14 FEBRUARY 1970, Page 19

Morality tale


The Trial of Dr Spock Jessica Mitford (Mac- donald 30s)

Dr Spock and four less well-known figures deeply believed, and no doubt still believe, that the United States is engaged in an illegal war in Vietnam; that she is so engaged in breach of her treaties and that she is con- ducting the war in an illegal manner. Therefore, young men who turn in their call- up papers or resist the draft cannot be in- fringing the us law which requires them to serve in the Armed forces. Dr Spock and the others virtually invited the authorities to arrest them in the hope that the legality of the war could be tested in a court of law.

The invitation was accepted by the Justice Department and the Boston five, as they came to be known, stood trial for conspiring to counsel, aid and abet potential conscripts to evade service in the armed forces. Dr Spock and three of the others were found guilty, but the fifth was unaccountably ac- quitted by a Boston jury after a trial which, to say the least, fell considerably short of even modest standards of justice.

This was in fact a skirmish in the war between authority and dissent, between Creon and Antigone, and Jessica Mitford has written what amounts to a war pamphlet hot from the front line. She is the indignant correspondent who has seen atrocities com- mitted. Unlike Sophocles, she sees nothing to be said for Creon's view that the city's laws have to be obeyed even by his own future daughter-in-law: for Miss Mitford the enemy has no virtues. This is a morality tale in black and white with Dr Spock genial, kindly, led astray by the lawyers; General Hershey, the American conscription chief, cast in the role of unmitigated villain; and the prosecutors closely resembling Perry Mason's unsympathetic district attorney. In fact 'on my right the state—cunning, ruthless and well-organised; on my left the civil disobeyers—bumbling, decent and in disarray'.

All of which forfeits the sympathy of any reader who is not already committed to Dr Spock's views on the Vietnam war and on what to do about it. Nonetheless, Miss Mit- ford, the evangelical who expected so much from the law and saw it fall from grace. has a way of gripping one with the clarity of her anger. If law and order is to be the theme of the year in this country, Miss Mitford's book is essential reading. It fairly warns us that Antigone may break the rules but Creon is always expected to observe them, rum coelton.