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Posts Tagged ‘EAST GERMANY’

“THE HAPPY TIME” FOR HITLER’S GERMANY AND TRUMP’S AMERICA

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on June 12, 2018 at 12:39 am

Everyone knows how World War II ended for Nazi Germany: With its Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, dead, and its capital city of Berlin in ruins.

Casualty figures range from 4.3 to 5.3 million dead Germans.

And for 44 years—from May 7, 1945, until November 9, 1989—Berlin was a divided city and Germany a divided nation. The Soviet Union ruled the eastern half. Germans—backed up by American military forces—ruled the western half.

Yet before all this unhappiness descended on the Fatherland, the vast majority of Germans enjoyed what they called “The Happy Time.”

This period began on January 30, 1933, when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor—and lasted until June 22, 1941.

For most Germans, those years—and especially the year between June, 1940, and June, 1941–were a time of prosperity and joy.

According to Robert Gellately’s 2002 landmark study, Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany, the Nazis operated a highly popular dictatorship. They didn’t try to cow people into submission. Instead, they set out to win converts by building on popular images, cherished ideals and long-held phobias.

And their efforts succeeded. The Gestapo owed its fearsome success to ordinary German citizens who voluntarily reported on “enemies” within their midst. These citizens saw themselves as patriots.

Nor, as has long been believed, were Nazi atrocities carried out in secret. From the media, Germans learned about the Nazis’ brutal campaign against the Jews, the concentration camps, and the Nazis’ radical approaches to “law and order.”

But as far as everyday Germans were concerned:

  • The streets were clean and peaceful.
  • Employment was high.
  • The Communists and Jews were being locked up.
  • The trouble-making unions were gone.
  • Germany was once again “taking its rightful place” among ruling nations, after its catastrophic defeat in World War 1.

The height of “The Happy Time” came in June, 1940. In just six weeks, the Wehrmacht  accomplished what the German army hadn’t in four years during World War 1: The total defeat of its longtime enemy, France.

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Frenzied Germans greet Adolf Hitler

Suddenly, French clothes, perfumes, delicacies, paintings and other “fortunes of war” came pouring into the Fatherland.  (Reichsmarshall Herman Goring, head of the Luftwaffe—air force—amassed his own private air collection from French museums.) 

Most Germans believed der Krieg—“the war”—was over, and only good times lay ahead.

But Adolf Hitler had other plans.

On June 22, 1941, three million Wehrmacht soldiers slashed their way into the Soviet Union. The Third Reich was now locked in a death-struggle with a nation even more powerful than itself. 

German soldiers in the Soviet Union

And then, on December 11, 1941—four days after Germany’s ally, Japan, attacked Pearl Harbor—Hitler declared war on the United States. 

“The Happy Time” for Germans was over. Only prolonged disaster lay ahead. 

Now, fast forward 77 years to the America of President Donald J. Trump. According to an official White House statement entitled “American Greatness,” issued on June 4: 

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Donald Trump

“Nearly 3 million jobs have been created since President Trump took office. The unemployment rate has dropped to 3.8, the lowest rate since April 2000, and job openings have reached 6.6 million, the highest level recorded. President Trump has restored confidence in the American economy, with confidence among both consumers and businesses reaching historic highs.” 

Much of this jobs growth, however, was already underway during the closing years of the Obama administration. But that hasn’t stopped Trump from taking credit for it.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubtless spoke for millions of Trump supporters when she said, on June 4: “Since taking office, the President has strengthened American leadership, security, prosperity, and accountability. And as we saw from Friday’s jobs report, our economy is stronger, Americans are optimistic, and business is booming.

“The American people do not believe this strong economy is fantasy or unrealistic.” 

Many Congressional Republicans have echoed this: The American people care only about the economy—and how well-off they are.

Only five days earlier—on May 31—the Trump administration had announced it would put steel and aluminum tariffs on longtime American allies Canada, Mexico and the European Union (EU).

