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Le Carre on 'the Russification of Britain'
September 8, 2010 1:31 AM   Subscribe

Ex MI5 / MI6 man John Le Carre talks to Radio4's Today program about his new book. He then goes on to talk about how the Muslim boogeyman is being used to erode democracy much more than the IRA ever was.

From memory, BBC radio feeds aren't region protected. My apologies if it's otherwise.
posted by sodium lights the horizon (44 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
The United States has an enormous standing army... it cannot be a peacetime army. Therefore our main ally is one that is always looking to turnoever its military, give people battle experience... they must have a war running. You cannot have a huge peacetime military - run from the Pentagon - which is not engaged in any frontline.

Oh my. Interesting viewpoint.
posted by greymullet at 2:15 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


> Interesting viewpoint.

Fairly standard-issue conspiracy thinking from the past 50+ years, methinks. The Report from Iron Mountain, for example. Or the Military-Industrial Complex.

It's interesting, sure, but not exactly an earthshattering opinion.
posted by chavenet at 2:27 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


As always John Le Carre's ability to move complex situations into well-thought out narratives remains intact and he is always a joy to listen to.

However, I cannot help but wonder if the Western perspective on developing nation issues (Russian money and the Muslim religion) completely glosses over the roots and meanings of the problems. In the latter case, Rolo May's work in psychology in the 1950s showed that increase incomes resulted in decreasing religious identification whilst declining incomes resulted in increasing religious identification.

Perhaps it is misguided to look at the outputs without looking at the inputs. When Ron Paul in America brought up the concept of 'blowback' he was demonised in the press however he had a very good point. Muslim extremism does not emerge from a vacuum and neither does different monochromatic shades of Russian money.

The Western world is complicit in generating our own problems and until we cease romanticising our own virtue and role as an actor, I foresee that we will continue these existing behaviours that result in the standing American military which he mentions -- the same that is actively bankrupting the American republic on a daily basis.
posted by nickrussell at 2:31 AM on September 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


Caught this on the Today programme on the drive into work this morning. Whilst always a pleasure to hear Mr Cornwell as interviews are relatively few and far between, agree with chavenet that the viewpoint re: the US military is nothing new. I am more interested in the point about the West's complicity in the vast exportation of wealth from the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. The infiltration and level of 'new money' and how many people in the finer districts or London and Paris are dependent on it is quite staggering.
posted by numberstation at 2:40 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


He's certainly been working the press (and trying to work up the public) for his latest novel.

In addition to the above, there's the drugs money angle:
The story broke long after Le Carré had finished Our Kind of Traitor, but it confirmed everything the new novel is saying: that a huge slice of the global economy, as much as a fifth on some estimates, is made up of the fruits of organised crime; that the criminals behind that money have found a thousand ingenious ways to disguise its origins – and those we might expect to stand in the way, including reputable banks and elected politicians, instead help smooth its path out of the black economy and into the white.
And there's the government-sanctioned assassinations angle:
The writer, who worked for both MI5 and MI6 during the 1950s and 1960s, said: ''Certainly we did some very bad things. We did a lot of direct action. Assassinations. Although I was never involved.''
posted by pracowity at 2:43 AM on September 8, 2010


pracowity: State-sanctioned assasination is nothing new and I was surprised it was deemed news worthy. As I have touched upon in previous posts here was the CIA take on assasination from a 1954 paper:

On justification: 'Assassination of persons responsible for atrocities or reprisals may be regarded as just punishment. Killing a political leader whose burgeoning career is a clear and present danger to the cause of freedom may be held necessary...' Persons who are morally squeamish should not attempt it.'

Don't let the existence of Executive Order 12333 fool you either: 'No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.'
posted by numberstation at 2:53 AM on September 8, 2010


Metafilter: nothing new

New or not, still interesting - thanks for the post.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 3:09 AM on September 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


Fairly standard-issue conspiracy thinking from the past 50+ years, methinks. The Report from Iron Mountain, for example. Or the Military-Industrial Complex.

You know, when the freakin' President of the United States warns you about something in his farewell address, dismissing it with a wave of your hand as a conspiracy theory doesn't make you look that smart.
posted by unSane at 3:31 AM on September 8, 2010 [20 favorites]


The United States has an enormous standing army... it cannot be a peacetime army.

Why would the size of an army determine that it must be engaged in war?

If the premise is that an army must see combat to be ready, then wouldn't any fair-sized army, not just the US's, need the same?
posted by zippy at 3:38 AM on September 8, 2010


... dismissing it with a wave of your hand as a conspiracy theory doesn't make you look that smart.

