It could be said that conflict between opposites ultimately assumes a new place in the universe. One can arrive at many examples of opposing forces taking on transformations, even often fleeting ones – evil versus good, black versus white, women versus men, yin versus yang, communism versus capitalism, etc. Who would think that my surname, Kuklinski, could be poised in such a contest of antipodal proportions?
Since early in my life, I carried a capricious attachment to my last name. Though phonetic, the “Kook”, “Kluk”, “Ku Klux Klan”, and “Cock” connotations could make the 1970’s Philadelphia childhood and adolescence roads a bit bumpy. Kuklinski existed as an unwanted appendage. At one point, I even flirted with the idea of becoming a Kinski instead of a Kuklinski- maintaining my heritage but connecting to the lovely Nastassja, and her actor father of European film cult celebrity. This mock departure was plausible – same consonants but with a punchy place in American vernacular. So many others executed a surname modification along the way. Why not me? But I didn’t.
Kuklinski is neither a common nor a rare name in either the old or new worlds. In America, it has become far better known today, even with its signature assemblage of “k” consonants.
The change began with a Polish Pope – Pope John Paul II – who launched the mainstreaming of Polish heritage around the world. Then followed Solidarity’s bold movement, and gradually being a Kuklinski, or a Polish American, was not living outside the American box.
Now, in the 21st century, my fellow Americans are even less likely to stutter over Kuklinski, and what’s more, a new phenomenon has occurred. Richard Kuklinski, far better known as The Iceman, the coldest blooded assassin ever known, shares my surname. He died on March 7, 2006, and with his death, a renewed interest in his diabolical personality flourishes, as is evidenced by his numerous posthumous Facebook accounts and legions of Google scores. Now, instead of the usual stumble over Polish syllables, I often get, “Are you related to the Iceman?”, or even, “I’m going to keep my eye on you.”This is not the connection I sought! And because several popular pieces about the top serial killer of all time play regularly over various cable networks, the reputation of Kuklinski grows on. Even while on holiday recently, a DVD of the first two HBO Iceman interviews stood prominently below the big screen TV in the living room of the rental home.
You may think that perhaps I am being squeezed again, and I readily admit that the Iceman is a tall monster to topple. For one thing, he stood at 6″4” and weighed over 300 pounds, and allegedly murdered between 100 and 200 people.
I am pleased, and proud, not to mention relieved, to know of a greater Kuklinski who lives in the annals of history, a humble man standing far taller than the Iceman. In fact, this Kuklinski is one we should all know, if only the public examined the politics of liberty more than the entertainment of criminal psychosis.
Interestingly, this Kuklinski has the same first name as the Iceman, only in original Polish form, Ryszard. He is none other than the Polish Colonel who, some say, quietly saved the world from World War Three.
Ryszard Kuklinski is a brother to all people of free and independent character. It was he who supplied vital intelligence of the Warsaw Pact Strategies to the CIA during the Cold War of the nineteen seventies. He undertook this perilous mission of his own volition because of his conviction that Poland was not free after Nazi occupation but, rather, under a different occupation, this time by the Soviet Union. He felt it was his duty to protect his homeland.
He acted alone for the most part. In his view, any battle between the Warsaw Pact nations and the West would have occurred in Poland, thus a nuclear obliteration of his nation was likely. He undertook his mission without thought of personal financial gain and at a time when I was the butt of a junior high school history teacher’s routine Polish jabs – rather stupid, for a teacher. I hope that today this “historian” honors the life of Ryszard Kuklinski as a patriot of rare integrity who sacrificed it all – losing his country first, and then his two sons under mysterious circumstances (the leading theory points to KGB retaliation) so that American-led democracy could prevail with assured supremacy.
It was Ryszard Kuklinski’s precise, substantial intelligence over almost a decade that provided an x-ray of the Soviet military machine, and paved the way for tearing down the wall of Soviet communism. Ryszard Kuklinski narrowly escaped to the United States, at which time the Communist regime of his homeland sentenced him to death in absentia. It was a drawn out process over years to vindicate his actions, and even so, life was never the same again for him.Ryszard Kuklinski passed away in 2004, generally unknown by the western public, in Tampa, Florida.
And so, it could be argued that the Solidarity movement and Ryszard Kuklinski, helped fold the Soviet Union, “without breaking a pane of glass” (an expression often used in connection with the fall of the Berlin Wall). Ryszard is the Kuklinski I’d like most to be associated with, but the Iceman is presently far ahead in popular appeal to my fellow citizens. Perhaps one day attention will shift to the Colonel, as our world appears ever more in dire need of selfless examples of integrity and justice.Such a focus will also help impress the fact that the aftermath of the Cold War requires the world’s diligence toward lasting peace more than ever.
Perhaps then, this Kuklinski hero will be honored in a manner consummate to his contribution, and when this happens, the small stream running through the yard of my Polish heritage will be flowing into a more enlightened world, and not one preparing for a future of greater destruction and violence.
For now, the contest remains, Kuklinski Versus Kuklinski. I cheer for Kuklinski, an honorable name.
“Spying” by xrrr from creativecommons.org