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Dr. Marek Chodakiewicz remembers Gen. Walter Jajko

The passing of the late Gen. Walter Jajko on Saturday, October 18, has greatly saddened us all. Gen. Jajko was a supporter and friend of the Kościuszko Chair of Polish Studies and a frequent participant in KC programs. Thus, in the hope of keeping the General’s memory alive, we are posting Dr. Marek Chodakiewicz’s recollections below.

The Kościuszko Chair has also decided to dedicate its upcoming Seventh Annual Conference on Saturday, November 8 to the memory of Gen. Walter Jajko. 


Death of a General: An IWP Microcosm

Marek Chodakiewicz, Helenka, and General Walter Jajko at an IWP Christmas PartyOf a few personal stories that General Walter Jajko (1937-2014) shared with me — and he was a humble and taciturn man, by temperament and profession disinclined to open up — three tales encapsulate this officer and gentleman best. The first floor corridor at The Institute of World Politics witnessed the first one. Our mutual alma mater Columbia University’s faculty lounge served as the setting of the second. The third was the foyer of Saigon’s top hotel, whether the Rex or the Continental escapes me. I am listing them in a reverse chronological order and they spanned about sixty years. And they shall serve as an excuse to open a vista into the life of an extraordinary un-public intellectual par excellance. They are also a testimony to an academic institution quite unique in contemporary times, one where honor, service, and collegiality matter.

The first tale concerns the time when the General still had his corner bunker, diagonal from the skiff, of the basement of the Marlatt Mansion. For some reason he came up to my first floor office on business. I was dean then. He referred to me forever hereafter, half-tongue in cheek, albeit not quite as much as I wished, as “Pan dziekan” (Sir Dean) in response to my “Panie Generale” (Sir General), a collegial semi-tease that originated with my saluting our own sans peur et sans reproche Ambassador Alberto Piedra as “Your Excellency” (with current Dean Jack Tierney responding to “Your Eminence,” late Ambassador Tom Melady as “THE Ambassador,” and the President and Founder John Lenczowski being “The Lord and Master,” while Professor emeritus Ken de Graffenreid to remain forever known as Wujek Kenski, or Uncle Ken, to complement his wife Ciocia Karolcia, or Aunt Carol). Tedious dean business settled, I resolved to walk the General back downstairs.

I had just finished reading George Crile’s Charlie Wilson’s War, found Walt’s name in it, and was eager to ask some questions, for example about reasons for supplying the Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun to the mujahedeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan. “Because Charlie was sleeping with the girlfriend of a big wig in that company,” answered the General. This was the short story. A long story encapsulates both the dysfunctionality and the glory of our democratic system. The General humored me in this instance because he knew that I had volunteered to fight in Afghanistan in the mid-1980s. First of all, Walt confided in me that he had consulted a lawyer to sue the author of the book. Why? Because Crile mendaciously wrote that Walter Jajko was swearing, dropping the “F” bomb.  The General never swore. I never saw him lose his temper. In fact, I doubt I know anyone who did.

As for the Oerlikon, Walt did not declassify anything, but he lined the ducks up for me. The Oerlikon cannon did not make sense because, although very accurate, once in position, having fired once, it became a sitting duck, a perfect target for the Soviet Hind-type assault gunships or bombers. Further, it was very cumbersome to transport. It had to be taken apart and carried by donkeys, which, by law, had to be supplied by the American farmer, delivered to Pakistan and dispatched over the mountains, often for hundreds of miles, into Afghanistan. The Stinger rocket was the right alternative but that Wunderwaffe would hit the battlefield very late in the game for its deployment was delayed by very real strategic considerations because of the safety of our ally, Israel, lest the weapons system fell into the hands of the terrorists and was redirected away from the Soviets to target the Israelis. However, Charlie Wilson insisted, so Oerlikon it was. Ah, the power of lobbying and loving!

Walt (“mów mi Władek [Walt]/call me Władek” – “Tak jest Panie Generale/Yes, Sir, General, Sir”) had more than a few other stories that, thanks to my moaning, he finally agreed to share with IWP students, faculty, and guests when he introduced our in-house screening of Charlie Wilson’s War. He told us about Miss World and Miss Universe tagging along with Charlie in Pakistan. This led to the stern objections of the use of US military aircraft for civilian purposes. The ladies were promptly barred, leaving Charlie to travel alone. That, in turn, brought a fierce retaliation by the honorable congressmen defunding this particular item and, thus, effectively grounding the entire fleet servicing US air attachés in Asia because one of them had dared to question the utility of Charlie’s deployment of feminine mystique for national security. The only thing Walt did not share that night with the audience was that, in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the CIA failed to invite anyone from the Department of Defense to the victory party at Langley. That’s how the General put it privately to me. And I would like to add: it was a colossal failure not to acknowledge him, for he made the victory possible. Bureaucratic pettiness is a churlish thing that serves this Republic not.

