(Ernest Hemingway in Spain during the Civil War)
In Nicholas Reynolds new book, WRITER, SAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY: ERNEST HEMINGWAY’S SECRET ADVENTURES, 1935-1961, the author, the CIA Museum’s historian poses the question as to why Hemingway, who tried all forms of spying, before and during World War II would sign on with Stalin’s henchmen at the NKVD. Reynolds relates that he had been working on an OSS (Office of Strategic Services) exhibit at the museum when he came across the links between Soviet intelligence and Hemingway and wondered how this could have happened, and what it means for Hemingway’s legacy. Reynolds thesis is clear; Hemingway’s relationship with the NKVD was impactful, and this chapter in his life has often been overlooked. According to the author it influenced Hemingway’s decision making the last fifteen years of his life and played a role in his eventual suicide in 1961. With the Cold War/Red Scare all around him, it is Reynolds contention that Hemingway felt he was losing control of his life, something that he could not tolerate, so he ended it as a means of self-control.
The thesis that Reynolds lays out is not really dealt with in a substantive manner until the latter stages of the narrative. Before the onset of the Cold War we are exposed to Hemingway’s contacts with various Soviet operatives in Washington, Spain, Cuba and Europe which did not seem to amount to a great deal except it put the author on the NKVD’s radar for the future. Soviet spymasters liked Hemingway’s public condemnations of the New Deal, England and France before World War II, particularly in relationship to allied neutrality during the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway was a firm believer in small government and resented Roosevelt’s domestic policy, especially when he sent so many “poor bonus marchers” (American veterans of World War I) to work in the Florida Keys during the 1935 hurricane season, resulting in many of their deaths. Hemingway’s life is a testament to controlling his environment to do the things he wanted to do whether it was in the Keys, Cuba, Spain, or the battlefields of Europe. This theme is dominant as Hemingway needed the stimulus of adventure and danger to get the most out of his life.
(Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, his mistress then his second wife)
The first few chapters concentrate on Hemingway’s experiences in Spain between 1937 and 1939, the heart of the civil war. Reynolds describes Hemingway’s transformation to support the Republican cause with almost a religious enthusiasm. The author makes a number of interesting observations as to why Hemingway became so obsessed with Spain. Hemingway wanted to be the dominant “war writer” of his generation, and viewed the civil war as a dress rehearsal for the coming European conflict, therefore his participation was an imperative. At this point Hemingway had a low opinion of the Soviet Union and felt that Joseph Stalin with his “show trials” (particularly the trial and execution of his friend Lev Kamenev) and collectivization policies was no better that Nazi Germany. Hemingway’s experience in Spain was impactful as he was his own “commissar,” as he ignored Comintern attempts to recruit him and saw himself as a humanitarian, military advisor, and most of all a writer in support of the Republican cause. If he had any affinity for the Soviet Union it was because they were the only ones who provided weapons and financial support for Republican forces against Franco. Even though he respected what Moscow was doing he realized the split in “communist” forces and the bloody purges and executions they carried out under orders from Stalin. Hemingway would come into contact with a number of important links to the NKVD in Spain including German Communist Gustav Regler, who would turn against “the stink of Moscow,” Jacob Golos, an NKVD operative in New York who recruited Hemingway in late 1940, and Alexander Orlov, the NKVD Station Chief in Spain (who is the subject of a new biography that just was published, STALIN’S AGENT: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF ALEXANDER ORLOV) who would give Hemingway carte blanche to carry out operations against Franco’s forces as he viewed Hemingway as a true believer in the Republican cause, not a man under Soviet control. Hemingway’s experiences in Spain would form the basis of his classic novel, FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS.
(Ernest Hemingway and his army driver outside Paris in 1944)
After Franco’s victory and the outbreak of World War II Hemingway was given the NKVD codename of “Argo.” For Hemingway, any cooperation with Soviet intelligence would be based on his abhorrence of fascism, and by the summer of 1941 he believed that Russia was the bulwark against Nazi Germany as France surrendered and the British were rescued at Dunkirk. Hemingway viewed Russia through that lens, and since his own country had ignored his warnings about what was about to take place, he would act in secret. “Hemingway was looking for that leeway in politics and war. He loved things military and being around soldiers, but did not want to join any man’s army. His preference was a lose affiliation with other irregulars, especially guerillas, which made him feel like he was part of the action but left him free to come and go as he pleased. He was not a communist, or even a fellow traveler.” There is no evidence that he was a Russian spy during the war, just a general commitment to fight fascism. (88-89)
Reynolds does a workman like job following Hemingway’s journey throughout World War II. From his August, 1942 offer to spy for the United States in Havana and employ his boat, the Pilar to search for German U-Boats; his witnessing of the D-Day landing; gathering intelligence for the safest route to liberate Paris; almost being court martialed for exercising command, stockpiling weapons, and fighting to liberate the French capital; to his attachment to the US Army 22nd Infantry Regiment as it slogged through Belgium into Germany. Throughout the war Hemingway did prove to be an American asset, despite a number of controversies. Hemingway’s last hurrah was during the Battle of the Bulge, but by March, 1945 he was spent and returned to Havana to write down his wartime experiences in a new novel.
