May 2010

My biographical entry on Gordon Kaufmann was published on-line in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography on May 27. It is featured on the following page of the ODNB: http://www.oup.com/oxforddnb/info/prelims/may10/, with the entry itself viewable at  http://www.oxforddnb.com/public/dnb/98440.html. (Viewing ODNB entries normally requires a subscription, but the OUP makes some available as promotional pieces.)

This month’s Commonplace entries are a little thin, as I have spent considerable time reading books about espionage. First was Christopher Andrew’s monumental, recently published history of MI5, The Defence Of The Realm (for some absurd reason titled Defend The Realm in the USA). The revelations and anecdotes in this volume (919 pages of text) have prompted in me a number of side-tracks of research on personalities and events, on which I shall report in due time. I followed this up by reading John Costello’s superbly researched Mask of Treachery (1988, 621 pages), which had been sitting on one of my bookshelves for some years. I was amazed that Andrew does not even list this volume in the bibliography of either Defend The Realm or The Sword and the Shield (1999, co-authored with Vasili Mitrokhin, which I read a few years ago). In Chapter One of the latter, Andrew rather condescendingly reports: “The first approach to a western writer offering material from KGB archives intended to create the ‘positive’ image was to the mercurial John Costello, a freelance British historian who combined flair for research with a penchant for conspiracy theory.” In a footnote he adds: “Costello’s untimely death in 1996 has been variously attributed by conspiracy theorists to the machination  of British or Russian intelligence.  While Costello was somewhat naive in his attitude to the SVR [Russian (post-Soviet) Intelligence Service], there is no suggestion that either he or any of the other western authors (some of them distinguished scholars) of the collaborative histories authorized by the SVR have been Russian agents.” The book that Andrew is presumably alluding to is Deadly Illusions (1993), co-authored by Costello and Oleg Tsarev, which Andrew recognizes in both the works mentioned above.  Anybody who reads Mask of Treachery  (even though Costello does conclude it with the now debunked assertion that Guy Liddell was probably the KGB agent ‘Elli’, now revealed by Russian archives to be Leo Long) could not conceivably imagine that Costello was impelled by other than pure motivations, or that he could be attracted to a particular line of argument by a conspiratorial Russian secret service. And so why does Andrew ignore his earlier book? Defend The Realm has already been critiqued as something of a cover-up, and Andrew’s silence about Mask Of Treachery casts further doubt on the academic freedom he claims he was granted by MI5 in recording the ‘official history’. Lastly, a rather quicker read was Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat, a lively and more broadly researched version of Ewen Montagu’s The Man Who Never Was.

Astute readers of my article on George Orwell (‘Orwell’s Clock‘) will remember that I used scornful references by Orwell to the appearance of Rolls Royces on the streets of London as a symbol of his shallow economic thinking. Over the years, I have been collecting, from my reading, examples of famous (and infamous) individuals exploiting the opulence suggested by the Rolls Royce to advertise their newly found richness or importance, as well as a few other references that caught my eye. Many of those quoted have been writers of a leftist slant, who clearly should have known better. I thought it was time to post these citations, and they can be found here (‘Rolls Royces’).

I shall be leaving for a three-week vacation/holiday in the UK on May 31, and thus am closing this month’s updates today.  (May 29, 2010)

Another month: not much to report. The normal updates to Commonplace 2010 and Hyperbolic Contrasts. A good day to remember the shadow of Percy Hotspur hovering over the town. (May 1, 2010)

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