Another vignette of the General takes us now to Columbia University. One day, Walter Jajko, then a young Air Force officer, was invited, along with a few other nascent scholarly stars, to lunch by the magnificent Oskar Halecki, THE authority on Central and Eastern Europe, the Intermarium, or the lands between the Baltic and Black seas, in particular. Walt was his student. Professor Halecki provided the intellectual mortar for the future general’s love of Polish history, which had been written on his heart at home in Philadelphia, where he was born and where he grew up. College years at University of Pennsylvania, an indispensable mid-passage, forged for him a flexible framework of Western Civilization which neatly fit in with Walt’s Catholic, universal upbringing, for faith and reason remained his permanent marching companions throughout his life.

Brilliant and gentlemanly Halecki, switching interchangeably between English, French, German, Polish, and – for the benefit of his wife – Croatian, regaled the students at the lunch table with the tales of the days gone by, still resounding with the clinging of the swords of the intrepid crusaders and the maudlin chants of the cloistered friars. Surprising himself, Walt chimed in with his impressions of another graduate seminar, led by a Hungarian scholar, on the Dark Age barbarians of the Rimland steppe, which complemented his sessions with Professor Halecki. With an excited animation, quite uncharacteristic for our Air Force officer, Walt completed the allocution in the defense of Western Civilization, which he viewed as precious and fragile, from the armed horde threatening it from without and within. Obviously delighted by his brainy graduate student, Professor Halecki, as others before him at Columbia, exclaimed: “It is absolutely urgent Pan Jajko that you realize the indispensability of your remaining here to complete your Ph.D.” This was analogous to an invitation from the Pope to become an archbishop and, who knows, his successor. With his trademark understated half-smile, Walt responded: “Thank you. I am very flattered but I can’t. I must serve.” And serve he did. Yet, he never quite severed his link with academia, collecting a slew of scholarly credentials from Harvard, MIT, George Washington University, Industrial College of the Armed Forces, and Armed Forces Staff College.

The third vignette brings us to the middle of the Vietnam War. Walter Jajko was stationed in Saigon at a posh hotel. He chuckled as he recalled the sumptuousness of his accommodations. Every day a shuttle would arrive to fetch him and his fellow Air Force officers to deliver them to the airport. There they would suit up and mount their bombers to fly sorties against the Communists. After each bombing run, they would return to the home base; if need be, they’d refuel, reload, and fly back. At the end of the day, they would hop on the shuttle to be delivered back to their quarters. One time, Walt alighted into the foyer of the hotel still wearing his jet pilot’s full gear, complete with the jump suit and a visored helmet, which he was hugging with one hand, while he marched smartly toward the elevators. Suddenly, Walt halted because he saw a cluster of officers in foreign uniforms, relaxing. Among them two donned Polish military dress outfits, albeit besmirched with an eagle stripped of its crown by the Soviet-installed puppet regime in Warsaw. Indubitably, they were Communists. “A crow, not an eagle,” the Air Force ace thought. His curiosity piqued, he approached the group. He zeroed in on the crow-crested duo. “What are you doing here?” he demanded politely but firmly, addressing them in Polish. They were visibly startled at first to see an American officer fluent in their language. Having collected themselves rather quickly, however, they responded self-importantly: “We are observers with the United Nations mission in Vietnam. And you?” Walt deadpanned: “I’m here to kill Communists.” Then he turned around and walked away. And that was the mission of his life: He served to stop the barbarians threatening our civilization. He fought for freedom.

