Executive Orders

Title:                      Executive Orders

Author:                  Tom Clancy

Clancy, Tom (1996). Executive Orders. New York: Putnam

LCCN:       96023388

PS3553.L245 E9 1996

Date Updated:      July 31, 2013

Tom Clancy makes me hurt—really hurt. I like his writing but he is so, so biased in presentation. Well, he is slanted away from me and I guess that is what hurts. I just don’t like his harping on what’s wrong with America. I will quote some from a New York Times review.

LOGLINE: The President, Congress and the Supreme Court are wiped out when a Japanese airline pilot turned terrorist crash-dives a 747 into the Capitol. The inexperienced Veep, Special Agent Jack Ryan, who had been sworn in only moments before the crash, is forced to take over the Presidency, fight the Iranians (who have launched an Ebola virus threat), declare martial law, prevent a bloody kidnapping attempt on his daughter and finally save the country.

COMMENT: Unfortunately, most of the book is about what’s wrong with America and how Jack Ryan can make it a better place (not the kind of place Oliver Stone would like). But the real problem is that Ryan has little to do here, and without his beating up Russians (The Hunt for Red October) or taking down Colombian drug lords (Clear and Present Danger), this will be a major disappointment for Clancy fans and is a DEFINITE PASS, pending of course a NEW SCRIPT. Then RECONSIDER.

So, what does Clancy have to say?

Inside every Tom Clancy novel is a thin Ian Fleming waiting to get out. Executive Orders makes the memoirs of Richard Nixon (1,120 pages) seem far more entertaining, if not as wacky. In inimitable Clancy fashion, Executive Orders would have us believe that Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford in two movies)—rogue C.I.A. agent, opponent of abortion rights, and what Oliver North always wanted to be—has temporarily become Vice President of the United States owing to a sex scandal involving his predecessor (Jack Ryan, I believe, has yet to experience an errant erection).

This of course allows Mr. Clancy, disguised as Ryan, to act out his innermost secret fantasy and become President for 874 pages. He gets not only to go after the Iranian “ragheads” (who have, incidentally, solved one problem by taking over Iraq) for launching the deadly Ebola virus against us, but also to recognize Taiwan, the better to stick it to the heirs of Mao Zedong, and along the way to turn the psychological tide on the evil Liberal Media Empire. (I must admit to wondering, What liberal media empire? In the 1970s, those tired of crime got Dirty Harry. In the 90s, when a jaded and disgusted pre-election citizenry is jumping to its feet when the White House is blown to smithereens in Independence Day, those tired of the whole exhausting media-soaked process get Jack Ryan.)

Clancy’s essential miscalculation is not allowing Jack Ryan, an action hero at heart, to stop telling others what to do as President and go out there and kick more butt, which is exactly what President Harrison Ford will do in his movie Air Force One. On this one, Clancy may for once be behind the Zeitgeist.

As usual, some of the Clancy plotting is fiendishly inventive, and he has a technically sharp command of the realistic detail, like the horrifying use of Ebola as an instrument of war rather than of nature. But the realism comes at the expense of the story’s flow, and here I must ask whether anyone actually “edits” Mr. Clancy, or for that matter whether there is any living workaholic who actually reads every cybernetic paragraph, with its obligatory expressions of grief, anger, fear and that little bit of love that in Clancy’s world can be taken to mean “responsibility.”

The book’s true spirit lies in its dedication to “Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th President of the United States: The Man Who Won the War.” I am curious as to which war Mr. Clancy means– Grenada? Libya? Or the Bush wars of Panama and the Gulf? Surely I am not the only Vietnam veteran to have nightmares whenever the Tom Clancys of the world promote this reverential mythos of winning great wars, when in fact the proper analogy to our behavior as a nation comes from the backs of those magazines we read as kids, promising the 98-pound weakling that if you sent in 25 cents, you too could beat the living daylights out of the beach bully and grab the girl. Has no one noticed that in our movies and our popular culture, we have become the beach bully? Since when did Stallone the cartoon cross over and become a national symbol? How has the ideology and demagoguery of Nixon and McCarthy entered and so infected our cultural landscape?

I suspect that when Mr. Clancy celebrates Mr. Reagan’s war record, he really means the perpetual war he is fighting in his own mind against all foreign demons, be they Arabs, Chinese, the drugged veins of our own populace, or crazed Hollywood liberals. Yes, promotion of a culture of threat is and always has been a pop function, but it is being ideologized into a political reality. The trouble is, as my grandmother used to tell me, the boy cannot cry wolf every day without eventually bringing on the Big Bad Wolf.