Mexico, Canada and the EU immediately vowed to retaliate. For Americans, this will mean higher prices on such items as beer, baseball bats and cars. The EU has threatened to impose tariffs on motorcycles, bourbon whiskey, Levi’s jeans, peanut butter and cranberries.

A disastrous global trade war could be the ultimate result.

On June 4, Trump claimed, in a tweet: “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself….” 

And, making clear how far above the law he thinks Trump is, his attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, told the Huffington Post on June 3: “In no case can he be subpoenaed or indicted. I don’t know how you can indict while he’s in office. No matter what it is. 

“If he shot [former FBI director] James Comey, he’d be impeached the next day. Impeach him, and then you can do whatever you want to do to him.” 

The Germans made a similar devil’s-bargain with Hitler—and paid dearly for it. Americans, by supporting Trump—or at least not opposing him—have made a similar devil’s-bargain.

And such bargains always end with the devil winning.

HUMANITY AS A FORM OF HARDBALL: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 21, 2017 at 3:12 am

In June, 1948, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was determined to drive the Western occupying powers out of Berlin—and of West Germany.

On June 19, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies’ railway, road, and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Western control.

At that time, West Berlin had only 36 days’ worth of food and 45 days’ worth of coal. And the United States had only 8,973 Americans stationed in Berlin. British forces totaled 7,606, and French forces 6,100.

Russian forces in Berlin and East Germany outnumbered them 62 to 1.

The United States seemed to face a choice between all-out war with the Soviet Union—or appeasing its growing aggression in Eastern Europe.

Fortunately, a third choice was found. It became known as the Berlin Airlift.

This was carried out primarily by the United States and Great Britain. Other Western powers taking part in this operation included France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.

Starting on June 24, 1948, the Berlin Airlift aimed to supply the city’s two and a half million residents with food and energy supplies.

There was no guarantee that such an operation could succeed–at least, not in the long run. Since 1903, airplanes had been used to carry out surveillance, engage in dogfights or bomb cities. But airlifts—flying supplies to stranded people—had proven dismal failures.

At first, the Berlin Airlift worked haphazardly. Pilots flew themselves to exhaustion to meet the needs of those they had relentlessly bombed just three years ago.

Then Major General William “Willie the Whip” Tunner took charge—and brought a totally mechanized approach to the drops:

  • Pilots must fly strictly by instruments, even when visibility was excellent.
  • Planes could no longer circle over Berlin. Each plane would have only one chance to land in Berlin—or must return to its base if it missed its approach.
  • Every 90 seconds, a plane was to take off or land.

Just keeping Berliners alive demanded 4,000 tons of supplies each day. Each plane was thus overloaded by 10 tons. Pilots flew literally round the clock. When fog rolled in that winter, visibility was reduced to zero. Twenty-eight Americans died in crashes.

A Douglas C-54 Skymaster lands at Berlin’s Templehof Airport

Germans were impressed with American efficiency, but knew that, in the eyes of most of their American occupiers, they were pariahs. They had waged an aggressive war and exterminated millions of helpless men, women and children in concentration camps.

They were glad the Allies were keeping them alive, but felt they were pawns in a global chess game between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Then fate took a hand.

An Army Air Force pilot named Gail “Hal” Halvorsen impulsively decided to drop a series of small, hand-made parachutes of candies to Berlin’s children.

When General Tunner learned of this, he instantly realized its worth as a morale booster to Berliners. He ordered Halvorsen to continue the drops.

Gail “Hal” Halvorsen

Other pilots followed Halvorsen’s example. Soon Berlin’s children were lining up by the thousands, hoping to grab one of the candy-filled parachutes made from handkerchiefs or strips of clothing.

When the press learned of the drops, the story became a worldwide sensation. Back in the United States, Americans mailed literally tons of candy to Germany for distribution to Berlin’s children.

“The candy bombers” became the most beloved Americans in Berlin.  And Halvorsen became the most beloved of them all.  On October 3, 1948, when his plane landed in Berlin during a pouring storm, 700 children greeted him on the tarmac for “Lieutenant Gail Halvorsen Day.”