(Ernest Hemingway’s visa as a journalist to cover World War II)
Hemingway formed many important relationships in Spain and Europe, but none are more important than his friendship with Colonel Charles T. “Buck” Lanham who he fought with in France and Belgium, a relationship that would last a lifetime. Reynolds zeroes in on Hemingway’s persona in explaining that the thing Hemingway loved the best was “when he was risking his life, all of his senses fulling engaged, putting his well-developed field and military experiences to good use…..he also relished the comradeship that jelled in combat.” (183) The friendships he formed on the battlefield be it the patrician spy David Bruce, or Lanham, the thoughtful soldier were more important to him than anything. No one in the NKVD ever connected with Hemingway in this manner, and to this point Reynolds has not really laid the basis for his thesis which he finally delves into as the Cold War evolves after World War II.
Finally, in the last fifty pages of the book the author returns to his thesis and reargues that Hemingway’s experiences in Spain and Havana would greatly affect his behavior for the last fifteen years of his life. Hemingway grew very concerned with the House Un-American Activities Committee investigations, McCarthy hearings, Rosenberg Trials and the entire domestic paranoid atmosphere in American politics after the Second World War. He grew increasingly anxious that his contacts with the NKVD in the 1930s and during the war might one day place him in front of a congressional committee. Hemingway swore off “causes” of any kind, including helping with an International Brigade Parade in New York City. Hemingway kept his distance from anything that could create difficulties for him. He reached the conclusion that it was more important to write books than be an activist, that could result in being blacklisted from publishing his works. As far as any contact with the NKVD after the war, Reynolds examines internal NKVD documents about re-contacting with Hemingway, but by 1950 this was never done, and for the remainder of his life he had no contact with Soviet intelligence. No matter what the reality was after the war, Hemingway realized that he had agreed to work with the NKVD in its war against fascism in Spain in the 1930s, and after the winter of 1940-41, even though he was clear he would not betray his country and only cared about defeating the Nazis.
(Ernest Hemingway at his home outside Havana during the unrest that brought Castro to power)
Reynolds brings his narrative to a close as he explores Hemingway’s relationship to the Cuban Revolution of the late 1950s until his death. For Hemingway the Cuban Revolution could be the unrealized hope of the 1930s Spanish Republic. For him “supporting Castro was the equivalent to fighting Franco and Hitler in Spain.” (250) However, the United States was pressuring him to make a choice, his country or his home, particularly when Castro ramped up his invective against Washington, and singled out Hemingway for praise. By this time Hemingway was a man in decline, with depression and paranoia resulting in “shock treatments” at the Mayo Clinic. With the failure of the Bay of Pigs, increasing fear of FBI surveillance and the loss of his home outside Havana, Hemingway would take his own life. Reynolds theory pertaining to Hemingway is well argued and researched, but I believe that Paul Hendrickson’s HEMINGWAY’S BOAT: EVERYTHING HE LOVED IN LIFE, AND LOST, 1934-1961 is a better study of the same period and is a bit more nuanced with a smoother narrative flow than Reynolds’ effort.
(Ernest Hemingway in Spain during the Civil War)
(Cracow, Poland, 1939)
The key figure in Ben Pastor’s excellent historical mystery LUMEN seems to be a murdered nun. Mother Matka Kazimierza was not just any nun. Known as the “Holy Abbess,” Kazimierza was considered a visionary who could supposedly predict the future. In early October, 1939 her body is found in a convent in Cracow, Poland by a German officer who was surreptitiously meeting with her as he tried to cope with the approaching death of his four year old son. The Germans were slowly wrapping up control of Cracow following their invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. In addition they were implementing joint occupation of the country, as per the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 26, 1939, as the Soviet Union had invaded Poland in mid-September to seize their half of the country. The German Commander, Lt. Colonel Emile Schenck appoints Captain Martin Bora to head up the investigation into the nun’s death.
