In Defense of Ben Hecht
To the Editor:
In his glandular review of Ben Hecht’s A Child of the Century (October), Louis Berg brings up quite a battery of artillery with which to demolish what he calls a “half-baked book” written, as it were, by a literary clown. . . .
Of the book itself—its essential tenderness, warmheartedness, humor, love—there is nothing in Mr. Berg’s review. Nowhere is there any hint of the many touching and beautiful portraits of Jewish family life in a Midwest city of half a century ago. Of the sense of wonder of a boy growing up. . . .
Your reviewer says that Hecht’s “heroes are mainly rascals.” Believe me, I don’t care if they are or not. It wouldn’t make it a better book one way or the other. But we are now concerned with Mr. Berg, not Hecht. Why say it, if it doesn’t square with the facts? In this case Hecht tells us just exactly who his heroes were. And there were only two—Teddy Roosevelt and H. L. Mencken. Now it could be Mr. Berg regards both of these men as rascals. . . .
Especially irresponsible, however, are some of Mr. Berg’s bland assertions and conclusions, such as his statement about “Mr. Hecht’s constant jibes at people better than himself.” Here Mr. Berg gives us a hint as to his (present) heroes. And, frankly, they don’t quite measure up to Mencken or Teddy R. It is true Hecht “jibes” at F. D. Roosevelt, one of Mr. Berg’s latter-day heroes, it would seem. And he also “jibes” at Ernest Bevin. Let Mr. Berg, in the pages of COMMENTARY, defend him! He also “jibes” at phonies, politicians, Hollywood moguls, anti-Semites, and at least one “distinguished” liberal rabbi who demanded $5,000 for funeral services for Mr. Hecht’s mother. . . .
But Mr. Berg is not yet done. . . . Finding it difficult to tie the Communist can to Mr. Hecht, our reviewer attempts something brand new. He charges Hecht with a startling evasion: he just refused to tie in with Commies, ever. According to Berg, who poses as an expert in these matters, Hecht should have been a Communist. At least a Hollywood Communist. Unfortunately for Mr. Berg, however, Hecht was, and is, neither. . . . He interprets Mr. Hecht as saying (which he doesn’t) “Communism may be bad, but we, too, are headed for a dictatorship of a less romantic kind.” Actually, Hecht is arguing in defense of a vanishing individualism in our culture and against a whole host of vigilante pressure groups. . . .
However, if Mr. Berg wants to know how to recognize the genuine Communist technique when applied to an argument let him look into his own aching heart—not for the six million Jews murdered by the Germans—but at the two (count ‘em) two “hostage killings of innocent British sergeants.” To which Mr. Berg adds a significant parenthesis: “(how different when the Germans do it!).” Now that is right out of the Stalinist chapbook. Tell a Communist that 15 to 20 million people languish in Soviet concentration camps, and he will tell you that it is just as bad here—if not worse. . . .
Newark, New Jersey
The passage in lines 14-16 of the editorial note on Charles Reznikoff, on page 526 of this issue, obviously should read: “. . . Dr. Jacob R. Marcus, director of the American Jewish Archives and Adolph S. Ochs Professor of History. . . .”—Ed.