The most terrible war in human history was in many ways very good to Time Inc. Its magazines had never been more popular. Time’s circulation exceeded a million copies a week by the end of 1942, and Life’s was approaching four million, making the company, according to Eric Hodgins, “the largest publisher of news on a national scale.” And despite paper shortages that limited the size of the magazines, advertising revenue remained strong. The March of Time newsreels were shown in more than eleven thousand theaters, and the weekly March of Time radio broadcasts had an audience of nearly eight million. Time Inc.’s profits were the highest in the company’s history—over ten million dollars a year even after steep wartime taxes. Its expenses were growing as well. The company’s News Bureau, modest until the late 1930s, now maintained bureaus in almost every major city in the United States. Where it was possible to do so, it opened bureaus around the globe as well: London, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Moscow, India, Turkey, Egypt, South Africa, Switzerland, and China. The reporting staff—more than a hundred full-time correspondents and many more parttime employees and stringers—was one of the largest of any news organization in the world, and the comprehensiveness of war coverage in the magazines was one of the reasons for their great success. The company generated additional goodwill through its distribution of 750,000 copies of Time and 650,000 copies of Life free to American troops abroad through a special “Air Express Edition,” copies that were passed around to so many servicemen, according to one Time correspondent, that they literally fell apart. More than 60 percent of soldiers and sailors named Life their favorite magazine. Time Inc., through its March of Time division, also produced training films and publications for the military and worked hard in other ways to show its commitment to the war effort.1
The war also had personal benefits for Luce. His own profile and influence, and even his own popularity, rose significantly. A poll commissioned by the company early in the war found that more than 80 percent of those who had an opinion viewed him favorably. Perhaps more important, the war gave Luce a new sense of purpose. He was, of course, committed to chronicling the conflict and contributing to what he considered America’s inevitable victory. But his larger mission was now to envision a postwar world that would remedy the failures that followed World War I. This war, he believed, must lead the world toward a stable and lasting peace and guide the nation into a position of global leadership. By early 1943 he had already created a Post War Committee within his company, with a full staff of editors and researchers committed to examining “the foreign and domestic post-war problems of the U.S…. post-war relations with Britain and the post-war problems of the Far East.”2
The key to the great success of Luce’s magazines in wartime was their almost total commitment to chronicling and, when appropriate, celebrating the war. Time, of course, covered the war week by week, battle by battle, and controversy by controversy in its usual disciplined, cocksure manner. Life, on the other hand, turned the war into a great visual story and significantly expanded its pool of photographers and graphic artists to make that possible. It was, it seemed, fulfilling at last its mission as a picture magazine—flooding its pages with powerful images of what was arguably the most important event in history.
Life’s remarkable popularity in wartime was also a result of the great interest Americans had in the progress of the war, the magazine’s surefooted presentation of exceptional photography, and its effectiveness in tapping into the complicated interests and emotions of its readers. Life’s first issue after Pearl Harbor featured a large, black “WAR” in four-inch letters at the top of the first page, in effect announcing the momentousness of the event. Its 1945 VJ Day coda was the famous Eisentaedt photograph of a sailor embracing a young woman in Times Square, evoking the unrestrained joy of the return of peace. Life sought throughout to convey the “human feel and reality” of the war, and to promote its own view of its importance. Life was also determinedly optimistic. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a “desperate gamble” by Tokyo, the magazine insisted. Finding itself in a “hopeless corner,” Japan was saying in effect: “If this be hara-kiri, make the most of it.” Americans, on the other hand, “took the news, good and bad, with admirable serenity…. Ideologically the nation was united as it had never been at any other military crisis in all history.” Life was simultaneously the scourge of the Axis, the champion of the armed forces, and the cheerleader of the American people. It was also a guide to America’s future. The magazine’s photography, Luce predicted, would help “make the activities of normal life more interesting and dramatic” and would after the war help the nation “overcome a general aspect of cynicism and distrust…. We must show how we rebuild a Western Civilization.”3
For Time too the war was a transformative event. The magazine more than doubled its circulation between the invasion of Poland in 1939 and the end of the war in 1945. If Life was consistently named America’s most “popular” magazine, opinion surveys almost always named Time the nation’s most “important.” It was, the editors boasted, “the magazine to which something like half the important people in America are turning for help in understanding the promise and the problems of our time.”
Even its critics appeared to agree, if not about its wisdom then at least about its power. “The moral we draw [from reading Time] is that we had better be acutely aware of what goes on in its pages,” a highly skeptical article in the liberal Catholic magazine America warned in 1944. Otherwise readers might inadvertently find themselves influenced by the “higher sophistry” of the Luce organization. Edmund Wilson offered an ominous warning that the “considerable value” of Time’s summaries of the news masked “the ineptitude and the cynicism of the mentality” behind the reportage. He urged Luce and his colleagues “to try to give some value and point” to what he considered the magazine’s banal opinions. Paul Herzog, chair of the New York State Labor Relations Board, worried about “the power [the Luce] magazines could wield in influencing public opinion for [their] own selfish ends.”
Luce, of course, strenuously and consistently denied any such intention. But he did not deny the presence of opinions—often strong ones—in his magazines. Time, he once argued, should be “a continuing seminar in how to develop the Good Society in the U.S.,” because America’s success in that effort, “morally and in every other way, is involved, favorably and unfavorably, with man’s fate everywhere.” In presenting the news, he noted in 1944, “there should be well-chosen villains and (much harder) well-chosen heroes.” There was, in short, a narrative running through Timeduring the war—the obvious narrative of the course of battle and the more subtle one of “how America should or should not seek to influence its world environment.”4
As much as he was preoccupied by the war, and as much as he feared its possible outcomes, Luce also saw the conflict as a great opportunity to reimagine America and the world, and to use his magazines to chart a glorious future. He bombarded his editors with expressions of high purpose. He complained about the “spotty and haphazard” editing of the magazines and pushed for consistent “brilliance.” He continually reorganized his editorial staffs and, in the spring of 1944, moved Billings from his longtime position as editor of Life to a new position: “Editorial Director of all TIME INC. Publications.” Billings wielded considerable power in his new position, particularly during the long periods in which Luce was away. But Luce was careful to make clear that he retained final authority over all editorial decisions, and his stream of memos to editors continued unabated throughout the war. (So did Billings’s private complaints of Luce’s constant interference.) “Our publications have been outstanding, and often pioneers, in showing to Americans what American life is like,” Luce told his editors in 1943. “We must continue this job … [and] we must seek a somewhat greater degree of self-conscious criticism and appreciation of life as we find it. And some accent of enthusiasm must be put on what we find right in American mores.” That meant attention to “the family as an institution” and “education … to instill moral notions into the young.” Should “little boys and girls,” he asked, “be taught to be patriotic?” What would be the “technological possibilities of the Future”? How could the magazines do a “much more vigorous job of pointing to the importance of the beautiful”? The war might be the principal task facing the nation, but the war also created an opportunity to reject the “iconoclasm” of the 1920s and the pessimism and despair of the 1930s and instead to embrace remaking America as a nobler and more admirable society. The great story of America in the war years, Luce believed, was not the battlefield but the story of individuals—“of human chances and mischances, of man’s mores, prejudices, foibles, failings, of his extraordinary behavior which completes the picture of man as a living creature.”5
Luce’s hopeful and slightly sentimental assessment of the nation, and his optimistic view of the war and its aftermath, could not disguise a significant and deliberate change in his magazines. They were becoming ever more opinionated and partisan. Strong views were not new to the Luce publications, of course. But for nearly twenty years the expressions of “prejudice” in the magazines had mostly taken the form of what might be called “attitude.” Although there had been no shortage of opinion in Time in earlier years, there had also rarely been a clear or consistent political message. Luce had been reasonably content with being both outspoken and largely apolitical until the Willkie campaign of 1940, which drew him for the first time deeply into a political cause. In the aftermath of Willkie’s defeat, he worried that he had become inappropriately partisan and insisted that he would draw back. But his resolve did not last for long.