Among the letters he received from Berlin’s children:

Dear Uncle Wiggly Wings,

When yesterday I came from school, I had the happiness to get one of your sweet gifts….You cannot think how big the joy was….My brother and parents stood about me when I opened the strings and fetched out all the chocolate.

Dear Candy Bomber,

…How lucky I was last Sunday. I played at a ruin with some friends of mine opposite our house. Suddenly we saw about ten white parachutes coming out of the sky! One of them set down on the roof of our house. There were three stripes chocolate in the parachute….I want to thank you for your love to the German kids….

From 10-year-old Helma Lurch came this tribute:

Take care of yourself, and remember us children and we will remember you our whole life.

Adults as well as children responded emotionally to the candy drops—and “the candy bombers” responsible for them. When a plane crashed, killing two American lieutenants, residents of the neighborhood memorialized them with a plaque: “Once we were enemies yet you now gave your lives for us. We are doubly in your debt.”

The Airlift ended on May 12, 1949, when Stalin finally accepted defeat and ended the blockade.

“As [Halvorsen] came to represent the Airlift and America to the Berliners,” writes Andrei Cherney in his definitive book, The Candy Bombers, “through him America became a country that cared enough about the defeated Germans to…deliver candy to children, an act without any…ulterior motive, a gift of plain compassion.”

In 1948, that act forged a solid bond—which still exists—between Germany and the United States.

HUMANITY AS A FORM OF HARDBALL: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 20, 2017 at 12:40 am

Once again, it falls to Niccolo Machiavelli to reveal truths long forgotten—especially by those who subscribe only to the darkest arts.

In his most important book, The Discourses, he outlines the methods by which citizens of a republic can maintain their freedom.

In Book Three, Chapter 20, he offers this example of the power of humanity to win over even the most stubborn opponents:

Niccolo Machiavelli

“Camillus was besieging the city of the Faliscians, and had surrounded it….A teacher charged with the education of the children of some of the noblest families of that city [to ingratiate himself] with Camillus and the Romans, led these children…into the Roman camp.

“And presenting them to Camillus [the teacher] said to him, ‘By means of these children as hostages, you will be able to compel the city to surrender.’

“Camillus not only declined the offer but had the teacher stripped and his hands tied behind his back….[Then Camillus] had a rod put into the hands of each of the children…[and] directed them to whip [the teacher] all the way back to the city.

“Upon learning this fact, the citizens of Faliscia were so much touched by the humanity and integrity of Camillus, that they surrendered the place to him without any further defense.

“This example shows that an act of humanity and benevolence will at all times have more influence over the minds of men than violence and ferocity.  It also proves that provinces and cities which no armies…could conquer, have yielded to an act of humanity, benevolence, chastity or generosity.”

Americans put this lesson to use in 1948 in the skies over Berlin.

When Nazi Germany fell to the Allies in May, 1945, the country was divided into four zones of occupation—one for each of the occupying powers: The United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union.

Within the fledgling administration of President Harry S. Truman, many believed that a new era of peace had dawned between America and Russia.

But then grim reality intruded.

Adolf Hitler had invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.  As a result, at least 20 million Soviet men, women and children died violently.

To expel the invasion and destroy Nazi Germany, Russian armies had advanced across a series of Eastern European countries.  With the war over, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin decided to protect the Soviet Union from a future German invasion.

Joseph Stalin

His solution: Occupy Eastern Europe with Red Army units as a buffer between Germany and the Soviet Union. Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Albania and Yugoslavia.

Stalin had promised President Franklin Roosevelt that he would withdraw his armies from these countries once Germany was defeated.  And he would allow them to choose whatever form of government they desired.

But Stalin had no intention of living up to his promises.  And backing him up were 10 to 13 million Red Army soldiers.  The entire United States Army had been reduced to 552,000 men by February 1948.

Liberating the captive nations of Eastern Europe—as General George S. Patton wanted to do—would have plunged the United States into full-scale war against its World War II ally.

