Odyssey of a Liberal
I DISCOVER AMERICA
Waiting at the airfield until the Eurasia plane came in at midnight with only one small light to guide it down, I became acquainted with Walther Stennes, the German World War One hero who had become Captain of Chiang Kai-shek’s Bodyguard after repudiating Hitler and escaping from the Third Reich. In later years in Germany after her defeat he became a close friend. That night, while pacing up and down the airfield, we found that we had a mutual friend in Captain Charles Boxer, the British Intelligence officer in Hong Kong with whom I had become acquainted on my arrival there thanks to Major Vinden in Singapore, a friend of my sister-in-law Emsie. A few days later in Hong Kong we all three got together for champagne cocktails and lunch and I almost missed the boat to Shanghai. In the intervening days I had lectured and given press interviews and was asked by Eugene Chen to carry with me an article for the Double Tenth issue of the Shanghai Evening Post to deliver to its editor, Randall Gould. This led to my being invited to a dinner in my honor by C.V. Starr, the prominent American tycoon in Chinawho published this large circulation newspaper. At this dinner I first met Emily Hahn, who insisted that I come and stay with her in Shanghai. She was then the “concubine” of Sinmay, a Chinese poet of a formerly rich family in Peking which had lost everything in the Japanese takeover.
Sinmay had a wife and several children living close by “Micky” Hahn’s house and Emily was supporting them all by her articles in the New Yorker. We became good friends and have remained so until now. I liked her from the beginning on account of her fearless frankness. Far from hiding her liaison with Sinmay she openly proclaimed it, and such was her personality, beauty, charm and talent that she was generally accepted in such diplomatic society as that of the British and American Ambassadors and Admirals. She was also politically intelligent and clear sighted. Despite her good standing in the American liberal literary establishment, she made fun of the ignorant and misleading reporting on China as when she wrote:
The average American is full of hooey through no fault of his own. He thinks guerrillas are the only soldiers who do any fighting at all in China. He thinks the woods are full of them. Actually, the great burden of resistance has rested on the regular army. The situation is due to the peculiarity of most American newspapermen in China, who are nearly all of them inclined to be Leftist, out of a frustrated sense of guilt, a superior viewpoint of things as they are, and a tendency to follow the crowd – of newspapermen. Most newspapermen don’t know any more about the Communists in China than you do. They hear rumors . . . but the chances of seeing what goes on among the Chinese Communists are even less than those of seeing the inside of Russia. If you live in Chungking, you can always interview Chou En-lai. That is what he is there for. But if you think he is going to give you all the answers you are as innocent as an American newspaperman.* China To Me, Doubleday, 1944.
After leaving Shanghai by ship for the United States I wrote to Charles Boxer in Hong Kong telling him that whoever else he failed to see on his next visit to Shanghai he must surely visit Emily Hahn generally known as Micky by her friends. A long distance introduction which was to lead to their marriage some years later, and to Sinmay’s desolation. The whole story has been told by Miss Hahn herself who was to escape incarceration in a Japanese concentration camp in Hong Kong, after bearing a daughter out of wedlock to Charles Boxer after he had become a prisoner of the Japanese.
Back in 1938 in Shanghai she was exceedingly kind to me, arranging for her Chinese tailor and dressmaker to fit me out in suitable clothes for my forthcoming lecture tour in America with hurried fittings between talks and newspaper interviews. Ending 11/21/02 China To Me, Doubleday, 1944.
In the evenings, or late at night I sat with her and Sinmay while they smoked opium and I drank Scotch, which is perhaps a worse indulgence than opium for those who can break the habit as Emily Hahn was able to do. One of the prominently successful and well known writers of our time, Emily Hahn has never lost her capacity and courage to “tell it as it is” without fear, prejudice or wishful thinking.
When I visit England we always meet although her husband, Charles Boxer, has become more and more of an anchorite immersing himself in theirBerkshire retreat and writing learned monographs on such subjects as the Portuguese in Macao in the 17th century. His Professorship at London University on this subject frees him from the necessity of lecturing to students since none are interested in his subject.
Sir George Sansom who, following his retirement from the diplomatic service, was to have a less favorable sinecure at Columbia University in New York where he had to instruct a few graduate students, remarked that he and Boxer wanted to start a society for the abolition of students in universities.
After enjoying myself hugely in Shanghai and making many Chinese friends besides such Americans as Randall Gould, Emily Hahn and C.V. Starr, I took ship for the United States.
I became a small lion, or little V.I.P. in those days, thanks to the success of Japan’s Feet of Clay and to the publicity gratuitously given me by the Japanese authorities. By refusing to let me land when the ship on which I crossed the Pacific from Shanghai docked in Yokohama and by placing an armed guard outside my cabin door when I was visited by George Sansom, Minister of the British Embassy, they made me newsworthy all over the world. In Honolulu I was interviewed by a crowd of reporters, and on my arrival in the Western Hemisphere I was inundated with invitations for lectures. I addressed audiences from coast to coast, sometimes speaking twice a day, and appearing before such distinguished groups as the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, the Council on Foreign Relations in Chicago and Cleveland; and Foreign Policy Association audiences all over the place from Denver to New York and Baltimore.