Luce’s insistence that he, and he alone, must shape the positions of his magazines grew stronger during the months before Pearl Harbor. And once the United States entered the war, his determination to control content reached a new level. “Time Inc. does have policies and is not at all ashamed of having them or of what they are,” he wrote testily after hearing that one of his bureau chiefs had said that there was no “central policy-maker” in the company. “The chief editorial policymaker for Time Inc. is Henry R. Luce—and that is no secret which we attempt to conceal from the outside world.” The reality, of course, was not quite consistent with Luce’s lofty claim. At the same time that he was asserting his dominance, his company was becoming larger and more decentralized; and he was becoming more and more remote from the actual writing and editing of his magazines. Much of his staff disagreed with Luce on many issues; most of them made no effort to shape their stories to match the views of the editor in chief. Luce was often unaware—at least until after publication—of what was going into his magazines.
His growing inability to control the content of his publications only increased his frustration, and his insistence on the centrality of his own role. There were periodic eruptions, as when Luce gave the managing editor of Time “blistering hell” for an editorial comment with which he disagreed. The editors did not have the right, he insisted, to present “an interpretation at variance with the views of the Editor-in-Chief.” When the publisher of Time reported in 1944 that the magazine’s coverage of the presidential campaign had not revealed a preference for either candidate, Luce responded caustically that “his verdict will be a real comfort to those who think the political convictions of TIME’s Editor should be completely obscured in TIME.” He complained repeatedly of “the embarrassment of continually finding myself to be the little man who wasn’t there.” At other times he strutted his views across memos and letters, railing at “our goddamned neutrality” and insisting that “there is no longer in TIME INC., I trust, even any lingering hangover for the nonsense that TIME became (sometime after its birth) immaculately immune from prejudice and innocent of conviction.”6
Luce’s growing insistence on turning the magazines into ideologically reliable vehicles led to a series of controversies both within the company and with the larger world. In October 1942 Russell Davenport—whom Luce had asked to write editorials for Life—published what he called an “Open Letter” in which he criticized the British government for its failure to move more quickly to launch a cross-Channel invasion. The reaction in London was savage, not only because of Davenport’s blunt and undiplomatic language but also because some officials in London believed it to be part of an orchestrated effort to affect American strategy. Davenport, of course, was closely associated with both Willkie and Luce, and such an editorial in Life seemed to many English readers to be an attempted power play by these three influential men and their many allies. Some believed, inaccurately, that it was the beginning of an effort by Luce to position himself to run for president.
Because Franklin Roosevelt also sharply criticized the editorial, the furor in Washington and England became so intense so quickly that within days Luce (who in fact agreed with Davenport and had charged him with writing exactly the kind of opinionated essays that this editorial represented) felt he had to write a kind of “open letter” of his own to mollify his British critics. He distanced himself from the Davenport editorial, which, he insisted, “I did not write, did not cause to be written,” and which he criticized for “not having said what we meant as clearly as we should have.” (The disclaimer was the beginning of a deep and ultimately permanent rift between Luce and Davenport, who had done no more than what Luce had asked of him.) Luce penitently recommitted himself to “Anglo-American cooperation” and insisted that he had no intention of calling for “the break up” of the British Empire (a cause that the British government and press correctly suspected Luce privately supported). His statement cooled the controversy but did not eliminate suspicions about his real motives in running the piece. Nor did it represent any significant retreat from the increasingly polemical quality of his publications.7
A much greater series of controversies emerged over Time’s coverage of Stalin and the Soviet Union during the war. The Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 generated strong criticism of Stalin in the United States and Western Europe, and the Luce magazines were far from alone in denouncing the Soviet regime. In June 1941, however, Germany invaded Russia, making the Soviet Union suddenly an ally of Britain, France, China, and—after December 7—the United States. The attitude of Americans toward Stalin and the USSR quickly and dramatically changed. To many Americans, including many correspondents and editors at Time Inc., Russia was no longer a dark and menacing tyranny but a gallant and courageous ally. For some people Stalin the despot evolved into the genial “Uncle Joe,” a transformation much facilitated by the American media, which played a large role in smoothing over the rough edges of the Soviet Union. A 1943 Hollywood film, Mission to Moscow, portrayed U.S. ambassador to Russia, Joseph Davies, working to strengthen the USSR-U.S. alliance, while minimizing and rationalizing Stalin’s murderous purges. But it was only one of the many efforts to transform a brutal dictatorship into a democratic ally. Even the Luce magazines were remarkably calm about the U.S.-Soviet alliance in the first years of the war—until a brilliant, troubled, eccentric man entered Luce’s life and helped change his own, and his magazines’, view of the world.
Whittaker Chambers joined the staff of Time Inc. in 1939 as a book reviewer for one hundred dollars a week. “It was the first real job I had ever held,” he wrote in his memoir. “I have always insisted that I was hired because I began a review of a war book with the line: ‘One bomby day in June.’” Except for his uncanny affinity for Time style, he could hardly have been more incompatible with the slick, confident, Ivy League culture of Luce’s company. The son of a graphic artist for the New York World, he grew up in a slovenly house in a modest Long Island suburb and attended public schools, wearing his father’s ill-fitting cast-off clothes. In the fall of 1920 he entered Columbia College, where he enjoyed a brief success as an undergraduate literary celebrity and became friendly with some of the most brilliant undergraduates of his time (among them the future literary critic Lionel Trilling and the future art critic Meyer Schapiro). But he soon wearied of the college and left without graduating. In 1924 he joined the Communist Party of the United States. Through most of the next fourteen years, he served the Party first as a writer and editor on the Daily Worker and the New Masses, and then, beginning in 1932, as an agent of Soviet military intelligence. For five years he lived in the murky underground of espionage, using assumed names, moving constantly from one address to another, and learning to trust almost no one. In 1937 he left the party—a dangerous step for a former agent. Chambers feared (not without reason) that his former Communist colleagues might assassinate him as they had other defectors, and he took elaborate precautions to obscure his whereabouts and his movements. He also developed a ferocious hatred of Communism and the Soviet Union, a true passion that drove almost everything he said and wrote. Communism, he believed, was a form of fascism—just as repugnant and just as dangerous as Nazism.8
Chambers had been writing in Time for almost a year before Luce noticed him. But in February 1940 he read Chambers’s review of the John Ford film The Grapes of Wrath. Chambers had hated the Steinbeck novel on which the movie was based. He considered it crude left-wing “agitprop.” But he praised Ford for creating “perhaps the best movie ever made from a so-so book.” The film had, he wrote,
purged the picture of the editorial rash that blotched the Steinbeck book. Cleared of excrescences, the residue is the great human story which made thousands of people, who damned the novel’s phony conclusions, read it. It is the saga of an authentic U.S. farming family who lose their land. They wander, they suffer, but they endure. They are never quite defeated, and their survival is itself a triumph.