And by 1945, the Red Army was a formidable enemy: Of the 4.3 million dead and missing casualties suffered by the Wehrmacht, 85% of them occurred on the dreaded “Eastern front.”

So there was nothing the United States could do—short of all-out war—to “roll back” the “Iron Curtain” that had swept over Eastern Europe.

Image result for Images of maps of Soviet control of Eastern Europe

But Americans could—and did—draw a line in the sand.  That line became known as the policy of “containment.”

And nowhere was the collision between the U.S.A and the U.S.S.R. more likely to ignite into full-scale war than in Berlin.

Between 1945 and 1948, the Soviets increased their pressure on Western forces occupying Berlin to leave the city. The Soviets already controlled East Germany; gaining control of the Western-held part of Berlin would likely be their first step toward overwhelming the rest of Germany.

And, after Germany, probably France—and as many other European countries as possible.

During the first two years of occupation the occupying powers of France, United Kingdom, United States, and the Soviet Union were not able to successfully negotiate a possible currency reform in Germany.  Each of the Allies printed its own occupation currency.

Then, on June 20, 1948, the Bizonal Economic Council introduced the Deutsche mark to West Germany.

On June 24, 1945, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies’ railway, road, and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Western control.  This meant a cutoff of food and energy supplies to Berlin’s two and a half million residents.

The United States faced a monumental crisis:

  • Should it abandon West Berlin—and thus tempt the Soviet Union into further aggression?
  • Should it match the puny Western military forces—outnumbered 62 to 1—against the massive Soviet military presence?
  • If it chose to fight in Berlin, would this lead to nuclear war?

Fortunately for the Allies—and West Germany—a third choice was available besides war and appeasement.

It became known as the Berlin Airlift.

“BRIDGE OF SPIES” TELLS UGLY TRUTHS ABOUT GOVERNMENT: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 21, 2016 at 12:01 am

“Bridge of Spies” vividly recaptures a now-forgotten time in American history.

It was the time of “the Cold War.”  A time when:

  • America was almost universally seen as “The Good Guy,” in contrast to “The Bad Guy” of the Soviet Union;
  • The United States and the Soviet Union held each other at bay with arsenals of nuclear weapons;
  • Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy terrorized the nation, accusing anyone who disagreed with him of being a Communist–and leaving ruined lives in his wake;
  • American TVs blared commercials warning that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had boasted: “We will bury you”; and
  • Children and teenagers were taught in school that they could survive a nuclear attack through “duck and cover” drills. They were instructed to keep their bathtubs filled with water for safe drinking, in the event of a Soviet nuclear strike.

Bert2.png (300×232)

Bert the Turtle teaches schoolchildren to “Duck and Cover”

Yet even in this poisonous atmosphere of fear and denunciation, some men stood out as heroes–simply by holding fast to their consciences.

One of these was a New York insurance attorney named James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks). Asked by the Justice Department to defend arrested Soviet spy Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) Donovan did what no one expected.

He gave Abel a truly vigorous defense, arguing that the evidence used to convict him was the legally-tainted product of an invalid search warrant.

Upon Abel’s conviction and sentencing to 45 years’ imprisonment, Donovan again shocked the political and legal communities by appealing the case to the Supreme Court.

Donovan argued that Constitutional protections should apply to everyone–including non-Americans–tried in American courts. To do less made a mockery of the very freedoms we claimed to champion.

He lost by a vote of 5-4. But the arguments he made would resurface 50 years later when al-Qaeda suspects were hauled into American courts.

James B. Donovan

In 1961, Donovan was again called upon to render service by a Federal agency–this time the CIA.  It wanted his help in negotiating the release of its spy, Francis Gary Powers, shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 while flying a high-altitude U-2 spy plane.

Throughout “Bridge of Spies,” audiences learn some unsettling truths about how the American government–and governments generally– actually operate.

The first three of these were outlined in Part one of this series:

Truth #1: Appearance counts for more than reality.