Owen Lattimore, who secured the invitation for me to speak in Baltimore, asked Dr. and Mrs. Emmett Holt to put me up after the one night I stayed at his home. No doubt my increasingly uninhibited criticisms of Stalin’s dictatorship had been reported to the friends of the Soviet Union in the United States so that, although willing to make use of me as an ardent propagandist for the Chinese cause against Japan, Lattimore had become wary of too close association with me.
I reserve to my next volume an account of my subsequent relations with Owen Lattimore whom I had first met in Moscow when he was not as yet subservient to Moscow’s ideological dictation. I mention him here because in his Ordeal By Slander* he falsely states that I spent three weeks at his home in Baltimore, whereas the fact is that on this first and subsequent visits to that city before my immigration to the United States, I stayed either with the Holts or with Frederick and Sylvia Nelson.
- Little Brown & Co., Boston.
I have always accounted myself fortunate that I first entered the United States by its Western “back
door.” I reached New York only on the last lap of this strenuous speaking tour so that my first impressions of America were of a more open and socially democratic society than any other in the world at any time in history. I also found greater awareness of the importance of the fate of the Far East (actually Far West fromAmerica’s point of view) than in Europe, or on the Eastern Seaboard which looks toward, or back on, Europe.
Having learned that the Soviet Union was a hierarchical state dominated by a Communist aristocracy, I now discovered that America came close to my vision of the good society.
In Seattle where I stayed with a Doctor’s family so well to do that they had two automobiles and two or three bathrooms I was astonished to find there was no servant, and that the doctor himself helped with the washing up.
Starting in British Columbia at Victoria and Vancouver, taking in Spokane and Tacoma and spending several days in Seattle, I was next rushed down to San Francisco and Los Angeles and thence by way of Albuquerque to Denver, sometimes lecturing twice a day and giving many newspaper interviews.
In San Francisco I was enchanted by the charm of the city and the breathtaking bridges spanning the golden Gate and the route to the Berkeley area and by the eager intelligent and beautiful young people who looked after me and wanted to help China. Everywhere I was delighted by the unique American atmosphere of social equality, freedom from class prejudices, friendliness and informality.
In Chicago I spoke to a huge audience for the Council on Foreign Relations, then run by Clifford Utley who had phoned me to Seattle on hearing of my arrival in the States.
In Chicago during my hectic lecture tour I spent some happy hours with Bertrand and Peter Russell. He was then happily ensconced at the University which he found “so far as philosophy is concerned about the best I have ever come across.”** We agreed in approving Chamberlain’s Munich policy which was being forcibly denounced by the American ‘liberal’ press despite the fact that the United States showed no disposition to do anything to ‘stop Hitler.’ As Bertie then wrote:
Here in America nine people out of ten think we ought to have fought but America ought to have remained neutral-an opinion which annoys me.***
** The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. Volume 2 (1914-1944). Allen & Unwin.
London. Page 246. In a letter to Gilbert Murray.
*** ibid. Page 225.
As Bertie then also remarked it was “odd that in England the very people who in 1919 had
protested against the unjusted frontiers of Czechoslovakia (incorporating the Sudentenland Germans) were the most anxious in 1938 to defend them.”
I also remember remarking in Chicago my astonishment at the ease of telephonic communication
over the vast territory of the U.S. as contrasted with the rotten postal system, and Bertie saying with a chuckle that this was because America had to demonstrate the superiority of private enterprise over “socialism” by having an appallingly bad postal service.
By the time I got on the train from Chicago to Washington and Baltimore I felt that I was coming
near to the end of my journey. Chicago in the Midwest seemed East to me, so huge were the spaces I had already traversed. Most eastern seaboard Americans had less conception of the vast size o f their country than I had acquired. The Committee in New York which had arranged by speaking tour was so oblivious of the vast extent of America’s Western territories that it had arranged for me to lecture one day in Spokane and be in Oakland the next in days when air travel was yet in its childhood.
I even had tea with Mrs. Roosevelt at the White House which proved a disappointing experience. I
had met her daughter Anna Boettinger in Seattle where after hearing me speak at a luncheon she invited me to her house for tea together with Mrs. Normal Littell and said I simply must meet her mother and tell her what I had told them. So when I arrived at the White House for my appointment with the “First Lady” I expected to interest her in the terrible plight of the Chinese wounded soldiers and enlist her great influence in getting help for the Chinese Red Cross. But I found the liberal humanitarian Eleanor Roosevelt more interested in some folk songs of the Southwest which a man called Valiant was telling her about. And her reference in her column the next day to me visit and my endeavor to awaken her interest in Chinese relief was so wishy washy as to be useless. Her readers were told nothing at all about the neglected wounded. Instead she uttered some platitudes to the effect that, of course Americans help those in need throughout the world and have “a sentimental interest in China.” A few weeks later she was reported to have publicly purchased a lot of Japanese Kimonos. And I well remember how shocked and angry I had felt at her reply to my query “Why are most Americans only worked up about the Nazi crimes and atrocities and care little about the horrible things the Japanese do to the Chinese?”
