 1373 it entered into a treaty of perpetual friendship with King Edward III of England, signed by Queen Eleanor of Portugal, and that treaty played a part in Salazar’s life and times and remains extant to this day, and is sometimes referred to as the Port Treaty, not short for Portugal but to refer to the beverage port, which derives its name from Oporto from which much of it has long been shipped.

Back to Salazar, as a boy he was precocious and shone in his early school work and did well in national examinations. The only way to continue his education was through a seminary and off he went. The default assumption was that a boy in a seminary would continue in the church. He did not.

His devotion to the Roman Catholic god was complete and, it seems, never questioned, but the wider world called to him, and again through national examinations he won a place at the historic Coimbra University, established in 1290. It was the only university in Portugal at the time with but five hundred students, all men. Admission was entry into the elite of the small country and its vast empire and the Portuguese-speaking world beyond the empire. Among his classmates were individuals with whom he would work for the rest of his life, and some enemies, too, in the small world of Portugal.

He is routinely ranked with the dictators of the day, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and Franco and their many lesser imitators in eastern and central Europe, like Dollfuss in Austria, Antonesçu in Romania, Horthy in Hungary, and Metaxas in Greece. Yet Salazar stands apart from these others in two simple but important ways.

He was not a military man in any sense. Try though one might, not a single picture can be found across the internet of Salazar in a uniform. None. He did not do military service as a youth, because he was a seminarian and then a university student. Nor was he ever interested in armies, weapons, uniforms, or that which comes in their train. The military played a major role in his career but he was never part of it and always distrusted it, and put considerable effort into reducing its size and influence.

There is a second way in which he differs from this club of thugs. He spiritual commitments were palpable and sincere. Because of that religious core, he followed Christian teachings, so that he never used, abused, and discarded Portuguese on the industrial scale that the others did. Later, yes, in time there were Secret Police (Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado), prisons, and censorship, but not at the outset and never on the same scale as thugs in the club.

Salazar made his regime, not with clubs and guns as Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and Franco did, but with paper. His political power grew out of the barrel of pen.

Footnote. Portugal had remained neutral at the outset of World War I. The British invoked the time-honoured treaty to protect Portuguese colonies in Africa, and there were armed clashes with German forces in Angola and Mozambique. In addition, submarine warfare off its coast alienated public opinion, especially those who traveled and shipped by sea. In 1916 the Portuguese seized German ships in port as reparations for Portuguese ships sunk by U-Boats and Germany declared war on it. About 50,000 Portuguese served on the Western Front. This force was pulverised in one day of battle with 8,000 dead and 12,000 casualties. A few thousand went to Africa where many died from disease.

There was starvation and death because of the blockade of submarine warfare, and the Spanish Flu afterwards killing thousands more. Though far from the battlefields, Portugal suffered greatly during this war, which left lasting scars which Salazar faced in his early days.

Salazar’s career began in the 1920s when a military government in extreme desperation made this professor minister of finance and he performed miracles in balancing the budget. The army made him and for years army officers toyed with unmaking him.

The military government was anti-monarchist and republican with some liberal elements that wanted to modernise Portugal.

Salazar quickly proved himself invaluable to the generals, much as they despised him. The details are well told.

Salazar at first tried to integrate Portugal into the world economy after World War I, and succeeded in balancing the budget, but he was struck by the railway car of the Great Depression. No sooner did he payoff all of Portugal’s debts and go back on the gold standard than the bottom fell out of the world economy.

Salazar in reaction turned inward to make Portugal an autarky. (Look it up, Mortimer.)

Autarcky cartoon.jpg

Doing that met severe restrictions on consumption and production and these were policed. Right down to the calories. Sumptuary laws, though not called that, also reined in the consumption of the wealthy. All of these was clothed in Biblical rhetoric. While he believed in education, trains, hospitals these could only be built within a balanced budget. Better to do without them, than go into debt because in the aftermath of World War I he had seen the truth that ‘debt kills.’ (A phrase Bob Dole used at times to explain his own approach to public policy.)

At the outset Salazar took the time and made the effort to educate the newspaper-reading public in the realities of national finance, and he created a statistics office for that purpose. The constant demands for explanations, and the endless special pleading over the decades eroded his good will and by the mid-1930s he slowly turned down the authoritarian road. Gradually he replaced the military officers in government with civilians. In time he managed to assign troublesome critics to posts in distant colonies.

The biography shows this gradual shift into the authoritarian gear, slowly and surely, with some stops and starts. But always heading in that direction. He was never a democrat but he was tolerant of differences, and sometimes changed his mind.

Salazar rehearsed all the criticisms of parliamentary democracy that authoritarians and the contemporary media dish up. With revisions to the constitution, more and more authority was concentrated in his office. This process was made possible by the unflinching support he enjoyed from General António Óscar Fragoso Carmona (1869-1951), who was the president (1926-1951) and the de facto commander-in-chief of the army, against many officers who wanted to see the end of Salazar. They did not like living with the means of the country either.

Carmona.jpg Carmona

There is little in the book about how and why this odd couple collaborated. Carmona was a soldier’s soldier but he was a free mason and a republican, while Salazar was a devout Catholic and a traditionalist, though he judged it was impossible to return to the monarchy, he did want a government above the fray, not one subject to the whim of an electorate. In early days Salazar was careful to defer to the formal authority of President Carmona. At other times, he feigned illness to show the President just how invaluable he was, and at times threatened to resign unless his wishes were realised.

In Salazar’s Portugal everything was regulated and controlled in order to live within its means and to maintain social order. To open a coffee shop, one needed permission and if there was a coffee shop nearby, permission would be denied. Put those resources to another, more productive use. There was no free market. Likewise labor became controlled with only a few government-approved unions. Slowly but surely Portugal became the so-called Estado Novo.

Estado novo.jpg

Part of the Estado Novo was a revived patriotism. Because most of Portugal’s recent history had been conflict, Salazar renewed interested in the heroic past of the late medieval and early renaissance periods when Portugal was a world leader in learning, in christian piety, in navigation, in the arts and architecture. He poured money into identifying, preserving, explaining, and opening up this past for the contemporary world. Buildings and books from this era survive today because of this investment.

Salazar did not delegate easily and for years nearly everything from permission to open a cafe to army promotions went over his desk. He publicly acknowledged this concentration to explain the slow pace of activities. He was not a workaholic and seems never to have been in a hurry, always on Portuguese time.

Salazar Time Mag July_1946.jpg July 1946.

Salazar had no interest in Portugal’s empire but it remained, and threats to it from other colonists were a constant worry to some as were threats from within it, especially the resource-rich Angola, which might secede. The historic significance of the empire was too important to ignore and in time it entered into his calculations, mostly as a source of revenue or resources. Colonies that offered neither were neglected, e.g. Goa, Timor, and Macau in Asia.

Nor was Salazar much interested in the economic development of the colonies because he supposed, rightly, that the Portuguese settler population there was not loyal to Lisbon but more inclined to pursue their own interest, even to the point of going over to the British or French. While he did not value the colonies, he could not be seen as the one who lost them as they were part of the distinctive national patrimony. Many a political leader has been over this barrel.

In time Salazar subscribed to Lusotropicalism. Huh? It was a doctrine first developed by a Brazilian sociologist and one which Salazar gradually adopted more and more explicitly. Portugal was a multi-racial, pan cultural, and plural continental agglomeration of peoples. In this combination of attributes Portugal was unique. It recognised the reality that Portugal needed the colonies (for resources and prestige) more than some of them, like Angola, needed Portugal.

The term ‘Luso' comes from the Roman name for what is now southern Portugal, Lusitania. (Yes, like the famous ship.) There is a Lusophone association today comparable to the Francophone Union.

While its longstanding treaty with England was honoured, Portugal remained neutral in World War II but with great difficulty and much manoeuvring. The Japanese encircled and starved Macau but did not set foot on it. The Dutch and Australian armies landed in Dili (Portuguese East Timor) in violation of this neutrality, and when the Japanese retaliated by entering East Timor, Lisbon made a symbolic protest but did not join the Allies and allowed the Japanese legation to stay in Lisbon. The Azores, Madeira, and Cape Verde Islands were of great strategic value during the Battle of the Atlantic, like Iceland, and the British convinced Salazar to allow a base in the Azores in early 1943 but only after long, detailed, and laborious negotiations. Portugal did not participate in any aspect of this base. All the materials and labor was supplied by Britain. While this was a lost business opportunity for cash-strapped Portugal, it allowed Salazar to say to Franco and through him to Hitler that Portugal was not a party to this base but only a reluctant landlord who received no rent.

Part of the agreement with Great Britain permitted Portugal to continue to export tungsten (sometimes called wolfram) to Germany. With the income from these sales, it paid for imported food from Brazil transported on British ships. The tungsten trade is the nexus of ‘A Small Death in Lisbon,’ reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

Antony Eden credited Salazar with restraining Franco’s Spain from a more active association with Nazi Germany. Certainly relations with Spain occupied Salazar morning, noon, and night for more than a decade. While Spain had little to contribute to the German war effort it did have one strategic asset of global significance that the Germans did want — Gibraltar.

Gibraltar.jpg The Rock

It is easy to imagine that Franco with German encouragement and assistance might have besieged or even seized Gibraltar, and that would have all but closed the western Mediterranean to British shipping, and that would have been a strategic blow of monumental proportions. Without naval supplies Malta would have succumbed, freeing the Mediterranean of RAF control. Then the Afrika Corps of Erwin Rommel might have prevailed in North Africa cutting the Suez Canal and threatening, if not reaching, the oil fields of Middle East, or outflanking Russia in the Caucuses. The German General Staff had developed a plan to assault Gibraltar but the logistics to support it were impossible without the active assistance of Franco’s Spain and probably also Vichy France, both of which were neutral.

While Salazar’s government was and became increasingly authoritarian, it did not come to power, he did not come to power by violence as did Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco and the regimes they created. Nor was violence a direct instrument of government in Salazar’s Portugal. There were no purges. No systematic attacks on parts of the population, Jews, unionists, free masons, homosexuals, or others. Murder was not a policy. Even those who tried to assassinate Salazar suffered exile, not torture and murder.

There was also no general social mobilisation. Yes, Salazar repeatedly called on Portuguese to make sacrifices for the nation, but there were no rallies to create a nation figuratively, if not literally, at arms. Parades there were on patriotic anniversaries and religious festivals, but no Nuremberg rallies, no harangues from Roman balconies, no colossal vanity projects built by the slave labor of political prisoners as occurred in German, Italy, and Spain.

There was no ideology pervading the army, the bureaucracy, the police as there was in the other three. There were no Thought Police. The only test for a place in any public institution was technical competence not ideological adherence. While the communist party was outlawed, there was no systematic or sustained search to ferret out its members and sympathisers. If they kept their heads down, then that was enough.

Nor did Salazar strut like a Mussolini, suck the blood of the crowd like Hitler, nor pass death sentences with a yawn like Franco.

Likewise he had no interest in the army, which had overthrown the monarchy in the name of liberalism, and tried, as his authority increased, to circumscribe it. He seems in part to have been trapped by his own imagery of the householder who must husband resources, and he could see little use of weapons and soldiers, and so declined to spend escudos on them.

Portuguese bank note(1).jpg

Instead he relied to England on one side and Spain on the other to secure Portugal. A risky balancing act, but far less expensive than trying to create a modern army, which realistically was never going to be able to defend the country from either Spain or England any way, and easier to control. He seldom visited army barracks, and when he did, he did not come bearing gifts. Two generations of underfunding of the army may explain why it was inept in the colonial wars.

He is never to be seen in a uniform, though some short-lived efforts were made to create organisations supporting the regime with armbands and the like, he took no interest in these and they passed. There was no Hitler Youth, no Roman Legion, no Blue Shirts, no Brown shirts, no Red shirts, no Black Shirts, no Falange, no Nazi Party. Nor were their pledges of personal loyalty to Salazar extorted from the populace.

Yet it is equally true that many suffered in his regime. There were all manner of exiles from the previous tumults, monarchists in Brazil, extreme rightists in France and later in Spain, leftists in Spain and then France, republicans in England, liberals in France, adventurers in Tangiers. His regime exiled many, by banning them from Portugal for sentences of two or more years, leaving them to go where they might. In time, concentration camps were built in Angola and then Cape Verde where political prisoners were interned in terrible conditions and more than half died of disease.

And yet, when relatives of political prisoners in Cape Verde or Angola wrote petitions to him, he read them. When relatives asked for a personal audience to plead the case for a political prisoner, sometimes he acceded and heard them out. He seldom if ever changed his mind but he read the letters, and he did listen. Little as it may seem, it is inconceivable that Hitler, Mussolini, or Franco would do even that. There are many other instances of his forbearance in other contexts, too.

During the Cold War the PIDE grew and justified its existence by finding red plotters under many beds after kicking them over.

PISE book.jpg

Arrests without writs or trials, and torture occurred, along with the murder of opponents of the regime. Salazar may not have known the details but nonetheless he created the system that spawned these deeds, and he kept a blind eye turned. Salazar identified so completely with the regime that any opposition to one was a betrayal of the other and the repression grew, and as always there were willing hands to do so in PIDE. Amnesty International was born partly in response to Salazar’s Estado Novo in the 1960s.

While the corporate elements of the Estado Novo kept prices low, this simply created a black market, often operated across the Spanish border, in which some grew rich and others suffered. When the colonial wars came it was the same story. Those from well off families did not go Africa but others did.

In the 1960s sun-seeking tourists from Britain and Germany went to southern Portugal and their money helped fund the bloody colonial wars.

Candidates for the few elected offices who criticised the regime were hounded, and after they lost the election, they were punished. Opponents could not win because the ballot boxes were stuffed. There was nothing subtle about this procedure which the international media reported. Salazar had no personal involvement and in many cases may not have known it happened, and he even occasionally inquired but was always readily satisfied by a bland response from an authority down the line.

Salazar insisted on fighting the three African wars within a balanced budget which had become an article of faith with him. The result was a constantly ill-trained and under-equipped army in the field. There was virtually no medical service in the army, and the quiet brain drain that had been going on for a long time increased in pace. Disease maimed, injured, and killed far more Portuguese conscripts than bullets.

AFrican wars.png Portuguese conscripts in Africa.

Politics made strange bedfellows. Portugal allied itself with Rhodesia and South Africa with Israel supplying many of the arms. Portugal desperately holding onto its empire allied itself with a break-away colony Rhodesia. Portugal that claimed no colour bar in its Lusotropical colonies allied itself with the apartheid South Africa. Portugal which was the origin of the Inquisition’s attack on Jewry relied on Israel.

Later there were all those Cubans. Cubans? Yes, Fidel Castro turned the Cuban army into mercenaries, 25,000 of them, and sent them off to Africa. The Soviets paid Cuba in oil extracted from Romania. Blood for oil.

Likewise Salazar's determination, in a convoluted manner justified by Lusotropicalism, to swim against the tide of post-war decolonisation led to three wars in Africa, which Portugal could neither sustain nor terminate. It held grimly onto Macau and Timor while doing nothing to improve life in either. It held onto even more grimly Goa and the associated enclaves grandly called the Portuguese States of the Indes when India was born. In a round-about order, Salazar told the Portuguese governor of Goa to fight the Indian army to the last man, but this governor decided he did not receive this order and ignored it. When he returned to Portugal, there was an inquiry into Who Lost Goa, but nothing came of it and the one-time governor went into retirement to write his memoirs. Another example of Salazar's forbearance.

The material benefits from the colonies, even Angola, the richest, were small against the costs of retention. Retention was about prestige, not money, and Portugal's distinctive raison d'étre, Lusotropicalism.

In this context he also broke with the Catholic Church because priests, bishops, and cardinals decried the murderous brutality of the wars, particularly that in Mozambique. Salazar’s response was to blame the churchmen for interfering with secular matters. He would hear no more of it, and measures were taken to intimidate some churchmen, and that engaged Papal attention. The dogs in PIDE were off the leash. Again Salazar did not authorise the use of poison in water and poison gas, but those to whom he entrusted the war did, and when it was challenged, Salazar accepted their denials without question.

Though not a workaholic, his workload grew during the years of World War II when he was in effect Prime Minister, Minister for War, Minister for Finance, Minister for Industry, and Foreign Minister. He laboured into most nights writing out his directions, thoughts, questions, orders, reports and reading everything he could get his hands on about the war and international events in a corner office visible from the street. Passers-by knew O Chefe was on the job. After the war he did share out the work more to a cabinet, but fretted when others made decisions.

He was a micromanager and seldom delegated and never easily, and certainly not anything important, accordingly the log-jams occurred, because for a decade, before, during, and after World War II, everything was important. The book succeeds in showing how both Salazar and the Estado Novo he created changed over time from benign authority in the troubled times of the 1920s to a suffocating and malign authoritarianism with the reality of violence. While violence was not the means of ascent, it became the means of continuation for Salazar and the Estado Novo.

Salazar was Portugal for more than forty years and the regime he created lasted fifty years. In his later years in the later 1960s the Portugal he knew as a young man in the 1920s remained fresh in his mind, chaotic, destitute, a laughing-stock in Europe, divided, and against that his regime was orderly and disciplined. One observer said, there is no such thing as Salazarism, there is no ideology, no program, no narrative, no policy, just Salazar at his desk every day responding to what happens with his pen. His responses became less and less flexible, and more and more blanket.

Nor was there any succession plan, in contrast say to Franco in Spain whose rule gave way to the restored Monarchy. A few times in the 1960s confidants suggested a lighter workload for Salazar, which could be arranged by making him President, but he rejected these suggestions with increasing vehemence. Finally in 1968 he became infirm and went into a coma for weeks. In the confusion, his cabinet turned to Marcelo Caetano who inherited quite a witches’ brew. Caetano had long been a private critic of much of the regime, and had at times been side-lined because of it. He held on until April 1974. He did try to make changes but the the Old Guard was so well entrenched and so frightened of change, he could do little until the roof fell-in.

A word on the nomenclature. Portugal had a president of the state and a president of council of ministers. Two presidents. The state president was elected for seven year term, and through Salazar regime the electorate decreased as it was ever more tightly controlled to ensure that the right candidates prevailed. The state president designated the president of the council who then formed a government. The state president performed the ceremonial tasks, received the credentials of foreign diplomats, cut the ribbon on national days, shook hands with returning soldiers, escorted state visitors here and there. The president of council made the decisions.

The reality was that Salazar fixed the selection and election of a state president who would comply with him. The electorate was reduced step-by-step to those who held official positions, all of whom were appointed by the Estado Novo, i.e., Salazar.

Salazar was president of council who could have been dismissed at any time by the state president, and in effect he was when he went into a coma.

Most international media overcame these repetitive, odd, and confusing terminology by referring to Salazar as prime minister to the state president.

Salazar did regain consciousness and lived another year. No one had the courage to tell him he was no longer in charge. But there was no pretence that he still ruled.

Despite all his efforts he did not leave Portugal a better place. It remained primarily agricultural and its agriculture depend on animals and strong backs. Roads were primitive outside the cities. Telecommunications scare and unreliable. Education was abysmal, as was health care.

On European tables of comparison, Portugal was the Louisiana or Europe, last on the good things, e.g., longevity, health, and first on the bad, infant mortality, illiteracy. Even less had been done in the countries of the empire, which he held so dear, to improve the lives of the Lusotropicals. Salazar would never admit any of this, but it was apparent to some around him, like Caetano, and to the world media and diplomatic corps.

Though he never married there were a few women in his life; yet he nearly had no private life, nor any interests outside work. At the mass in Lisbon at his death, the government officials, members of the media local and international, and diplomats far outnumbered friends and family. In this latter group were his two surviving sisters, his loyal housekeeper, and two nieces.

In the last chapter the author suggests that Salazar had three abiding motivations. The first was that he was agent of providence who had to shepherd Portugal. In his earlier career this conviction had a religious dimension but this receded with time. Second was the belief that without him the delicate arrangements would collapse. Third that the empire was Portugal and it had to be held. He was certainly right about the second above. Without him the Estado Novo was hollow.

Personally he was frugal and his family — the four sisters — benefitted in no material way from his rule. When Caetano took over, Salazar was out of job, out of the official residence, and destitute. He had only the clothes on his back. The government had to make special provision to pay for his hospitalisation and subsequent care and residence. He was without an escudo to his name.

In a television program in 2007 seeking the Os Grandes Portugueses of all time, Salazar prevailed over Ferdinand Magellan, explorer; Vasco de Gama, sailor and innovator; Luis vaz de Camöes, poet credited with creating the Portuguese language; Henry the Navigator, unifying political leader; Antonio Egas Moniz, Nobel Prize winner in medicine; and José Saramogo, Nobel Prize winner in literature. If ‘greatest’ means doing what no one else did or is ever likely to do, then Salazar is the choice.

