Daily Archives: February 10, 2010

Remembering Charlie Wilson by Gregory Hilton

Today’s passing of former Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-TX) brings back many wonderful memories. He was a charming rogue whose determination was instrumental in toppling the Soviet empire. The Congressman helped lead the secret effort to fund the Afghan resistance throughout the 1980’s, and all of his obituaries are mentioning George Crile’s book and 2008 movie, “Charlie Wilson’s War” which brought him to national attention.
The defeat of the USSR in 1988 was truly a turning point in Cold War history. Without his tremendous efforts it is highly doubtful the Afghans would have received the shoulder fired Stinger missiles which allowed them to bring down Soviet attack helicopters.
I had the pleasure of working closely with him during the years he served as a Co-Chairman of the National Security Caucus in the U.S. Congress, and I was Executive Director of the American Security Council. Wilson was also a Co-Chairman of the Committee for a Free Afghanistan (CFA), which was a project of the American Security Council. CFA successfully advocated United States funding for the resistance, and Wilson’s efforts on the powerful Defense Appropriations Subcommittee were instrumental.
The opening scene in “Charlie Wilson’s War” shows him in a hot tub with two Las Vegas showgirls, and this was done at the Congressman’s recommendation. All of us who knew him have countless Wilson stories. He was a wonderful friend who had a ready supply of jokes, and everyone knew he was a character.
Wilson was Capitol Hill’s answer to Hugh Hefner. While she was First Lady, Barbara Bush told the Washington Post, “Nice girls do not go out with Charlie Wilson.” Most lawmakers would have been embarrassed but Charlie made sure everyone knew her comment.
His Congressional staff was filled with spectacular women, and several times I met the former Miss World who was his girlfriend. She was also 30 years younger than Wilson. One film critic accurately noted, “Wilson comes across as a womanizing party animal, yes, but also a man of decency, idealism and consummate plain-talk swagger.”
He was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and it was a real loss for the national security community when he left Capitol Hill in 1996. The projects we worked on are too numerous to mention, but one of the most valuable was CFA’s sponsorship of a film crew which spent months at a time inside Afghanistan.
They recorded footage which clearly demonstrated Soviet atrocities and helped to galvanize American public opinion against the USSR. Many of these film clips from the war zone were repeatedly used on commercial and cable TV stations.
CFA was often accused of being a CIA front group, but there was never any truth to the accusation. We would have greatly benefited from government funding, but that never happened. The Soviet news agency TASS on 6/20/86 said CFA is “widely known as cover for the CIA.”
I frequently accompanied the late Army Brig. Gen. Theodore Mataxis to his meetings with Wilson. Mataxis was on active duty for 32 years and when he retired he was responsible for coordinating aid shipments in Pakistan. Because of Charlie Wilson’s assistance he made seven trips to Peshawar. This was the staging point on the Pakistani side of the border, and each trip lasted for three months. Mataxis was an expert in guerrilla warfare, and fought in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
After the USSR pulled out of Afghanistan, Wilson asked Metaxis to conduct a briefing for the members of the House Appropriations Committee on lessons of the war. The General began his testimony by saying, “Guerrilla war does not fit into the popular image of a high-tech future war, but it may well be the war an advanced nation may find itself fighting. The Soviet Army, a modern, mechanized high-tech force, fought a guerrilla war for over nine years in Afghanistan.
“Despite their best efforts, the application of overwhelming air power, and the expenditure of national treasure and young lives, the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, leaving the field to the defiant Mujahideen guerrillas. A wise army prepares for future war by examining the lessons of the past. This does not mean that armies should prepare to fight as the last war was fought. Rather, they should draw lessons from the past that will guide the future.”
Wilson was 6′ 4″ tall in stature, and taller in real life. He was also a giant in his love for America and especially for those who have served in our armed forces.