Most of you will know what I mean when I note how old you begin to feel when the football players and the cops are younger than you are. How old do you think I feel now that the son of my best friend in Norway – his son, mind you – is the secretary general of NATO?
I met Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s father, Thorvald, through international student politics in Columbus, Ohio, in 1953. His career skyrocketed through mayor of Oslo, defense minister, ambassador and foreign minister. Thorvald never got the top job of prime minister. Jens did. If you’re one of those awful “family scorekeepers” please note that, owing to the vagaries of Norwegian politics, this doesn’t mean that the son is a better politician or a stronger vote-getter than the father. It all depends on timing and which party is in power. Father and son are conceded to reside together at the top of Norwegian politics.
I was a firsthand, close-up witness to father Thorvald’s risking his own life to rescue a group of 40 Hungarian refugees fleeing the Communists in 1956. As I read Thorvald’s autobiography, I turned the pages breathlessly, eager to read his account of what took place on Christmas night on the border where Hungary and Austria meet. But Thorvald left that entire incident out! That quietly but totally illustrates the difference between Norwegian politicians and their glory-starved, glory-seeking and glory-thieving American counterparts.
I’ve never met Jens, but I have fantasies of attending one of his press conferences somewhere and staggering him with my inside knowledge of things like the terrible car accident the family was involved in when Thorvald was ambassador to Yugoslavia, and the brutality of those fat-needle Yugoslav hypodermics they were subjected to, and was he aware at the time that the doctor had told Thorvald that Jens might not make it through the night?
As I watched Jens Stoltenberg’s press conference with President Donald Trump last week it occurred to me that Norway, Denmark and the Baltic states are what I call the “Never-Again” wing of NATO, or the “orthodox” wing. Unlike Canada, the U.K., Spain, Turkey and other NATO members, those Scandinavian, Baltic and other members are true believers in collective defense, having been in this lifetime helpless against the bullying aggression and occupation by much stronger powers.
The question literally asks itself: “Can NATO stop an aggressive Russia?”
It depends on which “Russia” we’re talking about. If we mean the Stalinized Red Army with its real generals purged by a paranoiac Stalin and replaced with combat-illiterate Communist stooges, and if by “Russia” we mean that Red Army that ridiculized itself by the terrible time it had subduing little Finland, a country with a population half that of Chicago, then Yes, NATO will prevail. If, however, we mean the well-trained, winterized and well-led “Siberian” Red Army Stalin didn’t bring into the war with Germany until his best spy in Japan assured him Japan had no intention of attacking the Soviet Union, and if by “Russia” we mean that army that stormed out of the far east and cut through the demoralized Nazi lines like a hot knife through oleomargarine, then we have a problem!
Oh, how I’d love to be one of those legendary journalists whose whispered wisdom wins wars and saves nations. I’m afraid I have but one little chiclet of advice for Jens and NATO.
I say get busy and popularize the mastery of firearms in all the NATO lands. I fired my first shots at the YMCA camp near Greensboro, North Carolina, at the age of 9! New York high schools used to have rifle teams! Switzerland – not a NATO member but a NATO role model – holds the annual “Knabenschiessen,” the German word for a boys’ shooting match (at which, since 1991, girls have competed also).
School the civilian population in firearms, and teach them to shoot not to kill, but to wound. It takes five enemy personnel to care for each wounded aggressor!
NATO has never been tested. A cobweb is as good as a cable if there’s no strain upon it. Didn’t Sun Tzu say that “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”?
There’s only one thing that would make me prouder than having Jens, Trump and the other good-guy leaders hold a triumphant parade after defeating a Russian attempt on NATO members.
And that would be for the Russians to take one look at NATO’s readiness and capabilities and conclude that such an attempt would be a bad idea, or as a Lower East Side Sun Tzu might say, “Fuggedaboudit!”
And Putin can go to the gym and show us a few pushups instead!
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