When I read and see stuff like this perpetually coming out of Hollywood, I wonder, have I lost touch? Do the old and the young in this country, bombarded by action films and Tom Clancy novels, even remember that once upon a time patriotism was occasionally a highly suspect emotion, lending itself to vigilantism, the suspicion and murder of foreigners and plenty of local lynchings? That, as Henry Fonda or Jimmy Stewart might have said at their scriptwritten best, in the name of patriotism many a scoundrel has shone in passing times of terror and degeneration?

To thrive in such a climate means precisely to help create such a climate. Create the terror, then rescue the terrorized, and you will be a hero forever. In such a way does the white knight Tom Clancy (a k a Jack Ryan) save his bride (the U.S.A.) from the clutches of the Evil Arab, Oriental, Outsider, and so on.

The myth is a false one. You rescue yourself only. From your darkest nature. The bride, the other that you rescue, is also yourself, call it your feminine. The whole purpose of the theatrical exercise at the end of the day, in my opinion, is the reintegration of yourself. Thus the true Happy Ending. I’m all for it. But let’s not take our private struggle too seriously or too publicly, Clancy. And that goes for you too, Mr. Stone.

The Storm

Title:                      The Storm

Author:                  Clive Cussler

Cussler, Clive (2012) and Graham Brown. The Storm. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

LOC:       2012010962

PS3553.U75 S797 2012b

Date Posted:      July 30, 2013

This is a so-so book, which I read mostly on a flight from New York to San Angelo (by way of DFW). I liked the notion of introducing nanobots. It reminded me of Prey by Michael Crichton, also based on nano-robotics. To me, however, Cussler’s writing just isn’t up to his earlier books, and I’d like to know how much Graham Brown contributed to the book. To me the action sequences don’t sync and the writing seemed flat. Cussler, of course, has been writing action-adventure stories about as long as anyone. To date, he’s written more than 50 books with many featuring protagonist Dirk Pitt. Eventually he had to allow them to age, moving Admiral Sandecker up to Vice President, Dirk Pitt to head of the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA), and building stories around other members of his original cast.

This book features Kurt Austin and his second banana Joe Zavala. Dirk Pitt plays only a secondary role in the novel. Austin and Zavala work for NUMA, and are familiar actors to readers of Cussler’s books. They are called in to investigate a fire-damaged boat floating in the Indian Ocean operated by three NUMA researchers who were conducting research on the changing water temperature. Austin and Zavala can’t find any reason for the ship’s damage or the missing researchers until they take a water sample of sludge. Looking at it under a super microscope, they discover nano-robotic particles, so small hundreds would fit on the head of a pin. The particles are manmade and can be manipulated to eat anything in their path.

The nano particles are the basis of a scheme to control the weather. The goal of the bad guys is to blanket the oceans with nano particles to change the ocean currents influencing the world’s weather. Imagine what controlling the weather would be worth!

The story is packed with action from beginning to end. As always Austin and Zavala are super human in their ability to survive everything thrown at them, but my gracious, some of the escapes are just short of miracles. Cussler does his best to make them believable, but, yeah, if I walk fast enough, I suppose I could walk on water, and I might even be able to escape a torrent of water rushing through a collapsing dam, even though I’m in the water and in the midst of the current.

As I said, the book is an easy read, fun and it held my attention. I was seated next to a man and a woman who found the flight to be the place to carry on an animated conversation that was at near screaming level (I suppose so they could hear each other). In spite of that, I was able to concentrate on the book (with one hand over my ear.) I wanted to know—as unbelievable as it was—what would happen next.

As with other Cussler books, there’s a bit of romance thrown in, too.

All in all, it’s escapist fun and a satisfying way to pass the time.

