Here’s a link to the Guardian Article with le Carré 50 years after the book came out. It’s obviously better and more insightful than anything we could write on our own…
I think this quote says it all: “It has become famous for its portrayal of Western espionage methods as morally inconsistent with Western democracy and values.” The best movie quote by far is: “You can’t be less wicked than your enemy”. Some call it the antidote to Bond and maybe it is. There’s a bit of back and forth between audiences and even within an audience member for cheeky fantasy or grim reality. Do we venerate the slapstick cartoonish stories or do we crave the gritty remakes?
It’s the questions that drives us in the end however. It’s questions these types of books and movies and stories raise about the Cold War. If the intelligence agencies, politicians and their military allies were not “good” then were their enemies appropriately labeled “evil”? Were the acts of expedience justifiable in the end either in moral/ethical outcomes or, more seriously, in long-term effects? Morality and philosophy can generate endless debate, but one can cut through the quibbling by asking simple questions that have complicated answers. Were all the bad things you did in the name of good actually useful? Did the actions and recommendations of the intelligence communities achieve more than short-term goals or did they in fact cause more problems downstream that have made the world a much worse place than it would have been otherwise? If we are to believe that they chose to embrace darkness in order to better fight an evil enemy, for the good of their people, then what guarantee do we have that we can trust their motives and reasoning? Fighting fire with fire is clearly an idiom and not very practical advice. How terrible would it be to find out that a democratic people willfully rejected their own beliefs to use questionable practices to achieve questionable goals against a misrepresented enemy? The War on Terror is this generation’s Cold War, yes lives were saved at points and some good was done, but at what cost? And at what future cost? How much “bad” was committed for what amount of “good”? Is a world where we must assess the relative moral efficiency of our actions really a place we would hope to live in?
p.s. Richard Burton was great!