by Alicia Appleman-Jurman (Bantam: $18.95; 356 pp.)
Those of us well aware of the human capacity to do harm might wonder what we have to gain from reading another Holocaust account, one especially tragic even for this grim body of literature. Alicia Appleman-Jurman, who now lives in Orange County, saw her father and three brothers disappear in 1941, one by one, when the Germans invaded her town in southeastern Poland. She watched Nazis shoot infants in the mouth, gun down her mother and force wizened men to dig their own graves. At one point Appleman herself was presumed dead after she passed out in prison; the Nazis dumped her body among hundreds of others, but a Jewish gravedigger, noticing that she was still warm, nursed her to health after staging a mock burial for the Nazis’ benefit.
Appleman’s story is far from dispiriting, however, for while lacking Elie Wiesel’s density of narrative or Primo Levi’s tangled introspection, it is not a simple chronicle of horrors. Appleman tells this story partly for her own benefit--the calm and measured style belies an attempt to tame turbulent memories with prose--but she doesn’t weigh readers’ shoulders with her burden of injustice. “Alicia: My Story” above all inspires, for it chronicles a young woman’s ultimately successful struggle to hold on to her identity when everything in her environment is trying to break that grasp. Appleman could not take stock of herself in German mirrors, for they projected the image of “dirty Jew.” The reflection she saw in the faces of her own people was no more reassuring: pale, gaunt, near death. Often, Appleman had no frame of reference at all, forced to hide for months in a void of fields, cabins and forests.
Appleman eventually overcame her need for reassurance by giving form to her strongest feeling: hatred. Anger became her identity and strength, giving her the courage to engineer daring escapes, such as squeezing out of a hole in a train heading toward a concentration camp. In her anger, Appleman doesn’t always explain her enemy’s motivations thoroughly enough; we wonder, for example, why a group of British frigates repeatedly rammed her leaky old cargo ship of emaciated Holocaust survivors. Most of Appleman’s story is revelatory, however, illustrating how anger was the only way out of the Holocaust, for feelings of inner peace could lead to surrender.
Tellingly, the only truly “peaceful” scene in these pages takes place in a snowy cemetery, where Appleman lies down on the grave of a boy she loved who had been killed by the Nazis. “Now the snowflakes came down thickly and piled up on top of one another, while still keeping their identity as individual delicate and beautiful stars . . . . Covered with a soft blanket, . . . I closed my eyes and lay there peacefully in the whiteness of the Earth.”
by Frans de Waal (Harvard: $29.95; 271 pp.) “The Utopian type of peace is achieved at two places only--at the typewriter and in the grave.” This observation, not from one of the biologists and ethologists discussed here but from former President Richard Nixon, epitomizes Frans de Waal’s central point: “There isn’t, and likely never will be, a garden in which the proverbial wolves and lambs cheerfully play together or where, for that matter, Russian and American soldiers exchange bouquets of flowers.”
But while Nixon’s next best alternative, the negotiations of Henry Kissinger, took months or years to reach agreement, primatologist Frans de Waal points proudly to chimp negotiators such as Mama, who resolve sharp conflicts in their colonies within minutes. When Nikkie and Yeroen, the two superpowers in the Arnhem, Netherlands chimp colony, started screaming at each other (a highly disruptive event, for it encourages other males to claim colony leadership, thus magnifying the tumult), Mama approached Nikkie and put a finger in his mouth, a common gesture of reassurance among chimpanzees. “While doing this,” de Waal writes, “she impatiently nodded her head to Yeroen and held out her other hand to him. Yeroen came over and gave Mama a long kiss on the mouth. When she withdrew from between them, Yeroen embraced the still-screaming Nikkie.” Side by side, the two males then chased off a rival, who had begun to strut around, hair on end.
Ruffling the feathers of biologists who have tended to look at life as the “continuous free fight” or “gladiators’ show” that Charles Darwin proclaimed it to be, de Waal argues that primates are uniquely talented among animals at resolving conflict through tolerance and reconciliation. While rats will devour each other when kept close together, monkeys go out of their way to avoid social conflict when their living space is reduced, avoiding eye contact like a passenger in a crowded subway car. Reconciliation, in turn, is a major fete for many primates; after a battle, chimps at the Arnhem zoo play metal drums while their friends kiss and embrace.
