The Glorious (Somewhat Canadian) Life of Arnold Beichman

Since his death on Feb. 17 at age 96, the tributes have flowed to Arnold Beichman, the legendary anti-communist journalist.

But there is one aspect of Arnold's life that risks being slighted: his life as a Canadian.

Canadian? On first encounter, Arnold was as New York as a cheese Danish. He spoke with the accents and energy of the Lower East Side. He had watched Babe Ruth play, battled communists at the Columbia Spectator, reported for the legendary New York newspaper PM--and returned annually to New York to enjoy the twin pleasures of argument and delicatessen food.

He was a brave, fascinating and lovable man, whose life brought honour to Canada.

But consider where he was returning from: Naramata, B.C., the family home of his beloved wife Carroll. Carroll's father had pioneered development in the Okanagan, retaining for himself a magnificent property with a vast vista over the lake.

Naramata became Arnold's second home, then his first--his "Gan Eden" as he called it: "Garden of Eden."

From Naramata, Arnold wrote Washington Times columns about Canadian politics and society, usually featuring his intense disdain for prime minister--then ex-prime minister, then deceased--Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Sometimes you had to wonder what Arnold's editors made of it all.

Here was the man who had persuaded senator John F. Kennedy to support the Algerian independence movement, now writing about . . . Michaelle Jean?

The Kennedy story was one of Arnold's best. The senator had asked Arnold to make his case during the minutes it took for him to walk up Lexington Avenue to his hotel, the now-demolished Commodore. Arnold talked, as ever ebulliently, following Kennedy right into the elevator. As the door to Kennedy's hotel room closed, the senator held up his hand, signalling that Arnold was not to follow. "The room's a mess," he said. Thinking of all we have since learned about Kennedy's personal life, Arnold would chuckle. "And now we know why!"

But probably the championship story is the story Arnold told my baseball-crazed son, then aged maybe eight.

"You know--I once met Babe Ruth." Nathaniel's eyes widened.

"In those days, if you saved up milk bottles, the dairy would exchange them for bleachers seats to Yankee Stadium. After one game, my friends and I went around to the players' exit. We spotted Babe Ruth's car: a big convertible, a Packard probably. Then--out came the Babe! Somebody dared me to go talk to him. I walked up, we exchanged a few words, and when I came back, I was a hero. 'The Babe talked to him! The Babe talked to Arnold! Hey Arnold-- what did he say?!' I told them: 'He told me--kid, get the hell off my running board.' They said, 'Wow!' For the next month, my friends would tell everybody: 'The Babe told Arnold to get the hell off his running board!' I was a hero."

Arnold got the big issues right: communism, racial segregation, free speech. As editor of the student paper at Columbia, Arnold opposed the Young Communists' demand that the university refuse a platform to Nazi Germany's ambassador to the United States, Hans Luther. He told the Young Communists: "I don't remember any complaints when Columbia invited Maxim Litvinov (the Soviet ambassador)."

But he did get some things wrong. Arnold's friend Milton Friedman recalled that Arnold bet him a quarter in late 1939 that Britain and France would defeat Germany within six months. For once, Arnold's acuity failed him--but he paid the quarter like a gentleman.

The last time I saw Arnold was the first time I saw Naramata. I had a flight home from Afghanistan via Vancouver, and seized the chance.

The house was even more lovely than Arnold had promised: great looming cliffs over water, a marvellous cottage-house topped by soaring trees. Carroll made a delicious dinner, and Arnold ate heartily. Except for the fading of his hearing, he was undiminished in every way.

After dinner, Arnold reminisced. On hot days, he said, children would plunge off the piers into the East River. In those days when goods still moved by horse and carriage, the city's street sweepers would dump their loads off the same piers. Arnold and his friends would swim surrounded by bobbing chunks of manure.

I said that sounded very disgusting, but Carroll speculated: Arnold, have you ever considered that those swims are the secret of your longevity? They must have done wonders for your immune system!

I dont know if that theory makes medical sense. But what a preparation it must have been for a life fighting against thugs and dictators.

He was a brave, fascinating and lovable man, whose life brought honour to Canada.

David Frum is a resident fellow at AEI.

Photo Credit: Lone Primate/Flickr/Creative Commons

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About the Author

 

David
Frum
  • David Frum is the author of six books, most recently, Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again (Doubleday, 2007). While at AEI, he studied recent political, generational, and demographic trends. In 2007, the British newspaper Daily Telegraph named him one of America's fifty most influential conservatives. Mr. Frum is a regular commentator on public radio's Marketplace and a columnist for The Week and Canada's National Post.

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