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Bodyguard of Lies’: An Exchange

In response to:

The Ultra Ultra Secret from the February 19, 1976 issue

To the Editors:

Predictably, my book Bodyguard of Lies has been received by British critics in New York and London with much shrill, ill-informed and self-serving criticism. In view of the close links between Messrs. Hugh Trevor-Roper, Michael Howard and M.R.D. Foot, the Cabinet historical section, and the remnants of the World War II military, naval, air and intelligence hierarchies—none of whom can welcome authoritative, penetrating, documented and carefully-researched studies of such troubling matters as Coventry, Nuremberg, Dieppe, Ultra, and the French, German and Dutch resistance movements, at this sad time in British internal and external affairs—I feel obliged to counter-attack.

Bodyguard of Lies is a history of the evolution, planning and execution of strategy and stratagem for D-Day in Normandy on June 6, 1944. It consists of 947 pages and perhaps 600,000 words. 124 pages of the book consists of an Author’s Note, a list of those interviewed, a list of archivists, historians and librarians who helped me, fifty-two pages of sources and notes, a bibliography and an index. Since the work deals with a combination of the most sensitive matters in warfare—deception, cryptanalysis, intelligence, political warfare and subversion—it can be claimed with justification that Bodyguard is the best referenced work on what is broadly called “Intelligence” in the contemporary historiography of such matters. I should like to point out, furthermore, that when the manuscript was completed the publishers, Harper and Row, of New York, employed a team of checkers and experts to review the manuscript for error. This checking process lasted almost a year. I thought then as I do now: for a commercial publisher to undertake such a large task in the face of competition—through this checking Bodyguard was beaten to the punch by F.W. Winterbotham’s The Ultra Secret, and thereby lost some of its commercial thunder—demonstrates an unusual degree of editorial responsibility. But, as I state in the Author’s Note: “…no effort has been spared to ensure that the facts in these pages are accurate….”

Bodyguard was published in the United States in November 1975, and was received immediately with general critical acclaim. Charles B. MacDonald, the leading American military historian (he was the co-editor of the official US project that produced the ten-volume History of the European Theater of Operations and wrote two of the volumes, The Siegfried Line Campaign and The Last Offensive, co-authoring one other official volume, Three Battles: Arnaville, Altuzzo, and Schmidt), wrote that: “This secret history of D-Day is the most important work on World War II in a quarter of a century, a triumph of revelation and presentation.” His eminent colleague, General S.L.A. Marshall, who is perhaps the doyen of the American military historians, and was very well acquainted with deception and cryptanalysis while serving on the staff of General W.B. Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff at Supreme Headquarters, declared that Bodyguard was: “A tremendous new book that for size, scope, and style must rank with the major historical works of this century.” Professor Harold C. Deutsch, of the Strategic Studies Institute at the US Army War College, thought that “Cave Brown has produced a book that belongs among the works of consequence on the history of conflict in our century.”

All but two of the many scores of reviews in the United States—the exception being those of H.R. Trevor-Roper [NYR, February 19] and a minor don at Tampa, Florida—were in the same vein. That of The New Yorker is perhaps significant because ordinarily, and not without reason, it has viewed recent books on intelligence with suspicion. The reviewer stated that, “Mr. Cave Brown has given us…a work of real and considerable stature, and a high adventure to read.”

Mr. Trevor-Roper may well have viewed these opinions with some envy—his American publishers recently declined to publish his first and only book on espionage with the advice that he turn it into a novel.

Now we must turn to the United Kingdom. In October of 1975, when the work was in galleys, I authorized Harper and Row to show the volume to the Ministry of Defense. Alterations and corrections were still possible at this stage of production and, as is usual, the work went to Rear Admiral K.H. Farnhill, of the Ministry of Defense. As some thirty other leading military historians on both sides of the Atlantic read galleys with a critical eye, so did Admiral Farnhill. In due course, he came back with a request that perhaps ten minor alterations be made to conceal the identities of agents and double agents. I made some seven alterations because I evaluated Farnhill’s requests as being fair, sensible and responsible. Admiral Farnhill, who is no innocent in intelligence matters (he was until recently Director of Management and Support of Intelligence at the Ministry of Defense), made it clear that his passing of the book for publication in no way meant that the British Government endorsed the work. However, privately, he did state to Geoffrey Simmons, the managing director of W.H. Allen, my London publishers, that “it was the best work on intelligence to come out of World War II so far.”

