Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the Munich Agreement, where Britain and France sought to appease Hitler by signing away the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany. Last month was the 50th anniversay of the Warsaw Pact invasion which ended the Prague Spring. More here and here.
And 28 October 2018 was the centenary of the founding of the Republic of Czechoslovakia in 1918.
The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books, listed in reverse chronological order.
- Michael Ovitz : Who is Michael Ovitz? A Memoir. USA: WH Allen. This is a fascinating and well-written autiobiography by the co-founder and driving force behind Creative Artists Agency. CAA grew from nothing to dominate the agency business in movies and TV, and then entered M&A consultancy and advertising. I always admired the chutzpah of this strategy and marveled at its success. The book explains how CAA’s creative bundling of the products of its writers, actors, musicians, directors and producers enabled it to grow as an agency, and also enabled the diversification: the expertise gained in strategizing and financially evaluating creative bundles was used to value Hollywood studios (with their back catalogues) as potential acquisition targets. Likewise, the creativity in bundling and the access to diverse talent was used to design successful advertisements. What surprised me reading this book was that the diversification ended after just two acquisition assignments and one advertising project (Coca Cola’s polar bears). The key reason for this seems to have been the opposition of Mr Ovitz’s partners and colleagues at CAA, despite the handsome and arguably unearnt rewards his efforts brought many of them. No good deed ever goes unpunished, it seems. // The book also presents his experiences as President at Disney. Although of course we only hear his side of that story, he does seem to have been undermined from before he even began work there. // Overall, the writing is articulate and reflective, and he seems to have grown personally through his career and his apparent failures. I greatly admire his continued desire and willingness to learn new things – new skills, new businesses, new industries, new cultures, new hobbies. Doing this requires rare, personal courage. Few people in American business were as willing as he was to immerse themselves in Japanese culture when doing business in Japan, for instance. One characteristic Mr Ovitz does not ever display is smugness, and this absence is admirable.
- Mark Urban : The Skripal Files: The Life and Near Death of a Russian Spy. UK: Macmillan. A very good account of the back story of Sergei Skripal, mostly based on interviews Urban conducted with him and others before the events which led to Skripal’s name becoming well-known. Skripal is a former GRU officer who had spied for Britain, was arrested and imprisoned by Russia, and then traded in a spy swap in 2010. He was living quietly in Salisbury, England until he and his daughter were poisoned with Novichok in 2018. Salisbury, of course, is famous for its Cathedral with its 123-metre-high spire. Roger Hollis, one-time Director-General of MI5 whom some people believe was a GRU agent, was a great-great-nephew of George Moberly, Bishop of Salisbury from 1869 to 1885. The good Bishop’s daughter, Annie Moberly, published a memoir of the family in 1911, Dulce Domum, which for some reason does not mention the spire. In these strange times one has to wonder if her omission was deliberate.
- Howard Blum : In the Enemy’s House: The Greatest Secret of the Cold War. USA: Amberley. A fascinating account of the partnership between FBI agent Robert Lamphere and polyglot Meredith Gardner in decrypting the Venona transcripts of Soviet cable traffic and identifying the Soviet spies mentioned therein.
- Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor) : Quiller. Again, superb writing and story-telling, with cliff-hangers all the way through, and close attention required to keep up. Some superb psychological insight and moving descriptions. My only scepticism was over the ease with which foreign intelligence services seemed to move undetected within the USSR.
- Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor) : Quiller KGB. USA: Spectrum. I was alerted to this book and an author new to me by allegations that Shore’s supposedly-true book (below) had the same plot as this earlier novel by Hall. Shore apparently denied having even heard of the earlier book. In truth, the only element which the two plots have in common is that both involve a planned assassination of the then General Secretary of the CPSU, Mikhail Gorbachev, while on a visit to the DDR. The accusation of plot plagiarism made against Shore is thus without any foundation. Within a few pages of starting Hall’s book, I realized this was writing of altogether better quality than Shore’s, and also of most other writers of espionage fiction. Hall often jump cuts from one scene to another, as Sartre did in Nausea, which means the reader has to pay attention. Much is implied rather than expressed, so that attention needs to be close. This is writing of great skill and care, which is no doubt why Hall’s books seem to have been forgotten.
