Soldiers of Peace: Inimical (episode five)
After dropping his piece at a sub-editor’s desk, Malcolm-Webb used an office phone to make a series of inquiries.
“Well, it was Boyle’s idea,” he told his listener, off-hand. An auditor would hear a reporter, following up leads. “You may accuse me of going at it backwards. I only mean to say, why gather volumes of information, then piddle away hours trying to pull out the thread that signifies? Why not, when one has obtained the odd fact, employ it, thus to see if it opens floodgates? The dirty investigator’s approach, you may consider it, versus the conscientious academic’s.”
Kneussl’s room at the embassy was arranged austerely, and with no evidence of sentiment, though it had a good rug that might arguably be a personal touch. Malcolm-Webb had attended many subjects whose sense of self-importance required they idle all visitors before admitting them. He had waited upon truly important individuals; where, being bumped aside by last-minute demands, from the lobby with alert ears, he had gleaned the story he could.
The efficient man, the sort who makes lists and checks off items, views the dispensing with of a caller as one of his day’s successes. Such men never like losing a minute from their schedules. Kneussl, Malcolm-Webb guessed, was of this type…on arrival found prepared for the interview, not a paper showing on his emptied desktop, and passing with his visitor no time of day.
And this chat with Kneussl was not precisely an assignment…Malcolm-Webb hoped by it to gain a perspective on him. He had given up, for the time being, locating the Peace League’s objectives. He’d decided to pursue a different line.
“What is your opinion of the League of Nations?”
“That is an open-ended question.”
An obvious point, evenly stated. Kneussl was not a man whose face expressed his thoughts. But in a patient tone, as though Malcolm-Webb’s silence were a sign of low intelligence, he expanded, “My opinion would not be of significance, being only that; however, I can make for you a few observations. The representatives that the member nations have sent to the League are such as they feel can be spared for the job. If these men were highly valued for other work at home, they would not be sent to Geneva. They are asked to gain a consensus on various issues raised before the League, issues that most of them have not been given the authority to act upon; therefore, someone with actual authority—such as Mr. Eden—must go to the League to lend weight to discussions. Any agreement so negotiated will leave many of the member nations feeling unfairly imposed upon, in being expected to honor it, because the intervention of greater authority will leave them with the belief that their interests were not fairly represented.”
(2014, 2018, Stephanie Foster)