Reinhardt didn’t trust his friends to organize the type a farewell suitable for his future ambitions. It wasn’t like his successor had been appointed to head the JCS, so there was no formal exchange of command ceremony either. Instead he reserved the Mayflower Ballroom, invited 300 guests from all spheres – government, corporate, his fellow military officers, and the working press—to a party to celebrate his more than forty years in service of his country. It was being covered by both WNN and C-Span both. Sarah had begged Randall to let her go, promising not to slam the General in her follow-up.
Sarah watched Reinhardt with new eyes seeing beyond his current positions on national defense and the seriousness of the terrorist threat to the American way of life. Watching him stand now for his formal speech, ramrod straight, against a backdrop of a large American flag draped on either side by the battle standards of every unit he had served in and or commanded, he was the picture of what a military hero cut in the mold of a MacArthur or a Paton, a man to be admired, turned to in time of need, and honored when the conflict ended. Dressed in formal blues, with rows of medals and awards covering his chest, including the two Congressional Medals of Honor draped around his neck with their conspicuous ribbons, he seemed to Sarah, no fan of the General, a Prometheus in the flesh.
“He looks like George C. Scott at the end of Patton, doesn’t he?” Sarah said to Ted as she wrote notes for her later analysis.
“Only thing missing is the flag-bunting and the Reinhardt for President signs.”
“You’re biased, Teddy Rothstein, but I agree, he does look like a winner. Still he’s been apolitical for most of his life, not a natural Republican or Democrat. To run he’ll need the Party, which ever one needs a winner, to come to him and offer him the crown. A threat from Young Kim or another terrorist attack might be enough to overcome the natural reluctance of the establishment Republicans to take a chance with an outsider. Also, I suspect he will not poll that great with the woman or the ethnics either.”
Reinhardt allowed the applause to die down before he started.
“Forty-two years ago on a crisp fall day, I swore an oath, a sacred promise to the American people, and to my God, that I would uphold and defend the American way of life against all dangers. It has been an honor to serve this great Nation in time of war and in time of peace,” he paused, caught his breath, and waited for the room to be still again before continuing.
“I am a soldier who has seen war first hand – first in the hot damp jungles of Vietnam and then in the dry mountains of Afghanistan fighting against the Soviets for the freedom of Afghanistan as a young man, and I have observed how politicians have led us into long, drawn out wars, only to see no clear way out, no victory, but no defeat, just continuous deployments of precious human resources. I have seen war close up and from high above and I have seen the damage it has done to people trying to live in peace only to face dangers from errant bombs and IEDs. And I have seen the mistakes made in the name of national security that have cost thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of dreams crushed by sending brave young men and women into harm’s way.”
“Slow, a little trite too, isn’t it?” Sarah said thinking about other speeches the General had recently made.
“It’s his money,” said Ted. “He showed me the speech, it gets better, even surprising near the end Sarah.”
“ From the time I started this journey America has been at war – big and small, provoked or convenient, and now we are in battle for the very heart and soul of our nation, that tests the very limits of what is right and what is wrong, that pits our freedom against ideologies drawn from ancient times. After September 11th, the rules of engagement changed radically. The enemy can metabolize in the heart of our cities driven by propaganda distributed across the World Wide Web. No longer can America depend on military power alone for our protection. Globalization has made us far more vulnerable to economic and social collapse elsewhere. One small nuclear bomb destroying an area of less than 10 square miles in Southern China would wreck our economy, as well as those of our trading partners and allies. Business leaders and politicians have encouraged reliance on supply chains stretched across the far Pacific, ignoring the obvious dangers of dependency on foreign suppliers, putting us at risk as at no time in past. This has been done in the name of efficiency, but in truth in the name of short-term profits. For too long our country has ignored the risks these globe-spanning umbilical cords pose. For too long we have allowed private greed to overwhelm public responsibilities. For too long we have a growing gap between the successful and the unsuccessful. For too long we have seen the market as the panacea for all problems despite the evidence that the market driven solutions rarely work as promised or are not able to be gamed by the rich and powerful. And for too long we have ignored the poverty of our small towns, our rural communities with their hopeless despair a by product of the failure of capitalism driven by the God of self interest to insure that every American can prosper in this Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. It is time,” and here Reinhardt paused, he looked at the audience, then slowly added “to put America First when thinking about moving a job overseas or closing a plant in a community already hurting from the failure of capitalism. It is time to see the needs of our country as important to the needs of others who may depend upon us. It is time that government and business leaders work together to achieve a growing eco-system in this country and worldwide with fair wages and opportunities for people from the humblest rural community to the best neighborhood in our urban centers.”
