It had been his opinion that it might serve his country if the Chinese and his men saw that he was not afraid to die. For the comprehension of our age and the part treason has played in it, it is necessary to realize there are many English people who would have felt acutely embarrassed if they had to read aloud the story of this young man's death, or to listen to it, or comment on it in public. They would have admitted that he had shown extreme capacity for courage and self-sacrifice and that these are admirable qualities, likely to help humanity in the struggle for survival; but at the same time he would not please them. They would have felt more at ease with many of the traitors in this book. They would have conceded that on general principles it is better not to lie, not to cheat, not to betray; but they also would feel that Water's heroism has something dowdy about it while treason has a certain style a sort of elegance, or as the vulgar would say, 'sophistication'. William Joyce would not have fallen within the scope of their preference, but the cause for that would be unconnected with his defense of the Nazi cause. The people who harbor such emotions find no difficulty in accepting French writers who collaborated with the Germans during the war. It would be Joyce's readiness to seal his fate with his life which they would have found crude and unappetizing. But Alan Nunn May and Fuchs, Burgess and Maclean would seem in better taste. And concerning taste there is no argument. Those who cultivate this preference, would not have been prepared to defend these men's actions if they were set down in black and white. They would have admitted that it is not right for a man to accept employment from the state on certain conditions and break that understanding, when he could have easily obtained alternative employment in which he would not have to give any such undertaking; and that it is even worse for an alien to induce a country to accept him as a citizen when he is homeless and then conspire against its safety by handing over the most lethal secret it possesses to a potential enemy of aggressive character. But, all the same, they would have felt that subtlety was on the side of the traitors and even morality. To them the classic hero, like poor young Terence Waters, was hamming it. People who practice the virtues are judged as if they had struck the sort of false attitude which betrays an incapacity for art; while the people who practice the vices are judged as if they had shown the subtle rightness of gesture which is the sign of the born artist.
Rebecca West