Another great man leaves us, Herb Romerstein. He was a scholar and a civil servant, a dedicated patriot, a tireless anti-communist, and a mensch and a half. He labored for years for the House of Representatives (Internal Security staff) and then for the Reagan administration at USIA, where he did exceptional work on Soviet disinformation. As Paul Kengor noted, Herbie was the institutional memory on Communist subversion in and against the United States, and he knew whereof he spoke, having been a member of the Communist Party. And he and the late Eric Breindel produced an invaluable analysis of the Venona documents, which famously proved the scope and efficacy of Soviet espionage in this country.
I had the great pleasure of working with Herbie in the mid-1980s when we were editors of a collection of documents captured by U.S. military forces in Grenada. The Grenada Documents was a joint venture of the Departments of State and Defense, as was the larger project of assembling the enormous pile of captured documents, which was, and is, housed in the National Archives of the United States.
It was dirty work. Every day an Army officer called me from the island to tell us about the day’s shipment: where the documents had been found, what they comprised, and which ones he judged most important. They arrived in wooden boxes, after being fumigated to protect us against unwanted encounters with spiders and scorpions. But there was no protection against dirt, and there was plenty of Grenadian soil in those documents. We were filthy by midday, and the equals of Charlie Brown’s pal Pigpen by evening. You can judge for yourself if it was worth it; as usual in such matters, the establishment intellectuals and “reporters” weren’t much interested in the harsh treatment of the poor Grenadians by their own leaders, following the lead of Soviet and, above all, Cuban intelligence officers. I believe that the Grenada documents provide an invaluable view of life within the Soviet Empire, and almost all of them are in (very tasty) English.
It couldn’t have happened without Herbie. He didn’t mind getting dirty. And he loved the work, as I did. One document in particular especially delighted us. It was a report from the ambassador to Moscow. The Grenadians had been begging for agricultural aid from the Kremlin, but it never came. Finally, at a diplomatic reception, the ambassador was approached by his Bulgarian counterpart, who said (these are not his exact words) “you’ve been asking our Soviet comrades for help with agriculture. But they have found that their methods do not work well in your part of the world. Thus whatever assistance you receive will fail. Thus you will receive that assistance from Bulgaria, and not from our Soviet comrades. That way, we will be blamed for the failure.”
How good is that? Herbie and I celebrated in our chilly room down in the bowels of the Pentagon. What a find! I don’t know of any other piece of paper that so thoroughly documents the cynicism of the Soviets, and the failure of their system. After all, the Bulgarian ambassador could very well have said that Soviet agricultural methods didn’t work anywhere; it had nothing to do with Grenada’s perfect climate, as Herbie happily chortled.
So that was Herbie. He leaves us countless happy memories and the products of a life well spent. Plus a large family, whose mourning we will share in the days ahead.