Luce read it, walked into a staff meeting, and asked who had written what he called “the best cinema review ever in Time.” From then on he paid close attention to what this shambling, disheveled, and strangely secretive man wrote and said.9
The result was a period in Time Inc.’s history that became known within the company as the “Chambers War.” It began slowly with complaints from colleagues about his reviews—reviews that were intelligent, well written, and savagely anti-Communist. Chambers was particularly vicious in writing about the work of left-leaning intellectuals. A year after Luce’s first encounter with Chambers, he put him in charge of the entire “back of the book”—the culture section of Time that covered books, film, theater, and the arts. The obsessive, hardworking Chambers soon found himself, in effect, writing the entire section alone, sometimes spending the night on the couch in his office. As his influence grew, so did the anger among many of his colleagues about what they considered his ideological rigidity and polemicism. In a January 1941 Time essay, “The Revolt of the Intellectuals,” he took on Communists and left-leaning intellectuals, without drawing any significant distinction between them. Former Communist Party member and literary critic Granville Hicks and the sentimental liberal Archibald MacLeish received the same withering portrayals as arrogant elitists contemptuous of the ordinary people they claimed to champion. “Dolefully they clumped together in circles like the New Republic and the Nation,” Chambers wrote. “Substituting a good deal of intellectual inbreeding for organic contact with U.S. life, they developed a curious provincialism…. From this it was but a step to supporting the Communist Party.” He had a special animus toward the literary critic Malcolm Cowley, a former but not particularly repentant Communist, and seldom missed an opportunity to denounce him. In early 1942 he launched an especially damaging attack on Cowley—who had recently joined the wartime government propaganda agency, the Office of Facts and Figures—with a scathing review of Cowley’s new book of poetry, The Dry Season. (Oddly, the review appeared not in the Book section but in National Affairs.) Chambers combined dismissive condescension (“a sound, minor poetic talent”) with ridicule of Cowley’s romantic allusions to workers and activists. And he noted, maliciously, that “Congressman Martin Dies recently charged Cowley with having had ‘seventy-two connections … with the Communist Party and its front organizations.’” Shortly afterward Cowley was forced to resign from the government.10
Chambers’s real ambition, however, was to write for the Foreign News section of Time—to have an opportunity to explain the world to what he considered to be an uninformed and naive readership. He had auditioned for a position in Foreign News shortly after he arrived at Time, but his heavy-handed anti-Communism soured Manfred Gottfried, who urged him to be more moderate in his judgments. Chambers, Gottfried recalled, looked at him with wry contempt, as if to suggest that Gottfried and his colleagues were “innocents.” Through much of the war Time’s coverage of the Soviet Union was—to Chambers’s considerable dismay—consistently restrained and at times admiring. But Luce’s view of the Soviet Union, never warm, cooled considerably as the war neared its end and Soviet intentions in Eastern Europe began to seem more ominous. Two other editors—John Chamberlain at Life and the Austrian refugee Willi Schlamm at Fortune—also complained frequently to him about Time’s sunny coverage of Russia. But it was Chambers who was the most consistent and persuasive critic. And when John Osborne, the Foreign News editor for the previous several years, decided to spend several months in Europe covering the war, Luce—to the surprise of almost all his colleagues—named Chambers the interim editor. Chambers wasted no time in establishing a new tone in foreign reporting: harshly anti-Communist and filled with forebodings about the future of Eastern Europe, which he believed (correctly) would become part of the Soviet empire. But what made his articles both powerful and, to his critics, infuriating, was the disdainful wit with which he presented his views. “Russia needed freedom from the fear of invasion,” he wrote caustically in August, suggesting the thinking of Stalin himself,
a cordon sanitaire, in reverse, on its western frontiers. Henceforth, from the Arctic Ocean to the Adriatic Sea, there must be a chain of governments friendly to Russia. Why not? That was the short-range goal. The long view? In ten, in 20 years—the powerful, prosperous U.S.S.R. might convert the whole world by its example. That was cheaper than revolution or conquest. Time and power would tell.11
The furor within the Time staff at Chambers’s appointment as foreign editor only grew as the content of Foreign News became more and more intensely anti-Communist. “My views were well known and detested with a ferocity that I did not believe possible until I was at grips with it,” he wrote in his memoir. One of his critics on the editorial staff wrote Luce to complain that “I read the incoming cables and I am amazed to see how they are either misinterpreted, left unprinted or weaseled around to one man’s way of thinking.” Chambers’s bias, he added, “confuses, irritates, frustrates our correspondents.” John Hersey later described a Chambers article as “written with bias and … filled with unjustified implications.” But Chambers stood his ground. It was “self-evident,” he argued, that the Soviet Union “was a calculating enemy making use of World War II to prepare for World War III.” His battle within Time, he insisted, was “a struggle to decide whether a million Americans more or less were going to be given the facts about Soviet aggression, or whether those facts were going to be suppressed, distorted, sugared or perverted into the exact opposite of their true meaning.” The controversy grew much fiercer when Luce asked Osborne to remain in Europe and named Chambers his permanent successor.
By the end of 1944 the hostility toward Chambers had become so intense and so widespread that Luce ordered Billings to survey the views of the magazine’s foreign correspondents—all of whom responded with lacerating criticism of Chambers’s “editorial bias.” But Luce was by now a true believer, and he ignored the opinions that he himself had solicited. “The posture of events in January 1945,” he wrote in a memo to his staff, “seems to have confirmed Editor Chambers about as fully as a news-editor is ever confirmed.” A few days later, breezily dismissing the continuing furor, he wrote Chambers that “Foreign News is, once again, by far the best reading in the issue. And it’s all good.”12
As if to flaunt his newly confirmed power, Chambers set out to write one of the most unusual—and controversial—articles ever to appear in Time. It was, unsurprisingly, a discourse on Communism, designed to challenge and even ridicule what he considered the naive optimism among many Americans about Stalin’s intentions. But the article was not a work of reportage or even a conventional essay. He described it as a “political fairy tale,” and he overcame substantial resistance from his colleagues before T. S. Matthews finally agreed to run it (with Luce’s reluctant consent, and on the condition that Chambers eliminate a few particularly inflammatory passages). Published shortly after the conclusion of the meetings of Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt at Yalta in early 1945, it described an eerie visit to the conference by the ghosts of Czar Nicholas II and his family, who landed (“with the softness of bats”) on the roof of the former imperial palace in which the meetings were taking place. They had come, Chambers suggested, because far from being appalled by Stalin (whose predecessors had ordered their deaths), they were fascinated by his ambition and his accomplishments. “What statesmanship! What vision! What power!” the czar exclaimed. “We have known nothing like it since my ancestor, Peter the Great…. Stalin has made Russia great again!” That was why “the greatest statesmen in the world” had come to Yalta to meet with him. “Greater than Rurik [a ninth-century imperialistic Russian chieftain], greater than Peter! … Stalin embodies the international social revolution. That is the mighty, new device of power politics which he has developed for blowing up other countries from within.” Chambers, the disillusioned Communist, portrayed Stalin not as an ideologue or a revolutionary but as the same kind of cynical power seeker who had created most of the tyrannies in human history. Nicholas, he imagined, admired Stalin because Stalin had succeeded at accumulating the great power that Nicholas had only aspired to achieve.13
“To most of my colleagues,” Chambers later wrote, “‘The Ghosts on the Roof’ was a culminating shocker. Feeling ran so high against it, the general malevolence swelled into my office so fiercely, that again I closed my door,” as protection from an office hubbub that sounded “like the night of a lynching bee.” Although he liked to describe himself as a kind of stoic in the face of criticism, the hostility Chambers encountered took its toll, particularly on his already precarious health. In the fall of 1945 he began to suffer severe chest pains. Once, he later recorded, “I blacked out on the train.” Chambers himself blamed his frailty on the pressures of the job. The animus of his colleagues had, he believed, forced him to write virtually the entire Foreign News section himself. “I had no choice,” he insisted: “Once more, a working day without sleep became my standard practice.” (He did not mention that amid the pressures of work, he also became hugely overweight and addicted to coffee.)
Chambers knew he had to leave the office to recover, and he offered to resign from Time. Matthews suggested that he stay on the payroll but return to writing book reviews—from home, at least during his convalescence. John Osborne returned to edit Foreign News, but only on the condition that Chambers not succeed him again. Luce, who did not think Chambers would ever regain his health, agreed. When Chambers did rebound a few weeks later, he discovered that the door to the Foreign News editorship was now closed. “I should like to come back at once,” he wrote plaintively to Luce. “I do not want to come back to Time to edit Books…. I want to edit FN.” But in the end Chambers had no choice. For the rest of his years at Time, he wrote for the Culture section and took on special projects, including a number of important cover stories Luce sent his way. He worked mostly from home. He remained to Luce one of the best editors and writers he had ever employed.14
Luce’s mounting concern about the Soviet Union (significantly intensified by Chambers) paled in comparison with his concern about China. His 1941 visit had reawakened a passion for his birthplace that had been largely dormant for many years and had introduced him to a leader—Chiang Kai-shek—whom he passionately admired. Still, he retained at least some skepticism about the viability of the Kuomintang and its military effort for several years after Pearl Harbor.