“Well you know,” said Eleanor Roosevelt with her toothy smile and vicar’s wife superior mein, “we never expected those oriental people to be civilized.”
Years later, visiting Berlin during the 1948 Russian blockade, my original low opinion of Mrs. Roosevelt was reinforced. While touring German cities devastated by our bombing she had remarked that the Germans could not really be in dire straits because they looked so clean and were growing flowers in the ruins of their homes. Instead of appreciating the sterling qualities of the German people who under almost any circumstances keep up appearances, Mrs. Roosevelt reserved her compassion for the black or white derelicts who had lost their self respect.
It was all very exciting, absorbing, exhausting and stimulating. I was exhilarated by the feeling that I was promoting a good cause while enjoying myself hugely, relishing my success as a speaker and enjoying my semi-VIP status.
As I now realize but did not then understand, my success was in large part due not so much to my eloquence or to the convictions I expressed but because my line and that of the Comintern were for the moment running parallel.
As Jane had one expressed it: Draw a line from any one point to another and sooner or later the Communist Party line will cross it.
Because Moscow at this time feared Japan and was therefore in uneasy alliance with Nationalist China, my campaign to stop war supplies to Japan met with the approval of the fellow travelers and camp
Followers in America who already exerted a great influence on the climate of American public opinion by way of the news media, the universities and the lecture forums.
Before sailing for England from New York on the Queen Mary I lectured in Cleveland and Boston and was invited by the Feakins Lecture Agency to return for a commercial tour early in the New Year.
One big chance I then missed was to speak at New York Town Hall because I was determined to get home to Jon for Christmas. Later on in America, after my anti-Communist views had become known, the invitation was not repeated. On the Queen Mary traveling back to England from New York in December 1938, I endeavored to secure an interview with Anthony Eden in his deluxe accommodation in the futile hope that I might persuade him that China’s struggle for national existence against Japanese aggression was as important as his exclusive preoccupation with the German Nazi menace. He must have known who I was in view of the success of my books in England. But either because I was traveling Second Class or because he had no more interest in the aspirations of Asiatics than of Arabs twenty years later, he refused to receive me.
Vincent Shean, on the contrary, also traveling deluxe, invited me up to the First Class bar lounge and restaurant. I then first met his wife, daughter of the famous English actor, Forbes-Robinson. I was to remain friends with this intelligent attractive woman after she and Vincent Shean separated.
On my return to England, thanks to my dispatches published in the New Chronicle, as well as the reputation I had established by Japan’s Feet of Clay and Japan’s Gamble in China I was afforded opportunities to speak to such prestige organizations at The Royal Central Asian Society.
Photographs I had taken in China of the refugees and the wounded or killed victims of Japan’s war machine were used by the London Lord Mayor’s Fund to raise money for Chinese relief. I was as before active on the China Campaign Committee presided over by Victor Gollancz and tangled with him only on the question of identifying support for the Spanish Republican Government with support to China.
China At War published in June 1939 in England was received with less enthusiasm, no doubt because of the credit it gave to Chiang Kai-shek’s fighting forces on the Yangtze front, at a time with Edgar Snow and other popular “experts” on China presented the Chinese Communists as heroes of the national resistance of China against Japan. But it won me a considerable measure of respect for its objectivity, and it might have become a success had not the gathering storm of World War II riveted attention on Europe.*
Faber and Faber, London. The American edition published by the John Day Co. came out later in the year after the outbreak of the Second World War. The delay in American publication was due to my having delivered the ms. to the Brandt Literary Agency with sat on it several months.
EMIGRATION TO AMERICA
I landed with my mother and son in New York on a Dutch boat in December 1939 with $500 in cash and few possessions, but great expectations and good friends to welcome me.
Guenter (Hans) Reimann, who had emigrated to America ahead of us, met us at the Hoboken dock and took Mother and Jon off to his one-room apartment at Minetta Street in Greenwich Village while I stayed to see our luggage through Customs.
We had packed everything we took with us in anything that came to hand and had some dozen large and small suitcases and one small trunk. Most of our fellow passengers were Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria who, in contrast to escapees from Russia who were lucky to get away with their shirts, had been permitted to take packing cases of furniture and steamer trunks. My small bits and pieces got lost in the shuffle on the over-crowded dock and it took hours to find them. Having risen at dawn and eaten nothing since breakfast, I was exhausted by mid-afternoon when I finally succeeded in locating all our baggage. I then had one of the wonderful experiences which can happen only in America. I secured the services of a porter who looked and behaved like a character out of a Jack London novel. After passing through Customs, he said: “You look all in; a drink would do you good.” I replied that it certainly would, but there did not seem any way of buying one at the Hoboken dock. “Come with me,” he said, and depositing my baggage in a safe place he led me to a bar outside and treated me to a couple of whiskies and soda refusing to take any payment when he finally loaded me and my baggage into a taxi.
I was no longer young and that day must have been as disheveled and grubby as when in my childhood Mother reproved me for looking ““like a lost gypsy””- one of her favorite North country expressions. The young man who was so kind to me on the Hoboken dock cannot possibly have found me at all attractive and was simply being kind to an immigrant without money.