- Tom Shore : Pilgrim Spy: My secret war against Putin, the KGB and the Stasi. UK: Coronet. This is well-written and fast-paced, and was exciting to read. It purports to be a factual memoir by a British special forces agent in the DDR in the late Summer and Autumn of 1989, who allegedly foiled a dastardly plan by revanchist Russians in league with the Red Army Faction to assassinate Mikhail Gorbachev in Berlin on 7 October 1989. The plot hinges on the resolution of several subtle, nested epistemic modal questions – eg, What did A know about B’s knowledge of C’s affiliation? If the story is to be believed, this undercover agent was also – himself, personally – responsible for the success of the Monday evening Lutheran Church gatherings in Leipzig that helped to defeat the SED Government of the DDR, because he was able to ask a western radio network to advertize the event. Whether true or false, this account is immensely condescending. There are several reasons why I find the story most unlikely to be true. First, surely the book would need official security service clearance for publication. It does not appear to have been submitted for approval. If it had been, would we not now be hearing about an official investigation of rogue or treacherous SIS officers? Secondly, there is almost no deep description of the Monday evening gatherings. These were momentous events, both in terms of the fall of communism in the DDR and in terms of peaceful regime change anywhere at any time. How many people attended each week? What was said or sung at these events? What was the mood like? How did the mood change from week to week? Did people know each other? Were there obvious informers or Stasi agents present? Did participants leave together and straight away? Someone who was present at these events, as the author claims he was, would surely have more to say on them. The lack of such deep, textured description, like a non-barking dog, is a strong indication that this book is a work of fiction. Finally, the author says almost nothing about what he did, and how he ate and lived, between these weekly meetings. A small point that arose because I was reading the book on 5 October 2018: 5 October 1989 was a Thursday, not a Friday.
- Ben Macintyre : The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War. UK: Viking. A great account, well-written as this writer’s books always are, of the case of KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky, who spied for Britain and then defected. One disappointment: Macintyre asserts without sufficient consideration that Roger Hollis was not a Soviet agent, which is the line taken by the authorized MI5 historian, Christopher Andrew. Firstly, Macintyre quotes Gordievsky quoting a senior KGB official as having dismissed the claim that Hollis was an agent of the KGB (p. 138 of Kindle edition). Interesting but irrelevant if Hollis had worked for the GRU. Also, we would expect names of high-level foreign agents to be tightly held, so one senior person not knowing if Hollis was an agent means nothing. Moreover, the two agencies were rivals and were explicitly prohibited by Stalin from collaborating. Secondly, Macintyre says that the Soviet spy code-named Elli was identified as Leo Long. As Long did not work for MI5 and Elli did, Long could not have been Elli. Because not all documents have been released, we still don’t know the full story about Hollis nor, if he was not a Soviet agent, then who was the GRU’s senior spy in Britain at the time. Given this ignorance, it is disappointing that a writer of Macintyre’s calibre should just accept the incomplete and much contested authorized line. For a critique of Andrew, see Paul Monk’s article in Quadrant (April 2010). For more on Hollis, see here.
- Robert Hutton : Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5’s Secret Nazi Hunter. UK: W&N. The true story behind Anthony Quinn’s fictional account, cited below. Well-written, well-paced and extremely interesting. In order to determine if the Nazis had created a secret network of 5th columnists in wartime Britain, MI5 created one, led by an inspired agent, Eric Roberts. It just goes to show that if you want to get the credit for fixing something, you may first have to break it yourself. Who knew Britain had harboured so many would-be Gauleiter, including most energetically, Marita Perigoe, the daughter of the popular antipodean composer, May Brahe. It is interesting that Roger Hollis opposed this activity and managed to prevent a similar false network to attract left-wing sumpathizers being created in Britain after WW II.
- Simon Mawer : Prague Spring. UK: Little, Brown. A thriller centred on Prague in a few days in August 1968 (so not spring at all), before and during the Warsaw Pact invasion. It was nice to see a mention of the brave Milada Horáková. I liked the story about the characters initially in Prague rather more than the escapades of the two hitchhiking students. With the latter story, it felt that the author was really writing about his younger, more naive self, and, truthfully, that self did not interest me. But then, I have never found Bildungsromane much worth reading. One factual error: The Czech character Lenka Konečková, daughter of a fictional character, Lukáš Vadinsky, tried and executed with Rudolf Slánsky, writes an article for a student newspaper in which she names some of those executed (Chapter 33). The names listed include London, the former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. But Artur London was not executed. It is not clear if this is an error by the author or by the character (ie, the author knows the truth about London, but the character does not). Although it may have been the case that people in Czechoslovakia did not initially know the fate of the accused in the Slánsky trials, this would surely have been known to a politically-active family member such as Ms Konečková by this time in 1968.
