What Did You Do in the Cold War, Daddy?
My official Cold War Recognition Certificate arrived in the
mail the other day, signed by the United States secretary of
defense or at least his autopen. About time somebody showed a
little appreciation for my role in toppling the Evil Empire.
Ive been waiting since 1956.
I learned that my day was coming
last summer, when the news reached that Congress had finally
set up a Cold War Recognition Certificate program for those of
us who toiled, unsung, in the shadowy corridors of our longest
war. At once I mailed off my request to an address* in
Fairfax. Nine short months sped by, and now the certificate is
on my desk.
It reads, In recognition of your service during
the period of the Cold War (2 September 1945--26 December 1991)
in promoting peace and stability for this Nation, the people
of this Nation are forever grateful.
Secretary Cohen has
gone a little light on the specifics here, no doubt due to
considerations of national security. But at this late date
surely no harm can come of revealing what the secretary left
My Cold War contributions began modestly in early 1956
with my appointment as a private to Headquarters &
Headquarters Company, First Radio Broadcasting and Leaflet
Battalion, PsyWar Center, Fort Bragg, N.C. My assignment was
to rake up pine-cones outside the battalions S2 building
while other draftees, inside it, prepared secret intelligence
studies on two small Southeast Asian countries code-named soaL
and manteiV. Really.
After several months of this preliminary
training I was sent to .C.D, notgnihsaW, to edit The Fort
McNair Passing Review. There my sense of duty, as I understood
the concept anyway, compelled me to run a seemingly harmless
reenlistment slogan in the paper. In fact,
though, this message concealed a devastating attack on our
principal Cold War foe.
The initial letters of the
slogans first four words spelled out a verb in common use
among the rude soldiery of those days; the first letters of
the remaining words spelled the Soviet Army. The Soviet
portion of the coded message, however, somehow got lost in
the editing process.
During the misunderstanding that followed
I faced court martial for sending obscene material through the
mails, disaffection with the Army, conduct unbecoming a
soldier, incitement to riot, and incitement to mutiny. These
charges were only dropped after I had groveled sufficiently
before two investigators from the Counterintelligence Corps.
Instead I got two weeks of kitchen police, the initials of
which spell out K.P.
A decade of private sector employment
passed uneventfully before my Cold War service resumed. In one
of those incredible coincidences that could only happen in
real life, I had by then become the press attaché at our
embassy in soaL. My chief duty was to tell reporters that the
heaviest aerial bombardment in the history of warfare was the
work of unarmed reconnaissance flights accompanied by armed
escorts who have the right to return fire if fired upon.
Sounds simple enough, doesnt it? But try to say it the way I
had to, without giggling.
My third chance to serve in the
front lines of the Cold War came when I followed Jimmy Carter
to the White House as a speechwriter. In those early days of
the administration it still seemed possible that Mr. Carter
would turn out to be more Rooseveltian than Trumanesque in his
foreign policy. Accordingly I suggested this line for a speech
the president gave at Notre Dame in 1977:
We are now free of
that inordinate fear of communism which once led us to embrace
any dictator who joined us in that fear.
outbreak of foam-flecked hysteria from the right made it clear
that we were not free of it at all. Evidently inordinate
(exceeding reasonable limits) exactly described the sort of
fear that any true patriot should feel.
President Carter came
to feel it, too, and unfortunately it led him to embrace a
dictator who joined him in that fear, the Shah of Iran. This
in turn led to the hostage crisis, which installed Ronald
Reagan in the White House and me in rural Connecticut.
president threw himself with mindless enthusiasm into the Cold War for
the next eight years, in spite of Mikhail Gorbachevs awkward
refusal to cooperate. Mr. Gorbachev finally managed to end it
nonetheless, demonstrating that it really does take two to
tango. And so he was the one who received the Nobel Peace
Prize in 1990.
Ten more years would pass before a little
appreciation worked its way down to me, not that Im
complaining. Frankly, Im surprised Congress noticed at all.