Thursday, November 11, 2010

Review: Operation Mincemeat

Operation MincemeatOperation Mincemeat by Ben MacIntyre

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A thrilling book about how British espionage and deception in World War II fooled Hitler and enabled the Allies to make a decisive takeover of the island of Sicily.

The author, being an author, cannot help himself from noting the influence of writers in this complicated scheme. The story begins with a top secret memo entitled “The Trout Fisher,” issued under the name of Admiral John Godfrey, who was helped along by the future James Bond novelist Ian Flemming. The memo contained 51 suggestions on how to deceive the Germans. Suggestion #28, the one followed in this story, came from another author, Basil Thomson (pp.11-2). Towards the end, Macintyre writes:

“Wars are won by …planners…tacticians…generals…politicians…But they are also won by feats of imagination. Amateur, unpublished novelists, the framers of Operation Mincemeat, dreamed up the most unlikely concatenation of events, rendered them believable, and sent them off to war, changing reality through lateral thinking and proving that it is possible to win a battle fought in the mind, from behind a desk, and from beyond the grave. Operation Mincemeat was pure make-believe; and it made Hitler believe something that changed the course of history.

“This strange story was conceived in the mind of a writer and put into action by a fisherman, who cast his fly on the water with no certainty of success but an angler’s innate optimism and guile. The most fitting, and aptly fishy, tribute to the operation was contained in a telegram sent to Winston Churchill on the day the Germans took the bait: ‘Mincemeat swallowed rod, line and sinker'”

An interesting theme that runs through the book is that deception only deceives those who want to be deceived. Hitler was made to believe what he already wanted to believe.

This story is nothing short of amazing, and I am grateful that there are writers around like Ben Macintyre know how to tell it well.

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