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TCU Magazine "Alma Matters"

"Guilty of everything in the movie."

Charlie Wilson proved this week that his larger than life persona looms larger than ever. He's no Tom Hanks, but people are still fascinated by how he managed to steer billions of dollars in secret funding to the C.I.A. to funnel arms to mujahedeen soldiers battling the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s. He spoke this week at the Jim Wright Symposium.

By Kathryn Hopper

Charlie Wilson proved Wednesday his larger than life persona looms larger than ever. drawing not one, but two standing ovations from 600 audience members at the annual Jim Wright Symposium.

In one of the first major events held at the Brown-Lupton University Union Ballroom, the the six-foot, four-inch former Texas congressman detailed how he managed to steer billions of dollars in secret funding to the C.I.A. to funnel arms to mujahedeen soldiers battling the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s. His exploits were the subject of the Oscar-Nominated film “Charlie Wilson’s War” starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

“We had to take risks,” he said. “We had to have the willingness to risk failure. In other words, we had to think outside the box.”

Former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Jim Wright introduced Wilson, praising his record in Congress and calling him “ a true Texas legend.” He said he worked with Wilson in the 1970s to develop an energy strategy that would free the United States from dependence on foreign oil.

“If we had stayed with the policies developed by Charlie Wilson, we would not be facing the tragedy we face today and be energy independent,” he said. The audience then welcomed Wilson with a standing ovation. Once at the microphone, Wilson noted it was his first visit to the TCU campus and said that the audience was just as pleasant as he expected they would be. He said the people of Fort Worth in general seem happy and prosperous.

“And why shouldn’t they be?” he added. “For 35 years Fort Worth was the best represented city in the country,” he said with a nod to Wright.

Wilson spent 24 years in Congress, where he used positions on three pivotal defense committees to provide support to rebel forces going up against the might of the Red Army after the Soviets invaded in 1979.

He said funding from the United States and Saudi Arabia helped the Afghan forces arm themselves with automatic rifles instead of sticks and stones. In one colorful note, mentioned the Afghans were running low on their main source of transportation – mules.

“So we transported mules from Tennessee via Boeings,” he said. “We did this without anyone knowing, except maybe the mule market in Memphis.”

He eventually was able to secure funding for Stinger missiles to shoot down Soviet helicopters, which is said effectively ended the war and the Soviet army withdrew on February 5, 1989.

Chastened by the conflict, the Soviet Union was unable to stop the falling of the Berlin Wall and other Democratic movements in Eastern Europe, he said. He closed by saying the entire world owes a debt to the Afghan fighters who stood up the Soviets including the United States.

“All this was accomplished without spilling the blood of a single American soldier,” he said.

And the audience responded with the second standing ovation.



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