W.E.B. Griffin Speech
Police Chiefs Association
09 January 2003
W.E.B. Griffin delivered the following speech in Philadelphia on the evening of January 9th, 2003 to members of the Police Chiefs Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey, and the State of Delaware. This was during the book promotion tour for release of the hardback edition of Final Justice, Book VIII in the Badge of Honor series.
When [retired Philadelphia Lieutenant] Dan Judge asked me if I would like to talk here tonight, my first reaction was, “Hell, no!”
For one thing, I’m a writer, not an actor, or a politician, and—as you are about to find out—I give lousy speeches.
For another, I have given enough bad speeches, or talks, call it what you want, to understand that a group like this makes a speech-giver more than a little nervous.
Okay, quite nervous.
Think about it. This is a room full of commanders who wore the white shirt. A white shirt, by definition, is someone who has risen high in his chosen profession by being able to quickly determine who is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
And who isn’t.
The easiest audience for a speech-giver is a room full of politicians. For one thing, most politicians don’t listen, and the few who do listen don’t expect to hear the truth.
You know the old joke: A man meets a politician on the street. The politician enthusiastically pumps the man’s hand, and asks, “How’s the wife and those wonderful children?”
The man replies, “My wife ran off with a shoe salesman and both kids are still in jail.”
And the politician says, “Wonderful, wonderful, glad to hear it. Keep up the good work!”
So . . . why am I here?
Two reasons. One, Dan Judge and Commissioner O’Neill asked me, and I was truly flattered by the invitation. Two, I like to think Sergeant Zeb Casey, wherever he is—he was a Marine before he became a cop, and Marines, you know, guard the streets of heaven—knows about this, and would be pleased.
Zeb is the reason I’ve written about the Philadelphia Police. He sent me a letter, what is now a long time ago, asking if I would be interested in writing about the Philadelphia Police in the same style I write about the Army and the Marine Corps.
The idea was fascinating. But there was one major problem with it. I wrote back that I knew very little about cops, except that they’re a closed brotherhood. I really didn’t think they would let an outsider in, and unless they did, I just wouldn’t have the material to do a decent job.
Zeb replied that he could just about guarantee that I could get in, that people would indeed talk to me. And the only way to find out was to give it a shot.
I wanted to learn more than I knew—which was practically nothing—about the cops, and I wanted to “come home” to Philadelphia.
My roots are here. When my father’s mother died in 1955, she was the oldest living graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. She’s buried in Media beside my grandfather, my father, one of his brothers, his three sisters, and a flock of other relatives. My mother was a Pennsylvania Dutchman born in a little town called Tatamy, just outside Easton. She’s at rest now in a church cemetery in Durham, Bucks County, about 100 yards from Dan Judge’s mother.
I enlisted in the Army here, more than a half century ago, in the recruiting office over the drug store across Market Street from the 12th Street Market, and I spent my first night as a soldier in the Frankford Arsenal.
And nine years later, when I decided to hang up the uniform and try to become a writer, I came home to Philadelphia.
What followed was the worst year of my life.
The first job I had—my first job ever—was selling wholesale paper for the J.L.N. Smythe Company at 2601 Cherry Street, just across the Schuylkill River from 30th Street Station.
I had a tiny apartment on Cherry Street, near Broad, and I used to walk to work. In those days the Daily News also was on Cherry Street, and one day I gathered my courage and went in and asked for a job. They didn’t actually laugh at me, but quickly made it plain that they were not at all interested in my professional services as a writer.
Neither, it quickly became apparent, was I destined for a successful career as a salesman of wholesale paper. With great finesse, Mr. Neville Smythe made it clear that I really would be happier doing something else.
That something else—and I was damned glad to have the job, as I had a wife and young daughter to support—turned out to be selling Karo syrup, Argo starch, Liquid Linit, and Mazola Oil for the Corn Products Sales Company on Frankford Avenue. In my training period, I was in every grocery store in the City of Brotherly Love. When I got my route, they sent me to the sticks—from Reading to Wilkes-Barre to the Bucks County Line. I’ve been in every grocery store in that area, too.
And again I was a terrible salesman. Every time my boss—his name was Willy Joos—called to say he would be working with me the next day, I was afraid I was going to get the same kind of speech I’d gotten from Mr. Neville Smythe.
And then I got a wholly unexpected visit from an Army officer under whom I had served in Greece and Korea, then just promoted Lieutenant Colonel Charles A. Merritt.
“Uncle Charley,” as my kids came to call him, was quite a guy. He’d landed with the Rangers on D-Day as a technical sergeant, and two weeks later was a captain with two Purple Hearts and a Distinguished Service Cross.
