The Cold War and That Damned Berlin Wall

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On a cold, January day in 1961, in a world chilled by the threat of nuclear Armageddon, I sat near a radio with my family and listened intently to the words of a man that my very young mind idolized.

Even as a small child, it was not my nature to easily trust. I would listen to anyone, believe most of what they said, and count on very little of it. I liked nearly everyone and trusted few. I trusted this man and I believed his words. I had inherited the caution that my father and so many of my uncles exhibited. They and my aunts and my older cousins and siblings held great hope for this man. The new president of my country, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, told me that day my freedom did not come from government, but from God.

 

American tanks face East Berlin, Oct 25, 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

I was too young to attend school with my older siblings, but I knew who God was. I was certain of His presence, and I understood him completely. A half a century later, I understand far less of God than I did then, but I have never stopped believing what that man told me, and I still hear some of his words in my memory. I can still feel the great excitement and the feeling that I was witness to a monumental occasion.

The new president told me that every nation, whether they wish us well or wish us ill, should know, “. . . that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” I hear those words still.

Few words have influenced my life as those words did. Few words have influenced the world as those words did. Millions of people around the world heard those words. Some found hope and assurance, and some heard them as a challenge to their right to take freedom from others.

 

East German masons building up wall, Nov 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

Seven months later, the Soviet Union erected a wall between the Soviet-controlled sector of Berlin, and the Western-controlled sector of Berlin. Situated deep inside Soviet-occupied East Germany, West Berlin was a beacon of hope surrounded by a sea of Soviet oppression.

By 1961, nearly four million Germans living under Soviet occupation decided to abandon their homes and seek freedom in West Germany. The easiest place to cross from East Germany to West Germany was Berlin.

 

East German mother cries after handing son over border to father in West Berlin, Aug 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

One night in August of 1961, the Soviet and East German troops formed a cordon along the dividing line between East and West Berlin. On August 13, 1961, they began to erect a concrete wall. Streets and buildings were removed from the east side of the wall to create a killing zone–the Death Strip.

 

Razing houses along wall to provide clear line of fire on anyone trying to escape East Berlin
Image by CIA, public domain

 

East Germans, under the control of the Soviet Union, built barbed wire-topped fences and guard towers equipped with machine guns. Like a monster from some cheap science fiction movie, the Wall grew taller and wider over time, as if it were growing fat on the flesh of the nearly two hundred East Germans who were murdered while trying to cross it.

 

East Berliners escaping to West
Image UK Imperial War Museum, public domain

 

The Soviets congratulated themselves for the effectiveness of the Wall in stemming the tide of escapees from the Soviet police state. I saw it as a shameful monument and an open admission by the Soviets that, given the opportunity, any sane man or woman would seek freedom over oppression.

 

West Berliners wave to loved ones in East Berlin on Xmas Eve, 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

During the Cold War, the great central debate between the Soviet- and Maoist-controlled East and the West centered, in theory, on the struggle between communism and capitalism.

While some of my generation debated the appeal of “Marxism” vs. “Capitalism,” I avoided those debates. Whatever Marx might have said didn’t matter to me. He was long gone, and his ideas weren’t deciding policy in Moscow. How the Soviets divided their land or ran their economy was of little concern to me. That Damned Wall and the men, women, and children who were murdered trying to cross it were all I needed to know about which side of the Wall I preferred to live on.

In the East, the Warsaw Pact had over 3.6 million troops facing the West and the South. In Western and Southern Europe, NATO countered that with 3.7 million troops.

 

East Berlin sign saying “Whoever attacks us will be destroyed.”
Image by CIA, public domain.

 

Surrounded as it was by East Germany, the view east from West Berlin was much less comforting. In West Berlin, approximately 10,000 allied troops, known in the USA as the Berlin Brigade, were surrounded by 250,000 Warsaw Pact troops. Outnumbered or not, the Berlin Brigade did not intend to ever surrender if war returned to Berlin.

 

East Germans erect tank barriers to reinforce Berlin Wall
Image by CIA, public domain

 

The Berlin Wall remained a symbol of the political dynamic between East and West for 28 years.

In June of 1987, Ronald Reagan visited the Brandenburg Gate, and at the same place that John Kennedy had delivered his famous Berlin speech within sight of the Wall, Reagan now delivered a speech. In response to reformist Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s claims that the Soviet Union sought peace and prosperity he challenged Gorbachev to, “Tear down this wall!”