The Autobiography of Roy Cohn

Title:                      The Autobiography of Roy Cohn

Author:                  Sidney Zion

Zion, Sidney (1998). The Autobiography of Roy Cohn. Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart

LOC:       88002232

KF373.C62 A3 1988

Date Posted:      July 3, 2013

“I went to work for Joe McCarthy in January 1953,” Roy Cohn told Sidney Zion, “and was gone by the fall of ‘54. Less than two years. But a lifetime was packed into it, and more if obituaries tell the tale. Does anybody doubt how mine will open? ‘Roy M. Cohn, who served as chief counsel to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy . . .’ Which is exactly how I want it to read.” He got his wish. That was exactly how it did read, all over America, when he died of AIDS in August of 1986 at the age of 59. But now the post-mortems have begun, and the picture we get is stranger by far than that of a baby-faced 26-year-old anti-Communist who somehow managed to dominate the front pages in the 1950s.[1]

If Mr. Zion’s Autobiography of Roy Cohn and Nicholas von Hoffman’s Citizen Cohn have it right, Roy Cohn was one of the most curious child prodigies ever born. Moreover, he was trapped throughout his life inside his own early precociousness. Many others were trapped with him along the way. One of them was Joe McCarthy. McCarthy never knew what he was dealing with. He didn’t destroy himself, as it is so often put. He was unable to survive Cohn’s prodigious obsessions.

In 1985 Cohn was already dying when he approached his friend Mr. Zion, a former magazine editor and New York Times reporter, for help in writing his life story. Mr. Zion tape recorded a series of interviews until Cohn’s strength gave out, then fleshed out the book with Roy Cohn stories of his own. Meanwhile, Mr. von Hoffman, a well-known liberal journalist and no friend of Roy Cohn’s, set out to write an unauthorized biography and record the voices of all the players other than the dead man, and there were plenty of them. McCarthy and his cause were soon dead, but Cohn, propelled by a peculiar monomania, lived on as before, sitting shank-to-flank with the movers and the shakers, on through the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and the 1980s, whispering to them sotto voce, behind the hand, brokering their dreams of power.

These two books should be read in tandem. It is not a hard task. Both hum along at a merry clip, thanks in part, perhaps, to the two authors’ headlong dead-heat race to publication. And in the end both bog down. The problem is not literary. They bog down in the depressing spectacle of a prodigy who grew old without overcoming the childhood fevers that inflamed him.

Most child prodigies are pint-sized musicians, artists, poets, dancers, mathematicians or chess players. Their talents, however dazzling, have no direct effect on the lives of their fellow citizens. But Cohn was a child political prodigy. His talent was not for political science, either. It was politics as practiced in the Bronx County Courthouse, in the 1930s, where the rules of the Favor Bank, with its IOUs and “contracts,” were the only rules that applied.

By his own account, as well as Mr. von Hoffman’s, Cohn had no boyhood. He was raised as a miniature adult. His father, Albert Cohn, was a judge in the Bronx and a big makher, a very big deal, in the Bronx Democratic organization, which in turn, under the famous Edward J. (Boss) Flynn, had a pivotal position in the national Democratic Party. Cohn grew up in an apartment on Walton Avenue, just down the street from the courthouse, near the crest of the Grand Concourse, watching big makhers coming and going through the living room, transacting heavy business with his father.

“I didn’t hang around arguing with my buddies about whether DiMaggio was better than Mel Ott,” says Cohn. His idea of recreation was discussing with his father interesting cases that had come before his court. He claims he was only 8 when the force of his logic changed, forever, the judge’s attitude toward eyewitness testimony. At 12, he says, he got into a serious argument with the old man over the proper operations of the Favor Bank. Judge Cohn had ascended to the Appellate Division thanks to the political machinations of another judge, Francis Martin. So Al Cohn had a very big marker out, an IOU outstanding, collectible by Francis Martin. Two years later Judge Martin came to Al Cohn and asked him to vote his way in a case before the Appellate Division. Al Cohn refused, saying his conscience wouldn’t allow it. Both Roy and his mother, Dora Marcus Cohn, descended on Al, saying he had broken the law of the Favor Bank. When it came time to pay up on a marker as big as the one Al Cohn had out to Francis Martin, that was “a contract.” You had no choice but to pay up on a contract—at least in the eyes of Roy Marcus Cohn, age 12.

Cohn says he was 15 when he pulled off his first major piece of power brokerage. Using his uncle Bernie Marcus’ connections, he acted as intermediary in the purchase of radio station WHOM by Generoso Pope, father of one of Cohn’s schoolmates. According to Cohn, Pope gave him a $10,000 commission, and Cohn kicked back a portion of it to a lawyer for the Federal Communications Commission—an F.C.C. kickback at age 15. By age 16 or 17, according to Mr. von Hoffman, Cohn thought nothing of calling a police precinct to fix a speeding ticket for one of his high school teachers. At 18, in the last year of the Second World War, says Mr. von Hoffman, Cohn avoided the draft by having himself nominated to West Point three times in a row by a friendly Congressman and failing the Academy’s minimum strength and endurance tests three times in a row, eating up time until the war and the draft were over.

