My long winter seems to be over, finally. There was a fourth hospitalization last month for abscesses that developed following the second operation. I’m still pretty weak, but functioning. Enough, anyway, to re-run the following piece, in case you missed it in the June 25, 2000 Washington Post:
My official Cold War Recognition Certificate arrived in the mail the other day, signed by the U.S. secretary of defense — or at least his autopen. About time somebody showed a little appreciation for my role in toppling the Evil Empire.
I learned that my day was coming more than a year ago with the news that Congress had finally set up a Cold War Recognition Certificate program for the estimated 22 million of us who toiled, “honorable and faithfully,” in America’s longest war. A formerly obscure Republican congressman named Rick Lazio proposed the measure. Now it’s the law of the land, unlike a certain national health care proposal I could mention.
All I had to do was mail off my request with a document proving that I had served in the military or certain government agencies. No problem. I keep all that stuff in a box under my bed, along with my old catcher’s mitt and the carnation I wore to senior prom. So I immediately sent my application to an address in Fairfax and waited as nine short months sped by. And now the certificate is on my desk.
I notice that Defense Secretary William S. Cohen has gone a little light on the specifics of my contributions, no doubt due to lack of space and considerations of national security. But, at this late date, surely no harm can come of revealing what the secretary left out.
My Cold War career began modestly in early 1956 with my appointment as a private to Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 1st Radio Broadcasting and Leaflet Battalion, PsyWar Center, Fort Bragg, N.C. My assignment was to rake up pine cones outside the battalion’s 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. My sense of duty, as I understood the concept, compelled me one day to run a seemingly harmless reenlistment slogan as a column filler. In fact, though, the initial letters spelled “Fuck the Army.”
During the misunderstanding that followed, I was threatened with 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 threats were dropped, however, once I had groveled sufficiently before two investigators from the Counterintelligence Corps. Instead I got two weeks of kitchen police, the initials of which are “KP.”
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 attache 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.” This would have been simple enough, except that I had to say it 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.”
The immediate outbreak of foam-flecked hysteria from the right — which included some colleagues in the administration (I’m looking at you, Brzezinski) — 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 helped install Ronald Reagan in the White House and me in Connecticut, ending my Cold War career.
The new president threw himself with enthusiasm into the Cold War for the next eight years, in spite of Mikhail Gorbachev’s awkward refusal to cooperate. Mr. Gorbachev finally managed to end it nonetheless, demonstrating that it really does take two to tango.
As a Russian citizen he doesn’t qualify for a Cold War certificate, but he did receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. Eight more years would pass before a little appreciation worked its way down to me (and presumably to the more than 400,000 other Cold War veterans who have also applied).
My certificate reads in full: “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.”
Hey, people, you’re welcome.