LUMEN is the first in Pastor’s well received series of historical mysteries that take place during World War II that Capt. Bora, a well-educated Ph.D from the University of Leipzig, and veteran of the Spanish Civil War is the main character. For the investigation of the “Holy Abbess” Bora, a Jesuit himself must collaborate with Father John Malecki, an American priest from Chicago who had been sent by the Archbishop to study the phenomenon of Matka Kazimierza. Once she was murdered he was instructed to remain in Cracow and assist in the investigation with the German authorities.
(Nazis marching through Cracow, Poland during World War II – a city that made it through the war unscathed)
Bora faced a number of difficulties in dealing with the case. First, his roommate Major Richard Retz had a very productive love life that made Bora very uncomfortable as he was expected to stay away from their apartment for Retz’s liaisons. Second, were his personal values. Though only in Cracow for a short period of time he witnessed a number of things that more than troubled him. The use of Jewish slave labor; executions; beatings; revenge killings; rape; massacres; seizure of private property; enforcement of racial laws; and the destruction of books and documents from university libraries all went against his moral code. Third, he resented the constant lectures from his commander concerning what was expected of the pure blooded Aryan male – propagate the Reich for the next generation. Lastly, trying to work with Father Malecki whose loyalties and values seemed to conflict with his own. As the story evolves Bora’s moral confusion no longer controls him as he witnesses what Nazism has brought to Poland. Bora’s consciousness raising awareness stems from seeing Ukrainians hanged, and “Polack farmers” shot, and while some remained alive locked in a barn to be burned to death.
Pastor has an excellent grasp of historical events that are woven into her story. German-Russian distrust is on full display over boundaries and accusations that each side is engaging in atrocities. The action of the German SD, or secret police reflect everything Bora finds reprehensible about Nazi rule. The competition between the Wehrmacht and the SS for control of certain investigations, jurisdiction, and territorial oversight is analyzed carefully.
(Main Square, Cracow, Poland, 1948)
The core of the story involves why the “Holy Abbess” was murdered? Was it a result of her predictions for the future? Did she help the Polish underground? These questions factor into the investigation as does the Abbess’ predictions as to whether they were apocalyptic or political.
Pastor does a remarkable job developing her characters, particularly the relationship that grows between Bora and Father Malecki. The author also develops the characters of a number of Polish actresses, especially Ewa Kowalska and her daughter Helena Sokora who were both involved with Bora’s roommate. There are numerous other characters from the Polish Archbishop, SS Captain Salle-Weber, Lt. Colonel Nowotny, the German coroner, among others who greatly impact the plot.
Pastor’s novel is a combination of the Catholic faith, politics, ethics, as some are conflicted by events, while others seem to enjoy what ultimately will lead to the Holocaust and murder of countless Poles. Lumen (light) and darkness are in conflict with each other throughout the story and through Bora’s quest for truth the reader should have a satisfactory read. If you are a fan of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Guenther series you will especially enjoy Pastor’s work. I look forward to enjoying, LIAR MOON the next installment of the Martin Bora series.
(Cracow, Poland, during World War II)
(Adolf Hitler in March, 1945)
With thousands upon thousands of books written about Nazi Germany and its “Fuhrer,” Adolf Hitler, one wonders if there is a relevant area of research that has not been mined thoroughly. The appearance of Norman Ohler’s BLITZED: DRUGS IN THE THIRD REICH provides an affirmative answer. A regime that prided itself on its anti-drug mantra was led by a man usually pumped full of drugs by his personal physician Dr. Theodor Morell. The premise of Ohler’s work, first published in Germany in 2015, is that the Nazis provided the world with a chemical legacy that remains a major problem today – opioid – methamphetamine addiction. The Nazis allowed the use of Volksdroge, “the people’s drug” unencumbered until the passage of the Reich Opium Law in 1941. Today, the substance is known as “crystal meth,” and is consumed by over 100 million people worldwide, though in most places it is illegal or strictly regulated.
Ohler’s thesis presents the Nazi dichotomy. It publicized and demanded that all should possess a constitution pure of drugs that could affect the mind and body. Hitler, was portrayed as a vegetarian teetotaler who would not allow any foreign bodies to enter his system. On the other hand, the Furhrer would become dependent on a series of short-term stimulants from 1936 on that would progress to an intravenous diet of animal extracts, and after 1943 hard drugs like Eukodal, whose active ingredient is oxycodone. These pseudo medications were administered by Dr. Theodor Morell, a specialist in skin conditions and sexually transmitted diseases who would pollute the Nazi leadership with his concoctions and use Hitler’s dependency on his treatment to try and construct a “hormonal” industry called the Ukrainian Pharma-Works” in areas seized by the Wehrmacht.
