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Double Crossed: The Missionaries Who Spied for the United States During the Second World War, by Matthew Avery Sutton, Basic Books, New York, 2019, $30

Intelligence work often goes unrecognized until well after the fact. While it is widely acknowledged intelligence played a critical role in World War II, many covert war stories remain untold. Double Crossed relates one such story—or, more properly, four of them, as it follows four U.S. missionaries and religious leaders tapped by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

Author Matthew Sutton opens with profiles of the protagonists—William Eddy, a Middle East expert due to his missionary work; John Birch, a missionary to China; Stephen Penrose Jr., a leader of American Protestantism; and Stewart Herman Jr., an American pastor in Berlin. The author splits the rest of the book into time periods, with chapters about what each individual was doing during the years covered. This effectively reminds the reader of the interactions between the four men and how each stage of the war affected their work, creating a more seamless whole. When their paths ultimately diverge, however, the narrative is more difficult to follow.  

Rather than simply relate each man’s wartime contributions, Sutton evaluates how each responded to the situations in which they found themselves, detailing their respective strengths and weaknesses, as well as addressing the apparent contradiction between their calling as missionaries and wartime work as spies. The author also touches on the creation of the OSS and its evolution during the war. He also describes how it laid the foundation for the Central Intelligence Agency and mentions the role the missionaries played in its creation.

Double Crossed offers an interesting look at missionaries at war and how the United States used these four men to help win the intelligence game against the Axis powers. Sutton’s deft research, engaging subjects and (general) avoidance of politics make for a worthwhile read. 

—David Harris

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