The continuation of politics

What do Fantastic Mr. Fox, The BFG, Pan American Airways and James Bond have in common?

What do Fantastic Mr. Fox, The BFG, Pan American Airways and James Bond have in common? Celebrated children’s author Roald Dahl.

Before writing his popular children’s tales including the above and others such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, Dahl was an RAF pilot in World War II. Early in the war he was injured and reassigned to Washington, DC where he worked undercover as a spy for the British Security Coordination with James Bond creator Ian Fleming and famous philosopher Isaiah Berlin, all under the direction of the “Intrepid” William Stephenson. The mission was to get the Americans into the war. All the details can be read in The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington.

The Irregulars coverThe book focuses on only a handful of years in Dahl’s life, but much of its content involves the activities of those who surrounded Dahl in wartime Washington. There is an amazing breadth of characters, comparable only to the high stature it reaches with the likes of president Franklin D. Roosevelt, Henry Morgenthau, a young LBJ and writer Ernest Hemingway making appearances. Much of the story surrounds the eccentricities of vice president Henry Wallace and the problems they caused during the 1944 presidential election, and Dahl’s close relationship with Texas newspaper tycoon Charles E. Marsh. It is sometimes difficult to keep track of all the characters but the author, Jennet Conant, a magazine writer by trade, writes well and the story reads easily. Oftentimes it reads like one of the social gossip rags of the time, detailing the bawdy adventures of the moneyed movers and shakers of the political class in Washington.

A central issue in the book is the political battle over post-war air routes. The civilian air industry was a business taking off and companies like Pan Am wanted control over it. The negotiations involved many national representatives: some free marketers, some monopolists, some on the take. Be sure that the intelligence services had their hand in steering the negotiations to their own nations advantage. Dahl, as a pilot himself, was assigned to keep track of elite Washington opinion on the civilian aviation problem, and report back to the Crown.

It is amazing to think that such negotiations were taking place in the middle of a war that no one was sure when it would end. This book does an excellent job of showing us the kinds of things that were happening in the shadow of the war. Oftentimes, people think that when war begins — especially total war — everything else stops. Clausewitz warned that this was mistaken, and The Irregulars superbly illustrates: politics never stops, not even for war.

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
This entry was posted in General and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The continuation of politics

  1. Curzon says:

    I’m amazed at the curious biographies and life stories of famous children authors. I recently found out through the Tokyo Reporter blog author “Captain Japan” that Shel Silverstein appeared on the cover of one of the first “Man’s Guides to Japan” (1968). If I recall correctly, he was a marine on base in Japan at the time and a somewhat pioneering member of the Roppongi scene. It gives a whole new meaning to The Giving Tree.

  2. I got this book from Amazon Vine some months ago. I tried to get into it, but just wasn’t absorbed, and never finished it. It’s sad, cause it was a subject I was very interested in.

  3. Younghusband says:

    I was drowned in the names. Maybe if I was a post-war American scholar I could follow along better. But I listened to the audiobook, which is much easier to flow through than text I think.