Morris Berg (1902-1972)
Moe Berg was an American Jewish hero. At present the word “hero” has been debased by politicians who argue over the number of medals each one may or may not have won. They praise themselves and give the word “hero” a bad name.
When Moe Berg was offered the Medal of Merit, he refused it. The Medal of Merit is issued to citizens of New York State and is given to veterans “who served on federal active duty and were recipients of a valor, achievement, commendation or meritorious service decoration” etc. No doubt, Moe Berg was worthy of all of these.
Born in New York City in 1902, the son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, Moe Berg became a linguist, able to speak several languages, including Japanese and German. His other languages were Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, French, Italian, Spanish and others. His biographer claims that Moe spoke twelve languages.
In 1938 he became known for his astonishing ability to answer questions on a show called “Information Please”. That would not have been a surprise to those who knew this Princeton graduate.
While at Princeton, More Berg played so well on the college baseball team that he entered professional baseball immediately upon graduation in 1923. Berg was 6'1" and weighed 185 lbs. (1.85 m, 84 kg).
On June 27 of that year, Berg started as shortstop for the Brooklyn Robins, a team that was later renamed the Brooklyn Dodgers and yet later moved to Los Angeles.
After only one season, Berg entered the Columbia Law School and graduated from there in 1926. (There was a time when a Jew was someone who practiced Judaism. Since the days of Berg, a Jew is an agnostic who has a law or medicine degree. Other degrees are sometimes also allowed).
Now, Berg never practiced law. Although admitted to the New York State Bar in 1928, he was then once more playing professional baseball in a number of infield positions for the Chicago White Sox. Then he became a catcher. In that position he also played for the Cleveland Indians, the Boston Red Sox and the Washington Senators. In his best season, in 1929, he appeared in 107 games and batted .287.
Of course, there are a good number of Jewish professional baseball players who did as well or better than Berg. But there isn’t even one who did what Berg did next.
In 1934, while still a baseball player, Berg toured Japan with an American all-star team including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Because he could speak Japanese, Moe Berg was invited to give a lecture at Meiji University. He then visited an American mother who had just given birth in a Tokyo hospital. His real reason for going to that hospital was that he had been recruited by our State Department to photograph the city from the roof of the hospital. His pictures then became important when our Air Force bombed Tokyo during the Second World War. (Evidently our military saw what was coming and yet were asleep at Pearl Harbor in 1941.)
On our entry into the war in December of that year, Berg made a radio speech in Japanese to the people of Japan as a friend of the Japanese people to avoid a war they could not win. It did him no good and it did the Japanese no good, although after the war many Japanese said that they had heard the speech but were powerless to stop the fighting.
Having volunteered to serve at the age of 39, he was first assigned as a Goodwill Ambassador to Latin America, since he spoke Spanish and Portuguese. Then, however, he volunteered to work for the Office of Strategic Services, which was founded by General “Wild” Bill Donovan, a native of Buffalo after whom the New York State Office Building in Buffalo is named.
Today the OSS is called the Central Intelligence Agency. That agency asked Berg to parachute into Yugoslavia during the German occupation. Imagine his courage. How many of us would be willing to parachute at all? Add to that that anyone, particularly a Jew, who parachuted into Nazi held territory would have been slaughtered at once, had he been caught.
Berg’s mission was to talk to the Communist partisan leader Joseph Broz, who called himself Tito, and to also talk to the Serb partisan leader Draza Mihailovich. Tito and Mihailovich were bitter enemies despite the German Nazi occupation of their country, because each wanted to become the boss of Yugoslavia after the war. Berg managed to get out of Yugoslavia and returned to the U.S. and reported to the O.S.S. concerning his impression of both Yugoslav leaders. To our shame we backed the communist Tito and allowed our allies the Serbs to become the victims of the communist-Albanian conspiracy. As you know, NATO and we bombed Belgrade on behalf of Osama ben Laden and his Albanian Nazi allies in 1999.
Now Berg did even more. In 1944, he traveled through Europe and, under the eyes of the Nazi murderers, actually succeeded in getting to occupied Norway, where the Germans had built a heavy water plant designed to produce an atomic bomb. Moe Berg had studied enough physics before he traveled to Norway to recognize that the German effort was far from complete.
Berg then crossed from Germany into neutral Zürich, in Switzerland, where he attended a lecture by the leading German physicist, Werner Heisenberg. He managed to meet with Heisenberg privately, as he had been assigned by the O.S.S. to discover whether Heisenberg could produce the atomic bomb for Hitler even in the last months of the war. Now, Heisenberg was not just another physicist. Heisenberg is known for his contribution to quantum mechanics and for his insight into the “uncertainty principle” which, in English translation, says that “the more precisely the position is determined the less precisely the moment is known.”
Berg was to shoot and kill Heisenberg if he believed that Heisenberg could shortly produce the bomb. To that end Berg walked all around the city with Heisenberg while carrying a loaded handgun in his pocket. Evidently, Berg decided that Heisenberg could not soon develop the atomic bomb. He then left Switzerland and traveled to Italy, France and again Germany to find evidence concerning German efforts to create the atomic bomb.
After the Second World War, Heisenberg claimed that he deceived Hitler into believing that the Germans would develop the atomic bomb soon. Like the scientists under Saddam Hussein, the German scientists lied to the dictator because they had no choice. That is the reason for our worry that Hitler might develop the bomb; our intelligence told us that the Germans were about to have it. Exactly that happened to our government when we became convinced that the lies told to Hussein by his own scientists were facts and therefore became convinced that he had “weapons of mass destruction”. Only this time the Democratic nominee seeks to gain political advantage from events he did not foresee any better than anyone else. Oh, how our enemies enjoy that spectacle.
After the war was over, Berg quit the C.I.A. and never worked again. From 1947 until his death from a fall in 1972 he lived on the charity of friends and relatives. He made no effort to gain publicity and even declined the Medal of Merit. Therefore we include him here and say to him posthumously: “Moe Berg, you were a true hero. You did not need a medal. Your life speaks for itself.”