This book is subtitled "Truman's Secret North Korean Spy Mission that Averted World War III." It has the cachet of having been written by a retired Army man, Art Boyd, with the ironic twist that, for most of his life, the author was forbidden to talk about his role in an action behind enemy lines in 1951, which altered not only his own future but the future of humanity - if the story is to be believed. Much effort has been made to convince readers of the account's veracity, including an Afterword by Jay T. Young, former senior military analyst for the CIA.
In 1951, Boyd was a bold young man in his early 20s who thought himself lucky when, after basic training, he was assigned not to Korea, where war was on the boil, but to Germany to work in communications operations for NATO. For reasons he never quite understood, his talents as a cryptographer caused him to be singled out to "volunteer" in North Korea for a top secret mission from which, it was made clear, he might never return. If he died, "a cadaver burned beyond recognition will be substituted for your body and shipped to your hometown for funeral arrangements." There would a story of an honorable death in the line of duty, and "a great view at Arlington." All records would be purged; no one involved in the action would know the real names of his companions, people on whom each life would depend.
Boyd's role was key to the operation. He would be dropped behind enemy lines with a small cadre of gutsy military men posing as survivors of a plane crash. His assignment was to send encoded messages to U.S. intelligence, data fed to him by Allied spies regarding North Korea's military strength and its will to wage nuclear war against the free world. If Truman, who had initiated the mission named "Broken Reed," found that there was too great a danger of ruthless and possibly total destruction, he would leave North Korea.
Boyd spins out this bizarre and often-brutal tale of dedicated men from different branches of the military united in their vow to carry out their assignment without question, drawing from his traumatic and vivid memories. He records the tension, the near success, the sudden betrayal and failure of the mission, the hasty departure, the gory deaths of his friends blown to pieces before his eyes, and the fatal doom of all but Boyd himself. His only proof that he had ever been on the mission was a small vial of cyanide, given to each man in case of capture. Undergoing torture was not an option.
The military was true to its word. All files were purged. Even after the mission was declassified in 1998, Boyd could find no paper trail to his buddies, and could only assume that there were no survivors, that all had been killed by their wounds in the bloody end to the aborted mission. He suffered mind-crippling PTSD, but again, true to its word, the Army kept him employed despite his infirmities for the remainder of his working life.
According to Boyd, "President Truman did not escalate the war in Korea…he believed based on intelligence from operation Broken Reed, that intensifying and enlarging the war would result in an atomic holocaust." The Korean War is remembered, if at all, as a conflict with no end. Truman chose simply to drop it rather than pursue either victory or surrender. Is Boyd's secret mission a clue to why this is so?