The Gesture

John Cobb Cooper, Author Permanent Press (NY) $28 (253p) ISBN 978-0-933256-69-9
Originally published in 1948 as a first novel, Cooper's provocative story is ostensibly about the decline in morale of a bomber squadron based in England toward the end of World War II. The catalyst is an ideological new commander, Major Harris, who does all the wrong things for the right reasons. But below the surface is the issue of racial bigotry, of overpowering pragmatism and keeping the status quo, versus doing the ""right'' thing. For one of the ``gestures'' of the title, the fulcrum of Harris's downfall, is his insistence on overturning the status quo of bigotry between white and black servicemen in the U.S. Army, an action that results in a race riot among the combat flight crews. Only Harris, apparently, sees the irony in the military tradition of racial segregation that persists during a war being fought against Nazi genocide. At one point Harris asks the narrator, bombardier Whipple, ``How can we fight Hitler and bear segregation in our own army at the same time?'' Cooper's terse narrative style builds tension slowly but steadily. In the hindsight of Vietnam, and more recent events in the Persian Gulf and South Africa as well as at home, this novel touches nerves of military command competence and race that are as relevant today as four decades ago. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/25/1988
Release date: 05/01/1988
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