Truth #2: Individual conscience can wreck the best-laid plans of government.

Truth #3: High-ranking government officials will ask citizens to take risks they themselves refuse to take.

Now for the remaining truths revealed in this movie.

Truth #4: Appeals to fear often prevail when appeals to humanity are ignored.

After crossing into East Germany, Donovan enters into negotiations with Wolfgang Vogel, a lawyer representing the East German government.

Vogel offers to exchange Frederic Pryor, an American economics graduate student seized by the East German secret police, for Abel. Donovan replies this is a deal-breaker; the United States (which is never mentioned during the negotiations) wants Powers, not Pryor.

Nevertheless, Donovan is equally concerned for Pryor, and adds him to the list of hostages to be released in return for Abel.

Then a new complication arises: The East German government that holds Pryor threatens to pull out. claiming to be insulted because Donovan did not inform them that the USSR was a party to the negotiation.

His reasoned, legal arguments having failed, Donovan resorts to a threat. He conveys a warning to the president of East Germany:

Abel has not yet revealed any Soviet secrets. But if this deal fails, he may well do so to earn favors from the United States government. And, in that case, the Soviets will blame you–Erich Honecker, the president of East Germany–for the resulting damage.

Where arguments based on humanity have failed, this one–based on fear–works.  A prisoner-exchange is arranged.

Truth #5: Personal loyalty can supersede bureaucratic inventions.

On February 10, 1962, Donovan, Abel and several CIA agents arrive at the Glienicke Bridge, which connects East and West Germany. The Soviets have Powers, but not Pryor–who is to be released at Checkpoint Charlie, a crossing point between East and West Berlin.

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    Glienicke Bridge, the “Bridge of Spies” 

The CIA agent in charge of the American delegation tells Abel he can cross into East Germany, even though Pryor has not been released.

But Abel has learned that Donovan has negotiated the release of not only Powers but Pryor. Out of loyalty to the man who has vigorously defended him, he waits on his side of the bridge until word arrives that Pryor has been released.

Then Abel crosses into East Germany while Powers crosses into the Western sector.

Donovan returns home. Before flying off to West Germany, he had told his wife he was going on a fishing trip in Scotland.

His wife and children learn the truth about the risks he ran and the success he attained only when a television newscast breaks the news:

Francis Gary Powers has been returned to the United States. And the man responsible is James Donovan, once the most reviled man in America for having defended a notorious Soviet spy.

“BRIDGE OF SPIES” TELLS UGLY TRUTHS ABOUT GOVERNMENT: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 18, 2016 at 12:01 am

Steven Spielberg’s new movie, “Bridge of Spies,” is that rarity among films: An intelligent mixture of history and drama, stripped of gratuitous sex and violence.

It’s also a film that accurately reveals unsettling truths about how government intelligence agencies really operate.

Truth #1: Appearance counts for more than reality.

The movie opens with the FBI’s arrest of KGB spy Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance). The evidence against him is overwhelming. This–plus the “Red Scare” climate of 1957–will guarantee his conviction.

But the Eisenhower administration doesn’t want the upcoming trial to be seen as a hangman’s court. It must have the appearance of a fair proceeding.

So the Justice Department (through the Brooklyn Bar Association) asks a New York insurance attorney named James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) to take on Abel’s defense. He’s expected to make a reasonably competent effort but not go all out on behalf of his client.

Truth #2: Individual conscience can wreck the best-laid plans of government.

Donovan has never handled a spy case before. And he has no delusions that Abel isn’t the spy he’s charged with being. But he’s determined to give Abel the same committed defense he would give to any other client.

Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) and James Donovan (Tom Hanks) in court

This comes as a shock to the prosecutors, the judge, his law firm and even his family.

A CIA agent approaches Donovan in a nearly deserted restaurant and asks him to reveal any secrets that might help win Abel’s conviction.

Donovan replies: “This conversation isn’t happening.”

“No, of course not,” replies the CIA agent, assuming Donovan is agreeing to keep the overture secret.

