Anthony Holden

Name Dropping

Naming Names

By Victor S Navasky

John Calder 482pp £7.95 order from our bookshop

It could never, praise be to Allah, happen here. The communist witch-hunt instigated by Senator McCarthy and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee was a particularly American episode in many ways, blurring distinctions between patriotism and jingoism, private conscience and public responsibility, dissent and treason. In the United States of the 1950s, an Anthony Blunt need not have passed information to the Russians to have been denounced as a traitor; to have sympathised with communism in the 1930s (if only as the best available antidote to fascism) was more than enough.

It is not in the English character, moreover, however ugly the situation, to expect each other to denounce friends and colleagues, let alone in public. ‘I would prefer not to mention other people’s names,’ said HUAC’s first witness, the actor Larry Parks, ‘… This is not the American way.’ Parks was soon to be the first of many to prove himself wrong. As for the English way, the most eloquent witness remains, of course, E M Forster: ‘If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country’.

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