(Dr. Theodor Morell, Hitler’s private physician)
According to Ohler, the original rise of crystal meth took place in Nazi Germany. The German chemical industry received a major boost in the 1930s under the direction of Dr. Fritz Hauscheld, the head of pharmacology at the Temmler Chemical Works who job was to discover a “performance enhancing drug” for the Third Reich. The discovery of morphine made a different scale of war possible as men too injured to fight could now return to the battlefield. Temmler’s research would patent the drug Pervitin (“speed”), Germany’s first methamphetamine that produced feelings of euphoria, energy, self-confidence, and strength. Temmler’s successful marketing campaign would result in the drug as a panacea for a number of issues from fatigue to a low sex drive. The drug became a fixture in German society in the late 1930s.
The drug was a perfect match for the spirit of the age. By 1936 Hitler had successfully overcome many of the limitations placed on Germany by the Versailles Treaty. Unemployment was a thing of the past and by 1938 Germany had seized the Rhineland, achieved Anschluss with Austria, and stolen the Sudetenland from the Czechs at Munich. For Hitler his burgeoning popularity was like a drug addict who could not give up his expansionist drug and by mid-1939 had moved on to Danzig. The German people had to maintain this pace of change. Fresh demands were made on the labor force and the military – the slogan “Germany Awake” needed methamphetamines for the country to “stay awake.” According to Ohler, “spurred on by a disastrous cocktail of propaganda and pharmaceutical substances people became more and more dependent….Pervitin allowed the individual to function in the dictatorship. National Socialism in pill form.” (39)
Ohler raises a number of questions; did civilian use of Pervitin carry over to the military? Did German soldiers need the drug to fight effectively? Did the addictive drug influence the course of World War II? The answer in all cases seems to be yes. Relying on a significant amount of research, particularly Dr. Morell’s patient notes Ohler traces the development, production, and dissemination of Pervitin as World War II approached. He describes how it was employed in achieving the Blitzkrieg against France and the Low Countries in April and May, 1940. The speed of the German military was key, and commanders would not tolerate rest or fatigue. Pervitin, is at a minimum partly responsible for the German success. Dr. Otto F. Ranke, the Director of the Research Institute of Defense Physiology was completely on board with making these pills available to commanders and their soldiers. With no real guidelines as to how Pervitin was to be used they were distributed in the millions to German soldiers.
(Hitler with Dr. and Mrs. Theodor Morell)
Ohler weaves the course of the war effectively as he traces drug use as it related to Germany’s progress on the battlefield, and how, after 1942, mounting German problems affected Hitler. Ohler weaves the Holocaust and the Nazi ideology of blaming Jews for the lack of purity of the German population that he had described in Mein Kampf, major battles and military decisions, and Hitler’s interaction with people throughout the narrative. Further he describes the chemical changes in the nervous system of German soldiers through the ingestion of the drug as they went into battle. What was clear is that the energy and euphoria could last only so long before fatigue set in and German advances were hindered by the need to rest their soldiers. The same can be said of Hitler, as Morell developed a vitamin concoction called Vitamultin which he injected the Fuhrer with daily, resulting in similar after effects that German soldiers suffered from. Morell was able to convince the General Staff of its benefits and a number of them would soon become his patients, as did many other Nazi officials.
Hitler’s medical decline began in the autumn of 1941 as the war began to turn against the Reich. Germany had invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 and it was supposed to take three months to complete the action. “As soon as he encountered genuine Russian resistance that couldn’t be removed with a sweep of the hand, ‘the greatest commander of all time’ retreated further and further into his world of make believe. The microcosm of the Wolf’s Lair (Hitler’s eastern command center) was nothing more than a hubble made of concrete and steel.” (111) For the first time in the war Germans suffered great losses in a very short period of time – even the doping that had been deployed for Operation Barbarossa was ineffective as once the Pervitin wore off, troops had to rest. Hitler fell ill for the first time in years in August, 1941 and when Morell’s concoctions of vitamins and glucose failed to work he raised the ante by injecting steroids and other opiates. He did prevent another illness, but in the future Morell resorted to prophylactic injections of new hormonal substances. “From autumn 1941 onward, more and more concentrated animal substances began to circulate in his bloodstream” in order to reinforce his body’s defenses. The result was that “Hitler’s natural immune system was soon replaced by an artificial protective shield.” (114) From then on Hitler’s military directives parted company from reality as he would not accept rational arguments from his generals.
