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"MR. R. SORGE"
The schedule for the Canadian Pacific Line's Empress of Russia announced that she would dock at Yokohama at 5:00 A.M. on Wednesday, September 6, 1933, but whatever gods control Japanese weather seemed reluctant to let her touch Japan's shores. A storm at sea delayed her for several hours. However, by noontime the protecting spirits apparently had resigned themselves to the inevitable, for when she finally nosed into her berth at 1:00 P.M., no one could have asked for a more beautiful day.
From the newspaper accounts, the week in Japan had been fairly quiet. On September 1 the entire nation commemorated the tenth anniversary of the Great Earthquake with solemn ceremonies and prayer. The next day twenty lepers of Communist persuasion fled from the National Leper Sanatorium in Osaka "because of the denunciation of their beliefs by other patients." A story datelined Hsinking in west-central Manchuria reported that the Soviet Union would pursue an active policy in the Far East "to destroy further advance of Japan's imperialism and to prevent possibility of Soviet-Japan clash...." In Dairen authorities were hunting for "five tall and beautiful female agents of the O.G.P.U.," whose reported arrival had caused "the latest spy scare in the Manchurian capital."
All this would be exceedingly interesting to one of the passengers aboard the Empress of Russia. Both the Japan Advertiser and the Japan Times and Mail noted this man's arrival modestly enough, listing "Mr. R. Sorge" among those disembarking at Yokohama. Yet he was obviously Somebody, born to be noticed. And he would stamp his name, Richard Sorge, upon the annals of his time.
Sorge had lived hard all his thirty-eight years, and the record of his days was etched in the deep ridges of his forehead and the heavy grooves in his cheeks. Behind the surface creases, his brow had the height and breadth of Shakespeare's. Lines running from blunted nose to rounded chin enclosed, as if parenthetically, full, sensual lips. Richly waving brown hair beginning to recede at each temple lent a Mephistophelian touch. From beneath dark, winging brows clear blue eyes, slightly tilted, looked forth with the chill wariness of a jungle animal.
His was a face both beautiful and ugly, as some who knew him said. He was German by birth, and many considered him typically so. Yet his features reflected the Germany far to the east, where Slavic blood helped form the Prussian. With his high, prominent cheekbones and slanted eyes, his face would have appeared more at home beneath a Mongol fur hat than beneath a German steel helmet. For Sorge was half Russian, and the Slavic strain injected into his personality a sizable dose of the Muscovite temperament.
His arresting features displayed none of the hopeful, expectant diffidence of a stranger in a strange land. He was far too self-assured to be able to imagine himself as being out of place anywhere. Instead, he surveyed the Japanese scene with the interested benevolence of one who just might buy the place if it satisfied his needs.
He was descending upon Dai Nippon (Japan) with an improbable mission: to establish and operate a Soviet spy ring in the heart of the most spy-conscious nation on earth. His mission called for him to gather every available scrap of pertinent information and to relay it to Moscow. To accomplish this feat, he and his colleagues would have to infiltrate the rigid, sensitive Japanese society and government at the highest levels—a task that seemed almost impossible at the outset.
From the beginning he must suppress his Slavic side. He must speak no word of Russian, make no Russian friends, allow no Russian book in the extensive library he would amass. Above all, he must stay away from the Soviet Embassy. He must appear German to the core. A Nazi Party card, then being processed in Berlin, would certify him as a member of the "superrace." In the meantime, he would establish himself as a respected member of the German community. What is more, he hoped and fully expected to infiltrate the German Embassy itself, to make himself such an expert upon Japan, its people and its politics, that he would be indispensable to the ambassador and his staff.
By a natural process of reciprocity, his standing with the German diplomatic set would enhance his prestige with the Japanese and open still more doors to him. From one side or the other, preferably both, he should be able to determine the answers to the questions that his superiors in the Fourth Department (Intelligence) of the Red Army had posed when they sent him to Tokyo: Did Japan intend to attack the Soviet Union, and if so, when, where, and in what strength?
Sorge brought formidable assets to his mission. He was intelligent, shrewd, and thorough. He had the ability to seize opportunity and to charm people into doing his bidding. He could sense danger like an animal and fend it off with cool courage.
He carried with him bona fide credentials from several German periodicals. Karl Haushofer, the leading exponent of geopolitics—the study of the influence of geography upon world history and statecraft—had given Sorge valuable letters of introduction to influential Germans in Tokyo. In addition, Sorge brought similar missives from other highly placed dignitaries. So he had reached Japan with an excellent, ready-made cover.
Yet he would have to work under formidable handicaps. The balance of suspicion would be against him as a foreigner. In this year of 1933 not even Nazi Germany was more racist than Japan, so he could expect to be a prime target of official and unofficial snooping. While Sorge, the citizen and faithful servant of the Soviet Union, could not reasonably bring to this prospect any sense of moral outrage, it would constitute a nuisance and a danger. For he must play the cloak-and-dagger game on Japan's home field against a tightly organized, well-trained, and dedicated team of professionals.
