The Odds According to Whom?
There cannot be many WWII veterans still active in public life like Ralph Hauenstein: nearly ninety-four years of age, Hauenstein still works on a daily basis in his Grand Rapids community. With clear, blue eyes; firm, masculine face; and an easy, unpretentious but formal manner, Hauenstein’s mind is as quick as his memory is acute. He has a repository of stories ranging from how—when the need arose—a past relative of his once volunteered as executioner of a man “whom he didn’t really like anyway” in Michigan’s last case of public hanging, to his role as a lay observer to the Second Vatican Council and of the “forceful” ways of Hans Küng at the council.
Donald Markle, an historian and long-time member of the U. S. Department of Defense Intelligence, based Intelligence was My Line, an account of Hauenstein’s remarkable life, on a series of interviews. Markle confirmed the interviews through independent research, though perhaps the best confirmatory source never existed: Haunestein was unable to keep a diary during his time of service for security reasons. Hauenstein joined the U.S. Army and worked in intelligence during the prewar deployment of U.S. soldiers to Iceland (1941) to defend that country against the Germans. While stationed on that barren, rocky island, Mr. Hauenstein led an expedition to the site of a downed German aircraft. After searching the plane, his party discovered a German codebook. Hauenstein immediately crossed the Norwegian Sea on a B-24 bomber to deliver the book to British code breakers. His find proved to be a major asset in deciphering German messages.
Eventually rising to the rank of colonel, Hauenstein served under General Dwight Eisenhower as Chief of the Intelligence Branch in the Army’s European Theater of Operations. He trained field agents and gathered information from all possible sources to support efforts such as the Normandy invasion. Toward the war’s end, Hauenstein was one of the first Americans to enter liberated Paris and Nazi concentration camps.
This book introduces the reader, through Hauenstein’s own experiences, to aspects of the Second World War that perhaps are not that well known. These include the role of U.S. troops in Iceland before America officially joined the war, and the unsung but crucial activities of the U.S. Command known as the European Theater of Operations, U.S. Army (ETOUSA), established by General Eisenhower as the central command element for the U.S. Army. The Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) Command was the multinational command headed by Eisenhower; ETOUSA was his “other” command—as mentioned in the title of the book—which served as the “Pentagon” for U.S. Army forces in Europe.
Intelligence Was My Line includes the commencement address given by Hauenstein to the 2004 graduating class of Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In this address, “Leadership and Service: What Are the Odds You Will Make a Difference?” Hauenstein comments on the pessimism he encounters among young people today concerning society and their role in it; “the odds are not good,” they say. “‘The odds are not good?’ My first response [Hauenstein says] to that statement is, ‘The odds according to whom?’ He continues: “Along with all the little inconveniences of advancing age comes one very distinct advantage: a historic perspective. That is what I bring you today. As both a student of and a participant in history, I encourage you to join me in examining some of the long odds throughout our country’s past.” He goes on to speak of the character of George Washington and then the Civil War, and remarks: “America has defied the odds because we Americans—individual citizens like you and me—have defied the odds. Those who are dedicated, who are courageous, who are visionary; those who hold fast to their ideals; those who don’t lose faith—these are the Americans who make a difference, who live good lives of leadership and service.”
The potential for the individual human being to make a difference in history: this is an underlying theme of Mr. Hauenstein’s life and book. Fernand Braudel, the great French historian and author of The Mediterranean (1949), once wrote: “When I think of the individual, I am always inclined to see him imprisoned within a destiny in which he himself has little hand.” Hauenstein would surely not agree with such a position. Gaining insight into the importance of human choice is one of the great benefits of reading military history. Whether through the pages of Plutarch on Alexander the Great, or by the story of the young nobleman François-Athanase Charette, a leader of the uprising in the Catholic Vendée region of France during the French Revolution, examples of leadership and honorable choices made by individuals greatly attracted my students. Ralph Hauenstein continues his work of inspiring the rising generation to civic responsibility through the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, based at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.
This fine book will be of great interest to scholars and the general reader of works on the Second World War. It includes pictures, maps, and afterthoughts about Hauenstein’s reflections (as a member of U.S. Intelligence) on how much President Eisenhower knew concerning America’s nuclear program.
Joseph T. Stuart is a Wilbur Fellow at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal in Mecosta, Michigan; he will begin Ph.D. studies in history at the University of Edinburgh this autumn.
Posted: March 18, 2007
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Gerald J. Russello