As the war continued to go against Hitler’s “alternative reality” he became more and more dependent on opioid drugs. Hitler was dependent on Dr. Morell, who was dubbed the “Reich Injection Minister” by Hermann Goring. “The medication kept the supreme commander stable in his delusion….Any doubts were swept away by his chemically induced confidence. The world could sink into rubble and ashes around him, and his actions cost millions of people their lives – but the Fuhrer felt more than justified when his artificial euphoria set in.” (163)
Ohler describes the period after 1943, as Hitler’s heavy opiate phase. As the war turned increasingly bad for Germany, the Merck and Company facility in Darmstadt was destroyed in December, 1944, so Merck could no longer produce Eukodal. Hitler’s health would deteriorate and to survive he took strong narcotics which erected a pharmacological barricade around himself. The delusional system that Hitler created for himself, would not allow him to remain clear of drugs. “Under no circumstance did Hitler want to come down from his megalomaniac Fuhrer trip, in spite of the disastrous military situation.” (174) By the spring of 1945, Morell no longer had any potent substances to administer as he had done in the past. As time evolved the Fuhrer most certainly went through a period of withdrawal. Some historians believe he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, but in retrospect it is hard to determine a definitive diagnosis.
A part from Hitler the drug crutch influenced German naval policy. Admiral Hellmuth Heye argued for one man torpedoes and two man submarines to inflict damage on allied shipping. To accomplish this task drugged men were required as these were kamikaze missions. Ohler describes the drug mixtures created that would have been fine for an addict like Hitler, but could not be tolerated by the average soldier. Medical experiments to prepare Germans to carry out their weapons pipe dreams were carried out in Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz concentrations camps resulting in the death of numerous victims. Ohler describes in detail Hitler’s deterioration once drugs were not available and he would succumb to a nasty withdrawal like most drug addicts.
A number of important historians support what Ohler’s research has unveiled. The late Hans Mommsen, one of the leading German historians of the Nazi era, Ian Kershaw, the foremost Hitler biographer, and Anthony Beevor, the well-known military historian all recognize that Ohler, a German journalist, novelist, and filmmaker has written “a serious piece of scholarship,” and one that is very well researched.” (“The Very Drugged Nazis,” by Anthony Beevor, New York Review of Books, March 9, 2017)
(Hitler in early 1945)
The popularity of the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” has rekindled interest in Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of our nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury. I read the original when it was published and I found it to be an amazingly comprehensive study which included incisive analysis and a fairly objective approach to its subject. Since I will be teaching a course entitled, “Hamilton: The Musical, Historically Accurate or Not” I decided to revisit Chernow’s work. My opinion has not changed and I still find it to be the best study of Hamilton’s private and public life that includes the major events and issues that he experienced, discussions of his economic proposals and plans, evaluations of those who opposed him, and placing Hamilton in the proper historical context as the Founding Father most responsible for America’s economic development. Since the publication of ALEXANDER HAMILTON, Chernow has written an excellent study of George Washington and should be considered one of America’s foremost biographers.
Reading a biography of Hamilton is like reviewing the history of the republic from its inception through the duel with Aaron Burr, as Hamilton seems to be involved in every major event or issue from the revolution until his death. What becomes clear is that without Hamilton’s ideas the United States government would be unrecognizable today, as we are the heirs of his vision of America. Chernow’s Hamilton is a man obsessed with his background dating back to questions surrounding his birth in the West Indies, his social standing, and matters of honor. All three would influence his decision-making and causes he would engage in. In covering Hamilton’s upbringing, self-education, and employment as a clerk at a mercantile house when he was in his teens Chernow does an excellent job showing how these experiences would create the basis for the policies he implemented when he was in a position to do so later in life. The turning point in Hamilton’s life seems to take place on July 6, 1774 as he spoke to a crowd near King’s College where he was enrolled. Hamilton favored a boycott of English goods, raged against unfair taxation, deplored the closing of Boston Harbor, and called for colonial unity. In answering Samuel Seabury’s Tory viewpoints Hamilton’s writings made him an anti-Tory hero.
(Elizabeth [Eliza] Hamilton)
Chernow effectively delves into Hamilton’s philosophical development during the lead up to the American Revolution and during its evolution. Hamilton always seemed to worry about the long term effect of constant disorder, particularly among the uneducated masses. He feared that increased freedom would lead to increased disorder, and thereby a lack of freedom. This became Hamilton’s lifelong dilemma; how to straddle and resolve this contradiction – balancing liberty and order. Hamilton’s inner intellectual struggle is nicely played out throughout the biography as Chernow integrates Hamilton’s writings through his published essays in newspapers, public speeches, and position papers prepared for Congress and George Washington. Hamilton’s internal debate is enhanced through Chernow’s portrayal of Washington. According to Chernow both agreed on the main issues and the author’s examination of how and why two founding fathers from disparate backgrounds got along so well. Their relationship forms a major core of the narrative and we can see their mutual dependency. Washington needed Hamilton’s intellect and his total commitment to his beliefs, and Hamilton needed Washington’s personal and political support in dealing with the many enemies he would make, a number of which was due to his irascible personality and approach to getting things done. Hamilton became Washington’s “pen,” as well as his alter ego.
