After the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the Potsdam Agreement stipulated that Berlin would be occupied by the four major allied powers of World War II: the Soviet Union, the United States, the UK, and France. But the war’s end seemed to herald an even graver danger: a world split into two hostile camps, both armed with nuclear missiles. The East, with the centrally planned economies of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, faced the West, with the democratic, market-driven economies of the United States and its NATO allies. Nowhere was this tense rivalry more starkly depicted than in the divided city of Berlin, deep inside Communist East Germany.
The U.S. military tradition teaches that the infantry is “the queen of battle.” Like the queen in the game of chess, the infantry is the most powerful and versatile piece on the battlefield, and it is the only force that ultimately takes and holds the ground.
In 1966, I was an 18-year-old paratrooper assigned to the 8th Infantry Division (Mechanized) in Wiesbaden, West Germany. I was a rigger, the soldier who packs personnel and cargo parachutes, rigs vehicles and artillery pieces for aerial delivery, and inspects parachutists before a jump. It’s a lot of responsibility. Lives are at stake, and the riggers’ motto is “I WILL BE SURE ALWAYS!”
Maturity takes time:
Mine started twelve time zones away in the triple-canopied jungles of Vietnam. Southeast Asia is such a lovely, lush green wonderland, but it was 1968, the peak of the war. There were 540,000 Americans in South Vietnam and more than a million enemy soldiers, each young man determined to kill the other. As the 19th century Prussian General, Carl von Clausewitz said, "War is the continuation of politics by other means."