Reportage

Mortar Shells and Magnolia

Review of James Cameron’s ‘What a Way To Run the Tribe’…

cam-fiveEasily one of my favourite books by the late journalist James Cameron, ‘What a Way to Run the Tribe’ is a collection of some of Cameron’s finest work, mostly for the Daily Herald newspaper from the fifties and early sixties and a pivotal time in post war Europe, Africa and Asia.

The caricature of Cameron on the front cover perfectly encapsulates all that Cameron was; a globe-trotting, well-spoken, mildly mannered British foreign correspondent whose black and white passport must have been covered in visa stamp marks.

Published in 1968 Cameron covers Vietnam in both battle and French occupation, Cyprus, The Algerian War, The Berlin Wall, the death of Nehru and the troubles in the Middle East including The Six Day War. He writes as he spoke, opinionated but polite and throughout this collection of essays can be found some intriguing nuggets of information such as his account of members of the Foreign Legion: “Here in the French Army mess was the Foreign Legion, Germans to a man, all full of Pernod, and singing, if you can imagine it, ‘Tiperary’ ..” Then there is the time he interviewed Gandhi and asked him for news with one of his talks with Mountbatten:… “He answered crossly: ‘Nowadays I can give you nothing. Except’-with a sudden grin-‘my shawl if you like’…Like a fool, I did not take it”

This was Cameron’s eighth book and proof if it were ever needed of his grasp of world affairs. Divided into six sections it treads most geopolitical paths and meets most of the leaders and shakers of his generation. His three page account of leaving America in the wake of the Kennedy assassination is compelling, his derision at the idea that one man could have pulled off such a feat of marksmanship is there for all to read, he suggests we may never find out the truth suggesting the Dallas Police will do little to change his mind. He paints a picture of America gripped by fear, the hatred by white America for Kennedy’s Civil Rights policy. His account of America’s sorrow recalls later themes in Diana Spencer’s death and the remarkable memory loss so many of the public suffered for her martyrdom. Of Kennedy he wrote: “We have the image of a people startled into a sense of outrage, forgetting that Kennedy was killed in the town that a month before had picketed the Memorial Auditorium crying: ‘Kennedy will get his reward in hell !’…that only two weeks ago was circulating handbills of his picture captioned ‘Wanted For Treason’…that stuck swastikas on downtown Jewish shops….where fourth-grade schoolchildren applauded the news of the assassination” Quite so.

Finally, I shall leave with words close to my own heart and a place and subject I adore. He could have written it for me….”When the day comes on which I must throw away my last passport and the old rocking-chair gets me, the only part of the world the I shall really miss will be Asia….I love the Orient even though so much of my knowledge of it came in cruel times-Malaya, Indonesia, Korea, finally the exasperating hopelessness of Vietnam. There were other times, but of course, one has no need to write”

How I wish he had…

For a bibliography of James Cameron’s work please click here

What a Way to Run the Tribe. Selected Articles 1948-67  by James Cameron

Published by Macmillan and Co. 1968

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