An oral history and remembrance of a great adventurer and friend.
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Vietnam? What was he doing there? He “became friends with Diem and flew around the country with him” — another untold story.
What took him to the Congo? He did tell a long story about that. “I predicted the arrest and execution of Patrice Lumumba two months before it happened,” Arnold told me. Then he told friends at the American embassy what he had heard and they said, “Gee, where did you get that?”
“My boys in the trade unions,” Arnold confided to me. “At that time the trade unions were the best-informed people, outside the real holders of the secrets.”
In Ghana? He went there to write something after Nkrumah’s overthrow, stopping off in Geneva to hear the trade-union angle. Arnold was given a villa in Accra vacated by the East Germans. Ghana at that stage “might just as well have been a Soviet province,” he said. The Soviet ambassador was known as the vice president.
“I loathed Nkrumah,” Arnold said. But he threw him a sidelong glance of sympathy because Nkrumah was naïve enough to believe all the batty things liberals were saying. “That’s a story in itself — the great discovery of Africa by American intellectuals.” I was looking forward to his tirade, but then he distracted me: “There are things I cannot talk about to this day, about how Nkrumah was ousted.”
“How was he?”
“Can’t talk about it. I am honor bound not to. And I simply will not.” Nor did he.
A NEW DEALER IN THE 1930s, Arnold was a Kennedy Democrat by 1960. Along with Meany, Arnold shows up with JFK in Berlin, and is offered the job of assistant secretary of labor. But he turned it down. “In government you have to keep your mouth shut and bow your head.” Daniel P. Moynihan accepted the job.
Later, Arnold became an honorary member of the Reactionaries Luncheon Club in London, along with Kingsley Amis, Colin Welch, Anthony Powell, Robert Conquest, and others. They met weekly at Bertorelli’s near Whitehall. Arnold was doing research for his Ph.D. — something to do with Tory politics. He lived in Chelsea. His surroundings were always stylish.
Meanwhile there had been a “messy” first marriage to a pianist, “trouble in splitsville,” and a mysterious walk-on role for Walter Winchell, the influential gossip columnist who knew something important about the divorce that Arnold refused to discuss.
Arnold regrets missing “the adventure” of World War II. He had learned to fly and had become a good friend of Herbert Dargue, the commander of Mitchel Field on Long Island. Arnold, then 28, wanted to join the Army Air Force and Dargue was smoothing over the age problem when he was killed in a plane crash. Then Arnold was turned down as a Marine combat correspondent. On the day he was drafted, a new regulation exempted men with two children, which by then he had.
Later he co-piloted a Cessna 310 across the Atlantic, New York to Brussels —a “terrific adventure for him,” said Carroll Beichman, his second wife. She was married to Arnold for almost 60 years and they lived mostly in British Columbia. “Flying small aircraft was a major passion for him and he did it whenever he could,” she said.
Arnold meant it about missing the “adventure” of war. What he really wanted was an adventurous life and he had one. He was shot at in Yemen, Algeria, and Vietnam. I regret his unwritten memoirs, which could have been told as pure adventures rather than as anti-Communist parry and thrust. But of course living them was enough, and making them as enjoyable to read as they were to listen to would have been difficult indeed.
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