“No, I mean this conversation isn’t happening,” angrily says Donovan, who leaves the agent fuming.

Donovan becomes a pariah; his mailbox is stuffed with hate mail and one night a would-be drive-by killer riddles his house with bullets.

Abel is convicted and sentenced to 45 years’ imprisonment. But Donovan–again shocking everyone he knows–pursues an appeal up to the Supreme Court.

He argues that the evidence against Abel is tainted by an invalid search warrant. No American citizen could be convicted under such circumstances. And the Constitutional protections that hold true for Americans should hold equally true for non-Americans charged with crimes in American courts.

Donovan’s arguments will be heard a half-century later, when al-Qaeda suspects are hauled before American courts.

He puts on an impressive case on Abel’s behalf, but loses 5-4 at the Supreme Court.

That seems to be the end of Donovan’s relationship with Abel. But events soon dictate otherwise.

Before the judge could pronounce a death sentence on Abel, Donovan had argued that this might be a mistake. The day might come, he told the judge, when an American spy might fall into Soviet hands.

And then the United States would need to swap Abel to secure the release of its own agent.

The judge, moved by that argument, had given Abel a lengthy prison term instead.  

That day comes sooner than anyone in the Pentagon expects.

On May 1, 1960, Francis Gary Powers, a former Air Force pilot, is flying a high-altitude U-2 plane above the Soviet Union for the CIA. The plane is equipped with state-of-the-art cameras, and Powers intends to photograph military sites and other important complexes.

Suddenly, a surface-to-air missile slams into the plane. Powers ejects before it crashes, but fails to commit suicide with a poison pin concealed in a phony silver dollar. He’s captured by the KGB and brutally interrogated, but maintains his silence.

At about the same time, Frederic Pryor, an American economics graduate student living in West Germany, visits his German girlfriend living in Soviet-dominated East Germany.

The Soviets are starting to build their infamous Berlin Wall, which will stop the flow of refugees from East to West. Pryor tries to bring his girlfriend and her father into West Berlin, but he’s stopped and arrested by agents of Stasi, the East German police, who accuse him of being a spy.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union wants its spy, Abel, returned, before he can spell its secrets. In turn, the new Kennedy administration wants Powers returned, before he can be made to spill American secrets.

Truth #3: High-ranking government officials will ask citizens to take risks they themselves refuse to take.

In 1961, Donovan is once again sought out by the American government–this time by no less than CIA Director Allen Dulles.

And he’s asked to go where no official American representative can go–East Germany. His new assignment: Negotiate the exchange of Powers for Abel.

The CIA wants its spy back. And it’s willing to send Donovan into East Germany to negotiate his release. But it’s not willing to back him up if he’s arrested by Stasi, the notorious East German secret police.  

The fiction must be maintained that Donovan is acting strictly on his own behalf, not that of the United States.

In such a case, Donovan could spend the rest of his life in a Communist prison cell.

 

“BRIDGE OF SPIES” TELLS UNPLEASANT TRUTHS ABOUT GOVERNMENT: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 27, 2015 at 12:01 am

“Bridge of Spies” vividly recaptures a now-forgotten time in American history.

It was the time of “the Cold War.”  A time when:

  • America was almost universally seen as “The Good Guy,” in contrast to “The Bad Guy” of the Soviet Union;
  • The United States and the Soviet Union held each other at bay with arsenals of nuclear weapons;
  • Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy terrorized the nation, accusing anyone who disagreed with him of being a Communist–and leaving ruined lives in his wake;
  • American TVs blared commercials warning that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had boasted: “We will bury you”; and
  • Children and teenagers were taught in school that they could survive a nuclear attack through “duck and cover” drills. They were instructed to keep their bathtubs filled with water for safe drinking, in the event of a Soviet nuclear strike.

Bert2.png (300×232)

Bert the Turtle teaches schoolchildren to “Duck and Cover”

Yet even in this poisonous atmosphere of fear and denunciation, some men stood out as heroes–simply by holding fast to their consciences.