So far so good. Now, however, matters in England began to take a queer turn. In due course, the galleys went to Mr. Andre Deutsch and Sir William Collins. In turn, they sent the galleys to Professor Trevor-Roper for an evaluation. At that time, Trevor-Roper, while critical in parts, was, according to one who read the report, “quite favorably disposed” toward the work.

Suddenly, about ten weeks later, Professor Trevor-Roper changed his tune. In The New York Review of Books, he blasted the work unmercifully, declaring that it was not to be trusted. While Mr. William E. Colby, then director of the CIA, was commending the work as “a labour of love” and “an important work,” Professor Trevor-Roper was scything into the volume with vigor. His tactic was the tactic of the old diplomats—to depict the work as absurd and then attack the absurdities. In particular, he took me to task for stating that Ewen Montagu was one of the best fly-fishermen in the realm—a statement based upon Montagu’s own statement in Who’s Who, which he now states was a fabrication made in 1942 so that he might be invited to more country house parties.

Mr. MacDonald responded, accurately enough, by stating that Trevor-Roper’s review of Bodyguard was not so much a critique as an attack upon the reputation of Major General Sir Stewart Menzies and his stewardship of the Secret Intelligence Service, and intended to cast doubt upon the mental capacity of Menzies at the time he wrote a certain memorandum. Mr. MacDonald repeated his assertion that Bodyguard of Lies was “the most important work on World War II in a quarter of a century.”

Now, what could have happened to cause Professor Trevor-Roper to change his attitude toward the work? Of course, it is possible that he had had second thoughts about the work between writing the Deutsch memorandum and the New York Review article. Moreover, it is quite true that dons delight to bark and bite. At the same time, it is odd that late in January, while Professor Trevor-Roper was writing the review, Mr. Clifton Childs, of the Cabinet historical section, wrote to the Chief of Military History of the US Army (MacDonald’s office) to deplore the fact that MacDonald had endorsed Bodyguard. Mr. Childs asked the American general: “…can [MacDonald] not distinguish between charlantary and serious scholarship?” He advised the general that, “…no one in official circles over here has anything good to say about the book, or the author, except as a writer of historical fiction.” And he concluded: “…does [MacDonald] really subscribe to the theory of ‘Perfidious Albion’ in Anglo-American history?” The laughter generated by the last statement—The Official War Report of the OSS has just been published here and is ripe with references to perfidy in World War II, and Childs apparently forgets that Anglo-American history involved Major Andre and Benedict Arnold—echoed all the way across L’Enfant Plaza. For me personally, Mr. Childs’s remarks are all too reminiscent of the warning that reached me from the Foreign Office when I was researching Bodyguard—“They’ll slit your gizzard if you go on with this,” declared Colonel S. Lohan, then of the Ministry of Defense. Mr. Childs was keeper of the Foreign Office Records at that time.

Mr. Childs should know that he may be able to invoke the support of the British “Establishment” historians in condemning a book for political reasons. But he should know that he cannot do the same in the USA. His credentials as a historian are simply not good enough, as Who’s Who (if that illustrious work of reference is now to be trusted after the Montagu business) shows.

I might have thought that the timing was coincidental, but for the fact that two other “Establishment” historians, Michael Howard and M.R.D. Foot, attacked the work in tones even more savage than Trevor-Roper had done.

Michael Howard presented The Times Literary Supplement with no less than sixteen pages of review, designed as he put it to “break this butterfly on the wheel.”

