Notebook

Ignorance

The novels of John Le Carré, with their tightly woven, sticky webs of deception, speak to the present. In The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Control, head of the British secret service, says to the agent Leamas: ‘Our work, as I understand it, is based on a single assumption: that the West is never going to be the aggressor. Thus we do disagreeable things, but we are defensive. Our policies are peaceful. But our methods can’t afford to be less ruthless than those of the opposition, can they? […] Yes, I mean, occasionally we have to do wicked things, very wicked things indeed, but you can’t be less wicked than your enemy simply because your government’s policy is benevolent, can you?’

Leamas sums up his professional experience in the observation, ‘There’s only one rule: expediency.’ He also says, ‘I reserve the right to be ignorant. That’s the Western way of life’. How one would wish this to be simply a malicious caricature.