Political Science Fantasy
Somewhere South of Suez.
by Douglas Reed.
Devin-Adair. 405 pp. $3.75.
Although Douglas Reed’s writings are represented as journalism, they will bear scrutiny only as fiction of a very weird and original sort. Reed writes in his latest book, “It is a feature of twentieth century politics that political forces advance by attacking what they most ardently practise, so that words mean always their opposite.” This belief is the secret of his inventiveness as a creator of political science-fantasy. His firm faith in the unreality of the world that he sees gives him an immense advantage in convincing himself of anything he wants to believe; consequently, whatever Reed’s fiction lacks in verisimilitude, it more than makes up in the audacity and extravagance of his inventions.
The piéce de résistance of Reed’s astounding statements is his theory that Hitler was (or is) a Zionist-Communist-terrorist agent, that he persecuted the Jews to stimulate immigration to Palestine, and that he invaded Russia only in order to strengthen Communism. Reed suspects that Hitler, accompanied by his accomplices Goebbels and Bormann, was whisked off from burning Berlin by Russian troops and rewarded for his services. Where Reed terminates his imaginings, we may go on to suppose that Hitler is now basking in the sun at some Black Sea resort or perhaps maintaining a painter’s studio in Tel Aviv. Incidentally, Reed does not, in Somewhere South of Suez or in the earlier book that states this theory, From Smoke to Smother, even mention Hitler’s slaughter of six million Jews; he may very likely believe that the Zionists deceived the soldiers of the Allied Nations with six million wax dummies.
At first glance Reed would seem to have come a long way from his anti-Nazi position of the 1930’s, but actually the seeds of his recent development have been present almost from the beginning. Only in his first book, The Burning of the Reichstag, did Reed suggest that Hitler’s oppression of the Jews was real. In his subsequent writings Reed faced the difficult task of combining his anti-Nazism, which seemed to be the ingenuous product of his observations in Germany, and his anti-Semitism, which he explained as a response to Jewish anti-Gentilism. He argued that the Jews were not suffering much under Hitler; he prophesied that all or most of them would soon be back in Germany, “neither annihilated nor exterminated . . . trading and practising”; he pointed to the Gentile anti-Nazis as the real victims of Hitler. In the late 30’s Reed adopted the cause of Otto Strasser, a former Nazi who promised that his repression of the Jews would be “more dignified” than Hitler’s. Strasser reduced political issues to a matter of personal rivalry between himself and Hitler; Reed reflects this attitude in Somewhere South of Suez, naming Strasser &; Hitler’s “chief adversary.” In a book written in defense of Strasser’s brand of Nazism, Nemesis? (1940), Reed set down his serious doubts about Hitler’s origin and his ultimate intentions. By the time From Smoke to Smother appeared (1948), Reed was certain that the world was menaced by a world conspiracy of Communists and Zionists and that the activities of these conspirators had been responsible for the German Illuminist societies, the French Revolution, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (in which Reed believes implicitly), Karl Marx, Bakunin, the Russian Revolution, the Balfour Declaration, and Hitler. In Somewhere South of Suez Reed adds the charge that these “alien forces” were “the real instigators” of the American Civil War. Their present aim, he maintains, is to destroy Christian civilization and to set up a pagan world state with headquarters in New York and Jerusalem.
Somewhere South of Suez is ostensibly a book about South Africa. In treating his nominal subject Reed exhibits his characteristic biases and confusions. Admitting the hardships of miners’ lives in Johannesburg, Reed maintains that the natives find themselves “aggrieved” only when foreign agitators tell them they are badly off. Unable to condone Premier Malan’s anti-British policy, he finds undue significance in the scantiest signs of Jewish support for Malan. And, of course, he finds traces of the world conspiracy in the unlikeliest places, even attributing to alien influences the ritual murders performed by Basuto witch-doctors: “That chiefs should lend themselves to a conspiracy to ruin chieftainship, and make the engulfment of this little country easier, need astonish none who have followed the doings of public men in the enlightened West during the last thirty years.” For Reed, it’s the same the whole world over; black is white, and white is black.
It need hardly be observed that Reed shows little concern for accuracy or consistency. Some of his obvious errors are disguised as revelations of secret truth. These misstatements include his reference to Ben Hecht as “a prominent Zionist,” his insistence on the alliance of Communism and Zionism (“two forces which have always supported each other”), and his declaration that the Stern Gang represents all of Zionism. Other faults of fact and logic are more easily answered. On one page Reed says that Smuts lost because he was considered pro-British; on another page it suits his argument to say that Smuts lost because he was considered radical. He charges that Harry Hopkins sent to the Russians “American State Department documents” which he got from General Groves, but he is, of course, unable to say how General Groves got into the State Department. He cites Stalin’s statement to Hopkins that Hitler and Goebbels were probably alive, recognizes how damaging it is to his own conjecture about Hitler’s escape, and finally implies that Stalin might not be in on the Communist world conspiracy: “His open expression of scepticism suggests that he was not privy to any preconcerted arrangement, if there was one.” Reed’s carelessness about mere facts extends even to his account of his own publications; he says that after Insanity Fair (1938), not one of his non-fiction books appeared in this country till Somewhere South of Suez. I have at hand a copy of Nemesis?, issued by Houghton Mifflin in 1940.