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Posts from the ‘Cold War’ Category

12
May
Cumming - A COLDER WAR banner

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to spying… Charles Cumming’s A Colder War

It hardly needs saying, but spying did not stop with the collapse of Communism. But if spying continued, it naturally follows that so did betrayal. The haunting question provoked by every betrayal is, “Why?” Perhaps it was easier to understand during the Cold War. The globe’s ideological map was drawn all too clearly. However flawed the enemy might be, believing in their ideological stance always made it forgiving those flaws much easier. But what about today? Read more »

13
Sep
JFK - Dallas limousine banner

Countdown to Dallas 1963: the inside story of a Sophoclean tragedy

This is a great year for conspiracists – from the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy to the constant dribble (and occasional torrent) of government surveillance revelations. It’s all happening. So i’ve been trying to get my head around the whole Kennedy thing. A few years back, I read the seminal bio by Robert Dallek, An Unfinished Life, which is the best place to start (beautifully written, brilliant insights). But have just finished Thurston Clarke’s JFK’s Last Hundred Days which is a week by week account of those final months of his life and presidency. Tragedy is a word much diluted by overuse and misuse – Read more »

17
Jun
Václav Havel (Chris Niedenthal/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Václav Havel’s 1978 warning to the West

I’m trying to understand power – what it means, how it’s wielded, how it affects us. Big topic. But I’m increasingly convinced that we can’t understand the culture of suspicion without grasping the power of power (and its abuses).

This has drawn me to someone who has been a bit of a hero, but whose writings I’d only dipped into. Reading Václav Havel‘s masterly and vital 1978 essay The Power of the Powerless has blown me away. Written in the dark days of Czechoslovak communism (only 10 years after the false dawn of the Prague Spring), it is a profound analysis of what it was like to live under a regime built entirely on lies. The only response, the only subversion of the regime, therefore, is to live in truth. Read more »

25
Apr
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Q Conversations 3: Spy novelist Charles Cumming

He ate my toast and drank my beer. But that seemed sufficient to put him at his ease and get him talking (good cop routine). And it was a lot of fun. Charles Cumming has managed to craft a very successful career as a spy novelist out of the failure to enter SIS/MI6 after their initial approach. Read more »

19
Apr
Mitchell Webb conspiracy

Friday Fun 41: Mitchell & Webb debunking conspiracy theories

Some readers will know that my current obsessions are conspiracies and suspicions. One of these days, these may coalesce into something substantial. But that feels a long way off at the moment. Ho hum. But for now, if you want some brilliant ripostes to those who suck up every conspiracy theory going, then my suggestions are twofold:

Read more »

22
Jan
Sveta & Lev Mishchenko early

The Gulag Shawshank: Lev & Sveta Mishchenko in ‘Just Send Me Word’

The proverbial ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’ could have been minted especially for Lev Mishchenko, one half of the extraordinary couple at the heart of Orlando Figes’ Just Send Me Word. Before completing his science studies in Moscow, he was whisked away to the Nazi front. Soon after, he was captured and spent considerable time as a German POW. As a German-speaker, he was able to make himself useful – though he resolutely refused to become a German spy. That wasn’t enough to prevent him from being convicted as one on his release – for which his sentence was death, commuted to 10 years hard labour in Siberia. Read more »

28
May
Image: The redecorated Oval Office of Obama has new carpeting, wallpaper and sofas at the White House in Washington

When the powerful need a friend: Inside The US Presidents’ Club

One of power’s cruel ironies is that after craving it for years, its attainment brings a deeply bitter (if addictive) taste. At the heart of the problem is that deep sense of isolation that comes of sitting at the top of the tree. No one can truly understand what it feels like… apart from one’s predecessors. This is the subject of a gripping new take on the US Presidency, Gibbs and Duffy’s The Presidents Club (surely there needs to be an apostrophe in there somewhere!?). There is an irritating proliferation of books about all 44 White House inhabitants, but this is a genuinely interesting addition. Read more »

13
Mar
Contributor Tim Garton Ash of st Antony s college Oxford Pic Rob Judges

Memories, Diaries and Surveillance Reports: Reflections on Garton Ash’s “The File”

So you think you can remember stuff? Sure we all have trouble remembering names and details – but most of the time, we assume we have an ability to grasp and retain the basic details of our own experiences. But as the great composer Shostakovich mournfully observed towards the end of his traumatic and tragic life, “memory slips through one’s fingers like sand.” It’s remarkable how certain we can become of inaccuracies and even complete fabrications. Read more »

4
Jan
Rue de Catinat SAIGON

The Saigon School of Missiology and Graham Greene’s QUIET AMERICAN

It is not just the victims of imperialism who easily identify its sins and blindspots. Those who have wielded and then lost empires are quick to spot the parallels in others’. Perhaps that was partly why Graham Greene was such a caustic critic of what he perceived as the twentieth century’s new imperialist incarnation: the United States. Of course Greene had strong left-wing sympathies and was openly anti-American, which provided  convenient filters by which the right could ignore his perspectives. It’s no surprise that he was under FBI surveillance from the 1955 publishing of The Quiet American until his death in 1991. Read more »

