In The Meaning of Treason, Rebecca West tackled not only the history and facts behind the spate of World War II traitors, but the overriding social forces at work to challenge man’s connection to his fatherland. As West reveals in this expanded edition, the ideologically driven amateurs of World War II were followed by the much more sinister professional spies for whom the Cold War era proved a lucrative playground and put Western safety at risk. Filled with real-world intrigue and fascinating character studies, West’s gripping narrative connects the war’s treasonous acts with the rise of Communist spy rings in England and tackles the ongoing issue of identity in a complex world.
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About the Author
Dame Rebecca West (1892–1983) is one of the most critically acclaimed and bestselling English novelists, journalists, and literary critics of the twentieth century. In her eleven novels, beginning with The Return of the Soldier, she delved into the psychological landscape of her characters and explored topics including feminism, socialism, love, betrayal, and identity. She was lauded for her wit and intellectual acuity, evident in her prolific journalistic works such as her coverage of the Nuremberg trials for the New Yorker, published as A Train of Powder, and Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, her epic study of Yugoslavia and its people. She had a child with H.G. Wells, but married banker Henry Maxwell Andrews later in life and continued writing until she died in London at age ninety.
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The New Meaning of Treason
By Rebecca West
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1947 Rebecca West
All rights reserved.
THE idea of a traitor first became real to the British of our time when they heard the voice of William Joyce on the radio during the war. The conception of treachery first became real to them when he was brought to trial as a radio traitor. For he was something new in the history of the world. Never before have people known the voice of one they had never seen as well as if he had been a husband or a brother or a close friend; and had they foreseen such a miracle they could not have imagined that this familiar unknown would speak to them only to prophesy their death and ruin. A great many people had experienced that hideous novelty, for it was easy to chance on Joyce's wavelength when one was tuning-in on the English stations, and there was a rasping yet rich quality about his voice which made it difficult not to go on listening, and he was nearly convincing in his assurance. It seemed as if one had better hearken and take warning when he suggested that the destiny of the people he had left in England was death, and the destiny of his new masters in Germany life and conquest, and that, therefore, his listeners had better change sides and submit; and he had the advantage that the news in the papers confirmed what he said. He was not only alarming, he was ugly. He opened a vista into a mean life. He always spoke as if he were better fed and better clothed than we were, and so, we now know, he was. He went farther than that mockery of his own people's plight. He sinned that sin which travesties legitimate hatred because it is felt for kindred, as incest is the travesty of legitimate love. When the U-boats were sinking so many of our ships that to open the newspapers was to see the faces of drowned sailors, he rolled the figures of our lost tonnage on his tongue. When we were facing the hazard of D-day, he rejoiced in the thought of the English dead which would soon lie under the Westwall.
So all the curious went off to the Central Criminal Court on 17 September 1945 when he came up for trial. The Old Bailey was as it had not been before the war and is not now. Because of the blitz it stood in a beautiful desert of charred stone. Churches stood blackened but apparently intact; birds, however, flew through the empty sockets of the windows and long grass grew around their altars. A red-brick Georgian mansion, hidden for a century by sordid warehouses, looked at the dome of St Paul's, now astonishingly great, across acres where willow-herb, its last purple flowers passing into silver clouds of seed dust, and yellow ragwort grew from the ground plan of a city drawn in rubble. The grey stone of the Old Bailey itself had been gashed by a bomb. Its solidity had been sliced as if it were a cake, and the walls of the slice were crude new red brick. Inside the building, because there was not yet the labour to take down the heavy blackout, the halls and passages and stairs were in perpetual dusk. The court-room - Court No. 1 where all the most famous criminal trials of modern times have taken place - was lit by electric light, for the shattered glass dome had not yet been rebuilt. Bare boards filled it in, giving an odd-come-short look to what had been a fine room in its austere way.
The strong light was merciless to William Joyce, whose appearance was a shock to all of us who knew him only over the air. His voice had suggested a large and flashy handsomeness, but he was a tiny little creature and not handsome at all. His hair was mouse-coloured and sparse, particularly above his ears, and his pinched and misshapen nose was joined to his face at an odd angle. His eyes were hard and shiny, and above them his thick eyebrows were pale and irregular. His neck was long, his shoulders narrow and sloping, his arms very short and thick. His body looked flimsy and coarse. There was nothing individual about him except a deep scar running across his right cheek from his ear to the corner of his mouth. But this did not create the savage and marred distinction that it might suggest, for it gave a mincing immobility to his small mouth. He was dressed with a dandyish preciosity, which gave no impression of well-being, only of nervousness. He was like an ugly version of Scott Fitzgerald, but more nervous. He moved with a jerky formality, and when he bowed to the judge his bow seemed sincerely respectful but entirely inappropriate to the occasion, and it was difficult to think of any occasion to which it would have been appropriate.
He had been defying us all. Yet there was nobody in the court who did not look superior to him. The men and women in the jury-box were all middle-aged, since the armies had not yet come home, and like everybody else in England at that date, they were puffy and haggard. But they were all the more pleasant to look at and more obviously trustworthy than the homely and eccentric little man in the dock; and compared with the judicial bench which he faced he was, of course, at an immense disadvantage, as we all should be, for its dignity is authentic. The judge sat in a high-backed chair, the sword of justice in its jewelled scabbard affixed to the oak panel behind him, splendid in his scarlet robe with its neckband of fine white linen and its deep cuffs and sash of purplish-black taffeta. Beside him, their chairs set farther back as a sign of their inferiority to him, sat the Lord Mayor of London and two aldermen, wearing antique robes of black silk with flowing white cravats and gold chains with pendant badges of office worked in precious metals and enamel. It sometimes happens, and it happened then, that these pompous trappings are given real significance by the faces of men who wear them. Judges are chosen for intellect and character, and city magnates must have risen through shrewdness combined with competence, at the least, and both must have the patience to carry out tedious routines over decades, and the story is often written on their features.
Looking from the bench to the dock, it could be seen that not in any sane community would William Joyce have had the ghost of a chance of holding such offices as these. This was tragic, as appeared when he was asked to plead and he said, 'Not guilty.' Those two words were the most impressive uttered during the trial. The famous voice was let loose. For a fraction of a second we heard its familiar quality. It was as it had sounded for six years, reverberating with the desire for power. Never was there a more perfect voice for a demagogue, for its reverberations were certain to awake echoes in every heart tumid with the same desire. Given this passionate ambition to exercise authority, which as this scene showed could not be gratified, what could he ever have done but use his trick of gathering together other poor fellows luckless in the same way, so that they might overturn the sane community that was bound to reject them and substitute a mad one that would regard them kindly? That was the reason why he was in the dock; that, and Irish history. For it was at once apparent that this trial, like the great treason trial of the First World War which sent Sir Roger Casement to the gallows, had started on the other side of the St George's Channel. There had been rumours that Joyce was Irish, but they had never been officially confirmed, and his account was difficult to identify. But there was no doubt about it when one saw him in the dock. He had the real Donnybrook air. He was a not very fortunate example of the small, nippy, jig-dancing kind of Irish peasant, and the appearance of his brother, who attended the court every day in a state of great suffering, proved the family's origin. Quentin Joyce, who was then twenty-eight, was eleven years William's junior. He was the better-looking of the two with a sturdy body, a fresh colour, thick lustrous brown hair, and the soft eyes of a cow. Nobody could mistake him for anything but a country- bred Irishman, and there were as clear traces of Irish origin in many of the followers of Joyce who watched the trial. True, his best friend was visibly a Scot; a black Highlander, with fierce black eyes blazing behind thick glasses, a tiny fuzz of black hair fancifully arranged on his prematurely bald head, and wrists and ankles as thin as lead piping. He was Angus MacNab, the former editor of a Fascist paper. He was plainly foredoomed to follow odd by-paths, and a variation in circumstances might have found him just as happily a spiritualist medium or a believer in the lost ten tribes of Israel. As it was, he was wholly committed to Joyce. So too were the rank and file of the faithful, who were for the most part men of violent and unhappy appearance, with a look of animal shyness and ferocity, and in some cases a measure of animal beauty. They were on the whole rather darker than one would expect in subscribers to the Aryan theory. One, especially, looked like a true gipsy. Many of them had an Irish cast of feature, and some bore Irish names. It was to be remembered that Joyce had seceded from Sir Oswald Mosley's movement some years before the war and had started his own. These were not at all like Mosleyites, who were as a rule of a more varied and more cheerfully brutal type.
The case was tinged with irony from the start because the prosecuting counsel for the Crown was Sir Hartley Shawcross, the Attorney-General appointed by the new Labour Government. People in court were anxious to see what he was like, for when the Labour party had previously held office they had experienced some difficulty in getting Law Officers of the quality the Tories could provide; and it was a relief to find that he was a winning personality with a gift for setting out a lucid argument in the manner of a great advocate. He was, in fact, certain to enjoy just that worldly success which the man he was prosecuting had desired so much as to put himself in danger of a capital charge; a capital charge of which he was sure, it seemed in the earlier parts of the case, to be convicted.
There were three counts in the indictment brought against him. He had offended, it seemed, against the root of the law against treason; a Statute in which Edward III, in the year 1351, 'at the request of the lords and commons' declared that 'if a man do levy war against our Lord the King in his realm or be adherent to the King's enemies in his realm, giving them aid and comfort in the realm or elsewhere', he was guilty of treason. So the Clerk of the Court, Sir Wilfred Knops, said: 'William Joyce, you are charged in an indictment containing three counts with high treason. The particulars in the first count are that on the 18th September 1939 and on other days between that day and the 29th May 1945, you, being a person owing allegiance to our lord the King, and when a war was being carried on by the German realm against our King, did traitorously adhere to the King's enemies, in parts beyond the seas, that is to say in Germany, by broadcasting propaganda. In a second count of the same indictment, it is charged that you, on the 26th September 1940, being a person owing allegiance as in the other count, adhered to the King's enemies by purporting to become naturalized as a subject of Germany. And in the third count, the particulars are the same as in the first count, that is to say, you are charged with broadcasting propaganda, but the dates are different, and the dates in this case are the 18th September 1939, and on days between that day and the 2nd July 1940.' Later the first two counts were amended, for reasons emerging during the trial, and he was described in them as 'a British subject,' but, significantly, no such change was made in the third.
It seemed as if William Joyce must be found guilty on the first two of these counts. What was first told of his life in court showed it as an open and shut case. William Joyce's dead father had been a Galway man named Michael Joyce, who had worked as a builder and contractor in America during the nineties. He married in May 1902 a Lancashire girl named Gertrude Emily Brooke in New York at the Roman Catholic Church of All Saints on Madison Avenue and 129th, and had settled down with her in Brooklyn where William had been born in 1906. Later inquiry into the story behind the evidence showed their life to have been very pleasant. The Joyces must have been quite prosperous. They lived in a very agreeable house, now an estate agent's office, on a corner lot in a broad street planted with trees, charming with the square, substantial, moderate charm of old Brooklyn. Now that street is occupied at one end by Negroes and at the other by Italians, but then it was a centre of the staider Irish, and the solid bourgeois German quarter was not far off.
In 1909 he took his family back to Ireland: a decision he must often have regretted. But at the time it must still have been very happy. By the time the First World War broke out he was the owner of considerable house property in County Mayo and County Galway, and he was manager of the horse-tramway system in Galway.