Using speed-up programs designed for veterans, Cohn got both his undergraduate and law degrees at Columbia in three years. He was not yet 20. The day he got word he had passed the bar examination, he was sworn in as an Assistant United States Attorney. Within months, by his own account, he had set his first outrageous publicity fire.

He was the lone attorney on duty in the office one Saturday when a small-time gangster was arrested and found to be carrying $10,000 in counterfeit bills. At the arraignment Cohn told a wire-service stringer the case involved a big-time counterfeiting ring. That afternoon the story and Assistant United States Attorney Cohn were spread across the front page of The New York World-Telegram. The only problem was that Cohn didn’t have a shred of information about any ring, great or small. So before his superiors could question him about it on Monday morning, he got on the telephone and found a Treasury Department investigator—disgruntled by the lackadaisical way the courts treated counterfeiting cases—who promised to back him up. “I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about,” Cohn told Mr. Zion, “but the dough had to come from somewhere, didn’t it?”

The metier—courthouse wheeling and dealing—was his father’s, but Cohn’s reckless confidence seems to have been the contribution of his mother. Not that she was either reckless or confident herself. The picture Mr. von Hoffman gives us of Dora Marcus is of a small, homely, not very bright, anything but charming woman who at the age of 31 married Al Cohn. He was 40. Apparently it was a marriage of convenience. She had some money and stood to inherit a great deal more; the Marcuses had founded a bank catering to European immigrants, the Bank of United States (no the, presumably to own up to the fact that it wasn’t actually part of the United States Government); and Al Cohn, the son of a Lower East Side pushcart peddler, was woefully short on money for the pursuit of his political career. Dora’s case was simpler. By the standards of the 1920s she was already an old maid. She needed a husband. She settled for one who in her mind was far beneath the eminence of the Marcuses.

The two of them were never crazy about each other. Al Cohn was a cold fish, under the best of circumstances. The center of Dora’s life became their only child, Roy—and all the more so when the Bank of United States failed in 1930 and her brother, Roy’s Uncle Bernie, went to jail. According to Mr. von Hoffman, she envisioned Roy Marcus Cohn as the rising star who would restore the brilliance to the Marcus name. She became a caricature of the overprotective mother. When it rained she actually hunted her boy down at school and, later, at his business offices, to bring him his rubbers. She openly advertised him as a genius. When a schoolteacher called her to tell her he was taking Roy and some other students to a ball game after school, she said, “That’s nice, you can learn a lot from my son.”

The Bronx wasn’t good enough for her Woy—as she pronounced his name, according to Mr. von Hoffman, in a common New York speech warp of that time. So when Roy was 8 Muddy—Cohn called his mother by this fond bit of baby talk even when he was grown—forced Al to move from the bastion of his courthouse power, Walton Avenue in the Bronx, to Park Avenue and 92d Street. Roy Marcus Cohn would be a Marcus aristocrat not bound by the ways of the Cohns or other ordinary people. Woy lived there on Park Avenue with Muddy until the day she died. He was by then middle-aged.

In the United States Attorney’s office the little prince moved in on major cases immediately. He played a bit part in the prosecution of Alger Hiss and developed his crusader’s concern with the issue of Communist infiltration of the United States Government. As Cohn told Sidney Zion, this was by no means a right-wing tack at the time. Anti-Communism and its obverse, loyalty, were causes first championed after the Second World War not by Joseph McCarthy but by the Truman Administration.

By age 23 Cohn was at center stage for the so-called Trial of the Century, the prosecution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for delivering atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. For a start, says Cohn, at the age of 21 he had taken part in a complicated piece of Favor Banking, involving Tammany Hall and one of its men’s auxiliaries, the mob, to get Irving Saypol his job as United States Attorney. Saypol became the prosecutor in the Rosenberg case and made Cohn his first lieutenant. Next, says Cohn, he did some Favor Banking for an old family friend, Irving Kaufman. Al Cohn had played a big part in getting Judge Kaufman a Federal judgeship. Now Judge Kaufman was dying to preside at the Trial of the Century. Cohn says he went straight to the clerk in charge of assigning judges to criminal cases, pulled the right strings, and Judge Kaufman was in.

Throughout the trial, says Cohn, he and Judge Kaufman kept in secret communication. Judge Kaufman, he says, would go out on the street and use a telephone booth next to the Park Avenue Synagogue. Cohn would take the call at a booth behind the judge’s bench in the courtroom. “If the Rosenbergs had a communication system like Irving had,” Cohn told Mr. Zion, “they never would have been caught, let alone executed.”