21
Oct
Blake's English family (from No Other Choice)

Q’s Espionage Festival: 3. Soviet Spies, John Stott and fleeting encounters

This is a mildly unserious combination of Q’s Espionage festival and Friday Fun. But London W1 is a spy-historian’s paradise – there are so many spots around here that saw Cold War duty (and the KGB certainly knew their way around). For a start, the formal gardens of Regent’s Park were regular rendezvous points for Cambridge Spies Kim Philby and Donald Maclean with their KGB handlers. But there’s another couple of connections that are even closer to home. Read more »

19
Oct
Evstafiev-bosnia-cello

The intrusion of musical grace and Steven Galloway’s “The Cellist of Sarajevo”

I don’t cry in movies. Sometimes I’d quite like to. But that’s a different story. I just don’t. Usually. But one of the greatest films of recent years (and that is no hyperbole) made me weep: The Lives of Others. The scene in question is one that affected many other friends similarly. It is the moment when the Stasi agent, Gerd Wiesler, eavesdrops on the playwright Georg Dreyman playing a piano piece given to him by an old friend driven to suicide by being blackballed by the East German officialdom. Read more »

14
Oct
Smiley (Guinness & Oldman

Q’s Espionage Festival: 2. A review of Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

I was in fear and trembling before watching this movie. Not because of any potential hide-behind-the-sofa moments – but because I so wanted the film to succeed, but feared it would fail spectacularly. For the BBC series with Alec Guinness as George Smiley is one that i’ve watched countless times. And it never ceases to surprise and thrill. Even though cinematically the look and feel seems very dated, the production doesn’t age. So when I heard about the new film, my heart groaned slightly. But fortunately, I really shouldn’t have worried. This film is a triumph. Read more »

11
Oct
Berlin Wall - Checkpoint Charlie2

Q’s Espionage Festival: 1. Gordon Corera’s The Art of Betrayal

BBC Security Correspondent, Gordon Corera‘s new book, The Art of Betrayal – Life and Death in the British Secret Service covers ground that will be familiar to all students of the Cold War and spy fiction fans. But he does so in a very readable, engaging but authoritative way. The British Secret Service was in some ways one of the last relics of British imperial glory, with an ability to strut across the world stage despite other aspects of British influence declining. Read more »

14
Sep
1979_stamp_Radio_Moscow

The Soviet Utopia and the assimilation of Biblical Imagery

I was very struck by this fascinating article (“Building Blocks” from the latest Royal Academy magazine) about post-revolution architecture and art in the Soviet Union. Never having visited Russia itself (despite having travelled fairly extensively through its former cold war satellites), my presumption was that architecture in that era was full of monolithic, brutalising and depersonalised buildings. But it seems was that this was primarily the result of Stalinist totalitarianism and did not characterise the confidence of the brand new revolutionary state that held (to some extent) its ideals intact. Read more »

3
Aug
Eddie Adams - Saigon execution - General Nguyen Ngoc Loan

Playing with guns, shooting with guns: from Washington to Saigon?

It was one of the most disturbing but iconic photographs of the Vietnam War. Long before the virtual world made such things even conceivable, it was an image that quickly went viral, via newspapers and magazines. Perceptions of the conflict were never quite the same again.

This if of course Eddie Adams‘ ‘Saigon Execution’, taken on 1st Feb 1968. It won Adams a Pulitzer Prize. But he would live to regret ever having taken it. Read more »

24
Jul
norway-flag

A Song for Norway – a Czech protest song & the redemptive power of suffering

The news from Norway has defied words. Senseless, mindless, pointless; it is cruel, irrational evil. And supposedly in the name of Christ. Sickening.

I always resist to tweet or post about every event or topical twist and turn. I’m just not that kind of blogger, I guess. Read more »

21
Jun
Nuremberg defendants

Spandau Tales and Observations from the Nuremberg War Trials

Tales from Spandau didn’t quite match the expectations I had of it from various reviews. I felt that what it set out to do could have been dealt with in perhaps half the space. Nevertheless, it is grimly fascinating to read of the Cold War shenanigans that went on account of the 7 Nazi War criminals imprisoned at Spandau. Read more »

6
May
Charles Cumming

In the company of spies: Charles Cumming’s Trinity Six

I’ve just found this in my drafts box having obviously never posted it. So better late than never…

It wasn’t particularly by design, but over Christmas and New Year, I found myself in the company of spies. I read and thoroughly enjoyed Le Carré’s latest, Our Kind of Traitor. Read more »

28
Apr
dasgupta rana

Dasgupta’s SOLO: A Spectacular Literary Symphony with Jazz Riffs on a 20th Century Life

A blind Bulgarian chemist sits alone in his flat, sweltering in the Sofia summer heat. As he approaches his 100th birthday, his still sighted mind’s eye inevitably ranges over a 20th century that brought constant revolution, both to him and to Bulgaria. He is Ulrich, Read more »

25
Apr
15 history

15 questions to ask of popular history

Having come up with a couple of other similar lists for Lars Dahle’s online culture project (20 Questions for Novels & 12 Questions for Albums), here is the latest, on one of my personal passions: history writing. Popular history books are big business. Which means that lots of people must be reading them… Which means they are definitely worth approaching with considerably more care and attention than many give them…

Read more »

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