 

Pres. Reagan at Brandenburg Gate, June 12, 1987
Image by US State Dept., public domain

 

In August of 1989, the unwilling Soviet “ally” Hungary opened its border between Hungary and Austria.

Thousands of East Germans and other Eastern Europeans escaped to the West via Hungary. The Soviets pressured Hungary to stop the escaping Eastern Europeans. Hungary pretended to comply, but looked for opportunities to defy their KGB taskmasters.

Protests sprang up in East Germany. East Germans began to chant, “We want to leave.” Each week, the protests grew in strength.

In October, the long-time East German president and Soviet boot licker Erik Honecker resigned and was replaced by a slightly less homicidal maniac named Egon Krenz. On the occasion of his retirement, Hoenecker announced to the world that the Berlin Wall would remain for at least another 50 years.

East and West Berliners began to congregate at the Wall as the protests continued to grow. Krenz had been offered up as a reformist, but East Germans recognized him for what he was–a ruthless, self-promoting politician who was, in fact, attempting to crack down on reformers in his own government.

 

Checkpoint Charlie, Dec 4, 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

The East German military began to show signs of mutiny. Krenz was quickly becoming a puppet king without a kingdom, and East Germany had over $100 billion in debt with no way to make payments.

Buried under deep layers of its own cynicism and impaired by factional maneuvering, the Soviet Politburo was busy with its own internal struggles and felt little inclination to reinforce East Germany with cash or Soviet troops. Krenz was making fast progress on the road to nowhere. His Polish and Czechoslovak allies to the east had slipped the Soviet leash, and he was beginning to understand what the Berlin Brigade must have felt like for so long.

East German protesters changed their chant. “We want to leave,” was replaced with, “We want to stay. YOU leave!”

By November, it was becoming obvious that most of the East German border guards were sympathetic to the protestors. With a possible collapse of the government looming, nobody in the East German government wanted to have to answer for ordering a slaughter of the increasingly brazen protestors.

 

Children maintaining friendships across the pre-Wall border in 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

On November 9, 1989, in an attempt to relieve the social pressure that was threatening to rupture the East German state, the East German government announced that the gates would be opened in the Wall, and that anyone who wished could pass from East to West.

Until late October, I had been in Europe. On my flight back to Washington D.C., I wondered if my dream of seeing a free Eastern Europe was about to materialize. The Soviet steamroller that had kept Eastern Europe’s puppet communist regimes in power for four decades had run out of steam.

On November 9, I returned home from a martial arts class. When I entered the living room, my wife was smiling in a way that I had not seen her smile before. She said, “You got your wish,” and she pointed to the TV.

 

Germans Reunited
Fall of the Berlin Wall, Nov 1989
Image by Senate of Berlin, public domain

 

I felt compelled to get close to the screen, as though I could hug the Berliners who were dancing on top of that Damned Wall. I wished I had gone back to Berlin. I missed the biggest party in the history of the Cold War.

I was stunned and relieved, and simultaneously filled with joy and sadness. I felt joy for the people of Eastern Europe and for us. In that moment, I couldn’t help but wish that a few people who mattered greatly to me could have remained among us long enough to see that night. They had paid that price. They had borne that burden. It had not been in vain. I never for a second thought that it would be.

Tonight, from the distant, warm, comfortable safety of my home, I offer my humble gratitude to them for never losing their faith, and to the people of Berlin and Eastern Europe for finding their faith and their freedom.

What did the Berlin Wall mean to you?

Note:  Many of the CIA images in this article are from the CIA publication “A City Torn Apart: Building of the Berlin Wall.” Click on the link, and it will take you to a page where you can download the publication free of charge.

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Intelligence Fail–Operation Barbarossa, the Soviet View

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

In our last post, we discussed the intelligence lesson to be learned by Hitler’s choice to invade the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. On the other side, the Soviet Union’s reaction to that invasion provides us with one of history’s most glaring examples of bad intelligence assessments.

Intelligence professionals that read this series should be aware that I use the term “assessment” in the generic English sense rather than in the technical professional sense. All intelligence agencies have their own requirements and rules for what an “intelligence assessment” should look like. We are not following any of those requirements other than the ones that coincide with the researching and writing of history.

To understand the Soviet Union’s failure to adequately prepare for the German invasion of June 22, 1941, it’s important to consider the decision making process of the Soviet Union.

 

Josef Stalin in Berlin, 1945 Image from US Library of Congress,  public domain.

Josef Stalin in Berlin, 1945
Image from US Library of Congress,
public domain.