An American Bar Association committee exonerated both men of any improper conduct in 1977. How much of Cohn’s version is true and how much is just big talk? Either way, it offers a clue to Cohn’s purpose in deciding, at the 11th hour, to leave an autobiography behind. Stories like this were not likely to improve his account on the moral ledger before he crossed the River Jordan. His own picture of the Rosenberg case is far more damaging to Roy Cohn than Mr. von Hoffman’s. No, his main purpose seems to be to establish, for the record, that he was a player at the very heart of the action, that he was there . . . where things were happening. This is the part of Cohn’s makeup that Mr. Zion himself resonates with. Politically, Mr. Zion could beat even Mr. von Hoffman in a showdown of liberal or left credentials. After all, Mr. Zion was the co-founder of one of the wildest organs of the New Left, Scanlan’s Monthly. But Mr. Zion’s account, in his own Roy Cohn stories, is beyond politics. Cohn is his fellow boulevardier, his fellow dynamo who gets the action going. Mr. Zion invokes H. L. Mencken: “What a dull world it would be for us honest men if it weren’t for its sinners.”

Mr. von Hoffman is not immune to Cohn’s rakish bravura. He seems alternately fascinated and repelled. When sufficiently repelled, he expounds on what he sees as Cohn’s pernicious legacy of “conformity” and “securityism” in American life. Then his literary zest takes over and he gives us Roy Cohn the eternal child trying to show the world just how big a makher, just how fearless an autocrat, Al Cohn’s and Dora Marcus’s son could be.

Cohn was more than Senator Joseph McCarthy, Republican of Wisconsin, could handle, in any case. McCarthy was not destroyed because he made wild charges concerning Communist influence in America. As polls showed repeatedly, so long as he stuck to that broad theme, he had tremendous bipartisan support. It was the sons of two established Democratic Party families who vied for the position of chief counsel to McCarthy’s Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security. One was Roy Cohn. The other was Bobby Kennedy. Cohn won out because, among other considerations, he had, at age 26, vastly more experience as a prosecutor. Kennedy signed on as an assistant counsel, and Cohn treated him like a gofer, making him go out for sweet rolls and coffee refills, earning his eternal hatred. What did McCarthy in was his attack on the United States Army. It was Dwight Eisenhower’s Army, and by now, 1953, Eisenhower was President of the United States. And who got McCarthy into his last, ruinous tarball battle with the Army? The little prince.

Cohn had brought aboard the McCarthy team, as an unpaid special investigator, one G. David Schine, the rich young handsome blond son of a hotel-chain operator. Mr. Schine’s only qualification for the job was that he had written an amateurish tract entitled “Definition of Communism” and published it with his own money. Not even McCarthy knew why he was there. He only kept him on to make Cohn happy. McCarthy seemed to think that Cohn, in addition to being bright and energetic, was highly organized, tightly wound, cool and disciplined as well.

He wasn’t. What baby autocrat would live like that? Cohn and Mr. Schine proceeded to become a pair of bold-faced characters in the gossip columns, two boys out on the town, throwing a party that stretched from the Stork Club in New York to various dives, high and low, in Paris—where they arrived during a disastrous European tour, supposedly to monitor the work of United States Government libraries abroad. The European press mocked them unmercifully, depicting them as a pair of nitwit children.

What did Cohn see in Mr. Schine? Almost immediately there were rumors that they were lovers and even that McCarthy himself was in on the game. Cohn’s obsession with Mr. Schine, in light of what became known about Cohn in the 1980’s, is one thing. But so far as Mr. Schine is concerned, there has never been the slightest evidence that he was anything but a good-looking kid who was having a helluva good time in a helluva good cause. In any event, the rumors were sizzling away when the Army-McCarthy hearings, the denouement of Joe McCarthy’s career, got under way in 1954.

McCarthy’s investigation of the Army’s security procedures had taken place the year before. Now Eisenhower loyalists on McCarthy’s subcommittee joined with Democrats to conduct hearings on the subject of—Roy Cohn.

David Schine was draft age. He had been classified 4-F because of a slipped disk, but now the highly publicized hard-partying lad was re-examined and reclassified 1-A. Cohn went to work. He tried to get the Army to give Mr. Schine an instant commission and a desk on the East Coast from which he could continue to serve the subcommittee and the Dionysian gods of the Stork Club and other boites.

