Left Field

Red Pawn: The Story of Noel Field

by Flora Lewis
Doubleday, 283 pp., $4.95

Noel Field was born in London in 1904. His father, a biologist and a Quaker, was American and his mother English. They moved to Zurich, and young Field grew up in Switzerland. He came to the United States at the age of eighteen after the First World War, went to Harvard and joined the Foreign Service in the Coolidge administration. He brought with him a naive and romantic idealism which the Depression and the rise of fascism set in a Communist mold. By the mid-Thirties his zeal attracted the attention of the Soviet intelligence apparatus. Field wanted to help the cause but had scruples about spying against his own government when he was on its payroll. He finally solved the ethical issue by leaving the State Department and joining the League of Nations secretariat. As Miss Lewis remarks, Field evidently thought that “as an international civil servant he would not have anyone to betray.”

In Europe, the Communist professionals do not seem to have taken Field seriously or to have made significant use of him, though he kept signaling that he wanted to do more. When the war began, he left the League and caught on with the Unitarian Service Committee, where he performed useful and courageous services for anti-Nazi (if especially Communist) refugees. Then Allen Dulles, chief of the Office of Strategic Services in Switzerland, decided to utilize Field’s contacts and knowledge for intelligence purposes. After the war, Field continued his work for the Unitarian Service Committee until the Boston elders finally tumbled to his pro-Communist operations and fired him. Field went on to Czechoslovakia, hoping to find an appropriate reward for his years of devotion.

He came at just the time when Stalin, in some last mad spasm of power, was beginning a campaign to destroy “unreliable elements” within the Communist party. Any Communist who had fought in Spain, spent the Second World War in Europe, or was otherwise contaminated by the West was suspect. Obviously no one could be more suspect than a man who had worked for Allen Dulles. I imagine that, in the super-McCarthyite mood of Moscow, a few Communists may even have persuaded themselves that Field actually was a master spy, though the leaders must have known better, or they would have shot him out of hand. Instead, they arrested him and later his wife, his brother, and his foster-daughter, as each began a search for him, and sent them all separately away for quite terrible years of confinement. And they used association with Noel Field, even association with the Unitarian Service Committee, as evidence of guilt in the purge trials of the time.

Field’s simple-mindedness was indestructible. He wrote in prison, “My accusers essentially have the same convictions that I do, they hate the same things and the same people I hate—the conscious enemies of socialism, the fascists, the renegades, the traiters. Given their belief in my guilt, I cannot blame them, I cannot but approve their detestation. That is the real horror…

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