That skepticism was occasionally visible in the magazines themselves, which for a while after Pearl Harbor continued to report reasonably accurately on the travails of the Chinese military and the failings of the Chiang regime. That was largely because of the success of Teddy White in maintaining a warm relationship with Luce while slowly and cautiously building a case against Chiang Kai-shek. White’s stature within the New York offices was such that his dispatches—although despised and ignored by Chambers—shaped the views of many other editors well into 1944, especially in the new International section, which allowed dispatches unacceptable to Chambers to appear in the magazine. Time ran one of those dispatches more or less verbatim in March 1943 and even gave White an almost unprecedented byline. It provided a harrowing description of a famine in Honan Province and an oblique but unmistakable condemnation of the failings and “tremendous miscalculations” of the government. He closed with a harsh description of a banquet given for him by local political officials, juxtaposed against a cannibalism trial in progress against a woman who had allegedly “eaten her little girl” after she had died of hunger. On his return to Chungking, White sent to New York an account of his subsequent visit to Chiang Kai-shek, who refused to believe his description of Honan until presented with photographs of the famine. “The Generalissimo has one simple remedy for that sort of graft,” White noted, “… stand them against the wall.” The country, he concluded, “is dying before my eyes.” He was even more pessimistic when he returned briefly to New York in the spring of 1944. “Evidently China is going to pieces politically—and trying to suppress the news,” Billings wrote in his diary after a lunch with White. “The Soong family is crooked.” Luce himself talked with his staff about China’s “terrible internal condition and the possibility of its collapse.”15
Not long after White’s piece appeared, Luce reluctantly agreed to publish a major article in Life by the novelist Pearl Buck. Like Luce a child of Chinese missionaries, Buck had a lifelong attachment to the country and its future. She was an ardent anti-Communist and a longtime admirer of Chiang. But she too was beginning to despair of the ability of the Kuomintang either to win the war or to create a stable China. “I do not want to be found guilty of misleading the American people,” Luce wrote his colleagues when he agreed to let the piece run. Buck warned that the Chiang regime was riddled with corruption, was suppressing free speech, and was marginalizing officials who recognized the problems. “We are in the process of throwing away a nation of people who could and would save democracy with us but who if we do not help them will be compelled to lose it because they are being lost themselves.” A year later Luce agreed to let Life run another major Teddy White story that provided one of the harshest indictments of the Chiang regime yet published anywhere. Chiang, White argued, “was doomed unless he could be shocked into reform by America.” His government, White claimed, combined “the worst features of Tammany Hall and the Spanish Inquisition.” White was elated when the article actually appeared mostly intact. Luce wrote to him shortly afterward that “You have written undoubtedly the most important article about China in many years—perhaps ever.” White wrote back: “I was told you would never let anyone publish anything like the things I wanted to say,” he wrote Luce. “I was scared as Hell, Harry, at what I thought would be an inevitable clash between my convictions and your policy.” Only weeks later, when White was back in China, he would discover that these fears were more than justified.16
As early as the summer of 1943, Luce had been gently chiding White for his increasing pessimism. “Last winter there was some feeling here that, on balance, we were giving a too favorable view of China.” But after the publication of some of White’s more controversial pieces and of Pearl Buck’s story in Life, he said, “we have pretty thoroughly discharged our obligations to print the bad with the good about China…. The plain fact, the great fact, the glorious fact is that China stands…. I think you can justifiably be more concerned to look for the facts which explain China’s strength than to look for the elements of weakness.” The Life story on Chiang clearly did not meet that standard. And while Luce had agreed to publish the piece, and had even praised it, he also wrote at length about White’s failure to recognize the obstacles to Chiang’s success and the remarkable fact of his survival. “I guess the hard tack I want to get down to is that we Americans are not in a very good position to tell China how she should integrate herself in a manner agreeable to us until we have integrated a little of our own ‘democratic’ might and majesty in a manner somewhat more beneficial to China.” White’s response—an impassioned nine-page letter about conditions in Chungking—expressed none of the optimism that Luce was advocating. To White the “great political fact” of China was not what Luce saw as its glorious survival but its growing internal chaos. “The Chinese peasantry turned on their own army and fought against it on the side of the invader!” he wrote. The people had developed “great contempt” for the army and for the government it served. “Even within the Kuomintang there is a bitterness that is completely new.” He had, he added, “been chided many times by Lt. General Stilwell for the lush and unrealistic tone of all American public writing on China and its war effort.”17
Joseph Stilwell, the American military commander in China, was a harsh critic of Chiang Kai-shek and his government. Known to many as “Vinegar Joe” for his tart, blunt manner, he had developed a great love for China over several decades and had fought gallantly in the first years of the American war in the Pacific to open up a supply route from India to China—known as the Burma Road—after the Japanese had cut China off from the sea. By 1944, however, he had become appalled by what he considered the incompetence and corruption of the Kuomintang. He was particularly critical of the government’s apparent unwillingness actually to fight the Japanese. Chiang—whom the dyspeptic Stilwell called the “Peanut” in conversation and in some of his official dispatches—was, the general believed, more interested in holding on to power and isolating his Chinese Communist rivals than in winning the war. Stilwell’s contempt for Chiang was no secret to the American military or to White, who came to rely on the general for information about the war that the Chungking government was often reluctant to provide. As the feud between Stilwell and Chiang grew increasingly bitter, White found himself siding more often than not with Stilwell. He was shattered in the fall of 1944 when Franklin Roosevelt recalled the general from China after Chiang had balked at the American demand that Stilwell take command of Chinese forces. (From the day of Pearl Harbor, Stilwell told White at the time of his dismissal, “this ignorant son of a bitch has never wanted to fight Japan.”) At Luce’s request White prepared material for a cover story on Stilwell’s recall for Time. In it he made clear that he shared Stilwell’s contempt for Chiang (whom he was now describing as a “man of almost appalling ignorance”). “Stilwell was relieved,” he wrote in his memo to Luce, “because of Chiang’s embittered opposition to him; Chiang’s opposition sprang from the fact that he could no longer tolerate within his own country a group of men whose standards of honesty, efficiency and responsibility were so strikingly at variance with his own apparatus…. Chiang has outlived his historical usefulness.” Nothing White might have written could have been more certain to enrage Luce, and the cover story on Stilwell that actually appeared in Time on November 13, 1944, made clear how great the rift between them had become.18
The article, written mostly by Whittaker Chambers, was relatively kind to Stilwell himself. It blamed the Roosevelt administration, not the general, for giving Chiang an ultimatum that “no self-respecting head of state could countenance.” But Chambers made little reference to White’s dispatches (which Chambers boasted he routinely dropped in the wastebasket without reading). The story as published was not about the war against Japan but about what Chambers considered the much more important war against the Chinese Communists. “Stripped to the bare facts,” Timeproclaimed, the “situation was that Chungking, a dictatorship ruling high-handedly in order to safeguard the last vestiges of democratic principles in China, was engaged in an undeclared war with Yenan [the headquarters of the Communist forces], a dictatorship whose purpose was the spread of totalitarian Communism in China.” The piece continued with a gratuitous attack on “the tone long taken by leftists and echoed by liberals” in supporting Stilwell. And it concluded with a dark warning:
If Chiang Kai-shek were compelled to collaborate with Yenan on Yenan’s terms, or if he were forced to lift his military blockade of the Chinese Communist area, a Communist China might soon replace Chungking. And unlike Chungking, a Communist China (with its 450 million people) would turn to Russia (with its 200 million people) rather than to the U.S. (with its 130 million) as an international collaborator.19
White heard nothing about the Stilwell piece until well after it had appeared in Time, and then only through scattered quotations from it that were broadcast over several Chinese (and Japanese) radio stations. But what he heard alarmed him, and he cabled Luce desperately. If the radio reports were true, he wrote, “I shall probably have to resign as I have no other way of preserving my integrity.” “Keep your shirt on until you have full text of Stilwell cover story,” Luce wired back dismissively. “Then roll up your sleeves and cable us what you regard as specific inaccuracies.” But by now it was already too late for agreement between them on the Stilwell piece—or on almost anything else related to China. Both men had moved too far from their earlier, more compatible stances.