Then, too, his personal experience of Japan was almost nil. He had dabbled a bit in Japanese, but he did not speak the language well, and never would. He could count his Japanese acquaintances on his fingers, and those he did know might be forbidden him, for his superiors had ordered him to avoid Japanese Communists and Communist sympathizers. Yet what other Japanese could he trust?
So far he had set eyes on only one of his prospective colleagues: Bruno Wendt, a Red Army radio technician, who would handle communications between the Sorge apparat and the Soviet mainland when in the fullness of time he had anything to broadcast. The radioman Sorge really wanted and eventually would receive was Max Clausen, a chunky, likable expert in radio techniques whom Sorge had met and worked with in Shanghai. At the moment Clausen was in the Soviet Union.
Already in Japan was another man, thus far unknown to Sorge, whom he was to contact when he believed the time was ripe. Moscow had furnished Branko de Voukelitch via the Paris cell in response to Sorge's request for someone to work the opposite side of the ideological fence while Sorge took care of the totalitarians. Presumably the comrades knew their business, but Sorge had an ingrained suspicion of anyone for whom he could not vouch personally. So he would withhold judgment.
He awaited with similar reservations the appearance of Yotoku Miyagi, who was being recruited in the United States. Sorge badly needed a trustworthy Japanese assistant, yet it would have been asking for trouble to bring into the inner circle of his ring a Japanese citizen with known Communist tendencies, perhaps even a police record. So the American Communist Party had come to the rescue with a young painter who had established himself as a good party worker but who lacked any experience in espionage.
Living in Japan, however, was the one man Sorge hoped and planned to recruit personally at the earliest opportunity: Hotzumi Ozaki. Ozaki had collaborated with Sorge before, demonstrating the quality of his mind, his work, and his dedication to communism. Yet so cleverly did this intelligent, amiable journalist conceal his beliefs that to Japanese officialdom and society he presented the perfect picture of a promising writer and scholar of no more than mildly liberal tendencies.
For the rest, Sorge's excellent newspaper and diplomatic introductions would provide a good start, but only a start. Everything else would be up to him. After presenting his letters, he must make himself so charming, so useful that his new contacts would be eager to have the acquaintance ripen into friendship, trust, and mutual cooperation.
But he knew he could never relax—not for a minute. Twenty-four hours out of every day he would be living amid and working with Japanese and Germans, who at that period in their history were neurotically suspicious. In some ways that might be the most difficult part of his task, for Sorge had a complex nature. The scholar and foreign correspondent; the pacifist who hated war as only a former soldier can hate it; the single-minded worker for international communism; the student of world affairs; the urbane gentleman—these all were valid facets of Sorge's personality. But he possessed a monumental ego and at times could be unbelievably careless. He was a hard drinker, a compulsive womanizer, a man who loved to hold the conversational spotlight. Much would depend upon how tight a rein Sorge the responsible could keep upon Sorge the swashbuckler.
All these considerations bounced off Sorge's self-confidence without even denting it. Neither he nor the Fourth Department expected concrete results overnight. He was to move slowly, operate cautiously, and avoid unnecessary risks. Thus he would spend his first years in remedying his deficiencies of experience, establishing himself in his chosen circles, and building his apparat. Espionage is not a career for the impatient. His whole life had been preparation for this supremely important mission. He would establish the most valuable, the most successful, the most highly placed of Soviet espionage rings or perish in the attempt. In the end he did both.CHAPTER 2
"SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT FROM THE AVERAGE"
Far from the flood tides of history a small hook of land juts into the Caspian Sea. There lies the Russian oil city of Baku. Not far away stands the small Azerbaijani village of Adjikent, where on October 4, 1895, a German petroleum engineer and his Russian wife became the parents of a son they named Richard. The occasion was not a novelty for Adolf Sorge and Nina Semionova Kobieleva Sorge, for Richard was the youngest of nine. The household spoke German, which accounts for the nickname his intimates always used. A baby trying to lisp the name Richard would make a sound like Ika, the name that stuck to Richard.
A picture of the father, taken when the son was eight years old, shows a handsome, imposing figure who looks the image of the stem and rockbound late-Victorian father almost mathematically certain to produce rebel children. Adolf Sorge was "a nationalist and imperialist.... He was strongly conscious of the property he had amassed and the social position he had achieved abroad."
Richard Sorge claimed as his grandfather Friedrich Adolf Sorge, an associate of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. He was one of the founders of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States and served as secretary-general of the First International in New York City. In later years, when building up Sorge as a hero, the Soviet press was delighted to accept Richard Serge's version. However, the relationship was in fact less close, the revolutionary Sorge being a great-uncle rather than a grandfather of the spy.
