Sunday, 24 April 2011

Ben Macintyre, Operation Mincemeat

Ben Macintyre is another journalist who knows how to do research and how to write. The result is a fascinating book, both thorough and highly readable, which has provided my relaxation this Easter weekend. Thank you!

The story (The Man Who Never Was) has been well known for over fifty years: Churchill's spooks mounted a deception exercise involving a dead body carrying fake papers washed ashore in Spain. By this means they succeeded in significantly misleading Hitler (possibly with some unexpected help from an anti-Hitler German aristocrat high up in German intelligence). As a result, Hitler had his forces in the wrong places when the Allies invaded Sicily in 1943. Thousands of Allied military lives were probably saved for a very modest outlay in pounds, shillings and pence.

Because it's in the News, I have been thinking about social mobility and internships. Put the spooks and other players in Operation Mincemeat through the grinder of those issues.

In many respects, the desperate struggle of World War Two forced the UK to open careers to talents. At the same time, as this book indicates, networks of privilege and sponsorship continued to operate - sometimes with disastrous results (think of the Cambridge circle of Soviet spies).

But I cannot at the moment convince myself that one would have got a better result than the clubland aristocrats and upper-class / upper middle-class eccentrics achieved in their Whitehall intelligence basements had one insisted on open recruitment and no sponsorship. It seems to me that these people were often the glitzy showmen or the nerds and anoraks of their day who would never had the chance to show their real abilities had they been put through some politically-correct recruitment procedure. Horses for courses, and not all courses are alike.

I will try to find something to read on this subject, specifically in relation to World War Two. Any suggestions?

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