Rothstein watched the faces of the audience on the split monitor. They were mesmerized by Reinhardt’s talk, even as he insulted their keen intelligence. “You know, Sarah, he’s laughing at their greed and stupidity and the bastards are lapping it up.”
“How, then, can we, as a nation, survive and prosper in this world we have fashioned? We have gambled our very futures to maximize personal wealth and private profits at the expense of our public needs demanding improvements while working hard to minimize and eliminate the taxes to pay for these needs. How can we shore up our industrial base while remaining committed to globalization so important to securing a peaceful world? These are the issues of today. They must be solved if we are to see tomorrow’s promises become a reality. America has sown the dragon’s teeth in a thousand places in the world. Bitterness and envy are mothers’ milk for terrorists and extremists of all ideologies and religions. We have approached the world at large in arrogance and blind belief in the rightness of our cause, our own infallibility in our judgements on the actions of others. Let us get our own house in order before we can lecture the rest of the world. How has a nation that believes it is doing well, often as not, done great evil? ”
“Amazing speech,” Sarah said surprised at her own words. He was turning the tables, reversing the course; and the same audience that had cheered his right wing diatribes, was now cheering his more middle of the road, even progressive fare.
Reinhardt allowed his words to sink in. “Listen to me closely friends for I am speaking truth to power. There will come a time in the future when all of our assumptions of right and wrong will be tested. Our enemies are weak, seemingly defenseless, without armies to challenge or to defeat. In that very weakness is their strength. How should we respond to these challenges? How can we deter terror when men and women willingly go to their deaths to weaken our resolve or destroy our confidence? Must we be, like the one eyed Cyclopes of Homer made blind by Ulysses strike out at all in fury without reason or hope of finding our tormentors. And in our very blind fury would we not seed the ground with hatred and loathing for all we stand for. It is from that fertile soil springs more terrorists and more victims. I say no to this. We must find a path between Moses and Jesus, between an eye-for-an-eye and turn the other cheek. Finding that path will not be easy, or without risks, but these are risks that we must be willing to take if we are to preserve the America we love and an America that can be respected by the world.”
The General laid in his final words, cementing his position in stone, opening his bid for the moderates of both Parties when the time came. “My friends, dependence on carrier battle groups or squadrons of half-billion dollar aircraft is not appropriate in today’s world of asymmetric threats. Our need is more for linguists and foot soldiers able to blend in and infiltrate terrorist groups. We need flexible response capabilities not dependent upon pre-positioned forces. Weapons that take hours to reach their final destinations will always fail. And, finally, if and when we strike, the destruction must be complete and total. There is no second chance in this war.”
Pausing, he waited until the audience was hanging on his next words before finishing. “That is the challenge we face. Ever rising defense budgets and high tech weapons will not save us from extremists who may live in our midst and who are willing to die for the cause they believe in. Sinking more gold and treasure in military toys is not a solution to the quagmire we have dug for our nation. There are no simple solutions; no silver bullets that can be used to turn the clock back to before September 11th. Our task, the task I’ll gladly take up now that I’m retired, is to make certain that men of ill-will are not tolerated by civilized societies. Unlike Macarthur, this old soldier will not simply fade away. God bless you all and God bless America.”
It was over, all except the rounds of applause from the crowd that was standing and cheering. Sarah let the camera’s roll for a few more minutes with a mild voice over commenting on the audience’s enthusiastic response to the General’s address. She added a short summary of what he had said. Outside, with the Mayflower’s distinctive canopy in the background, she gave a positive commentary on Reinhardt’s speech.
“You want to meet Reinhardt?”
“No,” she answered emphatically, “despite the fact that he didn’t sound dangerous, I still don’t trust him.”
Ted found a cab waiting outside the door of the Mayflower. It was too cold to walk and neither had taken a topcoat to the affair. The driver grumbled about the short distance, but Ted over compensated him with the tip. Inside, Sarah kicked off her heels; curling up on Ted’s sofa.
“What was Reinhardt hinting at when he called for a flexible response?”
“Vaporize the leadership in Tehran, without warning and with extreme precision, but then deny you had anything to do with it, blame it on extremists. Don’t waste American lives or treasure in nation building or wars that lead to quagmires. I guess he was thinking of the ultimate decapitation in which you don’t assassinate one leader, but simply destroy an entire government in a single blast.” As he said this, the thought came to mind, NorthStar.
“That you or Reinhardt speaking, Ted,” she said taking his arm playfully. “Come on it’s getting late.”
Reinhardt carried the NorthStar console, in its leather-bound case, with him the next evening when he left on BA 23 out of Dulles bound for London. It was the first civilian airliner he’d flown on in four years. Out of uniform, he was not recognized.
