Book Reviews -- at the Hinge of History: A Reporter's Story by Joseph C. Harsch

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Harsch, Joseph C. At the Hinge of History: A Reporter's Story. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1993. 267 pp. $29.95.

Joseph C. Harsch, now nearly ninety, spent sixty years as a journalist with the Christian Science Monitor (for thirty of those years he worked simultaneously in broadcasting). Yet this volume portrays his "real" career as lasting only from late 1935 to 1956.

Those twenty-one years encompass better than two-thirds of Harsch's narrative. Indeed, he pays more attention to an abortive 1939 plan to resettle 840,000 European Jews in Angola than to the entire Vietnam War. After 1956, this book switches from chronological narrative to a topic-by-topic treatment (such as "Arabs and Israelis" and "The Power of Ideology").

Harsch's work in London for NBC (1957-65), which earned him a Commander of the Order of the British Empire designation, cost him dearly in power and influence: "The White House cares about the newspaper columns. Many a national issue is fought out on the op-ed page columns before the decision is made at the White House....To have someone at the White House telephone to discuss a column you have written is heady stuff." He also muses wistfully about his London years, which he calls "a seven-year detour, during which I lost my place in the line of Washington journalists. Once one steps out of that line he seldom, if ever, comes back." He does, however, credit his thirty years in broadcasting with "considerable improvement in my writing style."

Twice a winner of the Overseas Press Club Award, Harsch readily admits that lucky timing had a lot to do with his success. Having been born in Ohio in 1905 in a world "filled with horses," he just made it under the wire as the "last recruit hired by the Monitor for some time"--in 1929. By the mid-1930s, he had just enough experience to cover the coming and full-blown hot war. Devoting the rest of his career to covering the Cold War, Harsch retired December 31, 1988, just as Ronald Reagan, the last Cold Warrior president, was heading out of office.

Luck landed some eyewitness chances in his lap; Harsch happened, for example, to be in Honolulu on December 7, 1941. …