© The Boston Globe 2001. Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II
PART VI: THE RESISTANCE
by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / August 26, 2001
Page 2 of 11
Continued from page 1
The impact of the resistance -- whether it was 80,000 Partisans driving the Axis out of Yugoslavia or a solitary Slovak slipping a laxative into a Nazi's coffee cup -- is one of the most ephemeral aspects of World War II. It is usually enshrined, nation by nation, survivor by survivor, in misty-eyed memoirs and stone memorials listing the locals killed fighting oppression, even if the majority of them were victims of Axis reprisals for guerrilla attacks.
The new records re-create how those underground campaigns looked to Allied intelligence as the war was unfolding. They put names and faces on a category of casualty that, by some estimates, accounted for 5 million to 10 million of the roughly 50 million lives lost in the war.
"This intelligence gets you right down to the village level," says Timothy Naftali, a historian on a commission President Clinton appointed in 1999 to oversee the biggest declassification project in American history. "No one has sat down to evaluate the net effect of these resistance operations. I don't know of a single book that separates myth from reality. It's astounding. These are important questions."
The files, especially the half million so-called "mission files" the CIA has released in the past year, detail hundreds of missions behind enemy lines carried out by the agency's forebear, the Office of Strategic Services. The OSS aimed not only to gather intelligence and set up radio communications prior to major invasions, but also to aid, arm, and exploit dozens of resistance groups, even if it meant surreptiously wresting control of them from its allies, the British.
And freedom fighters did not always come free of charge. US intelligence officials dipped into a seemingly bottomless budget to pay off local agents with bicycles in the Netherlands, gold in Thailand, lipstick in China, and opium in Burma. The OSS even had to ply favors from the US military establishment, which often resented the new agency's broad authority.
"I respectfully recommend that a supply of cigars and operational whiskey be furnished," wrote one OSS leader, trying to grease his way through the US military bureaucracy in order to launch an operation aimed at organizing a resistance movement in Japanese-occupied Korea.
General William "Wild Bill" Donovan, the OSS chief, gave his lieutenants wide latitude in arming, infiltrating, exploiting, even inventing resistance groups. Few were as enthusiastic about eating away at the Axis from within as Allen Dulles, who set up shop in Switzerland and targeted the underground movements that he believed the British were jealously hoarding without fully exploiting.
Dulles cabled Donovan in May 1943 that his counterpart in British intelligence "is reluctant to give up a monopoly that he has enjoyed up to this point."
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