The introduction of the book, while well written and informative, bemoans the difficulties of the scholar in a self-indulgent way. What is said is true, ‘Amen to that, Brother,’ but the introduction is not the place for it. It aroused in my mind the difficulties of those scholars who do not have jobs at all, of those scholars who cannot follow their interests, those lacking connections and direction cannot get good work published, and all those other people whose lives are far harder than competing for research grants or waiting for a sabbatical.


A Portuguese once told me about Portuguese world literature as we sat, bored stiff, at a conference presentation, no doubt one involving post-modernism. Yes, the entire world’s literature was available in Salazar’s Portugal. But it was cut down to Portuguese-size. ‘Huh,’ I said, always quick on the uptake.

Press censorship.jpg Perhaps reading Shakespeare was like reading this newspaper.

Censorship abridged, edited, and changed Shakespeare, Milton, Moliêre, Darwin, Rousseau, Göthe, Eliot to remove the big and the dangerous ideas of personal autonomy, political rights, regicide, consent of the government, self-expression, women’s capacities, dissent, immorality, growth through trial and error, divorce, protestantism, and so on. While Plato’s philosopher-kings remained in the Portuguese edition of ‘The Republic’ the community of wives, children, and property — communism — was excised, along with Plato’s repeated assertion that women must contribute to the society as do men. Also snipped out was the homosexuality, the marriage festivals, and the noble lie. I had asked about Portuguese translations of ‘The Republic’ and that question led to the conversation adumbrated above.

I have had an itch about Portugal ever since the Carnation Revolution of April 1974 which captured my attention in the early months of my first year in Australia, however that event was obliterated from the local media by the murder of five Australian journalists in East Timor after the Portuguese left and the Indonesians attempted to annex the area. These murders are re-visited every ten years of so by the Australian media. While what happened and who did remain unknown speculation recurs and recurs with attendant breast beating.

What is the oldest continuing electoral system in the world? It might be the conclave that elects the Bishop of Rome, known to the world as the Pope. For a thousand years a closed meeting of eligible voters has chosen the next Pope.

When the conclave has started the last few times, I have wondered how it works behind those closed doors. When I have brought up this question - how does it work - with colleagues and friends none have taken any interest in the subject, neither the psephologist nor the theologians of my acquaintance. I left it at that on those occasions.

Conclave cover.jpg

When I saw this title, I picked it up in the hope it would shed some light on some of the mysteries. It does!

Behind the closed doors there is a very specific procedure which has ancient and holy origins. Pedigreed it is, but it was only codified and published in 1996 by Pope John Paul II in the Apostolic Constitution. (See Wikipedia.) An earlier initiative in 1970 limited voting to cardinals under the age of 71.

In sum, there is a manager of the process from the Curia who looks after all the details of travel, housing, security, and so on, and chairs the voting sessions. There are two sessions each day. There are no preliminaries beyond the social niceties as the cardinals gather in Vatican City on the day before the Conclave begins. The next day they convene behind locked doors and vote. There is no talking, just praying, meditating, and voting.

The ballot is secret and they vote by writing the last name of the cardinal they support on a piece of paper and drop it in a receptacle. They do this one-at-a-time so the process is slow. A printed list of call cardinals is on each desk. They do not talk in the Conclave.


The votes are counted by three cardinals, previously designated by the manager, who in this case blindly drew names from a box. Selection is done publicly before the assembled cardinals. To count, each ballot is extracted one at a time, and the name on it read aloud. For 118 votes all of this takes time.

But wait there is more! When this count is done a second group of another three cardinals, also chosen earlier at random, recounts the votes, this time silently. When it confirms the results, the manager announces the distribution of the votes.

This practice stems from the mistrust and brutality of Papal election in bygone days. Think of that Borgia pope whom Jeremy Irons played as a clown.

To gain the crown a candidate must have a super-majority of two-thirds of the total vote. If no one reaches that figure, there is a break for lunch and another session in the afternoon. The proceedings are punctuated by pauses for prayer and meditation before and after each vote.

If someone secures the two-thirds majority, the deed is done. However, if after eight votes, no one reaches the super-majority, then in the ninth and any subsequent ballots the bar is lowered to a majority of fifty percent plus one of the votes cast.

As in any election, the greater the majority, the greater the moral authority of the electee.

The book is replete with such details and I found all of that very interesting. I will return to these formalities later, but there are also informalities to consider.

No one declares candidacy, but there are candidates aplenty in this story. There are many Italian cardinals and there are recognised leaders among them, more than one.

Leadership can take several forms, as an advocate of certain theological position, as an office bearer in the Curia, as an organiser of good works, as ….. Of the two leading Italians in this story one is an advocate of a return to old time religion of the Latin mass, the denunciation of Islam, etc and the other an intellectual who has long been Secretary of State for the Vatican City and is known far and wide as thoughtful, rational, cooperative, constructive, and one who can get things done.

In addition, the third world cardinals coalesce from the first dinner around an outstanding exemplar, though it not so clear to this reader why they he is so esteemed, apart from his titanium self-confidence.

The Curia always has an implicit candidate and in this account he is a Canadian, who, as the story unfolds, has been for years distributing Papal monies in a strategic way. (Guess!)

At the first dinner on the arrival date, these leaders sit at distant tables surrounded by their supporters. Any high school class president would recognise the pattern.

None is without sin, and each falls along the path of the voting. There is much drama, and the outside world intrudes.

The details about the voting left a few questions for me. Cardinals over seventy attended in this story but evidently they did not vote. What then did they do? Nap through the Conclave? They came all the way to Rome to nap, well, to show solidarity, but still it seems strange to command that they travel to Rome and yet once there to regard them as too infirm to vote with intelligence and good faith.

Moreover, it was not clear to me if the two-thirds requirement was based on eligible voters (those seventy and under) or all in attendance, one hundred and eighteen in this story, or the vote cast, though no one seems to have abstained in this story. Maybe I missed the explanation.

I was also surprised to learn that cardinals have different titles, Cardinal-Bishop, Cardinal-Priest, etc.

My reading left some gaps in the plot. I never did figure out who identified and sent for the Nigerian woman who was the downfall of one candidate. Nor was I sure why his one sin thirty years ago disqualified him.

Spoiler alert!

The winning candidate is the least likely, and this reader saw that coming from the first page when he was introduced. (Why else was he there?) How he came to the forefront is put down to the Holy Spirit. That may have satisfied some, but not all readers I should think. It is just too easy, I am afraid and my suspension of disbelief snapped there.

Papal logo.png

Both Wikipedia and Amazon’s mechanical turk indicate several other books about Papal elections and if ever I am motivated to return to the subject there is bibliography. Indeed, Harris offers some titles at the end of the book.

conclaveinfographic.jpg All is made clear. (Irony.)

Robert Harris is a superb writer and he brings to life an interesting array of characters, endowing many with an interior life that is rich, complicated, humane, and realistic.

Harris mug.jpg Robert Harris

He treated the spiritual dimension with great skill. The sincerity of the believers is given full measure and the story is richer for it. There is sin, but there are no villains.

His three volume novel about Cicero is only thing I have read, and I have read a lot about Cicero, that made sense of Cicero's contradictions. Sometimes fiction is the best way to make sense of facts.

The Russia into which Peter (1672-1725)  was born was a closed and homogeneous world dominated by an insatiable church.  Men wore belted caftans. Women were never seen out of the house and seldom in it.  An alcoholic stupor was the goal of many at both the top and bottom of the social order. The Orthodox Church awaited the Advent, demand at least six hours of prayer a day for salvation, and hated all foreigners as agents of satan.  This new Rome was surrounded by religious enemies, Lutherans to the north in Sweden, Catholics in the west in Poland, Islam to the south in Turkey, and worst of all the rival Greek orthodox. 

The Russian Orthodox Church was in a state of siege. There were very few foreigners in Russia, merchants and traders in Archangel and some craftsmen in Moscow. End of story.

Peter Great cover.jpg

While most of these surrounding foreigners had no interest whatever in Russia, the religious leadership in Russia saw devils under every bed. Russian xenophobia has deep roots. 

While Muscovy included vast areas, most of it went its own way.  This Russia had no coast on either the Black Sea or the Baltic Sea.  The Tatars, clients of the Ottoman, held all of the north coast of the Black Sea; the Baltic was held by Sweden on all three coasts.  Most of the Ukraine had been conquered by Poland, including Kiev, a sacred city where the Russian Orthodox religion had began. 

When the Ottomans besieged Vienna, Catholic Poland offered to return Kiev to Muscovy, if Russia would attack the Tatars to divert the Ottomans.  This was the first opening to the Europe.

Russia had no army but a palace guard and vast pool of manpower, which was pressed into service as a motley and undisciplined and under-armed expeditionary force.  This huge mob of 100,000 men was no match for either the geography or the Tatars.  After several disasters, the Russians declared victory and a remnant of the force returned to Moscow, but the Poles wanted more than the assertion of victory and, finally, a second even larger and more ramshackle force went, reluctantly, with a similar result.  Kiev remained Polish.

These debacles were crucial in Russia, but more importantly, they represent the first time a Russian regime cooperated with Europeans, and it was the first conflict with the Turks.  The contact with Europe was sour and remains so today and the animosity with the Turks continues today. 

The Romanovs had ruled Muscovy for two hundred years when Peter was born.  His father Alexander was a sensible man who resisted some of the more lunatic demands of the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church.  He had three sons, Fedor, Ivan, and Peter with two sucessive wives.  Fedor and Ivan were born of the first wife and Fedor was raised to be Tsar.  Peter’s mother was a second wife, and as third in line Peter was an afterthought.  Then Alexander died unexpectedly and a dynastic struggle ensured between the families of the two wives about status and place at court.  (The first wive had died but here many relatives were still in court.) At one point the struggle became a massacre.  Most members of the family of Peter’s mother were murdered, some before his eyes when he was nine years old, though his mother survived.  This massacre might explain some of Peter’s aversion to Moscow ever after. 

The details are many and fascinating: Fedor died as did Ivan without heirs, and Peter was Tsar.

From about six years of age Peter lived in a village outside of Moscow where he played soldiers with a company of boys.  He continued to this on an ever increasing scale.  There he developed an aptitude for physical labor and showed a willingness to learn from others, from carpenters and soldiers who trained his boy-army.  Near the river there he came across the keel of a sea-going vessel in a warehouse, perhaps stored there for the timbers to be reused for another purpose.  This discovery kindled his lifelong obsession with the sea.  Peter found chandlers and carpenters to rebuild the ship.  These men were Dutch and this was his first contact with Europeans and he liked them for what he could learn from them and what they told him about the world beyond.

Peter’s tenure as Tsar is dated from age ten when he was ordained Tsar, though Ivan and his sister, Sophia, ruled, while he played in the country.  When Ivan died and Sophia was displaced by a resurgence of Peter’s mother’s family, when he was seventeen, he continued to live in the countryside.  There was no instant conversion like Prince Hal in Shakespeare. 

Peter Great.jpg

One of the arresting figures among the vast cast of this epic is Sophia, who ruled as Regent for six years. The first woman to do in Russia. Since Ivan was ill, crippled, and perhaps mentally deficient, she was Tsar in all but name during his tenure. In the Arsenal in the Kremlin in Moscow we saw a throne where the two boys - Ivan and Peter - sat as co-Tsars in front of a screen with a window. Sophia sat behind the screen listening and told Ivan and Peter what to do and say.

In a world where women were never seen and often beaten to death, she was exceptional indeed.

As a boy Peter’s father gave him wooden toy wagons and boats and he took them apart and reassembled them.  When he could not get them back together he went to the palace carpenters for help. He was free to do so because he was the third son. The heir-apparent, Fedor, would not have been permitted to defer to carpenters.  This willingness to ask and accept help stayed with him, as did his fascination with how things work.  In the boy we see the man.

While his half-brothers Fedor and Ivan were sickly, Peter was a picture of rude good health and a big picture at that.  He was always big for his age. He grew to be six feet and eight inches tall, though he was relatively thin.  That make his more than a head taller than all of his contemporaries. His size may have been a genetic defect.

In his childhood and adolescence he was modest.  With his boy army of three hundred in the village he let others be officers while he served in the ranks.  Thus in drawings and descriptions of these games he wears a soldier’s uniform in the ranks, while others were in the braid of officers based on their abilities.  There is no doubt Peter ran the show, planning during the night the activities for the next day, but in the execution he deferred to others.  Again this is a freedom Fedor would never have had. The Tsar could not defer to others. Here in seed is Peter's lifelong belief that merit not blood should decide rank.

Though Fedor, Ivan, and Peter seldom mixed when they did they always seems to get along with each other.  But Peter came to hate Sophia for the murder of his maternal family.

When Fedor died, the diminished Ivan became Tsar.  What a contrast between the great strapping boy Peter and the lame, halt, and partly blind Ivan.

Much follows this foundation in the nearly one thousand pages of this tome.  As much as a third of it concerns the twenty year Great Northern War with Sweden, then an imperial power occupying the entire Baltic Coast, Finland, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuanian, and some of what became Prussia and Poland. It was a great power to rival France.  

Peter's ambition for the sea focused on the Baltic and Black Seas. The latter brought conflict with the Ottoman Empire and many subsequent wars, while the former meant conflict with Sweden.

It is uncanny how the Swedish invasion of Russia prefigured that of Napoleon and later Hitler. Peter retreated deeper and deeper into the vast Russian steppes, the Swedish supply line lengthened, and the Russians applied the scorched earth practice to deny supplies and succour to the Swedes, a 150 mile zone of exclusion in which everything was removed or destroyed ahead of the advancing Swedes.

When the Swedish supply line finally broke, the Swedes had no choice but to drive on and the decisive battle occurred at Poltava, much venerated in the palace art we saw in St Petersburg.  Even with the Swedes diminished, exhausted, malnourished, and frozen, it was still a near-run fight, but the Russian victory was complete.

The reckless Swedish king, Charles XII, went south into exile with the Russian's other enemy, the Ottomans.  Charles was a character equal to Peter, but in these pages he is one-dimensional, a warrior king, always away at war.  Yet in his absence Sweden rolled on and honoured his endless demands for more money and men.  This stability back home in Stockholm is curious and I may look for a biography of this giant.

Peter's efforts to convert Russia, starting with St Petersburg, into a European city from the top down never quite worked.  As long as he decreed it, it was done, but when he turned away, then ancient Muscovy reappeared.  At best what he got was outward compliance. In St Petersburg there was a tiny European oriented elite around Peter, but elsewhere Muscovy remained, tamed, perhaps, but not converted.

Some of Russian history is a pendulum swing from Europe to Muscovy.  One tsar would push one way and the next would in reaction push the other way.  The swinging continues.

Peter's hobby was carpentry at which he worked all of his life. One well-travelled French diplomat commented Peter was only monarch in Europe with callouses on his hands.  

He married a commoner and after the death of his son, Peter gradually prepared her to be his successor. The son died at Peter's order; Peter thought the boy was conspiring with Austrians to depose himself and turn back the clock to Muscovy.  This episode brought out a paranoia in Peter that remained. He had many other supposed conspirators murdered.

There is much to like about this giant, but he is also foreign from us. The enlightenment had not made it to Russia and he had none of the sympathy and compassion it entailed, still less the emancipatory rhetoric of the King James Bible. He never gave a thought to the slaves, the serfs. In his time about five percent of the population owned the other ninety-five percent.  St Petersburg was built in good part on their dead bodies. Slave labour is another recurrent feature of Russian history.

He relied almost exclusively on decrees to convert St Petersburg and with it Russia to a large version of Amsterdam. He invested nothing in education, communication, or persuasion for either elite or mass. When he wanted to promote industry he enslaved serfs to factory work in an odd and unsuccessful combination of European and Russian practices. Again this seems another continuity in Russian history. Adoption of a European practice with a Russian twist.

While he built the magnificent palace Peterhof to outshine Versailles, and he may have succeeded, he himself did not live it, but rather in an out building on the shore where he occupied two rooms with low ceilings and no decoration of any kind.


There is nothing of Muscovy in Peterhof. He had none of the appetite for riches that later Russian Tsars and Tsarinas had in excess.

Peter wore plain clothes, not jewels or accoutrements, except on state occasions, which he tried to shun. When the pressure of work got him down, he went to the workshop to do carpentry.

He had a mild form of epilepsy and when he had attacks the only person he responded to was his second wife. Courtiers soon learned to send for her when the Tsar was getting in a bad mood which might precipitate an attack.

When he died his wife succeeded him, and thereafter Russia was ruled by other women for many years, until a later Tsar eradicated that possibility. Here they are:

Sophia as regent, 1682-1686
Catherine I, Peter’s widow, as Empress, 1725-1727
Anna, 1730-1749
Elizabeth, 1749-1762
Catherine II (the Great), 1762-1796, who was neither a Romanov nor a Russia!

Massie author.jpg Robert Massie

The book is lucid, exact, intriguing, discerning, and well judged. The prose is elegant.  Altogether it is a pleasure to read and it is a story that takes reading, there is a lot of detail.  He has another on Catherine the Great, but I have had my fill of Russia and Russians for now.

William Donovan (1883-1959) was a lawyer, an Irish Catholic, Federal Prosecutor, bootleg buster, speakeasy raider, Assistant United States Attorney General, and a life long enemy of Hoover J. Edgar. That latter alone seemed recommendation enough. But wait there is more. He also created the Central Intelligence Agency in all but name. How he came to do that is quite a story.

Donovan cover.jpg

The O’Donovans left Ireland in the 1840s for Montreal, and from whence to Buffalo which was a boom town, thanks to Great Lakes shipping, the Erie Canal, and the railroads going west. They shed the ‘O’ to become Donovan, and one of the grandchildren of the migrants was William. He grew up in Buffalo which was still booming and bustling at the end of the Nineteenth Century.

Thanks to the encouragement of a local priest he was well educated and did a Bachelors degree at Columbia University in New York City, and then a law degree there, where he was a classmate of Franklin Roosevelt. Sitting in the same lecture hall, they were worlds apart. Donovan was bog Irish in looks, manner, and attitude, while Roosevelt was aristocratic, aloof, and condescending, the former knew he had to work for a living, while the latter was driven around by a chauffeur who sometimes carried his books. Their paths would cross again.

Leaving aside the details, Donovan went back to Buffalo to practice law but he found it boring. When married, he and Ruth did a world tour and that ignited the wanderlust never to be abated. They went to Tokyo, Paris, Rome. Thereafter he kept a suitcase packed and carried his passport ready to take off again. When, during World War I, Herbert Hoover started food relief in Belgium, Donovan volunteered to work on it, and in 1916 he was Berlin with a party negotiating passage of food to Poland. This trip was at his own expense, a practice he followed thereafter, paying his own way.

Earlier he had joined the National Guard in Buffalo, partly as a way into the upper echelons of Buffalo society. When the United States entered the war, he became a Colonel of the infantry, where he got shot up and walked with a limp ever after. That was when he got the nick-name ‘Wild.’ Though he was later promoted to general at a desk, out of the army he preferred to be called Colonel after his combat service.

He was much medaled, more so than Douglas MacArthur, and that rankled the latter ever after.

After the war, a Buffalo celebrity, he became the Federal Prosecutor in a city infamous for it bootlegging and the many blind-eyes turned to it. He took the blinders off and enforced the law with the same energy and fearlessness he had found within himself in no man’s land in France. Since much of the high society of Buffalo financed the illegal alcohol trade with Canada, he prosecuted many of the social and financial elite, including eventually his own in-laws. He had warned them, but they refused to believe he would touch them. Wrong! Thereafter, he was ostracised in Buffalo, and his wife soon started leading her own, separate life, as did he.

By the way, he seldom, if ever, drank alcohol himself. His failings did not include hypocrisy.

He went from there to Washington D.C. as an assistant attorney general, where he was equally vigorous, so much so that he made an enemy of Hoover J. Edgar, who opened a file on him, one never to be closed. Donovan’s many prosecutions of criminals deprived Hoover J. Edgar of the limelight and he hated that. It also upset some of the arrangements Hoover J. Edgar had with organised crime figures, we now know.

Donovan had hoped that incoming President Herbert Hoover would appoint him attorney-general but it was not so, perhaps because appointing a Catholic to the post was not a confirmation fight President Hoover wanted, perhaps because Hoover J. Edgar was finding dirt and there was some to find, and slinging it. Disappointed, Donovan quit.

He was a lifelong Republican, and ran for lieutenant governor of New York against a Democratic ticket led by Franklin Roosevelt. While Roosevelt treated him with the amused indifference of the landed gentry in this contest, Donovan was tense and desperate to prove himself. He failed. He tried again in 1932 as the Republican candidate of governor and failed again in the face of the Democratic landslide of that year.

But in this period the most important point is that he travelled extensively in Europe and Africa. He became an unofficial go-between, agent, and observer. He was in Berlin in the 1920s and saw a young Adolf Hitler speak who, like a priest, sometimes stood at the exit door, and shook hands with those leaving. In this way Donovan shook hands with Hitler. Imagine how Murdoch's organs could distort that today.