I cracked two pseudo-jokes about this story. “Did you consider, Pan General, that one of the crow-crested officers could have been Colonel Ryszard Kukliński, who soon after defected from the reds and became, arguably, the greatest asset of the CIA in the Cold War?” “Hm. If it was him, he was on the wrong side when we met.” Then I asked about killing the Communists. The response: “I have never felt remorse about bombing them.” For him, “War truly is ultima ratio,” as he wrote in his brilliantly trenchant Military Strategy: Thoughts Toward a Critique (Washington, DC: The Institute of World Politics Press, 2014, p. 12). It was also a paradox, personal and political: “All wars are horrible, but, for that, they can be no less useful, effective, necessary, and justifiable” (p. 50). To understand what he means let us look at four pictures that adored the walls of his office: Saint Mary, whom the Poles consider Our Lady the Queen of Poland and the Queen of Mercy; Sun Tsu, who conceptualized war without war; Marshal Józef Piłsudski, who is credited with brilliantly defeating the Bolsheviks at the gates of Warsaw in 1920, the only time in history the Red Army was vanquished in the field; and General William Tecumseh Sherman, who ruthlessly waged total war to preserve the Union. The quartet guided General Jajko to abhor senseless violence (“if military operations have no [just] political objective, then they are merely mayhem and murder,” p. 9); to prefer to deploy the measures that compel the enemy to surrender without resorting to violence; to support just war as a moral, if gruesome venue to peace; and, ultimately, to show mercy to the defeated.

Then, apropos just war and Vietnam, I reminded Walt what an American Polish pilot, baron von Dangel — whose grandmother the Soviets had tortured and killed before his very eyes when he turned five — wrote on his bombs during the Vietnamese conflict: “Za babcię!”: “for my grandma!” Vietnam thus was a just war. “How do you know about von Dangel?” the General raised his eyebrows slightly, which for him was a sign of maximum astonishment, and added: “I flew with him.” Now it was my jaw’s turn to drop. “Oh, I did not know that you were with the CIA’s Air America. Von Dangel is from Wilno, where my father was born. My friend Henio Skwarczyński saw the baron last on Bora Bora.” “That is classified,” the General killed the topic firmly. There were two ways for him to stay quiet: either cut himself off in mid-sentence and look in his interlocutor’s eyes; or mumble a little and wonder off. “Every diplomat is a spy,” he would repeat sometime. Live and learn tradecraft.

In fact, almost everything Walter Jajko did in the service of his country remains classified. Once he was even approached by a publisher to write the story of his life and he had to turn the offer down because his life was pretty much classified. Walt explained to me that all of his job titles had been bogus. “That is not what I was doing.”  His official biography rattles off a laundry list of assignments and tasks that do the General no justice but signal the gigantic scope of his service without exactly explaining what they were: “He served in fighter, reconnaissance, bomber, airlift, special operations, and intelligence units in Southeast Asia, North Africa, and elsewhere. His staff appointments included service as a strategic planner in the Concepts, Strategy, Doctrine Branch of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Plans and Operations, HQ USAF; as a strategy analyst in the Directorate of Soviet Affairs and a Warsaw Pact analyst in the Estimates Directorate, Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, HQ USAF; as a long range planner for the Secretary of the Air Force; and as Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff, Programs and Resources, HQ USAF. Following his retirement from active duty, General Jajko served as Director of the Special Advisory Staff in the Office of the Secretary of Defense; as Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight (where he was in charge of oversight of all the intelligence services within the Department of Defense); as Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Support (where he served as the most senior intelligence policy official in the DoD); and as Manager of a Presidential program. While occupying these positions, he was in charge of DoD covert action and DoD support of CIA covert action, wrote DoD’s first public diplomacy doctrine, and rewrote DoD’s psychological operations doctrine.  He was one of the very rare officials to have worked at the nexus of military strategy, diplomacy, public diplomacy, strategic communications, counterpropaganda, psychological strategy, and political warfare.”

That is just cream on the cake. Here is what’s missing: in a nutshell. Walter (Władysław – “Władek”) Jajko Jr. was born in Philadelphia in 1937. His father, also Władysław, had been a captain in the Polish army. However, since Jajko senior, a supporter of the center-right Farmer Party “Piast,” had fallen afoul of the mild leftist dictatorship of the sanacja, he resolved to emigrate to America, where he and his wife Aniela had several children, Walt being the eldest.