Luce continued to believe that Chiang “may have greater influence than any other single human being of our age,” and he was determined to defend him on almost all points regardless of circumstances. His enthusiasm was stoked further by the sensational visit of Mme. Chiang Kai-shek to the United States in 1943, a visit Luce helped organize (with the help of David Selznick) to raise money for United China Relief. (Her public appearances across the country, Time wrote gushingly, had created “more effect than anything which has yet happened, in giving one great people the kind of understanding of another great people that is the first need of a shrinking, hopeful world.”) White—unimpressed by the Generalissimo and Mme. Chiang both—was convinced that Chiang was a hopeless failure and an insuperable obstacle to victory.
The outcome of this disagreement was, of course, foreordained. “I do not think it becomes you to get angry if for once your editor does not instantly follow your instructions,” Luce wrote coldly. His colleagues attempted to soften the tone of Luce’s cables to White, but Luce was in no mood for conciliation. “Having for many years been for Chiang,” he wrote to one of his colleagues, “White is now against him. Suppose our London correspondent was actually against Churchill or Moscow against Stalin.” White responded with a thirty-page critique of the Stilwell piece, repeating his threat to resign from Time, to which Luce responded vaguely that “you will receive a statement of China policy as clear as cable discretion permits.”
At about the same time, in what was perhaps a reckless effort to challenge Luce (and Chambers) directly, he sent a long dispatch reporting on the Communists in Yenan in mostly glowing terms. Where Chiang was corrupt and inept, the Communists, he claimed, were disciplined and committed. They had “an empirical wisdom that comes of ten years of civil war and seven years of anti-Japanese war. Within themselves they are trying to weed out the sins of intellectual dogmatism … [they] proclaim their friendship with America…. [T]hey are sincere and if reciprocated the friendship can become lasting.” Time editors ignored his memos. White, now almost frantic, wrote Tom Matthews: “Our columns on China ever since the publication of the Stilwell cover, have been indistinguishable from the official propaganda of the Kuomintang party.”20
White was far from alone in finding fault with Time’s uncritical view of Chiang. “You glorify Chiang Kai-shek,” one of many outraged readers wrote. “All competent observers seem to agree that Chiang has about as much respect for democracy as Hitler or Mussolini.” The journalist Richard Watts, stationed in China during the war, wrote in the New Republic that Time Inc., in its “policy toward the Kuomintang Party … abandons its lofty scorn for wide-eyed admiration.” In February 1945 Luce—aware of the growing controversy—asked one of his researchers in China to explore reactions to the magazine’s recent coverage. “Although the Stillwell [sic] cover on TIME … did not lack for readers,” she wrote, “they certainly lacked for defenders…. A very large segment of the U.S. Army stationed from Delhi to Chungking operate on the theory that the Chinese government is composed of thieves and cutthroats.” And the reporters in Chungking, she noted, “feel Teddy was sold down the river, should have made his resignation stick.” Luce circulated the memo among his colleagues in New York—and entirely rejected its findings. “For myself,” he wrote them, “I have not the slightest doubt that our policy has been right.”21
Through the remaining months of World War II, Luce never wavered in his steadfast support of Chiang. He rarely allowed even faint criticisms of the Kuomintang to appear in his magazines. His 1943 comment on Pearl Buck’s Life article—that there was “a very real question whether Pearl’s article would not do much more harm than good”—suggested even then how far he was moving toward using the news for his own purposes. Reporting the truth was taking a backseat to doing “good” for the causes he believed in, and it was not long before this stance shattered his relationship with White. “Luce in a dither about Teddy White’s ‘partisanship’ against Chiang,” Billings wrote in his diary in August 1945, “—and he wrote him a stern cable.” It was stern indeed. “I suggest you make supreme personal effort to give us nonpartisan news of Chiang in what we hope will be week of victory,” Luce wrote caustically as Time prepared another cover story on Chiang Kai-shek (which White opposed). “We realize this might be an unreasonable request in view [of] your avowed partisanship.”22
White hung on in Chungking through the end of the war, unable to get any material into the magazine that even hinted at the weakness of the Kuomintang. He began to focus instead on local-color stories and the fighting itself, and he remained in China to cover the Japanese surrender in August 1945. A few weeks later he was back in New York, hoping for a rapprochement with Luce. (“I would have done anything I could to keep or regain his affection,” he recalled in his memoir.) He took a leave of several months to write a book—Thunder Out of China, coauthored with his colleague and friend Annalee Jacoby. In the spring of 1946 he sent a copy of the manuscript to Luce “as a courtesy,” still hoping for some sign of approval. But the book, as White himself described it, was the story of “the inevitable collapse of Chiang Kai-shek.” Neither friendship nor persuasion could have prevented Luce from feeling angry about, and even betrayed by, its contents. A few weeks later White presented himself at Time Inc. to request a new assignment. Luce was “terribly angry,” called him an “ingrate,” and lumped him together with another of his “disloyal” star writers, John Hersey, whose remarkable account of the bombing of Hiroshima had recently appeared not in the Luce publications but in The New Yorker. Luce gave White an ultimatum: Remain at Time Inc. with a willingness to accept any job assigned to him, no matter how menial, or leave the company. White protested that he would be of no value to Luce except as a foreign correspondent. He wanted to go to Moscow. But to Luce the issue was loyalty, not utility. (“We must resist the tendency to think of Time Inc. as a plum pudding from which everyone is concerned only to extract the plums of his choice,” he wrote in a bitter memo shortly after the confrontation.) On July 12, 1946, White informed Luce’s deputy, Charles Wertenbaker, that he “could not continue on Luce’s terms.” Unknown to White, Luce had already told Wertenbaker that “the bases of a satisfactory deal do not exist” (a euphemism for dismissal). White left the building no longer an employee of Time Inc.
The friendship between Luce and White, and its bitter unraveling, was the product less of their differences than of their similarities. Both men were somewhat disingenuous during their disputes in 1944 and 1945, because neither really aspired to “objective” or “nonpartisan” reporting. They saw journalism as a form of advocacy; and as their opinions diverged, their relationship inevitably frayed and ultimately collapsed precisely because they both had passionate views that they believed needed to be expressed. For White the termination of his job at Time Inc. was simply a small interruption in a brilliant career. A few days after leaving the company, he learned that his book was a selection of the then-mighty Book-of-the-Month Club. He was, for the time being, financially secure. And for the next four decades he successfully continued to combine brilliant reportage with his own deeply held opinions. For Luce the breach with White not only destroyed an important friendship but marked another significant step away from his willingness to tolerate a diversity of views within his organization.23
It was not only Russia and China that drew Luce more deeply into battle. His concerns extended to American politics and the state of the world. The nation’s entry into the war, far from calming Luce’s fears, had launched him into a period of ideological and political crusading far more fervent and dogmatic than during any earlier period of his life. The hard certainty of his own views—about how to fight the war, about how to plan for peace, and about who should lead the nation—made him increasingly vocal, both in his own public statements and in what he demanded of his magazines.
Among other things the war years intensified Luce’s already strong dislike of Franklin Roosevelt. His contempt for the president was based in part on Luce’s assessment of Roosevelt as a man without conviction or principle, unreliable and frequently dishonest, unfit for the great moral project that Luce believed the war demanded. He was not alone in finding Roosevelt frustratingly evasive. Even the president’s own aides and allies understood that he confided fully in no one and that he was a fundamentally political man despite his occasional flights of idealism. But most of those who knew Roosevelt well recognized the great strengths of his political nature and believed that he was moving the nation in the right direction, even if not always boldly. Luce had no such faith in the president’s aims, and he was constantly incensed by what he considered the administration’s failure to move forcefully and clearly enough into the fray. At least equally important was his deep personal dislike of Roosevelt—a dislike that was clearly mutual.