All of the major figures of the American Revolution and the early republic are on full display as is Hamilton’s personal life. John Adams, Aaron Burr, James Madison, Lafayette, John Laurence, and of course Thomas Jefferson all make their appearance with their own personal agendas. Also developed is Hamilton’s personal life particularly his relationship with Elizabeth (Eliza) Schuyler, his wife and her sister Angelica who would marry John Church, an English businessman. Some authors present Hamilton as a philanderer after his marriage to Eliza, and Chernow does not downplay this character fault, however, after his disastrous affair with Maria Reynolds between 1791 and 1792, and dealing with the blackmail of her husband James, it seems Hamilton had learned his lesson and from that point on he was a devoted father and husband. The affair would be a cloud hanging over his head for the remainder of his life, particularly when his reputation was so important to him. Chernow conjectures that evidence of the affair once in the hands of his political enemies, may have cost him the presidency.
Chernow is very incisive in his analysis of the politics of the period and the parochial interests of certain individuals. For example, dealing with slavery which Hamilton ardently opposed due to witnessing the venal effects of the slave trade growing up in the West Indies. Chernow condemns “the hypocritical critiques of his [Hamilton’s] allegedly aristocratic economic system [which] emanated from the most aristocratic southern slaveholders, who deflected attention from their own nefarious deeds by posing as populist champions and assailing the northern financial and mercantile interests aligned with Hamilton.” (211) Hamilton’s role at the constitutional convention and preparation of the final document is fully discussed as is Hamilton’s commitment to do everything in his power to successfully implement the document when he was in public and private life. Granted, Hamilton was able to expand the constitution when needed, by developing the concept of “implied powers,” but his loyalty to the constitution and his arguments in favor, particularly, the FEDERALIST PAPERS never wavered.
Chernow asks a very important question in that why did this period spawn such extraordinary men, especially when we compare them to the new administration in Washington. The behind the scenes machinations at the Constitutional Convention, its ratification, Washington’s cabinet debates, and the political wrangling over Hamilton’s program for the assumption of debt, the national bank and other components of his plans for the young republic all receive extensive coverage. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the book is Chernow’s discussion of the development of the Federalist and Republican parties synonymous with Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Chernow explores their writings, personal conversations, and the vitriol that existed between the two men. Chernow’s portrayal of Jefferson is not a positive one seeing the author of the Declaration of Indolence and Secretary of State as a hypocrite in dealing with the problems of the young republic. Chernow’s portrayal of the man who avoided the American Revolution with his posting to France, was rather cavalier when it came to shedding the blood of others, in addition to his sanctimonious views when it came to government and Hamilton’s economic program, is not very flattering. Chernow dives deep into the essays and communication between the two men, also bringing in Hamilton’s ally at the Constitutional Convention and co-author of the FEDERALIST PAPERS, James Madison into his discussion, concluding that fourth president and member of the “Virginia Dynasty” was a back stabber, and though brilliant in his own right, was a lackey of Jefferson. Jefferson resented Hamilton’s encroachment into his sphere as the Secretary of the Treasury as he developed the Customs Service and the Coast Guard to protect American trade. However, the issue that riled Jefferson the most was Hamilton’s opposition to honoring the 1778 alliance with France during its war with England, Spain, and Holland. For Jefferson, Hamilton was a monarchist married to the English crown and economic system with pretentions of sitting on an American throne.
(Angelica Schuyler Church)
In evaluating Hamilton, Chernow is spot on pointing out that many of Hamilton’s actions and behaviors demonstrated that beneath his invincible façade throughout his career he was still the hypersensitive boy from the West Indies. His combativeness came from an obsession with matters of honor – a man of deep and, at times, ungovernable emotions; i.e.; involvement and threats dealing with duels, insulting remarks and commentary, and vindictive essays.
The role of Angelica Church, Hamilton’s sister-in-law is useful in discussing how politics and personal issues played out. The questions of Hamilton’s relationship with her, and a possible affair is presented, as is her love for her brother-in-law. Church who lived in England with her husband becomes a source of intelligence for Hamilton as men seemed enchanted with her, even Jefferson, who invited her to Monticello, seemed to fall for her. The Jefferson that Chernow discusses is a lot different that of Dumas Malone or Jon Meacham. He lives on credit and spends a great deal of money on his interests, whether wine, books, French furniture and as a result would leave his heirs to pay off his substantial debt. Jefferson liked to present himself as above the fray, but he was down in the “mud” in dealing with the Constitution, the Genet Affair, the Jay Treaty and any other issue that could injure Hamilton. What bothered Jefferson and Madison the most was that Hamilton’s economic program was setting precedents that would be difficult to undo in the future. Hamilton acted speedily dealing with the debt from the revolution and making the United States a manufacturing power with a National Bank and other programs. What frightened them was that they saw a future that threatened their southern way of life. To Chernow’s credit he does present Hamilton programs and rationale in detail, but he also develops the opposition’s point of view. Today we think we are in the midst of one of the nastiest and bipartisan periods in American history, but it pales in comparison to what Hamilton had to deal with.