- Henry Porter : Firefly. UK: Quercus. A gripping and empathetic thriller set on the Syrian refugee trail to Europe that runs via Greece and the Balkans. The book is also a superb ethnography of life as a contemporary refugee and life as an anti-terrorist agent among refugees. The way we live now, it seems.
- Charles Cumming : The Man Between. UK: HarperCollins. Another pacy spy thriller from Cumming. The writing is good, although filmic, but not as gripping as Scott’s. One has to wonder if stories are hard to come by when the main character, Kit Carradine, is a successful writer of spy fiction with almost identical initials to the author’s, who gets caught up in an actual spy mission. Fomo, pomo or projection? A quibble: Would a security agency debrief a much-sought and well-known informant in an apartment in central London where she could be seen from the street? One stylistic bug which a good editor should fix are long, discursive sentences with repeated changes of focus which frequent the book. Do books still have editors, I wonder?
- Manda Scott : A Treachery of Spies. UK: Bantam. A modern-day French murder mystery that reaches back to treachery and double-crossing in the French resistance and the SOE in WWII. Riveting, although occasionally implausible: How convenient that the central resistance action was captured on cinefilm?
- S C Brown : Initiation: A Spy Story. A well-written thriller set mostly in wartime France, playing on what we know about the sympathies of the leadership of the Abwehr, German military intelligence, and drawing on the moral dilemmas faced by ordinary French citizens. Includes that long-standing problem of espionage: how to transmit a true message to your enemy, and have them believe it?
- Anthony Quinn : Our Friends in Berlin. UK: Jonathan Cape. An easy, well-written thriller set in wartime Britain amongst a circle of would-be German agents. Lots of single, double and triple bluffing. I liked the subtle allusion to J. Alfred Prufrock and the hook for a sequel involving an upper-class English Soviet spy.
- Jeremy Duns : Agent of Influence: Antony Terry and the Shaping of Cold War Fact and Fiction. Skerry Publishing. A brief account of the life and times of an influential British journalist who may have also been employed by MI6, as part of a concerted effort to place foreign intelligence staff into foreign correspondent positions with British newspapers.
- Claire Harman : Fanny Burney: A Biography. USA: Alfred A. Knopf. A fine biography of the writer, aka Madame d’Arblay. The last part of the book, after Madame d’Arblay’s return to Britain from her entrapment for a decade in France, felt rushed, as if the author was keen to finish. One quibble: Harman repeats the claim that Mrs Clara Bolton was Benjamin Disraeli’s mistress. As far as I can tell, the only evidence for this claim is a statement made by Disraeli’s lawyer, Philip Rose, after Disraeli’s death five decades after the alleged affair (and four decades after Mrs Bolton’s own death). The letters between Mrs Bolton and Mr Disraeli don’t seem to support this claim. Imagined affairs appear to have been a common trope in biographers’ lives of prominent Georgians and Victorians.
- Craig Brown : Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret. UK: Fourth Estate. What a sad life she had. Was it Clive James who said that celebrity is a mask that gradually eats away the face of the person wearing it?
- John Menadue : Things You Learn Along the Way. Australia: David Lovell Publishing. An insightful account of a life, by someone who worked at the pinnacle of political, media and government power – with Gough Whitlam, Rupert Murdoch and Malcolm Fraser. As Australian ambassador to Japan (1977-1980), Menadue got to know the brothers Tony Glynn (1926-1994) and Paul Glynn (1928- ), long-serving Australian Catholic Marist priests working in Japan. Some personal interest, as they are cousins of cousins-in-law of mine.
Continue reading ‘Recent Reading 15’
Today, 7 November 2017, is the centenary of the Great October Revolution.
Like Mikhail Gorbachev (in an interview with Clive Anderson on BBC1 on 3 November 1996), I would have preferred the Revolution of February 1917 to have prevailed.
The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books. The books are listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recently-read book at the top.
