Kraemer, Fritz Gustav Anton
Kraemer, Fritz Gustav Anton
(b. 3 July 1908 in Essen, Germany; d. 8 September 2003 in Washington, D.C.), uncompromising and fiercely anticommunist geopolitical strategist in the Pentagon who influenced legions of generals and secretaries of defense.
Kraemer was the older of two sons born to Georg Kraemer, a state prosecutor, and Jennie Goldschmidt Kraemer, the daughter of an industrialist. After his parents divorced at the outbreak of World War I, Kraemer was raised by his mother, privately tutored, and then sent to the Arndt Gymnasium in Berlin for a rigorous classical education. At the gymnasium Kraemer displayed his athletic gifts as a gymnast and weightlifter as well as his prodigious intellect. By the time he graduated at the age of sixteen, he was fluent in Latin, Greek, and French. After graduation he went to England, studied at the London School of Economics, and returned to Germany, completing his first doctoral degree (in jurisprudence) at the University of Frankfurt in 1931. He eventually earned a second doctorate in political science.
While studying at the University of Geneva in the mid-1920s, Kraemer began wearing the monocle that would become his lifelong trademark, placing it over his strong eye in order to strengthen the weaker eye. There he met his future wife, Britta Bjorkander, the nineteen-year-old daughter of a Swedish businessman.
Kraemer’s Prussian upbringing, Lutheran faith, and youthful experiences formed the underpinnings of his rigid geopolitical doctrine. During his studies at the London School of Economics he disapproved of the left-leaning intellectual cynics who dominated the school at that time. When Kraemer returned to Germany for his doctoral degree, his homeland was in tumult, torn between Hitler’s rising National Socialists and their communist rivals. Kraemer, undaunted by the inevitable beating, would sometimes leap into street demonstrations between the two factions, carrying a small German imperial flag emblazoned with the black Hohenzollern cross.
When Hitler became chancellor in 1933, Kraemer married Britta, who had been his fiancée for seven years, and fled with her to Italy. Learning Italian, he earned a doctorate in political science from the University of Rome within a year at the age of twenty-six. He became a legal adviser at the League of Nations’ Comparative International Law Institute in Rome, but his defiant antifascist views—he often flew the colors of imperial Germany while kayaking on the Tiber River—made him a target of the German Gestapo attachés in Mussolini’s Italy. Recognizing the danger, Kraemer made plans to escape to the United States. In 1938 he sent his pregnant wife to England so that the child could be born a British citizen.
After their son was born in February 1938, Britta returned to Germany with the infant, intending to stay just long enough to retrieve the Kraemer family jewels and then reunite the family in the United States. But the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 slammed the door on their escape. They were placed under house arrest in Wiesbaden for the duration of the war.
Kraemer, who had been left virtually penniless with the collapse of the League of Nations, sold his rings to reach the United States early in 1939. Hearing that farm work was available in New England, this recipient of two doctoral degrees worked as a field hand and woodcutter in New Hampshire. He was befriended by a local farmer who wondered why a highly educated man was working as an agricultural laborer. The farmer helped Kraemer move to Washington to become a tutor and later a researcher at the Library of Congress. He delivered speeches against the Nazis but nevertheless came under scrutiny by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) because of his ever-present monocle and thick German accent.
In 1943 Kraemer was drafted and became a U.S. citizen as an inductee into the U.S. military. After completing basic training, he was sent to the army’s Eighty-fourth Infantry “Railsplitter” Division at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Major General Alexander Bolling assigned Kraemer to his headquarters after he spotted the distinctive monocle-wearing private perched on a platform during battle exercises, shouting commands in German. When asked, Kraemer explained that he was “making German battle noises” to help prepare the American soldiers for combat.
Bolling later dispatched Kraemer to address a group of infantrymen that included another German refugee, Henry Kissinger. Moved by Kraemer’s passionate and forceful denunciation of Nazism, the future secretary of state penned Kraemer a note. Within days, Kraemer made the nineteen-year-old private his protégé, finding a position for him as the commander’s interpreter and later as an administrator of occupied cities after the division arrived in Europe. He also persuaded Kissinger to attend Harvard University. Kissinger later described Kraemer as “the greatest single influence on my formative years.”
In the winter of 1944 Kraemer entered combat as a thirty-six-year-old infantryman in the Battle of the Bulge, interrogating captured Germans posing as Americans. While he was on a one-man scouting mission in Geilenkirchen, a city in the Rhineland, a German sentry tried to take him prisoner. Instead, Kraemer persuaded the enemy forces to surrender, earning a Bronze Star and a battlefield commission.
