A Prehistory of Extraordinary Rendition
My grandfather, Henry Cockburn, resigned prematurely from the Foreign Office at the age of 49, shortly before the First World War. He was the senior British diplomat in Seoul and resigned, my father told me, because he objected to British support for Japan’s occupation of Korea. It was a reckless and somewhat mysterious decision: he was about to achieve ambassadorial rank, had no private means and no other job to go to. He had spent 29 years of his life in China, was apparently intelligent, cultivated and self-sufficient, and aside from his impatience with one aspect of official policy seemed very much a product of the high tide of late Victorian and Edwardian imperialism.
Vol. 34 No. 18 · 27 September 2012
Another notable thing about Patrick Cockburn’s great-grandfather is that when he blew off his right hand at the age of nine, eight members of his family sent him writing desks so that his preparation for a professional career would not be too much interrupted (LRB, 13 September).
The Henry Cockburn of the previous generation was uncannily like Patrick’s grandfather. As solicitor general for Scotland (and close friend of the critic and lawyer Francis Jeffrey, after whom the injured boy was named), he did his best to be humane even as he administered the often tyrannical laws of the time. When on his Hebridean circuit as a judge he had to try four crofters in North Uist for rioting and deforcing law officers – i.e. for using stones and sea-tangle stems against the laird’s thugs who were evicting them and burning their looms and roofs – Cockburn carefully absolved himself from ‘moral and political considerations’, and then imposed light sentences (four months) in keeping with the jury’s recommendation to mercy because of the ‘cruel, though it may be legal, clearance of Sollas township’. So Patrick is the latest in a long and decent family tradition, and must sometimes be glad that a journalist is at more liberty than a judge or a civil servant to hold his radical views.