When the U.S. Army failed in its diplomatic efforts to get observers placed with the Italian Army in Ethiopia, intermediaries convinced Donovan, as businessman, to go and observe, he took little convincing. He travelled at his own expense to conceal the government interest. To get permission to enter Ethiopia, Donovan went to Rome and had an audience with Il Duce whom he flattered into signing a visa. Off he went. He later reported to Washington contacts.

In the first ten years of his marriage to Ruth he spent, in total, eighteen months with her, and some of that was travelling time, too. His frequent traveller miles must have added up to millions.

There were many other trips, and each time he would report what he had seen to army contacts like MacArthur or Washington Republicans. MI5 in England marked him as an agent of influence and began to cultivate him. He soon became an unofficial, informal conduit between MI5 and the government in Washington.

Donovan, by now, was part of loose association of businessmen and journalists in New York City who appointed themselves observers and intelligence agents for the United States government in their travels. That sent him off on other self-initiated and self-funded assignments. These expenses and the costs of the lavish life he lived when in the States were considerable and caused much tension with Ruth, his estranged wife, but that did not slow him down.

While he loved the coming and going, he also learned and said that much more important information could be learned by compiling and reading files than watching elevators traffic in hotel lobbies. His emphasis on the intellectual side of intelligence work, as opposed to field work, would become a distinguishing feature of the OSS, though little of that is recounted in these pages.

As the war clouds moved toward the United States, Donovan got a call from the Secretary of the Navy in the Franklin Roosevelt administration, Frank Knox, a rock-ribbed Republican. Knox commissioned Donovan to go to England and assess its capacity to endure a German invasion. Off he went, at his own expense, filling his notebooks with a code he had devised for himself in earlier travels, and came back to write-up a three hundred page assessment. He was hard-headed about it but positive: England would endure. It was a conclusion to which he was coached by MI5 and MI6, but which he also genuinely believed. That led to other such assignments, in the Bahamas, Canada, in a kind of drawn-out job interview and test.

Finally, Roosevelt asked him to assess the intelligence services of the United States government. This was releasing a fat boy in a candy shop. It is a long story but the short version is that there were a number of competing agencies that jealously guarded their zones and prerogatives, and did not share information. There was Army Intelligence, there was Navy Intelligence, there was the State Department’s Information Service, there was, most of all, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. There were other, second order, offices, directorates, and agencies. They each gathered and compiled reports. Moreover, within each of these agencies and offices there were further divisions, rivalries, and conflicts. No one had access to, let alone read, all the information generated, and it was wildly uneven. Each tried to report directly to the President, and each, in the pursuit of budget, devoted much time to disparaging the others and interfering with each other. Anyone who has worked in a large organisation will be familiar with this pathology.

The most pathological of all was, no surprise, Hoover J. Edgar. He kept adding to his file on Donovan, mostly about women.


Donovan proposed, first, an agency that would oversee and centralise the findings of all the services. Any Vulcan can see the logic of that but it led to a colossal bureaucratic war, which he lost. The intelligence services would not combine nor cooperate and they would never share information, but they did briefly unite to stop the creation of any new supervisory intelligence service such as Donovan had recommended.

Still Roosevelt liked what he saw from Donovan — the energy, the optimism, the audacity, the aggression — and found a role for Donovan, first as director of the Office of War Information, where he hired playwrights (Robert Sherwood) and film-makers (John Ford) to create propaganda, thereby offending journalists who thought they should have had the sinecures. Thereafter, the press never missed a chance to denigrate him.

Donovan also believed in research, though quite where he developed this conviction is not explained in these pages, He set up offices in the Library of Congress and hired experts in area studies like North Africa, for example, Ralph Bunche who is not named in this book. He also hired women as researchers and paid them over the going rate, but did not promote them to positions commensurate with their abilities. As far as Hoover J. Edgar was concerned hiring black men like Bunche and paying women higher salaries were criminal acts and his Donovan file grew. He never missed a chance to blacken his name in the constant backstage back-stabbing that makes Washington D.C. go around.

Since Donovan’s was the new boy, the established agencies declared his operation to be amateurish, and thus untrustworthy. Secrets were withheld from Donovan because he could not keep a secret they said. He then set about a campaign to prove a point. He invited his chief critics to lunch, where he invited them to air their criticisms about his sloppy security to him. They did. Then at the end of the lunch one of his assistants would appear and hand him a file. In it would be copies of some super-secret documents from the critic's office which had been earlier purloined, accessed, photographed and replaced by one of Donovan’s amateurish agents unbeknownst to the smug critic and so deftly no one in the interlocutor's office from when it came noticed it had happened. He would, without a word, slide the file across the table to the critic. He thus privately humiliated four or five leading critics, who then redoubled their efforts to destroy him. However it paid dividends because it was an exercise that made him legend among his own staff. Wild, indeed. He would stop at nothing.

In short order, Donovan had thousands of employees, many doing research on the ground in Portugal, Spain, Bulgaria… Thus born was the OSS, first the Office for Special Services, and then the Office for Strategic Services: espionage, sabotage, propaganda, and the like.

He did win the most important bureaucratic contest in that the FBI was confined to United States territory as a counter-intelligence agency, while the OSS had the world. This is a parallel of the distinction between MI5 and MI6 in Great Britain. Hoover J. Edgar never forgave him. They then argued over whether foreign embassies in D.C. fell under the OSS or the FBI. At least on one midnight occasion OSS and FBI agents ran into each other while burgling a foreign embassy on Massachusetts Avenue. All very KeyStone Kops.

The difference was this. If the FBI wanted something, it was done the American way. Kick-in the door and take it. This approach to foreign embassies in D.C. had quickly infuriated the D.C. police who were blamed for not catching the burglars. If the OSS wanted something, there was subterfuge, subversion, and suborning which took longer but left few traces. The OSS developed many spy gadgets to do these things. To Hoover J. Edgar the OSS approach was effeminate.

It is easy to see where the Special Relationship on intelligence arose per ‘The Sandbaggers.’ In the earliest days, Donovan copied the British example, and the Brits fed him intel in order to influence and tame him, while he milked them. Indeed for a time many in D.C. regarded him as a representative of British interests, since he parroted their line, e.g., on the invasion of the Balkans.

But he had many struggles with the British, too. The details are moot, but the conflicts of interest were real.

The OSS efforts to reduce Vichy resistance to Operation Torch were many but to little effect. But at least the OSS did not truck with Vichy, as many other Americans did, even while the Vichy Administration in Algeria deported Jews to German death camps with the complicity of some American diplomats. The author seems unaware of this bad business.

While the British Special Operations Executive was inactive in some of the territory ceded to it in the papal division of the world the two agencies had agreed upon, it would not tolerate an incursion by Donovan. The Brits may have done nothing in Rumania, and have no plans ever to do anything, but they would not tolerate an OSS operation there. Never!

While the war was being won and lost in Russia and later in Normandy, the SOE and OSS were besieging their respective chiefs of staff and prime minster/president with memoranda by the score about who had exclusive rights to launch sabotage operations on Corsica and on Sardinia!

Despite Donovan’s efforts and those of his field agents, many of whom were killed, the Office for Strategic Services seems to have had little, if any, strategic effect. At a tactical level some of its projects did payoff.

One of his most significant personal contributions was to convince the Nuremberg chief United States prosecutor to call victims as witnesses in the crimes against humanity trials. That prosector had planned to argue the case by reading facts and figures from German records and those Germans who had confessed to their part in it. Donovan argued that the victims had a need, a right, to confront their demons and say their piece for eternity. When the prosecutor came around to the tactic, Donovan turned his field agents loose on finding such victims of the death and labor camps. Their harrowing testimony is forever with us. Thanks be to Wild Bill Donovan.

While much of the book details Donovan’s efforts to insert OSS agents into Sicily, Sardinia, and Italy, not a word is said about the American organised crime gangsters who facilitated the entry and the sweetheart deals made with them. Those deals began a long-running association of the American mafia with the later CIA. On this very distasteful story see James Cockayne, ‘Hidden Power: The Strategic Logic of Organised Crime’ (2016).

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The book charts much more of Donovan’s many trips and the missions he sent, but none yielded much success. There is no doubt, Donovan had a great deal of wit and energy, but the OSS was a chaotic organisation, badly run, lacking focus, seldom disciplined, often more interested in show than go, and constantly preoccupied by the rival intelligence agencies in D.C.

Though in some asides, we learn that the research done in D.C. by the OSS was done well and was very useful, but we get little on that and more on Donovan’s diet than whatever he did to establish and develop that analysis. Readers of the 'Pentagon Papers' will recall that the CIA was an honest analyst in those pages, unlike G2 Army Intelligence, State Department Information, Navy Assessment, and NSC briefs. These others were unfailing optimistic and upbeat following the political wind, with a little more effort (i.e., more mayhem and murder) and the Vietnam War will end in triumph. Only the CIA was Cassandra each and every time, and right.

At the end of World War II in 1945, President Harry Truman shut down the residual New Deal agencies, and those created for the war effort, one after another, as quickly as possible to return to normal life, and that included the OSS. Donovan had tried to redirect it first at counter espionage regarding the USSR in the USA, but Hoover J. Edgar stopped that. Donovan then tried to target the USSR but found that hard going.

In 1947 the CIA emerged from the analytic efforts that Donovan had started, but quite how is not the subject of this book, but another by the author.

One of those desk bound exports was the manual conveyed to occupied Europe on how to disrupt the Occupier without personal risk. I note especially the part about using participation on committees to slow everything down, and how managers can slow things done. These manuals must have been the basis of Telecom.

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‘Wild’ Bill Donovan is a name I have known for years. When and how I learned it is lost in the mists of time and tide. Reading biographies of others from the 1940s and 1950s, his name cropped up. It seemed time to find out more.

The book is written in the annoying style of newspaper journalism. Each chapter, and many sections within chapters opens with a hook sentence, e.g., ‘The telephone rang at midnight and the caller said..’ Then it back fills to get to the phone call, usually. I say ‘usually’ because a few of these hooks seem to be forgotten and go unexplained. It means each time the narrative is interrupted and resumed, like stop-start traffic. It jumps around so much I wondered if some of the dates were wrong. No doubt, this method of exposition is what makes it, per the cover, fast paced. It also made it, at times, unintelligible to this reader.

Doug-Waller.jpg Douglas Waller

It lapses into clichés far too often. Opponents are gunmen who gun down innocents. One-eyed and simple-minded more than once. No doubt these clichés are what make it exciting, per the front cover.

I turned a lot of the later pages quickly, having long lost interest in Donovan’s travels, dinners, and handshakes, and his sometimes naive efforts to exert influence in China and elsewhere. These details tell the reader nothing about the man.

Barney who? Barney Frank, the nemesis of many a blowhard on Capitol Hill where they flourish. He was often to be seen on C-SPAN boring into witnesses, preferably a stooge for a vested interest like automobile manufacturers demanding more subsidies, junk bond owning banks there to defend executive bonuses, or a Republican administration flunkies sweeping dirt under carpets. He went at each as the prosecuting attorney cross examining a well-known villain.

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Only the most truthful and well-prepared witnesses limped away intact.

The Frank Test became a coin in Congress for thirty years. If Barney Frank could not find fault, then it was good to-go.

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Mr Frank was born in 1940 in Bayonne, New Jersey where his father owned and ran a truck stop. His parents once hosted a reception for Eleanor Roosevelt in their home when he was a boy. He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1981-2013. He basked in the label, ultra-liberal.

His political career began when, a graduate student in political science at Harvard, he got involved in Kevin White’s mayoral campaign in Boston. Frank, whose graduate work was not compelling, found politics very compelling and worked night-and-day for the White campaign, and emerged as one of its masterminds. He was always there, always picked up the phone, always remembered someone who could help, always found what was lost, always thought of something to try… Reliable, dependable, creative, and accessible, he made himself invaluable.

When White became mayor he had obvious ambitions for higher office and spent most of his time in that pursuit. That left his de facto chief of staff Barney Frank in the office to take the calls and make the calls. (I say obvious because some time later when I spent a semester at Harvard on leave I observed the White administration from across the Charles River in Cambridge and White’s disintegrating ambitions were a spectacle.)

Frank found politics much more interesting than political science and did not complete the graduate degree. He took time off from city hall and worked for a congressman in Washington D.C. for two years and liked what he saw in the legislative world.

He kept solving problems at town hall, meeting more people, impressing others with his thick skin and tireless efforts. He ran for the Massachusetts state legislature, which has the quaint name of Massachusetts General Court, and won a seat in the lower house.

For eight years in the statehouse he advanced one liberal cause after another, e.g., low cost housing, abortion, civil rights, school bussing, and the like. Many people spout liberal causes and are satisfied with that, and Mr Frank, too, likes to spout, but unlike many others, when the spouting was done, he took committee work seriously and applied himself both the substance of reading and evaluating submissions, proposals, and evidence, and in learning the rules of procedure. He also employed researchers to dig and dig they did. Accordingly, he scored some publicity coups and some legislative successes.

A large, disheveled, left-handed Jew, representing a Back Bay constituency made good copy any time, and he attracted publicity. Plus he has a motor mouth, and a quick wit. On slow news days journalist knew they could get copy out of him, and he obliged on his terms. (The Back Bay is home to the purest, whitest, richest, most closed colonial aristocracy of Massachusetts. Upstarts like the Kennedys were barred from this society, having to make due with Brookline.)

At the time many liberals liked spouting about foreign affairs, but Mr Frank went on the banking and finance committees because that was where the money came from to fund liberal causes like low-income housing. The first thing he realised was that inefficiency and sweet-heart deals with labor unions made spending on liberal causes impossible. The first of his many crusades was to cut waste government where he made allies with conservative Republicans, and antagonised unions. The battles with the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority became legendary. He rode the MBTA every day and charted its many failings against its exorbitant running costs and outlandish work practices, outlandish even by Australian standards. His spreadsheets on cost per customer mile traveled compared to other cities entertained viewers on news programs for weeks on end.

He also accepted no-win assignments on other committees where his vote would alienate some Democratic constituencies, like organised labor, but since he had already alienated them, he did the duty, sparing other colleagues the pain. They then in turn owed him favours.

In the financial crises of the Junior Bush years he was a Cassandra, warning of trouble ahead to be ignored, and then later as the wheel turned he was blamed for causing the trouble by predicting it. In hindsight Republican Bush administration officials even blamed him for not stopping them. That is political logic!

There is no doubt he was a one-man brains trust in Congress with some memorable turns of the phrase who had no small talk and no time for normal pleasantries. He was always all business all the time, right here, right now. Nor was he easily discouraged: Blunt, direct, acerbic, and well prepared. Here are a few examples.

1.This bill is the legislative equivalent of crack. It yields a short-term high but does long-term damage to the system and it's expensive to boot.

2.People might cite George Bush as proof that you can be totally impervious to the effects of Harvard and Yale education.

3.Moderate Republicans are reverse Houdinis. They tie themselves up in knots and then tell you they can't do anything because they're tied up in knots.

4.They have become so attached to their outrage that they are outraged to lose it.

5.Southern racists were able to protect murderers only because their legislators exploited fears of federal power.

6.For those like Ben Carson, who just announced that it was a choice, I do want to say at 14 I did not choose to be a member of what I thought was the most hated group in America.

7.They can vote for every possible war that comes along and still be pro-life.

8.The runner slides into home with a thousand dollars in hand as a contribution to the umpire but the money will not effect the call….that is what we say about campaign contributions.

9.I’m left-handed, Jewish, and Gay, there is no majority I belong to. Well, maybe the overweight.

When an amendment he presented failed in committee, he re-worked it and presented it again, and again, and again. In so doing, he became a master of procedure. He also spent all hours trying to talk others around to his way of thinking. This talk, talk, talk reminded a little of the loquacious young George Wallace.

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The descriptions of the joint House and Senate committees to harmonise bills and of the ad hoc committees called by President Bush to find common ground are delightful. In them John McCain comes off as a driven man who knows he has to be involved but has nothing to offer and takes his own sweet time in doing that. Bush Jr appears well meaning but lost.

But the severest criticisms are for the technicians Henry Paulson at Treasury and Benjamin Bernanke at the Federal Reserve whose faith in their own technical prowess led them to overreach.

On the other side of the coin Senator Barack Obama comes across as extremely able, well versed, and ready to compromise if it will do some good. While McCain was determined to be the centre of attention and when he got it, he had nothing to say on the subject, Obama was content to wait his turn and when it came he make concrete proposals that most could accept.

Mind, the telling is entirely one-eyed and ever partisan.

Frank’s other claim to fame is the public acknowledgement of his homosexuality in 1987. It was a long time in coming but a few years before he began telling family, friends, and then colleagues. There were whispers and finally an interview was arranged in which he would be asked the direct question to which he gave the direct answer. The double-life he had been living for years was difficult he had eruptions of temper, often directed at women, including some journalists on air. He was losing self-control and had enough sense to realise it. It would be better, he thought, to clear the air and let the chips fall. This is the longest chapter of the book and more interesting. I flipped through many of the remaining chapters at light-speed.

For a time his private life became very public, and the news was not always good. He did some stupid things. Hands up all those who haven’t.

Frank happy.jpg Frank seems to have found happiness.

The book is replete with anecdotes and much play-by-play description which does nothing to illuminate the man and his formative experiences. Barney walks on water through most of it. I stress the uncritical nature of the book because it surprised me, coming, as it does, from a university press.

weisberg.jpg Stuart Weisberg

I chose it because of the publisher on the assumption it would be dispassionate and disinterested. Not so.

Heads up! Who was Ralph Bunche (1903-1971), and why do not you know? You do not know, now do you. Shame!

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A few hints then. He was point guard on three conference championship basketball teams at UCLA. [Sounds of silence.] This was a minor part of his odyssey.

Another hint. He had a Harvard PhD in political science.

No, still nothing.

How about the fact that he got a Nobel Peace Prize, and in his case, unlike several other recent recipients, it was deserved.

A last try, he served in the OSS during World War II. Huh? I hear the thinking. Look it up, Mortimer.

Let’s get the cat out of the bag. He was Dag Hammarskjöld's right hand at the United Nations where he worked from 1944 to 1970. In fact, his tenure preceded Hammarskjöld's and, of course, he outlived the Swede.

Oh, and he was an American Negro (the term he always used). That bespeaks the odyssey. His grandparents were born in the slave society of Missouri.

It was an article of faith from those grandparents onward on both side of the family tree that a black had to be educated to survive in the white man’s world.

Born in a Detroit before it became the manufacturing capital of the United States, his family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico in the early 1915. Tuberculous was suspected in some family members and they packed off for the dry climate with a few dollars and strong wills to make a living. His mother and grandmother combined to insure that he got an education. When his school work was poor they complained to the school, where the principal rather thought they should be grateful that the school even took in a negro.

He was a bored student in high school, these two decided, because the school had slated him for vocational classes, woodwork, typing, auto shop, book-keeping. They more or less sat in the principal’s office until Bunche was put into the academic track of college preparation. They then applied themselves to making sure Ralph lived up to the challenge, and he did.

He encountered racism but only small doses in the sparsely populated New Mexico. The family moved to Los Angeles, as so many others had, to find the land of milk and honey, after the arid dust of the south west. He graduated from high school first in his class but was not recognised as such. Figure it out!

Yes, he played sports as boys do, and got a scholarship to play basketball at Cal.

Bunche basketball.jpg Sportsman.

Like many others he combined the gym with the library.

He was first in his class again but not honoured as such…because? See if you can guess. The school did not want a black face at the podium with all those benefactors and check books present.

The BA was not enough. He did the one true major, political science. His undergraduate supervisor encouraged him to do graduate work and he went to Harvard, first for an MA, and then a PhD. Along the way he had many part time jobs as students do, and each time he did his best to do them well. He knew that there was no margin of error for a black man.

The PhD made the man for he studied European colonialism. To do that his supervisor insisted he learn languages, French and German. His supervisor also secured funding for him to do fieldwork in European archives and in west Africa. Young, energetic, idealistic, and black he examined French colonialism in west African colonies some of which had been German. What impressed most him the most in his contemporary letters was the alcohol that French colonial officials put away. Second, was how sloppy the records in the archives in Paris were. Third, he found virtually no racism directed at himself in Paris, Dahomey, or Togo. At the time, he took it for granted but in latter life mused on the two-speeds of racism.

Howard University in Washington, D.C., a black college, created a political science department and appointed him the foundation professor and head of department while he was completing the PhD research. He was appointed ABD!

ABD? I was appointed ABD at Sydney. These days few people would be appointed ABD. ABD? All but dissertation. It means that a graduate student has completed all the requirement for the PhD but has not yet submitted the dissertation and had it accepted.

After a master degree with a thesis, the PhD requirements would include three years of advanced seminar work with many essays and research projects, then general written examinations (in three fields), and oral examinations over the generals. It would also include the preparation, defence in writing and oral tests of a proposal for the PhD dissertation. It is heavy lifting. But the heaviest lift is to come in the dissertation which takes about two more years.

