Diplomacy, Terrorism and the Media: The New 'Great Game'

By Ramsay, Allan | Contemporary Review, December 2001 | Go to article overview
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Diplomacy, Terrorism and the Media: The New 'Great Game'


Ramsay, Allan, Contemporary Review


RECALLED suddenly from active service just as he has taken command of a 'top hole' brigade in time for the big push on the Western front Richard Hannay GB, DSO is sent by his chief, Sir Walter Bullivant, on a vital mission. In a country house in the Cotswolds which he is instructed to visit under his assumed name of 'Cornelius Brand' (not 'Brandt' which was an earlier alias), South African mining engineer, he learns from a pretty VAD with hair like spun gold who walks with the 'free grace of an athletic boy', that he must go in search of the most dangerous man in the world before victory is snatched from the Allies' grasp. He is Graf von Schwabing. But behind him is none other than the Mr Medina whom we have met before in John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps. 'And this, remember', says Bullivant, 'is a man in ten million, a man whose brain never sleeps for a moment, who is quick to seize the slightest hint.., it's as if the Chief of the Intelligence Department were suddenly to desert to the enemy. This man kno ws our life, our way of thinking and everything about us'. Thus, in the third volume of the Hannay stories, Mr Standfast, does he set out to bring him to book, helped as always by a variety of good sorts en route, border shepherds and ghillies of Delphic brevity of speech, level browed girls ('all whipcord now' the pretty VAD tells him), laconic war heroes and so on. (Only villains, foreigners -- one and the same in some cases -- and people of doubtful antecedents are at all conversational in Buchan stories of this genre.) Hannay is courtesy and candour to the end. In the final volume, 'The Three Hostages', he offers Medina an honourable way out in return for which Hannay and his colleagues will hold their tongues for ever, unless Medina reneges. Unregenerate to the last Medina spurns it. In pursuing him to a final confrontation across the braes and corries of the Highlands (after time to reflect during a day's fishing) Hannay attempts to save his life during a last dangerous climb at the risk of losing his. But Medina is beyond redemption and dies unrepentant. Hannay marries his extraordinarily resourceful and beautiful VAD and civilisation is saved.

Buchan wrote as a member of the ruling caste of an Empire on which the sun never set. We today huddle together at its heart where in the depths of winter it sometimes seems that it will never rise again. Much of what he wrote is distasteful to us, but it is not only attitudes which have changed. The supply of lairds and ghillies and clubmen, the mining engineers who are also first class administrators and soldiers, the bedrock of Empire, has all but dried up; the girls with their level brows are making fortunes for themselves in the Futures Market and have no time for men, and so on; one could tabulate the changes out of interest perhaps; but it isn't necessary. We know, all of us, Buchan addicts and agnostics alike, that the world is not the same. And yet in some important -- indeed vital -- respects much of what was of concern to Buchan endures. He wrote of man's responsibility to man, of self-sacrifice and self-realisation through service, of the fragility of man's achievements, of the need for unremitting duty and attention in defending them, of the need for a 'code' and a certain Sir Percival-like cleanliness, innocence almost, of spirit, rather as Kipling did in the Mowgli stories. Beneath the structure of empire and government both sensed another world of anarchy and disorder, in effect a world of evil.

The terrorist attacks of 11 September in the United States remind us that it is still there. Medina still walks. He has always done so. Was there not Carlos once, 'The Jackal'? And Abu Nidhal? Is there not still Saddam Hussein to reckon with? And a whole host of others, players in the same game if not the same league; all these are surely metamorphoses of the same Mephistophelean figure? And today he re-emerges as Osama bin Laden, the most dangerous man in the world, trained by the CIA, who knows us as well as we know ourselves, still with us.

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