Cum Grano Salis: Bankers, Generals, and Jews (Vol. 41, Issue 6)
It seems clear to most people that General George Brown, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, committed a severe breach of military discipline in doing what as a rule generals should
never do—he spoke his mind. For inmost Americans, particularly American Jews, it was a moment of rare insight and disappointment. What exactly the General said has been dragged through the press over and over again, and far be it from me to deal with it here. Suffice it to say that the angry outcry of American Jewish leaders was such that President Gerald Ford summoned General Brown to the White House for a good old fashioned Grand Rapids tongue lashing. National security forbids disclosure of what actually transpired at that meeting, but I for one shall always wonder...
President Ford looks up from his desk and beckons, “Come in General, come in.”
General Brown enters quietly, nods towards the President, Dr. Kissinger, and the assorted ministering aides, then nervously adjusts his “WIN” button.
“No George,” begins the President, “why did you have to go and say something like that?”
“Tanks,” answers Brown sullenly.
The President looks confused. He motions to Henry Kissinger to come closer, stops walking, and takes the bubble gum out of his mouth.
“Tanks, General?” he repeats.
“Yup, tanks,” the General agrees. “Between you and Congress the Israelis got all my tanks. I hardly have enough tanks left for my war games or parades.”
“General,” begins Ford slowly, “I really don’t see why you need so many tanks here in the U.S.”
“Now that’s not fair, Mr. President!” responds Brown angrily. “The commander has his bombers, the admiral has his destroyers, and all I can get is a few hundred lousy half-tracks. I don’t mind sending them Israelis a few tanks, after all we’ve given plenty to the Arabs too but, well, you know Mr. President, five them Jews a finger and they take an arm. Uh, no offense, Henry.”
“None intended,” agrees Dr. Kissinger amicably.
President Ford walks thoughtfully to his desk drawer, takes out his old football helmet and begins to rub it lovingly. Suddenly, his face brightens.
“Say guys, I've got a great idea,” he exclaims. “Tanks are really too slow and expensive to build, so how ‘bout instead of producing real tanks, we have the Bureau of the Mint put out a few hundred thousand bright new buttons instead. We could have them print the letters T-A-N-K on those buttons, and we could give a thousand or so to each unit. Of course, we'll make blue and white ones for the Israelis. How's that sound?”
“Gerald,” says Dr. Kissinger “you have tried zis before. It vaz not very effective.”
President Ford looks hurt. “Gee, Henry, it was just a suggestion. Oh well, General, you'll just have to do without those tanks. Henry tells me that the Israelis need them more than you do. Now, why did I call you in here?”
“Those lousy Jewish bankers and newspapermen started yapping. Uh, no offense, Henry.”
“Why look at me?” shrugged Henry.
“Oh yeah, right,” continued the President. “You've got to retract that statement General.”
“Aw, come on Mr. President!” protested Brown. “I didn’t say anything that isn’t said at the officers club—after a few drinks of course.”
“General!” shouted the President visibly disturbed. “You have no idea how much trouble you've caused. America is nation of minorities. I’ve had different minority groups calling me all morning complaining that no one has smeared them yet and demanding equal time. Why, I’ve
already asked Sec. Butz to say something nasty about the Pope, Catholics, and birth control so he can retract it later for them. If I don’t do something fast, I’ll have to send the whole cabinet out to attack all of America’s ethnic groups.
“Gee, Mr. President, I really had no idea,” explained Brown. “I thought you were going to bail me out the way Truman did to McArthur for speaking on a purely civilian and political matter. I was afraid you were going to rage and yell and carry on how the military in this country has traditionally kept its nose out of internal affairs, and how it had better do so if we're not to become just another banana republic. I thought that you were going to say that anyone with such incredibly narrow ethnic views could not be trusted to defend American democracy. Some folks even said you might ask me to resign.”
President Ford looks up in horror. “Now General, why would I do a thing like that?”