But there are many stops along the way from ABD to completing the dissertation. ABD forms a continuum. At one end is as above, at the other is someone who completed all the research, written the dissertation and had it examined and passed, but the degree has not yet been awarded due to the cycle of the university.

To cut to the chase, many, many ABDs do not become PhDs. They do not complete that final requirement, the dissertation and defend it. Of these most just do not finish; only a few finish the dissertation but fail the final defence, though I have seen it happen twice in my forty years at the table.

There are as many reasons why ABDs do not finish as there are ABDs. Life intrudes, the fellowship runs out and a living has to be earned. Pregnancy alters priorities. It proves hard to conceive, execute, and write a book in the two years.

While ABD Ralph Bunche had his share of problems. His duties at Howard were demanding. and while the pay was adequate there was nothing left for more field-trips, to pay for professional typing, conference travel, or translations. But somehow, thanks largely to his long suffering wife, Ruth, he did it. In sum, he had all the problems any ABD had, and each was overlaid by the racism of the time and place. e. g., getting access to the Library of Congress was a struggle for a black man.

He got another fellowship for archival research, this time at the Colonial and Foreign Office in London and during this period he met a long list of others like Paul Robson, many of them communists to a degree, as the only recourse for black hopes. He found himself at home in this worldly milieu, but argued constantly against the communist line. He agreed that class incorporates race and was the origin of much racially suspicion, fear, and hostility in the white working class and lumpenproletariat, but he had no use for the Communist Party as an agent of change for the better. Of course merely talking to such believers made him a fellow traveller to the likes of Hoover J. Edgar. During this period, 1937-1938, he made an extensive field-trip to East Africa, including Kenya, where he made many contacts thanks to his London friend, Jomo Kenyatta.

When lights went out all over Europe again, the War Department began serous recruiting, and it wanted an African specialist, especially French North Africa. Bunche was recruited to work in that very same Library of Congress. Cognoscenti will know that the OSS was housed there initially because Colonel William Donovan wanted his agents to have a thorough grounding in culture, history, and languages. Yes, Bunche became a desk officer for the Office of Special Services, the parent of the CIA. He wrote manuals and training programs that were eventually used by American forces in Operation Torch, the landings in Morocco and Algeria.

He also attended at least one of the Roosevelt-Churchill summits which addressed the post-war world. President Roosevelt wanted planning for the post-war world to start from day one of the war, or before, and it was in fact before, because he had seen the aftermath of World War I descend into comedy, farce, and now tragedy.

When the idea of a new League of Nations to keep the peace emerged, the State Department wrenched Bunche from the OSS and put him to work on the future of colonial places and peoples. Bunche had become the United States expert on European colonies. He attended the San Francisco foundation of the United Nations on the American delegation, where he soon became the United Nations expert on colonies.

Bunche specs.gif Mediator.

He also worked closely with Eleanor Roosevelt on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

He was a master of the research, also he proved adept at finding small steps of common ground in committee meetings and negotiations. Trygve Lie, the first Secretary General found Bunche was someone who could do the near impossible, and so assigned him to Count Folke Bernadotte, that ill-fated descendent of Napoleon’s wayward marshal, to mediate the Israel partition. The telling of this is a major part of the book, just under one hundred pages, and it proved to be Bunche blooding as an international civil servant, literally and figuratively.

For the ordini, in contrast to the cognoscenti, the Count was murdered in the street, in an open car in Jerusalem wearing a white Red Cross uniform by terrorists who wanted to disrupt all negotiations and drive the fledgling United Nations out. These terrorists — the Stern Gang — included a future prime minister of Israel.

Bunche was catapulted on the spot into the top job as the UN mediator.

There follows a story, familiar today, of intransigence and hostility from Israeli Jews and from Arabs of all stripes. He had remarkable stamina and patience, perhaps born of his own personal experience of enduring the unendurable as a black man, and he kept at it. The key point is simple.

After the murder of Bernadotte all negotiations took place on the island of Rhodes. There the Israel delegation and that of Egypt, the first of the Arab states at the table, stayed in the same hotel, ate in the same dining room, and played on the same ping-pong and billiard tables. There was much posturing, partly, mainly for domestic consumption and then painful deliberations in search of the undiscovered country of common ground. After weeks, there was an agreement for peace, and instead of returning to headquarters to take a bow, Bunche went on negotiate similar agreements with other Arab states, Trans-Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. The first agreement made the second easier to secure, and the second made the third easier and so on.

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His approach reminded me a little of MacKenzie King in his days as a mediator. He got the antagonists talking about indirect matters, the size of the table, the menu, all the trivia and as they agreed on these things he went on to other minor points….one after another building up agreement. No agreement was too small because each agreement made the next one easier.

For his labor to end the Arab-Israeli War the Nobel Peace Prize committee recognised him in 1950. He copied much of Bernadotte’s approach, but the substance was his alone. Indeed Bernadotte’s approach was partly his downfall. He was transparent and punctual. He always told everyone what he doing and when he was doing it, and stuck to a rigid timetable. His meetings and travels was published the day before and he was never late for a meeting. Bernadotte also thought the white uniform was protection enough and had no body guards. The murderers had no trouble locating him.

In the lead-up to his murder the extremists in Israel had portrayed Bernadotte as evil incarnate and an anti-semite from the cradle. Think Fox News on Hillary Clinton. The truth is that during World War II as a Swedish Red Cross official Bernadotte had risked his life and limb more than once to extricate people from the Nazis, including many Jews, some later resident in Israel, and also from the Soviets. He survived unlike his colleague and compatriot Raoul Wallenberg.

The burden of racism never ended. On the ocean liner to Oslo to receive the prize he was harangued by a woman at dinner about the inferiority of negroes, she being blind drunk and too vain to wear glasses, did not realise he was a negro, until he told her. But things only got worse.

He was targeted by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. The ostensible cause was that he attended a meeting in 1935 where a self-proclaimed Communist had spoken. The proximate cause was that Alger Hiss had appointed him to the San Francisco delegation to set up the United Nations, and anyone Hiss touched was poisoned in a reverse King Midas.

The accusations were puffed up by the some of the in(per)formers on Roy Cohn’s payroll. Shades of Fox News. The lies were so false that they were hard to refute, but nonetheless Bunche spent two weeks on written replies to fourteen accusations, searching attics, storage trunks, carbon copies, and the like to reconstruct his activities and correspondence fifteen years earlier. The investigation lapsed, but as was the way with these witch hunts, he was never cleared, though nothing incriminating was ever found. The absence of evidence was not evidence of absence.

That he had opposed Communists in the black organisations he had participated in was proof to the conspiracy theorists that he was a secret Red Agent doing so as cover. There is no win available in this cosmology.

Accordingly, accusations against him circulated among the loony right for another generation. No doubt still do in those circles. He was successful; he was black; and he was a United Nations official. These are three things loons hate. These were his crimes. To be born. Guilty. To succeed. Guilty. To serve humanity. Guilty. Why is it that I think of Fox News.

In those days the loons did not own the Republican Party and President Eisenhower demonstrated publicly his confidence in Bunche more than once, while Harold Stassen, the eternal pretender, who had worked with him in San Francisco arranged for him to receive an honorary degree from Penn.

Bunche spoke far and wide about the United Nations, and often emphasised its importance for American negroes as an international conscience. This exposure riled up the rabid right in the States.

Dag Hammarskjōld's had been appointed Secretary General and after a period of getting acquainted, they worked together as hand and glove, vine and fence. The rule was that no citizen of a member of the Security Council could be Secretary General, ergo Bunche was never a possibility for that job.

The peace he had brokered in the Middle East collapsed a decade later in 1956 when in one of the last spasms of empire, Britain and France invaded Egypt to seize the Suez Canal, while just by coincidence Israel attacked to secure disputed territory around the Gaza Strip, which is still disputed in 2016, sixty years later. Though Bunche tried to intervene, the toothpaste was out of the tube.

In the aftermath of Suez Bunche created the United Nations peacekeeping force. There had been UN observers before but these peace keepers were supposed to keep the antagonists apart, not just report on what happened. The practice of painting vehicles white set by Bernadotte was continued. While no international uniforms were created the blue hats were used to identify the UN troops, first war surplus USA helmet liners painted sky blue, the berets came later. That was the first demand for the supply of peace keeping troops that created the market which exists today, wherein cash strapped Third World countries sell their soldiers to the UN.

UN helmets.jpg More than 3,000 UN peacekeepers from 120 countries have been killed on duty as of 2016.

His home life was sacrificed to his travels and to the enormous pressures on him. Though when in New York he had something akin to a normal life for weeks at a time. He and Ruth bought a house in Queens where she lived until her death in 1988. Bunche, by the way, was a heavy smoker but drank alcohol only socially and not always then, apart from the toasts.

Then came the Congo and that just about destroyed the United Nations. When Hammarskjöld was killed, Bunche was once again catapulted into the top job on the spot. Once again in this telling, Belgium earnt the reputation as the worst of the colonisers. The Congo was the biggest in a relentless flow of crises: Yemen, Kashmir, Cyprus, Somali, Namibia, Bahrain, Biafra, Vietnam, and always the Middle East, just to cite the headlines. In addition there is a crisis a day within the United Nations itself as the Soviets undermined it, the non-aligned movement discredited it, and the United States suspected it. Back and forth goes Ralph Bunche.

There is more to his story but perhaps this is enough to whet any appetites out there.

Bunche turned the other cheek many times and he forgave but he did not forget.

Ergo when President Harry Truman offered him the number two job in the State Department, he declined because in Washington D.C. years before when his daughters’ pet dog died it could not be buried in the pet cemetery because the pet cemetery was whites only. Think about that.

When UCLA offered him an honorary doctorate to bask in the glow of his Nobel Prize, he declined it because though he was objectively (by GPA) the best student another had been made class valedictorian. To his credit this other tried to refuse the honour because he knew Bunche had the better GPA.

While on the subject of declines, he also declined Adlai Stevenson in 1951 and Jack Kennedy in 1959 who both asked him to be a foreign affairs advisor at twice the UN salary in their presidential runs. He preferred the UN and New York City. Had he accepted Kennedy, he would likely have become Secretary of State.

When time and tide permitted, he was active in the Civil Rights campaigns.

Bunch King Montegomery.jpg Protestor with Dr King.

Another nail in coffin prepared by Hoover J. Edgar.

Brian Urquhart was a long-time British diplomat at the United Nations.


Much of the book is a record of events in which Bunche participated from which the readers learns little about the man himself. How he could summon the energy and good will to attend one crisis after another remains a mystery, because it became painfully apparent after the Congo that the United Nations could do little. Still little is better than nothing.

Reading about Bunche’s experience as a negro reminded me that once leaving the Hasting Public Library one cold day, in say 1962, I walked out the door and along the sidewalk with a library patron I had often seen there. I was in high school and he was a mature man, with a frosted lens in his eye glasses that implied the loss of an eye. He was old enough to have been in World War II. He was always clean and tidy.

We had seen each other often in the library but never spoken.

That day he did talk to me briefly. While I do recall, and I just tried to retrieve the data from memory Alpha, what precipitated his comments, but I do remember his comments, which were to the effect that every negro in Hastings received communist propaganda. It was said in such a way as to imply that they were receiving it because they were communist themselves. It left me speechless and he walked on as I turned off. That would be all six of them.

Recalling that incident now reminds me that in a way, some of what I became traces back to one of the blacks. In junior English class in high school, one of the students was Sam Mullins, who was slow on the uptake but genial, and once as we walked out of class, he asked me about my plans for going to college. I was surprised, too immature myself to have thought that far ahead at the time, and I said I probably would not go, and he scoffed and said I should. He and I were not buddies but it was one of the first times I was prompted to think about the future like that. Other prompts came later, some institutional, and some personal, but that was the first.

(The teacher was a very short woman who always told us the answer before asking the question, so anyone listening, albeit a minority, could answer. We read Stephen Crane’s ‘Red Badge of Courage’ in that class. That has stayed with me. That seemed then to be a book she placed special emphasis on.)

The greatest Finn, Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (1867-1951), spoke nearly no Finnish. That is just one of the paradoxes of the man and the state and nation he made.

Manerheim cover.jpg

Mannerheim’s family traced back to German Hanseatic traders who settled first in Sweden when it was a dominant power and then among the Finns where there were commercial opportunities. Mannerheim is a derivation from Mannheim, as the spell-checker keeps insisting. Mannerheim had no interest in that Teutonic past and came to view Germany as an enemy. Yet late in life he made an alliance with the devil himself in Berlin, Adolf Hitler, to save Finland from a worse fate. On that. more later.

Let’s slow down and get back to the beginning. He was one of many sons in a very well off family. His grandfather had been a Count and his father was a Baron, and Mannerheim himself was a Baron. That sounds grand but in the hierarchy of his time and place it was near the bottom of aristocracy, money or no.

As a boy he was unruly, as children may be, and loved the outdoor life, especially with horses. He was sent to military school for the discipline and Mannerheim liked the idea because of the sports and horses in the cavalry and eventually entered one.

For centuries the Finns, together with Norway and Denmark, were ruled by Sweden from distant and imperious Stockholm. This Greater Sweden eventually lost a war to Russia in 1809, and Finland was created as a dependency of Russia. In fiction it was an independent Grand Duchy, whose duke just happened to be the Czar. By that fiction local freedoms and practices continued. For example, Russia made no effort to impose military service on Finns, and permitted local militias to keep the peace. Censorship and taxation were light. The Grand Duchy of Finland served as a buffer to any future Swedish aggression, and a staging ground should Russia take the initiative.

Mannerheim’s family was Swedish, that was the maternal language, though resident among Finns for centuries when he was born. (Swedish remains an official language in Finland today.) He grew up speaking Swedish as did most of the resident aristocracy.

After several false starts, he entered military school in Russia, and there he stayed for the next thirty years. (Let that sink in. Thirty years a Russian.)

Mannerheim young right.png Young Mannheim, riding crop at hand.

He made a career in the Czar’s Russian army. While many Russian officers took their place by birthright, Mannerheim worked for his, and once there, he worked at it, unlike so many others. Accordingly, he rose through the ranks. He was, remember, a Baron, and there was no social barrier to promotion.

When Nicholas II was crowned, Mannerheim was selected as one of four officers who stood an honour guard on the steps of the church, a singular honour for someone who spoke Russian poorly with a heavy Swedish accent. The one barrier he faced in the army was speaking Russian, but he worked at that with the same application he showed to much else.

He married a Russian aristocrat who soon found him boring and took herself off to the south of France with their two daughters. There was little subsequent contact. She had supposed they would live in St. Petersburg while he became a staff officer, but to be promoted he had to have field commands, in one back-water after another. This book is silent on any other sexual interests he may have had.

When Russia and Japan fought over the metal and mineral riches of Manchuria in 1904-1905 he gained combat experience. He learned there that cavalry had no chance against the machine gun, and he loved horses too much to see them slaughtered to no point. Thereafter in his mind the horse was a means of transportation, not a weapon. This was not the common reaction and made him stand apart from other officers who still favoured the cavalry charge. Nonetheless he weathered his baptism of fire and gained recognition and promotion because of his cool head and clear thinking under fire.

Manchuria cartoon.jpg A contemporary cartoon on the bloody conflict, showing Russia and Japan courting Manchuria.

There are estimates of 70,000 Japanese deaths, 120,000 Russian, and 20,000 Chinese by-standers in the eighteen months of combat. Teddy Roosevelt brokered a peace treaty.

War map.jpg The theatre of operations.

Later when the Russian General Staff wanted to gather intelligence about the far reaches of Western China, that is, Sinkiang, the duty fell to him. Mannerheim travelled for two years, filling notebooks with copious details about roads, mountain passes, fodder for animals, obstacles, fords in rivers, attitude to foreigners, capacity of the central Peking government to act in these extremities, the effect of altitude on man and beast, the grades of ascents, the frequency of avalanches, and more. He was a meticulous notetaker, a keen observer, and inquisitive questioner, so much so that Chinese authorities more than once interrogated him as a spy but his cover as a scientific explorer held. When he reached the Russian legation in Peking, it took him two months to write a report based on his notes. It was later published in two volumes.

Mannerheidm asia.jpg Mannerheim's Asia route.

Leaving aside the myriad of details, what is most impressive about this exercise is, first, that he did it largely unaided, and, second, that he realised the area had no strategic value and said so. At best a Russian incursion there might draw off Chinese men, material, and attention from the real prize, Manchuria. He said as much in his report.

He was offered another such mission but respectfully declined because he was anxious to return to field command to continue his way up the promotion ladder. In 1914 when the lights went out all over Europe he was a Major General in the Russian army and led troops into combat against the Austrians in Rumania and Germans later in Poland.

While he had been in the Orient, the Russian hand on Finland tightened. Taxes increased. Traditional freedoms were curtailed. Censorship increased. The imposition of the Russian language grew. Mannerheim’s correspondence with his large clan of brothers and sisters made him vaguely aware of this change. But there is no doubt he felt torn between a maternal interest in Finland and his personal oath of loyalty to the Czar.

Russia had been home to him for thirty years and had provided him with many more opportunities than Finns could have. He knew far more Russians than Finns, apart from his own family who, remember, were Swedes with little in common with the locals Finns among whom they lived. He spoke nearly no Finnish.

By early 1917 the wheels were falling off the Russian cart and he was caught up in it, like millions of others. He despised the mob he saw in the Bolsheviks, there was never a democratic sentiment in this man, and took leave to recuperate from war wounds in Finland, passing through the St. Petersburg station from which Lenin emerged.

With Russia collapsing, Finns declared themselves a country in 1917 and set about making one. While autonomy appealed broadly to Finns, there were many differences over the specifics. Some wanted to remain close to Russia for protection, while others wanted an entirely new course. On another plane were those who wanted a Bolshevik revolution in Finland to displace the established order of aristocracy and church, and others who wanted to fortify those institutions and practices against any and all threats. In time these divergent interest boiled down to conservative Whites who wanted a Finland independent and radical Reds who wanted a Soviet, which might well be aligned with Russia. (See Craig Cormack, ‘Kurrikka’s Dream’ (2000) for the Red side of this coin, with an Australian echo.)

The self-appointed Finnish Council’s first priority was to define and defend the territory of Finland, including the Karelian Isthmus, from predators, of whatever flag. Defence required an army, and army had to have a general. A few streets away sat a Lieutenant-General. This general’s exploits as soldier in Manchuria, explorer in Sinkiang, and general on the Eastern Front had been a matter of some national pride among Finns in the preceding years.

The book is very well researched and carefully argued. It begins with a survey of existing biographies of Mannerheim which is lost on this reader but affirms the care of the author in situating the work. It is based on extensive examination of Finnish, Russian, German, and Swedish sources, including Mannerheim’s own notebooks and letters. Altogether it seems to be a definitive work of the public life of Mannerheim. I could not find a picture of the author on the web.

Note, Mannerheim took it upon himself to convert the cavalry under his command to mounted infantry, and only the intervention of Czar at some point saved him from a reprimand for such an initiative. As World War I approached the Russian army was spending more on sabres for cavalry than machine guns, according to Barbara Tuchman in ‘The Guns of August’ (1962), discussed elsewhere on this blog. As journalists are always criticising the last war, so generals often prepare for it.

Who was the Steel Master?  That is today's topic, Bleaders.  Any one know? No one know?

Essington Lewis, he was the Steel Master.  Huh?  Never heard of him?  

That is the typical response I get from the dog walkers in the park, my research sample of opportunity, as they say in the learned journals of social science.  In those pages it usually means captive students in a class. My captives are tethered to pooches, mutts, and hounds. 

Every Australian should know Essington Lewis (1881-1961). For extra credit Bleaders, consult Professor Google or Dr Wikipedia on the subject, and report back. Better still, consult the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Steel master.jpg

Lewis twice refused a knighthood from prime ministers Robert Menzies, Liberal, and John Curtin, Labor, because of the attendant publicity.  His phasing was colourful and not suited to a family blog like this.

In time he became a member of the Order of the Companion of Honour, an award so rare few royalist have heard of it and start reaching for thistles and garters to fathom it. It is well above both undergarments and weeds.  

At the time Lewis accepted it there were only five other Australian incumbents,and his adhesion was made possible by the direct intervention of King of England.  C.H., as it is styled among monarchist, is a club open only to long serving prime ministers. That single criterion excluded Lewis. It is an award so discreet, it escapes, like so much else, the notice of the ever vigilant press.  

He was BHP for a generation.

Essington Lewis.jpg Essington Lewis

There was a time, and not so long ago, when every Australian knew that BHP was the Big Australian. BHP stands for Broken Hill Proprietary which began in silver and lead mining and converted itself, in good part thanks to a young Essington Lewis, from the declining silver mines of South Australia to steel manufacturings in Newcastle on the Hunter River, near all that coal for firing the smelter.

Lewis was born and bred in South Australia, educated in the Adelaide Mining School, apprenticed to a BHP property when it was one of hundreds of small mines in the northern reaches of South Australia where the sand blows from the Northern Territory and the far west of New South Wales.

