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Our Man in New York

Our Man in New York

henry Hemming
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
I got this book electronically from Auld yin at the start of the Coronavirus lockdown malarkey, and to be honest, wasn't sure if I would enjoy it as it wasn't my usual kind of WW2 story I would read; no thrilling action, no firefights or thrills and spills. Once I got to reading it, however, I found myself hooked at the intrigue of it all and how outlandish it all was.

The book tells the extraordinary story of a propaganda campaign like no other: the covert British operation to manipulate American public opinion and bring America into the Second World War.

The "star" of the book is William Stephenson - "our man in New York" - who arrived in the United States towards the end of June 1940 with instructions from the head of MI6 to secure aid for Britain and 'organise' American public opinion. William Stephenson was a business man, originally from Canada with a rather chequered past, who had fought with the Army in WW1 before transferring to the RFC, then making his fortune through several business ventures in the 1920's and 30's. Throughout his mission in America he never drew a salary.

When he arrived in the United States, Britain was on the verge of defeat to Nazi Germany and polls and surveys at that time showed that just 14% of the population of America wanted to go to war against Germany. But over the months that followed, public opinion in the US began to shift. This was all down to the incredibly devious and underhand methods employed by Stephenson and his staff to sow seeds of anger and distrust amongst everyday American citizens against the Germans and the Nazi regime. "Fake News" is not something new to the 21st Century! If you read this book, and I encourage you to do so, you will see what I mean.
Bill Stephenson and his staff, who he paid for from his own pocket, helped to manipulate people of all classes of society to shift the public opinion towards siding with Great Britain against Germany, from the press to members of different Associations and Societies to J Edgar Hoover and, to some extent, President Roosevelt; the extent of skulduggery used by Stephenson to achieve his aims is truly astonishing and mind blowing in its complexity and audacity.

One of those who he manipulated, albeit a very willing "victim", was Bill Donovan who was directed by Roosevelt to set up the OSS in light of many of Stephenson's "revelations". It is a credible claim that MI6 set up the CIA through its activities described in this book.

Those campaigning against America's entry into the war had many theories about who or what was behind this shift in public opinion. The famous American aviator Charles Lindbergh referred to a British-led plot to bring the US into the war. Others believed that the British were somehow manipulating the American media, that the government was riddled with British stooges, and that the British were meddling in US politics and using dirty tricks to smear prominent anti-war politicians. These claims were shocking, wild, even paranoid: they were also true.

The author uses previously private and classified documents, including the diaries of his grandparents who worked for Stephenson's organisation and it tells the story at a surprisingly fast pace; either that or I enjoyed reading it so much I couldn't put it down.
It really is a fantastic story and I don't hesitate to recommend it to the Arrserati.

A well deserved 5/5 Mushroom Heads

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