ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPÉRY
by LEWIS GALANTIÈRE
IN 1940, nearly a quarter century of Bolshevism and almost as many years of Fascism had accustomed the world to the existence of the political refugee, and when the France-German Armistice was signed in June it seemed a natural thing that Frenchmen should fly their country. To help them out of France was a pious act, and Britishers who a day before were talking of the "desertion" of France were not behind Americans in lending a hand. In the case of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, it was his publishers, Eugène Reynal and the late Curtice Hitchcock who cabled, proposing to arrange for his visa and to facilitate his passage to the United States. What actually persuaded Saint-Exupéry to leave France and exile himself among us is a question I never put to him directly. He had friends and a great reputation in the United States, of course. His books were very popular and he was sure to have no material worries in this country. But we were a neutral power, the French were a defeated and humiliated nation; and with the best will in the world the American people could not be expected to share the ceaseless gnawing anxiety by which he, as a Frenchman, was then beset.
I have never known a man so little made for neutrality, for emigration, for exile. Saint-Exupéry was obsessed by the notion that France must stay in the war. He wanted passionately to serve his country, but as a soldier, by fighting for it. As early as September, 1939, he had refused to lend his pen and his name to the French propaganda ministry and had insisted upon serving as a pilot though he was in his fortieth year. When the invitation of his American publishers reached him, Saint-Exupéry borrowed a plane and flew off to Tunisia to consult his comrades of the reconnaissance group with which he had fought the Battle of France. "I wanted to know," he said subsequently, "if they were going to be able to go on fighting. They looked at me in astonishment. 'You are out of your mind,' they said. 'We have no reserve planes, no fuel, no tires, no spare parts, How many missions do you think a plane can fly without spare parts? Of course we can't fight. The best that we can do is to hide as much of our equipment as possible from the enemy Armistice inspectors bury it and hope to use it another day.'"
Saint-Exupéry returned from Tunisia to France and had a look round Vichy. There were, in those early days, men at Vichy whom he admired and knew to be honorable and patriotic Frenchmen. These men and others invited him to join them in le double jeu, the "double game" of salvaging what they could of French self-respect and French resources by pulling the wool over the Germans' eyes. Saint-Exupéry tried to convince himself that this was what he should do. But no double game was possible to him. He had no gift for intrigue, for dissimulation.
There remained General de Gaulle, and here we meet Saint-Exupéry's second obsession. He was persuaded, and proclaimed, that in a time of national defeat and humiliation, no Frenchman had the right to fight against another Frenchman. Unity was now the first requisite of the nation. Rightly or wrongly, he look it into his head that the war which General de Gaulle was inviting the French to fight under his banner was a war of fratricide, and in such a war he refused to participate. (Not to intervene in the debate, but merely to contribute a note of clarification this was in substance the position of the French Army, including General Béthouart and General Juin, officers who followed Giraud in November, 1942, and yet were successively made Chief of the General Staff by de Gaulle himself when he assumed power.) "De Gaulle," Saint-Exupéry said when we talked about him, "ceased to be a soldier and became a political leader. I should have followed him with joy against the Germans. I could not follow him against Frenchmen."
Even so, Saint-Exupéry was six months making up his mind to come to the United States, and he came here, I always thought, out of desperation, as a last resort. I conclude that it was in the vague hope of being somehow useful to France that Saint-Exupéry disembarked at New York from a small Portuguese vessel on the last day of the year 1940. Incidentally, he had deemed it prudent to avoid the Pyrenees and make his way to Lisbon via Morocco. Ever since he had served as correspondent during the Spanish Civil War he had been in the black books of Franco's police spies.
One of the most pathetic expressions of love of country that I know is to be found at the close of a letter written by Mérimée to his friend Mme. de Beaulaincourt on September 13, 1870, following the crushing defeat of Napoleon III by the Prussians at Sedan. Here it is: "All my life I have sought to be free from prejudice, to be a citizen of the world before being a Frenchman; but all these philosophic cloaks are of no avail. I bleed today from the wounds of these imbeciles of Frenchmen; I weep for their humiliation; and however ungrateful and absurd they be, I still love them."