His father, a stock trader, declined not once, not twice, but three times to invest in the nascent BHP enterprise, who bred in his son a vigorous outdoor life, and an outlook on life that prized the outward, the physical, the material, control, and order. Kind of a Teddy Roosevelt without the books and reading glasses. Nor does religion seem to have figured in his life.

Essington was also a demon for detail, and no demon could hide from him in the details. He copied out passages from textbooks and carried them with long into his career, as ready references. He had his clothes altered to accommodate the notebooks he carried to record, it seems, nearly everything he saw and did. He usually had at least two notebooks on his person and he cross-referenced them one to another every night. Each was filled with his minute but legible hand writing, as he recorded, measured, weighed, calculated, hefted, and walked the properties on which he worked. In later life, he also recorded the names and work of everyone he meant on his many tours.

Here is one example from this early days. At the mine the teamsters would tell him how much chaff each horse consumed a day to do its work at a mine, and Lewis would note it, and multiple the cost, but he would also rise at 4 a.m. and feed the animals himself for a week to double-check it. In so doing, without changing the diet for the horses, he hit upon a more efficient way to distribute the chaff and instituted it. This is one of hundreds of examples of his attention to detail.

His strength was in assessing and evaluating, not in innovating, inventing, or developing. He worked his way up from school-boy apprentice to become managing director of the Big Australia when he was thirty-nine, passing over at least three others, each twenty years his senior. For their parts, each accepted his elevation with good grace.

Even before sitting in the big chair, he saved BHP from a blunder. The outgoing managing director had committed to a certain type of steel operation at Newcastle and had began buying equipment for it from the England and the United States. Lewis, though he needed the good will of the outgoing managing director to be promoted as his successor, argued against this kind of operation on technical grounds, and that first slowed and then stalled the implementation of it. Lewis was right, vindicated in examples of other steel operations that had used that method with bad results. Despite this clash, because Lewis’s arguments were based on technical facts, and at no time did he engage in any personal rivalry, come the time, the outgoing managing director recommended him.

Lewis would not have hesitated one instant in opposing the boss's decision. Technical considerations were the only considerations. He would not even have thought of keeping quiet to gain the promotion.

In person he was blunt and direct. He did not ‘suggest’ or ‘recommend,’ or ask for something ‘to be considered.’ He just said it. While on the factory floor this manner was coin, the higher he rose in the company, the politer the society with which he mixed, the more this bluntness annoyed, riled, and irritated many with who came into contact with him. He himself did not seek anyone’s society, and shrank from publicity of any kind. Unlike the Skases, Edelmans, Bonds, and Palmers of recent fame in Australian business, his picture was never to be seen in the press.

BHP went from a small hole in the ground to the Big Australia in part because of fortunate circumstances. Just as BHP was selling off its silver and lead interests to move into steel World War I led to a global demand for steel. Just as BHP was recovering from the post-war slump in steel demand, the automobile renewed the demand.

As managing director Lewis stressed education in his workforce and he sent the senior employees on study tours around the world every five years. He did so himself, as well, partly to learn the latest in steel technology but also to lure investors to Australia to consume the steel BHP made. The emphasis was always on the technical, improving what is already done. By contrast, he would not invest a single solitary shilling in research. Research to his mind, was just speculation. Let someone else pay for that.

This was an attitude about research that seeped into Australian industry, confirmed by the success of BHP. It also explains many of BHP’s subsequent misfortunes, and the like misfortunes of Australian industries in general.

Before becoming managing director, Lewis had his first trip out of South Australia to Newcastle on the Hunter River to look at the steel works site, and then around the world to examine steel production. This trip exceeds even Alexis de Tocqueville’s study tour for its depth and intensity. Lewis filled one notebook after another with observations from the cauldron of a smelter to a rolling plant to a board room across the United States and back, and then onto Europe. In time he shipped back to Melbourne, where he took up residence, several steamer trunks of notebooks, plans, technical drawings, copies of reports, extracts from assays, most in his own hand writing. The notebooks record the names of 1,700 people he met on the tour. All of his subsequent trips were like that.

He had married in his twenties and his wife and their subsequent children do not figure much in this telling. She was frail, and had a tuberculous, the disease that killed their second child. She devoted herself to good works in and around Melbourne.

Curiously, neither Federation nor World War I had much impact on Lewis. There is nary a word about the former in these pages. Nor the Boer War for that matter. Two of his brothers went into the army, and he thought about it, but was dissuaded because of the importance of the war work BHP was doing in the manufacture of ammunition. That much is said, but as seems to have been characteristic of the man, he did not think twice about it. The many hundreds of letters that remain, offer no insight into his thoughts. Invariably, the biographer has it, they describe events and actions. There are no ruminations to be found, and no confidences shared.

But World War II was his finest hour. He became director of munitions and then aviation production. By late 1944 he was managing director of three firms: defence industries employing 144,000 (many of them women), aviation production employing 50,000, and BHP itself employing 20,000. He worked eighteen hour days and took no salary, nor did any of the dozen or so BHP employees he took with him into his defence work. The Owen Gun that played so major a role on the Kokada Trail came from Lewis at the Kembla Plant. The Beaufort bombers that harried Japanese shipping in the Timor Sea came from the BHP plant at Fisherman’s Bend. When Holden could not figure out how to make tanks, Lewis took the assignment into his own hands and turned them out in anticipation of a Japanese landing.

He conducted his war work in Melbourne boardrooms where he cajoled, bribed, and bullied other industrialists to match his personal efforts and those of BHP. He also toured war industries throughout Australia on exhausting missions where he went to the factory floors to study the processes, as always looking for improvements, and talked to machine operators, storemen, women on the assembly line, and even, on one notable occasion, the janitor about what he found when sweeping out the place. In all of this he brought improvements to many facets of Australian manufacturing and business well beyond BHP.

This attention to detail is a great strength, and a great weakness.

But, I should have said earlier, he had insight into the bigger picture sometimes. On a 1936 study tour he went through Japan, where he was treated with exquisite courtesy, while being denied access to anything of substance. He wrote to a colleague that he found the courtesy aggressive and confining. When he returned, his petitioned politicians across the spectrum to prepare for war with Japan. He had concluded Japan was to be an aggressor.

Fearing to arouse Japanese attention, 'maybe they won’t notice us if we keep our mouths shut' was the key to Australian foreign policy, and that meant his arguments fell on deaf ears in Canberra. But he believed what he said and begin by fiat to put BHP on a war footing. He caused the Big Australian to tool up for the production of weapons, warships, and airplanes years before the war. When the war started in September 1939 BHP has an air fleet of dozen planes it had made itself which he donated to the Royal Australian Air Force.

In death his aversion to publicity continues. While the massive War Memorial (museum) in Canberra pays homage to every aspect of the home front of World War II, aboriginal patrols, land army, sock sewing, industrial production, Beauforts, Owen guns, nowhere is his name mentioned that I could find on a 2016 visit.

While the National Portrait Gallery online catalogue lists an oil portrait done of him after the war, when we visited in April 2016, it was in storage. The only surprising thing about that was that the guide we asked recognised the name, but was more interested in telling me about the painter, not the subject. Yes, I know galleries and museums have oodles of stuff they do not, cannot display. So Essington Lewis is in a warehouse in Fyshwick, and merchant princes like Jones and Coles are featured in the gallery, along with a self-portrait of man who painted Lewis. Figure out the priorities there.

Once up a time I had heard something about Essington Lewis, and so, unlike many others, I knew who he was. What I had heard was linked to a play (‘I am work’) must have had a lot of publicity because I remembered it, though I never saw it. I even wondered if it had been a radio serial on the ABC, but cannot verify that. Indeed, even tracking down the play proved to be pursuing an untamed ornithoid, as Mr. Data said in ‘The Last Outpost.’ But thanks to a friend I have now it in my Amazon basket. The irony is that the seller is in upstate New York and does not mail to Australia. Plan B it is.

This is a lobby poster.

I am work.jpg

There is no doubt that Lewis was a workaholic. He endured social occasions when he had to but never drank and seldom ate at them. He planned holidays he took like work missions, and took few of them. Idle at home, that he could not endure and went to the office, usually counting the steps as he walked. He had no outside interest and no small-talk. It was engineering or nothing.

The memory of that play left me with the ambition to read or see it, and when that failed, I looked for a biography and found this one. I hesitated for a time, in my precious way. Blainey became a pontificator in the latter 1980s for a vestigial White Australia, though no doubt he would thunder at such a crude characterisation. Indeed he did a lot of thundering into the 1990s against all the changes occurring around him. Me, I just grumble and get on with it.

Geoffrey_Blainey.jpg Geoffrey Blainey

I had no wish to dine at his intellectual table, but lacking alternatives, I overcame my churlishness. After all, it was my loss not to read the book, not his. The book is well written and impressively researched, though I found it did not have narrative drive. Reading it was uphill, but I put this down to Essington Lewis, who was a pre-eminent drone, and not to any failure on Blainey’s part. Too bad that.

File this under leadership. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk suggested this title to me and I downloaded it onto the Kindle. I had a vague recollection of the name Wingate from Burma in World War II and before that Palestine. Emphasis on the vague. There in those places he was a solider, but who he was and how he came to be there and what he did there, these were unknown to me.

Wingate cover.jpg

The author’s many careful efforts to make Wingate likeable or admirable fail. Selfish, egotistical, opinionated, volatile, contrary, argumentative, self-absorbed, vain, destructive, delusional, contradictory, and arrogant, these things he was. Genius? Well, how would a mere mortal know?

While his family had money, most of it was given away to charities converting heathen Africans to Christianity. His parents were fervent Christians who preferred prayer to coal fires in winter, prayers to doctors, Bible reading to schools, and waited every day for the second coming of the Saviour.

Because the devil is devious, his father occasionally beat his oldest son, Orde, as a preventative measure. One of Orde’s sisters wrote an angry and bitter memoir of their childhood in which she describes wearing all the clothes there were and watching the fingers turn blue in the cold. The food, well there was some, but words failed her when she tried to describe it.

The Wingate children were kept at home mostly to prevent sinful contact with corrupt beings, that is, other children, while waiting for the second coming. It goes on like that. It is no wonder he became such a nutter. The wonder is that anyone could put up with him. Well, in fact, few did.

The one allowance his parents did make at home was servants, and Wingate led the rest of life on the assumption that there were nameless servants following behind him to clear up the messes he left. These were many. Some well beyond the pay grade of a domestic service.

His father had been in the army (while waiting for the second coming) and as the oldest son Orde followed in those footsteps.

In anticipation of the second coming, at first the young Orde did not apply himself, but in time he did so. The author is unsure what the catalyst was, except perhaps to prove himself to his father. He studied to gain entry to the artillery, and got it, largely thanks to the intercession of an uncle with influence on the General Staff. Many other intercessions followed in his career, as he lurched from one mess to another, usually of his own making.

Wingate spent an inordinate amount of time bewailing the establishment and its many failures and corruptions, all the while advancing his career through the influence of that very establishment. The author draws some veils over the trail but it is pretty clear that he made his way thanks to the string-pulling time after time.

There is no doubt that once he gained a sinecure he worked hard at it and when he concentrated he had considerable ability, but these periods of application were few and far between. The point is that others better suited and more willing to work through channels were denied the place(s) he got, while he denounced the very establishment that made him.

He had a self-destructive streak, as many young men do, and his was perhaps redoubled by that prospect of the second coming, and he blithely extended his risk-taking to the men under his command. He served in the Sudan in the 1920s, and led patrols against various tribes, whom the author invariably describes as rebels. Hmm. It is their home and the Brits were the invaders.

Wingate hat.jpg Orde Wingate

Further wangling by relatives got him posted to Palestine the 1930s where he became an anti-Lawrence of Arabia. Though a serving British intelligence officer, he became more Zionist than the most ardent Zionist. Another volte-face, and again the author cannot quite pin down the trigger. I suggest it was another one of his delusions of grandeur. Gideon come to liberate Zion.

He was a good intelligence officer. A quick study, he learned Arabic and then Hebrew, and set up the routine translation of Arabic and Hebrew newspapers, pamphlets, lists, and registers that served the British well in the Middle East.

He also betrayed the trust of his position by passing much of the intelligence he saw along to Zionist and Jewish interests. This is reminiscent of the flippant betrayals of Kim Philby, who never gave treason a second thought. Neither did Wingate. Neither counted the bodies because of their treason. When Wingate's treason became known, it was hushed up on the grounds that to reveal it would be bad publicity. He prospered where another officer would have been courtmartialed and cashiered. This is a recurrent theme in his career. A giant debacle is covered up and he is promoted. Wingate learns that he can do no wrong, and continues in the same vein. (The author does not use the term 'treason' nor compare him to Philby. That is my work.)

He got away with behaviour that few others would do, let alone survive, and he thereafter prospered. He struck enlisted men more than once, and was not even reprimanded for it. Indeed he got away with so much that the rumour spread, and became self-fulling, that he had a powerful protector in the hierarchy. He then got away with even more childish behaviour that is all too tiresome to review. It is a reminder of the frequent inability of organisations to handle unsocialized miscreants, like the villains who embezzle millions from banks or the doctors who experiment on patients in hospitals.

His early efforts at combat were disastrous for those under his command. Though the author skirts around it, this reader concluded that Wingate had no grasp of small arms tactics and managed to get his men into a cross-fire of his own making. Rather than be reprimanded, he got a medal for that action, and four dead. That’s the pattern.

He did learn from the cross-fire, and later stressed infantry tactics, something the author seems to think is a sign of his genius. After leading his men into a self-made trap, he then read the field manual. Genius that.

Again despite the author’s delicacy, it is also pretty clear that Wingate’s raids on ‘Arab rebels and gangs,’ as the text styles them involved murdering women and child, preferably in their sleep. These crimes the author puts down to his enthusiasm. 'Crimes' is my word, not the author's.

His personal life was as chaotic, reckless, and destructive as his professional life. He wooed a young woman who waited patiently for him for six years (biological clock ticking) while he was promoted in the Sudan, and then he jilted her without a backward glance.

He threw her over because at thirty-one he had fallen in love with a fourteen year old girl. You read that right. I skipped through a lot of this quickly and I may have the ages slightly wrong but he was twice her age and she was underage. More waiting, and eventual marriage.

Throughout these campaigns he carried a Bible at all times and often referred to himself as Gideon. He meant that literally.

During World War II in Somaliland and Ethiopia against the Italians and Burma against the Japanese it was more of the same on an ever larger scale. By the time of his death he was a major-general, hard though that is to believe. In Burma he concocted wild schemes that got a lot of men killed to little strategic purpose, as far as I could see, despite the author’s efforts to dress it all up. On this point more below.

He also got himself killed. Fitting in a way, though as usual he took others with him. He was flying around inspecting the units that had the misfortune to be under his command, scattered through the jungles of northern Burma. The aircraft was proving to be difficult and the pilot discussed it with ground crews at several of the places they visited. But the pilot did not venture to tell Wingate the timetable must be delayed while the plane is fixed or replaced. Instead the pilot pressed on and the plane crashed. He did not dare tell Wingate whose volcanic temper was widely known.

Toward the end the author suggests as evidence of Wingate’s genius this comparison. It refers to his efforts in Burma to get behind the Japanese. Here is the comparison: Imagine, if a fortnight after the Allies’ Normandy landings, the Germans had inserted by gliders two divisions in Kent between London and south coast to block traffic, create a political crises, and deflate morale.

It is a striking image and it gave me pause. Briefly. Of course there is no comparison of Kent with the jungles of northern Burma, but more important, dropping two divisions of troops into the middle of nowhere was hardly a strategic move. Had the Germans done that, Dwight Eisenhower would have been unable to believe his luck. I say this with confidence, because Ike recognised from the start that the German offensive at the Bulge was crazy. True, it would do a lot of damage but not accomplish anything, because there was no strategic objective. Nor was there one in northern Burma.

TrevorRoyle.jpg Trevor Royle

I read it on the Kindle. The book is well written and to the point. My complaints are about Wingate, not the book. In fact, the book is very well judged, and while the author is clearly trying to rehabilitate Wingate against his many detractors, he provides plenty of information to allow a reader to decide, and I did. Put me in the detractor’s camp.

Zhou Enlai was a name and face on the news when I grew up, first a menace and then a calming influence.  Yet I know next to nothing about him.  In English this title implies it is a biography, and so I chose it.  Later I discovered that it's original title in Chinese was about his last years, and this latter title is descriptively accurate.  It is an account of the last years of Zhou preceded by a perfunctory description of his formative years. Nothing in the book bears on that phrase ‘perfect revolutionary.’

Zhou covefr.jpg

There is no doubt Zhou was cursed to live in interesting times.  In his youth he spent a year as a student in Japan.  But he got the political bug and became a lousy student.  He then went to France ostensibly to be a student again, but really to join the surprisingly large group of Chinese exiles organising themselves there.  It was five years or so. Many people he met there became major figures in subsequent Chinese politics mostly communist. He did not meet, according to this accord, Nationalists like Sun Yat Sen who was in the States, I guess. Nor André Malraux who was in China at the time.

When the Comintern ordered that the Communists cooperate with the Kuomintang (Nationalists), Zhou worked with and got to know others like Chang Kai-Shel and the later Japanese invasion. The Comintern promoted a popular front with the Kuomintang for years, even at the expense of the Communist Party of China. This shotgun wedding only ended when Hitler invaded Russia and distracted the Soviets.  

Zhou very soon became number two to Mao, and stayed there for the rest of his life. He was a trimmer, that being the only way to avoid Mao’s wraith. Though the author admires Zhou, there is no doubt that Zhou looked away at some of Mao's worst excesses including the Cultural Revolution.  

Life with Mao seems like Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ to the Nth power.

Most of the book concerns life on the greasy pole in Mao's China.  Mao is portrayed as a paranoid egomaniac who treated people like disposable chess pieces, and who was culpable in Zhou's premature death.  The bulk of the text describes this meeting and that, particularly before, during, and after the Cultural Revolution, all very Orwellian or very like North Korea today.  

None of this endless detail fleshes out Zhou the person or deepens insight into him. I never felt I got to know anything about him except that, whatever he thought to himself, he never said, and instead fawned over Mao as the only likely path of survival.  It reminded me of reading the memoirs of the elder St Simon who spent eighteen years at the court of the Sun King and who wrote in his compendious and secret memoir that in those eighteen years he never once said what he really thought to anyone, though he talked to everyone everyday all day in the court ritual.  No doubt St. Simon lavished praise on Louis but Louis was not as bloodthirsty as Mao.

The book is vague. I will offer only one example of scores that could be cited.  The author will say that 'Zhou handled this problem in his usual smooth way.'  How was that? I would like to know more detail in these hundreds of pages.  

GAo Wenqian.jpg Gao Wenqian

The book has too much and too little detail. It has too much detail about this and that plan and plot, the wording of this report or that, and too little concrete detail about what Zhou did that made him so successful and valuable even to Mao. Occasionally the author says Zhou used his usual skill to do this or that. What skill is that? Not enough explanation, e.g., to crush his opponent Mao used the ‘heavy artillery,' huh, meaning what at a party conference.  

So many personalities appear that escape a general reader like me.  

The text is both wordy and cryptic. That is, it is wordy and not concrete. I never did form a picture of what Zhou did. The slang-filled translation is no help, e.g., ‘good guys,’ ‘pals,’ ‘hot potato.’ and much more. Though the book is too detailed for a general reader, it is replete with this lazy slang.

In sum, this book, despite the subtitle, offers very little about the boy, adolescent, young man, or adult. Hammarskjõld was born to the purple. He grew up and lived most of his life to twenty-five in a palace in Uppsala, that being the official residence of the provincial governor, his father. However the book is excellent on his tenure at the United Nations.

HAmmer cover.jpg

He had little international experience but some on a Marshall Plan Committee as an economist. Because Swedes did not receive Marshall Plan monies they were trusted to allocate and manage it. Hammarskjõld had been an economist at the Bank of Sweden and done some international negotiating.

There is nothing about his life, experiences, or attitude to World War II. Why and how he learned English is not discussed. He also spoke German.

Trigve Lie from Norway was the first Secretary-General and he had taken sides in the Cold War, though he wanted a second term, the Soviet bloc was alienated.

The next Secretary-General had to be a neutral. The less experience the better, so as not seen to be committed or to have baggage.

Hammarskjõld entered as completely into the job as if he were entering a monastery.  He sworn and oath to the Charter which thereafter he carried on his person for ready reference, yes, but also as a document to venerate. There is a spiritual quality to his commitment.  

No women.  No significant other of any kind. Though many rumors about homosexuality.

His life was monastic.  He got by on three to four hours sleep most of the time.  In a deep crisis like the Congo, less and in quiet time little more.

At the United Nations he relied heavily on Ralph Bunch, first for internal administration and management and later as a deputy diplomat.  (Maybe I should read about Bunch, this extraordinary individual.)