- Dan Shanahan : Camelot Eclipsed: Connecting the Dots. Independently published.
- China Mieville : October: The Story of the Russian Revolution. UK: Verso.
- Joshua Rubenstein (Editor) : The KGB File of Andrei Sakharov. USA: Yale University Press.
- Henry Hemming : M: Maxwell Knight, MI5’s Greatest Spymaster. UK: Preface Publishing.
- Evelyn Waugh : Edmund Campion, Jesuit and Martyr. UK: Longmans.
- Alison Barrett : View from my Tower: Letters from Prague, March 1985 – May 1988. A fascinating series of letters from wife of the British Ambassador to members of her family about her time in Prague, in the period of stasis just before the Velvet Revolution.
- John O Koehler : Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police. USA: Basic Books.
- Giles Udy : Labour and the Gulag: Russia and the Seduction of the British Left. UK: Biteback Publishing.
- David J Garrow : Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama. USA: William Collins.
- Yanis Varoufakis : Adults In The Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment. UK: Vintage Digital.
- Nick Bilton : American Kingpin: Catching the Billion-Dollar Baron of the Dark Web. USA: Virgin Digital.
- Michael Howard : Strategic Deception in the Second World War. USA: WW Norton.
- Andrew St. George : History of Norton Rose. UK: Granta Editions. This is a history of the English law firm Norton Rose, written for the 200th anniversary of its founding in 1794. The firm grew in the 19th century alongside the railways, acting as a conveyancing firm for the land purchases needed for new railway lines at the same time as lobbying MPs to legislate for the routes of these lines desired by its clients. Its growth was helped by the life-long friendship between young Mr Philip Rose and Benjamin Disraeli. One error in the book: St. Geoge seems to have conflated two of Disraeli’s confidants and alleged mistresses: Clara Bolton (nee Clarissa Marion Verbeke, 1804-1839), polyglot wife of George Buckley Bolton (the Disraeli family doctor) and Henrietta, Lady Sykes (c. 1801-1846), wife of Sir Francis Sykes (1799-1843), third Baronet of Basildon. Mrs Bolton was also a confidant of Alexander d’Arblay (1794-1837), only son of Fanny Burney and a grandson of Charles Burney.
- Peter Godfrey-Smith : Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life. UK: William Collins. This is a fascinating and well-written account of the intelligence of cephalopodes, drawing on the author’s underwater interactions with them. The only major blunder in the book is the author’s mistaken view that the only or even the main form of human thinking is verbal. This belief shows the fallacies possible when generalizing from introspection, and perhaps only a philosopher could believe something so obviously false. Most mathematicians, architects, musicians and visual artists; most engineers, craftsman, surgeons, and machinery operators; and most sportsmen and women, dancers and actors, spend most of their time thinking without using any words, in my experience.
- Philip Pilkington : The Reformation in Economics: A Deconstruction and Reconstruction of Economic Theory. UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
- John Le Carre : A Legacy of Spies. UK: Penguin.
- Roy Hattersley : The Catholics: The Church and its People in Britain and Ireland, from the Reformation to the Present. UK: Chatto and Windus.
- Don Aitken : What was it all for? The Reshaping of Australia. Australia: Allen and Unwin.
- Don Aitken : The Second Chair. Australia: Danbee Books.
- Mark Singer : Trump and Me. USA: Penguin.
- Ian Hacking : Why is there Philosophy of Mathematics at all? UK: CUP.
- David Talbot : The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government. USA: William Collins.
- Edward Jay Epstein : Sixty Versions of the Kennedy Assassination: A Primer on Conspiracy Theories. EJE Publications.
The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books. The books are listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recently-read book at the top.
- Edward Fulbrook : Narrative Fixation in Economics. UK: College Publications.
- Pamela Vass : The Power of Three: Thomas Fowler, Devon’s Forgotten Genius. UK: Boundstone Books.
- Charles Babbage : On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures. UK: Charles Knight.
- Timothy James Burke : Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women: Commodification, Consumption and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe. USA: Duke University Press.
- Petina Gappah : Rotten Row. UK: Faber & Faber.
- David Wootton : The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution. UK: Penguin.
- Joseph Wechsberg : The Voices. USA: Doubleday.
- Karl Marton : True Believer: Stalin’s Last American Spy. Simon & Schuster.
