I guess that we live in an interesting time: people are shaking off the idealistic dreams of their grand-parents (maybe even great-grand parents) and looking at what’s left in the gray light of dawn.
The problem with any time of dogmatic belief– and that is what I believe the last 80 or so years have been– is that it ends in a sort of flight from reality, as the notions that people have come to live by are turned on their heads. The flight continues until it’s just too painful.
“Painful flight” are the two words that sprung to my mind as I read Marjorie Kehe’s Christian Science Monitor review of Jennet Conant’s A Covert Affair:
It’s [A Covert Affair is] also a useful reminder that, in the America that finally emerged from the Cold War, the Childs are still beloved icons, while Joseph McCarthy endures only as a symbol of shame.
I’m not reviewing Jennet’s book today. I’m reviewing two others: Julia Child’s My Life in France, and The Haunted Wood, by Weinstein et alia. The first is a glowing, self-congratulatory, PR piece written by someone with a lot to hide; the second provides a glimpse into what Julia was hiding.
There have been a lot of ‘revelatory’ books over the past couple of decades. I’m thinking of books like The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, Blacklisted by History and, to a certain extent, The Haunted Wood. I’m not saying that any of their authors are heroes, just that these books deal with information that is painful for America’s elite. And naturally, some intellectuals have flown from the consequences of this information, since it challenges their cherished beliefs about themselves and the people they admire.
I knew someone who worked for one of the preeminent news channels in New York City. When Blacklisted by History came out, his station chief– who was Jamaican, not American– refused to cover it because, well, McCarthy was the bad guy and that’s that.
With all that’s happened over the past 40 years, Mr. Jamaica’s attitude is no longer tenable. Governments have come and gone; and more contenders are vying for a slice from a shrinking pie. That means somebody’s going away disgruntled and sacred cows will fall.
Which brings me to the Childs.
It’s time to face the fact that the Childs worked for an illegal organization, the OSS. Why do I say illegal? Because both Churchill and Roosevelt overstepped their power and went behind the back of British and American governments when they collaborated secretly with Bill Stephenson (a businessman/British spy) and J. Edgar Hoover to form their personal espionage apparatus.
For all the murkiness surrounding espionage, no one has challenged that Stephenson was a British agent and the FDR relied on his advice when he put Donovan, Stephenson’s buddy, at the head of the OSS. Let me rephrase that: FDR relied on a British spy to set up the clearing house for US intelligence. In his biography, Stephenson claims he even had special instructions regarding his spy-work in the USA: he was to drum up the resources that Churchill needed for war.
I’d hate to deal with the counter-espionage fallout from those OSS hires. Maybe that’s why Angleton went crazy.
The Childs worked for the OSS– Julia worked directly for Donovan– in full knowledge that what they were doing was to be kept secret from the American public to prevent interference from Congress. According to Stephenson, the OSS’s war-time doings were kept secret until the early 60s, when Kim Philby’s defection threatened to blow the whole story wide open. Why still hide 20 years after this ‘benevolent’ organization was disbanded? Because the OSS, far from being humanitarian-good-guys, had undermined the balance of powers and rule of law to implement Churchill and FDR’s private goals. That’s treachery.
It gets uglier, because Stephenson’s boys were tasked with digging dirt on Americans who opposed British interests. This encompassed making up rumors and fabricating evidence of spy plots. (Sorta like McCarthy.)
The Haunted Wood has added a new dimension to the OSS story, gleaned from Soviet information sources. From its very beginning, the OSS had a close working relationship with the NKGB, which is the USSR’s foreign intelligence service. Julia’s boss, William Donovan, was the key player organizing this partnership; though it appears that OSS’ers gave the NKGB more information than they got in return. The NKGB side had contempt for the amateurishness of the OSS. As you might expect, the collaboration allowed the NKGB to ‘penetrate’ Donovan’s organization. (Read about it in Chapter 11.)
The NKGB/OSS partnership was kept secret from the American public too, on the advice of J. Edgar Hoover, because he knew that making it official would invite interference from Congress. That pesky rule of law again.
So instead, the NKGB/OSS partnership was kept informal– and personal:
That month, the USSR’s Ambassador to the United States, Konstantin Umansky, informed the NKVD of a recent private conversation with Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau. He quoted Morgenthau, an FDR confidant, as asking “not on behalf of the American government but on my personal behalf to give me and Roosevelt the heads of German agents in the US… (1941)
The OSS: secretly commandeering government resources for personal vendettas. That’s what despotism looks like, and didn’t we get rid of Mussolini, Hitler, etc. because they were despots? The answer-on-the-street is usually affirmative. So why keep Stalin? We had capable generals ready and willing to march on Moscow. Weinstein’s book sheds some light on the thorny reasons behind that ugly history.
