Shuffling through the rubble of my past the other day I came across a Cold War Recognition Certificate, awarded to me “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, for which the people of this Nation are forever grateful.”
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 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. There my sense of duty, as I understood the concept anyway, compelled me to run a seemingly harmless reenlistment slogan in the paper.
The initial letters of the slogan’s first four words spelled out F-k, or Fuck, as it is now written. The remaining six were “the army.” When the secret inevitably leaked out I faced a 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 dropped only 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, doesn’t it? But try to say it the way I had to, without puking.
My next 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 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.
The new president threw himself with mindless enthusiasm into the Cold War, in spite of Mikhail Gorbachev’s awkward refusal to cooperate. Mr. Gorbachev finally managed to end it nonetheless, and so he was the one who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.