An oral history and remembrance of a great adventurer and friend.
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Intensely competitive, Arnold was admitted (in 1930) mainly on the basis of one interview. He was reading the newspapers cover to cover and was ready for all the questions. He knew details of the 1922 Washington Disarmament Conference and who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (William E. Borah).
He became the editor of the Columbia Spectator and came away with a few lifelong lessons, even if he still hadn’t graduated (because he hadn’t really studied). He returned to Columbia in 1963 and not only graduated but stayed on and ended up with a PhD at the age of 60.
One lesson from Columbia: Don’t suppress the truth for some higher cause. When fraternity boys threw swastikas down from a balcony onto a Jewish dance in 1933, rabbis told him: don’t print it. “It was the old business of keep it quiet.” Later, when he was working for a New York newspaper, PM, Irish Catholics physically attacked Jews in Dorchester, in Boston. Publicity would only lead to pogroms, Arnold was told, but he ignored the advice and it became a national story. “But not a line came out about it in any Boston paper, because Cardinal O’Connell was the power.”
With the rise of Hitler and Stalin, “politics became a duty.” And here came Arnold’s first run-in with the Communists.
The Communists at Columbia went by the name of the Social Problems Club. In 1933 the Nazi ambassador, Hans Luther, was slated to speak. They asked me to write an editorial opposing that. But I supported his appearance on the grounds of academic freedom. The new Soviet ambassador, Litvinov, had been given a platform. They said, well, Luther represents a gangster government. So I said, “Well, whom does Litvinov represent, if not a gangster government?” They were horrified. How could I suggest that the Soviet Union was a gangster government?
The next day his editorial attacked the Social Problems Club and advocated equal treatment for the ambassadors. (Arnold added, in one of his instant asides, that when FDR established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce threw a big celebratory party at the Waldorf Astoria.)
That was the first of many skirmishes with the Communists. What Arnold soon learned was that if you shared power with them in any enterprise or forum, they would inevitably take over the whole show. Rather than partner, you would become their fundraiser.
How come? How to account for their passionate intensity and ability to dominate? “Organization,” he told me, but it was one of the rare times when his answer disappointed. Whittaker Chambers addresses the issue of Communist zeal in Witness. (Chambers went to Columbia, earlier, but he and Arnold never met.)
In great detail Arnold described many of his encounters with the Communists in the 1930s and '40s. He gave me the impression that he was able to oppose their intensity with a comparable level of drive and energy. He got on “very badly” with I. F. Stone at the New York Post, and for PM he witnessed the execution of Louis “Lepke” Buchalter at Sing Sing (“horrifying”).
I BECAME GOOD FRIENDS with Arnold in 1986, when we went on a two-week tour of the Soviet Union organized by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. All the hard work of travel was done for us by Rev. Moon’s very helpful assistants, and we had a wonderful time.
They organized several such trips. The irony was that their goal was to get journalists — rightly suspected of being “soft on Communism” — to see it firsthand. Of course, mainstream journalists refused all such invitations, so the church was reduced to bringing along people already anti-Communist, among them Beichman, who knew the story of Communist perfidy maybe better than anyone in the United States. In fact, his anti-Communism was so well known that the Soviets had never allowed him into the country. It was a good opportunity to observe him close up.
In Leningrad — today it is once again St. Petersburg — some of us decided to go by Metro to the center of the city.
“I just realized,” Beichman said on the train, “all these people are Communists.” We looked around us with renewed curiosity. “I’ve spent all this time criticizing the Soviet Union and I’m beginning to worry that nothing iniquitous is happening.” The people were law-abiding, no guns to their heads, going home to wives and children, some with packages and books in their laps.
Beichman said that his reaction was obviously shared by many travelers to the Soviet Union. Seeing little to fear they decide that anti-Communists are paranoid and perhaps go on peace marches when they return home.
“I think Gorbachev knew what he was doing when he let us in,” Beichman said.
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