In these noble lines there are thoughts which it would never have occurred Saint-Exupéry to utter. He who hated the self-styled "philosophy" of racism, who had traveled even more widely than Mérimée, whose sympathy went spontaneously towards that which is universal in men, would never have called himself anything but a Frenchman. He who was excessively intolerant of fools would never have spoken of "these imbeciles of Frenchmen," but only of "that imbecile, X." "Since I am one with the people of France," he wrote, "I shall never reject my people, whatever they may do. I shall never preach against them in the hearing of others. Whenever it is possible to take their defense, I shall defend them. If they cover me with shame I shall lock up their shame in my heart and be silent." Yet this patriot was not a nationalist in the hideous exclusive manner of a Fichte among the Germans, or a Maurras among the French. "In my civilization," he wrote, "he who is different from me does not impoverish me, he enriches me. ... I shell fight against all those who strive to impose a particular way of life upon other ways of life, a particular people upon other peoples, a particular race upon other races, a particular system of thought upon other systems of thought."
SAINT-EXUPÉRY'S American publishers, who brought him out of France, were kindness and sympathy incarnate. They arranged for his visa and his place on board ship. They smoothed his way through the formalities of immigration and customs. They found him a handsome apartment in the twenty-third story of a house overlooking Central Park for Europeans are as romantic about our upper stories as we about their inns and châteaux. Together with his patient and tactful agent, Maximilian Becker, they procured for him the toys with which he endeavored, in his early weeks among us, to distract himself among others, a magnificent recording machine with which the inventive Saint-Exupéry sought to still his restlessness. He would record a Mozart symphony broadcast by Toscanini and then, on the same disk, introduce readings by himself and his friends, of French classical verse scanned to accord with the beat of the music. Hervé Alphand would do his celebrated imitation of a dialogue between the doddering Pétain and a certain senile general descended from the Marquis de Lafayette.
One day Saint-Exupéry recorded his own voice in such a way that the result seemed to be a whole chorus of voices intoning plain chant a Vatican Choir. A group of friends did a comic scene representing French provincials seeing New York for the first time from the top of a Fifth Avenue bus. Among the most delightful records were those of Claude Alphand's simple and moving singing of Breton and other folk songs.
A publisher exists by virtue of his authors, and it is the business of the publisher to persuade his authors to write books. Saint-Exupéry was a French writer from whom Americans wanted to hear. He was allowed five or six weeks in which to adjust himself to his new life, and then, tactfully, it was indicated to him that he ought to be at work. When tact failed, a little pressure was applied: "It is your duty to explain France, to explain the defeat to people who believe that the French did not put up a fight."
In the beginning, words like these infuriated Saint-Exupéry first because they seemed to him insulting to France, and again because they appeared to imply that he was a literary tradesman, ready to grind out copy for a fee. He had spent four years writing Night Flight. Seven years of composition and polishing went into Wind, Sand and Stars. He was at the other pole from Saint-Cyran, that seventeenth-century theologian of whom the abbé Bremond said that "he wrote badly, but without the slightest effort," But Saint-Exupéry had to agree that everybody was writing about France, and that with the exception of Maritain, nobody in America seemed to know what he was writing about. Every newspaper in the land was discussing France. The German and Austrian refugees in America, whom the French had been the first to shelter in 1933, were washing in public not their own dirty linen but that of the Third Republic. The propaganda of the Vichy embassy at Washington was feeble, false, and ludicrous. The Ne York Gaullists were denouncing one another and thus confirming the general American belief that unity among Frenchmen was not to be looked for. Against his will, therefore, out of a sense of duty, Saint-Exupéry, sat down to write a war book.
With all this, the man was ill, suffering from defectively healed injuries consequent upon a whole series of airplane crashes. Saint-Exupéry knew that he was in bad shape, but how badly off he was he did not know. He complained of internal pains, and the sedatives that were prescribed were not effective. He ceased to be able to sleep. In the late sprang of 1941 he went off to stay with friends in California. There, one day, he fainted. He had the luck to be treated by a master diagnostician and to be operated on by a first-rate surgeon. After a month in hospital and a period of convalescence he came back to New York.
During his convalescence he had reread certain notebooks in which, as early as 1937, he had begun to set down what he called with a smile "my posthumous work." He said very little about it, and as I rarely asked my friend idle questions, I do not know much of what went into it. He had read aloud to me the first dozen pages in 1938, which I had not liked because of their florid, prose-poetry style the style of the early Gide, say. As regards its form, the book was apparently to be a great conte philosophique in the manner of the eighteenth century, a succession of dialogues spoken at the court of an imaginary sultan; and Saint-Exupéry seemed to believe that he had found a mold, so to say, into which he would be able to pour his meditations and his feelings on all things man, the state, religion, war, love, civilization.
