Editor’s Page

Michelle for President?

After gushing over Barack Obama’s election as the new president of the United States in a previous note, I now have to ask myself how he’s doing after a couple of months on the job. Hmmm.  Both American Nobel Prize winners for economics, Stigliz and Krugman, have criticized Obama’s bailouts as unworkable and his budget as, well, dumb. (Not one Republican in Congress voted for it, so it can’t be that dumb.)They predict catastrophe. On the other hand, the late great economist Kenneth Galbraith warned never to believe an economist. Maybe that’s why he never won the Nobel. So I take what S and K say with a grain of salt. And in respect to foreign affairs, Afghanistan seem like black hole which he’s about to fall into. But, after all, what does Obama know about all that stuff? He can do no more than follow the advice of his advisors.

Aye, there’s the rub. Look what happened to JFK when he followed the advice of his military advisors and went ahead with the Bay of Pigs debacle. Which reminds me of a personal anecdote. When I was in the army’s Military so-called Intelligence division during the Korean War – far from Korea, in Germany, I became advisor to a colonel, let’s call him Colonel Blimb. Previously, I was stationed in Frankfurt at headquarters in the I.G. Farben Building engaged in cloak and dagger stuff as an Intelligence Analyst. But I was purged, not Soviet style, I walked away with my skin, but with orders to report to a support unit in Bad Kreuznach. They never told me why I was purged, it could have been for inefficiency, you’ll think, but we were all inefficient so it couldn’t have been that. Most likely it was because I didn’t take any shit from my C.O., Captain Olshevski, who was in M.I. because he spoke Polish, a totally useless language for intelligence purposes, or any purposes as far as I could tell. If you’ve never heard of Bad Kreuznach don’t feel bad, no one else has either, except Bad Kreuznachers of course. To learn more about my Bad Kreuznach adventures, see The Escape Route.

Army organization requires a Commanding Office and his staff, denominated by Ss: S1=personnel/administration; S2=intelligence/security; S3=operations; S4=logistics; S5=Plans – and it goes on to 9 or 10 Ss. My new unit had a full colonel as C.O., a Lt. Colonel as S1 and another as S2 and S3 (Colonel Blimb), various majors and Captains – all over 50 years of age. The NCOs were mostly geezers as well. As you can imagine, this unit was a dumping ground for toxic human material waiting to have put in their twenty or thirty years and retire to the land of the big PX. I was an exception, having only ten months to go to get the hell out of the army and good riddance. Col. Blimb was enchanted by my unexpected arrival into his lair. Naturally, as an intelligence analyst I had been assigned to the S2 sub-section of his S2/3 empire which, until then had consisted of the colonel himself, a captain and a Sgt. First Class. Now he had me.

“Corporal Smith,” he said on my first day, “I’m glad the army has finally seen fit to assign an intelligence analyst to me. Although Captain X and SFC Y (I forget their names) are excellent material, they are untrained in overseas intelligence and security and therefore occupy themselves exclusively with S3 operations. And they don’t have top secret security clearances (If he knew why not, he wasn’t saying; probably alcoholism or idiocy I concluded after getting to know them.) Therefore the burden of our intelligence work has fallen, exclusively, until now, on my shoulders. He looked down at my personnel file open on his desk. On the train from Frankfurt I’d carefully broken the envelope’s seal and examined it. I was mildly angry but not surprised to find a Fitness Report by Capt. Olshevsky describing me as insubordinate, careless, unpunctual, unmilitary, etc. He didn’t write poor posture, bad breath and un-American, but it all lurked between the lines. I shredded it by hand and threw the tiny pieces out the window of the speeding train. So Col. Blimb would have to form his own opinion.

“I see you are a Russian linguist; do you know German as well?” he asked.

“Yes sir.” Actually my colloquial German was quite good, but it lacked certain refinements, having been self-learned from Fräuleins on Bahnhofstrasse and translating the Prolog to Goethe’s Faust with a dictionary.

“Excellent,” Col. Blimb said. “At eleven hours we’re going to the Kurhaus to give it back to the krauts. I gotta make a short speech and you translate. So get a car from the motor pool and be here at 10:45.”

I checked my watch; it was 10:30. I wanted to ask him for a copy of his speech, but I wouldn’t have time to read it anyway, so I Yes sir-ed him and went to SFC Y’s office and asked him what was going on. He explained that Bad Kreuznach was a spa town, or was before and during the war, but we had taken over the hotel (Kurhaus) in ’45 for headquarters and were now giving it back to the krauts, so there was going to be some kind of ceremony during which Col. Blimb would hand over the keys to the mayor and say a few words, although a few words by Blimb could run to a few hours. “Fidel Castro got nuttin on him,” were his last words as I hurried out and to the motor pool for a car.

It was a festive affair, the mayor was in his best suit, the ladies smiling and perfumed and the bandstand was occupied by a real band. The whole town must have been there. I followed Col. Blimb and the mayor up to a kind of reviewing stand where other dignitaries were awaiting us. They all stood and a couple even clicked their heels. Col. Blimb shook hands all around, then took what looked like a very long speech from his pocket. Someone supplied a chair for me and I sat ready with a pencil and notebook in hand. “Mister Mayor, honored guests…” he started, “when we landed in Normandy, we fought against a ferocious enemy during a time when your country was ruled by the Nazi criminals—“ My God, I thought, he’s starting at Normandy in 1943, this is gonna take all day. But a mere half hour into his speech the Mayor whispered in my ear: “The lunch is getting cold. Can’t you do something?” I tore a page from my notebook and wrote on it: The Mayor says the lunch is getting cold, and handed it to Col. Blimb. He stopped in mid-sentence and read the note as though it were an urgent message from Washington. He frowned, stared at me, then the Mayor, then said, Take over sergeant, which was when I learned that I was being promoted. He sat down and I stepped up to the lectern and said into the mike in German: “I’m sure that most of you understand English (not true), so it won’t be necessary to translate all his remarks. (An audible sigh of relief rose from the audience.) Col. Blimb, in representation of the United States government, takes pleasure in handing over the keys of the Kurhaus to Mayor (I didn’t know his name) …er…to the mayor of Bad Kreuznach.” “Keys, sir,” I silently mouthed to Col. Blimb. He stood and felt through his pockets, trousers, jacket, then back again until the awful realization dawned on me that he’d forgotten the keys. I reached into my pocket and withdrew my hand in a closed fist, which I held out to the mayor. He held out his hand and I put my fist in it and winked at him. He got it, smiled and closed his fist on air. Then he bowed his head to the colonel and clicked his heels. The crowd stood and applauded and the band struck up Deutschland über alles.  

What does all that have to do with Obama and his advisors? It’s to warn him never to trust his advisors, especially the generals. They might even be intelligent, but they like wars. In fact all officers like wars because they present opportunities for rapid advancement – especially those in rank from Lt. Colonel and up, because they can have their wars and sit back way beyond the fighting. So who can Obama trust? In the military, only the corporals and sergeants, and for all else, including economics, Michelle of course, who should be his advisor número uno. Everyone likes her, especially our allies and enemies. This will also prepare her to run for the presidency in 2016. I know it’s a bit early for this, but after all the last campaign lasted for two years, and, as the Boy Scouts say: Be Prepared. And Barack? He can go back to Hawaii – or even Kenya – and write books. He may be even a better writer than he is president.    

Frank Thomas Smith