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The Congo

In response to:

Changing the Guard from the June 23, 1966 issue

To the Editors:

My interest has been particularly caught by a passage quoted in your review of Major-General H. T. Alexander’s book, African Tightrope: My Two Years as Nkrumah’s Chief-of-Staff (NYR, June 23) in which General Alexander describes my alleged refusal to talk direct to the Belgian representatives in the Congo in July 1960. This was certainly news to me, as it will doubtless also be, if they read it, to the then Belgian Ambassador in Léopoldville, Mr. Van den Bosch, with whom I met and spoke almost daily at that time principally with regard to the withdrawal of Belgian troops, and to the then Commander of the Belgian troops in the Congo, General Gheysen, with whom on 19 July 1960 I negotiated the details of the withdrawal of Belgian troops by stages, beginning with the Léopoldville area.

I mention this one point in the review only as a small but intriguing example of an all too familiar type of distortion which has been especially prevalent with regard to recent history in the Congo.

Ralph Bunche

United Nations

New York

Conor Cruise O’Brien replies:

The “point in the review” which Dr. Bunche complains of as “distortion” is a simple and accurate quotation of a passage in the book under review, General Alexander’s African Tightrope. In this passage General Alexander tells of a conversation with Dr. Bunche in the course of which—according to the General—Dr. Bunche said that “as the Belgians had no official status in the country he could not talk to them direct…” Dr. Bunche seeks to refute this testimony by showing that he did in fact talk direct to the Belgian Ambassador and the Belgian Commander. But what General Alexander reports is not the actual state of Dr. Bunche’s relations with the Belgians—a matter on which the General claims no direct knowledge—but what Dr. Bunche said to him on a particular occasion. Does Dr. Bunche deny that this conversation ever took place at all? If he does not deny it, what is his version of its substance?

I wish to add, parenthetically, that my review of General Alexander’s book contains two serious slips. In the third paragraph “fall of Alexander” should be “fall of Nkrumah.” In the last paragraph the reference to “forces outside the country” should be “forces inside the country.”

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