Indeed. I'd also say that plenty of other government activities, covert and not-so-covert, that never make their way into any presidential address are way too often dismissed with a wave of a hand as a conspiracy theory. And often by people that really should know better, but always seem to fall on some inexplicably blindly-trusting-of-the-US-government side of the fence.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:41 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


The premise is not simply that the army must be in combat to be ready, but that it must be in combat to justify its existence.

One aspect of this that is hardly ever commented on is that in the US, military spending is about the only way that money can be pumped into the economy without a peep from Congress. This was one of the ways GWB was able to juice the economy via massive deficits without anyone blinking an eye. It's also the reason why Obama will not cut the military in any substantive way while deflationary forces are at large. But then of course he won't cut it either when inflationary forces are at large.

The only thing which will force a reduction in the size of the US military -- an act which would have devastating effects for huge swathes of the US local economy -- will be a fiscal crisis.
posted by unSane at 3:58 AM on September 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


Unfortunately I don't have time yet to listen to his, but on the point Le Carré makes:

"The United States has an enormous standing army... it cannot be a peacetime army."

The more interesting/worrying thing - especially if you're Korean or Taiwanese - is if this is true it is equally so for China, which has a standing army of 3m people. Throw in some competition for resources - a quasi-cold war which is already under way for Africa's mineral resources - and it doesn't take a lot of imagination to forecast a series of flashpoints in the coming years.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:00 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hm, I said "conspiracy thinking" not "conspiracy theory." I wasn't waving away the idea, just pointing out that it is not the freshest insight. And just because something is labeled a "conspiracy" doesn't mean it's not true; quite the contrary. Also, I reiterate my comment that Le Carré's comment is interesting, regardless of freshness.
posted by chavenet at 4:14 AM on September 8, 2010


The more interesting/worrying thing - especially if you're Korean or Taiwanese - is if this is true it is equally so for China, which has a standing army of 3m people.

China's army has plenty to do. Spoiler alert: Puvan arrqf gurz va Gvorg naq Kvawvnat.
posted by shii at 4:30 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


(slight derail?) I have read everything Le Carre has written, and will probably agree with most of what he says when I get a chance to listen to the interview, but as a Guardian-reading old-Labour feminist - well weren't his books just much more fun to read back when he was still a old-school socially conservative Telegraph-type with (going by the books) a prehistoric attitude to women and a cliched view of gay people? Absolute Friends was weak sauce, in Mission Song the guy was just totally Ned, and in Most Wanted Man although the Turkish family were wonderfully written (as a Berliner I have to say he always has Germany nailed) the plot was ridiculous and the recent books just all whiff of TRYING REALLY HARD. I'm glad he's getting heard on this stuff, but I do wish he would come up with more non-fiction outlets to express his political views and keep the spy stories repressed, public-school and class-ridden...
posted by runincircles at 4:46 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


China's army has plenty to do.

Damn right. With those badass shovels.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:57 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Fairly standard-issue conspiracy thinking from the past 50+ years, methinks.

50+ years? Thomas Jefferson talked about this!
posted by indubitable at 5:03 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Given that one of the people who believed in "the Military Industrial Complex" conspiracy had a resume that included The President of the United States and Supreme Commander, I think it's a stretch to call this conspiracy thinking.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:15 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

"You better believe we're going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration," said Bush, who plans a 250 percent boost in military spending. "Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?"

posted by empath at 5:26 AM on September 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


Why would the size of an army determine that it must be engaged in war?

ROI?
posted by atrazine at 5:35 AM on September 8, 2010


The Origins of the Military Coup of 2012
posted by empath at 5:37 AM on September 8, 2010


Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.
posted by empath at 5:44 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


increase incomes resulted in decreasing religious identification whilst declining incomes resulted in increasing religious identification

That did appear to be the case, nickrussell. But apparently God is Back.
posted by honest knave at 6:21 AM on September 8, 2010


knave: exactly.
religion is useful in smoothing out the sharper, disintegrative effects of free-market capitalism, giving a fresh meaning to Marx’s talk of religion as a form of opiate for the masses.
posted by nickrussell at 6:30 AM on September 8, 2010


The only thing which will force a reduction in the size of the US military -- an act which would have devastating effects for huge swathes of the US local economy -- will be a fiscal crisis.