The feud between Roosevelt and Time Inc. picked up in January 1942 almost exactly where it had left off the previous December, with a new dispute over the coverage of Latin America. A story in Life, published shortly after Pearl Harbor, made an erroneous reference to a “U.S. [Air] Field” in Brazil. A few weeks later a Time article entitled a story on a Pan-American Congress in Rio de Janeiro as a “Big Roundup” and referred to “corralling the 21 American republics into a homogeneous herd.” The Brazilian and Chilean governments both protested, and Roosevelt once again lashed out. “Honestly I think that something has got to be done about Luce and his papers…. What to do about this attitude, which is definitely unpatriotic in that it is harmful to the U.S. to a very great degree.” Even some of Roosevelt’s aides were surprised at the strength of the president’s anger, and they worked to calm him down. Stephen Early, the president’s press secretary, told him that, “in all fairness,” Luce had received approval from both the American and the Brazilian governments for the material in question. The editors at Time also argued about how to respond. Eric Hodgins urged his colleagues to use more “sedate language” in describing South American affairs, but Manfred Gottfried, Time’s managing editor, snapped back that they should “tell F.D.R. to go jump in the Potomac … the hell with sedate language!”24
Days later George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, summoned Luce to Washington and (as Billings recorded Luce’s account) “gave him and the company the devil, just on general principles…. Marshall raked up all the past grievances—and warned that the Luce papers must behave themselves.” Everyone assumed that it was Roosevelt who had ordered up the “verbal caning.” Several weeks later the president continued to fume about the “Luce papers” and ordered Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles to file a “formal protest with Mr. Luce” on all articles “which in any way hurt the Good Neighbor policy with Latin America or tend to promote disunity among any of the United Nations…. In other words, it is time to build up a complete case.” Welles, like Early, tried to assure Roosevelt that Luce was being cooperative, but to little avail.25
Luce was enough of a realist to understand that a public fight with the president in wartime was not in his own or his company’s interest. But like the president, his hatred continued to burst to the surface time and again, even though, also like the president, he faced constant efforts by his staff to keep him calm. “A session in Larsen’s office … on Luce’s anti-Roosevelt attitude,” Billings wrote early in 1942. “You can’t fight the Prex. Of the U.S. in wartime and expect to win.” But Luce would not be deterred. Although he grudgingly permitted favorable coverage of Roosevelt by reporters and editors who admired the president, he pushed continually for more negative portrayals: “Do you realize what it means to have the President of the U.S. treated as a ‘battleship’ …?” he told his editors in 1943. “Nothing is doing more to create a misunderstanding between the U.S. and other peoples than the exported adulation of F.D.R. The notion that F.D.R. is adored by all Americans (except a few evil millionaires) is not only a dangerous lie; it is also just a plain lie.” He did not restrict his complaints to his own staff. He wrote testily to other journalists about their attitude toward the president. “Has Ray Clapper bowed down to the doctrine of the Indispensable Man or Men?” he asked the prominent columnist. “Are we hereafter helpless without Fuhrers singular or plural?”26
But Luce’s hatred of Roosevelt was not just political. It was also intensely personal, and nothing stoked his resentment more effectively than the president’s decision to bar him from traveling abroad during wartime. Roosevelt was careful to announce the ban as a matter of general principle: “On account of the extreme stringency of transportation, credentials at present are not being issued … to publishers, editors, and executives who wish to make visits to combat areas.” Roosevelt’s dislike of publishers was long-standing and well founded, and the new policy had the advantage of barring many people he disliked from traveling and finding new ways to criticize him. He was certainly as eager to keep the rabidly anti-Roosevelt publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Col. Robert R. McCormick, from traveling to the war zones as he was to bar Luce. But the ban, which was announced just as Luce was applying for permission to travel to China, was primarily directed at him—as Secretary of War Henry Stimson, unhappily saddled with the job of explaining the ban to him, privately confirmed in his diary: “It arose apparently out of the White House’s rumpus with Luce.” For almost three years he battled to have the restrictions lifted. “I am not, to be sure, a regular correspondent,” Luce wrote Army Chief of Staff Marshall, whom Roosevelt had asked to enforce the ban. “But I take personal responsibility for reporting the war to upward of 20,000,000 Americans…. Surely it should not seem odd or unreasonable that I should have an occasional opportunity to visit the fighting fronts.” The relatively reasonable tone of his imploring letters to Washington only occasionally revealed how distraught and angry he was. “It is, I am sure, unnecessary to point out to you how painful this situation has been for me personally,” he wrote Marshall at one low moment. To others he spoke privately about what he considered a “deliberate insult,” an act of “petty retribution,” and an example of “vindictive and arbitrary power.” Eventually the White House gave him permission to visit England, using the pretext that Britain was not technically a theater of war. But the ban on traveling elsewhere remained in place until after Roosevelt’s death.27
If Roosevelt believed that barring Luce from the war zones would limit his ability to attack the administration, he was badly mistaken. Had Luce been allowed to travel, he would likely have spent much of his time visiting battlefields, writing enthusiastically about the American military, and serving as a cheerleader for the war. But stuck in New York, he was led by his anger at Roosevelt and his own frustration at being isolated from the most important event of his lifetime into a sullen period of hard-edged partisanship.
He insisted that the president had “fumbled the crisis.” He expressed contempt for “the idea that Roosevelt alone did his job with anything more than average courage or average efficiency.” The president’s consistent “deceit” was something that “even my tin-lined stomach can’t quite digest.” The administration was “tired and stale in seventeen symptoms.” Roosevelt exhibited a “capacity for cheapening the finer traditions of America.” Luce wrote particularly harshly about the emerging consensus that Roosevelt had been a skillful steward of foreign policy leading up to the war. On the contrary, Luce charged, the president “was in the 1930’s the high priest of the isolationist-pacifism of that decade.” Claims to the contrary were the result of “successful, almost completely untruthful propaganda.” Roosevelt, he wrote toward the end of the war, “has so confused war and peace that it is doubtful at this point whether we will ever unscramble the two. This Rooseveltian achievement is, of course, wholly in character, being simply a part of the 12-year-old Roosevelt technique of maintaining perpetual crisis.”28
More visible to readers was Luce’s increasing identification with the Republican Party. His full-throttled support of Willkie in 1940 had exposed him to considerable criticism; but in that campaign Luce had been less a Republican loyalist than an insurgent supporting a maverick candidate promising (however unconvincingly) a new kind of postpartisan politics. Luce’s 1940 position had in many ways been a critique of the Republican Party’s hidebound conservatism and an effort to move it toward a more moderate course. As the 1944 election approached, Luce once again supported Willkie’s candidacy, although with far less emotional engagement than he had in 1940; but Willkie himself withdrew from the race early in April after coming in last in the Wisconsin primary. (“I had been encouraged to believe that the Republican party could live up to the standards of its founders,” he explained bitterly, “but I am discouraged to believe that it may be the party of negation.”) Luce responded equally glumly to the prospect of Thomas E. Dewey, the governor of New York, as the Republican nominee. “In the past few weeks,” Luce told Willkie in June, “what I have been doing, as relates to politics, comes about as close as possible to zero.” A month before the election, Willkie died of a heart attack following a strep infection. There had been much speculation in late summer 1944 that Willkie would have ultimately supported Roosevelt, with whom he had worked closely during much of the war and with whom—unknown to the public (and to Luce)—he had begun discussions about the possibility of a new party that they might form together.
