RALPH BUNCHE: UN Peacemaker by Peggy Mann


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Mann's expanded, anecdotal treatment of UN negotiator Ralph Bunche may be a mixed blessing. Basically it adds little to the sharply delineated personality we met in Haskins' 1974 life--Bunche the achiever, the determined optimist, the ""reluctant hero""--nor does it really challenge Haskins' assessment of Bunche's relationship to the civil rights movement (principally that he was not temperamentally suited to activism) even though Mann makes much of his service to the NAACP, which is beside the point. On a few important points Mann and Haskins differ: Haskins has Ralph's father dying discreetly whereas here he's a ""travellin' Man"" who just disappears and is never heard from again. And there is more, and more candid, information here about Bunche's private life: his unpublicized battle with illness (phlebitis, diabetes, etc.); his poker-playing at Harvard and after; Mrs. Bunche getting her two big wishes, to marry a fine man and see Paris (if she really said this, it might have been best forgotten). Finally Mann sketches in far more of the background and substance of Bunche's major UN assignments; and if the view of the Congo seems to stress the comic opera aspects of the crisis, the chapters on Palestine, while distinctly pro-Israeli, do give a clearer idea of what Bunche was doing there. Fair enough, but by the time one plows through the afterwords--protesting the Arab-bloc voting in today's UN, the decision to allow Arafat to speak there, the Arab countries' refusal to resettle refugees--one wonders whether the author's mind is still on Bunche at all. Perhaps Haskins is no more objective--just circumspect about avoiding controversy. Yet most will prefer his neat, trimly packaged biography to this larger, looser one--garrulous and opinionated, sometimes revealing and sometimes just sentimental.

Pub Date: Aug. 4th, 1975
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan