Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS

Book: A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS
Author: Jennet Conant
Edition: Nook
Read: Nov 2012
377 pages
Rated: 2½  out of 5


During the war years, 1941-45, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was created under William Donovan's leadership. Donovan was a friend of Roosevelt's and highly influential. Some of the people whom he attracted was Paul Child, Julia McWilliams (Julia Child) and Jane Foster. This book is a history of these people and the departments they worked in. It continues out through the McCarthy years.

The story takes us through Europe post WW II where the Child's were on assignment with the Foreign Service through the USIS and Foster had taken up life in Paris. The book talks about the time in the OSS where they created “black” propaganda to be used against the Japanese, alone with a group of mostly women who were part of the OSS intelligence network. In the 50's Jane Foster, who has become Jane Foster Zlatovski, is enmeshed in being accused of being a spy for the Soviet Union. The Child's stand behind her.


Paul Child really was more interested in Jane Foster, but realized she would not be someone he could live with. As it turned out, she was already secretly married, but at first it seemed more of a marriage of convince than of love. As Child got to know McWilliams, he felt more of a brotherly love, than a desire for her. It was she who desired him. Child took her on more as a project than as a companion. From my view, Paul Child used Julia McWilliams like a girl uses a doll. She was there to be dressed up, not as a person to be explored. His initial relationship seemed so much callous. But McWilliams was devoted to him and her love eventually was returned. How did this relationship evolve like this? Obviously, in the long run,  the relationship was real.

The nature of war is no holds barred. One of the tools developed is the art of misinformation. Both Foster and McWilliams (Child) were involved in this. The question which formed is do we value truth when we purposely spread lies? Could a Christian be considered for this job? If not, how does a Christians support this? Even now, we have misinformation. When you read between the lines in this war on terror, we do not know what is correct and what are lies.

While the book's title suggests that the OSS is the main emphasis of this book, it is the prelude to the effects of McCarthyism. The people Conant follows went through South East Asia OSS' misinformation regime. As McCarthy grew in power, the accusations was this group worked with the communists to bring them into power in China, Vietnam and other places. From this group, the suspicions centered on Jane Foster. Others who were her friends fell under suspicion because of their association. This included Paul Child. You realize from Conant's writing, and she does this well, how being associated with suspicion, even though not associated with the wrong, affects the person. The self-doubt, the anger. How some people will rise to occasion and some fall short of their standards. Or as Charles Chaput commenting on Leon Bloy,We have that freedom. This is why suffering breaks some people, while it breaks open others into something more than their old selves, stretching the soul to greatness.

While everyone, well most everyone, thinks that McCarthy went well over the top in his chasing down communists and suspected communists, there is the aspect that a person who may have or probably did commit espionage has friends and accomplices. How do you root out the problem without damaging the unsuspecting or those aiding? Is mere association reason to potentially destroy a life? In this case, there was a high degree of suspicion about Jane Foster actively passing on secrets. But where does the suspicions stop? In this case Paul Child was able to show that even though he was a friend of Jane Foster, he did not know of her other connections. But in our world of terrorism and those within the US possibly planning terrorist activities, how do you identify those who have that connection? No easy answers from my point of view. Is it better to hurt a few to save a lot?

I suspect that Jennet Conant had material left over from her previous books about the Irregulars and William Donovan. She found an interesting character, Jane Foster, but few people would pick up a book on Foster. But you put Julia Child's name on the cover and people are interested, particularly if it involves spies. So the book was written with some Julia Child material, but telling the Jane Foster story.

As a history, the book relates the story line of the OSS and people Jane Foster embroiled in the turmoil surrounding McCarthyism. But if you are looking for more background on Julia Child, you will be disappointed. The story revolves around Jane Foster with Julia Child being the big draw for readers. And that is the crux of the problem. The title of the book is not true, making you concerned with the rest of the book. The book is about Jane Foster, the Child's are supporting characters to the main story. The Jane Foster story is compelling, but you keep on thinking there will be more of Julia Child—there is not, just enough to keep you going.

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: It started with the arrival of a telegram.
  • Last Line: Unfortunately, her [Jane Foster] flawed and incomplete account raises more question than it answers


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