Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Umnak, 16 July 1944

My darling…
I sandwiched some sleep between two moving experiences today. One experience came in the evening and was beautiful. I listened to the Sunday symphony broadcast. A supply of beer has arrived at the rec hall so in the evening, after dinner, most to the fellows congregated there. I went to our hut; it was empty. A big chair, shaped like the one Bill [Fett] had made by the maestro carpenter in Patzcuaro but covered with a padding of old sacks, stands by the radio. It is very comfortable, and to sit there in solitude after a good meal and listen to Tschaikowsky’s Fourth and Wagner’s Lohengrin overture and prelude was both sedative and stimulating.
The music was the main thing, but the fact that Wagner can be broadcast over an Army station in wartime gave me comfort. It shows a growth of either tolerance or appreciation of the beautiful in our country. And after the experience of the morning I needed such assurance.
There is in our outfit a Scandinavian with a broken nose and a broken accent. He looks rather like a superannuated boxer, which may be why I have had a somewhat abstract liking for him although I had never spoken directly to him until today.
When I went into chow this morning I had with me Koestler’s book “Scum of the Earth.” The fellow across the table from me – one of those Jack Martin classifies as “the little men”—asked what I was reading. I told him, adding that it was a book about the fall of France. He wanted to know the author and on being told “Arthur Koestler” said, “Never heard of him.”
I explained that Koestler was a former radical who had broken with communism because he could not stomach the belief that any ends justify the brutal means. I added that Koestler was Hungarian. The Scandinavian sat at my left. He looked up from his hot cakes and said, “He’s a dirty Jew.” I felt as if someone had raised a knee between my legs, but all I said was “What?”
He pointed at the books with a syrupy fork and said, “A Jew wrote it.”
“What makes you think so?”
“Dey write all that propaganda,” he said. “All dose books against the … about the war written by Jews.” He mouthed some more hotcakes and added, “Dirty Jews.”
I asked if he had read the book.
“Never read nothing dey write. All propaganda.”
I fought back the impulse to ask why he hadn’t gone to Germany instead of coming to the United States. I didn’t even tell him he was fighting the wrong war. I just swung around so that as much of my back was to him as the bench would allow and said nothing. But my breakfast tasted bad and lay heavy in my stomach.
When I went to bed it was a long time before I could go to sleep. I know it is foolish to allow racial intolerance to so upset me. It exists and the only ways to combat it are by laws and education. Anger at the intolerant will not overcome it. But God how I fear for the future of our country when I hear a man in uniform preaching race hatred. Rage and impotence make poor bedmates, and I did not sleep well. But after the symphony I went back to bed and caught four satisfactory hours.
Rosa with HVM
Today brought no letter from you but one from Dad. [Henry Victor Morgan, a Universalist minister in Tacoma] In it he wrote a very charming little autobiography of his first 79 years. He seemed to have such a fine time at his birthday party at the church. His main disappointment being that Vic and Ev and I were not there. I keep my fingers crossed and hope that all of us will be able to make it next year.
The war is going so much better than had dared to hope. It seems very possible that Germany will be knocked out this year. And how Japan can stand up for more than a year after Germany goes, I don’t know. I’m setting my sights on being a civilian again by January 1, 1946. That should give us a couple of months of pure loafing before the weather is good enough to start down the Mississippi in the canoe.
Last night we had our weekly show in the rec hall. I was not particularly anxious to go, but ….
Constance Moore
The only saving grace to the show [“Show Business”] was the presence of a very bad actress, Constance Moore. She is the gal who played opposite Ray Bolger in “By Jupiter,” and though her dramatics were really Roquefort, I enjoyed her because she reminded me of our evening with Phyllis in New York, of how we laughed and Phyllis looked shocked at some of the jokes, of the two quarts of coconut drink that she bought and how they both went sour during that long, warm ride home on the streetcar. That was our only streetcar ride in New York, wasn’t it?
Besides the movie, we had a projectorful for shorts. There was a sports picture about timing in tumbling, narration by Ted Husing and bad enough to have been written by Husing himself. There was a news reel of the invasion and, I am almost ashamed to admit, the biggest thrill I got out of it was in seeing a shot of the CBS newsroom broadcasting the flash. Ned Calmer was talking. He looked exactly the same—as if he wanted to get the hell out of there, have a quick drink and ogle the waitress. Paul White was in the background for an instant, no more. How I wish I could have been there at that moment.
The best short was an Anglo-American documentary called “Eve of Invasion” It had the usual British charm of understatement, combined with very effective photography and a minus quantity of Mazzola. Its simplicity and straightforwardness was emphasized because it followed a tear-jerked short about Yugoslavia, based on the “Letter to an Unborn Baby” which Stoyan Pribichevich adapted from the original.
I am sure you remember the letter. It came out first in “Time,” and later was reprinted by Louis Adamic and other publications. It was a beautifully written little letter, calm as the death it dealt with, yet serene with hope and filled with belief in the necessity of struggle for a better world. And the most moving part of the story was that the letter never reached the writer’s pregnant wife, that the force of evil against which the father fought was strong enough also to claim his future. But not so in the movie version. The narrator shouts his lines like Bill Stern doing a sports broadcast, and there are shots of fat babies in rubber pants, of the wind blowing the message to mama, of the sun streaming thought a bank of clouds. All the disgustingly state cinema clichĂ©s were there.
But anyway there was a good Disney.
Darling, darling…how I long to be with you,
M

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