Luce hardly paused before throwing his support to the front-runner, Dewey, a man he had previously viewed with considerable contempt. Life openly endorsed Dewey not long before the election. Time was more restrained. But Luce instructed his staff that the magazines should “render not merely passing judgments, but, practically, verdicts on candidates for and occupants of offices other than President of the United States.”29
“What has been going on in TIME in the last several years,” Luce explained, when he began to receive criticism from some of his colleagues, “has not been the sudden acquisition of prejudice or conviction but the attempt to make our implicit convictions explicitely [sic] coherent and rational.” With that cursory justification, he began talking and writing about the Republican party with almost the same breathless enthusiasm and confidence with which four years earlier he had written of Willkie. “The nation is today actually Republican,” he announced in 1942. “Taking into account Conservative Democrats, the New Deal (what remains) is a distinctly minority party.” By 1944 he had convinced himself that the nation was as weary of Roosevelt as he was, that supporting the Republicans was almost as obvious a position for his magazine to take as supporting the war. “If we want the ‘better side’ to win in November,” he wrote in 1943, “what we do now may be no less important than what we do (or don’t do) on election eve…. It seems to me that we may as well agree that our disposition is definitely in favor of the Republican Party.” So certain was he that the tide was turning toward Dewey that he asked Billings in early August “to throw out the monthly Roper survey [in Fortune] because it showed gains for Roosevelt.” Billings protested, and Luce compromised by running a Gallup Poll showing Dewey ahead alongside the Roper. Not until shortly before election day did he finally acknowledge that Roosevelt would likely win. Even so, Billings noted, he was “deeply wounded” when some of his most intimate colleagues decided to “desert him politically” by voting for Roosevelt. Some prominent readers were also deeply alienated. Time had become a “Republican magazine,” he heard increasingly from Democratic politicians and other public figures. And while Luce denied the charge, he could not honestly refute it. Shortly after the election he even began to consider working with the Republican National Committee on a reorganization of the party. “I am in no mood to perform an ‘act of leadership,’” he explained. “But maybe we have got some moral obligation to give expression to some words of helpful wisdom to the Republican party … the whole to be scanned and evaluated by some top writer [from Time] … and the chief points assayed by [a] LIFE editorial. All this might really ring a bell.”30
For a time in 1942 and 1943, there was speculation—some of it fueled by Luce’s friends and colleagues—that he would run for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut or become secretary of state or otherwise thrust himself into public life. Luce himself publicly repudiated that idea and insisted (unpersuasively) that he would not only not run for office but that he would “retire completely from politics or personal leadership in public affairs.” But in the fall of 1942 he rallied behind another political proposal—that Clare run for a seat in the House of Representatives in a district that had until recently been occupied by her stepfather, Elmer Austin.31
Clare’s decision to run—a decision over which she publicly agonized for several months before entering the race—was not due just to ambition. It was also a result of her declining fortunes as a writer. Her effort to transform herself from playwright into political and war reporter, which began so promisingly in 1939 with her successful publication of Europe in the Spring, had by 1942 become something of an embarrassment. Her articles for Life, once eagerly published, became a source of awkwardness for editors who found them glib and superficial but feared the consequences of turning them down. Billings described them in his diary as “just a jumble of words … a mess.” Colleagues from Time Inc. and from other publications began to balk at the number and the triviality of her articles in Life. “On all sides,” Billings noted, “we are running too much ‘Clare Boothe,’ and her pieces are becoming a general joke.”32
Both Harry and Clare almost certainly (if not openly) considered the state of their marriage as much as her career as they pondered whether or not she should run. By early 1942 the coolness that had begun to envelop their marriage only a few years after their wedding was rapidly increasing. They were already spending much of their time apart; and Clare, at least, was becoming increasingly morose about what she sometimes considered her complete isolation. “Such a mess,” she wrote in her diary of a lonely trip to Greenwich not long after their marriage. “Such a place—God! It has a wild look to it…. No greetings are here for me … a twist of pain … So hurt here.” Things had only gotten worse in the following years.
Their sexual relationship, troubled from the beginning, had come to a virtual end in 1939—a source of pain and frustration to them both. Harry blamed his inactivity on stress and exhaustion, but repeated efforts at escape and relaxation failed to restore his sexual appetite. After a while he began to claim that he had become impotent, which he may actually have believed for a time. But by late 1942 he had found himself with a healthy sexual appetite for other women, which suggests that his problem was not physical but psychological and probably specific to Clare—perhaps a product of their increasingly intense, and often bitter, competitiveness with each other. They fought constantly during their 1941 visit to China and were, Clare wrote, “not very happy.” Guests in their homes sometimes sat in mute astonishment as Harry and Clare engaged in furious arguments from opposite ends of the dinner table. It seemed at times in 1942 that she was running against her husband almost as much as against her Democratic opponent. However partisan Harry became, Clare became more so. She openly rejected the muscular idealism of Harry’s “American Century” vision for a tough, pragmatic, power-driven stance in the world. “I believe any means justify the patriotic end of helping our country to survive,” she wrote Harry early in 1942. “If it should prove necessary in our lifetime and our children’s to scrap ‘our American way of life,’ our free enterprise system, our two-party system of government, and our constitution to get it, I am for that.” In her campaign in the fall of 1942 she expressed none of Harry’s hopeful visions of the future and focused instead on what she described as the negligence and incompetence of the Roosevelt administration. “If we permit another year of bungling and muddling we will be a very long and bloody time winning it.”33
Harry loyally supported Clare’s congressional race. He partially funded it. He recruited Time Inc. employees to help her campaign. And he expressed great pride, both publicly and privately, when she won the election in November by a modest but comfortable margin. But they both understood that the move to Congress was not just an impressive new chapter in Clare’s career but a way of distancing themselves from each other. Harry had long expressed his disappointment with the marriage through barbed self-criticism: “Others find me in excellent health and spirits. Only to you does it matter that my hair is falling out, that my teeth are decaying and that chances of my ever becoming a moderately respectable example of Nordic strength are rapidly vanishing.” Clare had complained that “we have had so many arguments about the war in the past three or four years.” Both spoke in almost identical language of the stress their marriage was creating. Harry wrote of “living through rather long periods of nervous strain,” and Clare of “a strain on our nervous systems…. Bitter arguments still flourish like an evil tangleweed.” Her move to Congress relieved some of the tension, but it left unanswered the question of their future. “We paused, and parted, perhaps forever?” Clare wrote Harry shortly before she left for Washington, just at the moment that he was beginning a new romance.34
A little more than eight years after his fateful meeting with Clare in 1934 at a party given by Elsa Maxwell at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Harry attended another Elsa Maxwell event in 1943, also at the Waldorf. Clare was in Washington that evening, and Harry found himself in the company of Jean Dalrymple, an attractive forty-one-year-old theatrical agent and publicist to whom he was immediately drawn. He had had brief relationships with other women in recent years, none of them serious. But he soon began courting Jean in the same aggressive and slightly awkward way in which he had pursued Clare. Dalrymple responded at first to Harry’s obvious loneliness. “He looked so unhappy, as if he needed somebody to talk to,” she later recalled. But gradually their relationship became more serious, socially and sexually. It also became more public. Unlike during his secretive pursuit of Clare, he dined openly with Dalrymple and even accompanied her to occasional social events. He spoke often with her of his unhappiness with Clare. “The marriage was terrible for him,” Dalrymple remembered. From time to time Luce tried to persuade Dalrymple to marry him, but she brushed the offers aside. While she insisted years later that she was never deeply in love with him, her real concern was her conviction that, however bad their relationship might be, he would never leave Clare. But that did not stop her from continuing the relationship for several years.35
For a while Harry seemed content with his double life—a public marriage to Clare and a quasi-private romance with Jean. He continued to live with his wife on the relatively rare occasions when they were in New York or Connecticut at the same time. But despite Clare’s intermittent efforts to salvage their marriage, she too began a long and not particularly secret relationship, also more serious than the numerous and usually brief affairs in the earlier years of her marriage. She became involved with the American general Lucian Truscott, Jr., whom she met on a trip to England and for whom she briefly considered divorcing Harry until it became clear that Truscott would not leave his wife. Harry wrote Clare gloomily of “the dreary landscape of our two lives.” He spent as much time with Jean as he could. He even stayed away from the office in a way he had not done since his early infatuation with Clare.36
Under other circumstances their blighted marriage might have come to an end in the early 1940s had it not been for a tragedy that changed both their lives. Clare embarked on a national speaking tour during the congressional recess in late 1943, and she spent the Christmas holidays in Palm Springs, California, with her daughter Ann and, briefly, Harry. He was very fond of his stepdaughter, perhaps in part because Ann’s long absences from her mother and her deep loneliness mirrored some aspects of his own childhood. He wrote her often, and lovingly, signing his letters “Dad.”
