RED, WHITE, AND BLUE PARADISE: The American Canal Zone in Panama by Herbert & Mary Knapp Knapp

RED, WHITE, AND BLUE PARADISE: The American Canal Zone in Panama

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Two ex-""Zonians"" strike back--at both the ""American authoritarian socialism"" of the Panama Canal Zone and the liberal-elite image of ""working, middle-class Zonians"" as ""redneck philistines."" The Knapps spent 19 years in the Zone, teaching and raising their two children; it should also be noted (though they let on only incidentally, far along) that they're black. Their text is an intriguing, indiosyncratic combination of yarning and haranguing: a neoconservative tract saved by caustic humor and some bitter truths. On the historical side, they argue against American ""imperialism"" in Panama: TR didn't ""take"" the Zone, it was presented to him (by French canal official Philippe Bunau-Varilla, only partly from pecuniary motives); the US didn't ruin Panama, it kept the country alive and made it economically viable (it also provided Panama with health and sanitary services, and educated many Panamanian young); Zonians didn't universally scorn or shun Panamanians, the Zone police didn't beat them up. In short and in sum: the US has nothing to be ashamed of. ""New treaties were necessary--but as a result of what the United States had done in Panama, not as a result of what the United States had failed to do or of what it had done wrong."" Interwoven with this defense is indictment of the ""social engineers"" who envisioned, ran, and then disowned the Zone: from turn-of-the-century progressives to Carter and the media. (""The workers, it was assumed, would ally themselves with the smart people. . ."") The Knapps' own story is offered piecemeal--along with slices of life-in-the-Zone since 1904. ""In the 1950s we made no connection between the idealistic collectivism that we advocated and the conformity that we deplored."" They then tell how it was to live free from ""fret, worry and hurry"" (as Edward Bellamy wrote) in an ""efficient, model community""--where embarrassing behavior (adultery, homosexuality, public drunkenness) could get a person peremptorily shipped out and there was no free local press to report the realities. (They also record the mixed blessings of daily life and the vagaries of racial discrimination--in the Zone and in Panama, against American and West Indian workers.) There's plenty of nitty-gritty as well as a lot of vitriol--as the Knapps also take out after Paul Theroux, Geraldo Rivers, Graham Greene, and the US embassy folk who romanticized dictator Torrijos and held Zonians in contempt. This may touch some patriotic-Right buttons--but it's not dull or unrewarding for those otherwise inclined.

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 1984
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich