Virginia Hall is arguably the most successful allied spy of World War 2. Like me, you've probably never heard of her! In many ways, she would have liked it that way. She was never into receiving accolades or fan fair. Had she still been alive, I'm sure she would have dismissed any notions of a biography.
This remarkable woman, who lost her leg in a gun accident in her early twenties, managed to overcome the settled convention that spycraft was a man's game. With scant backing, male ego's, overt sexism, and insane agency politics thwarting her every move, she still managed to infiltrate occupied France and become an absolute nightmare for the Nazi's. Why in the world there is not a block-buster film detailing her story, I have no idea. Her unimaginable life as a spy was a wonderful experience for Virginia despite all the challenges and great sacrifices. As a spy, she repeatedly remarked she "never felt so free," Probably in large part because her personality didn't fit the restrictions placed on her gender by the culture of her era. In the field, she was free to do and say whatever was required to survive and defeat the Nazi's.
- Drugs everywhere: A spy can never let their guard down. Fatigue is not an option; it's a death sentence, so the only solution was drugs, drugs, and more drugs. The complications stemming from excessive drug use during the war was perhaps more damaging than the psychological toll.
- Nazi's are our friends now — The Nazi's fell. Those that weren't killed and didn't escape to South America were put in prison. But then the Western world went bonkers in its efforts to squash the rising tide of Communism. Since it was an established fact that Nazis were hardened anti-communists, many were pulled from their prisons and repurposed into as anti-communist spies. The ones who killed and tortured Virginia's French resistance compatriots only a few years before were now put on the U.S. payroll, and Virginia and other WW2 heroes were expected to work alongside them, who the bad guys were had shifted.
- Sexism in the extreme: If nothing else, this book is a detailed report of brutal sexism. Virginia was driven and talented. She was a natural leader and patently successful in spycraft. Yet time and again, she was blocked, pushed down, ridiculed and passed over precisely because she was female. She is adored now as a pioneer for women and a genuine war hero. Sadly such adulation could only come posthumously. When she retired from the CIA at age 60, they didn't even throw her a goodbye party.
- Determination and Laser Focus — Her greatest attributes were her determination and her laser focus. She was resourceful and smart, too, of course, but she could not let anything distract her from her goal of defeating the Nazis. Once during a Nazi shakedown, she had to flee to Spain. With one leg, she managed to climb over the Pyrenees mountains to safety. Who does that? Just another day in the life of Virginia Hall!
- A Prostitutes War — Virginia made allies wherever she could find them. She managed to recruit brothels to the cause. She weaponized prostitutes convincing them to infect as many German officers with syphilis and other STI's as possible or, better yet, get them addicted to heroin. These patriot prostitutes, from between the sheets, knocked piles and piles of German soldiers right out of the war. Unfortunately, after the war, these brave women were labelled as pro-Nazi collaborators and brutalized. Virginia did what she could to defend them. War always turns morality upside down.
- Rigging elections an American Specialty - After the war, Virginia went on to have a long but stormy career with the CIA. One of her primary jobs was to tamper with foreign elections to make sure pro-American governments came to power. I see such irony here, given the current ruckus in American politics in which so many are up in arms that Russia would dare interfere in U.S. elections. Meddling in foreign politics is precisely what the CIA has been doing for decades.