One of these was a New York insurance attorney named James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks). Asked by the Justice Department to defend arrested Soviet spy Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) Donovan did what no one expected.

He gave Abel a truly vigorous defense, arguing that the evidence used to convict him was the legally-tainted product of an invalid search warrant.

Upon Abel’s conviction and sentencing to 45 years’ imprisonment, Donovan again shocked the political and legal communities by appealing the case to the Supreme Court.

Donovan argued that Constitutional protections should apply to everyone–including non-Americans–tried in American courts.  To do less made a mockery of the very freedoms we claimed to champion.

He lost by a vote of 5-4.  But the arguments he made would resurface 50 years later when al-Qaeda suspects were hauled into American courts.

James B. Donovan

In 1961, Donovan was again called upon to render service by a Federal agency–this time the CIA.  It wanted his help in negotiating the release of its spy, Francis Gary Powers, shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 while flying a high-altitude U-2 spy plane.

Throughout “Bridge of Spies,” audiences learn some unsettling truths about how the American government–and governments generally–actually operate.

The first three of these were outlined in Part one of this series:

Truth #1: Appearance counts for more than reality.

Truth #2: Individual conscience can wreck the best-laid plans of government.

Truth #3: High-ranking government officials will ask citizens to take risks they themselves refuse to take.

Now for the remaining truths revealed in this movie.

Truth #4: Appeals to fear often prevail when appeals to humanity are ignored.

After crossing into East Germany, Donovan enters into negotiations with Wolfgang Vogel, a lawyer representing the East German government.

Vogel offers to exchange Frederic Pryor, an American economics graduate student seized by the East German secret police, for Abel. Donovan replies this is a deal-breaker; the United States (which is never mentioned during the negotiations) wants Powers, not Pryor.

Nevertheless, Donovan is equally concerned for Pryor, and adds him to the list of hostages to be released in return for Abel.

Then a new complication arises: The East German government that holds Pryor threatens to pull out. claiming to be insulted because Donovan did not inform them that the USSR was a party to the negotiation.

His reasoned, legal arguments having failed, Donovan resorts to a threat. He conveys a warning to the president of East Germany:

Abel has not yet revealed any Soviet secrets. But if this deal fails, he may well do so to earn favors from the United States government. And, in that case, the Soviets will blame you–Erich Honecker, the  president of East Germany–for the resulting damage.

Where arguments based on humanity have failed, this one–based on fear–works.  A prisoner-exchange is arranged.

Truth #5: Personal loyalty can supersede bureaucratic inventions.

On February 10, 1962, Donovan, Abel and several CIA agents arrive at the Glienicke Bridge, which connects East and West Germany. The Soviets have Powers, but not Pryor–who is to be released at Checkpoint Charlie, a crossing point between East and West Berlin.

    Glienicke Bridge, the “Bridge of Spies” 

The CIA agent in charge of the American delegation tells Abel he can cross into East Germany, even though Pryor has not been released.

But Abel has learned that Donovan has negotiated the release of not only Powers but Pryor. Out of loyalty to the man who has vigorously defended him, he waits on his side of the bridge until word arrives that Pryor has been released.

Then Abel crosses into East Germany while Powers crosses into the Western sector.

Donovan returns home. Before flying off to West Germany, he had told his wife he was going on a fishing trip in Scotland.

His wife and children learn the truth about the risks he ran and the success he attained only when a television newscast breaks the news:

Francis Gary Powers has been returned to the United States. And the man responsible is James Donovan, once the most reviled man in America for having defended a notorious Soviet spy.

“BRIDGE OF SPIES” TELLS UNPLEASANT TRUTHS ABOUT GOVERNMENT: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 26, 2015 at 12:27 am

Steven Spielberg’s new movie, “Bridge of Spies,” is that rarity among films: An intelligent mixture of history and drama, stripped of gratuitous sex and violence.

It’s also a film that accurately reveals unsettling truths about how government agencies really operate.

