Monday, April 23, 2007

The Secret War Against Hitler

As is habitual of an eclectic (read, disorganized?) mind, my literary pursuits rarely go very long in one direction. There will be one month where my concentration is on, say, the American Civil War followed by a week of late nights spent with John D. MacDonald’s private eye and maybe then a radical shift to the Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer. Another month might involve a detailed study on biblical hermeneutics then a few novels of Nevil Shute, Walter Scott or Alexandre Dumas, and then – bang – back to history, but this time with Antonia Fraser’s exhaustive biography of Oliver Cromwell or in the challenging histories of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

And, of course, that’s not to mention contemporary culture studies, or the comedy of James Thurber, or the plays of Edward de Vere (aka) William Shakespeare, or...well, you get my drift.

No; simple, single categorizations just don’t work well for readers like me…or, I’ve got a feeling, for readers like you either! There are just too many exciting reading adventures out there for us and they cross genres, eras and authors in a wonderful and exhilarating way.

Anyhow -- these meandering remarks serve (not particularly well, perhaps) for a recommendation of a book I recently read in one of those affected mindsets described above. It's taken me a bit to get round to writing about it but don't let that fool you. It was an outstanding read.

It was William Casey’s The Secret War Against Hitler.

Claire and I had been watching re-runs on PBS of the popular British TV reality show from 2002, Spy, and we got a big kick out of it. Indeed, it was a kick forceful enough to land me in the Northwest branch of the Omaha Public library where I checked out several non-fiction titles dealing with modern espionage. Those included Denis Collins' Spying: The Secret History of History written with the resources of Washington, D.C.’s new International Spy Museum and Espionage: The Greatest Spy Operations of the 20th Century by Ernest Volkman. BUt, by far, the most engaging and satisfying work I picked up was Bill Casey’s intriguing history, a detailed description of the Allied espionage efforts directed against Germany during World War II.

The Secret War Against Hitler
made for riveting, inspiring and sometimes maddening reading – maddening because it showed what dire effects upon military strategy can be wreaked by politicians (and sometimes by misled, egoistic and headstrong military leaders themselves).

Indeed, Casey points out several instances of how the success of Allied military efforts against the Nazi war machine was dramatically mitigated because of poor intelligence at the beginning of the war due to governments being so ill-prepared, and then later by grossly selfish motives by such men as Stalin and de Gaulle, and devastating mistakes made by blundering bureaucrats, political leaders, and even the military elite. Therefore, what could have been achieved by the inspiring bravery and skill of our fighting men was severely limited by tragic decisions at the top, making World War II longer and more terrible than was necessary. In addition, the post-war political and cultural scene could have been tremendously more just and safe and connected to the motivations that compelled our soldiers and sailors in the first place.

So, as captivating as Casey’s information is, The Secret War Against Hitler will not always be easy, enjoyable reading.

But infuriating as some of the events in the book can make you, be assured that The Secret War Against Hitler is throughout an excellent and important read. Within its pages you’ll learn about the critical roles played by code-breakers, double agents, an indispensably powerful "paper army," and many superbly deceptive strategies developed by the Allied intelligence corps.

You’ll also see how close the contest was at several junctures, how FDR’s insistence on Germany’s “unconditional surrender” was such a disaster, how Hitler catastrophically misread Allied intentions, how small party and even individual heroism (as in the sabotage success against the Nazi’s atomic bomb hopes) helped save Europe, and much more.

Bill Casey, as many of you will remember, was the director of the CIA under President Ronald Reagan. But Casey’s introduction to intelligence service was in the OSS back in 1943 when he started as a senior clerk in Washington. He ended the war, however, as one of the key leaders in American military intelligence. His work brought this treasured note from the OSS' famous founder, "Wild Bill" Donovan:

It has been the policy of the OSS never to hesitate to assign major responsibility to young men who have what it takes. This policy has been, in my opinion, one of our primary sources of strength. I have been vindicated by the outstanding performances of many, but by none more than your own. You took up one of the heaviest loads which any of us had to carry at a time when the going was roughest, and you delivered brilliantly, forcefully and in good time.

Signed: William J. Donovan, Major-General

The Secret War Against Hitler is truly an outstanding book and written by one of the 20th Century's most interesting and accomplished American patriots. I recommend it (even to eclectic readers of my ilk) without reserve.

(Note too that The Secret War Against Hitler is available in audio form as well. Just take a look right here.)