- David Coltart : The Struggle Continues. Zimbabwe: Jacana Media.
- Yudhijit Bhattacharjee : The Spy who couldn’t Spell: A Dyslexic Traitor, an Unbreakable Code, and the FBI’s Hunt for America’s Stolen Secrets. USA: Berkley.
- Barrie Cassidy : The Party Thieves: The Real Story of the 2010 Election. Australia: Melbourne University Publishing.
- Martin Pearce : Spymaster: The Life of Britain’s Most Decorated Cold War Spy and Head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield. Transworld Digital.
- Andrew P Street : The Curious Story of Malcolm Turnbull, the Incredible Shrinking Man in the Top Hat. Australia: Allen & Unwin.
- Graham Freudenberg : A Certain Grandeur: Gough Whitlam’s Life in Politics. Australia:Macmillan.
- Tom Bower : The Perfect English Spy: Sir Dick White and the Secret War, 1935-90. UK: William Heinemann.
- David Bohm : On Dialogue. UK: Routledge
- Ben Kiernan : Burchett: Reporting the Other Side of the World. UK: Quartet Books.
- Wilfred Burchett : Passport: An Autobiography. Australia: Thomas Nelson.
- Robert Harris : Conclave. Cornerstone Digital.
- C. A. E. Moberly : Dulce Domun. George Moberly, His Family and Friends. UK: John Murray.
- Lucille Iremonger : The Ghosts of Versailles: Miss Moberly and Miss Jourdain and their Adventure. UK: Faber & Faber.
- Christopher Hollis : Along the Road to Frome. UK: George G. Harrap.
- Ed Balls : Speaking Out: Lessons in Life and Politics. Cornerstone Digital.
- Thomas Rid : Rise of the Machines: The Lost History of Cybernetics. UK: Scribe.
- Joshua Rubenstein : The Last Days of Stalin. USA: Yale University Press.
- Randolph Vigne : Liberals and Apartheid: A History of the Liberal Party of South Africa, 1953-68. UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Frank Dikotter : The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1862-1976. UK: Bloomsbury Publishing.
- Lafcadio Hearn : Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation. NY, USA: Macmillan.
- C. B. George : The Death of Rex Nhongo. Riverrun.
- Hannes Wessels : PK van der Byl: African Statesman. South Africa: 30 Degrees South Publishers.
- Alexander Nehamas : On Friendship. USA: Basic Books.
- Larry Tye : Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon. USA: Random House.
- Charles Cumming : A Divided Spy. USA: HarperCollins.
- Joseph Mazur : Fluke. Oneworld Publications.
Wilfred Burchett (1911-1983) was a brave and intrepid Australian journalist who mainly reported from the other side in the Cold War. He was the first western reporter to visit Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped on the city, something he did without permission from the US Occupation authorities, and was thus able to counter attempted US military lies and disinformation about what we now know was radiation poisoning; he did this most dramatically at a US military press conference in Japan immediately after his visit to the city. For many years in the 1950s and 1960s, conservative Australian Governments unjustly refused to renew Burchett’s Australian passport, something only remedied by the incoming Labor administration of Gough Whitlam on 6 December 1972, four days after Labor’s election win. That Burchett may possibly have self-censored his writing for his Socialist Bloc hosts (or worse, been their dupe) does not diminish the wrong he suffered at the hands of petty conservative Australian governments.
Another Australian journo, John Pilger, wrote a preface to a collection on articles about Burchett, edited by Ben Kiernen in 1986. On the second page of his preface, Pilger quotes from Burchett’s autiobiography, and then commits a schoolboy howler. “Soon afterwards [Pilger writes, page x], Wilfred went ‘on the road with a swag’ and in Queensland was adopted by a group of cane-cutters . . . ”
No, Mr Pilger, no! Although Burchett is careful not to name the location of the sugarcane farm he worked on, he says (page 62) it is on an arm of the Clarence River, upstream from a sugar-mill whose chimney effusions he could smell and possibly also see, on a large island bisected by a canal with horse-drawn barges transporting bundles of cut cane. The mill would be the one at Harwood (still in operation today, thanks to former state MP, Don Day), and the island most likely Palmers Island. Other large islands upstream of the Harwood Mill would be Harwood Island itself or Chatsworth Island, but these are not bisected by canals. But all of these, including the entire mouth of the Clarence River are in New South Wales, Mr Pilger, not Queensland.