In 1922 he left Ireland, because it had become Eire. He was one of those native Irish who were against their own kind, and on the side of the English oppressor. Nowadays we recognize the existence of such people, but fancy them quislings, which is quite often unjust. Doubtless some of them were seduced by bribery dispensed by Dublin Castle, but many, and among those we must include Michael Joyce, were people who honestly loved law and order and preferred the smart uniforms and soldierly bearing of the English garrisons and the Royal Irish Constabulary to the furtive slouching of a peasantry distracted by poverty and revolutionary fever. The error of such people was insufficient inquiry into first causes, but for simple natures who went by surface indications the choice was natural enough.
In any case Michael Joyce paid the price of his convictions, and it was not light. He came to England for three very good reasons. The first was that the horse-tramways in Galway were abolished. One may deduce that he was a man of courage because he apparently ranked that reason as equal in importance to the other two, which were that his neighbours had been so revolted by his British sympathies that they burned down his house, and that he had been confused in many people's mind with an informer, also called Michael Joyce, who had denounced a priest to the Black and Tans. (It must be noted that William Joyce's father was indeed innocent of this crime, and, so far as is known, of any other; the identity of the other Michael Joyce was well established.)
On arriving in England the Joyces settled in Lancashire, and William alone made his way down to London, where he enrolled as a science student at Battersea Polytechnic. In August 1922 he, being sixteen years of age, sent a letter of application to the London University Officers' Training Corps, in which he said he wanted to study with a view to being nominated by the University for a commission in the Regular Army. This letter was read in court, and it is very touching. It must have startled the recipient. It would not (nor would the note Joyce's father wrote later in support of the application) have convinced him that by the still snobbish standards of 1922 this was a likely candidate for the officers' mess, but it had another point of interest. 'I have served with the irregular forces of the Crown in an Intelligence capacity, against the Irish guerillas. In command of a squad of sub-agents I was subordinate to the late Captain P. W. Keating, 2nd R.U.R., who was drowned in the Egypt accident. I have a knowledge of the rudiments of Musketry, Bayonet Fighting, and Squad Drill.' The Egypt was sunk off Ushant in May 1922; which meant that if this story were true the boy was engaged in guerrilla fighting with the Black and Tans when he was fifteen years old. The story was true. A photograph of him taken at that time shows him in a battledress, and a number of people remembered this phase of his life. Later, on an official form, he gave the duration of his service as four months, and named the regiment with which he had been associated as the Worcestershires. Further confirmation was given during his trial by an old man from County Galway who stood in the crowd outside and expressed to bystanders his hearty desire that William Joyce should be hanged for treason against the King of England, on the ground that he had worked with the Black and Tans in persecuting the Irish when they were revolting against the English. The crowd, with that toleration which foreigners possibly correctly suspect of being a form of smugness, was amused by the inconsistency.
But there was something in the letter more relevant to his trial.
Excerpted from The New Meaning of Treason by Rebecca West. Copyright © 1947 Rebecca West. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part One: The Revolutionary,
Part Two: The New Phase,
Part Three: The Decline and Fall of Treason,
Part Four: Conclusion,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was published in 1964, yet it still give us brilliant analysis behind the motives of the so called ""traitors"", as if it was written yesterday.
Just substitute USSR with Iran, and USA with Israel. ((As perceived by many, Iran's nuclear program threatens to break Israel's regional monopoly of weapons of mass destruction, which is the main reason it is under immense pressure to abandon uranium enrichment.))
The late Mr. William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw !!!) and Mr. John Amery could not rally international support to vindicate their cause vis-a vis the Victors' Tribunals that could have cleared them of accusation, blame, suspicion, or doubt with supporting proof, if they wished so.
The USA and the UK did not need to seek international support against the so called ""Traitors"".
The verdits, with todays standards, look extremely CRUEL.
Reading Dame Rebecca West account is interesting to see how the ""traitors"" were condemned on ""crimes"" that had less to do with international terror and more with creating "destabilizing" force in the post WWII world. .......""Our task is equivalent to walking on a tightrope over an abyss, but the continued survival of our species through the ages shows that, if we human beings have a talent, it is for tightrope-walking""