‘Markings’ Hammarskjõld’s personal notebook reveals the spiritual inner man who communed with the writings of medieval Christian writers.   Much of this book and consists of musings on Hammarskjöld’s musings in 'Markings.' Hundreds of pages. All too much musing and not enough narrative.

Hammarskjõld had tall poppy cutters in Sweden who made career out of criticising him.  Newspaper editors, who extended their animosity to berating the posthumously published ‘Markings.’ It is good to know that Australian media ethics are in such good company in the gutter.  

Some of Hammarskjõld's speeches are fabulous. Lucid, clear, targeted at the next step, infinitely patient, aware of the pressures on others, but punctuated with some elevated words to inspire. He seems to have gotten better and better at this rhetorical skill in the UN. It is not something he had any previous experience or preparation to do. They read well, though I have no idea how he delivered them.

Hammarskjõld more or less created the role of the international civil servant, and reflected on that, especially in the in-house speeches and reports to UN staff.

He had some successes in meditating conflicts, like the Suez Crisis in 1956. Then came the big one.

The Congo consumed him even before he died there. The endless fragmentation, the intervention of Europeans to support the Belgians who did not want to leave, and the tribal and regional violence armed by the Soviets, the CIA, Belgians, South Africans.... were let loose.  The single Congo became two, then three then four entities each with its internal constituencies, that is tribes, and external supporters, and all armed to the teeth.

Patrice Lumumba is the most interesting of the characters in the Congo. He was an articulate idealist who seemed to have been able partly to bridge some tribal differences.  He was a rabble rouser on radio and in person.  But he had no ability to work with others in committee, completely useless as an administrator, and he had no competent second to cover these things.  He was a front man only with no band behind him. He could arouse a crowd but he could not lead it anywhere. His only message was to reject the Belgians and as they left the vacuum was filled.

lumumba-hammarskjold.jpg Dag Hammarskjõld and Patrice Lumumba

There is much about Hammarskjöld's death.  Hear-say, secondhand, and some alleged eye witnesses who feared to speak at the time and who now cannot shut up thirty years later.  All the so-called doubts seem to me to be speculation.  If any other death was raked up thirty years later it would be the same.  

There was a lot of mission creep in the Congo, despite his efforts to limit it. It went from peace-keeping to, since there was no peace, peace-making.  

Lipsey roger.jpg Roger Lipsey

The book is far too long and there is just too much musing for a biography. Moreover, there is precious little biography of the boy become man in Sweden. It is a reflection on Hammarskjõld's tenure as Secretary-General, and it is good on that. But despite the many musings on Hammarskjõld's musings, I never did feel I was getting close to the inner man. I did feel impatient more than once.

The dissolution of the Belgian Congo was a grim story that occupied the television news every night, and it consumed a lot of good men and women. When I looked for a biography I found many on Hammarskjõld's death, conspiracy theories, 'now it can told,' sort of titles that seemed to be ghoulish attempts to capitalise on his death. All in the spirit of Jim Garrison (for president) on JFK.

Who was Rudi 2 and who cares? Rudolf was King of Bohemia, King of Hungary, and King of a few other places, too, He was a Hapsburg whose accession to the Imperator was vexed, but in the end went smoothly. The fiction was that electors (members) of the Holy Roman Empire chose the the emperor. By the time Rudi came along it was a long title with little substance and meaning.


The Holy Roman Empire, for those who slept through ‘The History of Western Civilisation’ when it was still possible to teach under that title goes like this: A Pope crowned Charlemagne Emperor in 800 A.D. to defend the faith. Big Chuck passed the sword on to his sons who split up his Empire and in 1100 A.D. one of his distant successors revived the title ‘Holy Roman Empire' to gain prestige. The senior most leader among the entities allied under that title was then dubbed the emperor because he had the biggest army, the most gold, the most I.O.U.s to call in during a crisis, the smoothest talker, and sucked up to the Pope better than others. The Hapsburgs excelled at these empire-building talents and the title became theirs. (The entities were principalities, dukedoms, free cities, kingdoms big and small, Papal clients, and others.)

In the late Fourteen and Fifteenth Centuries the Hapsburgs were in the front line against Ottoman incursion into south eastern Europe. Their capital, Vienna, was besieged twice by armies of the Ottoman Empire. If this pressure encouraged unity within Christian Europe, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation produced dissension. Rudi’s dad was Double Max (Maximilian II) whom Machiavelli once handed a letter in Tyrol. During most of Rudi’s time in the big chair the Ottomans were preoccupied by Persia on one flank and Russia on another. Still Rudi moved the capital of the Empire to Prague to create a buffer zone from the dreaded Turk.

He was himself not religious, and in a way that made him acceptable to the many religious factions, sects, cults, that tried to outdo each other in holiness, usually by killing each other. He participated in religious rites only for reasons of state. He appointed protestants and as well as catholics to court positions. Like others in Europe, he had no wish to break with the Pope as England had done, but likewise he had no wish to have the Pope dictate to him on foreign and domestic policy, protect corrupt priests from civil law, and siphon off taxes in the form of religions tithes. He gave outward obeisance to the Papacy just enough to be tolerated, but seldom gave substance.

He was widely regarded as a weak ruler, and this book elides the political aspects of his reign, yet he kept his seat for thirty-six years, quite a tenure given the volatility of the place and time. There were plenty of other Hapsburgs who might have been willing to replace him, but somehow he kept them busy elsewhere, and made enough friends to discourage explicit aggression.

He was also a keen supporter of the arts, humanities, and sciences, and he made Prague a European capital for all three. A the time Paris, that city of light, had Catholics and Protestants were slaughtering each other in the streets in God’s name. Elizabethan England continued Henry’s oppression Catholics with the sword, while in Spain Phillip II proved his devoutness by unleashing the Inquisition. In Russia Ivan earned the sobriquet the Terrible. Ramshackle though the Holy Roman Empire was, uncertain as the Emperor’s authority was, yet his example encouraged a toleration rare for the times, one that evaporated within seven years of his death, when the famous Prague defenestration heralded the Thirty Years War, or was it Hundred Years War, or does the name matter? It was a long, bloody, pointless war of ideology, i.e., religion.

Even as Rudi acceded to the purple he was regarded by the observers as a feeble unstable, and impoverished emperor who was more prisoner of the past than the master of the future. In London, Madrid, Pairs, Moscow, Rome, and Istanbul smart money said he would not last. Yet he did last though he made many compromises that saw the Holy Roman Empire gradually dissolve around him, it did so without a conflagration.

Even while those forces spent themselves, he made himself the vice-chancellor of the greatest university in Europe at the time on that hill top in Prague. He gathered there all manner of writers, thinkers, philosophers, technicians, naturalists, magicians, astrologers, and astronomers, most of whom would have been tortured in Spain, slammed up in England, murdered in France, burned alive in Rome. Tyco Brahe and Johannes Kepler were just two of many, though their names are most well known to us today, they were not the leading lights at that time. Rudi was a collector and he collected objects and also people. Perhaps he was not so much a vice-chancellor as a curator of a museum. He amassed a collection of works or art and science that had no parallel at the time, nor after. There were paintings, sculptures, drawings, engravings, candle sticks, tableware, crowns, armour, and all of that.

He particularly liked mechanical contrivances, like the mechanical Turk of legend, whole floors of the palaces on Hrady Hill were full of automata, clockwork servants, perpetual motion machines, hydraulic risers, and so on. Many of them were devised and built especially for him, each unique.

There was then no boundary around science (or art for the matter) and he also supported alchemy, astrology, and the occult sciences of spiritualism, divination, cabalism, and more. I will devote a second note on all of that.

He acquired a massive library by buying up the complete libraries of others from around Europe. By Imperial command he borrowed whole libraries from monasteries in the realm, which he never returned. Many of the boxes the books were transported in were never opened. As in the Juan Luis Borges story there was no catalogue.

The whole assemblage made Prague a magnet was those with a taste for learning. With his death the centripetal forces scattered both the people and the objects. When we visited Prague, partly inspired by the little I then knew of Rudi’s efforts, there was nothing left but the palaces on the Hill and a few posters reminding the viewer that Brahe and Kepler had once worked there.

Lord Bragg had a program on Rudolph some time ago and it struck with me. When the opportunity came to go to Prague, I took it but the reading I did then was not very informative. This book is much more detailed, but it is heavy going.

Rudi_evans.jpg R. J. W. Evans

The author wrote it for the other dozen specialists in the European history of this time and place. No concessions are made to the educated reader (that’s me) despite the Thames and Hudson imprint. It reads like a very good, but dead boring, PhD dissertation. However in a PhD examiners would expect all the quotations from Latin, German, Czech, Slovenian, Italian, French, and Occitan to be translated to show that the author understood them. Here such sources are paraded in the original. Likewise in a PhD examiners would expect all the names mentioned to be explained. In these pages there is much name-dropping, and little explanation.

When in New Roman do as the New Romans do, I said to myself, and downloaded this biography while in Istanbul, which, when it was Constantinople called itself New Roman. (We were told the city never styled itself Constantinople, that being a nickname that stuck when Emperor Constantine ruled.) Atatürk (1881-1938) is the name that everyone associates with Turkey. Who was he? What did he do? Why did he do it? These are some of the questions that come to mind.

Ataturk book.jpg

He was born in Salonica, and there is the first irony, Salonica today is Thessalonica, the second largest city of contemporary Greece. This fervent Turk and founder of Turkey and unremitting enemy of Greece was born there.

HIs parents were ethnic Turks. His father looked to the future and saw Europe while his mother looked to the past and saw Islam. She wanted the boy to go to a Mosque school where the curriculum was the Koran. The parental compromise was for young Mustafa to go the Mosque school for the first two years and then to a public school. That is the sum total of his exposure to Islam.

At fourteen, on his own initiative, he applied to and entered a military academy because he wanted to learn mathematics, science, engineering, and languages. These subjects were taught in the military academy and not in the impoverished normal schools. There began his military career on a foundation of Enlightenment science and rationality. He had an enormous intellectual appetite and became a lifelong autodidact, cobbling together ideas and facts from a range of discordant and sometimes unreliable sources.

He entered the army of the Ottoman Empire, a large, ramshackle assembly of peoples and places from Libya to Yemen to Saudi Arabia. It was polyglot and dilapidated. The Arab peoples far away from Istanbul were restive, but more pressing were Greece and Russia on the borders.

The young Mustafa saw combat in border wars with Greece and Bulgaria. He learned some lessons. Both the Greeks and Bulgars had national and ethnic unity. The Ottomans had the Sultan. Moreover, thanks the tacit support of Great Britain, the Greeks had modern weapons - rifles not sabres.

Then came the big one, the Great War. The Ottoman Empire blocked Russian access to the Mediterranean Sea and held vast territories that were oil rich. It was engaged in the Great War with the Russians to the North, and with the British in Mesopotamia, i.e., Iraq and Palestine, with the Greeks in the Balkans, with the Italians in Libya and Eritrea. The list goes on.

Mustafa commanded a garrison on the Dardanelles, frustrated that he could not get into the action, and then the war came to him with the Allied attack at Gallipoli.

Ataturk uniform.jpg

There followed eight months of near continuous battle with a combined force of British, French, Australians, and New Zealanders. Mustafa proved a master tactician, for though he had superior numbers his troops were not trained and were poorly armed and equipped. His used the terrain and local knowledge to anticipate the Allies manoeuvres, landings, and assaults. He resisted both the pressure of his German military advisor to withdraw to an area where he could use his larger army to crush the Allies, and the pressure from the Sultan to throw his men into suicide attacks to drive the infidels into the sea.

In January 1916 the Allies quit and Mustafa became the man of the hour. This was the only victory for the Ottomans and he was lionised, even as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated.

The Sultan became a figurehead for a cabal (which the author implies was responsible for the Armenian genocide) which sued for peace at any price, thereby alienating many natives. The Allies occupied Istanbul well into 1921 on the ground of controlling the Bosphorus and thereby sealing off the emergent Soviet Union from at the Mediterranean during the Civil War between the Reds and Whites. The Sultan was in effect a prisoner in a gilded cage.

The war hero Mustafa convened a Turkish Grand Assembly in the dusty town in the middle of Anatolia, at first to rally a force to push the Allies out and restore the Sultan to authority while defending the faith of Islam. While all this was going the Arab states hived off the Ottoman Empire, and left a more homogenous residue and freed Mustafa to purse an increasingly nationalist program.

There was another war with Greece, and once again Mustafa prevailed to hang on to Rumeli (the European rump of Turkey, the word is a corruption of Roman). His trials by fire made him legend, and he learned quickly how to exploit it.

He promoted the idea that Turks were the first people and that humanity spread from central Asia, and that these were Turks. In this account the ancient Greeks derived from Turks, as did everyone else. He promoted a racial identity as the key to nationalism, thereby excluding Jews, Kurds, Yazidis, Arabs, and others in the remnant of Turkey.

With top down social engineering he tried to make Turkey into a Western European country by creating a Turkish language and alphabet to replace the Persian-Arabic script, by starting free public education, by minimising Islam, and by much more. He made that dusty town in central Anatolia the capital and named it Ankara which today is a modern European-looking city. He banned the veil for women and promoted European dress for women as well as men. His efforts predated those of the Shah or Iran to do something similar in the 1960s and 1970s.

None of these efforts at the social engineering went smoothly. The language change was bungled and took years to resolve, with the result being a Roman alphabet with a thick undergrowth the accents that is not the simple, rational creation he wanted. Islam withstood his efforts even during his lifetime. He lost the battle of veil and had to relent.

But his changes did create an enduring social and political elite akin to those of Western Europe, especially in the big cities of Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and Bursa. This elite is larger and more varied than that terms includes in most other European countries, the author claims but does not explain. Some say today there are three Turkeys: Istanbul the city-state is one, the remainder of coastal Western Turkey is another, and Eastern Turkey the last.

His government was authoritarian though cloaked in the rhetoric of a republic, a free press, equality before the law, and parliamentarianism, but woe betide anyone who criticised Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who had a thin skin. Newspapers were closed, journalists arrested, and some unionist were murdered. Bad as all that was, compared to his contemporaries in Germany, Italy, and Spain it was mild.

Five percent of the members of his last parliament were women. Not much, right? Well it was more than any where in Europe at the time, and no later parliament in Turkey had as many women until 2010.

Though not invoked by the author, it is clear that Atatürk saw himself as a latter-day philosopher-king making a society anew from his brow. Of course, he would not footnote Plato, a hated Greek. He had a formidable brow along with blue eyes.

Ataturk tomb.jpg The Ataturk tomb in Ankara.

The book is true to its title. There is little of the man’s life beyond an outline, and nothing about his formative influences, private life, or inner personality. The bulk concerns his efforts to compound a pseudo-scientific Turkish identity. The author treats the subject with an even hand.

Ataturk author.jpg Şükrü Hanioğlu

Appendix: The Gallipoli invasion, so maligned in Australian history, was the only strategic initiative of World War I. Its purpose was twofold, first to open the Mediterranean Sea to Russia to keep it in the war and second to force the Germans to weaken both the Western and Eastern fronts by diverting ever more men and materiel to the Middle East. In the course of planning and organising the invasion, Winston Churchill’s original plan was substantially altered, leaving fewer ships and fewer men.

Ataturk galipoli.jpg

The ANZAC landing was intended to cut-off Turkish troops that had gone down the peninsula to attack the British and French landings. But things went wrong. Troops landed in the wrong places. Misfires reduced the naval bombardment to a few shots. While Australian love to blame the Pommes it is true that the British and French each suffered a greater death toll that the Australians, though no one in Australia seems to know this, ever happy to be victims.

I have read three very large biographies of Napoleon and found myself none the wiser. They were records of events with little or no insight into the making of the man in his youth, what drove him ever onward in maturity, or the talents that enabled him to do what he did.

Napoleon book.jpg

There are more biographies of the Corsican than can be counted. Which to choose? No point in re-reading the three I had already been through, so I went shopping! I chose this one because the description emphasised the evidence the author used, i.e., contemporary letters, diaries, and reports, as well as Napoleon’s own letters, essays, and manuscripts. In anticipation of travel, I loaded the Kindle with this 890 page tome.

Indeed, the book opens with an impressive critique of the primary sources that have influenced many other biographies by showing that some accounts by Napoleon’s contemporaries and associates were written… forty-years after the fact, by the grandson and not the principal, based on nothing but memories of an eighty year old who did not keep a diary, produced by a fraudster and not by the man named on the cover, or comprehensively changed in translation by demonising Napoleon to suit English readers. Many memoirs of his contemporaries were very unreliable.

While I cannot judge the veracity of these assertions, they did convince me that this author is interested in evidence more than malice or gossip, which marred the earlier biographies I read.

Napoloeon Napolwon.jpg

Here are some of the things I learned.

1.The primacy of the family, a residue of Corsica where it was us-against-all. He stuck with his family members long after they proved to be liabilities.
2. His earlier aptitude for mathematics got him into military school and then the artillery. He long retained that analytic approach to his thinking.
3.His varied but indifferent early service in the Royal and then Revolutionary Army.
4.His decided to be French, and not Italian, or even Corsican. He spoke French badly and wrote it worse.
5.When the Revolution and the Terrors came each thinned the ranks of the officer corps leaving plenty scope for advancement for an energetic officer like the young Napoleon. Energy is one theme. He did sleep seven hours in a twenty-four but seldom in one stretch. He often dictated letters or travelled at 3 am.
6.He spend two years on assignment at the topographic office of the French Army in Paris, which was the de facto General Staff, where four old, experienced, and successful generals war gamed old battles and fictional ones, too, while Napoleon looked and learned. He had a prodigious memory. Thereafter he always collected and compiled maps.
7.In his first field command he created the post of Chief of Staff to manage the stage machinery of logistics and continued that ever after. The result was that his armies had greater mobility than his opponents because they had better staff work.
8.As commander of the fifth-rate French Army of Italy at twenty-six he encountered and bested three Austrian armies, each commanded by generals over seventy. They thought slower, moved slower, had more cumbersome ties to the political leadership, than Napoleon who acted first and explained later.
9.He acted in excess of his orders on the gamble that success would exonerate him, and it did.
10.While the political leadership did not trust any successful general, it needed the money he harvested in Italy and so kept him in service.
11.He filled his reports to the Directory in Paris with (A) exaggerations of his victories which went unchallenged as long as he sent along with them gold and loot and (B) misinformation about the Austrian generals he faced, praising the incompetents and deprecating the able, on the assumption that Austrian spies would read them and that Vienna would then keep the fools in command and replace the able. He continued to practice disinformation of several kinds on all of his campaigns.
12.He developed diamond manoeuvres, which I do not fathom, to allow his troops to adjust to line or column on the battlefield with ease. The innovative formations and rigorous training made his armies superior men-for-man.

Napoloen bee.jpg The honey bee was his emblem.

