BRIAN SEWELL ON ANTHONY BLUNT
In today's Sunday Times, the second volume of Brian Sewell's autobiography is serialised. One section is about his help to Anthony Blunt when the press had just discovered that he was one of the "Cambridge traitors." I read Sewell's words with revulsion.The controversy about the Cambridge spies is old history now, but I remember it well - and also, its background. For growing up in the 1950s, one was permanently conscious of the Cold War, and of the threat of Hot War, which would inevitably lead to nuclear annihilation. I suppose we were afraid, though I don't remember feeling fear until I had children to protect in the 1960s; after that, of course, one lived in dread of nuclear war. The Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the most terrifying periods of my life.
The point of all this is that the fear was of something real - nuclear war. The threat was genuine. And the people who secretly worked for the Russians were not romantic heroes, and they didn't have the right to follow their consciences. One can forgive their behaviour when they were young in the 1930s, before everyone knew the full horror of Stalin's Russia, but they didn't recant or repent after the war. Instead they continued as traitors to their country, to the people they knew, to their families. They wanted to destroy European civilisation, and near as dammit did so.
It's fine to look back now it's all over and forgive one's enemies, but don't ever look back and underestimate their culpability. Anthony Blunt's actions were intended to bring the world he had grown up in to a hideous end.
Some people have suggested that his later life as an academic art historian and art adviser to the Queen redeemed the crimes of his youth. I doubt if those who died as a result - admittedly indirect - of his treachery would have agreed. In fact, anyone old enough to remember the Blunt-fuss and the Cambridge Spies and Burgess and Maclean - in fact anyone for whom The Fifties Mystique is the stuff of memory - will take a view of their own. I'd love to hear what it is.