Two or three weeks later I was afforded another example of the extraordinary kindness of the misnamed “common man” in America. I had arrived inPhiladelphia at dusk on Christmas Eve without a present for my son who was staying there with Mother under the care of Michael Ross and his American wife, while I was in New York arranging a contract for my book on Russia with the John Day Company. After hastily depositing my luggage in their apartment on Pine Street, I was standing shivering in the cold waiting for a bus, hoping to reach a shopping center before the stores closed, when an Italian vendor of Christmas trees offered to drive me downtown n his truck to buy some small gifts at a drug store. On our return to Pine Street my benefactor refused to take any payment, accepting only a glass of wine in Michael’s house.
John P. Marquand and his wife Adelaide, who became my friends a year or so later, urged me to write a popular book about my first experiences in America which included frequent encounters with the old gallant and kind “frontier” spirit which still survives in these United States and which had endeared America to me on my first trip from China in 1938. It might have been profitable for me to have done so, but instead of writing a book to express my appreciation of my adopted country, where there is so much more real “fraternity, equality and liberty” than anywhere else in the world, I was to devote myself, for the most part in vain, to alerting America to the Communist menace.
Michael, whose name appears frequently in my book about my life in Russia, had been my comrade in the British Communist Party and had been Jane’s lover in Russia for two years. He had left Jane and Russia in 1931 and subsequently emigrated to America where he worked first in the CIO and later for the AFL where he was Foreign Policy Adviser to George Meany at the time of his death in 1964.
After a brief stay in Philadelphia I moved to Baltimore where Dr. and Mrs. Emmett Holt and the Frederic Nelson’s had secured for me a small but very nice apartment for only thirty dollars a month on Roland Avenue, next door to one of the best public schools in America.
Remembering my own unhappy experiences at Prior’s Field, I feared Jon would suffer because he was a foreigner in speech and dress. Instead, he came home radiant from his first day at school. The teacher told the class that he had crossed the Atlantic Ocean in war time and thus built him up; and American children, like their parents, but unlike the British, are nicest of all to strangers in their midst.
I had first met the Holts and the Nelsons during my hectic six weeks tour of the United States in the fall of 1938 lecturing for The American Committee for Non-Participation in Japanese Aggression, an organization which, under the chairmanship of Henry Stimson, was endeavoring to stop war supplies to Japan, and whose most prominent and eloquent speaker was Dr. Walter Judd, the future Congressman from Minnesota.
Dr. Holt was already well known as a pediatrician who had carried on and revised his father’s work as author of the best known baby book in America before Dr. Spock became more famous by his advocacy of ‘permissiveness’ carried to the n-th degree, the results of which are now apparent in our schools and universities. Dr. Holt, now professor at New York University, is today known internationally for his writings and lectures on nutrition. Olivia Holt at this time was active in arranging Maryland’s display at the World’s Fair.
Frederic Nelson was at this time an editor of the Baltimore Sun. Some years later he became editorial writer on The Saturday Evening Post and they moved to Philadelphia. Today in retirement he contributes witty articles to such conservative publications as National Review and Human Events, but in the early forties he was still a member in good standing of the “liberal establishment.” Although anti-Communist, he was an “interventionist,” and an ardent Anglophile. His wife Sylvia, one of the kindest women I have ever known, was witty in a delightfully unconscious fashion by reason of her devastatingly candid and perceptive remarks. A southerner with innumerable relatives, she had a particularly soft spot for old ladies and took to my mother at once. The Nelson’s large house on the outskirts of Baltimore and their summer place on Cape Cod were always full of visitors so that Frederic found it difficult to find a quiet spot to work. Sylvia was a darling and Frederic was one of my own kind. We were both liberal anti-Communists, a rare combination in those days.
Besides finding the Roland Avenue apartment for us, Olivia Holt and Sylvia Nelson had furnished it. From their own homes and that of their friends, Dexter and Anne Keezer, they had collected old beds and tables, chairs and other furniture which they painted or revarnished themselves. We might have been a pioneer family arriving on the Western Frontier in days gone by, so great was the kindness and helpfulness and hospitality of the Holts, the Nelsons, and their friends. They all liked my mother very much and she felt more at home in the Baltimore atmosphere than anywhere else in America.
Jon spent a lot of time at the Holts and the Nelsons who had large gardens and playrooms and whose children, though older, were as nice to him as their parents were to me and Mother.
I had little or no medical expenses to drain my meager resources as came to be the case later on, since Dr. Holt saw to it that both Mother and Jon received medical attention at Johns Hopkins where he was the professor of Pediatrics. Jon had his tonsils out for free at Johns Hopkins when he was barely six years old, and was also then circumcised because Dr. Holt suggested it might as well be done at the same time. Which was perhaps a bit hard on him although he did not seem to suffer much.
I had wanted to have this operation performed on my son when he was a baby in Moscow because my brother’s ideas of hygiene were similar to those now prevalent in America. But Arcadi told me that circumcision in Soviet Russia was frowned upon as a Jewish religious rite, smacking of counter-revolution, so that the only way to have the operation done was surreptitiously by a Rabbi without benefit of anesthetics or antiseptics.