 

Josef Stalin was a dictator that only nominally reported to the Communist Party of the USSR. In reality, the Communist Party lacked the will or practical authority to oppose any decisions taken by Stalin.

By 1941, everyone in the USSR understood that disagreeing with Stalin about anything was likely to lead to arrest, torture, and possible execution. Not surprisingly, Stalin had grown accustomed to people agreeing with him. While he may have enjoyed his success in bending the entire USSR to his will, it had an isolating effect that would prove disastrous.

Even though Hitler vastly underestimated the war fighting capability of the USSR, he understood that the USSR had a much larger military than did Poland or France. Accordingly, he instructed the German military to move approximately 3.8 million troops into position to invade the USSR. Some of those troops were not for employment in the spearheads of the invasion, and, therefore, did not need to be kept close to the Soviet borders. Still, even in the pre-satellite age, it was difficult to disguise German troop buildups.

 

The six lines of attack comprising Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941. From The Battle of Russia, the fifth film in the Why We Fight series by US Govt. public domain

The six lines of attack comprising Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941.
From The Battle of Russia, the fifth film in the Why We Fight series by US Govt.
public domain

 

So how did Stalin manage to ignore the massive German buildup leading to Operation Barbarossa?

There are various opinions about the details of how and why Stalin failed to anticipate a German invasion, but some aspects are nearly universally accepted. One might assume that the Soviet NKVD (the precursor to the KGB) and military intelligence forces were inadequate or perhaps nearly blind to all evidence. This was clearly not the case.

The Soviet Union leadership considered itself to be in a perpetual state of war with the rest of the world. From their point of view, the character and intensity of that war varied, but there was no such thing as real “peace” with Western nations. The Soviet State also operated on the assumption that it was and would always be in a state of war with a significant portion of its own citizens.

These two fundamental assumptions caused the USSR to invest heavily in intelligence efforts. Both the NKVD and Soviet military intelligence accurately assessed that Hitler was planning an invasion of the USSR. They had done an excellent job of penetrating Hitler’s Foreign Office, intelligence services, military staffs, and industry. They were receiving more than enough information from a variety of independent sources to be certain that Operation Barbarossa was imminent.

In addition to its direct sources in Germany, Stalin’s intelligence community was aware of US and UK assessments of Hitler’s intentions.

When diplomats from the US and the UK informed Stalin of German plans to invade the USSR, Stalin had already heard this from his spies in the UK and the US. He assumed that all the warnings coming from the Western nations were part of a Western conspiracy to force him to go to war with Hitler prematurely. Stalin preferred to let the West demolish itself, and he planned to step into a convenient power vacuum of a destroyed Western Europe.

Opinions vary about precisely how, in the face of so much corroborative information, Stalin failed to anticipate the German invasion. In one sense, he didn’t.

Just as Hitler understood that carving up Poland with the USSR would in no way appease Stalin’s long term goal of annihilating Western nations and governments, Stalin clearly understood that Germany would try to attack the USSR. Stalin’s basic reaction to that reality was to attempt to outsmart the Western nations.

Remember, from Stalin’s point of view, the UK, France, and other Western enemies were as much a threat to the Soviet system and Soviet ambitions as was Germany. All Westerners were Stalin’s enemies, and all of them needed to be accounted for in the Soviet geopolitical calculus of the day.

In addition to considering the threat from his Western neighbors, Stalin had to consider the very real threat of invasion by the Japanese military to the east. Japan had already conquered vast swaths of China, and it could not be completely ignored.

Stalin responded to the threats that surrounded him by using his vast NKVD resources to try to maneuver Western countries into war with themselves and by counting on the Japanese to continue being strategically diverted with their slaughter of the Chinese. From Stalin’s point of view, Hitler’s invasion of his Western neighbors perfectly fit into his plans.

 

Wehrmacht troops cross the USSR borders in Operation Barbarossa, June 22, 1941. public domain

Wehrmacht troops cross the USSR borders in Operation Barbarossa,
June 22, 1941.
public domain

 

Stalin never doubted that Hitler would invade the USSR, but since Germany was still busy dealing with the undefeated UK, he was certain that Hitler would not make the mistake of throwing Germany into the same sort of two-front war that brought that country to ruin in 1918.

When Stalin’s magnificent intelligence services explained to him that Hitler was not going to wait for the fall of the UK to invade the USSR, his megalomaniacal personality enabled him to ignore them. When anyone in his intelligence, diplomatic, or military organizations foolishly attempted to argue the point with him, he accused them of being enemy agents and had them murdered or banished to labor camps.