Then what was BRAC? How about the handful of projects that Gates and Obama have cancelled? (Yes, small pieces of the pie, but huge dollar amounts nevertheless, and one of the first times in recent history that POTUS has directly denied funding to the military)
posted by schmod at 6:36 AM on September 8, 2010


Absolute Friends was weak sauce... the recent books just all whiff of TRYING REALLY HARD

Respectfully disagree. Absolute Friends knocked me for six. Blinking back tears at the end. I've found his recent books really rather excellent. His older firmly spy-based stuff was a gripping good read, of course, but the newer stuff seems... well... I truly hate to endorse the lazy notion of "genre fiction" and "literature" being completely separate animals, with the latter being of inherently superior quality, but a nod in that general direction is the easiest shorthand way to allude to my perception of his recent work.

I can't listen to the interview at the moment so I'm afraid this comment doesn't have any value beside "My taste is different to your taste".
posted by Slyfen at 6:56 AM on September 8, 2010


fairy nuff!
posted by runincircles at 7:09 AM on September 8, 2010


religion is useful in smoothing out the sharper, disintegrative effects of free-market capitalism, giving a fresh meaning to Marx’s talk of religion as a form of opiate for the masses.

Fresh meaning? Wasn't this Marx' original meaning?
posted by acb at 7:14 AM on September 8, 2010


My understanding of this all ...

Most countries simply cannot afford to keep a wartime military around. The danger, of course, is that the money will run out, and you'll be stuck having invested all your money in a bunch of obsolete equipment when danger comes. This happened to Italy in the 1930's; they began World War II with the finest biplanes in the world, and extremely light tanks and tankettes (designed according to 1930's doctrine which imagined that the best way to use tanks would be to basically give every soldier armor and a machine gun.) Hitler didn't save the German economy before World War II; he either had to invade the rest of Europe or let the German economy collapse because he'd spent everything on his military.

So wartime militaries are extremely expensive, so they're usually built when there's a problem. And so there's a lot of well, uh, you know now that the Soviets are gone we have ...uh ... China! But China's military (except in a few fields where China has chosen to compete with the US) is way behind the US; China and the US are major trading partners, they're both nuclear powers so it's extremely unlikely there will ever be a direct confrontation, and China has a stated policy of 'peaceful rise'.

Ironically, many of the same people who believe that Ronald Reagan defeated the Soviet Union by spending so much money that the Soviets couldn't keep up see nothing wrong with the current situation where enormously disproportionate amounts of money are/were being spent in the Middle East.

Anyway, I think people are aware of this: From the 2010 Joint Operating Environment:

A more immediate implication of these twin deficits will likely mean far fewer dollars available to spend on defense. In 1962 defense spending accounted for some 49% of total government expenditures, but by 2008 had dropped to 20% of total government spending. Following current trend lines, by 2028 the defense budget will likely consume between 2.6 percent and 3.1 percent of GDP – significantly lower than the 1990s average of 3.8%. Indeed, the Department of Defense may shrink to less than ten percent of the total Federal budget. The graph at right illustrates the main components of the defense budget: operations and maintenance, personnel, procurement, research and development, military construction, and family housing. Much like the overall U.S. budget, personnel costs could continue to grow faster than other components, crowding out investments in future capabilities as well as resources for current operations and the maintenance of systems and capabilities already in the inventory. These costs deserve close scrutiny for efficiencies. Moreover, if the U.S. enters a financial regime in which defense is to be cut by a third or more, Joint Force planners must carefully explore new areas of risk as force posture and procurement budgets shrink.

This report describes a future in which the Joint Force will be continually engaged, yet the larger economic outlook is one of increasing pressure on discretionary spending of which the DOD budget is a part. The Department must always search for more efficient ways of attending to the Nation’s defense, to reduce both cost and our vulnerability to deliberate disruption, while maintaining our quest for greater effectiveness across all future security environments. We must be prepared to make hard decisions about the trade-off between performance and price in our capabilities, while recognizing that a push for “one-size-fits-all” solutions may result in a greater risk of reduced flexibility during operations. If we are to maintain a shock absorber in our forces to fight different forms of war across a range of conflicts, the joint community must introduce multi-purpose, multi-role, and flexible systems that can provide adequate performance against a broad array of challenges.


Interesting point: the DOD seems to be concerned about rising healthcare costs, not only because they will affect the federal budget, but because of increasing personnel costs as well.
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:26 AM on September 8, 2010


Absolute Friends knocked me for six.

The stuff about the disaffected young Berliners and their little subculture had a palpable ring of truth about it, to me.

And Constant Gardener, although I have to say the story wasn't entirely compelling to me, made a powerful point about big Pharma that needs very much to be made.