Did Paul Cushing Child’s illegal work stop once the OSS was disbanded? It seems not. According to Julia, in 1954 Paul was an important US propaganda operative:
His title was exhibits officer for all of Germany, which meant he was America’s top visual-program man for the entire country. His job was to inform the German people about the U.S.A., and once again he was organizing exhibits, tours, and cross-cultural exchanges. Because of the geopolitical/propaganda importance of Germany, which was right smack up against the Iron Curtain, his department had a budget of ten million dollars a year, more than the combined budgets for all of the USIA’s other information programs around the world.
Paul worked with the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) to bring its exhibits to the German public. All this at exactly the time the CIA was (in secret from Congress) working with MOMA to promote a non-Communist left agenda in Europe.
And what about Paul? Was he promoting the same agenda? According to Julia, at least one French politician thought so:
Counsul General Heywood Hill– whom Abe Manell called ‘Hill the Pill’– took Paul to meet the local préfet, Monsieur Paira. Wreathed in a cloud of smoke behind a rococo desk outfitted with three important looking telephones, Paira, a jowly Corsican, opened the meeting by attacking the USIS for attacking the Communists instead of informing French people about the U.S.A.
(The USIA was formerly called the USIS.)
The chances are good that Paul followed his old OSS contacts– and their money– into the non-Communist left foray that Francis Stonor Saunder’s book made so famous. Yet another secret operation kept hidden from Congress to avoid the rule of law.
I see a pattern here, and it isn’t one that makes me love the Childs. Who were this couple?
To answer that question, you have to read between the lines of Julia’s book, but not much. They’re the type of people who laugh at the French for sucking up to aristocrats, but change their cat’s name from “Minnette” to “Minnette Mimosa McWilliams Child” when they find out the feline’s a rare breed, not just a mutt. They’re the type of people who travel war-ravaged Europe eating, oblivious to the malnutrition around them. They detest money and privilege, but seek it out wherever they can. They’re hypocrites.
What strikes me most about this couple is their incongruity. Roald Dahl and his wife, Patricia McNeal, made a show of their ‘perfect marriage’ to the press; Julia is eager to do the same. Julia presents herself as a doting housewife, she presents Paul as her rock, and inspiration, and teacher, and indulgent husband. When Paul speaks in his own writing, however, he comes across as someone who’s settled for money. Paul is creepy. For instance, he wrote to his twin that Paris with Julia pleased him, because it reminded him of having lipstick on his belly-button. In photographs, Mr. Child’s eyes have a touch of the same human kindness shown by Goebbels and Richard Perle. (Remember that meme?)
Paul is more interesting than Julia. He seems to have done a bit of everything at one time or another. An American, Paul grew up with his widowed mother in France– a place he disliked at the time– then started to travel the world because he didn’t have money for college. (Work that one out.) Paul, at different times, was a stained-glass-window artisan, a low-level Hollywood employee, an OSS agent in Sri Lanka (then British Ceylon), a something on a China Sea command ship in World War II, a War-Room designer for the British General Mountbatten, a USIA propagandist/State Department affiliate, a cocktail-socialist, a photographer, a dandy, a parasite off Julia’s money. Take your pick, he seems to have.
Julia’s memoir starts with her and Paul barreling towards Paris in a huge American car along a road built by the US Army Corps of Engineers. That’s a perfect metaphor for Julia’s life. Barreling toward prestige at the taxpayer’s expense.
But don’t think that means she likes America, quite the contrary. She despises Pasadena, California (where she’s from), and falls deeper and deeper in ‘love’ with France. She adores France… until the day she decides that France is too much like Pasadena, and moves permanently to Cambridge, MA.
Why does Julia hate the place where she is from? Well, it’s filled with Republicans, Nixon-voters, housewives, people who are only concerned with their own comfort… her father.
Julia’s relationship with her father is the most interesting relationship in her book. Her father really got under her skin, ostensibly because he hated her for not marrying a Republican banker. I’ve heard many Cambridge-types lambast their enemies as “GOP” when they don’t want to talk about about why they really don’t like a person. In Julia’s case, her Dad thought that she and Paul were dangerously isolated in their socialist milieu, and that they had lost touch with their homeland.