Once airborne, and at cruising altitude, the Senior Pilot, an old RAF fighter jock, opened the door from the cockpit and entered the First Class cabin. He had seen Reinhardt’s name on the passenger manifest and wanted to say hello.
“Enjoying the ride, General?”, the Captain asked.
“No comparison between BA’s hospitality and the USAF. Sit down Captain,” Reinhardt pointed to the empty seat next to him, “I’ve flown lots of aircraft, but never a 777.”
“What about the B-2? Must be a treat to pilot a flying wing?”
“Hardly worth the effort with the pilot there to insure that it doesn’t run out of fuel every few thousand miles. The B-2 was expensive to build and probably unnecessary. It mainly kept a few contractors in business for a few years longer, and helped out a few Congressman get re-elected by keeping jobs in their districts.” Reinhardt said with a cynicism born from years of working the Pentagon and seeing, first hand, the dynamics of the military industrial complex and its close relationship with the Congress.
“I caught your farewell address. Interesting ideas,” the Captain said looking at Reinhardt for confirmation.
“Which one,” Reinhardt said with a sheepish grin, “must have set a few of the corporate chieftains wondering if my heart’s in the right place.”
“Destroying the vipers suddenly without warning would be hard to do unless you already had lethal assets on the ground ready to strike silently. Aircraft are noticed, even drones.”
“Not as hard as you might think,” Reinhardt laid his hand instinctively on the briefcase-like console at his feet, “not as hard as you might think.”
Reinhardt took advantage of the BA First Class Visitors Lounge at Heathrow to shower and change clothes. He picked up a copy of the Times; there was a two-column article on his farewell address, as well as the article by Charles Smith on Katherine Reinhardt’s crusade for Palestinian girls. The article on Kate, he thought, drew attention needlessly and included the connection between Katherine Reinhardt, the Mad German of Palestine, and General Helmut Reinhardt, the retiring Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He worried about her safety in the Palestinian territories. He would have to talk to her, but Kate was sensitive and would not be told what to do.
“The Astor’s near the Strand, isn’t it sir?” The hack asked looking back at the American and almost hitting the cab in front. Reinhardt leaned forward speaking through the partition.
“Haven’t a clue; wasn’t my choice.”
“Not a bad hotel, if I recall, but quite small and out of the way, very British,” the driver answered.
“Perfect,” sometimes Katherine did things right, not often, but often enough to make him love her.
She had entered the Reinhardt family through an accident. She was orphan at eleven. Her mother perished trying to get out of East Germany. She’d crawled over the wall and had been rescued by a passer-by who had heard the shouting and gunshots and had risked his life to save the girl. Reinhardt was thirty-five at the time; he’d been assigned to the F-15 squadron as Deputy Wing Commander at the big American airbase at Ram Stein near Frankfurt. On his first leave he’d gone to Munich, where his father’s brother had a large house, he met the girl they had adopted. Kate walked into the room, shook his hand like a proper German lady should, and then stated in halting English that she was going to marry this handsome American someday. He was captivated. Everyone laughed as she sat down across from him and looked on adoringly at him.
“She likes you Helmut,” Uncle Hans had said after his Aunt had shooed her outside to play with the other children, “she doesn’t like many of our friends.”
“Who is she?” he asked.
“Her mother died trying to get out of the East. Some friends in Berlin asked if I could find a good home for the girl. Well, you know Aunt Hannah and I never had the child we had hoped for and now, quite late in life, we are blessed with Katherine.”
Seven years later, she’d arrived in America to attend Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. Reinhardt had offered $ 250,000 in contributions to their special fund on Defense Technology Studies that insured she was accepted.
“I would much rather live with you Cousin Helmut, than in some stuffy dorm with a nasty priest on each floor,” she announced on arrival after he’d had to beg for a place on campus for her.
He reluctantly agreed.
Katherine had come at the start of his third Pentagon tour. Reinhardt had taken the job of Deputy Director Regional Studies on the JCS staff. He’d pinned his first star on, well ahead of the rest of his class from the Academy. Short of a disaster, he was on his way to becoming Chairman by the time he retired. That was long ago in the past. The little girl he had met in his Uncle and Aunt’s house had grown into a striking beautiful, but quite mad, German liberal.
As the cab made its way through London’s narrow streets, Reinhardt recalled the first time he noticed Kate was a full-grown woman. It was a Friday afternoon when Tom Maddox had poked his head into the cubical that Major General Reinhardt called his own.
“You’re wanted at the White House, Reinhardt, something about Afghanistan and Mujahidin,” the Director, a Two Star, shouted, angry that this upstart General was going to the meeting there. He’d been working in the JCS now for more than two years and he made it into the Tank for a briefing only twice, and this cocky Air Force hotshot was being called to the White House.
“You sure they want me, Tom?”
