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The Long Engagement: Memoirs of a Cold War Legend

de John Peet

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This is a memoir, written near the end of his life, by a Reuters journalist who defected to East Germany in 1950. John Peet was from an English Quaker family, and though not religious himself had a lifelong commitment to justice and equality. For him, this took the form of anti-fascism via Communism, and far from being a pacifist like his Quaker father (Hubert Peet) he briefly joined a Guards regiment, fought in the Spanish Civil War, and later joined the British police force in Palestine. (Except for the SCW, these joinings were for pragmatic not ideological reasons.)

I found the book riveting as he brought clarity, and much new information (to me) about the many conflicts involved in the second world war. His tone is engagingly modest, yet confident. He was well respected by Reuters for his factual accuracy, as they made clear after his defection. From East Germany he produced 'German Democratic Report' for many years, detailing conditions in that country and trying to correct the negative picture of socialism presented in the West. His particular concern was to demonstrate that denazification had been carried out much more determinedly in East than in West Germany, and that many former nazis were even allowed to rise to influential positions in West Germany. The economic stipulations of the Potsdam Agreement were also not carried out in West Germany - large firms continued to monopolise economic power as before the war, and militarily West Germany was re-positioned as a potential war front against the Eastern socialist states.

His account is not unbiased, but he was generally clear-sighted about Communism, too. Along with many fellow-travellers he was shocked and confused by the Stalin-Hitler Pact, and the Russian and Czech show trials. For a long time he mentally juggled the views that Stalin must know what he was doing, that new states make mistakes, and that "you can't make omelettes without breaking eggs". But he finally regretted the failure of East Germany to allow its people true expression, discussion and participation, asking "Where is the omelette?". He died shortly before East Germany collapsed, and though he had become aware of its failure he apparently did not see how soon the crisis would come. ( )
  Toastytoes | Aug 27, 2012 |
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