Consider Julia’s choices from her father’s perspective: his daughter meets an older man while doing work that she can’t talk about. This older man is a bon vivant who likes lipstick on his belly-button and has no money. Daughter Julia is homely, uncultured, nearing spinsterhood, yet has money. She’s also naive and dangerously idealistic. What could Paul possibly see in Julia? thinks Pop McWilliams, and with good reason.
Were Paul and Julia isolated and out of touch?
Decades of secrecy, subversion and disregard for democratic principles while claiming to uphold them can turn people a little weird. Lies turn people weird.
The wheels fell off for Paul and Julia when Paul’s close friend and OSS colleague, Jane Foster, got wind that she might be nabbed for spying for the USSR and fled the USA. Paul and Julia kept in contact with her while she was on the lamb, which didn’t look good for USIA’s top exhibitions man. But there were other problems. According to Julia, one of his associates reported him as a sexual deviant. Completely untrue! the indignant wife cries. Whatever the truth is about Paul’s pants or his loyalty, in 1959 he was pulled from Germany and sent to Denmark, then retired in a rush: just months before he could have secured a $3000 per month pension.
Why the rush, Paul? Perhaps we’ll never know.
This series of events precipitated a ‘wounded’ period in Julia’s life, where she felt the evil forces of the GOP, McCarthy and Nixon were in an unholy alliance against her. She undertook to fight these forces of darkness however she could.
Let’s read an excerpt from an anti-McCarthyite letter that Julia Child wrote, of which she is particularly proud:
In Russia today, as a method for getting rid of opposition, an unsubstantiated implication of treason, such as yours, is often used. But it should never be used in the United States… I respectfully suggest that you are doing both your college and your country a disservice… In the blood-heat of pursuing the enemy, many people are forgetting what we are fighting for. We are fighting for out hard-won liberty and freedom; for our Constitution and the due processes of our laws; and for the right to differ in ideas, religion and politics.
Maybe, Julia, your work for Donovan, your husband’s propaganda work, the very probable espionage work of your beloved friends, have done your country a disservice. Maybe, in the blood-heat of getting your own way, you’ve worked to undermine freedom and the due process of law.
Whatever you think of FDR, the US and it’s allies during WWII or Soviet Russia, it’s worth keeping in mind concepts like “the balance of powers” and “rule of law” are not just pretty words on a piece of paper. These concepts are valued because without them, there’s little difference between an American President and a European Dictator. So even if you’ve got powerful friends, your opinions still need to be vetted by democratic bodies like Congress and the Senate BEFORE they’re acted upon. That’s what living in a democracy means. Hiding behind “the need for secrecy” is like a cancer patient refusing to take his chemotherapy, because “this could weaken me for a little while.”
And thanks to books like The Haunted Wood, we now know all that secrecy actually made the OSS easier to penetrate by really virulent organizations.
I’m not saying that intelligence operations are incompatible with democracy, but they ARE incompatible IF they are given completely free reign to do what they want. The only real check on them is a free media and working Congress, which is a whole different Gordian Knot.
I can kind of understand why Julia would adopt a siege-mentality toward Pasadena and her dad; then toward Washington D.C. and the “McCarthyites”; and finally toward France. With McCarthy, the congressional investigations into the OSS and CIA spending, the FBI (and even CIA, thank you Angleton) investigations into Soviet espionage, Julia saw FDR’s pink edifice crashing down around her. She understood that the USA was not, yet, her private game reserve. So naturally, she set up fort in the Peoples’ Republic of Cambridge.
For readers who are unfamiliar with US politics and geography, Cambridge Massachusetts is like that very sheltered, damp spot in your garden where all sorts of strange fungi can flourish. And Julia flourished there; the rest is T.V. history.
We have a problem in the USA: we’ve come to believe our own propaganda. You can disapprove of demagoguery. You can disapprove of propaganda and political-witch-hunts. But you can’t disapprove of these things and still support the Childs, because the Childs are just another flavor of McCarthyites– and that may even be too kind to Julia and Paul, because I don’t think Senator McCarthy ever took up service for a foreign operative– wittingly or otherwise. But sadly, I believe these ethical distinctions will be forever lost on the good comrades of Cambridge, MA.
When it boils down to it, Julia did not love her own people. Did she feel that they denied her something which she deserved? Did she feel out-of-sync, being homely and mannish? Or did she just crave belonging to something ‘special’– irrespective of what that ‘something’ was? I guess it doesn’t matter now, because like her father, she’s dead. Eh bien, l’affaire conclue.