I've loved le Carré pretty much for all my life. And, it's interesting that Slyfen brings up the genre argument, because I think of le Carré as one of the exemplars of someone making literature while working in a genre, or rather, soaring above it.
posted by Trochanter at 7:27 AM on September 8, 2010


Unfortunately the first Carré I read was The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

Unfortunate because I don't think it gets any better than that.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:37 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


But, I will say, to agree a bit with runincircles, that le Carré's cold war books -- the Smiley books et al -- are his true master works. God, I can feel the bleakness now.
posted by Trochanter at 7:40 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Puvan arrqf gurz va Gvorg naq Kvawvnat.
= "China needs them in Tibet and Xinjiang".

Spoiler alert: ROT13 isn't cute, it is just a pain in the ass for your readers.

Sorry for the grumpiness, it's just that I like to easily read what people are writing here.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:47 AM on September 8, 2010 [5 favorites]



I think of le Carré as one of the exemplars of someone making literature while working in a genre, or rather, soaring above it


Very well said!

But, I will say, to agree a bit with runincircles, that le Carré's cold war books -- the Smiley books et al -- are his true master works.

In fairness I haven't read his cold war books for a long time. Reading his recent books in recent years I'm obviously an older, better-read person than I was a decade+ ago when I read his earlier work. Perhaps the increased sense of reflective, "literary" quality I have detected comes from the change in me, rather than a change in le Carré. In which case I shouldn't have implied "new stuff > old stuff", as much as simply "new stuff != bad".

I think you've just persuaded me to go re-read the Smiley books ASAP.
posted by Slyfen at 7:57 AM on September 8, 2010


Absolutely LOVE espionage stuff like this - especially from the guy that did the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy series with friggin Obi-Wan in the lead role. Thanks for posting!
posted by electricsandwich138 at 8:37 AM on September 8, 2010


White terrorists bomb like this...
Brown terrorists bomb like this...
amirite?
posted by symbioid at 8:56 AM on September 8, 2010


Just listened to the talk. (TOO SHORT!!) He talks about the corrupting power does, and talks about the inner circle. It made me think of some of the things C.S.Lewis used to say about the Inner Ring. Here's a transcript of a talk he gave at London University in 1944.

CS Lewis, The Inner Ring (Making good men do bad things)

I think it's an important moral thingamajig.
posted by Trochanter at 9:28 AM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


You cannot have a huge peacetime military - run from the Pentagon - which is not engaged in any frontline.

Yeah, the military has never been a general-purpose work force. Even after Katrina, with the civil disorder, mayhem and death, the President was lamenting that it was not logistically possible to get help in there. Meanwhile the Marines at Camp Lejeune, NC, could have marched there before anything else arrived, and could have restored safety and discipline on auto-pilot, but no one gave the order.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:50 AM on September 8, 2010


A new book? I don't suppose it is about George Smiley, and I don't suppose the late Alec Guinness will star in the movie version. Rats.
posted by Cranberry at 12:08 PM on September 8, 2010


Thirding the love for the newer books. Absolute Friends was a random pickup and knocked me senseless. I went out and read all his newer works, then re-read a bunch of the older stuff. I have to say that the Smiley books didn't live up totally to what I remembered.

That being said, his oeuvre overall makes him one of my favorite writers and I can't think of a book of his I've read that I wouldn't recommend.
posted by lumpenprole at 2:12 PM on September 8, 2010


I think his newer output is mixed, but no better or worse than his older stuff, eg I thought A Most Wanted Man was terrific, and I thought Our Game was pretty dreadful.

I think Le Carre, like a few writers - Philip K Dick leaps most readily to mind, though there are dozens - is one of those writers essentially writing the same book over and over again, just with a different focus. You can always rely on the innocent to get shafted one way or another by the end, just as you can rely on the cog to realise their culpability in the product of the dehumanising machine.

Obviously, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is the ur-Le Carre novel, but I think it's merely one iteration and - thankfully, they all bring something to the table. As someone who was only 10 when the Berlin Wall fell, I obviously appreciate his cold-war era stuff as an insight into a time and political paradigm I largely missed. However I do think his work - as rooted as it is in specific political context, functions as a wonderful meditation on the nature of bureaucracy, the public service, and the murky morals of international relations in a way very few other writers do. It's like a hybrid of Kafka and Camus (of The Plague era) and will always be singular, valuable, and a refeshing antidote to shit like Clancy, Cussler, Brown etc.
posted by smoke at 6:21 PM on September 8, 2010


Elbridge Gerry, VP: "A standing army is like a standing member. It's an excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure."
posted by kenko at 6:33 PM on September 8, 2010


The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is the ur-Le Carre novel...

The movie adaptation is also excellent, by the way. Highly recommended.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:40 PM on September 8, 2010


John le Carré on Why He Won’t Be Reading Tony Blair’s Iraq War-Defending Memoir
posted by homunculus at 8:56 AM on September 20, 2010


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