Books

Some things about war are more hellish than others

BARBARA AMIEL April 5 1976
Books

Some things about war are more hellish than others

BARBARA AMIEL April 5 1976

Some things about war are more hellish than others

Books

AMAN CALLED INTREPID

by William Stevenson (Longman, $14.50)

U.S. Secretary of State Henry Stimson was a perfect gentleman. In 1929 he lectured those involved in the seamy business of intelligence. “Gentlemen,” he pronounced, “do not read each other’s mail.” Nor, it seemed, much else. Mein Kampf had been published in 1924. The buildup of German militarism and intelligence had been noted in British reports. But the genteel minuet of noninvolvement continued in Washington and London throughout the Thirties. In the end, the free world found itself mortgaged to renegades more at home among the kidney-punchers of the 20th century. They were renegades by necessity rather than choice. Civilians, based in England, whose premature opposition to Hitler made them ineligible for work in Neville Chamberlain’s British Intelligence Service. Winnipeg-born William Stephenson was prominent among them, and in 1940 when Churchill finally took England in hand he appointed the Quiet Canadian head of British intelligence operations. “You must be intrepid,” Churchill warned him, thus inspiring Stephenson with a suitably Gunga Din code name.

Toronto journalist William Stevenson, who worked for Intrepid, details this wartime operation in his new book. Much is familiar: Roosevelt’s problems with a neutrality obsessed Congress, Joseph Kennedy’s Nazi sympathies, the breaking of the German cypher called “Enigma.” But Stevenson also gives intriguing glimpses of Canada’s war effort. Tito organized Yugoslavian resistance on a passport issued in Canada. Next door to the CBC’S Toronto office documents containing false information were forged and then “leaked” to Hitler. At a secret camp in Oshawa guerrillas trained for the successful assassination of Reinhard Heydrich—the Butcher of Prague—under the direction of film maker Alexander Korda. Brave and honorable men all. But the book is muffled with the dead sound that envelops every account of necessary evil. After the British broke the Enigma code they had advance notice of such disasters as the attack on Coventry. Still Churchill kept quiet rather than let the Germans suspect the code was broken. Thousands died. Really top intelligence, it seems, cancels itself. “War is an evil thing,” Churchill told an angry cabinet minister. “Do you wish us to surrender?” The minister shook his head. “Then I greatly fear, sir,” replied Churchill, “that in order to live we must play God.”

Perhaps no country can unilaterally dis-

Stephenson: to know isn’t always enough

avow so deadly a weapon as intelligence. Perhaps if he were alive today, Churchill would growl that a balance of terror does more to preserve peace than a balance of goodwill. Perhaps. But bad guys are as intrepid as good guys, and using the word “intelligence” to describe it all is a bitter joke.

BARBARA AMIEL