October 9, 2017

Colloquium Speaker: Ann Todd


ANN TODD has been a contributing author and consultant for the National Geographic Society, given presentations in national parks about OSS operations, and worked as a historian for the National Museum of the Marine Corps. She served in the U.S. Coast Guard, and now lives in Dripping Springs, Texas.




Colloquium Topic: OSS Operation Black Mail

OSS Operation Black Mail is the story of a remarkable woman who fought World War II on the front lines of psychological warfare. Elizabeth "Betty" P. McIntosh spent eighteen months serving in the Office of Strategic Services in what has been called the "forgotten theater," China-Burma-India, where she met and worked with characters as varied as Julia Child and Ho Chi Minh. Her craft was black propaganda, and her mission was to demoralize the enemy through prevarication and deceit, and ultimately, convince him to surrender. Betty and her crew ingeniously obtained and altered personal correspondence between Japanese soldiers and their families on the home islands of Japan. She also ordered the killing of a Japanese courier in the jungles of Burma to plant a false surrender order in his mailbag.

By the time Betty flew the Hump from Calcutta to China, she was acting head of the Morale Operations branch for the entire theater, overseeing the production of thousands of pamphlets and radio scripts, the generation of fiendishly clever rumors, and the printing of a variety of faked Japanese, Burmese, and Chinese newspapers. Her strategy involved targeting not merely the Japanese soldier but the man within: the son, the husband, the father. She knew her work could ultimately save lives, but never lost sight of the fact that her propaganda was a weapon and her intended target the enemy.

This is not a typical war story. The only beaches stormed are the minds of an invisible enemy. Often a great deal of time and effort was expended in conception and production, and rarely was it known if even a shred reached the hands of the intended recipient. The process was opaque on both ends: the origin of a rumor or radio broadcast obscured, the target elusive. For Betty and her friends, time on the "front lines" of psychological warfare in China-Burma-India rushed by in a cascade of creativity and innovation, played out on a stage where a colonial world was ending and chaos awaited.