Back in New York, he worked hard at the notebooks, and when he was finally able to get away to North Africa and rejoin the air force, in the spring of 1943, there must have been 1200 or 1300 pages of them. But I am very sure that this was not, properly speaking, a book at all. It was a heap of notes flung haphazardly on paper, a shapeless mass not destined for publication in that state.
I speak of it here because, in concentrating upon his "posthumous work," Saint-Exupéry found one day what he had sought in vain to express in the unfinished war book. It was those months of meditation over his notebooks that made it possible for him to write Flight to Arras.
PAUL VALÉRY used to talk about the "ideal reader" to whom every author subconsciously and necessarily addresses himself. If Flight to Arras is not a completely successful book the reason is, I believe, that Saint-Exupéry sought to write at one and the some time for Americans and for Frenchmen, and thus lost from view his "ideal reader." Nobody was ever so little endowed as he with that sort of cleverness (finesse) that Pascal despised. Nobody, therefore, was so little fitted for writing propaganda. He had undertaken I repeat, against his will to explain to Americans the defeat of France. But it was impossible that Americans should interest him at a moment when France lay under the German heel. He could not fix his attention upon us. His glance strayed ceaselessly across the Atlantic. He did not knew how to write except for Frenchmen, and even in the closing chapters of the book, where his subject is Man and Charity, it is through the French people that he addresses himself to others. The pages written deliberately for American readers, those pages in which be demonstrates by logic and statistics that the defeat of France was inevitable, are much the weakest part of Flight to Arras. The French read those pages, agreed with them, and promptly forgot them as of minor interest. American readers were scandalized by them and called them "defeatist."
I did not see then, as l have seen since, where the misunderstanding lay. The book was published, in English translation, in February, 1942. A man who publishes in New York, two months after Pearl Harbor, a book in which he declares that the important question is not "What ought we to do?" but "What ought we to be?" is bound to seem to Americans a mystic or a madman. It did not occur to us that Saint-Exupéry, was writing for the French, and that their Pearl Harbor had taken place twenty-one months earlier, in May, 1940. On the other hand, Saint-Exupéry was at fault in forgetting that he had started to write a book for Americans, and that his American readers were faced with a situation which was not to be resolved by essays on the moral nature of man. He ended by writing for the French, a people whose morale needed support after a humiliating defeat. He published among the Americans, a people whose only thought was how to organize and employ the resources they must bring to bear if they were not to suffer a defeat no less humiliating.
Two months after Pearl Harbor, at a time When Laval was about to return to power at Vichy, American readers wanted Saint-Exupéry to write about Democracy with a capital D: he wrote about Man. They wanted him to celebrate the Bill of Rights: he sang the beauty of Charity. They asked him to announce to them like Heine in "The Two Grenadiers" that the French Army was about to rise up out of its grave, sword in hand: he brought them tidings of the immortality of the substance, the "seed" as be put it, of France. Only the French, in 1942, were in a mood to appreciate Flight to Arras.
This man who wrote like an angel was convinced that he did not know how to write. He needed constantly to be reassured by his friends concerning the quality of the writing he was engaged upon. My wife, who was very fond of Saint-Exupéry and loved to hear him talk, had nevertheless one subject of complaint concerning him: he telephoned me too often in the middle of the night. I was then translating Flight to Arras chapter by chapter as it came from his hands, and was therefore Intimately associated with his torments of composition. Whenever he had written a particularly difficult passage, and felt that he had to read it aloud immediately, it was to me that he would telephone. And I, at two o'clock in the morning, under the half-mocking and half-furious stare of my wife, understanding not a word of what the rapid muffled voice was reciting into the telephone for I was of course more than half asleep would nod my head, interject an appropriate "Ah!" or "That's good, that is!" while I sought in vain to catch at the thread of his discourse; and upon his insistent demand, when he was through, that I tell him what I thought, would repeat mechanically and hypocritically, "Magnificent! Magnificent!" Generally the session ended with a long silence in which I seemed to hear Saint-Exupéry turning his ideas over in his mind, then a sudden "Good! Sorry to disturb you. Good night," and he would hang up.
