We did it
David Lea reports the late Daphne Park’s claim that she ‘organised’ the murder of Patrice Lumumba in 1961 (Letters, 11 April). Getting Lumumba sidelined was certainly high on UK officials’ wish list. In July 1960 John Profumo, the Foreign Office minister, worried that the Congo would ‘become just the sort of African slum in which Communism would be most likely to take root’. Howard Smith, later head of MI5, considering solutions to the crisis, aired ‘the simple one of ensuring Lumumba’s removal from the scene by killing him’; another FO official, Alexander Ross, agreed that ‘there is much to be said for eliminating Lumumba.’ The foreign secretary, Alec Douglas-Home, agreed with Eisenhower in wishing that Lumumba ‘would fall into a river full of crocodiles’. Even so, British involvement seems unlikely, if only because no other evidence of it has emerged. Neither Larry Devlin, then CIA station chief in Leopoldville, nor the various Belgians who’ve testified since, have fingered Britain: surely these witnesses would have passed the buck to MI6 if they could have done.
Lumumba’s murder was a Belgian-Katangese job with US facilitation. In October 1960, without telling his government, King Baudouin gave the Katangese secessionist leader Moïse Tshombe the nod to take out Lumumba. The Belgians, with the CIA’s blessing, delivered Lumumba to his enemies in Katanga on 17 January 1961. He was flown to Elisabethville aboard a Belgian-piloted Sabena airliner and met on landing by Belgian gendarmes, who were joined at the killing site by Tshombe and other officials. Belgian officers commanded the Katangese firing-squads that shot Lumumba and two colleagues. The stakes for Nato included keeping Katanga’s mineral deposits – especially uranium – out of Soviet hands. Instead, they continued to be exploited by the Belgian firm, Union Minière.
As MI6 operative in Leopoldville, Park may have helped engineer the UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld’s death later in 1961. Documents unearthed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa implicate the CIA and British intelligence – including SOE, where Park served in the Second World War – in a plot to remove Hammarskjöld, who was flying to Ndola to broker a UN mandate inside Katanga. By then he had switched the UN’s stance from neutrality over secession to opposition. The British, still the colonial power across the border in Northern Rhodesia, where the UN leader’s plane crashed, wanted Tshombe’s regime as a buffer against expected Communist incursion in the Congo, as did Union Minière.
Since Lea was among those who called for the current UN inquiry into Hammarskjöld’s death he might also, in the interests of clarity, tell us what else Park told him: it’s hard to believe that he left the conversation at that.
A member of the House of Lords tells another, over a cup of tea, that she had organised an abduction and murder. Three years later her fellow member of this august body writes to the London Review of Books about it. How civilised.
As Jane Bowles’s biographer, I read Lidija Haas’s review of Jane Bowles’s Everything Is Nice with interest and admiration (LRB, 25 April). Haas quotes Jane’s husband, Paul Bowles, as saying I made my book about Jane a ‘tragedy’, not understanding that ‘the most important thing about Jane was her sense of humour.’
I first went to Tangier in 1977 to interview Paul about Jane’s life. She had died four years earlier in a convent hospital in Malaga, having deteriorated so that she couldn’t speak, or see, or hear. At the time he was still reluctant to talk to anyone about Jane, her last years having been so traumatic for him. However, for the next three years, he was extraordinarily helpful. I could not have asked for a more co-operative informant, devoted to my getting every detail as precisely as possible. When the biography was published in 1981 as A Little Original Sin, he sent me several letters telling me how good the work was and how faithfully I had told her life.
In 1993 I returned to Tangier, this time to write a book about Paul. The man I met now had a very different life from the one I had known in the 1970s. When I first went to see him, not one of his books was in print in the US. By 1993 he was internationally famous and was constantly visited by admirers. He was far more evasive than he had been when I was researching Jane’s biography. At one point in our discussion, I brought up the fact that he had recently been quoted in a magazine interview as criticising my biography of Jane for being too dark and spending too much time on her illness. That is true, he said. But Paul, I responded, the material that I included was a faithful representation of what you said to me. That’s true, he admitted. ‘But who wants to think about the past? Especially when it was so unhappy.’
Palo Alto, California
If the early roll outs of the benefit reforms were genuinely intended to test the success of the policy, as Ross McKibbin implies, the Department for Work and Pensions would conduct thorough trials lasting at least two years in a representative sample of localities (LRB, 25 April). As it is, the benefit cap is being tested first in four London boroughs, chosen because they share the same administrative centre in Stratford. This will enable civil servants to test their administrative systems, not to test the impact on benefit recipients. In fact, the DWP hasn’t even estimated the cumulative impact of all the welfare reforms on the people affected: the problem was too complex.
