European Diary

Si vis pacem

“All may have if they dare try a glorious life or grave.”  I saw those words—George Herbert’s, as it turned out—incised into the stonework of a church near Waterloo Station.  There was a little churchyard nearby, it was a warm spring afternoon, and I think I must have read those words over a thousand times.  Beats reading a newspaper, that’s for sure.

It could be an epitaph on the tomb of Europe, indeed of all Christian civilization.  A book fallen into my hands recently, a book published in 1941 and long forgotten, suggests that image with a vividness I find difficult to convey.  The author is one Virginia Cowles, an American journalist who, like Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway, and a vast number of less talented or distinguished useful idiots, made a dash for Spain when Stalin, unbeknownst to them, had decided to snatch it from under Hitler’s nose.  Like these benighted scribblers, Virginia knew little of the world beyond her own highly social and fashionable circle of acquaintance (it has been noted that she was the only correspondent to have spent the war years in high heels and full makeup), while her literary gifts, as far as I can judge, were in no way extraordinary.

And yet the book, entitled Looking for Trouble, has made a deep impression on me precisely because it is an innocent’s brush with reality, a debutante’s war...

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