In the Woods with Tito and the Partisans

Posted on November 18, 2015 by Cape Rebel

From Eastern Approaches
by Fitzroy Maclean


War breaks down the barriers which divide us in peace-time. Living as we did amongst the Partisans, we came to know them well, from Tito and the other leaders to the dozen or so rank and file who acted as our bodyguard and provided for our daily needs.

All had one thing in common: an intense pride in their Movement and in its achievements. For them the outside world did not seem of immediate interest or importance. What mattered was their War of National Liberation, their struggle against the invader, their victories, their sacrifices. Of this they were proudest of all, that they owed nothing to anyone; that they had got so far without outside help. In their eyes we acquired merit from the mere fact of our presence among them. We were living proof of the interest which the outside world was at last beginning to take in them. We were with them ‘in the woods’. This, in itself, was a bond.

With this pride went a spirit of dedication, hard not to admire. The life of every one of them was ruled by rigid self-discipline, complete austerity; no drinking; no looting; no love-making. It was as though each one of them were bound by a vow, a vow part ideological and part military, for, in the conditions under which they were fighting, any relaxation of discipline would have been disastrous; nor could private desires and feelings be allowed to count for anything.

But, for all that, the Partisans were not dull people to live among. They would not have been Jugoslavs if they had been. Their innate turbulence, their natural independence, their deep-seated sense of the dramatic kept bubbling up in a number of unexpected ways.

Tito stood head and shoulders above the rest. When there were decisions to be taken, he took them; whether they were political or military, he took them calmly and collectedly, after hearing the arguments on both sides. My own dealings were with him exclusively. From him I could be certain of getting a prompt and straightforward answer, one way of the other, on any subject, however important or however trivial it might be. Often enough we disagreed, but Tito was always ready to argue out any question on its merits, showing himself open to conviction, if a strong enough case could be made out. Often, where a deadlock had been reached owing to the stubbornness of his subordinates, he, on being approached, would intervene and reverse the decision.

One line of approach, I soon found, carried great weight with him: the suggestion, advanced at the psychological moment, that this or that line of conduct did or did not befit an honourable and civilised nation. By a discreet use of this argument I was able to dissuade him more than once from a course of action which would have had a calamitous effect on our relations. At the same time he reacted equally strongly to anything that, by the widest stretch of the imagination, might be regarded as a slight on the national dignity of Jugoslavia. This national pride, it struck me, was an unexpected characteristic in one whose first loyalty, as a Communist, must needs be to a foreign power, the Soviet Union.

There were many unexpected things about Tito: his surprisingly broad outlook; his never-failing sense of humour; his unashamed delight in the minor pleasures of life; a natural diffidence in human relationships, giving way to a natural friendliness; a violent temper, flaring up in sudden rages; a considerateness and a generosity constantly manifesting themselves in a dozen small ways; a surprising readiness to see two sides of a question. These were human qualities, hard to reconcile with the usual conception of a Communist puppet, and making possible better personal relations between us than I had dared hope for.

And yet I did not for a moment forget that I was dealing with a man whose tenets would justify him in going to any lengths of deception or violence to attain his ends, and that these, outside our immediate military objectives, were in all probability diametrically opposed to my own.

Posted in English