The Blast of War 1939-45
Macmillan: A Study in Ambiguity
The second volume of Macmillan’s memoirs is somewhat less rich than was Winds of Change in those haunting, missing-step constructions which are his peculiar contribution to English prose, and perhaps are due to his place in English history. Yet the master has not lost his special touch; rarely but unforgettably the surface of this bland narrative is rippled by some dark pike-like intimation of another life in the depths; a parallel, unspoken, and possibly unspeakable monologue. Words like “indeed,” “in spite of,” and “nevertheless” are for him like Auden’s crack in the tea-cup, opening a lane to the land of the dead.
[Chamberlain] chose as its head [shipping] an amiable and aging politician, Sir John Gilmour, who indeed died a few months later.
The Finns, in spite of their national sympathy with the West, had been shocked and offended by Hitler.
Nevertheless, his [Roosevelt’s] death was a great shock. He had ruled for so long an America which was first a friendly neutral and then a loyal ally that it seemed the end of an era.
Sometimes he achieves much the same effect by omission, leaving out for example an “although,” which a writer more simply committed to his declared opinions would have been likely to find necessary:
In Albania, where our officers had organized a strong and loyal resistance movement with pro-Allied views and anti-Communist sentiments, the situation steadily worsened.
Mr. Macmillan’s famous “unflappability” which served him so well for so long—and never served him better than during the distinguished war service recorded in the present volume—seems to derive from the faintly inhuman quality that helped to make him a first-rate diplomatist and a sedative Prime Minister. It is mainly as a diplomatist that we see him in The Blast of War. As Minister of State at Allied Force Headquarters in Algiers in 1943 Mr. Macmillan helped to ease the difficult transition from Giraud to De Gaulle: from a Giraud with initially very strong American backing to a De Gaulle with rather shaky and testy British backing. In retrospect it seems a remarkable feat, and a momentous one. Had the Anglo-Saxon allies agreed to jettison De Gaulle—as well they might, had they been able to foresee the 1960s—a France liberated by them and Giraud might have extended the realities of Vichy into the postwar era, with the sole difference of being subordinate to the United States instead of Germany. That this was avoided is due mainly to the resourceful intransigence of De Gaulle; in part to the stupidity and complacency of Giraud, but in part also to the cool diplomacy of Harold Macmillan.
Too detached to be irritated by De Gaulle or sentimental about Giraud—the Anglo-Saxon attitudes then prevailing—he never lost sight of the fact that De Gaulle was the more useful of the two, so far as his potential contribution to Allied victory was concerned. Where someone emotionally committed to De Gaulle could only have antagonized the Americans …