Harold Adrian Russell Philby, better known as “Kim,” the British spymaster who turned out to have been working all along for the Soviet Union, denied that he had betrayed his country.
In My Silent War, the 1968 autobiography Philby may or may not have written himself during his residency in Moscow, with or without the assistance of a KGB minder, he made the point he did it, if not quite for England, for mankind then, because of what he called “my persisting faith in Communism.”
Philby died in Moscow in 1988, where he was given a hero’s funeral. He was awarded posthumous medals by the Soviets, and a nice grave marker was erected in his memory.
Igor Sergeievich Gouzenko, the Soviet cypher clerk who three days after the official end of the Second World War defected to Canada from the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa, underwent a similar transformation from traitor to hero.
By exposing the efforts of Joseph Stalin’s spy network to get its paws on western atomic secrets, historian Jack Granatstein concluded, “Gouzenko was the beginning of the Cold War for public opinion.” It is hard to disagree.
Gouzenko lived out his life supported by a modest Canadian stipend in a Toronto suburb, where he too wrote an autobiography, This Was My Choice. He also appeared frequently for interviews with a trademark sack over his head and wrote a now-forgotten novel, which nevertheless won the Governor General’s Award in 1954.
Gouzenko died in 1982 Toronto, where he is buried. The Canadian government placed a nice memorial plaque in Ottawa’s Dundonald Park, across the street from the apartment he lived in at the time of his defection.
Heroes, then, both of them, for picking the right ideology, and having the sense to stick with it.
This short historical recitation is recounted only to make the point that one of the peculiarities of the Age of Ideology is that the notion of treason or even mere betrayal has become quaint, if not completely obsolete, in certain circles.
Those who work secretly or openly with their country’s foes at any rate, can do so with intellectual impunity, and perhaps the real thing, if they can claim to serve the ideology of their country’s opponent. Since nations have interests, they need potential foreign turncoats to understand this.
The Soviet government and its Canadian counterpart alike both found their adopted countrymen a challenge to deal with — Philby was a drunk; Gouzenko irritatingly litigious — but the annoyance was deemed worthwhile for reasons that are obvious on both principled and practical grounds.
Would-be future betrayers of Canada, you can count on it, would defend their actions on ideological grounds. Some may already be pondering their defence.
Meanwhile, as the gong show in the District of Columbia grows ever louder — or, as the New York Times would have it, the crisis continues to escalate — it becomes apparent President Trump doesn’t get this essential concept either coming or going.
Either that, or maybe he just doesn’t care about this stuff. A Times columnist, by the way, referred yesterday to his administration as the ‘Trump-Putin regime”!
The practical meaning, never mind the principled one, of Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries is that life will be more complicated for America’s Imperial legions in foreign lands where co-operation with U.S. soldiers may be seen by the locals as treason.
The Pentagon is not happy. Where will they find interpreters and other “friendlies” if the promise of a safe haven in America is not part of the deal?
Meanwhile, also yesterday and also part of the same story, Trump sacked the acting attorney general temporarily bequeathed to him by the Obama administration.
The swift departure of Sally Q. Yates, who refused to take action to defend the immigration ban against legal challenges, in itself is probably not all that earth-shattering. She would have been replaced quickly anyway, as soon as Trump’s choice was rubber-stamped by the many Republicans in Congress.
But the president’s language was telling. In a tweet, he accused Yates of betraying the Justice Department.
Should an employee who defies an employer’s order, whether out of principle or pure perversity, be accused of betrayal? Or merely failure to do her job?
It sure sounds as if President Trump has confused his own government, perhaps his own wonderful self, with the United States itself — “l’etat, c’est moi!”
Today, a wholesale purge of the State Department may be on the Trump agenda. And after that? The Sun King? Caligula on the Potomac? A Ukrainian-style colour revolution?
In the event of the latter, they say the Hotel Ukraina is very nice if you don’t have one of your own handy. The Ritz Carleton, not so much. There’s a funny smell in the sheets.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr