In his most recent column, CounterPunch editor Jeffrey St. Clair noted the resurrection of an old theory that the KGB had a hand in the death of the French writer Albert Camus. Here’s why that’s unlikely.
1. “The Rebel” is a great book.
2. I don’t like Sartre, he did nothing for the Resistance (Camus did much), and nothing worthwhile against postwar Stalinism (Camus did much), and his gal-pal was a sexual predator.
3. I could easily believe Stalin putting a hit on Camus, but not Khrushchev (key point).
4. The Facel Vega model car Camus was killed in was:
– heavy (1.75 tons, 3500 lb),
– had drum brakes (which “fade” – lose stopping ability because of friction heating during heavy use – significantly more than disc brakes, which were first adopted by Jaguar in 1955, following airplane practice, and increasingly by others thereafter),
– was nose heavy, because of its big Chrysler V8 front engine, and which leads to “oversteering” – swinging wider than intended by the angle of the steering wheel (meaning you have to “understeer” as you go into a turn at speed, to go where you want) – which is why race car manufacturers (the best ones) increasingly went to mid-engine configurations after 1960-1963,
– had an “ox cart” rear suspension (live axle with semi elliptic leaf springs), the rear configuration least adept for precise “handling” (response to road surface conditions/bumpiness, response for precise directionality of the vehicle), but the front suspension (independent) was pretty good,
– fast because despite its high weight, it had lots of horsepower (250hp, thus 14lb/hp), up to to 120-128mph top speed,
– does not appear to have had any seat belts (and air bags were ~20 years in the future).
An experienced driver (like a race driver) of the day would know how far to go in balancing:
– steering wheel angle,
– progressive and anticipatory braking (to avoid brake fade from a last-second panic-braking stomp, something now done by ABS: automatic braking systems WITH disc brakes), and
– control sliding (which is highly dependent on road surface, dust-dirt and especially water and ice cover making sliding much more dangerous and very easily uncontrollable).
So I think that:
– Camus’ publisher and the owner of the car was unlikely to have had driving skill as refined as a competition driver of the 1950s,
– that a wealthy and self-satisfied “hot” luxury car owner could easily drive in a manner beyond his skill level (this remains routine),
– that the car in question had a much lower threshold of uncontrollability than cars of subsequent years, and especially of even the most modest of budget cars today,
– and that this type of car lacked all of the safety improvement that have been developed since “Unsafe At Any Speed.”
So my estimation is that Camus died as a result of car crash in a powerful fast heavy slow-braking poor-handling no-safety-equipment luxury car driven too fast for the skill level of its wealthy owner-driver. In brief: DRIVER ERROR.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.