As We Remember Dr. King…

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man on so many levels. But he was first a pastor/preacher, erudite and eloquent, persuasive and passionate. He could also be controversial in the pulpit.

ap_mlk_memphis_mountain_kb_130403_wmainHad he lived, he would have recently celebrated his 90th birthday.  I wonder what he would think about our national journey since the day his powerful voice was so violently silenced?

A year to the day before his death in Memphis, Dr. King preached Riverside Church in Manhattan. The church, built against the backdrop of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the 1920s, was founded by Harry Emerson Fosdick and John D. Rockefeller Jr., a liberal preacher with a generous benefactor. Mr. Rockefeller initially donated more than $10.5 million, and his contribution grew to more than $32 million by 1959. It was a case of petro-dollars funding Protestant liberalism.

As Dr. King spoke to a crowd of nearly 4,000 on April 4, 1967, he said that as a religious leader he wanted to “move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high ground of a firm dissent.”

His subject was not Civil Rights – it was the Vietnam War.

Though careful to talk about America as his “beloved nation,” and not hesitant to address the crowd as “my fellow Americans,” he said that “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” was “my own government.”

At that time, polls indicated that nearly 75% of Americans supported the war.

Dr. King faced his own media firestorm in the immediate aftermath of his “Beyond Vietnam” speech. The Washington Post described it as “unsupported fantasy,” and the New York Times called it “Dr. King’s Error.” U.S. News and World Report went even further, suggesting that King was “lining up with Hanoi,” and President Johnson angrily speculated that King had “thrown in with the Commies.”

Even legendary baseball player/hero Jackie Robinson came out against the speech and the NAACP adopted a resolution warning that King’s effort to connect the anti-war movement with civil rights was a “serious tactical mistake.”

Later that year, the annual Gallup Poll of the “Ten Most Popular Americans,” would not include the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—for the first time in more than a decade.

One long and very difficult year after his Riverside remarks, Dr. King was in Memphis. The night before his death, he was scheduled to speak at Mason Temple. There were storm and tornado warnings, and he was weary from travel, so he asked Rev. Ralph Abernathy to go in his place. When Abernathy got to the church, he saw thousands who had braved violent weather to hear King, so he called back to the Lorraine Motel and encouraged his friend to come over. King did go over, and he gave what was to be his last sermon.

During his 20-minute extemporaneous address that evening, he asked: “Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher?” He then added a word of encouragement to the great number of preachers in the crowd: “I want to commend the preachers…and I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren’t concerned about anything but themselves. And I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry.” As he warmed to the crowd and his message he said: “We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words.”

He called for the development of what he referred to as “a kind of dangerous unselfishness” and segued to a rhetorical comfort zone, the biblical story of the Good Samaritan. He used the famous story as the basis for his admonition: “Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with greater determination…we have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”

Then he waxed personal, describing a previous assassination attempt by “a demented black woman” ten years before and how the blade came so close to his aorta that one sneeze would have ended his life. This was a familiar King story, one that he told many times with the refrain “If I had sneezed…” being repeated again and again for effect. At this point, other preachers on the platform that night became unsettled because this story was usually one placed earlier in a speech. The concern was that Dr. King might “miss his landing” and not end on a high note.

There is an old formula in the African-American tradition of preaching: “Start low, go slow. Rise higher, catch fire. Retire.” The concern was that King was not quite catching fire. Then, however, came those final moments as he talked about being to the mountain top and seeing the “promised land,” and the now famous and passionate ending: “So, I’m happy tonight! I’m not worried about anything! I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

As a preacher, King was Sunday-centric, always with an eye on the next sermon. So the next afternoon, Thursday, April 4, 1968, he placed a call from room 306 of the Lorraine Motel back to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and gave his secretary the title for his upcoming Palm Sunday sermon: Why America May Go to Hell.”

He never had the chance to preach that one. A few hours later his voice was silenced in a brief and deadly explosion of violence.

Dr. King is remembered more than 50 years later for his words and deeds. He is honored–-appropriately so—as a hero. It is, though, an interesting question: “What would Dr. King say today—and how would he be received?”

[For books by David R. Stokes, visit:]

The Big ANTISEMITIC Lie that Just Won’t Go Away

While fires were still smoldering at Ground Zero, the Pentagon, and in a Pennsylvanian pasture, malicious people conjured up an evil myth.  In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many in the Arab world believed that the vicious attack on America was not the work of Islamists, but rather was an Israeli-driven Mossad operation.   This legend soon developed muscular legs and is now widely regarded by millions of Muslims as the truth.

And why not?  For decades school children in Muslim nations (not to mention their parents at home) have been baptized in anti-Semitic narratives.  The opinions in their world about Jews in general, and Israel in particular, are concrete – thoroughly mixed up and permanently set.

The most persistent and pernicious ideas that have been accepted by millions as factual truth flowed from the poisonous pen of a guy named Mathieu Golovinski.

The spurious publication called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an Islamist must-read.  The work tells a story that fits the pattern of long-standing prejudices.  The words reinforce the visceral hatred Islamists have toward Jews.


Islamist anti-Semitism is not a new thing.  It didn’t begin with the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948, or the Six-Day War in 1967.  It was around long before there was a Hitler – in fact, it grew up alongside Islam from the beginning.  It’s an enmity that can be traced back to Muhammad and what he said, wrote, and did.  And to those looking for ammunition to use against people they have been historically conditioned to hate, the often denounced and repeatedly refuted forgery is just what the evil doctor ordered.

In the interest of fairness and full disclosure, it is true that non-Muslims and non-Nazis have at times bought into the notions set forth by the Protocols – some even in the name of Christianity.  This is sad.  But it is also statistically rare these days.  Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan types apparently still peddle the book, but these people are the proverbial skunks at our national picnic.  And eighty years ago, there were a few prominent Americans (automobile magnate Henry Ford notable among them) who endorsed the writings.  But that was a passing, though very regrettable, thing.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion purports to be written evidence of a vast and secret Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world.  It’s presented as a factual and detailed description of a late-nineteenth century meeting to plot international Hebrew hegemony through manipulation and treachery.  These ideas are at the root of the mother of all conspiracy theories for those who live in the bizarre world of alternative historical reality.

In fact, the publication is a forgery – probably the most sinister and infamous fake in literary history.

The year is 1898, and Nicholas II rules a Russia that’s beginning to experience the revolutionary stirrings of modernism.   The Tsar is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and tends to be easily led by strong people around him.   He tries to take incremental steps toward leading the nation away from its feudal past, but some in his court are alarmed.   Thus, evil men began to seek a way to short-circuit these liberalizing influences.

If only they could convince the Tsar that the voices of change he’s listening to are motivated by something other than the best interests of Russia – but how?  It was in this environment that the greatest of all anti-Semitic lies was born.  A threatening conspiracy would be manufactured – one that would bring Nicholas to his senses – and the Jews to their knees.

Mathieu Golovinski was living in Parisian exile at the time.  Though he was Russian, having been born in the Simbirsk region in 1865, he was forced to flee after repeated clashes with Russian authorities, usually having to do with his tendency to fabricate documents and evidence in legal matters.  He was a master of spin, innuendo, and dirty tricks.  He was also very skilled in the arts of forgery and plagiarism.

And he worked for the Okhrana – the Tsar’s secret police.

He was approached by agents’ provocateur from the Tsar’s inner circle about creating a convincing anti-Jewish legend.  They needed a narrative, one that would be seen as proof of a sinister plot behind the winds of change beginning to blow in Russia.  Golovinski was commissioned to fabricate the evidence.

He came across an old book, written in 1864 by an anti-monarchist activist named Maurice Joly.  It was entitled, Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquie and was written as a thinly disguised attack on Napoleon III’s rule in France.  The book was suppressed by the French government and the writer was imprisoned.  He committed suicide in 1878.

A plan was hatched to borrow from this obscure book, changing some of its cosmetics and phrasing.  It would be recast, using Joly’s fictional dialogue for a model, as the actual deliberations of a secret cabal of Jews bent on taking over the world.   When the fake was finished, it was spirited back to St. Petersburg, and all that would be needed was a way to get it before the ruler of the realm.

Enter the other religious zealot in and around the court of the Tsar.

When most think of religious influences around Nicholas II, attention is usually given to Grigori Rasputin, the mad monk who haunted that scene beginning about 1905.  But often overlooked, and certainly more ominous as far as long-term impact on the world is concerned, is the influence of his cultic contemporary, Sergei Alexandrovich Nilus.  He was a writer on religious matters and a self-styled spiritual mystic.


And he is also the man who first published Golovinski’s sinister forgery.

Initially placing the Protocols as a chapter in one of his books, Dr. Nilus saw to it that the potentate was fully briefed and convinced about the purported Jewish threat.  And like Rasputin, he also had the ear of ruler’s wife – so the Tsar, never a man to have his own firm opinions, fell prey to the lie.  And in the days following his nation’s defeat at the hands of the Japanese at a loss of several hundred thousand men, not to mention overwhelming financial expense, circumstances were ripe for the rotten fruit of a compelling scapegoat story.

On January 9, 1905, the Tsar’s troops opened fire on protesters who peacefully marched near the palace in St. Petersburg.  This would become known as Bloody Sunday.  The Tsar and his inner circle saw in the Protocols the real reason for the unrest – it was a big Jewish plot to overthrow the monarchy.

So it began – the gargantuan conspiratorial lie that has reared its hideous head time and time again over the past one hundred years.  Jewish plotters were blamed for The Great War (1914-1918).  Then in its aftermath, when Germany was struggling to recover from defeat, the big lie was discovered by the greatest demagogue of the day, Adolf Hitler.   By the time the future German dictator was sent to prison in 1923, he was well versed in the Protocols and drew significantly from the forgery as he wrote his own hate-filled and delusional tome, Mein Kampf.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion became, to men already filled with anti-Semitic ideas, proof positive of a sinister Jewish agenda.  To those who believed the lie, the writings were sufficient evidence for the indictment, condemnation, and eventual execution of these conspiratorial people.  The Protocols in many ways fueled the Holocaust.

