Life imitates artWhere is James Bond when we need him?

Published 31 October 2008

The villains James Bond was fighting — Dr. No, Goldfinger, and Blofeld — looked improbable in the 1960s; these miscreants of globalization — part master criminal, part arms smuggler, part terrorist, part warlord —are now the stuff of reality

Richard Aldrich, professor of international security at University of Warwick, says that the once improbable seeming villains in the James Bond movies have become close to the real threats faced by modern security services. He says:

Throughout the Cold War, Bond’s villains looked improbable, but now life imitates art. Indeed, in the early 1990s as the Cold War came to a sudden end, real MI6 officers worried about redundancy. Their boss, the real “M,” Sir Colin McColl, reassured them that the end of the Cold War would be followed by a Hot Peace. He was quite right. Within a few years they had joined with special forces to battle drug barons in South America and to track down war criminals in the former Yugoslavia.

Remarkably, the Bond villains — including Dr. No, Goldfinger, and Blofeld — have always been post-Cold War figures. Bond’s enemies are in fact very close the real enemies of the last two decades — part master criminal, part arms smuggler, part terrorist, part warlord. They are always the miscreants of globalization, they endanger not only the security of single country, but the safety of the whole world. Like our modern enemies, they thrive on the gaps between sovereign states and thrive on secrecy.

Many films, like “The Good Shepherd,” are retrospective and are praised for their historical accuracy, and some, like “The Bourne Trilogy,” seek to capture the present. But few capture the wave of the future with the wonderful insight of Ian Fleming. His villains, drawn half a century ago, are truly the miscreants of globalization. Far fetched in the 1960s, they are now the stuff of reality. We need James Bond more than ever.

The U.K.’s Arts and Humanities Research Council have awarded £447,000 to an innovative new research project called “Landscapes of Secrecy.” Led by  Aldrich, it examines how the history of the CIA been constructed since its foundation in 1947. This is the largest research project on the history of intelligence ever to be funded by a U.K. government research council.