Thursday, January 12, 2017

Inadvertent aid and comfort.... John Birch Society founder Robert Welch and Senator Joe McCarthy comes from an unlikely source, Noel Riley Fitch's biography of Julia Child, Appetite for Life  Now I read the book first of all because it was my mother's, and second of all because it's interesting to learn how a former intelligence agent became the queen of high end cooking in this country, and what made her tick.

And in reality, that's the most interesting part of the book.  We learn that she, like her family, was not particularly big on church (she walked away altogether after college), that she was active in the repeal of Prohibition (and knew the local speakeasies well), and that she was politically liberal to the point of offering the same defenses for abortion that you'll hear today, including the argument that a syphilitic prostitute is a typical mother seeking an abortion.

But that aside, we also learn a lot about today's intelligence services and the State Department from her experience in India and China.  Fitch (Child) presents a picture of an OSS with quite a bit of wild parties and promiscuity, and also one where those involved generally had a far more positive view of Mao than of Kai-shek, even to the point of not knowing or caring that Mao was getting supplies and guidance from the Soviet Union.

A key passage for me--and I am not a Bircher--was in Fitch's (Child's, presumably) view of the death of John Birch.  Fitch (Child) describes him incorrectly as "the son of" fundamentalist Baptist missionaries in China--his parents were in fact Presbyterian missionaries in India, and he was the Baptist missionary in China.  Moreover, his death is described as due to arguing with Communists--but they were theoretically allies at the time.  Hence, the fact that Birch died was indeed (per Welch and McCarthy) that the Communists were not really our allies, but an opponent that happened to have the same enemy for a while.

In other words, Fitch (and Child) show why Welch founded the JBS, and why Joe McCarthy launched his investigations of the State Department and other institutions; the pattern of missing obvious information was too obvious to consider random.  Come to think of it, as one of our 17 intelligence services seems to have fallen hook, line, and sinker for nonsense allegations against Donald Trump, we might guess that the exact same dynamic is at work today as was working in the OSS in 1943.  It is, once again, time to take a serious look at the culture of our intelligence and diplomatic agencies, and see what's blinding them.

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