Since June 22, 1941, Stalin’s miserable intelligence assessment of German intentions has been a popular topic of study. As more files have been obtained from the now defunct USSR, more explanations are offered as to precisely how Stalin managed to deceive himself.

 

German soldiers in Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa, June 1941. Image from German Federal Archives, wikimedia commons.

German soldiers in Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa,
June 1941.
Image from German Federal Archives, wikimedia commons.

 

Thus far, the various theories and occasional new evidence have not changed the essential facts of the case.

Stalin failed to prepare for Operation Barbarossa because he refused to acknowledge that anyone might understand the strategic situation as well as or better than he could. The results of his grand miscalculation were devastating for the USSR. We cannot assume that the best possible preparations by the USSR would have completely and bloodlessly defeated the German invasion, but it is reasonable to assume that the USSR would have suffered far fewer casualties in halting the German advances.

There is one other “what if” that we usually ignore when examining Stalin’s grotesque mismanagement of the Soviet military machine. If indeed Stalin had been able to defeat Hitler’s invasion more efficiently, then Soviet forces likely would have advanced further west before the Allied Forces reached the same positions. Then the post-war division of European nations might have left even more European nations enslaved by Soviet occupation.

Stalin’s horrendous failure to anticipate Operation Barbarossa reinforces the lesson that even the best intelligence is only useful when leaders use it effectively. Stalin’s failure in 1941 also demonstrates another important lesson from Intelligence history . . .

Nations and their leaders should be aware that their own plans and ambitions can blind them to their enemies’ intentions.

In our next segment we will consider an oft-ignored intelligence wild card in Operation Barbarossa.

Intelligence Fail — Hitler and a Most Important Intelligence Lesson

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Prostitution may be the oldest profession, but spying is the second oldest. While no one knows when the first intelligence operative conveyed information to his government, historians can safely agree that spying dates as far back as the Iron Age. With such a long history, there are bound to be some fantastic successes and some dismal failures.

 

Woman Spying on Male Lovers Qing Dynasty, Chinese Sexual Culture Museum, Shanghai Image public domain

Woman Spying on Male Lovers
Qing Dynasty, Chinese Sexual Culture Museum, Shanghai
Image public domain

 

Considering past intelligence operations and their impacts can help us all to be better consumers of intelligence estimates. In any democracy, the stated purpose of funding intelligence activities is to make us—the voters and taxpayers—safer and less burdened by the astronomical costs associated with national defense. Taxpayers are the CIA’s customers.

While considering cases of successful intelligence estimates can be useful, for two important reasons, I will start this overall series with a sub-series of the worst cases.

First, I have a tendency to want to deal with the ugliest and dirtiest problems up front. A lifetime of living in the Great Hall of Mirrors tends to do that to old spooks like myself. The greatest and ugliest problems are easiest to identify in the present, and, therefore, if we tackle them first, we can be certain that we are not throwing bundles of cash and human lives into a meaningless inferno of activity. This likely contributes to the “kill, cripple, or steal the biggest monsters first” mentality of much of the world’s intelligence communities.

My second reason to begin by looking at intelligence failures is also personal. On the day that I decided to undertake this series, I was thinking about General Douglas MacArthur and his ineffective staff. Naturally, that left me pondering horrible intelligence estimates. While there are hundreds of annoying cases to review, rest assured that we will only consider a few of the more glaring and informative cases before we move on to the happy contemplation of intelligence successes.

Let us first consider some limitations inherent to any conversations on intelligence history.

As of 2015, we are still learning more from previously classified or buried information that goes as far back as World War One. For example, I spent five hours today scratching at the surface of newly released materials about US intelligence estimates in the 1960s.

Another factor to consider is that a great deal of misinformation is often left in files that are well situated between any researcher and certain classified information.

Also, old spies lie. They do it well, and worse yet, they do it neatly and effectively in concert with each other. In fact, on some level, most spies with field experience were paid by the taxpayers of their respective nations to learn to lie convincingly. While spies may not be liars in their personal lives, they lie to protect others who were involved in past intelligence operations and to protect any creative tradecraft they might have employed.

Not that I would ever be a spy myself. Spying is a disgusting activity that is conducted by loathsome creatures. My cohorts and I are nothing like that. We are nice people, and we have simply done a bit of necessary intelligence work against dangerous enemies—the aforementioned loathsome creatures. To be fair, I should mention that the loathsome creatures often take the opposite view as to who is loathsome, and who is a patriot. But then again, they are loathsome, so why would you take their word for it anyway?

