by John H. Richardson
"In Italy, Dad spent his time rounding up spies with his two best
friends, Gordon Messing ("the sloppiest soldier in the U. S. armed
forces") and Gordon Mason ("handsome, debonair, witty, sardonic, a
great lover"). He also fell in love for the first time, with an Italian
baroness whose husband was a fascist officer. And managed to stop
an antifascist riot in a small mountain town by climbing onto the hood
of his jeep and lecturing the mob on "Aristotle's iron law of politics, to
the effect that the anarchy and lawlessness of violence leads to
tyranny." But by the end of the war, his romanticism had burned off
completely. A letter he wrote to a high school friend shows him
changed right down to the rhythms of his prose: "I feel older than the
three years would have normally caused, sadder and very tired. I
drank hard, played poker and shot craps, made love indiscriminately
like all soldiers do. In three years I have hardly read a book, and feel
now almost too restless to spend a single evening at home."
Transferred to Salzburg, Dad began arresting Nazis at the rate of
fifty a month. (Later, the Austrian Ministry of the Interior officially
declared his county "the best and most thoroughly de-Nazified county
in all of Austria.") After each conviction, he sat his prisoner down in his
office and handed him a scrapbook he had compiled of magazine
photos of the camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. "I had come to
hate the Nazi system," he wrote me years later, "and I mean hate it
emotionally as well as intellectually. You will remember that when you
were a boy I took you to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington and
asked you to remember the words he wrote, carved out above his
statue: 'I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against
every form of tyranny over the mind of man.' No better sentence has
been written in the English language."
One day, a Soviet official came to Dad's office to bluster against
America's recent refusal to repatriate White Russians to Soviet camps,
shouting at Dad in "a bullying, overbearing manner, typical of the
Soviet style." When Dad lost his patience and threatened to have the
MPs drag him away, the official's attitude immediately changed to
wheedling conciliation. That made a big impression. "All subsequent
experience has convinced me that you can deal with the Communists
and the Nazis of this world - and all bullyboy types - only from a
position of strength. Their basic human philosophy, if you can call it
human, is that of the bully - despise and abuse weakness, defer to
- ► 2008 (31)
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