Jelita Coat of ArmsThe Jajkos/Jajko/Jajkowski (of the Jelita clan and coat of arms) were ancient Polish nobility, knights (rycerstwo/rycerz). They fought in Poland’s wars and insurrections; but mostly they farmed. Their landed estate was in the Sub-Carpathian region south of Cracow around Limanowa. My favorite pre-1914 story has the grandfather of the General racing his chaice (bryczka), a horse and buggy vehicle, against his distant relative, the Count Dzieduszycki. As the competitors were approaching the crossroads on the converging tracks with Pan Jajko at a visible advantage, the enraged Count fired at him from his ancient front loaded pistol which caused the racer to balk and lose the game to the great delight of the unfair competitor. Now it should become clear why the General’s vanity plates on his cars read: Rycerz (knight) and Bryczka (chaice).

In America, Władek was brought up speaking Polish, deeply seeped in the Polish tradition and the Catholic religion. His family imparted to him the ethos of service that functioned strongly among the Polish nobility and rubbed off on the Polish intelligentsia of all backgrounds. We serve, the commandment went, because God blessed us more than others, and therefore we have an obligation to those who are less fortunate. We serve God, Honor, and Country. We serve a Cause that is greater than ourselves. Walter Jajko internalized such lessons. And they went hand in glove with his American dream. He found the best outlet for his ideas in public service in general, and in US military, the Air Force, in particular.

Whenever he could, he remained involved with the Polonia, the Polish-American community. At one point, he helped edit The Polish Review, flagship publication of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences (PIASA) founded by Oskar Halecki and other exiles from Nazism and Communism. He lectured for the Polish-American Congress. He contributed to publications such as The Sarmatian Review here in the US and Gazeta Polska back in Poland.

Naturally enough, Walt assisted in virtually all undertakings of the Kościuszko Chair in Polish Studies at The Institute of World Politics. He mentored our Polish and Polish American interns most readily. He helped with my monograph on the Intermarium and other projects. He took lectures and speeches developed for us and shared them with the world outside. He stood squarely on our side in all our controversies. Along with Professor Gene Poteat, the General became a great champion of uncovering the circumstances of Poland’s presidential plane catastrophe of April 2010. Increasingly ill, he prepared remarks and talking points on Ukraine, which I included (properly acknowledged) in my public lectures about the crisis.  We brainstormed together. I frequently supplied him with the newest material on Polish history and current events. Walt was most touched by a mammoth picture album of Poland’s anti-Nazi underground transitioning to the anti-Communist insurgency, the so-called Cursed Soldiers (żołnierze wyklęci), 1944-1963. His bright blue eyes turned to steel gray as he was leafing through the pages.

He only had one complaint about me: “Why do you keep scheduling the Kościuszko Military lecture in September? I must report to my commander in chief.” He was referring to his wife Marilyn, whose birthday falls then. The General had a favorite Afghan restaurant to take her to. Walt only had one regret: “I rue the day the American people elected this person to be the president of the United States.” His bumper sticker read: Impeach Obama. His favorite president was Ronald Reagan of course.

Walter Jajko was sick and slowly declining for about 10 years. “Don’t get old,” was his advice to me. Cancer was eating away at him. In March 2014 there was a respite; the treatment seemed to have arrested the metastasization. “God is generous” (Bóg jest szczodrobliwy), the General exclaimed. But it was up and down with him. About two years ago, on and off, we started delivering him to school. First, it was once in a blue moon as he insisted on driving himself. In spring 2014 the joint trips became more frequent. Usually, I would bring him to IWP and, since his class got out at 5:00pm but my duties were over only before 10:00pm, I would ask either an intern or Kościuszko Chair’s researcher Paweł Styrna to drive the General back home. This was a fantastic mentoring opportunity for them. An hour drive with Walt’s stories, dispensed with his famous restraint. And he took care of his students until the very end. He called in with instructions as he was being transported in an ambulance and then he dictated an outline for the classes from his hospital death bed.

When we traveled together, Władek and I chatted about things esoteric, exciting only to specialists on Central and Eastern Europe and other historical issues. Sometimes we would be just silent. One time we laughed as I shared a story of my six year old daughter, whom he adored. Upon hearing a very vigorous part of one of Mozart’s horn concerti, Helenka exclaimed: “This is military music for General Jajko!”

I treasure my memories of the General. I am only sorry that I declined once when he invited me to tea at his house after I dropped him off. It was getting late; I still had an hour to drive home; I was tired. I was stupid; I thought he would be around forever.  Carpe diem.

One day Walt and I were driving by the Pentagon, and he pointed at the soaring, roaring US Air Force Memorial: “The missing man formation.” He will be missed, the most understated intellectual, moral, and military warrior of my life.

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Washington DC, 23 October 2014