Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Values. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004) and The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007). His latest book is The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).
No Regrets: Frank Kravetz's Story
Editor's note: A version of this article first appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
"Just existing became what was important," says 87-year-old Frank Kravetz of Pittsburgh, captive of the "hell-hole" that was Nuremberg Prison Camp. "Yet even as I struggled with the day-to-day sadness and despair, I never once had any regrets that I signed up to serve."
An extended tour of Nazi camps as a wounded POW scratching for survival wasn't what Frank had in mind when he signed up to serve his country in World War II. He refused his parents' wishes to stay home; they already had two sons overseas. Frank was eager to fight for the freedom his Slovakian parents had secured in America. It was the least he could do.
Francis Albert Kravetz was born October 25, 1923, in East Pittsburgh, near the Westinghouse plant that provided income and aspiration for an entire community. Every morning he shoveled soot that drifted onto the porch from the steel mill. He lived a happy life. But then war came. Frank enlisted in the Army Air Corps. If he was going to help Uncle Sam beat the Nazis, he would do it from an airplane - and he did it very well, as a tail-gunner.
Frank's life as a soldier took a dramatic turn on November 2, 1944, in a bomb-run over Germany. He crammed into the tail of a B-17, wedged inside a flak jacket. The target was Merseberg, a major industrial area. He flew amid an air armada of 500 heavy bombers - each carrying eighteen 250-pound "general purpose" bombs - escorted by 900 fighter planes.
While the Americans were ready for business, so was the Luftwaffe, which set aside every aircraft to defend Merseberg. Frank's plane came under hot pursuit by German fighters. Frank took them on with a twin .50 caliber machine gun manned from the tail. It was a dogfight, and Frank was shot and badly wounded. His B-17 was filled with holes, the engines destroyed. The crew had to bail, quickly.
Frank was bleeding profusely and could barely move. His buddies tried to get a parachute on him, but it opened inside the plane. They wrapped it around him, taking care not to cross the chords, and tossed him out. To Frank's great relief, the chute opened. Instantly, the deafening chaos quieted, and Frank floated like he was on the wings of angels.
The tranquility halted with a rude thump as Frank hit the ground and tumbled like a shot jackrabbit. German soldiers seized him.
Thus began "a lousy existence," or, as Frank dubbed it - "Hell's journey." Destination: Stalag 13-D.
How did he survive? "All I can say is that the good Lord was watching out for me," Frank says today.
Liberation came April 29, 1945, by General Patton's 3rd Army. Grown men wept with joy, embracing their liberators, falling to their knees. Frank was among them; that is, the 125 pounds that remained.
Frank returned home to Pittsburgh, hitchhiking all the way from New York. He unceremoniously arrived at his folks' door, no trumpets, no dramatic background music. He hugged his mom and dad, went inside, and sat down.
Frank soon thereafter married his sweetheart, Anne. They've been happily married ever since. He also got active as an ex-POW, eventually becoming national director of American Ex-Prisoners of War.
I talked to Frank one day last August. We chatted about a friend of his who had recently died, another WWII veteran gone. I told him it was critical that vets like him relay their message to the current generation.
Frank needed no convincing. "The current generation," he said, frustrated, "they don't know!"
To ensure they know, Frank wrote a book, a riveting account of his ordeal, titled, Eleven Two: One WWII Airman's Story of Capture, Survival and Freedom. The title refers to November 2, a date with multiple meanings in Frank's sojourn.
Assisted by his daughter, Cheryl, the book is a vivid account of the nitty-gritty, day-to-day details of an American POW held by Nazis, from the monotony to the terror, from the hunger and wounds that wouldn't heal to the rock that was his faith.
For too long, guys like Frank didn't tell their story. "We didn't talk about it," he explains, "It was too tragic. . . . So I just moved on. I just moved on."
Frank is now willing to share. There are others like him, and they won't be around much longer. A decade or two from now, they'll be nearly extinct.