Cohn made calls to everyone from Secretary of the Army Robert Stevens on down. He made small talk, he made big talk, he tried to make deals, he tendered IOUs, he screamed, and he screamed some more, he spoke of grim consequences. When all of this blew up in the form of a detailed log leaked to the press, Cohn was genuinely shocked. What had he done that any high official of the Favor Bank, any self-respecting makher, wouldn’t have done for a friend? All he had done was try to advance a few markers, make a few contracts, and scare the pants off a few bureaucrats who were so lame as not to have an account at the Favor Bank in the first place.

But he was no longer dealing with the courthouse crowd in the Bronx or even lower Manhattan. He didn’t know it, but he was dealing with Ike, and Ike had had enough. The thrust of the Army-McCarthy hearings was that McCarthy’s attack on the Army had been nothing but an insidious attempt to get favored treatment for Cohn’s friend Mr. Schine.

So what? Cohn remained confident that he could win against any odds. But, as he would later admit to Mr. Zion, he was no match for the Army’s counsel, the veteran Boston trial lawyer Joseph Welch. The hearings became a television drama that stopped America cold. The entire nation seemed to take time out to watch. The hearings had two famous punch lines, and Welch delivered them both.

The most famous came when McCarthy violated a secret Favor Bank deal between Welch and Cohn. As Cohn and Mr. von Hoffman both tell it, Cohn had approached Welch and agreed not to reveal that one of Welch’s young law associates, Frederick Fisher, had been a member of the National Lawyers Guild, reputed to be a Communist front, if Welch would not go into Cohn’s inglorious armed-service record. Welch agreed, but McCarthy, infuriated by Welch’s sarcastic, goading manner, blurted out the damning information about young Fisher, while Cohn mouthed the words, “No! No, Joe!” A wrangle ensued, climaxed by Welch’s line: “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?”

Everyone in the hearing room except McCarthy’s own team, even the reporters and photographers, rose up and cheered, and the McCarthy Era, as it was known, was over.

But that was not the line that got under Cohn’s skin. That one came in an exchange concerning a picture of Mr. Schine and Army Secretary Stevens that Cohn had put into evidence. It turned out that the photograph had been cropped. Welch began going after one of McCarthy’s staffers about the source of the altered picture: “Did you think it came from a pixie?”

McCarthy interrupted: “Will the counsel for my benefit define—I think he might be an expert on that -what a pixie is?”

Welch said, “Yes, I should say, Mr. Senator, that a pixie is a close relative to a fairy. Shall I proceed, sir? Have I enlightened you?” To Roy Cohn this was not funny. In his palmy days, the McCarthy days, he was often seen out on the town with good-looking young women. He worked hard at keeping up his reputation as a typical high-living New York bachelor. In the 1970s and 1980s, however, his forays into New York’s homosexual netherworld became increasingly open. Mr. von Hoffman offers a picture of Cohn in a sordid setting of kept boys, male prostitutes and venereal disease, culminating in AIDS and a dreadful, rotting death. But did this mean Cohn was a homosexual? Not in his own mind, he wasn’t, according to Mr. Zion. Engaging in sexual acts with other men was one thing; being a homosexual or “fag,” to use the term he says Cohn favored, was something else. No one as tough, aggressive and fearless as he was could possibly be a homosexual, no matter what he did for fun. Oddly enough, Cohn’s tough, aggressive business associates, from the courthouses, law enforcement, the construction industry, the mob, figured the same thing. The pretty boys who hung around Cohn on his yacht? They were crewmen—crewmen whose main duty was to drink Bloody Marys. The Favor Bank crowd didn’t want to confront the obvious any more than Cohn himself, says Mr. Zion.

Cohn did, in fact, have a toughness and manly aplomb that charmed many people who, like Mr. Zion, viewed his McCarthyite past with distaste. Cohn’s bra-vest performance, in the eyes of most who knew him, came in the 1960’s when, against overwhelming odds, he fought off Bobby Kennedy.

After the collapse of the McCarthy committee, Cohn had gone into private law practice in New York. He became famous all over again, this time as a tough lawyer, a “gunslinger” who could get results where all other lawyers failed. Mr. von Hoffman gives us the following picture of how Cohn the lawyer actually operated. If a case involved a problem Cohn could take care of by calling the right judge, the right district leader, the right gangster, union boss, contractor or newspaper columnist—or by growling and brandishing the fearsome Roy Cohn reputation—then he could achieve results that seemed miraculous.

