Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
I have a forty-five minute drive each way from my home to work, and my car radio doesn’t work. Fortunately the CD player does, so I often raid the Estacada Public Library for books on CD to listen during my commute. Recently I checked out Jennet Conant’s A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS. The book made some waves when it was published by claiming that Julia Child the former PBS French Chef was an agent for the OSS (Forerunner of the CIA). Like most people that revelation conjured up in me, a mental pictures of a cat suited Child garroting Nazis in occupied France, but I didn’t rush out to buy the book.
Now I love spies, I have written in Dave’s Corner of the Universe, about espionage comic books, interviewed James Bond and spies on the moon. But I put off getting this disc because well tall, large, and gregarious Julia Child just didn’t fit my idea of a sexy fem fatale covert op. But eventually I picked up for lack of anything else to listen to during my commute.
A lot of people complained about Covert Affair, because it really doesn’t focus of the Childs but on Jane Foster. Alas she is not the Jane Foster that’s Thor’s main squeeze but the Jane Foster who was the bohemian socialite who had spent time in Malaysia and her familiarity with that area got her recruited as a spy, and who was branded a Russian agent during the Red Scare of the fifties, Jane Foster. Obviously Conant was playing up the Childs in the title to use the chef’s fame to sell books. I don’t have a problem with the book not being Julia-centric, honestly Foster despite not having connections to Asgard is a more interesting character than the Childs.
The OSS helped create modern psychological warfare. They would do anything to defeat the Germans and Japanese during World War Two. No idea was to far out there to not be considered. One idea from anthropologist Gregory Bateson (Husband of super anthropologist Margret Mead) was based on a legend that when the mighty Irrawaddy River turned yellow, the Burmese people would rise up and fight off a foreign invader. Bateson decided to make that a self-fulfilling prophecy by dumping barrels of yellow die used by flyers shot down in the ocean to signal rescue planes. The op was a go, but got scuttled the night before when they finally got around to testing the dye and discovered it only floated in salt water.
Now I had heard of this before from a Cracked.Com article, (Where I probably get way to much of my historical information) But what shocked me to the point that I almost swerved off the Oregon State Hiway 212 was where Conant said that Bateson got equipment for the Op from P-Division Originally The Paranormal and Psychic Phenomena Division of Naval Intelligence that had become a covert psychological unit of the OSS code named “Delta Green”.
Now World War Two is ripe with occult tinges, but despite Indiana Jones best attempt to prove otherwise most are just quirky coincidences or strait out exaggerations. Yes the German’s had a cool sounding unit called Sonderkomando H, the H stands for Hexen the German word for Witch. But rather than flying on griffins and tossing around fire balls Commando Witch was made up of historians researching witch trails so they could point out the Catholic Church persecuted women, if the massacre of the Jewish people ever came to light. But in general World War Two was a real war fought by real people not a battle of illuminated wizards.
But what nearly made me swerve of the road was the use of Delta Green. I was familiar with the unit and to my knowledge it was entirely fictitious. Delta Green was a covert paramilitary unit that fought against the monsters from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. They did, in universe, originate from the real OSS, but as far as I knew they were created for a series of novels and the Call of Cthulhu Role Playing game.
I have found memories of Delta Green, having several of the books. Once I ordered Delta Green: Dark Theaters, from an online vendor, only to have the post office destroy their last copy and return it to them ruined. I had to wait over four months for them to find me a new copy. But when it finally did arrive it was worth the wait. Back in the day when we would have Memorial Day twenty-four hour gaming sessions, I ran a Delta Green mission, where the hardy adventures had to explore an abandoned logging camp. All I remember was that it was loosely based on an X-File episode and that it had windeigo in it. It was a long time ago and we played it like one-thirty in the morning.
I was actually excited with the idea that maybe Delta Green was once a real organization that the game creators had used to base their fictitious world on. So like anyone else in the 21st century who wants more information on a subject I took to the internet. And the only reference I could find that Delta Green might be based on something real was A Covert Affair. At least I found out the reference was one page eighty-eight.
So I sent out an Email to Pagan Publishing the publishers of Delta Green, basically asking “hey did make this up or did you base DG on a real organization?”
Now it was after ten on a Tuesday, the month before the world’s largest gaming convention, so I didn’t expect a reply right away. So I hopped on the Northwest Lovecraftian Facebook page and asked the same thing.
The first reply was a tongue in cheek “The first rule of real Delta Green…”
Then a nice person named Gwenn said she knew one of the Creators of Delta Green and clued in Adam Scott Glancy. I had to break out my old trusty and dusty copy of Delta Green just to make sure it was his name of the book. His reply was that co-creator John Tynes coined the term in 1992 and created it as a work of fiction. If Conant had used the term in her book as a real organization she was either and idiot or a plagiarizer. He did say he had seen sections of the game on paranormal websites as proof that the Earth had been visited by aliens, but he had never heard of their works appearing in books. He also said he wished could see page eighty-eight for himself.
Now it is no surprise to those who know me I am a technology klutz. It tried to get a reference to him but well I just couldn’t. So I took my I-phone and took a picture of my screen with the part about Delta Green. Now remember these guys are my heroes, so it would be like Santa landing the sled and telling some kind he wants him to design new toys for the elves.
The reply I got back was Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. It took me till the next day to realize that it stood for WTF? A thank you for pointing it out and that Glancy was going to the library the next day to get a copy of A Covert Affair.
Sure non-academic historical books have had bad information before but this was a big deal to me because I am the one who found it. Maybe some other espionage and Lovecraft connoisseur picked up on it before but I am the first one who mentioned it to the DG team.
Now to be fair it is a throwaway line and not a major part of the story. But the Paranormal and Psychological Division of Naval Intelligence and Delta Green are completely fictitious and was never meant to be seen as history. A lot of the book is based on Paul’s letters and memoirs of other OSS ops, so 99% of the book is probably accurate. And I absolutely agree with Conant that America’s tacit approval of the return to European colonialism, in South East Asia created most of our later trouble in the area including the Vietnam War.
But that one part makes me question the rest of the book. Which is too bad because other than being a little dry in places it is a good book. Honestly I think the issue is, that at least in this part of her book, and maybe only here Conant dropped the ball on her research. I think it was honest mistake. Since it is a throwaway line she may not even remember she wrote it.
It does show the importance if you are going to put something in print, especially if you are going to get money from it you need to be exacting in your research. And how you can’t just trust the internet as fact. There has been times when I thought I had the perfect blog post, only to discover that the facts weren’t the way I thought they were and had to scratch the idea. We all blurt out something in conversations that we are not realy sure about. But the larger your audience the more careful you need to be with your facts.