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© The Boston Globe 2001.  Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II

by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / April 15, 2001

Page 6 of 8

Continued from page 5

Shanghai at the time was an international city of fat money deals, bountiful brothels, and languorous opium dens. The Westerners lived in insular enclaves. Allman played polo with the Prince of Wales and moved within a silk-stocking society that would come to be known as the Old China Hands. ''The men all had women on the side,'' Dotti Allman said.

But the specter of war was evident early. Tiny Japan had crushed giant China in 1895 and whipped Russia a decade later. It had built one of the most powerful war machines in the world. At one point in the 1930s, US Navy code-breakers learned that Japan had developed battleships that were faster than this country's.

The war in the Pacific really began in 1934, when Japan seized Manchuria, the four northeast provinces on the other side of the Great Wall. They occupied Shanghai, but the semi-autonomous European and American ''settlements'' were largely left alone. By then, China was splintered by rightist warlords dominated by Chiang Kai-shek, leftist revolutionaries led by Mao, a puppet government created by Japan, Allied European forces protecting their neighboring colonies, and commercial interests expert at siphoning resources from woebegone hinterlands.

Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 and Britain and France declared war on Germany. The neutral United States moved the headquarters of its Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor in 1940 as a deterrent to Japan's cravings to capture the Philippines, where the Americans had a base. Later in the year, Japan forged an unholy trinity with Germany and Italy in a quest to conquer the world.

To read the words of war-weary folk who weighed anchor with the Gripsholm is to see Pearl Harbor from hundreds of perspectives. The attack began at Pearl Harbor, though some historians say that a force struck a British installation on the Malay peninsula a few hours before. Others targeted Shanghai, the US base in the Philippines, and British and Dutch colonies in the Pacific.

Although 2,000 people died at Pearl Harbor - an event that has been retold in hundreds of books and movies and is the subject of a big-budget film that premiers next month - tens of thousands were killed by the Japanese within 24 hours throughout the Pacific theater. In a week, Japan sat astride an Eastern empire as fearsomely as Hitler reigned over Europe.

Spotty Pacific record

Donovan's OSS scored intelligence triumphs in the European theater, but its record in the Pacific is checkered. Navy code-breakers were probably the premier intelligence commodity in the war. Though the Gripsholm accounts were good intelligence, Donovan's far-flung field operations were gummed up by service rivalries.

''Navy and Army intelligence really considered the OSS in the Pacific to be amateurs,'' says Maochun-Yu, the Naval Academy historian.

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