IN Flight to Arras Saint-Exupéry had come with real difficulty to the end of a transitional stage between two contrasted vocations, that of "poet of the air" and that of moralist. He had always been a contemplative writer. But in his first period he had frequently been content to write about action pretty much for its own sake. In his second period, in Flight to Arras, he had made action the pretext of meditation. In the period into which he had emerged when he vanished out of Ibis world on July 31, 1944, somewhere in the skies between Tunisia and the Maritime Alps, he was the pure moralist that we find in Letter to the Hostage. Already, in 1938, I had been enabled to see the beginnings of this inner mutation.
Saint-Exupéry paid his first brief visit to the United States in January or February, 1938. He had arranged to have a plane shipped from France to Montreal, and his purpose was to essay a record flight over all the countries of the Western Hemisphere, from Canada to the tip of Patagonia. "If you will look at an air map," he said when he came to dinner with the Roussy de Sales, "you will see that I can do it by flying practically in a straight line. It's a silly thing to do, perhaps, but I want to do it." Two days later he had taken off, and in another day or two we read that he had crashed with an overload of fuel in Guatemala. After some weeks in hospital, first in Guatemala City and then in Mexico, he spent a brief period of convalescence in New fork as the guest of Colonel (later Major General) William Donovan, creator and director of !he OSS. Here he finished a book upon which he had been at work for a number of years. The manuscript, turned over to me for translation, was entitled Du vent, du sable, des étoiles. The translation was published in the following year under this same title: Wind, Sand and Stars.
Saint-Exupéry had sailed home to France, and I had gone to work on the translation of Sherwood Anderson's, in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, when I received the first of an absolute rain of letters transmitting changes that he was then engaged in making in the French text. Later, when I started to tell this story to Pierre Lazareff, he laughed as he interrupted me: "But you don't know the half of it. Each time that Antoine gave us a piece for Paris-Soir, it was the devil's own job to get it into the paper. There was no getting rid of the man. He would slip into the composing room at midnight to take out commas and change the order of the sentences. He would demoralize the whole shop, bribing the printer's devils with bottles of wine, in the middle of the night, to let him get at the forms."
To be sure, there was something of this in those letters commas to be removed or inserted, verbs altered from the optative to the imperative mood, the syntax and rhythm of scores of sentences to be modified in the interest of a simpler, more fluent line. But there were other things too. In the first place, Saint-Exupéry was purifying his style, ridding it of rhetoric, eliminating the florid and moving towards the severe. He had conceived such a horror of the"literary," the falsely poetic, that he dropped his evocative title and substituted for it Terre des hommes, literally "Man's Earth" with the sense of "the planet on which men live." Not only had he rewritten certain chapters in their entirety substituting meditation for action and description, but he ended by cutting out altogether one third of the text he had left with me. It was clear that he was anxious to give the reader the impression that this was not a book of adventure, and that his aim was a book in which the reader should see unmistakably as he put it "how the airplane, that tool of the airlines, brings man face to face with the eternal problems." All this was very laudable except that in his concern with the moral aspects of his subject, Saint-Exupéry was throwing overboard a great deal of beautiful and moving writing which (in my view) he had no right to jettison.
In the beginning, my protests were cautious and mild. When, from his replies, I saw that I had shaken him and induced him to hesitate, I pressed my points; and I ended by telling him that he knew how to write but not how to read. The result was unexpected. He sent his version to the printer in France and allowed me to send mine to the printer in America. Then, when his French text was in proof, he turned up suddenly in New York, in February, 1939. He said that he was sailing back four days thence in the ship that had brought him, and that he had come only to tell me that he was sorry to have given me so much trouble. I was appropriately touched; but I reminded him that he had promised his American publishers two additional chapters and had not produced them. He made a face, and said he thought he could write one, at any rate, in a couple of days; it had been ripening in him for several years and was ready to drop. And in a room at the Ritz, in New York, he wrote what some readers believe to be the most exciting chapter in Wind, Sand and Stars, the chapter called "The Elements." Our moralist was himself so convinced of the excellence of this narrative of fiction that he cabled Paris to ask that Terre des hommes be held up for its insertion; but it was too late. There is a nice thesis for a Sorbonne doctorate in a comparison of the two books.