Yet all along, reasonable people – scholars, journalists, and statesmen – have gone to great lengths to expose the fraudulent nature of the Protocols.  Beginning with a lengthy analysis in the Times of London in 1921, to a celebrated trial in Switzerland in 1935, to a report by the United States Senate in 1964, good people have said again and again: “the book’s a fake.”   Good people still do.

It’s the bad people who are the problem.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the biggest publishing hoax of the past one hundred years, is not going away.   This is largely because Islamists are using it, with great effectiveness, to fan contemporary flames of hatred.  In fact, it’s arguable that there are more copies of this lie-laden text extant, than ever before.  The forgery is used by politicians and clerics in the Muslim world to justify their distorted and destructive world-view.

Gamal Abdel Nassar, the late president of Egypt, recommended the book to his countrymen.  His Saudi contemporary, King Faisal, had the forgery put in hotels in his nation, like Gideon Bibles (he once gave a copy to Henry Kissinger).  The Ayatollah Khomeini, who took over in Iran in 1979, made the Protocols a national bestseller.  An entire generation of Islamic thinkers and scholars now aggressively promotes the forgery as literal fact.

Hamas owes Article 32 of its charter to these long-ago-discredited writings when it says things like: “Zionist scheming has no end…Their scheme has been laid out in the Protocols of Zion.” And it’s, of course, a perennial favorite with Holocaust deniers such as that wacky Iranian, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Islamist anti-Semitism is at the root of the so-called War on Terror.  The bad guys use the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as their proof-text.  It would make sense that if we really want to eradicate the symptom we must deal frankly with the cause.  Islamism isn’t an aberration.  It’s an ideology based on prejudices rooted in the distant past and lies that won’t seem to go away.

Shortly before his death in early 2005, the legendary pioneer of twentieth-century graphic art, Will Eisner, a man who spent much of his life debunking the infamous forgery, called the Protocols a “terrifying vampire-like fraud.”

Indeed. – DRS

Can a Bad Cold Stop a Dog’s Bark?


The historian part of my brain is increasingly intrigued by moments in time when a dog did not bark. Of course, this is reference to a famous Sherlock Holmes story called, “Silver Blaze,” and how the fictional detective made a deduction based on the fact that a dog that should have barked at a stranger, did not. This told Holmes that the culprit was someone familiar to the dog.

So as a writer, I’ve wondered why certain people didn’t do the obvious thing. From there, my imagination takes charge. The book I’m currently working on—“The Churchill Plot”—is a great case in point. [READ MORE]

We Must Never Forget!

In 1916, the late poet Robert Frost penned the famous lines: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

His metaphor has endured as testament to the importance of making choices based on factors other than superficiality and popularity.

President Kennedy and Robert Frost
President Kennedy and Robert Frost

Shortly after Frost’s death in 1963, President John F. Kennedy traveled to Amherst College in Massachusetts, where Frost had taught for many years, to deliver a eulogy about the famous wordsmith he had invited to participate in his inauguration. That day, Kennedy shared a line that, like the description of those fabled two roads, has since morphed into something beyond its original intent and focus. In my opinion, it was one of the best things Kennedy ever said:

A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.

Next to ingratitude, forgetfulness is the most serious indicator of cultural decline. The two are intertwined. Thankfulness and remembrance are flip sides of the same precious cultural coin. On this Memorial Day, 70 years after the end of the war in Europe, we must reject the defeatism and cynicism so characteristic of our times and look back at heroes proved, and up at Almighty God in gratitude for them.

If the idea of gratitude toward God is off-putting to anyone—or seems somehow inappropriate, I would simply note how a famously liberal Democratic President approached matters on national radio seventy years ago. Roosevelt became America’s pastor for a moment and prayed:

“Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith…”

He added: “And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.”

And he ended with: “Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.”

Elisha “Ray” Nance, who died a few years ago, was well known around Bedford, Virginia, a picturesque town located at the foot of the Blue Ridge Peaks of Otter, where for years he delivered the mail on nearby rural routes. But it was for what he did before becoming a letter carrier that he is best remembered.

Ray was one of “The Bedford Boys.”

X-_Bedford_Boys-5He was the last of his town’s contingent in Company A of the 29th Infantry Division’s 116th Infantry – a group that waded ashore seven decades ago on a beach nicknamed Omaha in a far away place called Normandy in France. And of the thirty soldiers from Bedford (population then, about 3,200), he was one of only eight from his hometown who lived to tell the story.

Ray lost twenty-two Bedford buddies that day, nineteen of them in the very first moments of the battle. By the time he made it to the beach in the last of his company’s landing crafts, he saw “a pall of dust and smoke.” He could barely see “the church steeple we were supposed to guide on.” He couldn’t see anyone in front, or behind him—only that he “was alone in France.”

Mr. Nance was a hero “proved through liberating strife.”

