A great American died today
. Representative Charlie Wilson
(D-TX) was one of the chief architects of the American support of the Mujahadeen resistance in Afghanistan, during the Soviet Union's war there.
A Cold War Democrat, Wilson was a committed liberal on social issues, and a hawk on defense. He was 1956 graduate of the United States Naval Academy who, quite illegally, ran for the Texas State Legislature in 1960 while still an active duty naval officer.
This set a theme for the rest of his political career. He was elected to Congress in 1972, and showed little desire to make speeches. However, he managed to anger Representative Pat Schroeder (D-CO) by calling her "Babycakes," and filled his office with attractive young women, dubbed "Charlie's Angels." As Wilson later said, "I can teach them to type but I can't teach them to grow tits."
Wilson was also a strong supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.
In his personal life, Wilson showed a strong attraction to strong drink as well as beautiful women, both in mass quantities, and earned the nickname "Good Time Charlie." Eventually, he survived a cocaine scandal was well, a drunken hit and run car accident, and developed alcohol-related cardiac problems that necessitated a heart transplant in 2007.
Wilson's moment to shine came with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As a habitual defender of the underdog from adolescence, he was moved by the plight of the Afghans as they resisted the invasion of a stronger, more technological, aggressive superpower. Along with CIA
agent Gust Avrokotos
— a fellow maverick who once had a Greek witch in his hometown of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania put a curse on his boss — Wilson turned a relative sideshow of the Cold War into the largest operation in CIA history.
Furthermore, Wilson pushed for the introduction of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles into the Mujahadeen arsenal, largely negating the crushing Soviet advantage in attack helicopters. The efforts of Wilson and Avrokotos were instrumental in helping the Afghans drive the Soviets from their country in 1989.
Wilson probably would have escaped the attention of history, leaving Congress in 1996 as little more than hard-drinking, womanizing member who did little legislative work, but who endeared himself to his constituents. However, 60 Minutes
producer George Crile
told his story in the 2003 book Charlie Wilson's War
. In turn Crile's book was turned into a movie
in 2007, with Tom Hanks
playing Wilson and Philip Seymour Hoffman
as Avrokotos.Mike Vickers
, now Assistant Secretary of State for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict & Interdependent Capabilities, was a former US Army Special Forces officer and CIA paramilitary official with a key role on Avrokotos' team. Quoted in a Yahoo News
story, Vickers called Wilson a "great American patriot who played a pivotal role in a world-changing
event — the defeat of the Red Army in Afghanistan, which led to the collapse of Communism and the Soviet Empire
Ultimately, that has to be the real legacy of the late Charlie Wilson.