In life, you find yourself in a dark room from which you cannot see any way out. You are groping blindly along the walls, which are featureless and smooth. Finally, after what seems an eternity, you find in the dark a doorknob. When you turn it, a door opens, and you pass into another chamber, only to find that it, too, is perfectly dark and featureless. When you finally find another door, it opens into another dark chamber. And so it repeats, a blind stumbling, until one day, after a lifetime of searching, you open a door into a new place, one that is not dark, but perfectly, radiantly light. That last door is death.
Operation Mincemeat involved Allied spies dressing up a corpse and dropping it off the coast of Spain with faked Super Secret Invasion Plans in its pockets. Dead men do tell tales: The subterfuge was successful, Hitler was convinced, and he moved troops to Greece instead of Sicily. Reportedly, the mastermind behind the plot sold it to the British intelligence supervisors by pointing out that corpses rarely crack under torture.
The heroic corpse has gone unnamed for all of the intervening decades, though there have been contenders in the running, a film and previous books on the subject. The plotters went to their graves without ever revealing whose body made Operation Mincemeat possible. Now, however, historian Denis Smyth has written a book, claiming he has convincing evidence identifying “Major Martin” as Glyndwr Michael: a homeless Welshman who died eating rat poison.
It is time for Mr. Michael to get his propers. The Brits’ level of respect for their ersatz hero is evident in the operational codename Mincemeat. And even today, there are those who would deny Mr. Michael’s contribution. John Steele authored an earlier book, in which he claims that “Major Martin” was a sailor aboard the HMS Dasher. One can detect a frisson of disgust at the mere idea that the war-hero corpse-spy could have been a lunatic of the underclass: “There is no comparison whatsoever between the body of an alcoholic tramp and that of a Royal Marine,” he told the Telegraph.
Let us lift a pint tonight in commemoration of Mr. Michael’s unsung contributions to the Last Great War, and praise the ghosts of uncounted numbers other filthy, raving, suicidal, homeless madmen whose magnificence and humanity have been disregarded.
(image courtesy of kitschy kitschy koo)
Thinking today about Lorca’s empty grave.
“I understood they had assasinated me.
They scoured the cafés and the graveyards and the churches,
they opened the casks and the closets,
they destroyed three skeletons to pull out their gold teeth.
They still didn’t find me.
They didn’t find me?
No, they didn’t find me.”
Here is a song to listen to while thinking about Lorca’s empty grave:
(Translations mine from the Spanish text of the bilingual edition: Lorca, Frederico Garcia. “Death Mask” and “Fable and Round of the Three Friends,” in Poeta en Nueva York. Translated by Pablo Medina, Mark Statman, and los Herederos de Frederico Garcia Lorca. New York: Grove Press, 2008.)