On the fortieth anniversary of D-Day, President Ronald Reagan captured the attention of history and honored some of the other “Boys” who did so much for all of us on June 6, 1944. He called them “The Boys of Pointe Du Hoc,” and many of them were in his cliff-top audience in Normandy that day in 1984.

President Ronald Reagan salutes during a ceremony commemorating the 40th anniversary of D-day, the invasion of Europe.
President Ronald Reagan salutes during a ceremony commemorating the 40th anniversary of D-day, the invasion of Europe.

If you wanted to pick a more unlikely place for an important military attack, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a spot more uninviting than the imposing, rugged cliffs overlooking the English Channel four miles west of Omaha Beach. More than a decade ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Normandy region for a speaking engagement. I stood on the spot where the Great Communicator spoke and tried to wrap my mind around the quite-evident impossibility of what the United States Army Ranger Assault Group accomplished that fateful day. Mr. Reagan honored those men there:

We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but forty years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of canon. Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe Du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.

The boys of Bedford are now all gone. And noble ranks of the boys of Pointe Du Hoc have been thinned out by the course of time as well. Other heroes have taken their place and are equally worthy of our gratitude and honor.

Kennedy was right—how we remember heroes of the past, and how we treat heroes in our day, reveals the heart and character of our nation.

Reagan was right, too: “Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their valor, and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.”  Amen.


A Very True Spy Story

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, David Cornwell (better known by his nom de plume John Le Carré) told an interviewer that “espionage was not really something exclusive and clandestine. It was actually the currency of the Cold War. Spies were the poor bloody infantry of the Cold War.”

They still are, though these days we are in a different war and battling another pernicious ideology. I have read Cold War spy novels for years and even written a couple of my own. They make for entertaining reading, but the more we learn about the nuts and bolts of what actually went on back then, the better we come to understand that truth is, in many ways, even more dramatic than fiction.

kuklin-smConsider the case of Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski. He was a Polish patriot who may have saved his nation, the whole continent of Europe, and maybe even the world, from massive suffering at the hands of a Soviet war machine which was once poised to race from behind Warsaw Pact borders to the Atlantic Ocean.

A few years ago, I attended a symposium at Langley on the life and work of this remarkable, unsung hero who risked life, limb, and loved ones to pass along vital information at a crucial moment during the Cold War.  Under the watchful eye of then DCIA General Michael V. Hayden, and as part of a very real social contract with this country, voluminous declassified materials were being made available to researchers and the public at large. General Hayden was a history major back in college days and this passion clearly informed his directorate.

That particular historical symposium corresponded with the release of materials relating to Rsyzard Kuklinski and his work on our behalf, as well as that of his beloved Poland. In fact, Kuklinski (who died in 2004) did not see himself as working for “us” – rather he consciously recruited America, via the CIA, to work on behalf of Polish freedom during a dark and difficult time.

In August 1972, Kuklinski sent a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Bonn, West Germany, establishing contact with our intelligence operatives.  Signing it “P.V.” (Kuklinski later said this stood for “Polish Viking”), this singular act began a relationship that would bear the fruit in the form of thousands of vital documents and much crucial information helping us to understand Soviet doctrine and intent.

The definitive account of the Polish spy’s fascinating story was written in a book by Benjamin Weiser, a reporter for the New York Times, titled, A Secret Life: The Polish Officer, His Covert Mission, and the Price He Paid to Save His Country.

SecretLifeWesier described Rsyzard Kuklinski at the time of his espionage work as “a small man with tousled hair, penetrating blue eyes and the gestures and mannerisms of a man within whom an unbounded supply of energy is bottled up.”  He focused that energy on doing everything he could to prevent his country from being sacrificed during the Cold War as it had been in so many ways during the Second World War.

Kuklinski was motivated by patriotic fear.

His role as a high-ranking staff officer made him privy to information about what a major Soviet offensive in Europe would look like.  Though always framed via lip service as defensive in nature, the Soviet and Warsaw Pact war plans, in fact, were entirely designed to be offensive operations.

The salient point, as far as Kuklinski was concerned, had to do with the so-called Second Strategic Echelon – a massive potential Soviet offensive involving roughly two million soldiers and at least a million armored vehicles.  Rsyzard, and others in a place to know about these plans, discerned accurately the only real response NATO’s forces would have to counter such a massive Soviet mobilization would be nuclear. And those bombs would not fall drop in Moscow or Western Europe; they would obliterate Poland, the perpetual twentieth century European pawn.

In fact, the materials passed to us by this highly effective Cold War spy enabled the United States and NATO to effectively plan for such a scenario.  And the other guys never knew we had the information. But even beyond the role he played for us strategically, Kuklinski also became our eyes and ears during those turbulent months in 1980 as the world watched Solidarity, a fledgling political movement led by Lech Walesa, begin to achieve political traction in Poland.  The world also wondered if and when the Soviets (with the complicity of their puppets regime in Warsaw) would intervene as they had in Budapest (1956) and Prague (1968).

It seemed like only a matter of time.

