Intelligence and the War against Japan: Britain, America, and the Politics of Secret Service

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INTELLIGENCE AND THE WAR AGAINST JAPAN: Britain, America, and the Politics of Secret Service, Richard J, Aldrich, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2000, 483 pages, $34.95.

Often a book on a seemingly arcane subject can illuminate an entire field or time period. Richard J. Aldrich's book, Intelligence and the War Against Japan, prods the reader into reconsidering some of the shibboleths of the history of American diplomacy and foreign policy, namely the ineptitude of diplomatic and intelligence operations in Asia during World War II. This prodigiously researched and well-written book details wartime policy contradictions and their implications for postwar policies toward South and Southeast Asia.

Much of the writing about World War II British and American intelligence organizations concentrates on activities in Europe. Historians deem this struggle more significant in forming and maturing both countries' espionage organizations and laying the foundation for a close postwar "special" relationship. Their histories deemphasized national rivalries while emphasizing cooperation. As Aldrich shows us, however, intelligence activities in Asia provided a much truer picture of wartime and postwar political activities and goals.

The espionage wars the British and Americans fought against each other and the Japanese occurred in separate geographic compartments. Frequently physically isolated, the only day-to-day contact between the two powers was through their respective intelligence organizations. As Aldrich and other scholars discovered, these agencies were subject to little effective day-to-day control from Washington and London.

Intelligence gathering and analysis was the growth industry of World War II. Machine encryption and decryption made these aspects of intelligence operations industrial in scope and left agents more time for long-range analyses of various powers' political, military, and commercial interests. …