If you know a Frank who hasn't told his story, help him. Get a pen, a video camera, whatever, and get him talking. As Frank says, "they don't know."
They need to know. Men like Frank Kravetz have no regrets, but we'll regret not pausing to record their history.
Death of a Bad Dude: Kaddafi's Removal, 30 Years Late?
In the 1980s, I was an unrefined adolescent from blue-collar Butler, Pennsylvania. I knew nothing and cared nothing about politics. I had no idea if I were a conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, or much of anything else. But I knew one thing: Moammar Kaddafi was a bad dude. This was expressed in a rather unsophisticated way by the bumper sticker affixed to my white Chevy Chevette, which declared simply and succinctly: "Kaddafi Sucks."
Yep, Moammar Kaddafi was a bad dude. And now, three decades later, and some 40-plus years after coming to power, he is gone, dispatched to the ash-heap of history with other murderous terrorists and dictators: Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Mao Tse-Tung, Joe Stalin, Vladimir Lenin.
I will not here add to reports of how Kaddafi met his final fate, but I would like to share a valuable piece of information that was revealed to me by Bill Clark, Ronald Reagan's right-hand man and national security adviser when Kaddafi was ramping up in the 1980s.
It was early 1981. President Reagan had just been inaugurated. Alexandre de Marenches, the director of France's external intelligence agency, SDECE, came to the White House with a highly sensitive plan to remove Kaddafi. The plan was to assassinate the Libyan dictator during a parade, by use of an explosive device placed near the reviewing stand. "Our answer," said Clark, "was that we understood their feelings toward the man, but we don't do assassinations."
That was because there was an executive order banning assassinations, first signed by President Gerald Ford and supported by President Carter. The Reagan team had no intention of violating the order as one of the first acts of the new administration.
Intelligence sources I consulted confirmed Clark's recollection of de Marenches' request. "He came over to the U.S., probably in early February 1981," said one source, a high-level CIA "operations" person.
His interlocutor was Vice President Bush. The purpose of the visit was to discuss the removal of Kaddafi. He came to try to get us involved operationally in the plan. . . . He wanted not just our moral or political support but to get us involved in the actual operation.
This same source pointed to the "Safari Club," which was a group of countries - France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and the Shah's Iran - that had banded together for two primary purposes: 1) to fight the spread of Soviet Communism in Africa; and 2) to counter Kaddafi, particularly his adventures in neighboring Chad. The group was formed by intelligence ministers in the mid-1970s, and de Marenches was its catalyst. The group was appalled by America's unwillingness to no longer stand up to the Soviets; it was post-Watergate, post-Vietnam, Americans had elected an incredibly liberal Congress, and Jimmy Carter was president. The Club sought to fill the vacuum.
De Marenches' offer against Kaddafi was consistent with the concerns of the Safari Club.
As an indication of the confidential nature of his overture, de Marenches did not discuss his offer to the Reagan administration in either of his 1986 and 1992 books. But he did note yet another intention to kill Kaddafi: He said that on March 1, 1978, Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat had asked de Marenches for help in "disposing of him [Kaddafi] physically."
Think of the irony here, and how tragically history unfolds: It would be Sadat who was assassinated in 1981 - on October 6, 1981. He was killed at a reviewing stand at a parade, shot by Islamists for his "crime" of making peace with Israel.
While Sadat died, Kaddafi was permitted to live. Sadat made peace. Kaddafi left a trail of blood and violence.
And here's another irony still: Just weeks after de Marenches' offer to Reagan to assassinate Kaddafi, Reagan was shot, on March 30, 1981, and nearly bled to death.
In retrospect, should President Reagan have agreed to the French request to take out Kaddafi? A lot of innocent lives would have been spared. Terrorist attacks from Lockerbie, Scotland, to the Mediterranean would have been averted.
Alas, such action by Reagan would indeed have been illegal, and was not the mission or foreign-policy plan of his incoming administration. Had Reagan started his presidency by violating an executive order on assassinations, liberals in that post-Watergate/post-Vietnam Congress would have run him out of town with impeachment papers before his historic two-term takedown of the Evil Empire could commence.