Saint-Exupéry was not in the least a man of letters in the fashion of Gautier, for example, ever prepared to deliver copy on any subject and in any form. He was not like George Sand, of whom the great editor, Buloz, said that in the delivery of copy she was "as punctual as a notary." He never stopped writing, but he tore up a hundred pages for every page he sent to the printer. He was always late, always pressed for time, never certain that he had expressed exactly what he meant to say. And he was born a moralist. Christopher Morley called him "the Joseph Conrad of the air"; but if he had lived, he might have given the world not a second Conrad but a second Pascal.
SAINT-EXUPÉRY, who was six feet tall, had the head of a bird. His skull was round and his hair was beginning to recede, his nose was tilted and rather pointed, his chin (like Bedell Smith's) was stubborn but not prominent, and his eyes, which were protuberant, seemed almost to be set sideways. This bird's head, meanwhile, was mounted on the body of a Negro prize-fighter: the neck and shoulders of a bull, a great barrel chest, a fine slim waist, thin knock-kneed shanks that ended in long flat feet on which, when he was in a hurry, he shuffled rather than ran. Not very flattering, you say, and yet his bearing was so noble, the dignity, the intelligence, and the open fearlessness of his countenance were so endearing, that he was actually one of the most attractive of men.
Saint-Exupéry was a man of great breeding and extraordinary personal distinction, but he was as little worldly as can be imagined. I do not mean that he was a bohemian; he was not. Naturally gay, easily amused, he did not know what it was to be superficial or frivolous. He made no effort to win anyone's liking or to draw attention to himself. He was not a tease, and he did not know how to flirt. When he met a woman who took his fancy, he blushed; and his way of showing that she pleased him was to explain to her a "fascinating" theorem or to offer to read to her something that he was writing. He certainly never sought to make himself "interesting" by talking to her of his adventures. It goes without saying that he was no Puritan, but he was of a remarkable fastidiousness; he had a physical horror of everything that smacked of depravity or morbidity. An English friend whom I introduced one day said to me later: "I know how touchy you are about the French, but I hope you won't mind my saying that it is rare to meet a Frenchman as male as your friend is."
He was a great ruminant, and from this cause flowed the consequence that women who were meeting him for the first time were likely to be disappointed in him. Having spent the day ruminating a problem of physics or metaphysics, he would arrive at your house with the sole object of telling you what was in his mind. You would introduce him to three pretty women, but to no end. Saint-Exupéry, quite unaware that he might be rude, would turn his back on the ladies and drag you off into another room to discuss what he had been ruminating.
As to women, it seemed to me that his preference was for frail, young, gentle persons with whom he could feel himself perfectly secure, by which I mean, not in danger of incurring towards them other responsibilities than those he was prepared to impose upon himself. But like the rest of us, like Swann with Odette, he found himself now and then involved with women who were "not his type" handsome viragoes, so to say, who attached themselves to him, listened with calculated attention to his reflections, tried to arrange his existence for him, and whom he had a hard time gelling rid of because he simply did not know how to be brutal. (Choleric he could be, but never brutal.)
IT 's only since the war that we of America have begun to see that there are more ways than one of being a democrat. Saint-Exupéry could not be a democrat in our way for one thing, because he insisted upon re-examining premises which are to us sacrosanct, untouchable, the fables of our law. When, in Europe, an American colonel or businessman has finished declaiming against the ineptitude of our Congressmen or the corruption of our politicians, and a European asks him, "Why, then, do you believe in democracy?" his answer goes something like this: "Why shouldn't I? I can tell Congress and the City Hall to go hang, can't I?" That is not an answer that can help the European to make up his mind about the sort of political system he wants for his country.
For another thing, Saint-Exupéry belonged to that post-1918 generation in France, for whom the decisive moment in their political education came with the series of stock-market scandals which culminated in the Stavisky affair and the Place de la Concorde riot of February 9, 1934. Democracy, for a Frenchman of his years, was summed up entirely and exclusively in the darker side of the Third Republic; and as democracy is by definition the regime of the middle classes, it represented for that generation the regime of a morally decadent bourgeoisie. To find it working in America meant, for such a Frenchman, that he must think the whole subject through from the beginning; and Saint-Exupéry was not the sort of thinker to be content with easy answers.
