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Man Without A Face Paperback – July 1, 1999
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
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After confessing to many bad things he did, Wolf finds it galling to be accused of other things he did not in fact do. He acts a little aggrieved that he was, in his view, unjustly tarred by association with Erich Mielke, the overall Stasi boss, insisting that he worked in a completely, totally different part of the organization – the good Stasi, as it were. It's telling that while he finds kind words for his CIA counterpart Gus Hathaway, he has none for his own superior. Always at pains to differentiate himself from Mielke and his bad Stasi, he declares he had nothing to do with internal surveillance or any of his colleague's other unsavory practices. When he wraps things up in the final pages, he has not a word to spare on Mielke's fate.
Wolf sounds genuinely hurt that his friends in Moscow did little to help him when the GDR collapsed. Apparently he listened to enough toasts swearing eternal solidarity that he began to believe them. One would have thought his long professional experience would have taught him to be more cynical and not expect much assistance from them. At times, he seems to feel that the worst thing that happened was being let down by people he thought were his friends.
He also seems disappointed, even surprised to discover that his fellow Stasi agents, who betrayed secrets before the Wall came down, began to betray each other afterwards. Did he really expect spies to stand up and do the right thing if it meant risking their own necks? To be significantly better than the mass of their fellow countrymen? His whole career was built on getting people to violate their solemn oaths of secrecy – and now he's dismayed when it happens to him? It's almost touching to hear him complain that "the honor I had believed to be invulnerable in my service had not stood the test of different times." (pg. 338)
He laments events that have "made victims of us all," as he wrote to one of his spies, then imprisoned in West Germany. (pg. 334) After some three hundred pages spent chronicling his successes in this murky world, it never occurs to him that it might be unseemly for him to play the innocent, that he might be unsuited for the role. He genuinely seems to think there should have been no tribunals organized by the victors at the end of the Cold War – as though his side would have been magnanimous and forgiving, had the tables been turned. "There are to be victors and vanquished," he complained in the Karlsruhe courtroom to the Federal Prosecutor. Did he seriously expect otherwise? He backed a losing horse but still seemed to expect a medal because he rode it so professionally. It would better behoove him to take his lumps, even if he feels his punishment is unjust. Lay out the facts and let readers come to that conclusion on their own, if they are so inclined.
In sum, there is a lot of wisdom here, if not necessarily truth. Markus Wolf ultimately proved to be the GDR's rough counterpart to Albert Speer – an articulate, urbane, well-mannered man who put his considerable talents to work for a state that in many respects did not deserve such devotion.
In my introduction to intelligence work in Berlin in 1961, we were told that three out of every five Berliners have, are, or will work for an intelligence agency. Some Germans who had opposed the Nazis felt betrayed when the West rearmed West Germany to counter the Soviet Union. They pointed to the many former Nazis in the West German government, or people who had held high offices during the Nazi regieme. Thus, these people felt justified in betraying their country to the East Germans. On the other hand, there were East Germans willing to betray their country to the West because of the oppressive regieme. No wonder the Russians felt (according to Wolf) they could not trust any German. Wolf's question is somewhat haunting, "What good did it do for all the intelligence agencies on both sides to play their games?" Of course, his side lost.
The book is, at least, a good introduction to the world of espionage. Read it and all the British spy novels begin to make perfectly good sense. Now that is a scary thought.