Rsyzard Kuklinski was uniquely positioned in those days to report what was happening, enabling America, in the waning days of the Carter presidency, to effectively warn the Soviets off.  At one point, he sent a sixteen-page letter to the CIA describing high-level meetings, during which the Polish government discussed the possibility off a Soviet invasion of their country.

It became clear in 1981 that the Polish government led by General Wojciech Jaruzelski, was preparing to declare martial law in the land, Kuklinski kept us informed in great detail.  Kuklinski despised Jaruzelski, writing in one covert dispatch that the strongman was “unworthy of the name Pole.”

In a dramatic moment on November 2, 1981, Rsyzard Kuklinski was summoned to a meeting in the office of one of his bosses. Six men sat at a T-shaped table and learned that there was a “mole” among them – someone had been leaking information to the Americans.   Somehow managing to keep his composure, Kuklinski joined the chorus of voices in the room denouncing such an act of “treason.”

But he knew his days were numbered and soon found a way to communicate this message to his handlers: “I urgently request instructions for evacuating from the country myself and my family.  Please take into consideration that the state border is possibly already closed for me and my family.” For several days, CIA personnel in Warsaw tried to carry out a plan to evacuate Rsyzard, his wife, and their two sons.

Eventually they were spirited away for the long drive to Berlin.

At a reception following that symposium I was attending a few years ago, I had the opportunity to speak one on one with the driver of that car during a reception.

We stood just a few feet from the iconic CIA floor seal in Langley’s lobby.  He told me that they had managed to get through three checkpoints en route and that he still got chills when thinking about that perilous trip.

Life in America was no picnic for this Cold War hero and his family.  They had to live under an assumed identity and avoid outside relationships, particularly with Polish-Americans, for years.  The two Kuklinski sons met with untimely accidental deaths less than a year apart, breaking the hearts of Mom and Dad.

Questions were raised about the nature of the deaths – one in a boating accident (the body never found) and the other on a college campus, felled by a hit-and-run driver. But no evidence (beyond the circumstantial) was ever discovered pointing to anything conspiratorial or sinister.

Rsyzard Kuklinski was tried in absentia in 1984 in Poland, found guilty of treason, and sentenced to death.  After the Cold War ended, his sentence was commuted to 25 years (which hurt Kuklinski deeply). In 1995, the chief justice of the Polish Supreme Court annulled his sentence. All charges against him were revoked in September of 1997, enabling him to return to Poland a free man.

In April-May 1998, Rsyzard Kuklinski made an eleven-day tour of several Polish cities. He was greeted by some as a hero on a level with Pope John Paul II.  Others, however, protested that he was—and would remain—a traitor.

Lech Walesa, for all his good work in the cause of freedom, never completely accepted Kuklinski’s account of things – even suggesting publicly that Rsyzard was a “double-agent” working for the Soviets as well as the Americans. No such evidence exists. In fact, as new information comes out, the argument that Kuklinski was a Polish patriot and one of the good guys gets stronger.  But Walesa’s remarks highlight the tension that occurs when “state” becomes synonymous with “country.”

Frankly, Rsyzard Kuklinski’s work – his willingness to risk it all for what he believed was right – left the world a better place.  The Soviet Union eventually fell apart and freedom broke out in his beloved Poland.  Neither would have happened had Warsaw Pact nations acted on clearly defined plans for continental – even global – hegemony.

When Kuklinski died in February 2004, then Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet said: “This passionate and courageous man helped keep the Cold War from becoming hot, providing the CIA with precious information upon which so many critical national security decisions rested.  And he did so for the noblest of reasons – to advance the sacred causes of liberty and peace in his homeland and throughout the world.”

Long before that statement by Tenet, Rsyzard Kuklinski had reflected, “I am pleased that our long, hard struggle has brought peace, freedom, and democracy not only to my country but to many other people as well.”

So are we.

[Check out David’s spy novel, CAMELOT’S COUSIN: The Spy Who Betrayed Kennedy — now in development as a major motion picture starring BLAIR UNDERWOOD]



Blair Underwood is heading to Camelot.

buheadshot2010_a_pThe actor’s production company, Intrepid Pictures, has acquired the rights to David R. Stokes‘ spy novel Camelot’s Cousin: The Spy Who Betrayed Kennedy. Intrepid will partner with Little Studio Films to adapt the thriller into a film with Underwood in the lead role.

Set amid the Cuban Missile Crisis, Camelot’s Cousin centers on the discovery of a long-lost journal that indicates one of President John F. Kennedy‘s closest friends was a Soviet spy. In the present day, scholar and media personality Templeton Davis (Underwood) decides to investigate the journal’s contents, which draw him into a decades-old international conspiracy…


Glimpses From Churchill’s Final Hours & Death

As Winston Churchill lingered for several days between life and death 50 years ago this month, the crowd near his home located at 28 Hyde Park Gate in Kensington, seldom dipped below 250 people, even in the middle of the night, and no matter what kind of weather London in January had to offer. Beyond that, newspapers around the world had the story of Winston Churchill’s life-threatening illness on page-one.

