Mrs. Hart and I finally had the chance to watch Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and generally enjoyed it, though as is the case with most spy flicks, you don’t pay enough attention the first time through to figure out the villain (and once you know the villain in a second viewing the mystery that energizes a spy flick is gone). What continues to intrigue (all about) me about the genre of espionage movies is how indifferent Americans (and Europeans?) appear are to be to the morality of spying.
Most spy flicks take place in the context of the Cold War and presume that the United States (or the UK) is in a moral and political contest with the Soviets and the evils of Communism. Even if agents lie, kidnap, kill, and steal, agents of the CIA and MI6 are on the side of good, and the preservation of liberty and the American way requires intentionally breaking eggs. Broken shells and wasted yokes are the price of doing business.
Parenthetically, one of the curious features of debates over the Obama Administration’s handling of incident at the embassy in Libya is to see folks who grew up distrusting the CIA and calling cops “pigs” now having to rely on those very same intelligence agents to justify their decisions, actions, and authority. Boomers once envisioned a world where intelligence would be unnecessary and its immoral associations eliminated. A funny thing happened on the way to running a superpower — the realization that espionage and intelligence gathering are par for the superpower course. In which case, when it comes to international affairs, Obama depends upon secretive and duplicitous spies as much as tricky Richard Nixon and Slick Bill Clinton.
As I say, most Americans (aside from the pacifists) are immune to the moral compromises involved in living in a superpower. Our global hegemony depends in some way on a lot of craftiness and worse. Whether our security requires it is another matter. (Do we need to fear Mexico or Canada?) No politicized preacher of the Religious Right or neo-Calvinist persuasion I know has taken on the military-industrial complex or the ethics of agencies like the CIA. And yet, w-w advocates would have us think that the great instances of defective thinking and spiritual decline in the United States are policies and laws regulating human sexual desires. In point of fact, the United States likely lost her innocence well before the sexual revolution, that is, she lost it at least when she decided to wage an international war against the spread of Communism. Europeans like the Brits have never seemed to be as troubled by the ethical compromises involved in ruling and protecting a nation’s global footprint. Americans, by contrast, prefer thinking of their nation as one innocent of European decadence and intrigue. That preference may be a condition for demonizing those who break some of the Ten Commandments and not other parts of God’s law.
But on the upside, the new character in Breaking Bad (formerly Larry Sanders’s agent) is welcome a welcome development even if the series continues to depend on Dooms Day scenarios like divorce, girlfriends’ deaths, RV battery failures in the desert, suicide turtles, and airline crashes. Those extraordinary moments of Walt’s and Hank’s life make me think experimental Calvinists would prefer Breaking Bad more than confessional Protestants since the latter know the value of the ordinary and routine over excitement and glitz.