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The British diplomat Fitzroy MacLean is often mentioned as one of the models for Ian Fleming's James Bond, and may or may not have been a spy, but he was unquestionably an adventurer in the great mold of Richard Francis Burton and T.E. Lawrence. His memoir, Eastern Approaches, recounts first his travels through the Central Asian "republics" of the USSR along with his attendance at Soviet show trials and second his role in the British special forces (the nascent SAS) in WWII--first in North Africa and then his active participation in the Yugoslavian resistance to the Nazis, when he served as Winston Churchill's liaison to Tito's Partisans.

The first section is fascinating, but all too short. His battles with Soviet bureaucracy and his depictions of day-to-day life, especially in regions far from Moscow, make for truly fascinating reading. The copy of the book that I read comes from the old Time-Life Reading Program and includes an Introduction by the American foreign officer, Charles W. Thayer, according to whom MacLean's dispatches were so entertaining that the entire diplomatic community eagerly awaited them. The latter portions of the book are no less interesting, but take on something of the character of tragedy, as the reader can't help but be dubious about the enterprise MacLean was embarked upon.

MacLean was sent to Yugoslavia after Mussolini had already resigned and the outcome of the war could no longer be in doubt, if it ever was. Yet Churchill remained determined to help any enemy of the Nazis, without regard to the future butcher's bill. MacLean relates the conversation at which Churchill explained his mission:
After he had finished, there was only one point which, it seemed to me, still required clearing up. The years that I had spent in the Soviet Union had made me deeply and lastingly conscious of the expansionist tendencies of international Communism and of its intimate connection with Soviet foreign policy [...]. If, as I had been told, the Partisans were under Communist leadership, they might easily be fighting very well for the Allied cause, but their ultimate aim would undoubtedly be to establish in Jugoslavia a Communist regime closely linked to Moscow. How did His Majesty's Government view such an eventuality? Was it at this stage their policy to obstruct Soviet expansion in the Balkans? If so, my task looked like being a ticklish one.

Mr. Churchill's reply left me in no doubt as to the answer to my problem. So long, he said, as the whole of Western civilization was threatened by the Nazi menace, we could not afford to let our attention be diverted from the immediate issue by considerations of long-term policy.We were as loyal to our Soviet Allies as we hoped they were to us.
Obviously that was nearly as forlorn a hope as the notion that the Nazis threatened all of Western civilization was absurd.

Once he got to Yugoslavia, MacLean determined that the Communist Partisans under Tito were fighting the Nazis more effectively that were the more traditional Chetniks. He accordingly had Britain end the assistance it had been giving the latter and put all its eggs in the Communist basket. Later accounts, like The Rape of Serbia: The British Role in Tito's Grab for Power, 1943-1944. By Michael Lees, reveal the extent to which MacLean played the dupe, -REVIEW: of THE RAPE OF SERBIA The British Role in Tito's Grab for Power, 1943-1944. By Michael Lees (David Binder, NY Times Book Review)
Tracking his own experiences in Serbia from June 1943 to May 1944 against some newly discovered files of Britain's wartime Special Operations Executive, the office responsible for overseeing paramilitary operations, Mr. Lees paints a grim picture of official double-dealing. He documents how James Klugmann, a Communist, and Basil Davidson, a self-described leftist, both stationed in the Cairo headquarters of the Special Operations Executive, systematically discredited Mihailovic while undermining British material support for his forces. Their methods included manipulating battle maps and messages from the field, and attributing successful Chetnik military actions to the Partisans.

Mr. Lees goes on to show that William Deakin and Fitzroy Maclean, both British emissaries to Tito and both intimate with Winston Churchill, helped persuade the Prime Minister to abandon Mihailovic and back Tito, which Churchill did with finality on Dec. 10, 1943. Until then the Chetniks had received only 30 tons of weaponry from the British, while the Partisans had got 18,000 tons. Tito turned many of those British guns against the Chetniks.

Mr. Lees points out that Brigadier Maclean and Captain Deakin derived their evidence for accusing the Mihailovic forces of collaborating with the occupiers almost entirely from Partisan sources, which were blatantly biased. Neither spent any time with the Chetniks.
Perhaps the most revealing moment in the book comes in another conversation with Churchill:
"Do you intend," he asked, "to make Jugoslavia your home after the war?"

"No, Sir," I replied.

"Neither do I," he said. "And that being so, the less you and I worry about the form of Government they set up, the better."
It was just such breathtaking cynicism that bequeathed us the disastrous fifty year Cold War and rendered WII, especially for Eastern Europe, an exercise in futility.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Fitzroy MacLean Links:

    -Fitzroy Maclean: [Sir Fitzroy Hew Royle MacLean, 1st Baronet of Dunconnel, (March 11, 1911, Egypt - June 15, 1996, Scotland)] (Wikipedia)
    -OBIT: Sir Fitzroy, the original James Bond, is dead (Claire White, June 18 1996, Daily Telegraph)
    -ARTICLE: Scots adventurer was never a spy, reveals widow: FRANK URQUHART, 4/17/04, The Scotsman)
    -Introduction of Sir Fitzroy Maclean - The Churchill Centre (Introduction by Richard M. Langworth, PROCEEDINGS of the International Churchill Societies 1987)
    -ESSAY: Arabs, Nazis and Comrades: The Life and Travels of Sir Fitzroy Maclean (Cali Ruchala, May 6, 2004, Sobaka)
    -ESSAY: Where is the modern Fitzroy Maclean (Trevor Royle, Apr 18, 1999, Sunday Herald)
    -ARCHIVES: "Fitzroy Maclean" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of PAST FORGETTING by Veronica Maclean (Hugh Massingberd, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Churchill and Secret Service By David Stafford (Zara Steiner, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE RAPE OF SERBIA The British Role in Tito's Grab for Power, 1943-1944. By Michael Lees (David Binder, NY Times Book Review)

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