13.It is unlikely that he ever said that an army marches on its stomach but he knew it marched on its feet and spent a great deal of time and effort in getting boots for the troops. More than once, the terms of surrender he dictated to a defeated opponent involved shoe leather.
14.He published army newspapers to circulate among the troops which told them why they were fighting, both to defeat predatory enemies and to spread the enlightenment of the Revolution, and praised their deeds. The troops sent these cuttings home to show relatives how important they were.
15.To raise morale he awarded recognition to regiments, usually a motto, which was then sewn on the flag of the regiment. He created other honours and awards to stimulate patriotism and unity.
16.Made himself available to hear petitions from individual soldiers, and was generally very lenient with them while being stern, harsh, and demanding with officers, especially generals. There are some remarkable accounts of him striking up conversations with soldiers on sentry duty, wounded on battlefields, and other common soldiers. The author is sure no other general, not even in the French army, let alone in the Russian, Prussian, Austrian, or English armies of the time, would ever even recognise a man in the ranks. Once he met a solider he would remember him the next time.
17.He devoted resources and time to medical care for the wounded, and later pensions for widows, and payments to the incapacitated. Another theme in peace terms was medicine for his wounded.
18.As First Consul he stopped the bloodletting of the Revolution, invited home emigres, aristocrats, released from prison all political prisoners, and asked exiles to return to France. He appointed overt homosexuals to government posts, as well as Jews, Protestants, and atheists. Loyalty to France and then to himself, these were all that mattered.
19. He imposed Enlightenment rationality and universality to weights and measures, made French the official language rather than Occitan, Catalan, Basque, Breton, Norman, Italian in Nice, Dutch in Dunkirk, German in Alsace.
20.The Code Napoleon revolutionised, simplified, and rationalised the law, reducing the law from 5000 pages to 55 pages of principles.
21.He created scientific institutes and libraries some of which are still in use today.
22.He was a one-man Enlightenment for France in his early years with colossal energy.
23. Most fascinating to me was his ability to switch from one subject to another without a pause. While riding onto the field at the battle at Auerstadt he dictated a memorandum about building a girls’ school in Paris. There are lot of examples of this micro-management in the midst of battles.
24. His greatest military success was the bloodless battle at Ülm, where by a combination of speed, deception, and training his army completely surrounded a larger Austrian army which then surrendered. It was an astounding event.
25.He never understand the first thing about ships, oceans, navies. Indeed, he was convinced, and no amount of explanation could change his mind on this point, that the English naval blockade of Napoleonic Europe weakened England.
26.He found the coalitions he faced were divided by language, by goals, by opinions, even by calendars (Julian or Gregorian), munitions (calibers differed), formations, and so on. Each was a weakness which he — the single mind — exploited while they bickered and passed blame back and forth.
27.Personally he was courteous, calm, and heard out criticisms and alternative points of view. Not the raging tyrant of British propaganda. Though assassination attempts made him ever more paranoid.
28.The destructive invasion of Russia was precipitated by Russian complicity with England to break Napoleon’s continental system, despite a treaty affirming Russian compliance with it.
29.Napoleon’s plan was a month long campaign with battles on the border of Russia, and then a peace. Thereafter, step-by-step he went further in and then tarried. Long before General Winter struck, even more devastating was General Typhus.
30.The enormous army he took differed from the others he had led to success. First and foremost it was bigger than anything he had commanded before with attendant complications of logistics, communications, and movement. Moreover, the garrisons in the Napoleonic Empire from Portugal to the Danube absorbed 400,000+ troops. To staff the invasion army of 600,000+ he depended on contribution from seventeen allies: Bavaria Württemberg, Baden, Saxony, Hesse, Holland, Brabant, Spain, Basques, Catalonia, Poland, Hungary, Mamluks, Arabs, Romans, Milanese, Lombards, Naples, Slovenes, Swiss, and so and on. Altogether they offered a cacophony of languages, uniforms, procedures, calibers, food preferences, and motivations. About half of the invasion army were mercenaries, i.e., not French. It was divided by language and many of the troops from client states were not motivated.
31.Much of his earlier success sprang from the unity of command, the identity of training and weapons, and the speed of his army which he motivated with patriotism. In addition,nearly all of the generals he had opposed before Russia had been septuagenarians who had to get permission from a political leader before moving. This time the Russian Tsar was with his army and many of his generals were in their 40s.
32.His evolution into an emperor and a dynasty was partly to provide continuity and stability. When Alexander the Great died there was no successor and the result was civil war, ditto Caesar. He had also seen popular governments in French itself and in England pulled this way and that by tides of opinion. A monarchy would arise above those divisions provided it was constrained by a constitution. It sounds very like Georg Hegel’s account of a German constitution. Of course, it all rests on the assumption that Napoleon, Junior would be competent.
33. He seldom drank wine and did not drink Napoleon Brandy.

Napoleon Roberts.jpg Andrew Roberts

There is much more to the story of this giant, but perhaps this suffices to indicate what a reader will find. At the end Roberts concludes that Napoleon was indeed deserving of the title Great.

Walt Disney was born in a small railroad town in Missouri. It was a water stop for trains, and he retained a lifelong fascination with trains which led to Disneyland.

Disney book.jpg

He was a bright and industrious young man who had seen too much farm work as a boy to want to be a farmer. In his desire to escape the physical drudgery of farming he is akin to Huey Long.

His distinction in the early animated cartoons was the effort to put emotion into the toons. Whereas rivals like 'Tom & Jerry' or 'Felix the Cat' were drawings whose heads exploded and then re-assembled, Disney started putting puzzled or hurt expressions on the face of Mickey Mouse.

Walt Disney never stood still. He went from one project to another. He was a workaholic and worked late into the night, even when he was the proprietor of Disney Studios, he was frequently alone in the Studios at midnight.

He was also an innovator and a demon for ever higher quality in drawing, animation, movement, colour, and more. Innovation and quality meant that animators wanted to work for him, and many left higher paying jobs to work at Disney Studios to learn more of the trade. One of his innovations was staff development, as we would call it today. The author also credits Disney with the concept of the storyboard, now used in every movies industry in the world.

He could be volatile. There are many claims that he was tyrant or a racist but this author finds no evidence for either claim. Though the swings of business meant that at times, loyal and able staff had to be dismissed because there was no money to pay them. He was categorically anti-union and paternalistic as an employer. He equated unions with communism as did too many others during the early days of the Cold War, and he was a friendly witness before HUAC. Yuk!

Despite the temptations of Hollywood he was ever loyal to his wife. The author implies that Disney broke profitable business relations with some actors and directors whom he thought, perhaps wrongly, did not treat her with respect. After their first child she had several miscarriages and that led them to adopt a second child.

His brother Roy ran the business side, but always deferred to Walt’s creativity. When Walt used company money to build a scale model train as a hobby, Roy did point out that the stockholders would not accept that. To justify the scale railroad it became a company project, and led to Disneyland.

disney roy.jpg Roy Disney

Disney visited many amusement parks and found that those aimed at children bored adults and those aimed at adults bored children. In both cases the boredom meant a short visit. By combining amusements for both adults and children, the visits would be longer, and patrons would spend more money. To facilitate longer visits and more spending, Disney introduced suff development to train guides, operators, vendors in dealing with customers. Another Disney innovation is queue management.

I was surprised to learn how fragile the Disney empire was even in 1960s when it seemed to be an American institution second only to the White House. Since Walt was always pushing ahead to another project - more and better cartoons, television, movies, Disneyland, Disneyworld, EPCOT (which is not mentioned in this book), the finances were always stretched. One sign of this is that the brothers Walt and Roy lived modestly compared to the Hollywood standard of the time.

‘Snow White’ (1937) made mint and set a standard that he never equaled. The single-minded determination to make a feature length cartoon, and to make it an artistic and commercial success is one of the most interesting episodes in the book. The banal description of ‘Snow White’ on the InterNet Movie Database belies what a groundbreaking work it was in 1937.

Disney snow.jpg

Disney set out to top that with ‘Fanastia’ (1940) but the technical problems were so great that this project devoured money, and in the desperation to get a product and some financial return, it was neither an artistic nor commercial success. Disney did not always get it right.

Disney made the transition from cartoons to live action films thanks to World War II. When the war began the Department of Defense contracted Disney Studios to make training films, which were at first technical, involving a lot of diagrams and animation, but came to involve actors showing how to repair an engine, or repair a tank tread.

‘Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea’ (1954) and ‘Davy Crockett’ (1955) both made money and attracted acclaim.  Genius as he might have been, Disney did not follow-up either successfully. He was always reluctant to hire expensive Hollywood directors and actors and ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea’ is the only time he did. When ‘Davy Crockett' made even more money, he decided he did not need high priced talent. I do remember that cap!

Disney crockett.jpg

He seems to have misunderstood the success of ‘Davy Crockett’ because he then cast its star Fess Parker in a series of duds. They were duds because, in effect, Parker was cast as a supporting actors to, by turns, a group of children, a dog, and a bear. When his contract came up for re-newal, Parker quit.

By the way, he picked Parker out of the film ‘The Thing’ (1951), and as an unknown, Parker came cheap.

The 1950s and 1960s television series of Disney was designed to promote Disneyland.  

There was a lot of office politics in Disney Studios. Getting his attention was key but he had so many projects going, including constantly rebuilding and expanding the studio that his attention was scarce.  

He travelled a lot in the States but also in Europe. The honours and awards poured in but he remained restless for the next project.

There is a good deal in the book about the technical aspects of animation. More than I expected in a ‘Life.’

disney barrier.jpg MIchael Barrier

Michael Barrier played Lieutenant De Salle in Star Trek, the Original Series episode 'Memory Alpha.'

De Salle.jpg De Salle

Reader, a test before we begin. Did you ride in an automobile today? Did you wear a seat belt?

If so, then you owe something to Barbara Castle neé Betts (1910-2002) who was a Labour Party stalwart for two generations. She radiated conviction, energy, and determination. The Red Squire Stafford Cripps said in the 1940s she was a prime minister to be, but that was not to be. By the way, Cripps was not an easy man to impress for he had few good words for several others who did become prime minister.

Castle cover.jpg By Lisa Martineau in 2011.

She was lefter than thou yet from a public school, Oxford, and championed radical causes in the 1930s. That together with her red hair invited the sobriquet ‘The Red Queen.’ A title she accepted with pride.

Her achievements were great and small, from securing a ladies’ toilet near the chamber of the House of Commons, a feat other women had been unable to perform. It was, inevitably, called Barbara’s Castle. She also led the charge against turnstiles on public toilets for women, starting with House of Commons. There were no turnstiles on mens’ toilets, yet they were not pregnant, towing children, or carrying shopping. Of course, Margaret Thatcher fixed all that gender inequality by doing away with free public toilets, making it pay if you want to go.

At the other end of the continuum, she was a founder of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and a tireless exponent of the New Jerusalem that Socialism undiluted offered. She worked just as hard to speed British exit from the fifty-seven colonies it held in 1945. To that end she travelled to many of them, particularly in Africa. I rather suspect the parliamentarian played by Flora Robson in the film ‘Guns of Batasi’ (1964) was inspired by her. By the way, Richard Attenborough is electric in this film.

With the flaming red hair, blue eyes, and resonant voice that emerged from this petite woman, she was spellbinder at the podium. Even lifelong enemies like Hugh Gaitskell said he found himself nodding when she argued cases he opposed.


As a minister of the crown she had a deadly eye for detail and put in nineteen hour days and expected the same from the public servants. When they could not, or would not, match her pace she hired private consultants to add to the workforce. One of her great achievement as a minister in four departments was to hire economists. Hard though it is to believe but the ministries of Overseas Aid, Transport, and Health employed no economists until she arrived. Much as the Sir Humphrey’s of the day disliked her, they found her to be a champion for the department unlike any other minister. As one cabinet colleague, and later prime minister, James Callaghan, another lifelong enemy, said, she simply would not shut up until she got her way, and she often got her way because it was the only way to shut her up. Even in times of declining budgets she always boosted the allocation to her department by brow-beating cabinet and won most of the border disputes with other departments.

There is much to like and to admire in Barbara Castle. It is also true that she was completely one-eyed: Socialism was a planned economy, nay, a planned society. Socialism will give people what is good for them whether they want it or not, whether they think it is good or not. There is a zealot there for whom the problem may require that the people be re-educated. She had no patience, no toleration for those who did not accept her vision of the planned society. Guess who would be the planner in chief.

She detested the sewer socialist in her party in the 1940s and 1950s. ‘Sewer Socialist' were those who wanted and accepted small gains, like clean water, a working sewer system, modest wage increases, affordable housing, industry pension funds… These incremental changes she dismissed as distractions from the larger, main game of social (r)evolution. When Clement Atlee staked his Party on the National Health Service, she thought it was trivial, and said so. The whole of the planned society had to come first before any of its parts.

When she visited the Soviet Union in 1937 it was the Light on the Hill, and she said so forever thereafter. She was not the only intellectual who saw what she wanted to see in the USSR in the 1930s, see Paul Hollander ‘Political Pilgrims’ (1997), but, while many others recanted, admitting their errors, she never did. Indeed in the 1970s she was still defending the paeans of praise she had sung to Comrade Stalin in justifying the Show Trials. While she advocated abortion in Great Britain, when Stalin outlawed it in the USSR, she rushed to the typewriter to justify his action and extol his wisdom.

Successive Labour Party leaders from Clement Atlee, Hugh Gaitskell, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, Michael Foot,Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown found her a loose canon. She certainly blundered as she steamed ahead, arousing expectations that were impossible to fulfil in constituents, in African nationalist leaders, and in many others. But nothing is accomplished if nothing is tried. She tried, if she was trying. Like Moses Malone, whose recent passing I noted, she had ninth and tenth effort, not just second and third effort.

When she advocated British withdrawal from Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios of Greek Cyprus invited her to Athens for private talks. She was all but forbidden to go by the Party leader, by the Foreign Office, by the Ministry of Defence; she went. The professional diplomats had been unable to find an accommodation in Cyprus for years, but she did it in two weeks. The arrangement that led to the Green Line which still partitions this island emerged from personal intervention.

She did not play by the rules, and that enraged many, even some who were close to her like Harold Wilson.

One of the rules she despised was making deals. She wanted everyone to agree with her, and she asserted her case from first principles, not mutual interest or advantage. Nor would she delay until the timing was more conducive. No way. It was always now or never!

Though the author does not give it emphasis, there is a transformation when she became a cabinet minister. She learned that half a loaf makes a good meal. Compromise today, for tomorrow is another day. As minister of transportation she revolutionised what had been a moribund backwater. In so doing she incurred tsunamis of abuse. She legislated seat belts, breathalysing, speed limits, and other changes that vested interest denounced as a communist plot. The abusive letters, death threats, systematic smear campaigns, jostling on the street, hectoring from the public gallery in the House, she endured from individual motorists who had a god-given right to drive drunk at high speeds, automobile manufacturers who claimed they would be bankrupted by installing seat-belts, publicans, and brewers because breathalysing would and did reduce alcohol consumption. Oh, by the way, her measures also reduced road accidents, deaths, and injuries by 50%.

There was only one way for her, and that was up. She became First Secretary to Cabinet, an archaic title, which made her de facto Deputy Prime Minister to Harold Wilson. She learned to trim, to temporise, to compromise, to balance, to wait for the right time…all those things she denounced in Atlee, Gaitskell, and others in the 1940s, and 1950s. The Tribune group, and later Militant Tendency, in the Labour Party attacked her daily, and she learned what it was like to have marbles underfoot every hour of every day. Some may have seen one of the best political dramas ever, 'Bill Brand, MP,' from this time. I say 'best' because it got the politics right. In that respect it is comparable to 'The Sandbaggers.'

Then she moved to labour and took on the Trade Unionarchy that was running much of Britain in the late 1960s. Rivalry between unions took the form of endless demarcation disputes and in effect put the entire county on an unofficial three-day working week (which later became official when the Tories took over). The days lost by strikes in the twelve months before she took over surpassed the total for the previous decade! By now she was less interested in a blueprint for the New Jerusalem and much more interested in sewer socialism, quite literally getting sanitation to work. While Prime Minister Harold Wilson sent her forth, most in the Labour Party opposed any effort to rein in the unions. She was comprehensively undermined, as she had undermined others in earlier years, and failed.

Fail and move up, that is an old adage in Brit politics. She was moved on to take charge of the NHS, rolling up her sleeves started to work reducing private medicine to zero. The doctors resisted, they struck. The winds of hyperbole blew. Once again she played Saint Sebastian, taking the arrows meant for Wilson. She wore away her opponents but the backbiting in cabinet reached new levels. Then Wilson pulled a rabbit out of his hat: He quit. Though she won her battle with the medicos, she was dumped by Wilson’s successor before she could conclude the matter.

She had no future with the new Prime Minister, Callaghan, whose hostility was open; he was a union man first and last, and saw no role for women out of the kitchen. Castle’s effort to legislate for equal pay for equal work for women and then the effort to increase the pay for nurses was anathema to organised labour in the day.


The unions and their bought-and-paid for parliamentarians attacked her even more savagely on equal pay than they had on her earlier effort to sanction illegal strikes. The hate mail, the threats, the denunciations were hysterical. She had to go, and Callaghan dismissed her in his first act after taking the oath while in the car. He did not even wait to get to the office.

She went to the backbench, where she was free to speak her mind. Did she ever! She got herself on every committee in Parliament and the Labour Party and tore into the Labour Government. She reverted to type: Lefter than thou. She hit the typewriter for the newspaper which loved seeing the Labour Party tear itself apart (again). The Tories had only to sit back and watch the fun.

The advent to the European Parliament led her to becoming a Member of the European Parliament where she quickly established a reputation as a demon for detail. She became the leader of the Socialist bloc.

In 1990 she finally accepted a place in the House of Lords, something she has turned down earlier, where she resumed her role as the Socialist conscience of Labour. Age did not weary her, as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown found when she lit into them. She died at her desk, reading legislation line-by-line which always did, looking the mistakes, inconsistencies, slips, and red flags.

The comparison has to be Margaret Thatcher. Ambitious, smart, driven, and similar in complexion and appearance.

Castle was something of a clothes horse, always careful of her appearance, always a man-magnet, with a taste for country houses and French champagne. There were no children. She never learned to drive a car. Her husband Ted, himself a journalist, led the cheering for her. In those days she still performed all the housewifely duties. She ironed, cooked, dusted, often while dictating into a machine.

It also has to be said that she endured the heavy hand, sometimes literally, of the uninhibited sexism of the time and place. Even the newspaper stories from the day make this reader today cringe.

We will not see her like again.

The author does have a distance from the subject, frequently pointing out Castle’s inconsistencies, volte faces, mistakes, and rapacious ego. But at other times it slips into the 'Barbara could do no wrong' tone.

For a book about politics there is precious little about the elections, especially in the 1960s and 1970s when she played a major role.

Too often the author shows Labour partisan colours. Calling everyone by the first name meant I got lost among the several Dicks, Jims, and Tonyes. There are some typos. Some broken syntax, well, sentences that even on a second reading did not compute in this reader. Some more editing would have increased its impact and shelf-life. I also wearied from the detail of this meeting and that but perhaps a Brit pol junkie would eat that up.

This detail of events though seems to somehow to obscure the person. Her number one supporter, husband Ted, died, and she kept going, inspired, she said, by Dennis Potter’s ‘The Singing Detective.’

I read this book on Kindle. I do find navigating the bookmarks hit and mostly miss and I have not yet mastered switching to Whisper. The Kindle edition has none of the photographs of the published book.

What do Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Peru, Ecuador. and Bolivia have in common?
Simón Bolívar (1783–1830) was president of each, often simultaneously, sometimes in turn.

Bolívar cropped up in a book about Jeremy Bentham’s crusade to influence events in South America. Bentham corresponded with Bolivar, that is, inundated him with manuscripts, letters, books, telling him what to do. When I read that, I was remind of how little I know about Latin America, and reading a biography of The Liberator seemed a good place to start. Though truck with Bentham made me doubt Bolívar’s judgement.

Bolivar cover best.jpg

The first thing to hit me was that when Bolívar was born, the Spanish, including his family, had been in Latin America and the Caribbean for more than 250 years. That is far longer than the European settlement in Australia today.

The first Spanish settlers came on the second and third visits of Columbus a few years after that first landfall on 1492. That was a long time for people to get set in their ways, for the population to grow, for the natural wealth to be plundered, for social structure to map onto the topography, for the bureaucracy of empire from Madrid to develop arthritis, for the local Spanish to resent and yet to defer to distant Madrid. And the distance was measured in months of sea travel which was both uncertain and made dangerous by weather, politics, and pirates of the Caribbean.

Bolívar was born in Caracas in what is now Venezuela to a Creole family of wealth and social distinction. ‘Creole’ in this case refers to those Spanish who were born in Latin America as distinct from ‘Peninsulares’ who were Spaniards born on the Iberian peninsula. This distinction had social, financial, and political dimensions. Peninsulares were of higher status because they were closer to Spain. They escaped many taxes that applied to Creoles. They held appointed offices under the crown denied to Creoles. At one time, such differences might have made sense and might not have been resented but they were unchanged for 250+ years and they chaffed. The more so because those Peninsulares who came were often adventurers, thieves, and incompetents, each bearing a royal license that put them above the law.

The native indian population had either fled the Spanish who remained on the coasts or succumbed to the European diseases that came with them. To labor in the silver and gold mines, and later to work the sugar canes fields, the Spanish imported slaves from West Africa on a large scale and had been doing so for generations when Bolívar was born. Thus were three races mixed and while the sclerotic civil law took little notice of racial distinctions, the Roman Catholic Church did in regulating marriage, registering births, and legitimating inheritances. Racial purity was also a priority to the Creoles in their status war with Peninsulares. There were many varieties of pardos and mulattos, those of mixed race.

Bolívar was widely travelled, through the United States recently after its War of Independence, France shortly after the Revolution, England where he met James Mill, Italy, Spain, and elsewhere. In Spain, such was his family wealth and social status, he sported with Prince Ferdinand who became king during some of the period that followed. He had a tutor who spoke but the rights of man and talked but Rousseau and that ilk. Though Bolívar had no education to speak of, his head was full of ideas in a time when anything seemed possible. Born to a rich family, he never had an occupation of any sort.

A conflict between the reigning Spanish king and his ambitious son, Ferdinand, divided loyalties in Spain. Napoleon entered and placed one of this flunkies on the throne. The several colonies in the New World were even more confused than their brother French colonial officials would be in 1940 with the competing Vichy and Free French governments. Spain had three kings, the old king, his upstart son, and Napoleon’s puppet. In addition there were two rival juntas that each proclaimed the end of the monarchy and the birth of a new Spain. None had much capacity to influence the New World, but its riches were certainly what prompted Napoleon’s intervention, which in turn prompted the Monroe Doctrine in a few years.

There were many reactions among the colonists along the South American coasts as the news made its way to them, reported in English newspapers on American or British ships, since they dominated the seas.