BLOG+CHurchill+Dead+JJPresident Lyndon Johnson sent a message: “We are all very sorry for your illness and we are praying for a rapid and complete recovery. All of us continue to look to you for wise counsel and judgment.”

Meanwhile, the other Churchill news coming out of Washington, D.C. was an announcement, by the English-Speaking Union, that the proposed statue of Churchill that was to stand astride the dividing line between the British Embassy and American soil would indeed include a cigar. There had been strong opposition to this from some members of the society—but ultimately 80 per cent of them voted in favor of the familiar Winstonian appendage.

Former President Eisenhower sent word from his Gettysburg, Pennsylvania farm, “Mrs. Eisenhower and I are deeply distressed to learn that our old friend has been stricken with another illness.” Charles De Gaulle’s message described his own “feeling of shock” at Churchill’s decline. And world leaders began to instruct their aides to begin making travel and logistical plans in the event of a funeral to come.

While the headlines each day tried to communicate the same news in different ways—“Sir Winston Losing Ground,” “Condition of Sir Winston Worsens,” “Churchill Clinging to Life,” it seemed as if the world stopped, or at least slowed down spinning on its axis.

Likely Churchill never knew that he had stopped a strike from his sickbed, but such was the case. School teachers in Great Britain had been prepared to walk off the job that day over a pay dispute, but cited the great man’s illness as the key to their decision to stage the protest “at a more suitable time.” Certainly, this move by labor would have amused the long time Tory leader.

The expressions coming out of the Soviet Union were predictably colder. Radio reports in Moscow tended to be terse and limited. For its part, the official newspaper for Soviet defense, Krasnaya Zvezda, included language calling Churchill, “the godfather of the Cold War,” and indicating that the Briton had not been forgiven for his 1946 speech in Fulton, Missouri, and the reference to an “Iron Curtain.”

By Thursday, January 21st, Dr. Moran was reporting that his famous patient was at a low point. Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, told many that the great man was approaching death. By this time, however, the crowds were gone, due not to diminishing concern, but because Lady Churchill had requested it. Fresh fallen snow marked the area recently clogged by people on the narrow dead end street.

Even the press had been moved back a block or so, something Mrs. Churchill deeply appreciated. Anthony Montague Brown, one of Churchill’s secretaries and who had been the bearer of Lady Churchill’s request that everyone move away from the area around the house, walked over to where the reporters were now gathered and read an appreciative message: “I would like to thank you for the speed with which you complied with Lady Churchill’s request. She was very touched, She has been feeling the strain.” The journalists nodded affirmatively, almost bowing in respect.

The Friday news was more of the same, though there was a stir of sorts when the home directly behind 28 Hyde Park Gate caught fire. However, even the three fire engines responding to the blaze did their part to respect the need for quiet—they arrived at the scene without sounding sirens or bells.

Later that Friday, Lady Churchill was summoned to the telephone for a call from her grandson, Winston. Her face broke into a broad smile—the first for her in a long time—as she learned of the birth of their third great-grandchild, a boy born at Westminster Hospital. The child was premature but doing quite well, the proud father reported, adding that his wife, Minnie, was fine, as well. Clementine shared the joyous news with everyone and then went into her husband’s room and whispered it in his ear. But the great man, though breathing, was likely never aware of the blessed event. And soon Clementine’s smile was again absent from her face.

The next day was Saturday and someone noted that the next day would be the anniversary of the death of Winston’s father. The comment that he had made a dozen years earlier—about how he would die on the same date—was also recalled and rehearsed. Could it be, they wondered, that the great man was mustering all the courage and fortitude he had left to make it until the page of the calendar and hands of the clock moved to the point of his personal prophecy?

Long after the household went to bed that night, Clementine visited Winston’s room around 1:00 AM. She held his hand and sat silent next to him for a bit before heading back to bed. By the time she returned to his room about six hours later, it was clear than there had been a change for the worse. The family was summoned. Less than 30 minutes later, Randolph arrived with his son, Winston, joining Mary, Sarah, and Clementine in the drawing room. A few minutes later Lord’s Moran and Brain came in.

One of the nurses put out a tray of coffee. Everyone stood by in somber silence.

A little before 8:00 AM, Roy Howell appeared and cleared his voice while repeating, “I think you had all better come in.” They formed a line and one by one went to his bed, some knelt immediately, some whispered to him. Eventually all those in the room knelt prayerfully.

And just as a clock down the hallway finished pealing eight times marking the morning hour on Sunday, January 24, 1965, the Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill drew his last breath and, as the ancient scriptures often said, was “gathered unto his fathers.”

[I am currently working on a novel set against the backdrop of Churchill’s death and funeral. It’s titled, “THE CHURCHILL FUNERAL PLOT.” Coming soon — stay tuned! – DRS]

Operation Hope Not

When Winston Churchill was winding down his second tenure as British Prime Minster in 1951, he was shaving one cold January morning. While he worked the razor, the image of his private secretary, Jock Colville, came into view in the mirror. Winston put the instrument down for a moment and turned to Colville and remarked: “Today is the twenty-fourth of January. It is the day my father died. It is the day I shall die, too.”