De Waal’s most important and original point, however, is that conflict isn’t an inevitable tragedy we should dread, but a necessary means of clarifying social hierarchies and resolving differing needs among animals who have developed distinct individual identities. There is no need for conflict, de Waal points out, in a school of herrings.
Our confusion about the role conflict plays in culture, de Waal believes, is exemplified by the fact that the Norwegian Nobel Committee gave its peace prize to Lech Walesa in 1983, even though Walesa’s “Solidarity Movement, rather than promoting harmony, was threatening the status quo in Poland.” Peace is not always a desired condition, de Waal explains. “The Pax Romana must have been a blessing for the Romans, but could the same be said for all the subjects of their empire?”
“Peacemaking Among Primates” is an engrossing and irreverent work, challenging not only the Nobel Committee, but a host of assumptions; studying primate reconciliation, for instance, de Waal shows that sex has many values in the animal community besides reproduction, and that homosexuality is as common as heterosexuality.
Media and the Decay
of American Politics
by Robert M. Entman (Oxford: $22.50; 221 pp.)
While polls show that Americans are skeptical of much reporting, few Americans feel as much ire against the media as political interest groups do. Undoubtedly, critics claiming that reportage is too liberal or conservative are seen as canceling each other out, while those who deem it too superficial seem to favor the kind of long and lumbering coverage that most Americans avoid at all costs.
In “Democracy Without Citizens,” however, Duke University political science professor Robert Entman contributes some original criticism to the old debate, constructing arguments that will be more difficult to dismiss, for they avoid simplistically scapegoating politicians as cynical, media managers as greedy or readers and viewers as apathetic. Journalists cannot easily triumph over the trend toward instant reporting, Entman writes, for ironically, they would be seen as “out of touch” if they stopped superficially reporting the hour’s news in order to cover issues affecting the public more profoundly, such as the deal-making that leads to important policy decisions. Politicians, in turn, cannot help but take advantage of the instant media’s dependency on official statements, for if they fail to do so, as Jimmy Carter and Michael Dukakis often did, their opponents will, oversimplifying their issues and stereotyping their positions.
While understanding, Entman is not forgiving, contending that “instant journalism” is a danger to democracy. Its reporting, he writes, is both too passive, failing to serve as a watchdog for the public interest, and too bellicose, more interested in uncovering scandalous behavior after the fact than in scrutinizing decisions as they are being made.
“Democracy Without Citizens” is weakened by a tendency to blur print and broadcast journalism (most of Entman’s criticisms pertain to the latter) and by an abundance of wishful thinking (“The public must begin craving better journalism”). On the whole, though, this is an unusual departure from an often partisan and predictable body of literature.
AIDS AND THE THIRD WORLD
by the Panos Institute
(New Society: $12.95 paper; 200 pp.)
Predictions that AIDS could cripple the Third World inevitably seem alarmist, for even in the countries hardest hit by the virus, the official numbers of deaths due to AIDS (1,250 in the Congo, 2,369 in Uganda) pale beside figures for deaths due to the much older problem of malnutrition. “AIDS in the Third World” suggests that these figures dramatically understate the problem, however: Random tests of 13,000 Congolese showed 7.4% of the population to be HIV-positive (this means 133,000 Congolese could have the disease), while 12.2% of adults in Kampala, Uganda, tested HIV-positive (while urban areas have a higher incidence of AIDS, 750,000 Ugandans would be infected if the figure were only 5%).
Also striking in these pages are several precariously steep charts diagramming the rapid rise in the number of official AIDS cases: from 300 to 2,700 between 1984 and ’88 in the Caribbean; 60 to nearly 3,000 between 1986 and ’88 in Brazil; and 1,700 to 11,000 between 1986 and ’88 in Africa.
More than a compendium of grim statistics, “AIDS in the Third World” is the clearest account to date of the way African leaders have combatted the disease despite highly limited resources: While in Western Europe there is one doctor for every 470 patients, in Uganda there is one for every 21,000. The editors generally praise the nations’ strategies, illustrating, for example, how leaders in Guinea-Bissau staged a contest in a packed stadium to find the catchiest song about not catching AIDS; the winning musician described “the girl with the beautiful body . . . who said yes to all men . . . after 1,2,3 years she became so thin. . . .”