Burchett is briefly mentioned as a social acquaintance of Guy Burgess in Moscow in the 1950s in the recent biography of Burgess by Andrew Lownie, reviewed here.
Wilfred Burchett : Passport: An Autobiography. Melbourne, Australia: Nelson.
Ben Kiernan (Editor) : Burchett Reporting the Other Side of the World 1939-1983. London, UK: Quartet.
How clever of Co-operatives UK, the association of British co-operatives, to design a logo that brings to mind the Cyrillic acronym of the USSR, CCCP. For leftists of a certain age, this would be a very positive allusion.
After the coup in Chile in 1973 which overthrew the democratically-elected administration of Salvador Allende (and which killed him and many others), the Eurocommunist left in Western Europe spoke of the need to have a grand “historic compromise” before entering Government: enjoining the centre and centre-right to support a coalition of national unity, so as to preclude, or at least inhibit, the right from undermining an elected government of the left. One of the ironies of history was that it was the left in government – the communist regimes of Eastern Europe – which were forced to forge such grand compromises, by conducting negotiations and sometimes forming coalitions (albeit, short-lived) with their non-communist opponents in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and even Zimbabwe.
I have just read the memoir of Michael Hayden, USAF General and former head of both NSA and CIA. The book is interesting and mostly well-written. It appears, as much as such a memoir could be, honest and truthful.
The torture of detainees undertaken by CIA personnel took place before Hayden was Director, so he could absolve himself of it completely. But, as he did while Director and subsequently, he defends strongly and bravely his CIA staff, who acted under what they believed were legal orders and within what they believed to be constitutional limits. This defence is admirable.
How one could imagine that torture would be legal under a constitution which prohibits cruel or unusual punishments remains one of the great mysteries of our age. Hayden, however, also defends the torture itself. He does so on grounds of effectiveness, grounds which are demonstrably, and which have repeatedly been demonstrated to be, spurious. It is no good Hayden, or any other official paid by the public purse, saying “trust me, I know”. We live in a democracy, and we need, we citizens ourselves, to see the evidence. It has not ever been provided, at least not definitively and uncontestably.
Such a defence is essentially that the end justifies the means. As a Roman Catholic, Hayden should appreciate the counter-argument that rebuts this defence: that certain means may vitiate, or irredeemably taint, the ends. So, even if using torture were to be more effective than not using it, we still should not use it. We should not because torture is contrary to our values as a humane, civilized, society, respectful of human dignity, and because using it undermines any claims we may have to moral superiority over our terrorist enemy.
Like players cheating in sports, support for torture shows what sort of person you are, and what values you consider important. Hayden seems like an intelligent, thoughtful, and humane person, so it is a great pity that he, and others in the Bush 43 administration, came to view torture as acceptable. Not everyone in CIA thought so, which was, indeed, how we citizens came to learn about the secret detention camps and the torture in the first place.
Michael V Hayden : Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror. New York: Penguin Press.
On 14 January 1965 in New York City, Bob Dylan recorded the song “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, and the single was released on 8 March 1965. The song includes the lines:
You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows.
The metaphor expressed in these lines was very influential. For instance, the main left-wing armed terrorist movement in the USA, formed in 1969, called itself Weatherman, or The Weathermen, later calling itself The Weather Underground.
Was the metaphor originally due to Dylan? We can answer NO to that question. On 18 March 1957, Time magazine reported on political events in Poland, where the ruling Polish United Workers Party had recently seen some liberalization of its earlier Stalinism (and the return to power of reformist communist Wladyslaw Gomulka), followed by something of a reversal back to hard-line policies. The Time article began:
There is usually one Communist who knows the way the wind is blowing long before the official weather vanes swing into line. In stormy Poland he is a longtime Stalinist timeserver named Jerzy Putrament. When Wladyslaw Gomulka broke with Moscow last October, Comrade Putrament was so enthusiastic in Gomulka’s support that Pravda publicly rebuked him for saying that he preferred “imperialist Coca-Cola to the best home-distilled vodka.” Last month Weatherman Putrament held up a moist forefinger and got the feel of a new breeze blowing through Poland.
Continue reading ‘Metaphorical weathermen’