Truth #1: Appearance counts for more than reality.

The movie opens with the FBI’s arrest of KGB spy Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance). The evidence against him is overwhelming. This–plus the “Red Scare” climate of 1957–will guarantee his conviction.

But the Eisenhower administration doesn’t want the upcoming trial to be seen as a hangman’s court.  It must have at least the appearance of a fair proceeding.

So the Justice Department (through the Brooklyn Bar Association) asks a New York insurance attorney named James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) to take on Abel’s defense. He’s expected to make a reasonably competent effort but not go all out on behalf of his client.

Truth #2: Individual conscience can wreck the best-laid plans of government.

Donovan has never handled a spy case before. And he has no delusions that Abel isn’t the spy he’s charged with being. But he’s determined to give Abel the same committed defense he would give to any other client.

Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) and James Donovan (Tom Hanks) in court

This comes as a shock to the prosecutors, the judge, his law firm and even his family.

A CIA agent approaches Donovan in a nearly deserted restaurant and asks him to reveal any secrets that might help win Abel’s conviction.

Donovan replies: “This conversation isn’t happening.”

“No, of course not,” replies the CIA agent, assuming Donovan is agreeing to keep the overture secret.

“No, I mean this conversation isn’t happening,” angrily says Donovan, who leaves the agent fuming.

Donovan becomes a pariah; his mailbox is stuffed with hate mail and one night a would-be drive-by killer riddles his house with bullets.

Abel is convicted and sentenced to 45 years’ imprisonment. But Donovan–again shocking everyone he knows–pursues an appeal up to the Supreme Court.

He argues that the evidence against Abel is tainted by an invalid search warrant. No American citizen could be convicted under such circumstances; and the Constitutional protections that hold true for Americans should hold equally true for non-Americans charged with crimes in American courts.

Donovan’s arguments will be heard a half-century later, when al-Qaeda suspects are hauled before American courts.

He puts on an impressive case on Abel’s behalf, but loses 5-4 at the Supreme Court.

That seems to be the end of Donovan’s relationship with Abel.  But events soon dictate otherwise.

Before the judge could pronounce a death sentence on Abel, Donovan had argued that this might be a mistake. The day might come, he told the judge, when an American spy might fall into Soviet hands.

And then the United States would need to swap Abel to secure the release of its own agent.

The judge, moved by that argument, had given Abel a lengthy prison term instead.

On May 1, 1960, Francis Gary Powers, a former Air Force pilot, is flying a high-altitude U-2 plane above the Soviet Union for the CIA. The plane is equipped with state-of-the-art cameras, and Powers intends to photograph military sites and other important complexes.

Suddenly, a surface-to-air missile slams into the plane. Powers ejects before it crashes, but fails to commit suicide with a poison pin concealed in a phony silver dollar.  He’s captured by the KGB and brutally interrogated, but maintains his silence.

At about the same time, Frederic Pryor, an American economics graduate student living in West Germany, visits his German girlfriend living in Soviet-dominated East Germany.

The Soviets are starting to build their infamous Berlin Wall, which will stop the flow of refugees from East to West.  Pryor tries to bring his girlfriend and her father into West Berlin, but he’s stopped and arrested by agents of Stasi, the East German police, who accuse him of being a spy.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union wants its spy, Abel, returned, before he can spell its secrets. In turn, the new Kennedy administration wants Powers returned, before he can be made to spill American secrets.

Truth #3: High-ranking government officials will ask citizens to take risks they themselves refuse to take.

In 1961, Donovan is once again sought out by the American government–this time by no less than CIA Director Allen Dulles.

And he’s asked to go where no official American representative can go–East Germany. His new assignment: Negotiate the exchange of Powers for Abel.

The CIA wants its spy back. And it’s willing to send Donovan into East Germany to negotiate his release. But it’s not willing to back him up if he’s arrested by Stasi, the notorious East German secret police.

In such a case, Donovan could spend the rest of his life in a Communist prison cell.

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