In Greece, under Lieutenant General James A. VanFleet, Charley had been in at the beginning of what became Special Forces. He and some other officers—most notably Lieutenant Colonel Arthur “Bull” Simons and Lieutenant Colonel Jay D. Vanderpool—had the idea that if there were teams of two experienced lieutenants and captains, and ten to twelve senior non-coms, they could gather around them several hundred natives, whom they would train and equip.
The idea worked.
Was I part of this? Not really. What I was was a kid who could type and, more importantly, write.
Napoleon said an Army travels on its stomach. Well, the U.S. Army travels on a road of paper.
I worked for a legendary officer named Isaac Davis White. In the Second World War, General White commanded the 2nd Armored Division, and he had the bridges across the Elbe when Eisenhower ordered him to halt and let the Russians take Berlin. General White was directly descended from Isaac Davis, who fired the shot heard round the world at Concord Green.
After the war, General White had two jobs. He commanded the U.S. Constabulary, which policed occupied Germany, and he was charged with the support of what was called Military Advisory Group, Greece. It was almost a clandestine operation. Few Americans even knew the U.S. Army was in Greece.
I don’t know why, but when I wrote something it sounded like General White had written it, whether a warning about social disease, or the absolute necessity of air-shipping to Greece some weapon or special ammunition, or responding to some Congressman’s letter about the abuse of one of his constituents by a mean sergeant.
If it had to be written, I wrote it, and General White signed it, and I like to think I saved him a lot of time for the more important things he had to do.
In Korea, by then a lieutenant general, White commanded the X Corps Group, which was in fact an Army with two Korean Corps as well as U.S. troops. And there he had the responsibility for clandestine warfare, which was known for a while as special services, until someone pointed out that there already was a special services, which ran service clubs and soldier shows and other healthy recreational activities. Thus, it then became special forces, without capital letters.
The people who did this for him there were Lieutenant Colonels Jay Vanderpool and Bull Simon and Major Charley Merritt. It was known as Task Force Able. Since I already knew from Greece both the players and what kind of support they needed, and how to get it, I was given the additional duty of supporting Task Force Able.
Bull Simon, newly promoted to colonel, went home from Korea to start a new, official outfit called Special Forces, now with capital letters. He wanted to go to Camp Carson, Colorado, but they kept him at Fort Bragg, which annoyed him greatly, and explains why Special Forces wears the Airborne patch.
Newly-promoted Colonel Vanderpool and newly-promoted Lieutenant Colonel Charley Merritt went home from Korea to Camp Rucker, Alabama, where Vanderpool was placed in charge of combat developments for a soon-to-be greatly expanded program of Army Aviation. Merritt was placed in charge of communications for Army Aviation, and, under the covers, with support of CIA and Special Forces operations.
They were soon stumbling along that paper-paved road, and from what they could see it was going to get worse, not better.
“I wish we had Sergeant Butterworth.”
“Where is he?”
“He got out of the Army to write a goddamn novel.”
“Find him. Get him down here.”
I came home one night in my Corn Products car—its trunk and back seat jammed full of Point of Purchase signs and sample half-gallon bottles of Liquid Linit Starch—to find Lieutenant Colonel Merritt waiting for me.
“Jesus Christ,” he said. “You really want to spend your life doing that? You used to be a soldier!”
He offered me a deal: If I went to Camp Rucker and worked for him and Vanderpool in the morning, I could write my goddamned novel in the afternoon.
A week later, I was a GS-7—sort of a civilian second lieutenant—at Camp Rucker, Alabama. And I worked for Colonel Van and Uncle Charley in the morning.
But I didn’t get to write my novel in the afternoons.
In the afternoons, I learned how to fly. Obviously I couldn’t write about aviation if I didn’t know what the hell I was writing about.
Always understanding, they said: “Your goddamned novel will just have to wait.”
On my final efficiency report, four years later, on my resignation, it said that I was the “Senior Technical Writer, U.S. Army Aviation Center and School, and Principal Author/Editor of Field Manual FM1-1, Army Aviation Operations.”
When I am asked which of my books I’m most proud of, that’s the one.
But despite the best efforts of Vanderpool and Merritt to fill my day with military duties, I had written my novel. And sold it. And the second and the third.
I wrote original paperbacks for adults—more than fifty—and another flock of books for high school age kids—more than forty—and then, when it became evident to me that I was not ever going to become a famous hardcover New York Times best-selling novelist, I started to look around to see where the money was.
It was in ghost-writing.
