- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Art imitating life

We wrote last week about Washington native Peter Schechter’s debut geopolitical thriller, “Point of Entry,” pointing out that we hoped it wasn’t the timely tome one CIA operative suggests.

The plot: Renegade Syrians smuggle Uranium 235 (read atomic-weapons material) into the United States undetected, enlisting the aid of Colombian drug lords.

Now comes this latest Associated Press story: “Colombia has dismantled a false-passport ring with links to al Qaeda and Hamas militants. … The gang allegedly supplied an unknown number of citizens from Pakistan, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and other countries with false passports and Colombian nationality … used to facilitate their entry into the United States and Europe.”

State of terror

Needless to say, the United States is on a far different course today than it was when President Bush assumed the White House in early 2001. Judge for yourself from memorable lines culled by Inside the Beltway from Mr. Bush’s five annual State of the Union addresses — his sixth to be delivered this evening:

2001: “Too many of our citizens have cause to doubt our nation’s justice when the law points a finger of suspicion at groups instead of individuals. … Earlier today, I asked John Ashcroft, the attorney general, to develop specific recommendations to end racial profiling. It’s wrong, and we will end it in America.”

2002: “Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade. … This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.”

2003: “We’ve broken al Qaeda cells in Hamburg, Milan, Madrid, London, Paris, as well as Buffalo, New York. We have the terrorists on the run. We’re keeping them on the run. One by one, the terrorists are learning the meaning of American justice.”

2004: “Twenty-eight months have passed since September 11th, 2001. Over two years without an attack on American soil, and it is tempting to believe that the danger is behind us. That hope is understandable, comforting and false.”

2005: “Today, Iran remains the world’s primary state sponsor of terror — pursuing nuclear weapons. … We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium-enrichment program … and end its support for terror.”

Say it ain’t so

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

Joan Gearin, an archivist with the National Archives, has finished examining documents and immigration records surrounding the famous von Trapp family, which barely escaped Austria during World War II. Or did it?

“Examining the historical record is helpful in separating fact from fiction, particularly in a case like the von Trapp family and ‘The Sound of Music,’” Ms. Gearin writes in Prologue, a quarterly published by the National Archives.

Like most of us, Miss Gearin first saw the movie “The Sound of Music” as a young child. “I liked the singing, and Maria was so pretty and kind,” she recalls. “As I grew older, more aware of world history and saturated by viewing the movie at least once yearly, I was struck and annoyed by the somewhat sanitized story of the von Trapp family it told.”

The budding archivist then saw Maria von Trapp herself on DinahShore’s TV show in the early 1970s, “and boy, was she not like the Julie Andrews version of Maria.”

What are the facts? Maria came to the von Trapp family in 1926, not as a governess but as a tutor for one of the children. She and Georg von Trapp (he was Croatian, by the way) married in 1927 — 11 years before the Nazi takeover of Austria.

“I liked him, but didn’t love him. However, I loved the children,” Maria confessed later. And for the record, there were 10 von Trapp children, not seven.

Now for the real shocker: “Though she was a caring and loving person, Maria wasn’t always as sweet as the fictional Maria. She tended to erupt in angry outbursts consisting of yelling, throwing things and slamming doors,” writes Miss Gearin, quoting the younger Maria as saying her stepmother “had a terrible temper.”

Finally, the memorable closing scene, when the family secretly escapes over the Alps to freedom in Switzerland, easily lugging their suitcases and musical instruments — it didn’t happen. Rather, the family leisurely departed by train, nobody on their heels.

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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