26 MAY 1939, Page 25


The Labyrinth of Europe. By Michael Burn. (Methuen. 12s. 6d.) "ALMOST anyone with a little intelligence and spare time who reads the newspapers can write a tolerable book on foreign affairs—almost anyone has." Thus Mr. Burn in the preface to The Labyrinth of Europe. Most reviewers of non-fictional books during the last twelve months would agree. The spate of articles, lectures and books on modern Europe has been overwhelming, and as long as the huge un- answered question-mark continues to hang over us and to dominate our conversations the spate will, I suppose, continue and be absorbed.

Part of the writing which has made this flood has had as its burden the shrill and oft-repeated phrase, "I told you so," combined with a kind of sulky pleasure on the part of its authors as they survey the general perplexity. Neither of the two books reviewed here is in this category, but they are two contrasting examples of the more readable and serious kind of literature on this subject. Major Yeats-Brown is moved by a genuine if somewhat hastily expressed passion to correct the misunderstandings which he believes to cloud our view of Europe. Mr. Burn, with fewer years, less first- hand experience and greater objectivity, is anxious to give us the detached observations of a clear head engaged for the last three years upon the foreign affairs of a London newspaper. Major Yeats-Brown's book is the more readable; Mr. Burn's the more—well, not serious, but cool-headed and reliable.

Major Yeats-Brown in European 7ungle has amongst many others one main object of attack, and let it be said at once that at least one reviewer wishes him well in it. There is a type of journalism in this country built upon pornography, sensationalism and mass inferiority complex which also con- cerns itself with the dissemination of political hate; this, under- and overstatement about foreign affairs, can have one object only—War. Tales of lust, murder and trivial absurdity —murdered blonde found naked in ditch ; plumber fails at spelling-bee—have always been saleable. Their sale only becomes generally dangerous when malice and hatred are thrown in with this particular pound of tea. It is against this kind of journalism that Major Yeats-Brown tilts ; and to convince or at least persuade those who are influenced by it that there is another side to the question is his object. Major Yeats-Brown is not an ordinary man. But it is the ordinary men (so grossly misled and deceived as he sees it) that he wishes for his audience. His genuine feeling, his persuasive style of writing and the absence of condescension in his manner should do much to gain their ear.

The world is not entirely made up out of ordinary men, however, and I am afraid that there are well-informed liberal writers, for some of whom Major Yeats-Brown has liking and respect, who will not let him get away with it easily if they have this book to review. Objecting as they do to the main argument of his defence of Fascism in Italy, Portugal and Germany, and of the new Spain, and to his fear of Com- munism, they will not concern themselves with the many good things which he has to say, but will concentrate on the errors of fact and judgement which he has committed in the speed in which his book has apparently been revised. However sincere and sound your general argument may be, it is foolish to expose it to attack if pedantry can discover in it mistakes or rash statements, no matter how small or unimportant to your main theme. Even on so minor a point as the mis- spelling of a name your opponent can build the suspicion that you don't know what you are talking about.

There are many who, while suspicious of the pontificating correspondence columns of The Times, would welcome a genuine and popular antidote to the mass of cant and malice with which so much of the propaganda of the lower Left is disfigured in this country. They will be the first to regret that in his anxiety to get his book before the public Major Yeats- Brown should have given so many handles to his antagonistic critics. It would be tedious to go into them in detail here. One may question his description of Lenin's paper, in which Stalin is mentioned, as a "testament," his loose generalisations about certain pre-Revolution and Revolution events in Russia, and we can safely leave the occasional small mistakes about names and people to the pedants. But it is difficult indeed 10 defend his inclusion in the list of world-wide Communist misdeeds of the burning of the Reichstag by Van der Lubbs and the protests against the hanging of Sacco and Vanzetti. It may be true that the Reichstag was destroyed by Com- munist machinations and that Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty. But, to say the least of it, these matters are still doubtful. And it is certain that most of the indignation about the Boston hanging was concerned with the real question in people's minds about the guilt of the two, and the inhuman suspense, lasting over a period of years, which they had to endure. While there is so much other evidence at hand about the international activity of Communism, it is a tactical error to drag in two such cases as these.

Having made these reservations, it only remains for one to praise the readability of Major Yeats-Brown's book and to assure those who already share his deeply held views about Spain, Germany, Italy and Russia that they will find here much to support them. Those who do not share need not fear any apoplectic fits from rage if they honestly read this book- " The Fascist mentality" of the popular view is entirely lacking in it. His is an interesting mind and a likeable one. He has travelled much, observed much, talked much and listened much. His accounts of what he has seen and heard, viewed always through his own intense preoccupation, are amongst the best parts of the book, and even the most opposed ought not to find them dull.

Mr. Burn's book is less argumentative and has fewer faults. It is written by an extremely well-informed young man in a slightly pompous style, but with remarkable balance of judge- ment. It again is directed at the ordinary man and also is an attempt to get him to clear his mind of cant—the cant in this case being the tendency to label himself unchangeably and ideologically Left or Right. It is more of a history book than a political tract ; a history of the present time and troubles viewed from the objective standpoint of someone at the nerve-centre of news in London rather than from the man on the spot. It is sometimes rather heavy going, but is none