I’d been a ghost-writer all of my adult—and even part of my teen-age—life. And I took to that, to coin a phrase, like a duck to water. It paid well. And I got to meet very interesting people and go to interesting places. I spent almost a year all over Africa on one assignment, for example.
And I really didn’t mind not getting the writing credit, just as long as they spelled my name right on the check and it didn’t bounce.
Then H. Richard Hornberger, M.D., came into my life.
A very interesting man.
He was Walter Annenberg’s prep school roommate and lifelong buddy, among other things. He graduated very young from medical school, just in time for the Korean War, where he was a surgeon in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, called a MASH.
Because of the sheer volume of his traumatic surgical experience, when he got out of the Army he was taken under the wing of a distinguished British surgeon and quickly became distinguished himself. Dr. Hornberger invented, among other things, the surgical technique of stapling the stomach to fight obesity.
And he wrote a book called MASH. He sent it to a Harvard pal named Malcolm Reiss, who was a literary agent in New York. Malcolm was my agent, a fascinating guy who had, during World War Two, been on the Office of Strategic Services team sent to IndoChina to deal with a nationalist there called Ho Chi Minh. The OSS, led by General William “Wild Bill” Donovan, was of course the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency.
As a literary agent, however, Malcolm Reiss had trouble selling MASH. It went to thirty-four publishers before anyone made an offer. I have one of the original ten “agent” copies, on which Malcolm wrote to me, “I don’t have high hopes for this, but I know you went through a MASH, and I thought it might make you chuckle.”
Well, as you know, they published the book, made the movie, started the TV series. And then the publishers wanted more MASH books.
Distinguished vascular surgeons made very good money. Hornberger was not interested in taking the time to write a sequel.
No problem, the publishers said, we will get you a humor ghost-writer.
A large number of successful ghost-writers of humor, many of them from the film industry, then made the journey to Waterville, Maine to obtain Dr. Hornberger’s blessing.
Unfortunately, they were all of the long-haired liberal persuasion. I cannot repeat—even in your experienced company—the colorful words that the very conservative Dr. Hornberger used to send them away. But know that his blessing was not forthcoming.
The ante kept going up, and so did Dr. Hornberger’s resistance. Finally, they offered him $100,000 to permit someone to write a sequel. They would pay the ghost-writer, and if Hornberger did not approve of the manuscript, it would not be published, and he got to keep the $100,000.
I learned all of this in a surprise telephone conference call from my agent.
“Bill,” Malcolm announced, “say hello to Dr. Hornberger.”
“Call me ‘Horny.’ Our liberal pal here says you’re nearly as much a fascist as I am. True?”
“I am somewhat to the right of Ghengis Khan.”
“Okay. Here’s the deal.”
It was sort of a Catch-22. Hornberger was not going to approve a ghost-written book unless he approved of what it said. And the publisher was not going to publish a book of the sort of which he would approve. So the book would never get published.
Hornberger knew this. But since he would get $100,000 either way, and they were going to pay the ghost, he thought it was better to have a fellow fascist get money than some long-haired liberal. So it didn’t matter that the fellow fascist had never before written one humorous word on purpose. We Korean War vets have to stick together.
I was very generously paid to write MASH GOES TO NEW ORLEANS. I wrote it in just under three weeks, sent it to Hornberger, and forgot about it. I figured no publisher in his right mind would print a book that ridiculed Dan Rather, CBS, the Knights of Columbus, the Baptist Church, and the Democratic Party—and then said things that would really make people mad.
Three months later, a package arrived at my doorstep. It contained a copy of MASH GOES TO NEW ORLEANS. My name was on the cover: “By Richard Hooker and W.E. Butterworth.” And there was a certified check. And a revised contract giving me fifty percent of the proceeds of NEW ORLEANS and of any other sequels.
The first sequel sold more than a million copies in just a few weeks. The next eleven did even better.
Yet, all good things come to an end.
I had just told my agent Malcolm Reiss to offer me on the ghost-writer’s slave block again when I read a hardcover New York Times best-seller about the Army—I will not tell you the name—and instantly came to an immodest conclusion:
“Jesus, this is awful. I’ve forgotten more about the Army than this guy ever knew.”
So I wrote the first of the BROTHERHOOD OF WAR books, THE LIEUTENANTS. As an original paperback. It was sold in hardcover in England before it was published here. The fourth BROTHERHOOD book was published in hardcover, and it made The New York Times list, my first hardback bestseller.
There was no one more surprised than me.
The first few of the Marine Corps series followed, in hardback, and they all made the list.
So, that’s where I was when I got the letter from Sergeant Zeb Casey of the Philadelphia Police Department.