Spying is almost always a controversial issue, so let’s start with the case of a culprit that nearly everyone can despise. (No, not the president from whichever political party that you don’t vote for.) Let’s start with a German. A German that few modern Germans would defend—Adolf Hitler.

 

 

As the NAZI dictator of Germany, Hitler inherited an efficient and effective intelligence apparatus that was run by the German military establishment. So why then did he make so many crucial errors based on bad intelligence estimates?

The answer is one of the most important lessons for managing intelligence efforts in democratic nations.

Let us consider two of Hitler’s many asinine miscalculations during World War Two.

By the time that Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland, he had already committed some glaring miscalculations based on faulty intelligence estimates. The invasion of Poland took Hitler to new heights of miscalculation.

Hitler made a secret pact with his archenemy, Joseph Stalin, for the partition of Poland, and he did it without the advice of his military leaders, his intelligence service, or his best diplomats. It is difficult to imagine that Hitler had any “good diplomats,” but he did. Unfortunately, the German Foreign Office had been taken over by a pathological low life named Joachim von Ribbentrop. Ribbentrop was a dedicated NAZI and had no regard for logic or reason. He was also capable of tremendous self-delusion.

 

German Ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop, Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin, and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov signing Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of NAZI-Soviet non-agression, Poland, 1939. Image public domain, wikimedia commons.

German Ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop, Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin, and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov signing Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of NAZI-Soviet non-agression, Poland, 1939.
Image public domain, wikimedia commons.

 

One result of Ribbentrop’s colossal stupidity was that the many well-educated, dedicated, and intelligent employees of the German Foreign ministry no longer mattered. Their assessments that invading Poland would likely force France, Belgium, and England into war with Germany fell on deaf ears.

Hitler found himself fighting the war he had not planned – a general war on his Western front. Germany’s easy conquest of a numerically superior, but poorly prepared, Western Europe encouraged Hitler’s increasing faith in his own propaganda. Unreasonably, he became more convinced that he alone had a clear vision of the geopolitical realities of Europe.

With much of her army spread across the globe, Great Britain was badly defeated on the fields of France, but her Air Force and Navy were still largely intact. At the same time, Great Britain’s Army, with material support from the US, was rapidly rebuilding and expanding. Rather than admitting that his own military wisdom was inferior to that of the entire German military establishment’s, Hitler became less willing to listen to his best generals and admirals.

This led him to his next great miscalculation, Operation Barbarossa.

With Great Britain undefeated and rapidly growing closer with the US, the German military was forced to maintain large garrisons of troops in the occupied countries from Poland to France. The responsibility for controlling these nations was made more difficult by Hitler’s infamous SS Divisions and his secret police, the Gestapo.

While consuming military equipment and other resources, the barbaric SS and their ruthless Gestapo counterparts inspired intense hatred for Germany in the occupied nations. This made it impossible for Great Britain to seriously consider any peace agreement with Germany, and it made the German Army’s massive occupation duties much more expensive in equipment and manpower.

In those circumstances, no reasonable man would have invaded the numerically superior and materially wealthier Soviet Union. Unfortunately for all concerned, Hitler was nothing like a reasonable man. His military intelligence apparatus and his General Staff accurately assessed that while Germany’s well trained and well equipped Army could take advantage of Stalin’s gross mismanagement of the USSR, they could not completely defeat the USSR while still in a conflict with Great Britain. Hitler ignored their well-reasoned, intelligence assessments, and in doing so, led Germany to ruin, albeit after inflicting millions of casualties in the USSR.

The great lesson to be learned from Hitler’s invasion of Poland and from Operation Barbarossa is one that, unfortunately, not all leaders have learned – that the most accurate intelligence estimates are useless when decision makers ignore them.

In our next episode, we will look at how Stalin managed to commit some very similar mistakes to Hitler’s with similar costs.

Holmes Writes a Tearful Dear John Letter to Gadhafi

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Piper:

Holmes has a long and involved past with Moammar Gadhafi (“Uncle Momo”) so these events in Libya are especially moving for him. It wasn’t a difficult decision for him to write this Dear John Letter now that it looks like a break up in their relationship is imminent. His only regrets are that he didn’t have the chance to write it thirty years ago, and that extenuating circumstances prevent him from personally delivering it to Gadhafi today.

