Monday, December 28, 2009

Thanks for the propaganda!

True fans were probably well aware, but I had no idea that we have the British effort to pull America fully into World War 2 to thank for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. After being grounded as an RAF pilot thanks to injuries, he was sent to the embassy in DC where he eventually joined a group that sought to clamp down isolationist and anti-British sentiment in the USA. In her book the Irregulars, Jennet Conat details his adventures.

He came into writing due to boredom and a lucky encounter. CS Forester approached him to jot down some notes so that Forester could write an article about his RAF life. Not thrilled with his party circuit lifestyle, he wrote an entire article instead. Forester loved it and helped it get published. Soon, Dahl was working with Disney on stories about gremlins and his writing career was launched.

It wasn't all writing though. He worked with other spies (they preferred the term agent) like Ian Fleming and the legendary William Stephenson (known as the Man Called Intrepid). He formed a relationship with the Roosevelts and an intimate one with the married Clare Booth Luce, who used her position in Congress and her husbands Life magazine to push for a Pacific rather than a European focus. The dashing Dahl was ordered to sleep with Luce, the better to influence her.

I haven't finished the book, but I like how it both delights with little tales and that it educates with important reminders. For example, Britain and the United States were intensely close at this period, but even still they had crucial policy differences, because they had different interests. There is a sense today that we are not allowed to disagree with an ally like Israel, even when our interests are increasingly divergent.

I also like how the book shows how dis-united American public opinion was on how to conduct the war. If there was any war that you would think people would get behind it was this one, but even then there was intense disagreement.

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