Friday, 4 January 2013

The Meaning of Treason by Rebecca West

Where do they go, those books from the €1 shelves after they have been winnowed by such as I? I prefer not to find out, some things should remain mysteries but there is no afterlife that is conceivable for theological year books unless they are glued together for a high shelf in a theme pub. I saved from that dismal fate recently two volumes, The Meaning of Treason by Rebecca West pub.1949 and Elephant Bill y Lt.-Col J. H. Williams. pub.1950.

Rebecca West is naturally always very readable. A large part of her book is taken up with the trial for treason of William Joyce aka Lord Haw Haw.
Lord Haw Haw
Strictly of course the treason verdict was not by any means safe and sound as Joyce was not a British citizen even though he passed himself off as such nor was America, whose citizen he was, at war with Germany when he became a naturalized German. That direct sort of treason being a frail twine to hang the hated broadcaster the remoter shores of jurisprudence were scouted for a more adhesive charge.

It is a maxim of the law, quoted by Coke in the sixteenth century, that “protection draws allegiance, and allegiance draws protection” (protectio trahit subjectionem, et subjectio protectionem)

Even got under false pretenses the British passport which Joyce had and diligently kept current gave him protection and that therefore he owed allegiance to the crown. In a curious semi-uncoupling of passport holding and citizenship in 1905 Lord Alverstone defined a passport as:

a document,, issued int the name of a Sovereign, on the responsibility of a Minister of the Crown, to a named individual, intended to be presented to the government of foreign nations and to be used for that individual’s protection as a British subject in foreign countries.

It’s that last little ‘British subject’ afterthought that marred the prosecution’s case given that statute law involves strict adherence to its letter. West characterises this in a gendered fashion:

The arguments that Joyce’s counsel brought against the obvious inference were peculiarly masculine; they were tainted with that decadence which befalls all human activities; art, literature, science, medicine and law, when the game becomes less important than the rules.

My summation:
I put it to you, that you Rebecca West have used such expressions on many occasions during your connection with Mr. Wells, that those sentiments however heart felt have no bearing on the legal facts of the case and that moreover Mr. Wells knew this and knew that the mercy of the court would not be forthcoming.

Neither was it for William Joyce.

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