The society into which the Holts and Nelsons introduced us in Baltimore included besides such medical colleagues of Dr. Holt’s as Dr. Horsley Gantt, then already well known for his association with Pavlov’s experiments in Leningrad and today President of the Pavlovian Society for Research; the Baltimore Sun cartoonist, Edmund Duffy and his wife, Anne; Dexter Keezer who soon afterwards went off to head Reed College in Oregon and later became Vice President of McGraw-Hill and his comely wife Anne, both of whom have remained my friends; Leslie Ford, the famous “who done it” story writer; Philip Wagner, editor of theBaltimore Sun, now in retirement famous for his Maryland vineyard, and others who gathered at the Hamilton Street Club.
Olivia Holt, to whom this book is dedicated, was to become my ever-present help in time of trouble, as well as an increasingly dear and sympathetic friend in later years.
Our divergent views on the war and their fondness and sympathy for my mother, whom both Olivia and Sylvia thought I treated none too well, were to alienate us for a while following my departure from Baltimore to New York. But they never ceased to help me by inviting Mother for long visits and giving her comfort and love during this difficult period of my life when I was often at my wits ends how to provide for her and Jon.
Mother, whose views were usually the opposite of mine, partly on account of temperamental antagonism but also because she was a British patriot to the core, was naturally an ardent admirer of Winston Churchill, wanted American armed intervention in the war, and saw no merit in my arguments for a negotiated peace to obviate the danger of a Communist conquest of Europe. So she felt very much at home with those of my friends who disagreed with me. And I was far to appreciative of the hospitality and friendship given my lonely and uprooted Mother by the Holts and the Nelsons to resent their disapproval of me during the war. It was just wonderful that they loved her, gave her some happiness and comfort, and took her off my hands for long periods by inviting her to their homes inBaltimore and their summer places in Maine and on the Cape. Had it not been for the Holt’s and the Nelson’s I should have regretted not having left my mother inEngland where she belonged.
In this Baltimore society, as in England once upon a time, “breeding” or “good manners” charm and wit, counted for more than money or fashionable clothes. My mother had these qualities combined with an enduring beauty of face and form. She had such natural elegance and good taste that she managed to look nice, or what the French call soignee even in old or cheap clothes and without benefit of beauty parlors.
One amusing episode in Baltimore in 1940 illustrates my mother’s incurably British and most un-American prejudices. Although herself the daughter of a Manchester manufacturer she considered those engaged in “trade” to be inferior to the professional classes, and as far less worthy of respect than even the most impecunious writers, poets, teachers, government workers or even journalists.
So one evening after Olivia had brought a wealthy woman who owned a hotel in Miami to visit us in our little apartment on Roland Avenue, Mother remarked after their departure, “isn’t Olivia wonderful; she hasn’t a trace of snob in her; she was as nice to that hotel keeper as to any of her friends.”
More than 20 years after, a remark made by my “All American” son called this incident to mind. Writing to me in June 1962 from South America where at the age of 28 he had become the Vice President of an American company selling Mutual Funds, he said:
Someday I’ll write you my opinions of all the different nationalities I
meet, but the worst in general are the English, still stifled by so much
class consciousness they’re one group in several who obviously think a
salesman is low class. Fortunately, however, we don’t bother much
with them since they’re the lowest paid group of any North European
nationality. The Germans, as usual, are the closest in thinking to the
Americans, and after Swiss and Swedes who earn more money, are our
I must here confess that I myself have never managed to shed the British prejudices which have always been an anomaly since the British won economic predominance by being the world’s most successful traders, and were contemptuously described by Napoleon as “a nation of shopkeepers.” In Washington in the 60’s when asked what my son was doing in South America I found myself explaining in an apologetic tone that he was in business but surely only temporarily. Jon, who calls himself “a salesman” laughs and says that I preferred to describe him as editor or publisher when for a while he produced the Bogota Bulletin, a little news sheet he put out in his spare time and from which he derived only a couple of hundred dollars a month. “I didn’t raise my son to be a businessman,” I sometimes regretfully remark, feeling a sense of guilt that perhaps I unconsciously did just that. In his childhood and youth my struggle for existence as a writer with unpopular views made such an impression on Jon that he decided to go into business and make enough money to become financially independent while also enjoying himself skin diving in the Caribbean, hunting in the Amazon and in general living the full rounded life which poor children dream about and the rich so often forego. Besides finding competitive business an absorbing game, he acquired experience and knowledge unobtainable in the halls of Academe, and gained greater knowledge of foreign lands than most State Department officials. I comfort myself with the hope that in the end he will make his mark on the world by better writing than mine or by distinguished service in government. But in his view writing is a sweat and making money much much easier.
What’er betide in the future I shall always be glad that I brought my son to the United States when he was a child so that he is an American in outlook instead of being like myself, in some respects still an alien in thought, sentiment and behavior. I am more at home in America than in the England of either today or yesterday, yet at times I feel a nostalgic longing for the Old World.