Reagan did what he could - or couldn't.
Nonetheless, this is a very intriguing tale of what happens behind the scenes - and what might have been. The death of Kaddafi had to wait - it had to wait a long, painful 30 years. Only now, finally, this bad dude is gone.
On the Deficit, the Rich, and the Tea Party
I've only recently come to realize the nature of the hurdle this country faces in trying to turn around a stalled economy and horrendous deficit. Here it is: liberal Democrat politicians have fully convinced huge numbers of people that our economic/fiscal mess is the result of two principal demons: 1) "the rich" and 2) the Tea Party. The former, of course, has been a longtime liberal scapegoat; the latter is a new one.
I've realized this painfully in the last few weeks as a result of several commentaries I've done (USA Today, FoxNews, among others), viewed by a large portion of Americans from across the political spectrum. In these commentaries, I tried to stick to statistics and facts. I naively thought my approach would be convincing. It was not, as evidenced by the many people I continue to argue with in emails.
Here today, I'll reiterate the one fact that I thought was irrefutable:
As I noted in my article titled, "It's the Spending, Stupid," the federal government, from 1965-2009, never cut spending one single year. That's right, not one time - nope, nada, nothing. To repeat: from 1965-2009, the federal government never decreased annual spending. To see the figures on a chart is eye-opening. The annual rise in spending has been a steady, non-stop, unbroken, upward climb for over 40 years. To the contrary, revenues to the federal government have gone up and down, the result - not of tax rates on "the rich," but - of the status of the economy from year-to-year, especially during recessions. It's both amazing and depressing to see that the federal government, unlike you and your family and your household and your business and your anything and everything else, is apparently incapable of adjusting (i.e., decreasing) its spending based on available revenues. It used to do so, under both Democrat and Republican presidents, but that changed in 1965, when the federal government, starting with the Great Society, began an outright spending addiction.
As I noted in the article, seeing this for yourself is as easy as Googling "historical tables deficit," where one can view two sources: CBO historical (Congressional Budget Office) and OMB historical tables (Office of Management and Budget). These are the official sources for data on federal budgets. In the OMB site, look at Table 1.1, titled, "Summary of Receipts, Outlays, and Surpluses or Deficits: 1789-2016."
In my articles and emails, I even included hyperlinks to these tables, imploring people to look for themselves rather than accept my word. And yet, I can't begin to recount the angry emails I got from people insisting that the reasons for our deficits/debt is not over-spending by the federal government but greed by wealthy people who don't pay "their fair share" of income taxes and by dastardly "racist" "terrorists" in the Tea Party. And, yes, I actually got emails (many of them) from people insisting that Tea Party members are "terrorist." To observe an American public, only a decade removed from September 11, somehow equating Tea Party members with "terrorists" leaves me almost speechless and hopeless.
I will not bother responding to that particular smear, but I would like to address the charge that the rich are not paying "their fair share." Again, I will stick to data.
If you Google the words "Who pays income tax?" you will find a chart from the National Taxpayers Union. It includes these telling statistics:
The top 1 percent of income earners pay 38 percent of all federal tax revenue. The top 5 percent pay 59 percent. The top 10 percent pay 70 percent. The top 25 percent pay 86 percent. The top 50 percent pay 97.3 percent. Conversely, the bottom 50 percent pay merely 2.7 percent of all federal tax revenue.
As the data shows, the rich are certainly paying their fair share. In fact, they pay the vast share. The poorest Americans, conversely, pay literally nothing in income taxes.
If anything, the system is disproportionately titled against the wealthy. Our "rich" are paying for the reckless behavior of politicians addicted to spending; they are subsidizing spending addicts. And to watch those addicts blame their mess on the rich for not paying enough? It's downright obscene.
But the folks who have emailed me have the complete opposite opinion. It is an incorrect opinion.
