For decades now James Bond has vied with the queen as the personification of Britain for the rest of the world. This is perhaps more appropriate than many realize, for as Rory Cormac documents in his book covert action — a term denoting activities ranging from propaganda efforts to direct political and economic manipulation —has emerged in the postwar era as a prominent tool of British foreign policy. His book describes the development of this approach, as well as its successes in failures in achieving British goals in an era of imperial decline and global eclipse by the postwar superpowers.
The employment of covert action was not something that the British embraced at first. Though Britain has a long history of intelligence activities, Cormac notes that it was not until the Second World War that the British professionalized their efforts. In the aftermath of the war, the Foreign Office took over the direction of intelligence activities abroad, a move with important ramifications for their subsequent employment. Though the first foreign secretary to exercise this control, Ernest Bevin, was initially reluctant to utilize covert action, deteriorating relations with the Soviet Union soon led to its employment in response to Soviet aggression. Often in close cooperaton with the Americans, British covert activities increasingly became a preferred tool of achieving British aims, albeit not always successfully.
This was true as well in the areas of Britain's former imperial control. Here British leaders were far less reluctant, seeing covert action as a useful means of maintaining influence in areas long viewed as part of their sphere of influence. Over time, however, the use of covert activities proved increasingly controversial politically, and nowhere was this more true than in Northern Ireland. With the ongoing Troubles the region soon became a hive of intelligence activity in the aftermath of the army's failure to restore peace, though many of the activities operated in a grey zone legally. By the end of the Cold War, though, covert action was nonetheless established as a useful tool for achieving Britain's goals abroad, one employed down to the present day.
Cormac's book offers a highly enlightening overview of an often little understood dimension of British foreign policy. While many of the details may be familiar from the reporting of journalists and the headline-grabbing revelations of memoirists, Cormac's archival digging and inter-connective analysis exposes the degree to which covert activities have established themselves as an essential tool of policy execution. Though stronger in its earlier chapters (reflecting perhaps the greater abundance of information available to him), this is nonetheless a book that will be enjoyed by students of both the history of British intelligence and of postwar British foreign policy. By shining a light into these long-shadowed activities, Cormac has helped us to better understand the role they have long played, even if it was unappreciated both and the time and for decades afterward.
Done! *cheers* (and an abrupt end it was)
I confess I started to loose my enthusiasm by Purgatory, and Paradiso veritably dragged for me.
Inferno is indeed the most interesting, likely because it concentrates more on describing the poetic (and in many cases gruesome) justice inflicted there.
Purgatory gets a bit wishy washy because we are even more deluged with contemporary examples, which was exhausting from a "pausing to research WTF" whenever I needed context to understand the grade, and felt like self indulgent page bloating when I didn't. And then we get to Eden, pretty cavalcade of symbolism lead by the still much discussed mystery that is Matilda, and meet Beatriz. Ahhhh, the lady herself, that symbolizes theology. Maybe it is no wonder I found her supercilious and overly jealous.
I have to praise Dante's balls: first he aligns himself equal among Homer, Ovid and Virgil in that Limbo chat, and here he places his lady love highly enthroned in the Empireum, representing the Dogma by which he knows God.
If I could leave Paradiso just taking away that love has been his salvation and his way to heaven, we'd be good. But no, he had to insist on hammering until rigid conformity to scripture was reached. Thorough what felt like endless proselytizing (hey, I know it is my fault, because what was I expecting, right?) and pointing fingers of doom everywhere (the amount of eggs thrown the church's way! And his political enemies... you bet this got him the exile prophesied to him here).
Also, even considering some pretty descriptions, the spheres felt lame and boring reward (and here I'm reminded of Huxley calling happiness undramatic and boring, and Le Guin criticizing those that think "Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting"). Where is the imaginative poetic justice of the first third? Methinks Dante got too tangled in the discussion of virtues and splitting hairs on their display levels. So yeah, I get the whole "watching god and feeling his light is rapture beyond comprehension", I'm still contending that the theological got in the way of the literary, and there goes one star. Sue me.
I get the "pointing him away form the carnal to the spiritual" thing, but Beatrice's rant over Dante looking toward other women after her death sounded downright bitchy to me (it's been 10 years woman!).
I found Inferno a lot more engaging than Purgatory on the whole, but the symmetry between the two is interesting, as is the fact that the punishments are not that much lighter in corresponding sins and circles, but for the hope.
What I am wondering, given the correspondence where repentance makes the difference between up or down, is whether not even repentance can wash fraud and betrayal in this cosmology.