McKibbin also omitted to mention pensions. If the government were genuinely interested in reducing the welfare bill, it would have taken a serious look at them. In the last thirty years the welfare bill for working-age adults, unemployed or in work, has reduced as a proportion of GDP from 6.4 per cent in 1981 to 5.9 per cent in 2011. The bill for pensioners has risen in the same period from 3.8 per cent to 6.8 per cent. The causes are familiar: an ageing population, and the allocation of more generous benefits to reduce poverty in retirement. The protection of pensioners, more than anything, shows that the government’s aims have little to do with reducing the welfare bill, and everything to do with electoral calculations for the Conservative Party.
Gangs of Athens
Peter Green provides a masterful summary of the events around the defacement of the hermae in late fifth-century BC Athens (LRB, 25 April). But it’s a shame he doesn’t break ranks with those classicists who persist in translating hetaireia as ‘clubs’. There were many types of hetaireia, some primarily designed for mutual protection from legal charges, and others of a more sympotic nature. But from the beginning of the Peloponnesian War it seems that the members of hetaireia were increasingly young and likely to carry out acts of violence. At least, that’s the view of the middle-aged Thucydides. What seems certain, from the evidence Green surveys, is a tendency for these groups to express their identity through acts of sacrilege or aggression. Violence, it seems, was used as a way to prove loyalty to friends of the same age and social status. These young men were about to be sent off to fight, so creating tough little units among their peers would surely be of benefit, while allowing them to cock a snook at a society that was about to send to them to their deaths in Sicily. But it seems odd to me that these groups should be called ‘clubs’. If the hetaireia were composed of poor young men, and not of the sons of old aristocratic families, would they still be called ‘clubs’, or would they be called ‘gangs’?
Some of Hilary Mantel’s assertions about the two daughters of Henry VIII reiterate the conventional but increasingly suspect dichotomy between them (Letters, 11 April). Although an ambassador’s report did describe Mary as ‘not tall’, that does not endorse Mantel’s view of her as an ‘undergrown child’, and I am unaware of any evidence that does. Mary’s health, like that of most of her contemporaries, varied considerably, but from her own accounts her ailments were often due to seasonal allergies. The many ways that Mary was an admired ornament of Henry’s court were described by ambassadors at the time.
We know much less about the early years of Anne Boleyn’s daughter, but Mantel’s version of Elizabeth’s ‘glowing girlhood’ apparently ignores her consistent relegation to the status of the king’s least important child. Indeed, at one point he barred his younger daughter from his court and from communication with him for the better part of a year.
Afraid of the Nurses
Paul Taylor’s excellent account of the misuse of statistical data on mortality in Mid-Staffs conveys the concerns that critics of Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratios have been expressing for the last ten years (LRB, 11 April). In addition to the many difficulties in interpreting HSMR data that Taylor outlines, there is a mistaken assumption that any deaths in excess of the national average are due to poor care and thus avoidable. The few studies that have looked at this have found no relationship between HSMR and the proportion of avoidable deaths.
Taylor’s call for a more sophisticated – not to say, valid – approach to measuring the quality of hospitals is timely. The recent Nuffield Trust review for the secretary of state for health, Rating Providers for Quality: A Policy worth Pursuing?, recommended the use of an array of measures covering safety, clinical effectiveness and patient experience, in preference to a single measure such as the discredited ‘star ratings’ used by the NHS a few years ago. And a current review of 14 NHS trusts with high mortality ratios is considering not only a wide variety of statistical clinical data but also patient and staff opinion and visits by review teams (including clinicians and members of the public). The opportunity to develop a meaningful approach to assessing hospital quality is there. The issue is whether the government will accept that there is no simple answer.
School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1
Zionism came later
I was an American soldier in Occupied Germany after the Second World War. We GIs lived in a former SS barracks in Frankfurt am Main. We were comfortable and happy, free to loot the fine wine cellar the Nazi elite had stored in the basement. Our ‘shit work’ – cleaning toilets, sewing uniforms – was done mainly by Polish, Russian or Balkan Jews, some of them Displaced Persons from the murder camps, others tossed into western Germany by the chaos of war. Gerard Daniel Cohen, quoted by Sheila Fitzpatrick, is correct when he writes that ‘contrary to the collective invisibility and silence of Holocaust survivors elsewhere in Europe, Jewish DPs loudly asserted their identity’ (LRB, 11 April). The key word is ‘loudly’. On the whole we GIs preferred the compliant, smiling, deferential, defeated Germans to these spiky, sallow, sullen, often angry Jews who looked like ghosts from another world. German mothers offered their daughters to us in exchange for a bar of soap or Lucky Strike cigarettes (coin of the realm then). The DPs had to keep their lips zipped as we, their recent liberators, fraternised with the former enemy who had killed their families.
