Raiders of the China Coast is the account of a little known CIA operation that trained and managed anti-communist guerrillas and agents on the various islands that were retained by the Taiwanese regime (the “Republic of China”) after the Chinese mainland was captured by the Chinese communists. The author, Frank Holober, spent his life in the CIA and later in several academic institutions teaching about China. The book is one of the few memoirs written by people who personally took part in various CIA covert operations on the “hot” fringes of the cold war and has been vetted by the agency to ensure that no secrets are spilled (the author thanks some in the agency for approving it, and criticizes others for needless bureaucratic obstruction and “security theater”, but he got a foreword from General Robert Barrow, USMC, who had served with Frank (and the CIA) in the 1950s, so it is all good).
The book is mostly a fond look back at the author’s male-bonding days, not a detailed history of CIA covert operations during the Korean war (which is the somewhat misleading subtitle of the book). As the author relates in the first chapter (“Old Haunts Beckon”), the idea of the book came to him after he retired and revisited Taiwan after a gap of 40 years and was reminded of the days of youthful adventure and excitement he had spent there with his CIA comrades in “Western Enterprises Inc”; that nostalgia is clearly the main driver of the book. Which is fine, because while his family and friends (and those of the other adventurers he mentions in the book) will no doubt get an extra-special thrill from reading the book, other readers can also learn about an interesting aspect of the early cold war, about CIA covert operations in general, about the colorful characters who took part in these events, about China and it’s fascinating recent history, and of course, about male-bonding, buddy movies and all that jazz. Continue reading Review: Raiders of the China Coast