A Very Special Every MannWilliam Sloane Coffin, Jr.: Once tonEvery Man: A Memoir; Atheneum;nNew York, 1977.nby Duncan WilliamsnXo anyone who lived and taught innthe United States as I did during thentrauma of the sixties and early seventies,nWilliam Coffin’s book, Once to EverynMan, resembles a looking-glass reflectingnthe anxieties, horrors and waking nightmaresnwhich characterised that epoch,nthe scars of which are. still tender andneasily re-opened. For here they all arenagain—the assassinations of thenKennedys and Martin Luther King, then”freedom rides” through Alabama, thenanti-war movement, the burning andnlooting of Watts and other cities, thenMoratorium, Hanoi and the perplexingnquestion of amnesty to deserters andndraft-dodgers, culminating in the dramaticnappearance of Bobby Seale and hisnBlack Panther adherents in the unlikelynsetting of Battell Chapel, Yale.nThroughout his involvement withnthese events Coffin reveals some strikingnparadoxes in his character. Recountingnhis service with the allied forces at thenend of the second World War and hisnsubsequent encounters with the RednArmy, he registers his liking for thenRussian people, their literature andnapparent spontaneity. He also was directlynexposed to the darker side of Russianncommunism.nAs part of his duties as “RussiannLiaison Officer,” an event occurred whichnhe admits was “so painful that it’s almostnimpossible for me to write about.” Thenevent in question arose from a jointnagreement, made by Churchill, StalinnProf. Williams is an English scholar,neducated at Oxford, and author of books,nof which Trousered Apes, published innthis country in 1972, is the best known.n8nChronicles of Culturenand Roosevelt to repatriate each others’ncitizens at the end of the war as quicklynas possible. Thus, the Western Allies atnthe close of hostilities found themselvesnin the embarrassing situation of havingnto repatriate some thousands of Russiansnwho, faced with the agonizing choicenbetween Stalin and Hitler, had desertednand joined General Vlassov in his fightnagainst communism. It was left to Coffin,nalone, to attend their last evening in anrefugee camp. Three thousand voicesnwere singing old Russian patriotic songs.nCoffin, the guest of honour, and privy asnto what was to take place soon, feltn”physically ill.”n”Several times I turned to the commandantnsitting next to me. It would have been soneasy to tip him off. There was still time.nThe camp was minimally guarded. Oncenoutside the men could tear up their identityncards, get other clothes. Yet I couldn ‘tnbring myself to do zV,”{Italics mine)nHe proceeds to describe the consequencenof his failure to act:n”At 5:45 a.m. the next morning, the firstnU.S. division moved in as planned. Despitenthe fact that there were three G.I.’s tonevery returning Russian, I saw several menncommit suicide. Two rammed their headsnthrough windows, sawing their necks onnthe broken glass until they cut their jugularnveins. Another took his leather bootstraps,ntied a loop to the top of his triple-deckernbunk, put his head through the noose andndid a back flip over the edge which brokenhis neck. Others less successful werenbandaged up and carried on stretchers tonthe boxcars into which the rest of thenmen had been herded. They were peeringnout through barred windows.”nSurely, such an experience should havenmade a man of Coffin’s intelligence andnsensitivity aware of the horrors of thencommunist mentality, and yet he becamenone of the most prominent figures in thencivil disobedience directed against thenVietnam war. Late in the book hennnrecounts his dramatic visit to Hanoi tonescort three U.S. pilots back to freedom.nAfter a heart-rending account of bombednNorth-Vietnamese hospitals, schools andnchurches, he states casually that therenwere few military targets in the area.n”Of course the North Vietnamese manufacturednvery few arms. Their militarynsupplies came from outside the country;nSoviet tanks, heavily laden, were movingnalong the shell-pocked roads.” (Italicsnmine) It appears that by this stage he isnso caught up in “the protest movement”nthat his indignation is highly selective,nif not myopic.nIt is perhaps worth rememberingnthe infinite gullibility of such Britishnvisitors as Sidney and Beatrice Webb tonthe Soviet Union, prior to the secondnWorld War, and the paeans of brayingnpraise which they heaped upon thenregime. Along the same lines, it wasnpatrician and intellectual London whichnfawned on Ribbentrop and jostled for hisnpresence at their salons and dinnerparties.nMeanwhile the intelligentsia ofnOxford, epitomised by All Souls College,nwas well-nigh united against Churchillnand all for “appeasement” with Hitler.nCoffin sub-titles his book, “A Memoir”nand sometimes he comes close to makingnit an apostasy. Two quotations will suffice:n”In retrospect… I can see that business,nbaseball, basketball and football havenintegrated this country more than all thensermons ever preached.” The second isnhis reaction at the actual realities of thenconfrontation in Washington betweennWeathermen and police during a peacenrally involving speakers (McGovern,nGoodell, who were both booed, CorettanKing “whose name and regal presencengained her a respectful silence but notnundivided attention”) folksingers andnrock groups:n”I had to admit that the peace movementnwas no longer peaceful… Frustrated in an