Intrepid — the Man Behind the Scenes, Involved in Nearly Everything
By Jeff Salter
As I was reading this (1976) non-fiction book, I was thinking, “if this were a novel, nobody would believe it.” William Stevenson’s “A Man Called Intrepid” details the behind-the-scenes activity of a British citizen (born in Canada) named William Stephenson… later knighted for his service. Note the similarity in their names and the difference in spelling — this review would be simpler to write if the author’s name was Jones.
Before I go much farther here, let me establish that I’ve read a LOT of non-fiction books and articles – along with a huge pile of novels – about World War Two. I was aware that Roosevelt and Churchill had been communicating and “cooperating” long before America’s official entry – beginning 12-7-41 with Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbor… and a few days later with Hitler’s declaration of war against America – in that world war. Through “Lend-Lease” and many other programs – some known at the time and some kept VERY classified – Roosevelt did everything in his power to support and encourage our weakened British cousins [and later the Russians] under siege. Poland, France, and Holland had already fallen.
This book lays out the elaborate and extensive operations – including MANY on American soil – which worked behind the scenes, in both legal and completely illegal ways, to keep Great Britain from perishing and to prepare America for the involvement viewed by many to be inevitable.
Note, however, that – prior to the Pearl Harbor attack – there were MANY in America (both citizens and politicians) who strongly preferred us to remain neutral… and let England and France fight it out against the Germans and Italians. [After all, we were isolated by two oceans.]
Many others, however, recognized that the Axis Powers would not stop at conquering western Europe and the British Isles – among other places like Greece and Northern Africa – but would soon direct their energy and resources toward the Americas. So, it is those individuals – which included Roosevelt, obviously – who saw the writing on the wall and moved secretly (and, technically, illegally) to help our future allies as much as possible… and to gear up our production and human resources in preparation for our own direct involvement.
[Note: from 1939 through much of 1941, Russia was still allied with Germany… until Hitler broke their pact and attacked Stalin. After that, Russia became a de facto “ally” of America and England (among the others)… even though Stalin was fighting as much for his own future power and the Soviet state as he was a true “partner” in the allied struggle.]
So what am I saying?
I found this book startling, absorbing, and fascinating. Almost unbelievable the many ways Stephenson [i.e., Intrepid] worked with all these: the FBI, ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan (heading the precursor of the CIA), various departments of British Intelligence, Churchill personally, Roosevelt personally, as well as their trusted delegates. For a period of many years – counting the pre-war period in the 1930s – Stephenson was involved in vital decisions and developments and operations… which came together to help the allies defeat Germany, Japan, and Italy.
Now, here’s the kicker:
As I was scanning the Amazon reviews of this book today, I discovered there’s a degree of controversy over whether Stephenson [i.e., Intrepid] actually did everything Stevenson (the author) says he did. Some reviewers assert certain aspects of his involvement were embellished, while other cited facts were simply erroneous. I don’t know what to say about that controversy, but I know this author had access to Stephenson [i.e., Intrepid] himself, to Stephenson’s files, and to many records – on both sides of the Atlantic – which had been de-classified since the war’s end. [Note: as of the time of this author’s writing, many of the records were STILL classified.]
Therefore, I find this account to be believable and most likely as true (and complete) as can be written while some files are still being withheld. That said, it’s quite startling to learn how important to the post-war world makeup this one man was.
If the reader is an isolationist who believes America should have never been involved in WW2, this book will make you angry at how citizens (and their leaders) were deceived and manipulated. But if, like me, you believe America would’ve been dragged into the war anyway… then you’ll be grateful that Roosevelt and others were working behind the scenes to keep our British Cousins alive and kicking… and to get American armed forces and civilian production geared up. [I’ve read several “what if?” scenarios and it would not have taken very much tweaking of the political scene to have Roosevelt OUT of the White House and America basically ignoring the British devastation… and then we would’ve found ourselves attacked – possibly invaded – from the west by Japan and from the east by Germany.]
One further note: if you are not already reasonably well-versed in the history of WW2, this book may seem quite confusing. But if you, like me, are already aware of at least the overview of what happened and when… then I think you’ll be amazed and enthralled.
Just so you’ll have another perspective on Stephenson (i.e., Intrepid), have a look at this article:
By the way, there’s a six-page foreword by Sir William Stephenson himself… as well as a three page note from British Security Coordination Service historian, Charles Howard Ellis.
And just as a counter-balance to those reviewers who refuse to believe Stephenson was who he said he was and did what he said he did, look at these cover quotes:
1. “Bill Stephenson taught us all we ever knew about foreign intelligence.” — Gen. William Donovan, founder of the O.S.S.
2. “Stephenson and Donovan carried out the single outstanding intelligence coup of the Second World War when they delayed the Nazi invasion of Russia.” — Winston Churchill
3. “As long as Americans value courage and freedom there will be a special place in our hearts, our minds, and our history books for the ‘Man Called Intrepid’.” — Ronald Reagan
4. “The implications [of President Roosevelt’s involvement in espionage] are startling.” — John LeCarré.
[JLS # 415] — corrected