Let me repeat: America's deficit/debt problem is a spending problem. It is not the fault of rich people who pay too little income tax or Tea Party members guilty of "terrorism." Don't take my word for it. Look at the data.
My fear, however, is that the data just doesn't matter to a huge number of followers of the party line. And that's a very serious problem for this country, a giant propaganda hurdle that may be insurmountable.
On Steve Jobs, Roseanne Barr, and the Wall Street Mob
Editor's note: This article first appeared at American Thinker.
I got a double shock Thursday morning when I turned on my radio.
"Steve Jobs has passed away," I heard a D.J. remark. "That's a shame."
Yes, it is a shame. I was saddened to hear that.
I was equally shocked as I turned the dial and heard something even more deadly. It was a comment from actress/comedienne Roseanne Barr, literally calling for the death of certain wealthy Americans.
"I do say that I am in favor of the return of the guillotine and that is for the worst of the worst of the guilty," said the comedienne, who did not appear to be joking.
I first would allow the guilty bankers to pay, you know, the ability to pay back anything over $100 million [of] personal wealth because I believe in a maximum wage of $100 million.
Joining her comrades in the "Occupy Wall Street" protest in Manhattan, the celebrity prattled on, pressing for a modern made-in-America version of Mao's and Pol Pot's re-education camps:
And if they are unable to live on that amount then they should, you know, go to the re-education camps and if that doesn't help, then being beheaded.
Roseanne's Robespierre-like sentiments seemed especially cruel in light of the death of Steve Jobs. Consider: Jobs was worth billions of dollars. Would he be exempt from what the bloody French revolutionaries once termed the National Razor? Jobs was not a banker, but he was rich, which, truth be told, is the ultimate sin in the minds of Roseanne and the zealots.
Sure, sure. I hear the criticism: Come on, Kengor, Roseanne Barr is a crackpot.
Well, indeed, that's apparently the case. But Roseanne's rant against the rich seems a fitting apotheosis to the anarchical madness on display on Wall Street and elsewhere by the "Days of Rage" gang.
To be sure, I doubt the mob would be willing to escort American bankers to the chopping block. That said, they and Roseanne share some crucial, unifying commonalities. First and foremost, they are united by an utter, unhealthy contempt for wealthy people, and would be happy to take as much money from the wealthy as humanly possible. Moreover, en masse, they demonize a faceless enemy. "The rich" is a handy caricature for whatever assortment of injustices these people believe ails them.
And that brings me back to Steve Jobs.
In fact, Steve Jobs was among "the rich." It is the likes of Jobs that have given these folks the pleasures and creature comforts they enjoy minute to minute. These alleged oppressed masses issue their talking points from the cell-phone world that capitalism and the likes of Jobs have given them.
There is something comically ludicrous about a throng of ranting, raving, raging college kids slurping Starbucks and staring into iphones while angrily protesting the very system that made it all possible in the first place. Even the mob's ability to meet is made possible by this system. The children are spurning the mother that gave them birth.
As co-founder and CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs changed the world for the better. The Wall Street "occupiers" are exploiting the technology that he helped create.
What the Wall Street horde and Roseanne do not understand is that in America people generally get rich by providing a product or service that people want. Sure, there are exceptions. Some get wealthy by promulgating vice instead of virtue - witness the porn industry's parasitical attachment to Jobs' technology industry. Some are rich because they inherited the money - witness the Kennedy family. By and large, however, "the rich" earn their riches through the consent of millions of citizens who voluntarily purchase products and service through their own free will. That is called the free market; it is the opposite of the command economy.
The failure of young people to know the difference is yet another failure of this nation's horrendous educational system, and especially our bankrupt universities - bankrupt, that is, morally, certainly not financially. The universities that have mis-educated the mob charge far higher fees than any Bank of America ATM.
Roseanne and the mob do not understand this country and its market system. Neither is perfect, nor are wealthy people. We are, however, free here - and free to keep the wealth we earn.
Steve Jobs understood. May he rest in peace. *