That is exactly what happened 50 years ago this weekend—January 24, 1965.

Churchills-Funeral-1965Years earlier, Queen Elizabeth II began the discreet discussion of what should happen in the event of the death of Sir Winston. She gave word to her staff that in the event of Churchill’s death during her absence from England, “he should be given a public funeral of a scale befitting his position in history.”

A full state funeral would require a request from the Queen to House of Commons after Churchill’s death and an affirmative vote, but Elizabeth was clearly indicating early on that such a grand farewell would be her recommendation.

So the wheels were set in motion for Winston’s send off a dozen years before his death. The Queen’s initial directive was soon enhanced and over time it was formalized into a working plan. Over the years, ideas were discussed, mostly out of Churchill’s view, and by the late 1950s a detailed blueprint was in place.

It was called, appropriately, Operation Hope Not.

Fourteen months before Churchill died, America and the world had paid respects to a fallen president—John F. Kennedy. There were no plans in place for such an event because it was unexpected and unimaginable. Sometime on the evening of November 22, 1963, the President’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, with her sense of history and ever-present grace, garnered her thoughts and asked for a quick, but thorough, review of the funeral of Abraham Lincoln that took place nearly 100 years earlier. She wanted to use it as a reference for the farewell to her murdered husband.

In somewhat the same way—though with years of preparation—the model for much of what would transpire during the last week of January in 1965, was yet another famous funeral. That one was back in in 1898, when Great Britain said goodbye to William Ewart Gladstone.

That was also first time a funeral became a global media event.

The parallels between Gladstone and Churchill resembled those often drawn between Kennedy and Lincoln, including the way they were laid to final rest. But there was one notable distinction. Queen Victoria detested Mr. Gladstone, who was known around the royal court as, “the man the Queen most loves to hate.” Victoria ignored Gladstone in death as much as she despised him in life. She was silent on the matter of a State Funeral for him and only agreed when it was clear that Parliament overwhelming approved. Her son, the Prince of Wales, who would become King Edward VII upon his mother’s passing in January of 1901, was embarrassed by his mother’s behavior, and personally apologized to Gladstone’s widow as she was leaving the service at Westminster Abbey.

Of course, things were completely different when Winston Churchill died. Queen Elizabeth II had great affection for him, and her recommendation for a full State Funeral made its way to the House of Commons on Monday, January 25th, at two-thirty PM. Such an expression was the ultimate sign of respect and honor. It was quickly approved and the House postponed all other business until after Churchill was buried.

He would be the first “commoner” to be so honored since Mr. Gladstone.

[I am currently finishing a novel set against the backdrop of “Operation Hope Not.” It’s titled, “THE CHURCHILL FUNERAL PLOT” — coming soon! – DRS]

Race, Roe, & Dr. King

[The following appeared in the Washington Post six years ago this month, in January of 2009. I discussed the annual calendar convergence of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday with the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday holiday — DRS]
This week’s sermon is by the Rev. David R. Stokes, senior pastor of Fair Oaks Church in Fairfax, marking Sanctity of Human Life Sunday on Jan. 18. President Ronald Reagan established a National Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in 1984, to be held the Sunday in January that falls closest to the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade abortion decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court.


The recent passing of theologian Richard John Neuhaus brings to mind a passage from the book of Genesis: “There were giants in the earth in those days.”

As Michael Gerson mentioned in his recent tribute to Neuhaus in The Washington Post, there was a time when “the footsteps of theologians shook the land.” These days, he laments that the great thinkers who “provided the intellectual and moral ballast for a rough national crossing through the Cold War and civil rights movement are gone and the nation’s hungry sheep now look up to the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra for spiritual nourishment.

Neuhaus was, according to Gerson, “first a man of the left, then a man of the right — yet entirely consistent on the things that matter most.” He walked with King for civil rights, and later “found the natural extension of those ideals in the pro-life movement.”

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave the address for which he is best known. Long remembered as the “I Have a Dream” speech, he said things like, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’ ”

Slightly less than five years later, the Dreamer was assassinated on April 4, 1968. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision, hastening our societal slide toward a culture far too comfortable and familiar with violence and death. The legacy of Dr. King and the fallout from that 1973 legal bombshell sail very close to each other again.

Some see this as an awkward convergence. But it really isn’t. Back in the ’60s, while black preachers were mobilizing masses in the pursuit of civil rights, conservative evangelicals stayed largely on the sidelines. They weren’t all that interested in changing anything. In fact, it was not uncommon to hear white fundamentalist-evangelical preachers of the day, with voices animated by indignation, decrying the very idea that preachers should be activists in the streets, mocking them to get back to their pulpits where they belonged.

Many, if not most — some notably — would later change their minds. What was the catalyst bringing change to how conservative, white clergymen viewed and lived out their roles? What issue convinced these dogmatic men of the cloth to be willing to scramble out of the pulpit-pocket and into a measure of political involvement after decades of silent separation? Well, the winds of change began to blow in the aftermath of that landmark 1973 decision.