For half a year in Baltimore I worked hard on my book earning a little money in between times by occasional lectures, articles and book reviews. It was not easy to work in a two room and kitchen apartment shared by my son and mother, but in those days one could still hire a maid cheaply so that I was temporarily relieved of household chores. Moreover, the landlord kindly let me use a room downstairs in an empty apartment without electricity where I installed myself with a large kitchen table. Here by day while Jon was in school, and by night upstairs with my son sleeping behind me, I wrote The Dream We Lost.
Early that summer when it was nearing completion, I moved to New York. Pleasant as life was in Baltimore, I had to make contacts in the Big Cityto earn money, as also to be near my publisher, Richard Walsh of the John Day Company. I had exhausted the $500 advance on my book and the $500 I brought with me from England, and spent of necessity as it came, the small income I received from occasional lectures and articles contributed to Common Sense and Asia magazine. I expected soon to be able to make money again having great hopes for the success of my book on Russia, and having been taken on by the Columbia Lecture Bureau for the next season. But for the moment I was almost destitute and Mother was entirely dependent on me having ceased, since we left England, to receive the pound or two a week she had for some years previously been paid as a residuary legatee of my grandfather’s estate.
Fortunate as ever in my friends, I was able to survive by depositing both Mother and Jon for long periods during the summer and fall of 1940 with them. Jon spent several months with Alfred and Sylvia Bingham in Salem, Connecticut. They had children of about his age and he was happy there.
One of many sons of the late Senator Hiram Bingham, Alfred was at this time publishing and editing Common Sense jointly with Selden Rodman whose sister Nancy was Dwight MacDonald’s wife. I had contributed articles to their publication before leaving England and now found their views on the war and its probable consequences similar to mine.
In April 1940 Alfred wrote me the following letter, which I happen to have preserved although I no longer possess copies of any of the articles I wrote for Common Sense in 1940-1941:
I often get facts from reading an article, but I rarely get a whole new perspective – and that is always an exciting experience. Your article gave me that. I had never seen so clearly before the sense in which this is an imperialist war, and the way in which the sins of Britain and France are coming home to roost. Somehow the whole European war takes on a new meaning, and one gets the sense that the Allies must lose without a sort of moral regeneration, not of the slobbering Buchman type, but a new sense of the implications of what is fine in their civilization.
They can’t win without a new policy in the Far East and toward their colonies. Incidentally I think there are plenty of signs that such a new policy might be adopted, though the “shake-up” in the British Government yesterday would hardly indicate even the beginnings of a change of heart. At any rate I am enthusiastic about the article. It’s really an important piece of work. It cuts through all the fog emanating from the Anglophiles as well as the Russophiles.
It’s the kind of clean and honest thinking that all of us bewildered “men of good will” need today. It clears a lot of my own thinking. I only wish I had read it before I finished my book on the U.S. of Europe which is now on the press.
Selden Rodman has been away all this week, and I can’t tell how he will react, but he ought to be even more enthusiastic than I, at least in so far as it reinforces an isolationist position toward Europe. He may be more skeptical about the call for action against Japan,however, though your cases seem to me wholly convincing. I do appreciate your doing this for us. It is a distinguished contribution.
Common Sense well deserved its name. With an appreciation of political realities rare among intellectuals and the historical perspective which rendered it immune to war hysteria, this unique liberal journal expressed views consonant with those of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Men, who had eschewed “entangling alliances,” not for narrow selfish interests, but because they knew that the quarrels and divisions of the Old World could not be resolved by American intervention.
While others praised the Atlantic Charter, Common Sense pointed out that the Roosevelt-Churchill commitment to the total defeat and disarmament ofGermany must lead to a second Versailles with even worse consequences.
In contrast to Freda Kirchway in The Nation and other “hawks” of that time intent on getting America into the war to save Russia from defeat Common Sense asked, “If Moscow rather than Berlin comes to dictate the peace, would America be more secure?” Neither Alfred Bingham nor Selden Rodman were isolationists anymore than Normal Thomas and Sidney Hertzberg* who likewise opposed American intervention in the second war to “save democracy.” We were internationalists who refused to believe in the particular wickedness or virtue of any people, race or nation, and had a lively appreciation of the menace of the Communist ideology exemplified by Stalin’s terrible tyranny.
We therefore advocated a negotiated peace with America putting her power unequivocably behind Britain’s for this purpose, instead of urging her to continue fighting a war she could not win, and would surely lose unless our “English cousins” acquiesced in the extension of Soviet power over Eastern and Central Europe. Common Sense could afford only small payments for the articles I frequently contributed, but Alfred Bingham was a most generous friend and his wife, Sylvia, as hospitable as himself. I visited often for weekends while Jon was staying with them in Salem and frequently met their neighbor and good friend Chester Bowles.
- Publisher and editor together with Cushman Reynolds of Uncensored a weekly newsletter whose sponsors included John Chamberlain, Stuart Chase, John T. Flynn, C. Hartley Grattan, Oswald Garrison Villard, Burton Rascoe, Selden Rodman, and whose Washington correspondent was Frank Hanighen.
At this time Chester Bowles was a liberal non-interventionist. In November 1941 he wrote to me from his Madison Avenue Public Relations Office, asking my opinion of an article which Bingham had persuaded him to write for Common Sense on “What’s Wrong With the Non-interventionists?” which expressed views similar to my own. Later, however, he joined the “main-stream” of the Democratic Party and became almost as renowned as Adlai Stevenson in expounding a view of the world comparable to that of Mark Twain’s “innocents abroad.”
