In 1985, I was invited to lunch at South Street Seaport in New York by a man I knew slightly from my early newspaper days in London. He was Brian Crozier, who seemed to have written for every serious news outlet from Reuters to the Economist in the preceding 40 or so years. What made this feat all the more impressive was that he did so from an unyielding anti-Communist Cold Warrior standpoint. Indeed, my first encounter with him on paper was in 1965 when, as a student at London University, I bought his Penguin Special on the Vietnam War which gave me an accurate outlook on the war and enough ammunition to sustain me in a decade’s worth of passionate arguments about it.
Well, the sad news has arrived that Brian died last week, but the less sad news is that he had reached the splendid age of 94 and, until quite recently, was in good health (his obituary from the London Independent is here).
As obituaries and other tributes make clear, however, Brian’s life was one of those fortunate ones that show a flourishing in several fields. Born in Queensland, Australia, he grew up partly in France, won a scholarship in piano and musical composition to Trinity College of Music in London, and throughout his life excelled as a pianist, painter, poet, novelist, and linguist. But he soon discovered his vocation, journalism, and after the almost obligatory brief flirtation with Communism, he discovered his cause too, namely a well-informed and passionate anti-Communism. In pursuit of the first, he gained the world record for the largest number of journalistic interviews with presidents and prime ministers. In pursuit of the second he earned the enmity of the Left, a series of writing posts with great publications, and any number of international scoops.
Brian was a great admirer (and self-described disciple) of the great James Burnham, who wrote NR’s column on the Cold War, “The Protracted Conflict,” and when Burnham retired, Crozier inherited his column. He wrote it for 18 years. Brian was also active in the intelligence world, working on occasions both with the CIA and with MI6 and, inevitably, meeting with enormous frustration as the bureaucratic habits of the spooks got in the way of, well, great scoops and revelations embarrassing to the Left.
There is a profile of Brian, written before his death, on the website Wikispooks. It is written from a somewhat hostile leftist standpoint, but the story that emerges from under the hostility is a fascinating one, and I finished with even more admiration for Brian than I had before. (Wikispooks had to go to 1939, however, to find a photograph of Brian that made him seem sinister rather than avuncular.)
And what happened at the South Street Seaport lunch in 1985? Brian looked across the table and said, with a kind of solemn earnestness: “John, Communism is about to crack up. I’ve never felt it before, but I’m certain of it now. The Soviet Union won’t be here in a decade, maybe even less. I may not live to see it [Brian was 68 at the time], but you will.”
I’m glad he lived to see it. He had done more than most to bring about the collapse of Communism, and when it happened, it confirmed the truth of his brave and often unpopular criticisms. R.I.P.
The one and only.