Finally, there is this fundamental difference: Frenchmen, Belgians, Italians, Spaniards, Germans, ask that democracy be, not a way of life, but a doctrine, a code logical and self-consistent, affording mathematical proof that the system does serve the common good. On the moral or spiritual side, everybody proclaims himself a democrat the Communist, the Protestant Socialist, the Catholic Socialist, the irreligious Socialist, even yesterday's fifth columnist. And all these doctrinaires differ from us (and from the British with whom we are co-heirs of their seventeenth-century political thinkers) in blaming doctrines rather than men when things go wrong. Their impulse is to throw out the baby with the bath water, to pull down institutions, rather than draft protective legislation, when an Oustric and a Stavisky are found to have corrupted a handful of public servants. We who are intuitively and historically aware that democracy is a living thing, and not a blueprint, know better than to blame democracy for corruption and for crises that have flourished under every kind of political regime. Never having been governed by intellectuals, we have no habit of doctrine and no taste for it. When things go wrong, it is men and not systems that we blame.
All this is not entirely a digression. Saint-Exupéry was a democrat in the sense that a Lord Acton or a Tocqueville was a democrat, though he was not, like them, a practicing Catholic. He shared their passion for liberty. Fraternity was with him as with them an article of faith by which he lived. Like them, he feared both the tyranny of the minority and the tyranny of the majority ("I shall fight against all those who seek to subject the liberty of man either to an individual or to the mass of individuals"). Possessing to a prodigious degree both the intuitive intelligence and the deductive intelligence, Saint-Exupéry, saw clearly that we were living in an age when all premises required re-examination. He refused to accept the conventions of any ideology, even the most idealistic. Thus he wrote: "I have preached Democracy without the least notion that I was merely giving expression to an aggregate of wishes and not to an aggregate of principles." To wish was never enough for Saint-Exupéry.
In the Autobiography of that venerable agnostic of a century ago, John Stuart Mill, I came recently upon these lines: "When the philosophic minds of the world can no longer believe its religion ... a transitional period commences, of weak convictions, paralysed intellects, and growing laxity of principle, which cannot terminate until a renovation has been effected in the basis of their belief, leading to the evolution of some faith, whether religious or merely human, which they can really believe; and when things are in this state, all thinking or writing which does not tend to promote such a renovation, is of very little value beyond the moment." I believe I may bear witness that Saint-Exupéry, in writing, had rigorously no other purpose than "to promote such a renovation" and that he rejected with scorn every proposal that he write only for the moment. And as he thought ceaselessly of something like Mill's "renovation"; as he never uttered a thought that he did net believe, being incapable of fear or hypocrisy, he could but become the subject of grave misunderstanding in a time when bitter partisanship and mental malady, and prejudice, and rancor were rife.
I looked at him as he stood with shining eyes, ecstatic to find himself bathed in this atmosphere of frank, manly comradeship. It seemed to me that for him the others were his elders towards whom he felt a sort of gratitude for their having let him play with them. I said to myself, "Extraordinary, how like a schoolboy he looks of a sudden." And I thought of those little boys in private schools, children of divorced parents, or unhappy at home for another cause, who hate holidays and are happy only at school, among the only beings they respect and want to be respected by their comrades.
All this is obscure and rather difficult to elucidate. For one thing, I repeat, it was only an impression an intuition, if you prefer. For another, I am talking about something which, if it existed at all, lay at the very core of Saint-Exupéry's nature, which I am far from pretending to plumb. Obviously, Saint-Exupéry was not a man who gave the impression of a schoolboy or of anybody's subordinate. There was nothing timid or irresolute in his bearing. He knew how to talk to men, how to lead them; by station, character, and intellect he was born to command and had proved himself a great squadron leader.
Later, when I thought about it again, I remembered that each time that he had mentioned his family in France and their fate was constantly in his mind, he was constantly engaged in devising means to get funds and supplies to them it was of women that he had spoken, never of men. I know nothing of his family, but I took it into my head that he had been brought up by women, and this fact if it was one seemed to me to explain many things about him: from the respect he instinctively showed all women to that nostalgia for his comrades of the air which emerged again and again in his conversation. Like all virile men, he preferred the company of one woman to the company of several women, and the company of several men to that of one man alone.