So, here we are again in another January, decades after a killing and a ruling, still marching about Roe v. Wade and honoring Dr. King — but seldom in the same room. The two constituencies, both fierce about the importance of faith, seldom find — much less look for — ways to reach out to the other choir. On Sunday, Jan. 18, some churches highlighted the Sanctity of Human Life issue. Others talked a lot about Dr. King and his dream to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was celebrated Jan. 20. Usually it was one or the other. Some of us, however, tried to do both, because there ought to be an affinity between the two.

When Martin Luther King talked about a dream he had for his four little children and how he longed for them to grow up in a nation “where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” beyond the amen and applause of the crowd around the Lincoln Memorial, far too many Americans ignored what he had to say. Or worse, some mobilized to polarize and oppose.

Those opponents were wrong. No matter how much they went to church, read their Bibles or professed the religion of Jesus, they were wrong. It was wrong for good, God-fearing Americans not to see how important it was, from a faith-based point of view, that this nation truly walk the walk it had long talked about.

And it is wrong for some people of faith today not to see the pro-life cause as very much a civil and human-rights issue.

We should have a dream that welcomes all to the table. And we should have a dream that welcomes all to life itself.

The calendar gives us a near-miss each year as these issues come close to collision. But social justice and embracing life itself as profoundly precious should not be either/or issues. They are very much both/and. And until we find a way to bring them together, it is not likely that anyone can really bring us together.

At this transitional moment in our country’s history, there are great and grave issues before us. Some wrongs have been righted. One great wrong — one that has been a hurtful wound for generations, since even before our nation’s founding — is being righted by an inauguration. Other wrongs are yet to be righted. We should celebrate the victory of wrong over right when it happens. And we should mourn when wrongs left untouched cry out for justice and mercy.

The ultimate way for us to see wrongs righted is for us to look back 2,000 years ago, to a great and grievous wrong inflicted on Christ himself. And it is through that wrong, the great finished work on the cross, that we can know what it is to be made right and whole. When our brokenness is taken to His brokenness, healing happens. And that healing transforms us into agents of light — to work for righteousness in a world of woe.

Man with Fedora Hat in the Ring

Saturday, July 8, 1967 is a date etched in my memory. My father took my two brothers and me to Selfridge Air Base just outside of Detroit to see the famous Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron perform.

But Dad also had another agenda.

Before the aerial show, we sat in the stands listening to a few speakers. Boring stuff, actually. Dad wanted us to see someone. After what seemed to be an eternity waiting for the jets to roar, he said, “There he is, right down there.” I looked and saw a group of men walking. They were in military uniforms.

tumblr_l9tubqMet41qdblneAll except for one man.

This one older man wore a dark suit and what I later learned was a fedora hat. Dad said that the man always wore a fedora hat.

The occasion for the air show at Selfridge turned out to be the 50th anniversary of what was called “The Hat in the Ring Squadron,” a band of pioneer American aerial warriors who complicated things for the Kaiser in The Great War.

And their leader was that man in the fedora hat-Eddie Rickenbacker.

This story came to my mind recently with the release of the powerful film, ‘UNBROKEN,’ based on the story of Louis Zamperini, who died last Summer at the age of 97. In the film, Rickenbacker’s name is referenced a couple of times.

He was a race car driver before World War I and made a lot of money at it. When America mobilized to go “over there,” Rickenbacker pitched the idea of training drivers like him to fly airplanes in combat, but was rebuffed. So he just drove bigwigs around.

Then one day he had the chance to chauffer an officer named Billy Mitchell, and Rickenbacker’s idea found fertile soil.

Eddie was America’s top ace, shooting down 26 enemy aircraft during this nation’s comparatively brief participation in the European war. He then went into business and became one of the country’s top boosters of commercial aviation.

A few months before Pearl Harbor, he was in a fiery airline crash. He broke several bones and nearly died. But by late 1942, he had sufficiently healed so that President Roosevelt recruited him to carry a secret message to Douglas MacArthur, who by then was in Australia beginning to scrounge and plan for an eventual return to the Philippines.

The message from FDR was verbal. No record of it exists, which indicates its important and the confidence the President had in Rickenbacker.

1-25-43But en route to Australia, his plane went off course and they had to ditch in the South Pacific. He and a few others were adrift for 24 days.

He was wearing a suit and that fedora hat.

They ran out of food on the third day.

A natural leader of men, Rickenbacker made sure he and the men prayed and had scripture reading each day. On the eighth day, one of the men read from the Gospel of Matthew about how the Lord watches over the lilies of the field and the birds in the air. Following the reading that day, Eddie pulled his fedora down over his face to catch a nap.

About twenty minutes later, he was awakened by something on his head. He looked at the men and saw that they were looking at what was on his head. Rickenbacker slowly reached up with his hand and grabbed a big bird, which became Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter rolled up into one.

They then used the “insides” of the heaven-sent bird as bait to catch fish for days to come, ensuring that they would have sufficient nourishment for the duration.

The man in the fedora hat was convinced ever after than an angel had sent that bird. – DRS