Ed Koch just sent out his review of Charlie Wilson’s War, the new film about the former congressman’s influence on the course of the Cold War. Koch, who served in Congress with Wilson before being elected mayor, offers this anecdote that isn’t in the film:
The story focuses on the effort to drive the Soviet Army out of Afghanistan. The moving force in Charlie’s social life in the 1980s was a Houston socialite, Joanna Herring (Julia Roberts), who focused his attention on Afghanistan. I left Congress in 1977 when I was elected mayor and didn’t know that Charlie was responsible for getting the U.S. to provide funds to the Afghan mujahedeen who were using weapons supplied by the U.S. and available as far back as World War I. The script states that Charlie, who increased the U.S. support of the mujahedeen from five million to one billion, effectively won the war that drove the USSR out of Afghanistan. I have no doubt that he was capable of doing it. The new weapons supplied and purchased by U.S. dollars authorized by Congress at the request of Charlie Wilson on the Foreign Operations Committee made it possible for the mujahedeen with the U.S. Stinger to shoot down dozens of Soviet helicopters and fixed wing planes, and other updated weaponry destroyed the Soviet tanks.
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the C.I.A. operative, Gust Avrakotos. I don’t know the operative so I can’t pass judgment on how accurately he is portrayed, but the character presented is an interesting one and the acting is excellent.
Two incidents that I recall involving Charlie Wilson when he and I served in the Congress together:
We were on a junket in Israel where he was inspecting the Israeli Navy. He became involved with a female Israeli Naval officer assigned to our party. The Israeli Navy did not approve and reassigned her. Charlie was beside himself with anger. I went to a government official and said, “You are dealing with Israel’s most important non-Jewish friend in the Congress. If you make him angry, that could change. I urge you to return that naval officer to our party.” And they did.
Many Senators and Congress members run to the chamber at the last minute to vote on an issue. If they haven’t served on the committee sponsoring the bill or listened to the debates on the issue, they often look to another member who is on the floor of the chambers whose judgment they trust on how to vote. On one occasion when I arrived at the last moment, I looked to Charlie who gave me the thumbs up indicating that I should vote “yes” which I did. Fortunately, other friends of mine noticed my vote on the board and said to me, “Wrong vote. Change it.” I learned that I had voted to give billions of dollars in subsidies to oil companies. I quickly changed my vote to “no,” and said to Charlie, “How could you do this to me?” He laughed and said, “Ed, you can trust me on anything but oil.”
Everyone loved Charlie, warts and all. He invited me to speak at a fundraiser for him in Texas which I was happy to do. At his request, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, who rarely traveled to do speaking gigs, spoke at a dinner in my honor in Manhattan.
This movie will make you feel good. Go see it.