“The call came from the Chairman’s office. What gives Reinhardt? You’re how old, not even fifty, and I’m close to sixty-five...” he left the rest unsaid noting that Reinhardt had made his first star ten years before him.
“Pays to take chances with a career when you’re young, Tom,” Reinhardt said knowing how conventional Tom Ballard’s career had been.
“I suppose you did?”
“I studied Arabic at the Academy. I didn’t need to be a genius to see that the place where we get most of our energy from will be damn important to our future, Tom,” he added sending the knife deeply into his colleague’s already wounded ego from his three years buried in JCS just waiting for retirement. “And, I then learned all the words for fuck in Pashtun from my Afghani girlfriend. After flight school, I volunteered for Special-Opts training and was a forward Air Controller in Nam.” Reinhardt smiled, enjoying the put down of this stupid, gone as far as I will ever go, Army officer “and I speak a passable Russian.”
He gathered up his papers and shoved them into the top drawer of the safe, twirled the combination lock, and hurried down to the River Entrance where a car was waiting to take him to the meeting. The dinner party, long planned by Katherine, to introduce her dashing cousin to her new friends from school, was forgotten in the excitement.
He came home later that night exhausted. Kate was waiting for him in the living room, wearing only a thin nightgown, and holding a large goblet of rich red wine that she handed to him as he entered.
“Cousin Helmut, I thought perhaps we might discuss your late appearance at my party in a more intimate setting.” He ignored the obvious and simply sent her to bed. Their actual affair started ten years later.
Reinhardt arrived at the Astor at 9 in the morning. While it was still the middle of the night in Washington, he felt refreshed; he’d managed to get three hours sleep on the airplane.
The desk clerk looked up from the newspaper he was reading as Reinhardt entered the lobby. The hotel was old, built before the Second World War; the lobby reminded him of a mausoleum, heavy, with dark brown wood paneling and too much history. Reinhardt felt uncomfortable; he preferred a spacious, light filled, modern hotel. Nor, was it a typical hotel for Kate; her tastes were simpler, hostel not hotel. She felt out of place in expensive, exclusive hotels.
“You have a reservation, sir?”
“Yes,” Reinhardt barked.
“Your wife is, I believe, still is in the room sir,” the clerk handed him the key.
She was waiting for him in bed. She turned back the covers when the door opened.
Kate felt safe with Reinhardt next to her. She ran her hand across his chest. She studied each scar, wondering about the stories that accompanied these old wounds. He had come when she’d called proving again that she was still important to him.
“Gut, Helmut, yes?” she reverted to her native German.
“Very good my little Fruelein Katherine,” he looked at her closely. She had aged in the years they were apart. The desert sun of Palestine was hard on her fair skin. She was far too thin too, but what worried him most was her nervous tick and the dark rings around her eyes. She was worn out.
“What’s wrong Kate?” he asked, after they had both showered. Wrapped in plush, terry cloth robe, Kate remembered another hotel room in another city. She’d slept with Smith when he took her to Tel Aviv two weeks before. She pulled out a cigarette, but found herself unable to light it around Reinhardt. She put the cigarette down and tapped on the table nervously.
“Everything really,” she paused, caught her breath and composed her thoughts carefully, before continuing. “For twenty years, I’ve blamed everything on Israeli aggression, but, now, I don’t know if anyone really wants peace or prosperity. You know what, Helmut, I think, everything in this world is crazy fucked up.”
“Kate, Kate,” he said holding her tight, rocking her back and forth as if she were a child again. “Your heart is in the right place. You try so hard to help. Now, let me see what I can do to make you happy, at least for this week.”
There was a good Pakistani restaurant near the hotel and he watched as Katherine picked at her food. Not a good sign, he thought, she has no appetite. After lunch, they walked for hours around the city and stopped for coffee near Hyde Park, later that afternoon. Kate poured out her frustrations. He listened, worried, almost for the first time, about her.
“What do you feel like for dinner?” Reinhardt asked, after they returned to the hotel.
“I want to go to the most expensive and best restaurant in London.” She smiled for the first time that afternoon.
“What’s happened to your proletarian roots, my dear Kate?”
“For this week,” she pressed her body against his, “I don’t want to think about the huddled masses, the misery, or the heartaches, of the world.”
He made reservations at the Savoy, just off the Strand. She wasn’t prepared for Christmas dinner at the Savoy, but she made do pressing her best dress and tied a colorful Palestinian sash around her waist. Walking into the restaurant, lit with holiday candles and decorated with silver and gold, she felt whole again for the first time in years.
“We can go to the theatre too? Yes?” She asked excitedly.
“Of course,” he said pleased she’d asked, “and an Oratorical Society Concert if we can get tickets. This week is yours Katherine.”