Asian American Spies: How Asian Americans Helped Win the Allied Victory, by Brian Masaru Hayashi, Oxford University Press, New York, 2021, $34.95
Asian Americans were hard-pressed to maintain a normal life in the midst of World War II. Many faced racism in their personal and professional lives, while some 112,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry had to contend with the upheaval caused by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which directed their forced internment to “relocation centers” such as Manzanar, Poston and Tule Lake. Regardless, many Asian Americans ultimately chose to fight for their adoptive nation.
In Asian American Spies author Brian Hayashi documents efforts by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency, to recruit agents of Asian descent for valuable intelligence roles. OSS director William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan and his administrators sought trustworthy people who not only displayed intelligence and relevant skills, but also had the social connections and cultural knowledge to be able to seamlessly blend into society in wartime China, Japan and Korea, among other places.
Hayashi describes how talented Asian Americans of both genders worked as secretaries, stenographers, linguists, trainers, recruiters, espionage agents, radio operators, researchers, interpreters, cultural experts, local activity coordinators and informants. Despite facing racial segregation, sexism, internal family strife from divided loyalties and often the threat of physical harm from enemy forces, these individuals made a vital contribution to the war effort. They were also instrumental in detecting foreign spies, saving hundreds of lives by rescuing prisoners from camps and participating in the postwar investigation of war crimes.
Asian American Spies is a powerful testament to the courage, resourcefulness and intelligence of Asian Americans who contributed to the Allied victory in World War II. Without their sacrifice and willingness to serve, the outcome could have been quite different.
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