When Richard was eleven, Adolf Sorge's contract with the Caucasian Oil Company expired, and the family moved back to Germany. They settled in Lichterfelde, a pleasant residential section of Berlin, to the life of comfortable upper-middle-class citizens. Ika went to school in Berlin, carrying in his satchel that sense of being, in his own words, "slightly different from the average" that can be such an embarrassment to a child. But Richard Sorge was well satisfied with himself. By his own account he was a difficult pupil—defiant, obstinate, and sullen. Yet in any subject that interested him enough to make him willing to study it, he stood far above his classmates. For his proficiency in history, literature, philosophy, and political science his classmates nicknamed him the Prime Minister. If the title carried a hint of derision, it passed over Richard's head. He accepted it at face value as a compliment. By the age of fifteen he had gulped down Goethe, Schiller, Lessing, and the other German immortals and was soaking himself in the lore of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the era of Bismarck, as well as in current events and problems.
The loss of his father in 1911 made no material adjustments necessary. In the Sorge home "economic worries had no place." A vacation in Sweden in 1914 climaxed his late teens. Then the cyclone of World War I swept him from his placid millpond. Sorge returned to Germany immediately and joined the army. This burst of patriotism was made up of the atmosphere of excitement generated by the war, and a desire to leave school, to have new experiences, and to shed what he considered "the whole meaningless and purposeless pattern of living of an 18-year-old."
After six weeks of inadequate training Sorge became one of thousands of youths on the Belgian front, where he experienced the full ugliness of the battlefield. Soon he had had his fill of excitement and novelty. Crouching miserably in the mud, Sorge wondered what the war was all about. "Who cared about this region, or that new mine or industry? Whose desire was it to capture this objective at the sacrifice of life?"
Then one day he met his first pacifist. This man, a "real Leftist, an old stonemason from Hamburg," told his impressionable comrade about "his life in Hamburg and of the persecution and unemployment he had gone through." The association was short-lived, for the stonemason died in action early in 1915, but it left its mark on Sorge.
Soon thereafter, on the bloody field of Ypres, Sorge stopped enemy steel for the first time. Back in Germany to nurse his wound, he learned more about the jungle of German wartime life. "Money could buy anything on the black market.... The initial excitement and spirit of sacrifice apparently no longer existed...." Not only that: "The material objectives of the struggle were gaining increasing prominence, and a thoroughly imperialistic goal, the elimination of war in Europe through the establishment of German hegemony, was being publicized."
Sorge used his convalescence to prepare for his graduation examinations and to enter the medical department of Berlin University, but he attended only two or three lectures. Nothing in Berlin had real significance for him any longer. He decided he would rather be back in the trenches with his "naïve brothers-in-arms." Before his convalescent leave expired, he volunteered for frontline duty and returned to combat in 1915, the year the Germans hammered the Russian armies into a jelly that oozed homeward over everything in its path to escape this relentlessly efficient enemy. Thus Sorge returned to Russia for the first time since childhood as an invader. He observed that "all men dreamed of peace in their spare moments." Yet as the German offensive plunged ever deeper into Russian territory, only to face more endless miles, he began to experience a nightmarish panic that the war would never cease, that he and his comrades were doomed to march eternally into an ever-melting horizon. In this unspeakable horror of the eastern front he fell wounded a second time. In early 1916 he went back to Germany by a long trip across occupied Russia.
The German government's policies were becoming brutal with the first stirrings of unease about final victory. Sorge's own middle class, feeling itself slipping downward into the "proletariat," was clinging to the lifeline of "German spiritual superiority." This concept and this class, which Adolf Hitler would make his own, filled Sorge with contempt. Discontented in this atmosphere, he volunteered to return to the front as soon as he was physically able.
He had not long been back with his unit when at Baranovichi, a town southwest of Minsk, numerous shell fragments slashed into his body; two of them smashed bones in his thigh and left him with a slight limp and a lifetime of nagging pain. The fates placed him in a field hospital in Königsberg under the care of a doctor and his nurse-daughter, both radical Socialists. They recognized a potentially valuable convert, plied him with literature, and encouraged him to go back to his neglected studies.
Excerpted from Target Tokyo by Gordon W. Prange, Donald M. Goldstein, Katherine V. Dillon. Copyright © 1984 Anne Prange and Prange Enterprises, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted May 2, 2010
Any fan of John Le Carre will find this book to be interesting. But, as the writers admit, the Sorge spy ring did not influence the course of the war in a decisive way. Although they portray the Communist Richard Sorge, his associates, and their Japanese pursuers as three-dimensional human beings with faults and frailties, the fact this story was a WWII sideshow diminishes the book's interest.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 26, 2014
No text was provided for this review.