Although I still occasionally meet and argue with Chester Bowles today at North Haven in Maine when I spend summers there with the Holts, I have never been able to make up my mind whether he is a romantic liberal capitalist, striving toward a glorious New Frontier, or a very clever politician. Giving him the benefit of the doubt whenever I read his Candide-like public statements I remember Bertrand Russell’s essay on the “evil that good men do.”
Whereas Chester Bowles has become a national figure, Alfred Bingham has sunk into obscurity although, or because, he was a first class writer, a perceptive political thinker, and a man of outstanding integrity and courage. After Pearl Harbor Alfred, who had always been in favor of the “New Deal,” while opposing Roosevelt’s foreign policies, convinced himself for a while that F.D.R. was another Woodrow Wilson – a hope which he was to abandon by the time he wrote me the following letter from France in October 1944:
Some of your criticisms of our commander-in-chief have come to my mind occasionally lately, and I have reached the point where I should not feel it a great calamity if Dewey were elected – and that is a pretty drastic statement! I am extremely pessimistic about the prospects for an intelligent peace. There is almost no really intelligent discussion reaching us from America. It seems as if immature emotionalism had a free field in place of idealism, or even intelligent realism, in theshaping of the peace.
The Reader’s Digest has occasionally had some good articles. And I am very much pleased on the way Sidney Hertzberg has carried on Common Sense.
I spent six months in England, and left there feeling reasonably optomistic about the general drift toward a Common Sense type of liberation. There is hopefulness and a determination to move ahead in that country. The same is true in France – France h as not suffered too much, but enough to prompt a re-thinking of democracy, capitalism and socialism, and there is a surprising degree of unanimity and intelligent reformism – except in the attitude toward Germany where naturally emotionalism is pretty strong. I have been six weeks in France, waiting to move into Germany, where I have a pretty good job as a regional specialist on labor waiting for me. You can get a better idea from the papers of when the job is likely to begin than I have.
My hope is that during the next twenty years there may be a chance of undoing the mistakes that will be made in the next few months. But I suppose I wold appear as an extreme optimist if I had a chance at one of those pleasant evenings of discussion with you which I miss these days.
Others of my friends came to believe that although at the outset of conflict of ‘imperialisms’ the war against Nazi Germany was being converted, or could be converted, into a “war for democratic welfare” for all mankind. Geoffrey Hudson* in a long letter written to me on May 21, 1940, expressed the hopes which inspired my anti-Communist friends who came to support the war despite their distrust of Stalin’s Russia. “Whatever happens to us now” he wrote, “we are delivered from the all-enveloping complacency of Chamberlain – for better or worse we are now going somewhere and the motion is exhilarating even if it is only to be ‘down a steep place into the sea.’”
- Author of The Far East in World Politics, Oxford University Press 1937. Then a Fellow of All Souls College and today head of the Department of Far Eastern Affairs at St. Anthony’s.
Commenting that after my experience of suffering in Russia and China I would be fitted to endure what was coming in England, he wrote: “It is going to be terrible for the well-to-do of England who have always thought themselves so inaccessible to the processes of history and have been lapped for years in Chamberlainite self-delusion. We at any rate, whatever dreams we have entertained, have never given ourselves up to that kind of fantasy.”
Expressing the belief that inspired “those of us on the Left who have been preserved from Communist lunacy” but had by now come to believe that the war had become “our war” he wrote:
There are only two motive forces which can supersede capitalism; one is the quest of military power and the other is the purpose of democratic welfare. Fascism, being exclusively nationalist and despotic, controls capitalism only for military ends. A democracy at war with a fascist nation must undertake a similar subordination of private vested interests (as Chamberlain would not do, but Churchill will), but in so far as organized democratic forces participate in this control, it can be diverted after the period of temporary military need to democratic welfare.
When I moved to New York Hans arranged for me to become a “lodger” in the 50 dollar a month apartment on Waverly Place in the Village which Dora Shuser, who was to become the closest of all my friends, shared with her sister Rosa and Rosa’s husband Ephraim Doner. I occupied their tiny, spare room in which there was barely space to install my bed and the small desk I bought. This was no hardship since I became a member of the family and we lived an amiable communal life undreamed of in Moscow where, in a similar small living space, there would have been continual bickering and quarrels and arguments about who owed who a few kopeks for gas or electricity.
Meanwhile, when Mother was not enjoying the hospitality of the Holts or the Nelsons, I arranged an inexpensive lodging for her in Westport where she was well looked after by Mrs. Oates on Greens Farms road. Mrs. Oates is one among the many strangers in my life who have been most generous and kind when circumstances were most difficult. Although poor herself, she charged me as little as she could while she looked after my mother there. As also when for a month that summer I arranged for Jon to stay there with his Aunt Amsie to look after him, and was able myself to spend weekends with them out of New York.
