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Clinton’s Winds of War

I happened on a copy of War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, which I bought after returning from my tour as an American diplomat in Rome.

While I was in Rome around 1996 or ’97, I went to a party celebrating the launch of an Italian satellite, as I recall somewhat vaguely, and struck up a conversation with a man who worked for an Italian telecommunications company, maybe the state telecom company. He said that America must really hate him and his little daughter, because it had refused his daughter a visa to visit the US because of the company he worked for.

It turned out the problem was the Helms-Burton law, named after its sponsors in the Senate and House, two bigots and proud of it. I was appalled that the US was punishing children to affect the conduct of their parents. But I had already decided to leave the Foreign Service because I did not feel that the US was living up the standards that it should. Helms-Burton was passed by Republicans, but President Bill Clinton was enforcing it. This was just one more sleazy thing I was glad to be leaving behind.

After I returned to the US, I happened to be watching the mini-series “Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” on TV, partly because it involved diplomats in Rome. Lo and behold, one the sleazy things that one of the “nice” the Nazi diplomats there was doing was threatening the child of the Jewish heroine, Natalie, to get her to force her uncle to make propaganda broadcasts against the Allies. How little things change! I didn’t personally take any actions against children, but I had worked at an embassy that did. Jesse Helms liked those Nazi tactics! What an awful man!

I’m not sure that the TV mini-series exactly followed the novel. I can’t find exactly what I think I remember seeing on TV, but here are some pretty close passages (from the Pocket paperback edition):

Our friend and rescuer, Dr. Werner Beck [the Nazi diplomat], is moving heaven and earth to get us released, or at the very least, to designate three other Americans from the list for the retaliation, if it comes to that. (p. 250)

I have concealed this news from Natalie. Her dread of the Germans and what they may do to her baby borders on the psychotic. (p. 251)

Aaron was describing Werner Beck’s intervention to quash the summons from the secret police, at the time when alien Jews had been interned. (p. 294)

“My guess would be,” said the doctor, “that this Dr. Beck is preventing you from leaving Italy.”

“How preposterous!” exclaimed Jastrow.

But Castelnuovo’s words stirred a horrible dark sickness in Natalie. “Why? What would there be in it for him?” (p. 295)

With a curl of his lips, and a total confusion of f’s and th’s, Beck retorted, “But there’s also the question of Mrs. Henry [Natalie] and her baby ‘rotting here.’ And there’s the more serious question of how long you can stay on in Siena.”

Natalie interjected, “What’s the question about our staying in Siena?”

“Why the OVRA pressure never lets up on me, Mrs. Henry. You realize that you belong in a concentration camp with the rest of the alien Jews…..” (p. 339)

Dumbly Natalie nodded. She went to the library to draft the [misleading] letter [to Beck], feeling — half with terror, half with relief — that the lead had in an eyeblink passed from her to her uncle, and that she and her baby were now in the dark rapids. (p. 342)

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