But if a client came to him with a case that required standard legal strategies, days of depositions, acres of briefs, eternities of petitions, motions and appeals, that was a different story. The results, according to Mr. von Hoffman, were sometimes disastrous. Either nothing got done or the most elementary procedures were forgotten, and cases were lost by default. It was not merely that Cohn had no taste for such cases. He didn’t have the staff, either. He didn’t even have the law books. The office tried to make do with the out-of-date set his father had left him when he died. All he really had were his contacts, his telephone, his reputation as a hard number and his lifelong love of the Favor Bank and all its games. One of his well-remembered in-house axioms was: “I don’t want to know what the law is, I want to know who the judge is.”

It was in the gray area of the Favor Bank games that Bobby Kennedy decided to strike when his brother appointed him Attorney General in 1961. Mr. von Hoffman backs up Cohn’s claim that Kennedy had a Get Roy Cohn obsession and presents strong evidence that the phobia was highly personal. Now the tables were turned. Cohn was no longer the hunter with the power of the Senate behind him. He was the quarry with the full might of the Justice Department bearing down upon him.

For almost a decade the Justice Department’s surveillance, legal harassment and formal investigation of Cohn and his associates was unrelenting. In 1963 Kennedy, via the United States Attorney’s office in New York, indicted Cohn on charges of perjury and jury tampering in the so-called United Dye case. Cohn won acquittal in a jury trial. But his finest hour came at the end of a second trial in 1969 when he was charged with bribery in the Fifth Avenue Coach Company case. Just before the final arguments were to begin, Cohn’s lawyer, Joseph Brill, suffered a heart attack. Cohn, who had not taken the stand during the trial, rose and delivered the summation himself. He spoke for seven hours without a note, and the jury acquitted him. The performance was so brilliant, he was accused of having Brill fake a heart attack in order to set up the dramatic last act.

As Mr. von Hoffman demonstrates, the Government’s charges in these cases were often tortured and overly technical. They made the campaign against Cohn seem capricious—most obviously in the eyes of jurors. The high smell of the Get Cohn campaign was such that it still poisoned the air almost 20 years later when Roy Cohn was finally run to ground, five weeks before his death. He was disbarred by New York State on a medley of charges, the most serious being that he had misrepresented a document to an old friend, Lewis S. Rosenstiel, as Rosenstiel lay on his death bed, in order to get him to sign a codicil making Cohn one of the trustees of his estate. But even here, says Mr. von Hoffman, who is certainly not one of Roy Cohn’s defenders, it could be argued that the New York court was disregarding a perfectly plausible explanation.

Through all of this Cohn remained a friend and confidant of big makhers—and the most important of them were in the Democratic Party, just as in the old days back on Walton Avenue in the Bronx. Mr. Zion provides a marvelous vignette of Cohn at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. In 1968, now that Joe McCarthy himself was dead, Roy Cohn was the major living relic of McCarthyism, the cause that had branded the Democratic Party “the party of treason.” The body of the man who had made Cohn America’s public enemy No. 2, Bobby Kennedy, was barely cold, and Kennedy had been the party’s strongest candidate for the nomination. Moreover, Cohn had already been indicted on one criminal charge, and two more were pending. And here he was, with Mr. Zion in tow, heading out onto the floor of the Democratic National Convention. Mr. Zion watched, his mouth open, his chin on his collarbone, as Cohn worked the hall . . . Ohio . . . Florida . . . Texas . . . California . . . New York. . . . Congressmen, county leaders, district bosses shouldered one another out of the way in the rush to shake Cohn’s hand, embrace him, whisper in his ear. Finally they reached the delegation from Mr. Zion’s home state, New Jersey. Cohn waved to Tony Grossi, the county leader who had once given Mr. Zion a job in the United States Attorney’s office. Cohn said, “You know Sid, don’t you, Tony?” “Sure,” said Mr. Grossi. “How are ya, kid?”

“And with that,” writes Mr. Zion, Grossi walked away with Cohn, arm in arm, whispering in his ear.

So Cohn worked the floor, plunged once more into the arena—for what? For nothing—nothing but a bigger draft at the Favor Bank, another sure seat at the table of the mighty the next time the boys met, a renewed guarantee of entry into the inner room where the big makhers come and go, transacting their heavy business.

[1] Reviewed in the New York Times, Dangerous Obsessions” by Tom Wolfe (April 03, 1988) whose recent book is the novel The Bonfire of the Vanities.

