Reader Reactions & Anecdotes


4 October 2008

Dummy Is as Dummy Does

Surfing various Cold War historical reference sites on the internet the other day, I came upon an article in which Congressman Les Aspin, then a member of the House Armed Services Committee, was recommending that the intelligence standards for military recruits be lowered.

The services are taking in far too few dummies, Aspin bloviated. Said he: “Because reasonably smart men and women must therefore be assigned to dumb, low-skill jobs, there’s no surer way to lower morale and raise discontent.”

Aspin said his studies showed that the four services were taking far less than half the number of low IQ recruits they’d aimed for when the all-volunteer force was started. “In the worst recruiting year of the all-volunteer era,” he said, “the services combined have accepted fewer dummies than in any year under the draft.”

Far be it from me to dispute the claim, since everybody knows that our Congress boasts the wisest and most sensitive and selfless human beings to be found anywhere. I fear, however, that the Honorable Aspin’s study failed to include the U.S. Army I was in during World War II. That army had more dummies per cubic centimeter — volunteer or not — than Edgar Bergen’s trunk.

I, of course, led the pack.

My first dumb move was to enlist, which was, unquestionably, the dumbest thing anybody could have done in those days when there was a perfectly fine draft going on. I mean, all I’d had really to do was wait around Doggie Alexander’s Rathskeller for two or three years, and if I’d been destined to serve my country The System would have put me to work, right? And if I hadn’t felt like going, I could always have jumped off the curb and flattened my feet. Right?

As for places to serve, there were the Army Air Corps, the Armored Corps, the Transportation Corps, the Quartermaster Corps; there were posts to be filled in PXs, finance offices, officers’ clubs, public relations, special services, and even, for Pete’s sake, the Red Cross and Salvation Army. And for them as who didn’t like the Army, there were the Navy and the Marines, whose members enjoyed lots of boating and other water sports.

So it was that my second dumb move was to join the infantry. With all kinds of forces, armed and otherwise, available to dedicated, loyal, professional cowards like me, I had to pick the one branch of service that required you to walk to the war.

Here, I discovered, I was bunched together with a lot of other dummies, handed a hard-hat, a rifle, and a 783-pound knapsack and made to totter down all kinds of depressing back-country roads while everybody else took the scenic route via trucks, tanks, planes, and ships.

My dumbness was certified on the day I reported to the New Cumberland, Pa., induction center. Standing in the rain with 200 other bone-weary souls, I heard the man in charge — a sergeant with a Boy Scout hat and a face like a bowl of oatmeal — ask, “Anybody here play the piano?”

Cheered by the prospect of pleasant duty at the USO dance, 143 of us raised our hands. “Good,” said the sergeant, pointing to 10 of us. “You men fall out and report to Warehouse A. There’s a piano there’s gotta be carried over to Warehouse F.”

From that moment in 1942 to the end of my tour in 1946, I never raised my hand again.

As the war went on and I began to dare a look around, I perceived that I wasn’t the only dummy at work. There was the second looey who marched a platoon into a bog when he couldn’t remember the command to change directions. There was the corporal who filled his canteen with wine instead of water at the outset of a cross-desert march. There was the colonel who abandoned a Jeep because he’d never learned to fix a flat. There was the OCS cadet who delivered a pompous five-minute critique when the commanding general completed a “Why We Fight” lecture with the ritualistic, “Comments, anyone?” That kind of thing.

Dumbness wasn’t restricted to us peons, either. I cite as an example the notorious case of Col. Otto Skorzeny, the Nazi’s dreaded commando leader, who, during the Battle of the Bulge, infiltrated American forces with English-speaking SS saboteurs. What was the U.S. High Command’s reaction? To scour the Army for German-speakers. The idea, presumably, was for bona-fide Americans to chat in German with Nazi infiltrators whose very survival depended on their speaking convincing English.

And, as a kind of derivative of this incident, there was the case of the hard-pressed chief of a U.S. counter-intelligence regional office in Occupied Germany. He sent an urgent message to Washington for “a reasonable number” of badly needed “trained CI agents as replacements for those lost to attrition.”

He soon received an answering telex: “Replacement agents en route your station. ETA Munich 11/15/45.”

When the replacements arrived, there was a slight problem. They were counter-intelligence specialists, to be sure. But they were also Nisei Japanese, trained to serve in Occupied Japan.

Furious, the regional chief cranked up the phone and called his boss at Theater Headquarters in Frankfurt. “What the hell am I supposed to do with 30 Oriental undercover agents in Upper-damn, Yodeling-damn, Alpine-damn, Bavaria?” he thundered.

After a thoughtful pause, the boss said, “Suggest you open a couple of secret safe-houses for our agents coming out of the cold. Decorate the places like Chinese restaurants and staff ’em with the newbies.”

And honest to God, Congressman Aspin, the man was absolutely serious.

* * *


This week the “Suspense Samplers” Section offers a glimpse of Florida in the mid-1800s — a time when the entire peninsula south of St. Augustine is a virtual wilderness and Daytona, Miami, and Tampa are mere dots on the maritime charts. Thousands of square miles of jungle-like growth, great spreads of marshland, tepid, gator-infested lakes, and violent subtropical weather greet those few hardy souls who dare to enter. One of these is Addie Carson, a “beanerie queen” who ekes out a living from her canteen at the terminus of the first primitive railroad to penetrate the southern frontier of an expanding America. She’s compelled to flee into this green hell when local prejudice and superstition condemn her unjustly.

Click here to read the opening chapter of this romantic thriller and to learn more about why I, the author, adopted a pseudonym and abandoned my usual genres for a plunge into such an unlikely subject.


Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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