THE entry of the United States into the war furnished him with a fresh subject of concern. From that time onwards, he could think of nothing but how to hasten our participation and supply our British and Russian allies. He was one of the few Europeans who did not consider that President Roosevelt's initial program of production was mere "American bluff." "Sixty thousand planes and ten million tons of shipping in a single year? Why not?" he would say to skeptical compatriots. "A nation that suddenly stops building five million motorcars a year certainly possesses the manpower, the raw materials, and the skill to carry out Roosevelt's program."
Some of his notions were worthy of Jules Verne. For example, to supply planes to England at a time when the German U-boats were infesting the North Atlantic waters, he proposed the construction of large underwater barges which would be loaded with dismounted planes and hauled by giant American submarines. Another idea, which was more daring, and indeed romantic, seemed nevertheless so possible of realization that I ended by taking it seriously. Like everybody else, Saint-Exupéry had been jubilant over General Giraud's escape from the fortresses of Koenigstein. His mind leapt instantly to a search for the means to make use of this gift of the gods. This is what he worked out. He would have liked the War Department to set him down in North Africa, whence it would be a simple matter for him to make his way to France. There, he would go to see Giraud as an emissary from the Department. He would persuade the General to accompany him in a plane that he would easily get hold of, to a rendezvous at sea with an American war vessel. The cruiser would take them to Washington, where the Combined Chiefs of Staff would plan with Giraud a North African expedition, supported by the French troops in that region, who, Saint-Exupéry, believed, would be overjoyed to place themselves under Giraud's command.
I was so struck by this plan that I went down to Washington and talked it over at dinner with two friends, one from the Combined Chiefs and the other from the OSS. That was in July, 1942. I did not know then that the President and the Prime Minister had just given their approval to Operation Torch, which was to culminate in the North African landings of November 8, 1942, and that, on the French side, Giraud was to be the keystone in the arch of this operation.
Never have I been the object of such a rebuff I had bother say frankly, bawling out as at the end of my little speech. My friend Saint-Exupéry might perhaps be a genius, but he was certainly a complete idiot. As for me, what right had I to intervene in matters that did not concern me and about which I could not be more ignorant? If they ever heard that I had repeated a single word of this grotesque pipe-dream to anybody at all, they would take personal and particular pleasure in seeing that I was put away in a Federal penitentiary for a dozen years. And my friend Saint-Exupéry the same.
Next day, in New York, I made my report to Saint-Exupéry, who heard me through without a word. We looked at each other for a long moment. Then Saint-Exupéry smiled faintly, "Ah?" he said. "So that's how it is! They're cleverer than I had imagined."
But that is not the end of my story. Not long afterwards a friend brought to Saint-Exupéry's apartment one of the highest dignitaries of the American air services, a general who had already distinguished himself by a sensational exploit in the Pacific theater and was later to command our most powerful bombing force in Europe. A good deal of what the Combined Chiefs' planners knew of airports, installations, and flying conditions in North Africa resulted from the contact thus established. It was not from Saint-Exupéry that I learned of the American general's visit, nor did he speak to me again, by the time I started overseas on October 3, of Giraud or of a North African landing. For Saint-Exupéry was not only a man, he was a soldier.
It is hard to sum up a reminiscence of so great a soul. Knight of the Round Table, Lancelot for whom beauty in distress was the whole of mankind, Parsifal and warrior and Einsteinian armorer in one I find myself forced back to the age of chivalry for terms proper to characterize my friend. Strange that he should belong a little bit to America, though nothing in our country (any more than on the Quai de Passy or the Place de la Bourse) is here to recall his deepest spiritual roots. Yet the thought occurs to me that he was in some measure ours, and I see a lesson for Frenchmen that our land is marked by other values than the inhuman ones they tend to see in it in the fact that it was here that Saint-Exupéry, was able to write The Little Prince and the Letter to the Hostage, as well as Flight to Arras and a good part of Wind, Sand and Stars. In America as in France, this heroic figure, who vanished as by miracle, who died the airman's death he would have wished to die, has his monument in men's hearts.
An American writer with the gift of tongues, LEWIS GALANTIÈRE divided his life, in the inter-war period, between central banking and literature. Wind, Sand and Stars and Flight to Arras, by his friend Saint-Exupéry, are two out of a score of French books which, as editor and translator, he introduced to American readers in twenty-five years of service to Franco-American inter-cultural relations.