Citizen Cohn

Title:                      Citizen Cohn

Author:                  Nicholas von Hoffman

Von Hoffman, Nicholas (1988). Citizen Cohn. New York: Doubleday

LOC:       87027450

KF373.C62 V66 1988

Date Posted:      July 3, 2013

Roy Cohn was a homosexual Jew who viciously persecuted homosexuals and Jews, along with communists, suspected communists, artists, writers, intellectuals and actors as a chief aid to Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Cohn died of AIDS, and his ending would almost be poetic were it not so horrible. As an assistant to McCarthy, Cohn ruined the lives of countless people as part of McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunts. His methodical cruelty was matched only by his striking hypocrisy, as he went about extorting and outing and ruining the careers of homosexual government employees all the while using his position to get jobs for his lover and living the life of a deeply homosexual man. He accused many of scamming the government, meanwhile he scammed his coworkers and his friends of immeasurable money, time and energy. Citizen Cohn is a wonderful read about a chapter in American history that many people of all political persuasions would like to forget. We shouldn’t forget, lest we do it again; assuming we’re not already doing it.

Eye of the Needle

Title:                  Eye of the Needle

Author:                Ken Follett

Follett, Ken (1978). Eye of the Needle. New York: Arbor House

LCCN:    77090670

PZ4.F665 Ey 1978


Date Posted:      April 9, 2015

It is 1944 and weeks before D-Day. The Allies are disguising their invasion plans with a phony armada of ships and planes. Their plan would be scuppered if an enemy agent found out… and then, Hitler’s prize agent, “The Needle”, does just that. Hunted by MI5, he leads a murderous trail across Britain to a waiting U-Boat. But he hasn’t planned for a storm-battered island, and the remarkable young woman who lives there.

A lot of wartime secrets came out in the mid-Seventies. I read a number of nonfiction books about intelligence and espionage in World War Two. One was Bodyguard of Lies by Anthony Cave Brown, about how the Allies deceived the Germans into deploying their resources in the wrong places.

In particular, there was a fascinating, amusing and very elaborate deception for the D-Day Invasion. The Allies created an entire phony army in East Anglia, including inflatable tanks, cardboard Spitfires and barracks with roofs but no walls. It was created only to be photographed from the air by German reconnaissance planes. The aim was to fool the Germans into thinking that the army was building up in the east, indicating that the invasion would come across the narrow part of the channel at Calais. And it worked!

The Germans left the beaches of Normandy weakly defended and allowed the Allied invasion forces to get a toehold. My idea was simple. If one German spy had seen the inflatable tanks, the cardboard Spitfires and the whole mock-up from the ground and got back to Germany with the information, then the Germans could have been prepared for the D-Day landings at Normandy and history might have taken a different course.

This was the best story idea I had ever had and I had also reached a breakthrough point in my development as a writer. I planned the book carefully and wrote a detailed outline. I researched the period thoroughly and I put a lot of the detail into the story. It gave the book a feel for the grain of everyday life, something that my work had never had before. The richness of detail slows the writing down, but that was what my work needed. My early books were all too brisk and things happened too quickly. With Eye of the Needle, I got the pace right for the first time. The reader doesn’t want you to be too brisk, especially in a tense, dramatic situation.

The spy, Die Nadel, has got the crucial information, he knows how important it is, and he has to get home. But he has got to travel the length of England to rendezvous with a U-boat in the North Sea. In the early days, I would have had him make that journey in a few pages and there wouldn’t have been any suspense. By the time I wrote Eye of the Needle, I realized that the reader wants a tense situation to go on for a long time. The writer has to keep on thinking of new things that could go wrong.

Even before I finished it, I knew Eye of the Needle was much better than anything I had done before. My ex-wife remembers me sitting at the typewriter saying, “This is absolutely terrific.” My agent, Al Zuckerman, also realized how good it was. After years of telling me my books weren’t good enough to sell on the American market, he said, “this is going to be a huge international best seller and you are going to have tax problems.” He was right.

It came out in 1978 and did well all over the world. The British publisher, who had commissioned it on the basis of a short outline, did not see the potential, and it was published in a low-key way in the UK. Twenty years later, Eye of the Needle is still selling in 25 or 30 languages and new editions are published constantly. It would take an accountant a week to work out the exact numbers, but it has sold about ten million copies.

My first copy was printed in Reader’s Digest Condensed Books (Vol. 122 #1, 1979)