Whatever flaws one can detect in Hamilton’s private life and pursuit of power one must recognize his accomplishments. When he left government service he could point to suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion, a flourishing financial base for the country and the economy in general, and had survived numerous investigations into his motives as Treasury Secretary and his private life. “He prevailed in almost every major program he had sponsored – whether the bank, assumption, funding the public debt, the tax system, the Customs Service, or the Coast Guard – despite years of complaints and smears….Bankrupt when Hamilton took office, the United States now enjoyed a credit rating equal to that of any European nation. He laid the groundwork for both liberal democracy and capitalism and helped to transform the role of president from a passive administrator to active policy maker….He demonstrated the use of government and helped weld the states irreversibly into one nation.” (481)
Once out of power it seemed as if Hamilton was a “shadow” member of Washington’s administration, but once Adams became president the animus between the two emerges, in part because of Hamilton’s behavior behind the scenes during the 1796 election, the result of which was that his influence waned as he was shut out of decision making. Adams’ hated Hamilton and some of his comments seem delusional. In fact, much of his critique of Hamilton was so full of vindictiveness it could have emanated from the mouth or pen of Jefferson. Hamilton made two major errors after he left Washington’s cabinet. The first, publishing “The Reynolds Pamphlet” designed to clear his name and reputation. But, in reality it just dragged his family through the mud once more and provided fodder for the Republican press. His second error was his “intemperate indictment” of John Adams. This reflected his “genius for the self-inflicted wound and was capable of marching blindly off a cliff—traits most pronounced in the late 1790s.” (619) The end for Hamilton would come when he supported Jefferson for the presidency and worked behind the scenes to deny Burr, a man he totally distrusted the any higher office in the election of 1800. Later, he would work behind the scenes to deny Burr the governorship of New York which would lead to a number of poor decisions of Hamilton’s part resulting in his death in a duel on July 11, 1804. In this particular instance the strength of Chernow’s work can be seen as he places the events, communications and previous historiography under a microscope to set the scene for the reader to digest all aspects of what took place.
Burr ended the life of one of the most important individuals in American history and Chernow must be commended for his story telling ability, analysis based on comprehensive research in preparing his award winning biography. Overall, Chernow sets the record straight on many controversial occurrences and has provided an alternative view of Hamilton that adds to the debate concerning the founding fathers. But once you have read Chernow’s biography one cannot disagree with David Brook’s comment in his 2004 New York Times book review; “so there is no Hamilton monument in Washington, but at least we have Ron Chernow’s moving and masterly ‘Alexander Hamilton,’ which is by far the best biography ever written about one man.” (“Creating Capitalism” NYT, April 25, 2004)
(a neighborhood in West Jerusalem)
It is December, 1959, Shmuel Ash, an asthmatic university student preparing his thesis on “Jewish views of Jesus” decides to abandon his studies and leave the divided city of Jerusalem. Ash’s girlfriend, Yardena has decided to breakup with him and marry a previous boyfriend. With his research stalling, and learning that his father’s finances have been ruined over a lost court case he can no longer support his student lifestyle, so he decides to embark on what he hopes will be a coping journey. Shmuel is an overly sensitive and emotional individual who has doubts about his own virility and cannot avoid tears when he witnesses mundane events. He loves to debate others, but does not have any interest when people present their views, and he now finds himself at the age of twenty-five in crisis.
Upon posting a notice of the sale of his possessions, Shmuel sees an ad for a companion to a seventy year old cultured invalid offering a room and some money. Shmuel answers the ad in a house on the western fringe of Jerusalem and after speaking with Gershom Wald, a cantankerous intellectual who suffers a number of health issues, and his forty five year old daughter in law, Atalia Abravanel he decides to take the position. We will learn that Wald and Abravanel are haunted by the memories of two other people; Shealtiel Abravanel, Atalia’s dead father, and Micha, Atalia’s late husband killed in the 1948 War of Independence, who was also Wald’s son. Amos Oz’s new novel, JUDAS focuses on the three characters that are alive, but a number of those who have passed play a significant role in the story. The major part of the book consists of dialogue between Wald, Atalia, and Shmuel as they discuss religion, the proper role of Zionism, the legacy of the 1948 War, and issues pertaining to their private lives.
