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A Non-Person, Generally Speaking

March 03, 1985

Directors of the State Department's bureau of politico-military affairs come and go, largely without anyone outside Washington's having noticed that they had been. The very word bureau has the sound of a place where clones of Inspector Clouseau keep bumping into one another.

The incumbent director has made the bureau famous, sort of, and may even have secured himself a place in the next edition of Trivial Pursuit, not in the category of history but of entertainment, as in stand-up comedian.

Question: "Who took down the picture of Leslie H. Gelb?"

Answer: "Lt. Gen. John T. Chain Jr., U.S. Air Force."

The other questions and answers actually are more interesting. Who Leslie H. Gelb is, for example. He is a former director of the bureau who returned to the staff of the New York Times in 1979 to resume his role as a writer on defense and foreign policy. In the tradition of the bureau, his picture was placed on the wall of the bureau's lobby, along with those of the other former directors. Presumably, a space has already been reserved for a picture of Lt. Gen. John T. Chain and he has already posed for it.

Why did the general take the picture down? Because Gelb did what reporters are supposed to do. He learned of and wrote about contingency plans to deploy nuclear weapons in a number of countries whose governments were not told of the plans. According to Gelb's boss, Editor A. M. Rosenthal, the report had already been published in newspapers in the other countries involved in the secret plan and the only readers who did not know about it were American readers.

Not only has the general taken down Gelb's picture but has ordered his 120 employees never to talk to Gelb again.

In the frame that once held Gelb's picture is a notice: "Removed for Cause. The P.M. director, 1977 to 1979, did willingly, wilfully, and knowingly publish, in 1985, classified information the release of which is harmful and damaging to the country."

What does that sound like? It sounds like the language of what the Air Force used to call a "drumout" in which cadets were dragged out of bed in the middle of the night, ordered into full dress, white gloves and all, and made to stand in parade formation while a snare drum rolled quietly and some cadet who had committed some infraction was drummed out of flying school in a formal order that always ended: "And his name shall never again be spoken at Maxwell Field, or wherever. It scared the daylights out of the other cadets and it may have cut down on cheating on tests, but military discipline is one thing and a free society is another.

Question: "What country habitually creates 'non-persons?"'

Answer: "The Soviet Union."

Question: "Who does General Chain think he is?"

Answer: "You know Who."

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