When I read it, the first thing I did was crack up laughing. Then I pointed out that, without a little background, it might sound too much like an inside joke. Please enjoy the brief history lesson so that you, too, can rofl with us. . . .

During the Cold War, Gadhafi allowed the Soviets, the East Germans, and the other Warsaw Pact countries to use Libya as a giant terrorist training camp. Sometimes there were upwards of 30 camps operating at a time for the purpose of training terrorist groups to attack Israel and Western nations. Gadhafi even cooperated with the Irish Republican Army for a while, until the IRA decided he was too filthy even for them.

Holmes and many of his friends spent decades intimately involved in fighting the Soviets, the East Germans, and the various terrorist organizations they sponsored. The stories of their sacrifices will never be told, but they were numerous and deeply personal.

In 1986, Gadhafi was blown away (pun intended) that his vaunted, high-tech Soviet Air Defense System proved useless against a rather limited air attack by less than two dozen aircraft from the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy. Rumors circulated that clandestine operations had simultaneously been carried out against military assets in Libya. In addition, Gadhafi’s Syrian allies had sent their best naval unit to the Gulf of Sidra with the intention of guaranteeing damage to the U.S. 6th fleet. That Syrian ship exploded shortly after casting off from its dock in Libya. Both Syria and Libya were left unenthusiastic about the prospects of any future engagements with the U.S. 6th fleet, despite the best cheerleading the Soviets could bring to bear.

As part of our Bayard & Holmes Peace Initiative, we are doing what we can to encourage Uncle Momo to seek a new career, and we are offering him a free gift from our Peace Initiative product line. The following is Holmes’ own personal appeal in the form of an open Dear John Letter to Uncle Momo. . . .

Holmes:

My Dearest Momo,

Perhaps you are surprised that I would write you now, but after all these years, I hate to see us break up this way. The lack of closure is emotionally draining for both of us. After all, my relationship with you has lasted even longer than my marriage thus far.

I was so young and impetuous when we first met. I know that some of the things that I have said and done may have hurt your feelings. Please accept that my friends and I always acted with sincerity and the best of intentions. I hope you can understand that some of the things you did were really hurtful to me and to many of my close friends, as well.

I am sitting here listening to Carol King sing Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, and it brings me so many fond memories of our long and often exciting friendship. All those years. . . . So many cute hats, none of which ever fit you. . . . Those charming outfits. . . . That lovely fireworks display on a romantic spring night in 1986. . . . These  memories all come flooding back to me as I sit here and laugh cry.

Seeing you in such painful difficulties these days has made me re-evaluate our long connection. I want this to all end for us on the best possible note. Although I know you have not always loved me, I am sure you have never questioned my sincerity or passion. It’s all been very real for me.

Based on my deeper understanding of our heart-felt connection, I am offering you a gift. . . . A gift from my heart. . . . In fact, in your honor, I have decided to offer this special gift to any deserving person in the world. . . . the Seventy-Two Virgins Golden Retirement Plan. In fact, out of my deep respect for you, I will ask potential retirees in the future to plan in advance by donating a small portion of their plunder to my special fund, so that I may be able to help as many needy souls as possible.

Because of all the years of joy you have brought me, I am offering this gift to you free of any of your normal financial arrangements. Unlike your other so-called friends, Gordon Brown and Silvio Berlusconi, I won’t take a penny from you. Yes Momo, I know about that gas pipeline you built to Silvio’s house, and look at how he has repaid you! But I forgive you. And I want you to know that my friendship with Markus Wolf* in no way detracted from all we have been to each other. “Mischa” never meant a thing to me.

My dear friend, stop struggling and give yourself the rest you deserve. Those seventy-two virgins will keep you happy for eternity. I know how picky you are about your meals so I have also arranged for a lovely, doting Ukrainian nurse to be your celestial mommy. Just stop for a moment and think of your future, Momo. Imagine being young again, imagine being attractive this time, imagine four exhausted recent virgins by your side, and your mommy’s voice entering that lovely silk tent. . . .”Ooo, Momo darling. . . . come to lunch Dear. Mommy made you your favorite lamb goulash. . . .”

Please come and visit soon so that we can implement your overdue, well-deserved gift. I want to finally repay you for our long years of friendship. Come what may, never forget that we had Paris in the spring, Rome in the fall, and those wonderful picnics on the Algerian border. Thank you for a lifetime of wonderful memories.

Sincerely,

Holmes, CEO, Celestial After-Care, Inc.

*Markus Wolf was the despised director of the foreign intelligence branch of the East German Stasi (secret police).