Spies by Peter Eisner recounts how three individuals
played a significant role in the resistance against the Japanese
occupation in the Philippines during World War II. The book
shows how heroes come from many backgrounds: A singer, soldier,
and spymaster. As the greatest generation is dying off written
accounts such as this is a reminder of how ordinary people
can become extraordinary by putting themselves in danger to
help others survive and achieve victory.
The emphasis of the book is the singer, Claire Phillips, who
opened a nightclub in Manila catering to Japanese officials
and officers. She and those who worked for her gathered information
that was passed on to the allies. In addition, she provided
food, supplies, and medicine to many of the allied POWs and
citizens interned in the camps. Given the code name "High
Pockets," she met with guerrilla fighters to inform them
of Japanese military plans, and by all accounts gave credible
Another contributor was US Army Corporal, John Boone, one
of the first to start a guerrilla organization against the
Japanese. He not only had to evade the Japanese who would
kill him on the spot, but also homegrown Communist Filipinos,
and turncoats. After the Japanese overran the forces in Bataan,
they demanded the Americans surrender. Although the majority
did, Boone was one of the few who disobeyed orders by refusing
to surrender and fled into the jungles where he aided in foiling
the Japanese. Through sabotage and disruption, he and his
men helped to pave the way for General MacArthur's return.
Readers will enjoy how Eisner intertwines the resistance with
the battles fought in and around the Philippines.
Charles “Chick” Parsons was called MacArthur’s
spymaster. An American businessman who was in Manila during
the Japanese advance, he convinced them he was a Panamanian
diplomat. They never found out he actually was a US Navy intelligence
officer. Having convinced MacArthur to allow his return, in
March 1943 he arrived back via submarine. He eluded detection
by operating off the grid and became the chief aid in organizing
and supplying the guerrillas including making sure the intelligence
network was successful.
The book also discusses the faceless American heroes, those
captured by the Japanese. Although much is known about the
Nazi atrocities, the Japanese also had their share of brutality.
Citizens in Manila would have to bow and show their subservience
to the Japanese or risk being slapped, kicked, and beaten.
One of the worst was the Bataan Death March where starving
and thirsty American prisoners were forced to trek for miles
in the wilting sun.
Eisner noted, "This march was a horror show of inhumanity.
The Americans and Filipinos who fought with them were brutalized
and slaughtered. When some stopped because of exhaustion they
were bayoneted on the spot. Another example occurred just
after the surrender where the Japanese mowed down the allied
forces with rifle and machine gun fire. This continued throughout
the war and came to a head when in August 1944 the Tokyo High
Command issued a secret kill order. At the Palawan POW camp,
prisoners became slave laborers and were forced to build an
airfield. In December under the guise of a supposed air raid,
the POWs were told to go into the trenches for shelter. Suddenly
the Japanese guards dumped gallons of gasoline into the trenches
and torched them. Statistics show how brutal the Japanese
were: the death rate for American POWs was 33%, non-American
27.1%. Compare that to the allied prisoner death rate in German
and Italian camps, 4%. In case you are curious the prisoner
death rate held in allied camps, .001%."
Claire was also not immune from the Japanese brutality. Arrested
for being a spy she was tortured to get a confession and to
give a list of her fellow conspirators. She only told the
names of those already arrested. While tied to a bench a garden
hose was put in her mouth and after she had passed out they
would put lighted cigarettes on her legs to revive her. She
was sentenced in November 1944 to death and then the sentence
was commuted to twelve years hard labor. Luckily she was saved
by the American invasion.
Sadly, her own government refused to compensate her for out
of pocket expenses. Eisner wants Americans to understand,
"Claire did not fit the easy mold of a noble hero, a
patriot who marches off to war, triumphs, and is acclaimed.
But between Claire, Boone, and Parsons, Japan's war machine
failed in the Philippines. Eventually, the American government
recognized each of their contributions. In 1948 Claire received
the Presidential Medal of Freedom recommended by General MacArthur
and signed by President Truman. John Boone received the Distinguished
Service Cross, and Chick Parsons received multiple awards
including the Distinguished Service Cross, two Navy crosses,
and the Bronze Star."
Authors, such as Peter Eisner, bring history alive and hopefully
allow for future generations to never forget. The story actually
reads like a spy thriller even though these are actual events
and people. Anyone who wants to delve into this in more detail
should refer to the author’s notes, index, and footnotes
at the back of this riveting book. As the 70th anniversary
has recently passed Americans can reflect on those heroes
who risked their lives for their country and fellow citizens.