Saturday, April 30, 2011

Soviet Chauffeurs

In any large hierarchical organization, very high ranking officials are likely to have a personal assistant to drive them. In the film 12 O’Clock High, Gregory Peck demotes a young sergeant for having failed to check his identification at the front gate, only to, shortly afterward, inform the same airman that he has his stripes back because he’s going to be his driver (general officers rate sergeants as drivers). During WWII Patton had an aide who was a sergeant when Patton became a brigadier general. Every time Patton got another star, his aide received another stripe. He retired a master sergeant.

In the Soviet Union, cabinet-level officials tend to have high-ranking officers as drivers. For instance, Lorencia Beria, head of the secret police, had **two** drivers. This also reminds me of an old soviet era joke. The story goes that Stalin is out in his chauffeur driven limousine when he gets sideswiped by a speeder and indignantly orders all speeders are to be sent to gulag. The next day, Stalin discovers that he’s running late for meeting so he tells chauffeur to put pedal to metal. At this point, chauffeur starts to cry, saying “Great leader, if I disobey your command, I’ll surely be sent to the gulag. But if I speed I’ll be sent to the gulag as well!” Stalin says, exasperated, “Shut up and pull over, I’ll drive.” So the driver does, and Stalin gets in the driver’s seat and starts driving like a bat out of hell. Shortly after two police pull over the speeding limo. One of the officers walks to driver’s compartment, doess double take and hurries back to squad car. His companion says to him, “Aren’t you going to write that guy a ticket?” The officer says “No way, he’s too important.” When his partner asks, “Who’s that important?” he says “I’m not sure, but Stalin is driving him.”

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