Ignoring the fact that the work had taken seven years of full-time work to produce (and another four years’ part-time work), Howard dismissed Bodyguard as a “Farrago” (a play on the name of a writer of spy stories who is in trouble concerning his facts). Mr. Howard made his point with the observation that:

There is in this book all the material for a first-class study of Allied operational deception, if only the author had taken the trouble to winnow out the grain from the chaff. As it is, he has protected his truths, not by a bodyguard of lies exactly, but by so confusing a fog of half-truths, malicious insinuations, romantic inventions and irrelevant digressions that the deception staffs would have recognized him as a genius at their profession and recruited him on the spot—if the “black propaganda” experts at PWE did not get him first.

These are, of course, telling words. So what, it may be asked, are Professor Howard’s credentials for making them? It emerges that he has been hired to write the official history of the London Controlling Section, the bureau at Churchill’s headquarters during World War II that was responsible for deception. Can it be that Professor Howard has become the hit man for that organization—for that organization persistently, cleverly, and with great determination, did everything it could to prevent or block research for Bodyguard? Is it not reasonable to postulate that if a group of men are prepared to go to the lengths they did to prevent the publication of Bodyguard, and failed, that they would resort to the next best tactic—that of trying to discredit the work?

Professor M.R.D. Foot was equally vigorous in his criticism of Bodyguard of Lies in the Sunday Times. But what are his credentials for public discussions of such weighty and mysterious matters? He is, of course, the author of the official volume, SOE in France. This is a most important work, and beautifully crafted. But in taking me to task for minor inaccuracies, Professor Foot might have been more charitable and recalled the problems that he had with SOE in France: even though he had access to the documents, and the cooperation of the British secret apparatus, SOE in France was so in error that a second, corrected edition had to be produced. Even so, HMSO was presented with a raft of libel actions that would have made a commercial publishing house lawyer gray with anxiety. Moreover, plainly, Professor Foot is simply not qualified to discuss or make opinions about deception. His own work states quite clearly that he did not have access to documentation concerning strategical or tactical deception in World War II. How, therefore, can he judge the work of an author who was so privileged?

Anthony Cave Brown

Washington, DC

Hugh Trevor-Roper replies:

Mr. Cave Brown’s apologia is like his historical writing: it is prolix, irrelevant, and weak on fact.

Much of his letter is an attack on certain other British historians with whom he supposes me to be in league. As I wrote my review independently, without any reference to any of these historians, I am as unaffected by this charge as by the laudatory opinions of Mr. Charles Macdonald, of which he makes so much.

As far as I can see, there is in Mr. Cave Brown’s long letter no factual refutation of any statement that I have made. He merely supposes motives. His suppositions are wrong.

He says that I wrote a report for the English publisher André Deutsch praising his work, and that between writing that report and writing my review I changed my mind; and for this change of mind he suggests the motive, viz: that I was “invoked” by Mr. Clifton Childs of the Cabinet Historical Section.

My report to Mr. Deutsch was confidential, but since Mr. Cave Brown claims to know, and pretends to cite, its contents, I will say that here too he has got his facts wrong. My report, which is before me, did not differ from my review. I stated that the book showed great industry and was likely to sell, but that it was fundamentally inaccurate in important matters and would not command respect. There is thus no need to look for motives for my “change of attitude.” The motive which Mr. Cave Brown supplies is anyway ridiculous. I do not know Mr. Childs and have never been in touch with him.

Mr. Cave Brown also tells your readers that my “first and only book on espionage” has recently been turned down by an American publisher. He will find my first and only book on that subject in the list of my works. It was published eight years ago, and was never offered to any American publisher.

I cannot find that, in his letter, Mr. Cave Brown has made any other point against me or my review. However, I note that in his recent introduction to The Secret War Report of the OSS, he takes the opportunity to make further insinuations, evidently designed to discredit my criticism of his work. He there ascribes to me a positive opinion which I have never either held or expressed, and states that Sir Stewart Menzies wrote his unpublished memoirs in order to defend himself, in particular, against my criticism: a peculiarly fatuous statement since I had not, at that time, or at any time during Menzies’s lifetime, criticized either him or his service.

Everything that Mr. Cave Brown says confirms what I wrote in my review, that he seems constitutionally incapable of getting things right.

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