Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tattered Remnants #003: Richard Sorge

The introduction to this series can be found here.


(The following essay is a bit dicy for me to publish. I used to be in the defense industry; perhaps I may go back someday. If I do, I hope the poor schmoe re-investigating my background forgives me this brief salute to a frightening but significant man.)

Half a lifetime in the military and the defense industry of the United States taught me not to love spies. I am horrifically aware of the damage that espionage agents and traitors can do. The nuclear traitors Theodore Hall, Klaus Fuchs, David Greenglass and Julius Rosenberg (The VENONA transcripts show that Ethel possibly – possibly – didn't rate execution, but Julius was guilty as hell) who passed knowledge of the making of nuclear weapons to Stalin caused the Korean War. Aldrich Ames murdered by betrayal some half-dozen anti-Communist officers in the old Soviet security service. Robert Hanssen was an FBI agent who was tasked with finding the mole responsible for the execution of two Soviet CIA sources; little did his bosses know he'd been tasked to find himself.

But, withal, there is one individual who betrayed his government and all that it stood for. A secret and whole souled Communist, he betrayed his nation and damaged his country's cause in a way that Aldrich Ames or even the Manhattan Project traitors could not remotely match. And the information he gave the Soviets led to the destruction of his nation's military and its total defeat in time of war.

His name was Richard Sorge, and he was the greatest spy of the 20th Century. And the information he discovered literally changed the course of the Second World War - in favor of the Allies.

* * * *

In the autumn of 1941, the claws of Nazi Germany were grasping the very throat of Russia. To the north, a great siege force had surrounded Leningrad, and would cause millions of deaths in that one city alone. To the south, Rostov at the tip of the Sea of Azov had been taken; the Caucasus, the Volga, and the oil fields of Baku were open for the taking. In the center, millions of trained, professional soldiers of the Soviet Army had been taken prisoner in the great pinscer movements in the struggle to the east.

And in the center, the roads to Moscow had all fallen; the Kremlin could be seen by the scout units of Germany's Army Group Center, the main forces of which stood only fifty miles from the borders of the city.

The great capital of Soviet Russia was naked and within reach of the Nazi war machine: Operation Typhoon was about to begin. The fall rains had stopped and the early winter had frozen the ground, so the tanks could make their final stab at the heart of Stalin's regime. Supplies had been brought forward to prepare for the final push. Before them, Moscow was wide open. And there was nothing to stop the Germans from taking the capital but draftees, amateurs, and children.

Or so they thought.

In early November, the Germans, as they moved forward, struck the outer edges of Moscow's defenses–great trenches dug by old men, women, children--those who could not actively serve in the military. Newly recruited divisions raised in great haste were thrown into the cauldron to save the capital, in spite of the fact that they had only had a few weeks' training and only minimal armament. They slowed the panzers, but could not stop them.

Suddenly, the Germans were thrown back. The forces that Hitler had confidently expected to take Moscow that winter were struck by several corps of armor, and supported by well trained professional troops and aircraft that the Germans hadn't suspected they still had. These forces saved Moscow and so mauled the German armies before Moscow that Hitler never dared another strike at the city for the rest of the war.

They had come from Siberia–from Kamchatka–from Lake Baikal, places obscure, cold, and distant from the great war to their west. Until weeks earlier, they had been protecting Russia from a Japanese stab in the back, as the forces of Tojo seemed to be poised to spring on them in their extremity.

But Stalin, desperate to stop the Germans, had stripped his borders with the Japanese and the shield they formed stopped the fascist armies dead in their tracks. The attack by these troops at this time saved Russia – and by extension, the rest of the world – from the Nazis.

And it was due to Richard Sorge. A commie traitor spy.

God rest him.

* * * *

Sorge was a German who had been born in Kazakhstan while his father was stationed in that country as an engineer. Like many of his generation (and lacking, alas, our hindsight) he fell in love with Marxism in the 1920s and made himself 'useful' to the Soviet military intelligence service. He kept his German citizenship and had ensconced himself into the German press and later, foreign service, and eventually was in a high position of trust in the German embassy in Tokyo. He reached into Japanese industry and invested in factories, becoming familiar with a wide range of characters in prewar Tokyo, including (of course) night women and prostitutes, some of whom he became involved with. (Bond, James Bond, had nothing on this man.)

But this networking eventually bore fruit. Creating a network of informers and a ring of sources, he had gotten word in June that the Germans were about to invade the Soviet Union–pegging the invasion date for the third week of that month. Stalin, paranoid monster that he was, dismissed the information that Sorge provided him about the invasion, asking "There's this bastard who's set up factories and brothels in Japan and even deigned to report the date of the German attack as 22 June. Are you suggesting I should believe him too?"

Needless to say, Sorge's stock had gone up considerably among Soviet intel circles after the invasion followed as he reported.

In the autumn of 1941 he picked up information that the Japanese had decided not to invade Russia: that they had set their strategic sights elsewhere, and chose to strike, not Russia, but the United States. Sorge passed this information to the Russians, who continued to maintain an embassy in Japan (being neutral as regards the Japanese until 1945).

Stalin was dumb in a lot of ways, but he wasn't stupid, and (unlike Hitler) he could learn from his mistakes. When, in September of '41, Sorge sent word that there would be no Japanese invasion of the Far East, Stalin, in a last throw of the dice, moved his Asiatic reserve away from the Japanese border, and put the units in front of Moscow at precisely the correct moment. And in so doing, the U.S.S.R.,, and the Allies as a whole, were saved.

Stalin was not the only paranoid of the time. The Japanese, themselves, were fixated on enemy espionage as they prepared to confront the sleeping behemoth of America. They arrested Sorge in October 1941. He held out under torture by the Japanese secret service, but eventually gave them enough information to execute him. He was eventually hanged at first light on November 7, 1944.

Treason is a terrible thing. But then, so is mindless loyalty to a totally evil system. (And I mean totally evil.) Many atrocities were brought about in those days by men whose oaths of loyalty to the Fuhrer locked closed their consciences: men who might otherwise have disobeyed but for their previous oaths of honor: oaths that Hitler imposed upon them for that very reason.

Years after the end of the war, Sorge came to be honored by Khrushchev, who had never heard of him: he first learned about Sorge from a French spy movie on the subject. Sorge was posthumously awarded the medal of Hero of the Soviet Union and was honored by both Soviet and East German postage stamps (much good it did him). His Japanese paramour lived on in Japan until her death in 2000.

But if one has to be a traitor, surely a traitor to the Nazis deserves some admiration from a free people. In an evil and amoral time, in an evil and amoral regime, Richard Sorge made a morally terrifying choice, betraying one hideously genocidal regime in favor of, well, another. But, nevertheless, he passed information that literally changed the course of the war and so saved the world from the Nazi jackboot. And he paid for that by having to endure Japanese torture, surviving some three years in a Japanese prison, and of course eventually, also, with his life.

He was very, very good at what he did. And he may have saved us all. He should be remembered with honor. I hope that God judged him with mercy.

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Keep it clean for gene.