David Ben-Gurion, the Jewish leader during the 1948 War and Israeli Prime Minister plays an important role, almost as a foil for Oz. Shealtiel Abravanel, Atalia’s father had been a member of the Zionist Executive Committee and the Council of the Jewish Agency before and during the war and he was the only one who opposed Ben-Gurion’s approach toward the Palestinian Arabs, eventually being forced to resign from both positions. Oz uses Gershon Wald to debate the justification of a Jewish state. He presents Arab fears of the Jews through the words of Wald and in conversations with Shmuel he discusses his admiration for Ben-Gurion and his Zionist vision. For Oz, Ben-Gurion stands for the justification of the founding of the Jewish state. For the Palestinian people, the 1948 War is referred to as Al Naqba, or the Catastrophe. For Atalia and Wald, the same term applies because one person lost a son, and the other a husband, and with that undercurrent seemingly always be in the background.
In a sense Oz’s characters make the book a referendum on Ben-Gurion’s leadership. Wald and Shmuel debate whether Ben-Gurion was correct in his refusal to try and reach some sort of an accommodation with the Palestinians and forgo the concept of a Jewish state. In addition, Ben-Gurion agreed to the Sevres pact with the British and French leading up to the 1956 Suez War. A war that proved to be the death knell of Britain’s Middle East Empire, but it also linked Israel to two dying colonial powers (the French would eventually withdraw from Algeria in 1962), creating a schism with the United States, and elevated Nasser’s status at home and the Arab world to new heights.
Shmuel and Wald spend six hours each day talking, arguing, and listening to the news on the radio, and for Shmuel, he at times had to succumb to Wald’s soliloquies on numerous topics. Be it Darwinism, the concept of love and hate, the validity of medieval critiques of Jesus, the Crusades, the plight of the socialist revolution following the disclosures by Khrushchev concerning Stalin in February, 1956, or Shmuel’s thesis “Jewish views of Jesus,” Wald would hold court, but gradually Shmuel would respond in his own thoughtful manner. Further, Shmuel would listen each day as Wald would pontificate, sometimes with a malicious tone on the telephone for what seemed like hours on end to the two or three friends that he still maintained. Despite what some would see as an ordeal, Shmuel developed affection for Wald and their relationship flourished. But, what most gnawed at Shmuel was the secrecy that existed, particularly on the part of Atalia, with whom he develops a rather curious relationship. He seems to be falling in love with a woman twenty five years older than himself, and she continues crawl out of her shell, then subsumes herself to a life of bitterness.
Throughout much of the novel Oz puts forth meditations concerning the life and death of Jesus zeroing in on the writings that focus on the validity of Christianity and its place in history. Much of what Oz has to say emerges from Shmuel’s research, which centers on his understanding as to why the Jews rejected Christianity. For Shmuel, Jesus was not a Christian, he was born and died a Jew and it never crossed his mind to found a new religion. Christianity’s creation was the work of Paul and his cohorts and they invented its concepts and ceremonies. Shmuel believes if only the Jews had accepted Jesus, their history of persecution would not have taken place. The one thing Shmuel cannot come to terms with is why the Jews refused to accept him, since all Jesus wanted to do was “purify the Jewish faith of all sorts of self-satisfied cultic accretions that had attached themselves to it, all sorts of fatty protrusions that the priests had cultivated and that the Pharisees had burdened them with…. [The Jews] were groaning beneath the yoke of the rich, bloated priesthood in Jerusalem.” (113)
The concept of betrayal goes to the core of Oz’s thought process. We witness it almost from the outset of the novel. Shmuel fantasizes about replacing his parents with people he can relate to on a different level. Shmuel’s grandfather may have been a double agent during World War II for the British. Obviously, Judas’ actions toward Jesus. The entire discussion concerning Atalia’s father involving his “treasonous” acts against the creation of the state of Israel, Ben-Gurion, and the Jewish people. Lastly, Atalia’s behavior for her job recounts a number of examples of betrayal as are her feelings for Shmuel, particularly as the novel comes to a close.
In summation, the novel is a journey for Shmuel Ash that takes him to a secluded place where he meets two individuals suffering from loss. All three characters seem to be at different stages of the Eriksonian life cycle with different needs and roles to play in each other’s lives. They argue, love each other in their own way and produce affection that will linger, in a sense love that each person could not fathom three months earlier as Shmuel enters Atalia and Gershon’s lives. Oz orchestrates the journey, he begins it, and knows when to bring it to a conclusion.
(West Jerusalem, Israel)