Our Man in New York
by Henry Hemming
This is the extraordinary story of how 1940s isolationist America was subtly persuaded to support the UK in defeating the Nazi threat to Europe. Many different events have been claimed to have brought about a shortening of the Second World War but the actions outlined in this book surely rank high in that list.
Some of this tale has been told before in a book entitled A Man Called Intrepid, written by William Stevenson and published in 1976, but so much more material has since come to light about these events and how the hero of the story, William Stephenson (no relation to the original author), created the huge swing in American public opinion as well as putting in place the origins of the CIA.
The story starts on 11thJune 1940 when a rather nondescript and small in stature Canadian embarked on MVBritannic in Liverpool docks bound for America. This was William Stephenson, who had recently been recruited into the ranks of MI6 to become Head of Station in New York. He had already had a rather full life as a World War I fighter pilot with an MC and DFC to his name. He had then become a successful inventor and businessman in Canada before going bankrupt and moving to England where he reinvented himself and made a second fortune from developing, marketing and selling radio sets. By 1940 he was a very rich man with his own investment fund working throughout Europe in many industries and with his own network of contacts providing him with the intelligence which was vital in such volatile geo-political circumstances.
As Stephenson disembarked in Manhattan, the Dunkirk evacuation had just taken place, France had fallen, Italy had joined the war and Britain was desperately short of weapons, munitions, ships, food and a regular supply of industrial raw materials with which to continue the struggle. In America a Gallup Poll had recently recorded that only 7% of the population wanted the country to support Britain’s struggle. Fortunately, President Roosevelt was not part of that 7% but recognised that he could do little without public consent.
Stephenson set about changing that statistic. He had already established a close contact with the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, and through him a line of communication to the President himself. Now he had to widen his remit to change the mind-set of Americans. He achieved this through spreading rumours, infiltrating pressure groups, winning over prominent isolationists, manipulating opinion polls and, not least, in creating the embryo US intelligence agency, the CIA.
Henry Hemming can turn history into a page-turning narrative worthy of the finest novelist. He brings to life this extraordinary man and his huge team of subversives located throughout the Americas. This gripping story shows that manipulation of the news to influence events is nothing new and that there are few limits to the dark arts of the intelligence services.
Review by John Gaye, Sherborne Literary Society