DPs I spoke to were desperate to get out of Europe’s ‘bloodlands’ and somehow make it to Mandate Palestine. They begged me to sell or smuggle them guns to take on their escape route to Bari and thence to the eastern Mediterranean. There was no talk from them of Zionism; that came later. These were people who, based on their experience with American soldiers who didn’t much like them, felt they had no choice.
I assume that Sheila Fitzpatrick is paraphrasing Gerard Daniel Cohen’s In War’s Wake: Europe’s Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order when she writes that ‘the “last million” DPs, who’d spent up to five years in DP camps throughout Germany, Austria and Italy, were finally dispatched to new homes in distant places.’ This suggests that most European DPs were taken care of by 1951. However, DP camps in England were still open in May 1955 when my family emigrated from Doddington Park in Cheshire to Niagara Falls. My father, now 90, estimates that there were still between four hundred and five hundred Poles in the two camps at the time we left.
Neil Mullin, himself a distinguished trial lawyer, has a point when he draws attention to the need for profitable libels to be adequately deterred (Letters, 25 April). But there is a real problem in allowing a plaintiff who has already been compensated for the insult and had his legal costs reimbursed to pocket a further large sum of money intended to punish the defendant.
The case for regulation, whether self-generated or externally imposed, is that it separates redress for the victim from punishment of the wrongdoer. The inadequacy of UK civil damages is another story. In a lecture published in the LRB of 8 June 2006 I pointed out that to receive as compensatory damages for personal injury the £25,000 which the court of appeal gave him in 1995 over an untrue story in the Sunday Mirror that he was on a weird diet for bulimia, Elton John would have had to lose an arm or a leg.
The value of regulatory fines is not only that they can make this kind of differential obsolete, but that a regulator can deter the sharks without intimidating the small fry. The American solution depends on lawyers taking large financial risks in exchange for a substantial share of a substantial award if, but only if, they win. No doubt it works there, but I doubt whether it would be useful here.
Anne Enright’s diary about smuggling books into Ireland reminded me of the trade in Berlin in the late 1960s (LRB, 21 March). It was rife, not so much for political reasons, as I recall, but economic ones. My German penpal was arrested and held for 36 hours for trying to take an art book to the East up his jumper. But then checks at Friedrichstrasse were always fierce. I was once made to separate the tissue from the silver paper around my cigarettes and, coming back with a few groschen in my pocket, was told they were ‘15 pfennig too many, my friend’ and had to give them up. But most of the trade went the other way because East German books could be very good indeed. Students would save their compulsory five Ostmark daily minimums in ‘banks’ with friends on the East side, then buy a decent book when they’d accumulated enough. This was the point of course, as far as the East German economy was concerned. One of the effects of all this was to make capitalism seem exotic. One night after a play an actor from the Deutsches Theater asked me if I could fill in a couple of London street names on his home-made Monopoly set.
Robertsbridge, East Sussex
He didn’t make her up
In an otherwise fair assessment of Enoch Powell’s career, Peter Clarke repeats the canard that the woman in Powell’s anecdote who had ‘excreta pushed through her letterbox’ remains, in Clarke’s words, ‘forever unidentified’, implying that Powell made her up (LRB, 7 March). In fact, Powell was protecting her identity, as he had promised her he would do. Her solicitors wrote to the Express and Star in April 1998 confirming her existence but declining to give out her name, on grounds of client confidentiality. Her name is now known to have been Druscilla Cotterill. She lived in Brighton Place, round the corner from Powell’s constituency home on Merridale Road. Her identity was disclosed on the Radio 4 programme Document in 2007 and a report followed in the Daily Mail.
The Slaves of São Tomé
Reading Toby Green’s account of Roger Casement’s visit to a coffee plantation in northern Angola in 1902, I was struck by the parallels with the memories of local people I met on the island of Principe in the late 1990s (LRB, 11 April). The Portuguese continued to exploit indentured labour (slaves, effectively) on cocoa plantations in São Tomé and Principe until the 1974 revolution, bringing in workers from Cabo Verde. At the end of the 20th century the abandoned infrastructure of the cocoa farms was still visible, and in the decaying villas of the plantation managers it was still possible to find, among the rotting fauteuils, pages of 1970s colonial newsletters reporting on the latest fashions in Lisbon and on punishments meted out to bolshie blacks. When the plantation managers fled, the São Tomé cocoa industry collapsed. The workers continue to live in the rows of slave cottages, eking out an existence as subsistence farmers, with return to Cabo Verde an unaffordable dream.