Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bernard Knox,  "Premature Anti-Fascist"
I first heard the remarkable phrase that serves as my title in 1946 when, fresh out of the US Army, I went up to New Haven, Connecticut for an interview with the chairman of the Yale Classics Department, to which, taking advantage of the generous provisions of what was popularly known as the GI Bill, I had applied for admission to the graduate program for the Ph.D. in Classics. I had submitted a copy of my certificate of the BA I had received from St. Johns College, Cambridge in 1936. I did not make any mention of the fact that I had made rather a mediocre showing in the final part of the Tripos, ending up with a second class (at least, I comforted myself, I did better than Auden, who got a third, and Housman, who failed completely). To jazz my application up a bit, I had included my record in the US Army, private to captain 1942-45. The Professor, who had himself served in the US Army in 1917-18, was very interested, and remarked on the fact that, in addition to the usual battle-stars for service in the European Theatre, I had been awarded a Croix de Guerre a l'Ordre de l'Armée, the highest category for that decoration. Asked how I got it, I explained that, in July 1944, I had parachuted, in uniform, behind the Allied lines in Brittany to arm and organize French Resistance forces and hold them ready for action at the moment most useful for the Allied advance. "Why were you selected for that operation?" he asked, and I told him that I was one of the few people in the US Army who could speak fluent, idiomatic, and (if necessary) pungently coarse French. When he asked me where I had learned it, I told him that I had fought in 1936 on the northwest sector of the Madrid front in the French Battalion of the XIth International Brigade. "Oh," he said, "You were a premature anti-Fascist."

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