My letters to Mother during the summer and fall of 1940 reveal how hectic and busy and worrisome my life was at this time. My situation was rendered all the more difficult by Mother’s price which made her reluctant to reveal to our well-to-do friends just how nearly destitute we were. I had less shame. “In spite of our dignity, etc., “I wrote to her in one letter, “we shall have to take advantage of any possible offer of hospitality. Please, dear, for my sake and Jon’s, tell Sylvia the exact position.” Should she not be able to stay on a while longer with the Nelsons, I continued, “in New York you can live cheaply. Dora is so sweet and really friendly to me that I do not mind our living there rent free. And Hans really loves you and will secure money somehow if I cannot for a few weeks. Please, darling, don’t be upset anyhow. In time I shall make money.”
On July 30, 1940, I wrote, “I stayed up till 4:00 a.m. finishing the index last night in Westport and caught the 8:16 a.m. train to New York this morning – so am dead tired and this is only a note. I shall return to Westport tomorrow evening, I expect, and stay quietly there till next Monday. Jon looks wonderful and really is swimming. He moves along quite fast.”
The postmarks on the envelopes of many of my letters to my mother are illegible, and I all too often datelined them only by the day of the week and the place I was writing from. The following one written sometime early in August 1940 conveys some idea of my difficult financial situation when I was reduced to borrowing a few dollars here and there to privide for Mother’s immediate needs.
Salem via Colchester, Connecticut
Hans and Dora have just telegraphed me that they are going away on Friday – Dora till the 26th and Hans for about ten days, I understand, but that we are welcome to the flat and she will leave the keys, I am afraid this means, dear, that you will be alone in New York from Saturday night to Tuesday. Will you mind this very much? I am very sorry, dear, but Mrs. Oates is going away with her daughter tomorrow for 3 or 4 days rest so that you could not go there. I will come to New York on Tuesday morning – possibly late Monday night. If you have no money for food, either borrow five from Sylvia or from the Pippetts* at15 West 8th Street (just beyond University Restaurant). Also dear, I have just had a letter from Sybil who arrived on July 30 with her children and is in New Yorkat 1160 Park Avenue. I am writing to her now to tell her you will be there and to send you a note with her phone number. She is alone there as her friends are away and will love to see you. You could borrow two or three dollars from her till I come, if necessary.
So awfully sorry, darling, but I am sure things will soon be alright. You will keep cheerful, won’t you? I hope to send you and Jon here to Mrs. Oates by the end of next week.
My dearest love – also very best love to Sylvia.
Take a taxi from Penn Station to Dora’s flat, 137 Waverly Place. I enclose keys in case difficult for you to get them late on Saturday.
Aileen and Roger Pippet, English friends of mine who did book reviews for various publications.
Although concerned about Mother I was happy to be free for a while from her. I loved her and was sorry for her, but she often got on my nerves and I felt most sympathetic toward her when she was absent. After leaving her I regretted having been nasty and impatient, and also felt guilty because I was happy to be away from her. In one of many letters I said:
Thanks awfully for your letter. I am so very glad you are enjoying yourself. I know Emmett and Olivia are both really fond of you and there you are in your best atmosphere. You see, dear, I really do understand how difficult it is for you in my society in New York, or I should say in my world. And once things go wrong it is so difficult to put them right – each becomes nastier and nastier. But I do feel it will be alright when you come back after this break. I wish too, that you could have peace and comfort in your last years. Because I really do love you dear; it is mainly that my whole outlook, experience, attitude to life is quite different from yours.
In those difficult years when I was endeavoring with indifferent success to be both father and mother to my son and daughter to my mother while earning a living for us all, I used half jokingly to say that I badly needed a “wife.” My dear sister-in-law Emsie, who was now living in Morris Plains with her American-born mother, could have been just that had it not been for mother’s jealousy of Temple’s wife even after his death. This made it impossible for Emsie to live with us, although at this time her own widowed mother did not, as in later years, require that she look after her without respite.
Emsie admittedly was tiresome in some ways, as opinionated as myself and very talkative, sharing some of my mother’s all too British prejudices but with more understanding and sympathetic respect for my views. She was a most unselfish person who, having started to love Jon and me because of Temple, came to be a dearer friend to me than any sister by birth would in all likelihood have been had I ever had one. She not only loved my son devotedly, but gave him the loving care that I was unable to provide either by temperament or for lack of time. This, of course, only further aroused Mother’s jealousy.
Writing to Mother in Baltimore I endeavored in vain to make her understand how much both Jon and I needed Emsie:
Jon is very well and happy. Emsie is taking very good care of him. His hair looks lovely again, as she brushes it night and morning. You see dear, I cannot be a proper mother and Emsie largely takes my place in giving the little care and attention he needs. He does not even worry about my not being at home because she plays with him and talks to him. Neither you or I are much good at playing with him. I know how difficult Emsie can be and how impolite to you sometimes. But when she loves – and she does love me and Jon – she is quite wonderful. She has already tidied my drawers, she mends for me, unpacks, etc., etc.
Don’t be offended, dear, but it does make a big difference to me having her and knowing that all responsibilities and little worries at home are off my shoulders. You cannot help it that you are not strong enough – if only I could have you both together at home for my own sake and Jon’s.