After the New Year the three of them traveled together to San Francisco for a few more days. On January 11 Harry flew back to New York, and Ann accepted a ride with a friend back to Stanford, where she was a senior. As the two young women drove through Palo Alto, their open convertible was struck by a car entering the road from a side street. Ann was thrown from the car and killed instantly. (Her companion suffered minor injuries.) When Clare called Harry with the news, his first griefstricken words were, “Not that beautiful girl. Not that beautiful girl.” He returned immediately to San Francisco, wiring Clare along the way: “Well west of Chicago proceeding and thoughts ever with you and our darling.” In the meantime Clare—never before a religious woman—visited a Catholic church and summoned a priest to comfort her. The notice in Timeof Ann’s death identified her as the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Luce. The Time editors pointed this inaccuracy out to Luce. But Harry insisted, and the magazine complied. Clare chose Mepkin as Ann’s burial site (a place they then infrequently used and that Ann had rarely visited). After the burial, she could not bear to stay in the house she had occasionally shared with Ann, and moved instead to Bernard Baruch’s nearby estate. Harry remained with her there for weeks. When he tried to return to work in New York, Harry’s secretary reported that Clare “was throwing fits in South Carolina and thus keeping Luce from coming back here.” Clare later described her reaction to Ann’s death as a “nervous breakdown.” Their shared grief brought them briefly closer together than they had been in several years. Harry loyally supported her successful reelection to Congress in 1944, again pressured his magazines to cover her more favorably, and briefly suspended his affair with Jean Dalrymple. But it was not a lasting reconciliation.37
Despite the turbulence of his personal life, Luce’s wartime missionary zeal remained undiminished. Barred from the war zones, he continued to focus on the postwar world as a major project of his magazines. As with other issues, the role of the Time Inc. publications was not to chronicle the many postwar visions being debated in American life. Instead, Luce insisted, the company must itself present its own vision of the future—a vision to be determined ultimately by Luce himself.
Little came of the “Postwar Department” he established early in the war, until 1943, when Luce began to prod and dominate the project. He did so in part because of his contempt for what he considered the Roosevelt administration’s failure to take postwar planning seriously. But even without that incentive, he surely would have been drawn to the great task of imagining a new world. As was often the case with Luce’s enthusiasms, they took their most advanced form in the internal memos he wrote to his staff—hoping, expecting that they would be translated into copy for the magazines, and then raging when he discovered that they did not. “If there is any gospel around here it is the Post-War Memos,” Luce wrote testily in May 1943 after sensing that his editors were taking them lightly. “If any ‘gospels’ contrary to or inconsistent with the Post-War Memos are to be uttered or implied in Time—then the Editor of Time has a right to be given notice and to consider said contrary-gospel before publication…. or has all my yammer to Senior Editors for four years been so much crap? And how much longer do I have to say that in order to be understood?”38
Luce’s thinking about the postwar era was not entirely coherent. He wrote almost maniacally, memo after memo, with idea after idea, trying to come up with a philosophy that would explain the importance of American influence in the coming years while also imagining major transformations in other parts of the world. At one point he wrote ardently about the ascendancy of the middle class, as if that were the solution to the world’s problems. “What you left-wingers have scornfully called ‘middle-class ideals’ built America, which, with all its faults, marked ‘a decisive step in the ascent of the human race.’” Middle-class “leadership,” he insisted, would “achieve the salvation of society.” At times he dismissed the increasingly popular idea of a new League of Nations. “We are not currently in favor of any World Organization,” he wrote in 1943. But less than two years later he enthusiastically endorsed the idea of a postwar United Nations and complained that Roosevelt and his international partners were not making it strong and effective enough. Not surprisingly he put enormous emphasis on the future of Asia: “We believe that the long range happiness of the U.S. depends more upon the salutary relations between Asia and the ‘white man’ than upon any other factor. That is, the inter-relationship between Asia and ‘The West’ is the greatest new factor in human life.” Overflowing with ideas, enthusiasms, and frustrations, he drove his editors to distraction. In the end, he failed to goad them into publishing very much of what he wanted to say.39
Perhaps the most revealing statement of his beliefs came not in a memo to his colleagues but in a miserable letter to Clare in the midst of their marital difficulties in 1943. He seemed to believe somehow that their political disagreements were as much of a problem in their relationship as their personal ones, and he set out to establish his views in response to her claim that Time Inc. was guilty of “inconsistent shilly shallying.” He presented her with what he called Time Inc.’s “Fourteen Points,” even though they were his alone, never shared with his editors. He was “for the United Nations in prosecution of the war,” “antiadministration in nearly everything,” “pro-Chinese,” “pro-Indian freedom,” “pro Civil Rights including for Negroes,” “pro, if not the Republican party, at least many Republicans,” “pro air power,” “pro free enterprise,” “pro-collective bargaining and labor’s just rights,” “pro Henry Kaiser” (the progressive and widely admired aluminum executive), “pro art,” “pro Free French and anti-Vichy,” and “against the Imperial House of Japan.” Taken together these positions represented the views of many moderately liberal Americans and suggested that at heart his vision of the postwar world was not very different from an emerging consensus among American elites. But it was also clear that Luce’s hopes for the postwar world had no coherent structure.40
That became particularly clear a few months later when he was asked by a colleague how he would like the postwar world to look. Luce took the challenge and responded characteristically with an elaborately crafted document that was in some places prescient and at others dreamily utopian. He titled it “The Reorganization of the World.” It would be composed of “six major Federations.” Among them would be a “United States of Europe,” a system that would preserve “national entities” but oversee them with “many pan-European institutions and policies … which will set a dynamic bias towards European Union.” Luce was not, of course, alone in voicing this hope, but his outline came remarkably close to what eventually became the actual European Union. He was less foresighted in his view of the Soviet Union as a second great federation, which he hoped would “develop a prosperous and noble society.” China, of course, would be the key to Asia: The West, he argued, should “encourage by every means the renaissance of a great Chinese civilization.” India, should it achieve its “painful transition into modernity” and should it free itself from being “dominated by Europe,” would be another stabilizing force in the world. And of course the United States (which would be “a stronger industrial and hence military power than any other two nations combined”) and Great Britain (whose “ex-colonial domination” would be “a kind of binder for the world”) would continue to play their now-established roles as the true leaders of the globe. (Luce gave only passing attention to the less powerful areas of the world of the time: among them the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America).41
As was his custom, Luce reached out to important thinkers around the country to help him with his great task. He asked the vice president of the University of Chicago, William Benton, to organize a group of faculty who might propose a “Statement of Principles” on economic development; but the scholars who joined the project became bogged down on “the monopoly question,” something in which Luce had little interest. He corresponded frequently with Walter Lippmann, whose views of the postwar world were much more pragmatic than his own. In 1943 Lippmann was promoting the idea of a British-American alliance to oversee the postwar world. Luce tried to draw him into the headier and more idealistic conversations he and his colleagues were organizing, and Lippmann happily agreed to join. But despite their friendship and mutual admiration, they did not reach a meeting of the minds. (“I hope I didn’t seem to be an objector or an opponent to the general plan,” Lippmann wrote Luce shortly after a brainstorming dinner.)42
Instead of building a coherent vision of the future, Luce moved toward a set of ideas that created an obvious, uncontroversial view of the postwar world that almost no one could oppose. It began with two simple questions. The first: “Does the American nation exist for any particular purpose?” The answer, he argued, “rises in your hearts” and makes clear that “the American nation does exist for a specific purpose—in the words of the Battle Hymn: ‘To make men free.’” The second, more prosaic but equally important to Luce: “What, then, is the post-war TIME?” His answer was more complex but essentially the same. Time Inc.’s mission was “to explain about American journalism and in doing that we have to explain about America.” Explaining America, Luce came to believe, was remarkably simple.
If we had to choose one word out of the whole vocabulary of human experience to associate with America—surely it would not be hard to choose the word. For surely the word is Freedom…. Without Freedom, America is untranslatable…. And therefore it seems to me that we can sum up the whole of editorial attitudes and principles in the one word Freedom.
He had reached the end of his long and complicated effort to define America by avoiding the difficult questions:
Despite all confusions by which we have been confused and may have confused others, I think we have achieved some intellectual right to say that we of Time Inc. have fought, are fighting and will fight … ‘For the Freedom of All Peoples.’ … We believe that the relation of the people of the U.S. with the other peoples of the world must be based on the principles of Freedom. (This can be endlessly celebrated.)43