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How I Almost Started World War III (True Story)

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For starters, this is a true story. None of you would be alive today if it hadn't been for my wife. You owe her. A nice gift basket will suffice.

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My wife is German, a native of a tiny farm town in Bavaria called Mellrichstadt, a quiet, typically-German hamlet noted pimarily for its proximity to the old East German border, which was a dangerous place to be during the Cold War. Their farmhouse was just a few kilometers away, a short stroll.

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In 1976, my wife and I had been together for two years, and she decided that it was time for me to meet her family, which consisted of 5 siblings, two parents and several thousand uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces. Fortunately, I speak enough German to make people think I speak enough German.

One of Ingrid's brothers - Hans-Peter -- was in the army at the time. Late one night, a bunch of us got drunk on beer and schnapps, and Hans-Peter announced that he had some military flares in the trunk of his car. Apparently, they were used to light things up for a night time tank attack.

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Mellrichstadt's nightlife is about as exciting as an Amish fashion show, so there was nothing to do. Being drunk with nothing to do can be dangerous. Then one of us - probably me - decided that it would be fun to take a few of Hans-Peter's flares, light them and toss them over the border.

Everybody seemed to agree that this would be hysterically funny. It never occurred to us that we'd all get shot. We were young, and the young are invincible.

So we drove to the border. You have to understand that, in the Cold War days,the Soviets were extremely paranoid about people leaving or entering East Germany, especially if the latter entered with tanks or outstanding pastry.

The border consisted of watchtowers occupied by several snipers pointing automatic weapons. I got the distinct impression that these guys were not heavily into comedy. Between the watchtowers and the border, there were frightening strands of electrified barbed wire, trenches, teeth-baring, feral dogs and probably land mines. Not a good place for a picnic.

So I took out two or three flares and found a book of matches. Fortunately, by this time, my wife had barfed about four times. She was nauseous, but semi-sober. Clearly, she was the only sensible one in the group. She grabbed the matches out of my hands before I could light one. Then she grabbed the flares. "Are youcrazy?" she asked. I shrugged drunkenly and said. "The jury's still out."

And so Ingrid shepherded -- actually pushed -- us back into the car and drove us home. As I sobered up, I became mildly irritated that the worldwide notoriety I could have achieved for blowing up the planet would never be.

Then I realized that two things would have happened: Either I would have been shot dead by the snipers in the watchtowers, or I would have perished in the holocaust of nuclear annihilation.

When I awoke the next morning, I was astounded (and more than a little terrified) to realize that it would have been so easy.

 

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John Blumenthal has been a professional comedy writer for 25 years. A former associate editor and columnist at Playboy Magazine (following a short stint at Esquire), he's written 8 books and 2 produced movies. His films include "Short Time," (major (more...)
 

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