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Think of George Blake in the context of the times

08 April, 2021

From The Happy Traitor: George Blake at home in Moscow in around 1997. Photo: Will Stewart/Shutterstock

• SIR THOMAS Harris is startled by my letter on George Blake, (George Blake’s self-serving duplicity is clear, April 1).

But think about the state of the world then. When Blake changed loyalties, in witnessing some of the atrocities of the Korean War in 1950, Syngman Rhee was dictator of South Korea.

As president he used strong-arm methods against an opposition party that saw two of its leaders assassinated, and another executed, supposedly, for high treason.

The young POWs dying in North Korean camps were mostly raw recruits caught up in the US draft. They were not prepared for such a vicious war and simply lost the will to survive.

After the initial defeat of US forces, over 40 nations in a UN force, served in Korea. There were plenty of pictures at the time of Chinese and North Korean POWs being taught “an object lesson in discipline” with rifle butts.

General Douglas MacArthur, commander of UN forces, was at one time nearing the Chinese border and talking of nuclear weapons, when he was fortunately sacked by president Harry S Truman, who prevented the Cold War becoming a hot one.

What was called the Malayan Emergency had started in 1948 as British forces fought communist guerrillas hell-bent on deposing British colonialism.

Operations involved food rationing, the chemical spraying of crops, 500,000 people wired-in and interned in their villages, known as New Villages, and the Batang Kali massacre, 24 unarmed villagers killed by the Scots Guards. The US learnt from this and applied much of it in Vietnam.

Then, in 1952, there was the Kenya Emergency, another anti-colonial struggle, known for propaganda reasons as the Mau Mau Uprising.

Again the internment camps, the reinforced villages, the public hangings and the Hola Camp massacre, in which 11 inmates were clubbed to death and 77 sustained serious permanent injuries.

I think British colonial history over the centuries leaves little room to moralise over the USSR efforts in the world.

Blake was already a veteran of the anti-fascist fight and, of course, the Soviets defeated fascism and paid a dreadful price in its considerable loss in population.

Blake, in his disillusionment, witnessed what democracy was doing in Korea. That left him with very few choices in what to think, in what to do about it.

Today the world has changed. When Craig Murray, British ambassador to Uzbekistan, protested at human rights violations in that country, where suspects were tortured and their information given to the CIA, he was removed by the foreign office. The only place he could go to was the internet.

Could the world be a better place now? No, not while we can remember the US Guantanamo internment camp.

Lulot Gardens, N19


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