People are obsessed with spy stories: novels, movies, TV shows, you
name it. I admit that I love spy stories, whether true or fiction, myself. The real spy world, however, is not likely as glamorous or exciting as depicted in film and novels. The real stories are sometimes boring and also terrifying. Not an easy job, being a real life spy.
I recently read the book George Washington`s Secret Six and I found it fascinating. We know so little about spies during the American Revolution–only that there were some and they were essential to success. In a day and age when there was no such thing as airplanes, aerial photography, satellites or any other technology commonly used in intelligence operations today, information was very important and difficult to come by. Soldiers typically did not know what to expect to encounter even 1 mile down the road, unless they had some solid source of intelligence operating behind enemy lines.
This book suffers from a lack of known information to some extent, for even today we still do not know the identities of some spies from the American Revolution. George Washington himself did not know the identities of all his own spies, by design. It was a very elaborate web they wove in order to assist General Washington as best they could. Impressive for people who had no training in this area and who would have been hanged had they been discovered.
Nathan Hale is probably the most famous spy from this era, and he was the least successful. He suffered from a lack of training and not enough planning. He was willing, selfless and patriotic. Courageous, but ill-equipped to carry out his mission, and he was therefore captured and hanged, as all spies were back then. The same fate would later await well-respected British spymaster John Andre, in the wake of the Benedict Arnold scandal.
Spies Like Us
I love the Chevy Chase/Dan Akroyd movie from the 80s. Though a comedy, it reflects a surprising truth that many spies are just like us. Common, everyday people with normal, sometimes boring jobs. The most successful spy described in “Secret Six” was a common, unassuming merchant whose true identity was not even discovered until the 20th century. It is fascinating how this man went unnoticed even after the war was over and was never openly identified as the hero of the American Revolution that he was.
So many people have performed selfless acts and have been lost to history. For every Washington, Lincoln, Patton, MacArthur and Roosevelt there are hundreds of thousands of nameless Americans who suffered, sacrificed and defended our liberty without ever asking for fame, notoriety, or repayment. They are the unnamed heroes of our past. It is why the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is such an
important and awe-inspiring place. Without those unknown soldiers, spies, airmen, shipmates and operatives, our free country would not have endured and would not exist as it does today.