In this confusing time Bolívar wanted both independence from Spain and a social revolution, though I doubt he translated that into the loss of his own fortune, though he did lose it. He was one of the most belligerent of the Creoles, and as efforts at moderation failed, because such capacity as Spain could project was repressive - no negotiation, just mass hangings. Several treaties between local Spanish officials and obstreperous Creoles were violated within the hour of signature, like the treaties the United States made with indians.

Simón_Bolívar_(1969_film).jpg One of many films featuring El Liberator

I have no sense of Bolívar as a soldier. He had no training and his army was at most a few thousand. There are references to him training's troops but I cannot guess in what he trained them. The terrain between the coastal colonies was forbidding, there being no roads, and simply moving a body of me from one to another was a feat of Hannibal.

He started with seventy men, surprised and routed a slightly larger Spanish garrison, and marched on with two-hundred men. By bluff and some confusion managed to cause another, larger Spanish contingent in a fortress to retire. Again he recruited more men, now at 500-hundred and marched on. This is another of his distinctions. He kept going. When other rebellious leaders scored a victory, they stopped. Not Bolívar. He was now about twenty-seven.

It is a long story with many failures, but Bolívar did not quit and in time learned from mistakes. The first lesson, was that it would be a long road.

Second, that the Latinos would have to do it for themselves. England would not intervene, though it would encourage from time to time to undermine its European enemies. The USA might be a model but it would not intervene either having neither the capacity nor will to do so.

Third, unity was the key to besting the imperialist, unity of the races, Creoles, pardos, mulattos, mestizos, blacks, and indians, and also geographic unity. He saw a single Latin American republic as the future. He opposed slavery and outlawed wherever he went which alienated the Creole slave-owning class of his origin.

Fourth, with a navy the Spanish could, at times, control the coasts, so better to operate from the interior.

Fifth, take allies where they can be found, and one place material support could be found was with the black regime in Haiti.

Sixth, compromise to amass a force. Do not insist on ideological purity from allies. Accept minimum cooperation if that is all there is.

Being a frail human being like all of us, El Liberator did not always follow these rules.

Since all the empires, French, Spanish, and English, constrained trade, the one place in the Southern Hemisphere where free trade was practiced was in Haiti. Several wealthy merchants from the United States had set up there to do business, and the offered funding, investing in future trading opportunities that would result if Spain was divested of its colonies.

Applying these lessons was not easy. Many fainthearted people wanted complete victory by the afternoon, or would quit. Others tried to woo England to no avail. The divisions among the Creoles and the ambiguous role of the Catholic Church, these alone would be enough to flummox most of us, let along crossing racial and geographic boundaries. There were no roads in the interior making movement nearly impossible. For some Creoles who had owned slaves, alliance with Haiti, a regime created when slaves massacred their owners, was impossible, even more impossible that freeing their own slaves.

That seeking of allies also came to mean trying to entice Spanish soldiers to switch sides with promises of citizenship and reward. His wars went on for more than twelve years as he criss-crossed the northern tier of South America in the belief that if the Spanish retained even one insignificant foothold, they would, sooner or later, return in force and subjugate the continent; it had to be a clean-sweep fore and aft. Alpine peaks in the Andes, swamps along the Orinoco, high deserts in Peru, jungle forests in Panama, endless plains, all these had to be traversed with his bedraggled followers. Nature and disease probably killed more than did the Spanish.

Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Columbia, Venezuela, and Peru, from these he drove the Spanish. The geography means nothing to me but on a map it is pretty impressive, putting George Washington’s campaigns into the shade.

There were constant conflicts among the locals, some remained loyal to Spain, but even among the anti-Spanish there were many deep divisions, social, racial, religious, regional, and political. Bolívar concluded that three hundred years of Spain’s authoritarian rule left the people incapable of ruling themselves. Though he adopted the forms of popular sovereignty, the governments, such as they were, he created were authoritarian, too. But he seldom stayed anywhere long enough to impose his will; he was always off to the next battle with another Spanish enclave. When he left, the government he had created fell to ruin and conflict.

His armies never exceeded 12,000 and were usually smaller than that. The wheel of death did not seem to phase him in the slightest. Over this period about half of the European population died. Add to that the deaths of blacks and reds and all the shades in between. Many deaths came from diseases for which we now have vaccinations, but even some them trace to the wars when water is contaminated, or populations re-located, or the dead are left unburied. Perhaps 50,000 soldiers died under his command. Of course, that is one battle for Napoleon.

Though the author describes many battles, it is all too much like a game. As far as I could tell Bolívar’s main tactic was to attack head-on. There is little indication he studied the terrain, disposed his forces according to it, tried to understand his opponents’ mind and play to a weakness, as did Robert Lee. Whatever tactical achievements there were, usually came from subordinates who also recruited soldiers of fortune from the demobilised armies of the Napoleonic wars with promises of citizen, land, and wealth. British and French veterans who had fought at Waterloo entered his European legion as comrades. He also bought much war surplus weaponry from Europe after 1815.

The author does a nice job of contrasting Bolívar with San Martin, though she is very clearly of the Bolívar camp. Think I will read about San Martin next to get the rest of the story. Over a 48-hour period they had three private meetings, alone. We know nothing of their discussions, though inferences have been made from the subsequent letters and memoirs of each. Nonetheless, the author writes of these interviews as though present. A license too far, I thought.

For ten years Bolívar fought the Spanish coloniser from Peru to Venezuela and back and forth. When the Spanish finally left, he spent the next ten years trying to hold together Greater Granada, as he called it, consisting of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. As soon as he left one province, as he styled them, the conflict would start. No longer having the Spanish to fight, they fought each other, across provincial, later national, borders, between cities, and within cities.

While El Liberator still lived, Peru had three presidents in one week, the first assassinated upon taking the oath of office, his successor two days later so that third took office on Friday. In combinations of twos and threes the states he created made war on each other and still do.

Once the Spanish oppressor was vanquished, many people saw in Bolívar a would-be king, tyrant, dictator… and opposed his every step. So blind was their automatic reaction — think Fox News here — that they even opposed his efforts to resign, seeing in it a devious tactic to win recall. That makes about as much sense as does Sarah Palin. This opposition continues with the entry in Wikipedia which asserts in its opening paragraph that his aim was to secure personal fiefdoms. No doubt it will be edited by next week.

He died at forty-seven, aged decades beyond the years by the exertions of the soldier’s life. The author estimates he travelled 75,000 miles, most of it on horse or foot in Latin America. At death he was penniless, and outcast by the very people whom he had liberated from Spain, dying in the care of a retired Spanish diplomat in a remote location in Colombia.

In death he has been a reliquary for Latino political leaders to bask in the glory of El Liberator, Simón Bolívar. Whenever a regime wobbles, its president-for-life unveils another statue of El Liberator, most notably and recently the late Hugo Chavez.

chavez and bolivar.jpg Chavez speaks

Though no one wanted him alive, Bolívar’s body has been dug up and divided among nations and moved several times, last by the aforementioned Chavez who also took his name for the country as the Bolivarian Socialist Republic of Venezuela. It seems there are no parks or plazas in the northern tier of Latin American without statue of El Liberator from Panama to Bolivia. It does not always work since Swiss hotels are fully occupied by such presidents-for-life.

I mentioned the egregious Jeremy Bentham above and also Montesquieu. One of the interesting themes in this story is whether the laws must be rooted in the society or must the laws be above and apart from the society, and this is a difference between Bentham for whom one-size, his, fits all and Montesquieu for whom the spirit of the laws is the spirit of the people. Intersecting with this argument is one about monarchy. Though Bolívar was unalterably opposed to monarchy, many of his allies and acolytes wanted to recruit a European prince to be king on the grounds that such an outsider, having no history and no loyalty to this faction, region, or race, could defend a constitution against the ebb and flow of local politics. It is an argument Georg Hegel made in his ‘Philosophy of Right’ (1821). That did not work well for Max in Mexico a generation later.

The last chapter is a superb summary of El Liberator’s life and career.

The book is based on extensive research and is written with panache, and of course, the basic story is both an epic in scale and a saga in duration. I read some of it with the Times of London Atlas open to the relevant page to follow some of the action since most of the place names meant nothing to me.

Arana.jpg Marie Arana

It is also true that the book lapses into hagiography too often for Saint Símon. It labels but does not explain, e.g., when others failed or quit Bolívar succeeded, why? Because he was charismatic comes the answer, which is no answer at all.

Some very strange word choice and some minor historical inaccuracy, e.g., there were no rifles and no artillery. The rifling of the barrels of weapons came later. There were muskets and cannons. It is quite a difference on each side of the barrel. When she writes of ‘riflemen,’ unless she specifically has Chuck Connors in mind, I think she means ‘infantry.’

Annoying overstatements, e,g,, these horsemen were the most audacious in the world. How does she know this. Was there a world horsemen audacity ranking agency?

At times the word choice made me wonder if the author, or translator, was a native English-speaker.

This is the first book I have read from beginning to end on a Kindle. It has taken getting used to, especially for notes and highlights and not losing my place. I started with turning off the public notes and highlights of other readers. No thanks. That is too much like reading a used book marked-up by previous readers. Bad enough reading some of the asinine reviews on Amazon.

Having carried about thirty kilograms of books on our European tour last year, I decided that I would not do that again. The only way to do that is to use a Kindle so I am practicing that before our next jaunt to Turkey in October.

‘Voltaire in Baltimore,’ said one admirer of the iconoclastic H. L. Mencken (1880-1956).

When I moved the copy of ‘The Creed of the Sage of Baltimore’ on my office pin-board a few weeks ago to re-arrange things, I posted it on Facebook. Doing that reminded me I had read William Manchester’s biography of the Sage in 1980. Now seemed a good time re-new acquaintance with this original. Trusty Amazon not only found a copy for me, but also revealed that there had been a second edition which I quickly acquired. To call Mencken an ‘original,’ as Manchester does is right, but it hardly seems enough - unique is better. Love him or hate him or both, he was one of a kind, a singularity.


This was a journalist who carried a baseball bat down his pant leg when he went to do interviews, supposing, rightly in some cases, that his questions would provoke physical violence, and he would have to defend himself. This was a newspaper editor who kept a shotgun on his desk when receiving complaints, a near daily occurrence, from members of the public. He would listen but he would not be cowed, that was the silent testimony of the shotgun. If the complainer was cowed, so much the better.

As a boy in the streets of Baltimore, he became fascinated with the machinery in a local shop, as many boys have been fascinated by trains or trucks. The local shop was the neighbourhood weekly newspaper/newsletter. He stood for hours after school watching it. His father gave him a toy printing press and was thus born ‘H. L. Mencken’ when he printed his own business cards with it. He had always gone by the name ‘Harry’ but all the ‘r’ letters in the set had been broken in his first experiments with it, so he styled himself ‘H. L.’ and it stuck.

When he left high school he applied for a job with the ‘Baltimore Herald’ and by persistence made a go of it. He loved the life and went at it like there was no tomorrow. This was a pace he continued for the rest of his life. But the newspaper’s readership fell in a very competitive market, and the desperate editor turned him loose. He was transformed from a journalist reporting events, to a columnist dishing out opinions. Is there nothing sacred? ‘No,’ was his reply.

Sanctimonious clergymen were target practice for his daily column. When they protested in a mass delegation to the newspaper’s owner, Mencken consulted his public and private files. The public files he had collected for sometime, recording incidents of clerical misdeeds with altar-boys, collection boxes, choirgirls, prostitutes, loan sharks, gamblers, you name it. These he recounted with unequaled enthusiasm. Still the clerics protested, so Mencken went to the private files.

Mencken.HL.001.jpg Mencken in his prime,

When he was but a reporter going where he was sent, doing what he told, he was a police reporter, and he was a very sociable drinker with police officers all over Baltimore. They provided him with still more dirt on churchmen that had not yet reached the public record. What a motherlode of gossip and libel did he find, and he did use it, having first mastered the libel laws! The clergy beat retreat, and having won, Mencken did not pursue them. There was still bigger game to hunt in the jungle of the sanctimonious.

Now blooded, he turned to the Baltimore political machine whose Mayor aspired to the spoils of a national office. Once again he published juicy extracts from the public record, connecting the dots, then he turned to the selfsame police officers for more dirt, which was supplied. But even that did not seem enough for so elephantine a target, so Mencken advertised in his column for citizens, in the strictest confidence, to confide in him information about the mayor. They did. Even he was surprised by the rapacious venality thus revealed, but this was a man for Augean stables. He treated it like a baseball game and created a scorecard, with day by day results in the race to the pennant.

His heritage was German, like many others in Baltimore, and he was proud of it. He loved German music and played the piano well on musical evenings with, first, the family, and then drinking buddies. When the Great War started, he saw it as Germany civilising Europe, and if Belgium, France, England got in the way, tough luck! His daily columns, whatever the subject matter, included an encomium to the Kaiser, Germany, mythical Germania, Bach, Nietzsche, or something else explicitly German. As the war went on and American neutrality leaned to Britain, he kept at it. While many Americans of German extraction admired his audacity, they kept their heads down.

His editor hoping to edify and distract him, sent him to Europe to cover the war. Europe? The editor gave him a steamship ticket to Southhampton and train ticket to London. The train ticket was never used. He changed ships at Southhampton for Oslo and then Copenhagen, and then bought his own train ticket to Berlin. Thence he proceeded to file dispatches from the Russian front, extolling German civility, cuisine, beer, courtesy, efficiency, etc. The editor cut off his funds and Mencken returned unrepentant. But seeing the war fervour back home, thereafter he had the wit to keep his own head down, but he never forgave Woodrow Wilson.

Then he turned his talents to editing a literary magazine. He it is that created the house style guide. His was the first to offer this service to contributors. Likewise he also was the first editor to declare what kind of stories he would publish as a guide to authors submitting. Finally, he vowed to treat authors with consideration and courtesy which was not the norm then or now. Submissions were reviewed and returned within 48 hours, and the letters of rejection or acceptance were hammered out on his typewriter. Those rejected got comments on the strong and weak points of the submission sometimes coupled with suggestions of other publications to try, and those accepted were bathed in flattery before he indicated just how little he could pay contributors. Having himself been rejected by editors with curt form letters rather like the disdainful treatment meted out by Qantas cabin staff when I used to fly with that carrier, he was trying to do unto other authors as he wished other editors to do unto to him.

In time he published stories by James Joyce, Sherwood Anderson, Scott Fitzgerald, Willa Cather, Theodore Dreiser, Edmund Wilson, Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill (plays in this case) and still more, when no one else would. He also pushed a young Alfred Knopf into publishing.

Perhaps his most lasting personal contribution was ‘The American Language’ which he prepared while staying his pen during the Great War. He was in part inspired to defend Americanese against the British, and their American sycophants, and so it was in part his private war against England in support of Germany. The other inspiration was the black slang he heard in the streets, the saloon talk of polyglot Baltimore, and frontier language of the west which he mostly knew through the works of one of his most beloved writers, Mark Twain. He likened Americanese to a new species of animal, living by its own rules in a new environment, quickly growing away from its origins (Britain). This was a hobby project but when it was published it obtained instant commercial and critical success, though he offended the self-appointed guardians of the King’s English stationed in the United States, and a war of words about words ensued.

Mencken.jpg HL doing what he did best, editing,

These guardians should have known better than to take on this master of polemic, venom, and invective. The more so because he had researched the material for many years before assembling it. Ergo, he had it down pat, and he shoved it down the throats of the guardians who assailed him. In time this grew to be a three-volume work, as he tinkered with it for the rest of his life.

The Scopes Monkey trial is well known, and he was the conductor of the orchestra there. He recruited Clarence Darrow for the defence and blackmailed his paper into paying Darrow’s considerable fee.

He fought Prohibition in every way, from brewing his own beer to the pages of the newspapers far and wide and insulted, mocked every dry clergyman, condemned whole swaths of the nation for supporting such idiocy and just would not shut up. This fight gave him an even greater national profile, since many intellectuals, with secure private supplies from bootleggers, did not fight the good fight on this one.

More battles followed. One of his magazines was ‘Banned in Boston’ as was much else at the time, and he let it go, but when the Bostonians started bragging about caging the Beast of Baltimore, what was a man to do, but fight back? He went to Boston Common and sold copies of the offending magazine himself where he was arrested. At the police station he regaled his incarcerators with stories from his days as the police roundsman in Baltimore, while his lawyer did the heavy lifting. The scorecard read: Mencken 1 - Boston Banners - 0. The judge, who had been handpicked by the Banners, found for Mencken, free speech and all that.

When the good citizens of a Maryland Eastern Shore town lynched a negro, dragged from a hospital bed, Mencken fired his heaviest artillery. These great men proved everything he had ever thought about the scum of the earth. Did he go hard! Wallop! When commercial and physical threats against the newspaper and his person rolled in, he redoubled his invective. Crosses were dutifully burned. Dead animals left on his doorstep. All the tricks that are still in the Tea Party playbook were used. Nothing stopped him. He just kept at it until the villains went on to other, softer targets. Remember what I said earlier about the baseball bat and the shotgun.

Alas, Manchester includes none of Mencken nonpareil coverage of presidential nominating conventions and elections. He loved the circus, and democracy offered the biggest and best one for free. He was present at the hung convention in 1924 and must have had a lot to say about that. By the time he covered his last presidential convention in 1948, he was a bigger celebrity than most of the candidates. Journalist crowded around to interview him, while hapless candidates milled around the auditorium talking to each other.

He was an iconoclast who attacked hot air, bunkum, lies, pomposity, pretention, vain-glory, stupidity, ignorance at every turn, and if one attack was good three or four were better. Indeed, his modus operandi became so well known that one well-meaning friend asked him if there was anything he did believe in, and the result was the Sage’s creed.

Manchester offers no summing up of Mencken’s life, legacy, or impact. My own is this. Puncturing balloons is great fun, and there are plenty of hot air balloons around to puncture, and most of them have so little self-knowledge that they do not know that they are full of hot air. In this, as in so much else though, one has to know when to quit, and Mencken did not. He was like a Groucho Marx who just keeps rabbiting on ridiculing all about him, and with age Mencken became far less discerning in the targets he selected. Neither the Great Depression nor the rise of Adolf Hitler could he take seriously and so his star waned. Just as William Jennings Bryan clung to old verities, in his age so did Mencken.

MAnchester mug.jpg William Manchester

Moreover, Mencken was not wholly negative. He loved baseball his whole life and never said a bad word about it, not even during the Black Sox scandal. He had a blind eye there. Manchester barely mentions the sport but one reason Mencken went to New York City as often as he did was to see Yankee games.

When I visited Baltimore for a conference, I spent far too much time conferring, and did not make it to the Mencken Room, which is only grudgingly open now and again. Likewise I did not do an Edgar Alan Poe homage such was my professional fervour, long since outgrown. I did make it to an Orioles game though! I did go over the submarine in the harbour, and I did see Fort McHenry from the water with a boatload of sozzled conferees.

The second-hand copy Amazon produced is marked up, doing the same myself with most books I read, I sometimes wonder about the marker. Is this someone I would get along with? I try to see some pattern in the mark-up. The marks in this book seem to be analysis of Manchester’s style, his choice of voice — third person past, the mix of description and anecdote, the passive versus active voice. I wonder if the writer was an author. The copperplate penmanship suggests a woman but I have been fooled on that before.

Speaking of marked up texts, as an undergraduate, I had developed a method for selecting used textbooks that worked perfectly.

First I only looked at copies that were highlighted in yellow. Why? Read on and be enlightened. Second I concentrated on those yellow highlighted copies that were densely marked in the opening chapters. Yes, there is a method to this. And remember I was buying in a crowded bookstore with many other students getting books for the semester, so there was physical and social pressure to get on with it.

Ah, the method? I discovered by the end of the freshman year texts that were marked in yellow were used by dolts more interested in the yellow marker than any meaning the text might impart. The yellow highlighter was a novelty in those days and only a few students used them, and they used them, it seemed, more as a status symbol than anything else. Why do I say that? Because the highlighting stopped within a chapter or two. Either the reader dropped the course, give up to failure, or relied on copying the work of others. Law One was: A text highlighted in yellow was likely to be clean after a few chapters.

As a corollary to this law, I also noticed that the more densely marked the first chapter was, the sooner the marking stopped. Someone who highlighted every line on page one, had no idea what was important and what was not. Such an indiscriminate marker was destined, know it or not, to drop even sooner than the average Yellow-Head, as I called them to myself. Law Two was: the more frequent the yellow in Chapter One the sooner the highlighting would stop, leaving the remainder of the text untouched.

A few times a friend expressed surprise to see me pick a book that was heavily marked in the opening pages, but I gave a spurious reason, about that marking saving me the work of doing it myself, rather than reveal the two laws above! These I kept to myself until now.

Mencken’s Creed for those too lazy to look it up for themselves. It is sometimes edited to suit the quoter.

I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind - that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.

I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.

I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty and the democratic form is as bad as any of the other forms.

I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.

I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech alike for the humblest man and the mightiest, and in the utmost freedom of conduct that is consistent with living in organized society.

I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.

I believe in the reality of progress.
I - But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.

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