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The Crimson Bookshelf

TAPS, a novel by Hector Lazo. Bruce Humphries, Inc. 1934. $1.25. 125 pp.

By J. ST. J.

EVERY able-bodied man eligible for military service within the next thirty years owes it to himself, to his country, and to the shreds and patches of Western civilization to weigh carefully the problems upon which Hector Lazo throws a searchlight in "Taps." The book tells the story of a young, ardent, Hun-damning warrior, who, forced as a Secret Service man to pose as a conscientious objector, is finally persuaded by the force of his own assumed arguments and by the pleading of a wounded friend to become in all seriousness the determined kind of pacifist which he had been impersonating. Hector Lazo here brings up in suggestive and stimulating form, issues which may well be the most momentous and the most urgent which men of this generation have to decide. For he would be a sanguine prophet who could look into the seeds of time and judge that the grains of war will be the ones to fall among thorns or upon rocky ground. And once the guns are fired there can be no escaping that fundamental decision of personal political action and individual conscience--to join the forces or to resist the draft.

In 1917 in the general crusading ardor of the "war to end war" there were few who believed war as such wholly wrong. There were fewer still who had enough faith in principle to refuse to fight in the face of the bitter and contemptuous accusations of disloyalty and cowardice heaped upon them by the public and friends alike. If war comes again, there will be a greater number of resisters than in 1917. But what influence will they have? How many will stand firm in the face of the obloquy they are almost certain to have to endure? The answer depends upon a hundred variables. But the experience of 1917 throws some light on the hypothetical situation, and one of the main contributions of "Taps" lies in its vivid picture of the frenzied, gullible, and fanatically intolerant state of mind in which the nation went to war. The testimony of "Taps" shows once more that the only time for an individual to make a rational decision about war-resistance is in the months of peace. It is a tragic human failing which makes men shrink from decision until they are no longer masters of their own powers of judgment.

In dramatizing the issues of practical pacifism Hector Lazo has done something beyond the power of the propagandist pamphleteer. He has connected argument for war-resistance with living, personal situations in a way that ought to bring them home to many who would read them in formal declarations only with a closed mind. The book will hold the interest of a large group of people who would stop on the second page of a systematic exposition. And the earnestness of the book and the convincing way in which it sets forth the author's point of view may lead some at least to the study of systematic expositions and to the careful weighing of alternatives which the importance of their decision demands.

The chief merit of "Taps" from a literary point of view is that it is short and quick-moving; there are no irrelevant episodes. The brevity of the book and the author's eagerness to make his point obviate the possibility of creating anything more than "type" characters. The same things account also perhaps for the melodramatic nature of the plot. It is unfortunate that melodrama should be carried over from plot to style and that much of the dialogue and some of the narrative of "Taps" should be so strongly suggestive of the worst manner of scenario writers for the early thrillers of the silent movies.

But "Taps" does not pretend to be a work of art. Its value comes from its success in embodying in a readable narrative, ideas and arguments on one of the most crucial issues of the century. Can any individual reconcile it with his conscience to take part in the mass murder of war? Can he allow a creed of non-violence to be pushed so far by logic that it is destroyed along with its believers by the ruthless powers which still exist in the world? Can any individual rightly jeopardize the safety of his own country by clinging to his own judgment even in the face of an opposed political majority? These are some of the questions suggested by "Taps." In provoking thought among his readers on such vital problems, Hector Lazo has performed a notable patriotic service.

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