As the Allied forces pressed into Germany in the spring of 1945, Kraemer wrote to General George S. Patton asking for help in finding his wife and son. Kraemer located the family. After the war, he helped to establish the European Command Intelligence School in Oberammergau, Germany; prepared documents for the Nuremburg trials; and began to warn U.S. intelligence officials of the growing danger of Soviet Communism.
Kraemer returned to the United States in late 1947 with his wife, son, and infant daughter. He left active duty in 1948 but remained in the U.S. Army Reserves until he retired in 1963 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Throughout his civilian career he was frequently referred to as “Colonel Kraemer.” From 1951 until 1978 Kramer served as a senior civilian adviser to the army chief of staff.
Kraemer’s nominal title—he steadfastly refused promotion beyond the rank of GS-15—masked the true extent of his influence. He may have refused further promotion because any rank higher than GS-15 would have required that he submit complex financial disclosure forms and take on administrative and managerial tasks. In any figurehead position he would additionally become exposed to the pitfalls of fluctuating political administrations. Regardless, Kraemer analyzed hundreds of classified documents each day and developed close mentoring relationships with a succession of army chiefs of staff and defense secretaries, including Donald Rumsfeld and James Schlesinger. “He stimulated my thoughts because he had all these experiences and insights,” Schlesinger said.
A legendary talent scout, Kraemer helped advance the career of a future secretary of state, Alexander Haig. They became friends in the Pentagon when Haig was a young major working in the office of the deputy chief of staff for operations. After Kissinger became national security director for President Nixon in 1969, Kraemer urged his old friend to appoint Haig as his military assistant.
Kraemer and Kissinger had remained close for a number of years. In the mid-1970s, however, Kraemer accused Kissinger and the Ford administration of coddling the Soviets during the era of détente and refused to speak to his protégé for twenty-eight years. Kraemer was unswerving in his contempt for “provocative weakness,” warning that U.S. military weakness invites aggression by America’s enemies. He also railed against forsaking one’s principles through compromise or conciliation.
Kraemer influenced generations of young officers and civil servants as a lecturer, frequently whipping out a dagger from a German sword cane to make a point about the limitations of diplomacy in a dangerous world. Sven Kraemer followed his father into public service and was a longtime staff member of the National Security Council.
After retiring from government service at the mandatory age of seventy, Kraemer continued to lecture and held late-evening discussions with an endless stream of like-minded Pentagon officials and foreign dignitaries at his home in northwest Washington. He spoke seven languages, read incessantly, and embodied an austere and healthful lifestyle. On his eightieth birthday he bought an exercise bicycle and rode it for over 2,300 miles. Kraemer died of kidney failure after a short illness at the age of ninety-five. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
Through the cumulative force of his personality, intellect, experience, and encyclopedic knowledge of history and current events, Kraemer shaped the thinking of military leaders and policy makers in the United States and overseas for over half a century. His unbending distrust of Soviet communism influenced the toughened anticommunist policies of the Reagan administration that helped to end the cold war. His contributions are perhaps best summed up by an inscription on the sword friends gave him for his sixty-fifth birthday: “Fritz G. A. Kraemer—strategist, scholar, counselor, patriot.”
Hubertus Hoffmann, Fritz Kraemer on Excellence: Missionary, Mentor, and Pentagon Strategist (2004), is a limited-edition coffee-table book that includes eulogies, reflections, and tributes from Kissinger and Rumsfeld as well as Kraemer’s son and daughter. Several biographies and autobiographies contain passages about Kraemer, including Walter Isaacson, Kissinger: A Biography (1992); Marvin Kalb and Bernard Kalb, Kissinger (1974); and Alexander M. Haig, Jr., with Charles McCarry, Inner Circles: How America Changed the World: A Memoir (1992). Nick Thimmesch, “The Iron Mentor of the Pentagon,” is an extensive profile of Kraemer that appeared in the Washington Post (2 Mar. 1975). Lou Marano, “Remembering Fritz Kraemer,” Washington Times (31 Jan. 2005), is a lengthy reflective article about the author’s encounters with Kraemer and includes biographical details. Obituaries are in the Washington Post (3 Oct. 2003), London Telegraph (10 Nov. 2003), London Times (12 Nov. 2003), and New York Times (19 Nov. 2003).