A Film Makes Me Think

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A Film Makes Me Think

A film projector and a screen

When I was a young civil servant, working in London, I was sent on a training course. As part of this, we were required to watch a film. This was a long time ago but I still remember the outline.

It featured a woman civil servant, who was not pretty but flat-chested with straight hair. She went to listen to a concert and a man sat next to her. They got talking and she found him good company: Russian, well-spoken and educated. Having discovered a shared interest in music, they started going out together. One day, he asked her to get hold of a copy of a document. It was quite innocuous: something about committee procedures. When she handed it over, he offered to pay. She brushed off his offer and, when he proved reluctant to accept her refusal, she became suspicious. She reported the matter and guess what, he turned out to be a Russian spy.

As the film ended, we trailed out of the room chatting and laughing. No-one took it seriously. We worked for the Department of the Environment, dealing with planning and local government. Why would a Russian spy be interested in any of these subjects? Local government finance is a particularly arcane subject. It was easy to dismiss the film as the product of cold war paranoia.

However, it does raise some interesting questions. The first is whether I would betray my country? That leads to a second question: doesn't that depend on what that country is doing? What if my country started rounding up immigrants, or Moslems, or gay people? This is not an academic question. I think, for example, of southern France under the Vichy regime. Many people supported it, because it offered peace and a return to traditional values. At first, all that happened was some actions against Jews and communists. It was only gradually that the ordinary French people began to suffer. At what point do you have to stand up for your beliefs? I am reminded of the saying of Dietrch Bonhoeffer:

"First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me."
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