And I came to Philadelphia.
Zeb was working in Internal Affairs for then-Chief Inspector—now Deputy Police Commissioner—Bob Mitchell. I toured the police department with Mitchell’s blessing, and he told Zeb to make sure I met Dan Judge. No problem, they were already friends.
And I discovered that I had been wrong. That combination of respected police officers did indeed succeed in the doors being opened to me. I was let in. And I like to believe that I haven’t betrayed any confidences.
Zeb and I became friends. As did Danny and I. Danny even brings his wife, Linda, to Alabama carrying Taylor Ham and Scrapple, which are not available in the Deep South. I have other friends on the job. I know I am a civilian, and an outsider, but Danny and the other friends don’t make me feel that way. And I am honored by that.
Being around cops, and writing about them, has given me the chance to think about the role of the police in society. I’m going to share some of those observations with you, like it or not.
The first thing I really thought was how close the police are to the military, not only in organization but—more importantly—in their dedication to duty, their sense of honor, their willingness to lay their lives on the line, day after day, to protect society.
Once I understood that, I remembered what my late friend James Kern Feibleman had told me about warriors and society.
Jimmy Feibleman was a remarkable man. He never finished high school, but he had twenty-seven honorary doctorates—twenty-seven—from the most prestigious universities in the world. Huntingdon Hartford described him as the greatest mind of our time.
He was, when I met him, late in his life, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Tulane University and Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of Louisiana Medical School and President of the American Philosophical Society. He wrote more than 100 scholarly books on such things as quantum mechanics.
I was able to enter Jimmy’s life because he had outlived all his peers. I quickly learned he was not an egghead in an ivory tower. He devoted one day a week to business, and made enough money at that to ride around in a red Mercedes convertible—the license plate bore his initials—which he would often park in front of New Orleans’ most notorious adult theatre, which greatly annoyed his wife.
Two quick stories about Feibleman.
The first is: He told me one day that the last time he’d seen Einstein, he’d tried to tell Albert where he had gone wrong with his third Theory of Relativity.
Until then, I didn’t know there was more than one Theory of Relativity.
Second story: Jimmy often invited me to the parties his wife gave for the academics of New Orleans—for the academics of the world, for that matter.
At these parties I was reminded that academics, almost to a man, do not like soldiers. They feel intellectually superior to soldiers, and go out of their way to demonstrate this superiority.
This annoyed me no end—some of the smartest people I have ever known were soldiers. So, during one of our regular visits to the horse track, I asked Jimmy Feibleman, “Why?”
His great genius was in making the complicated simple.
Jimmy said: From the time we climbed down from the trees and started walking upright, there have been two kinds of men—the warriors and the others.
The warriors were from time to time necessary. They went out and kept the saber-toothed tigers from eating the people in the caves, and they went out and killed dangerous animals and brought them to the cave for the others to eat.
As a reward, the warriors were given the places closest to the fire, the best cuts of meat, the most-attractive women. No one complained about the arrangement as long as there were saber-toothed tigers snarling in the darkness, or as long as they brought food home.
But when crops were abundant and the saber-toothed tigers were hunting someplace else, the non-warriors began to wonder why the useless warriors got the best women and steaks, and began to plot how to get these privileges removed.
Inevitably, the saber-toothed tigers returned or food was in short supply—and the warriors became everybody’s heroes again.
Psychologically, Jimmy added, other men feel inferior to warriors.
At least to me, Jimmy Feibleman’s little parable neatly explains why most criticism of soldiers comes from people who have never heard a shot fired in anger, and why most of the criticism of the police comes from people who have no idea whatever what it’s like to walk a beat. And, more importantly, have absolutely no intention of picking up a rifle or a night stick and finding out.
Another similarity between the police and the military that I’ve noticed is their reaction to the bad apple that from time to time appears. Most soldiers, it seems to me, and most cops, regard a bad apple in their barrel as a personal insult.
In my time as a soldier and later—I’ve spent a lot of time outside this country—I watched a lot of foreign cops at work. The conclusion I’ve drawn from this experience is that the American people have no idea how good our law enforcement system is, or how lucky they are to have it.
If under these circumstances our police tend to associate with themselves in a tight brotherhood, a fraternity of those who know both that they are indeed protecting society from the barbarians and that they don’t get half the appreciation they deserve from that society, I think that the brotherhood is perfectly understandable, and I find nothing wrong with it.
I now know enough about the cops, and that fraternity, to know I can never be accepted as a member. But I am grateful that you have opened the door far enough for me to have a look inside.
Thank you for your kind attention.