. . .Striding
down a Fargo street an Easterner now with Western values and Western
clothes, Donn Grand Pre points to the shiny red Ford pickup parked
along the curb.
. . ."There’s my new pickup,"
he says, proud.
. . .The truck will take him back
to Viriginia, where he farms, but Grand Pre chose to buy it in
his home state, buys his jeans here too, likes doing businesss
. . .In North Dakota, he believes,
"businessmen still practice integrity. That's why I like
to come here to spend my money. You' don't get the feeling here
you're being ripped off."
. . .Integrity. That's his word now,
and not only his word but his creed, "If we could inculcate
that into our high level statesmen, our government officials,"
declares Grand Pre, once a government official himself, "we'd
correct what ails our society."
. . .Integrity was not always part
of his vocabulary.
. . .For 10 years Grand Pre's life
was the stuff movies are made of — and might yet be made
. . .Alluring and available women.
Swank hotels in the capitals of Europe and the Middle East. Steak
and caviar and a river of wine. Business intrigues involving billions
of dollars. Bribery and seduction.
. . .And death. Like a noxious ether,
the scent of death tainted those glamorous years. For Grand Pre
was — and proudly — a merchant of death, one of 16
men handpicked by the Pentagon to negotiate sales of American
. . .It was a long way, in both geographical
and spiritual distance, from the northeastern North Dakota farm
where he grew up.
. . .But Grand Pre recoiled from
the stench of' corruption, recovering his soul and returned to
farming, to the values and the faith of his childhood.
. . .The story is chronicled in Grand
Pre's fictionalized autobiography, "Confessions of an Arms
Peddler," published this fall by Chosen Books, a Christian
publishing house in Lincoln, Va., He's in North Dakota to promote
the book and will autograph copies Saturday, at B. Dalton's, West
Acres, from 1 to 3 p.m.
. . .Is this just another tale of
another born-again Christian? Another exploitation of the post-Watergate
muckraking mentality? Part of a fad?
. . .Go ahead, says Grand Pre. Be
skeptical. It's healthy. He's used to being questioned about whether
his Christian convictions are real. After all, he dealt in collusion
and subterfuge for years, chasing money.
. . ."This is one of the reasons
I underplayed that (the conversion) in the book," said Grand
. . .He points to the character he
calls in his book Goldie Flynn, the pseudonym of the crafty; unscrupulous
middleman who became Grand Pre's mentor in arms negotiations.
. . .Flynn, a blackmailer, lusting
after power and wealth, taught Grand Pre about "kissing tails...for
favors, for special treatment, for power." After dealing
with Flynn, Grand Pre was no longer naive.
. . .Yet near the end of his life,
Flynn returned to his early Catholicism, confessed his sins, and
spent an agonizing night warning Grand Pre about the evil in the
arms business, urging Grand Pre to get out. Grand Pre was skeptical.
. . .But Flynn's change was genuine.
"When you see someone go back to his boyhood Christianity,
it really does something to you," Grand Pre says.
. . .This experience was one in a
series of "steps along the way that made me reflect where
I was going. Was my whole motivation the pursuit of wealth? I
think it was — looking for this elusive security. I found
out the hard way that isn't the way to go."
. . .He almost found out too late.
. . .He was losing touch with his
six children; his marriage was deteriorating; he was unaware that
his wife Ursella was being treated for cancer; he was letting
his own health go. Why? The arms business was the most exciting
life he had known. Never-mind that it I kept him away from home
much of the time. It paid off.
. . .Today, Grand Pre argues against
the undiscriminating sale of weapons to any all comers, including
repressive rulers like the former Shah of Iran and to countries
that may become our enemies.
. . .But the sale of weaponry is
"the biggest and fastest growing business in world today,"
he says. In 1980, the United States expects to sell $15 billion
worth of military equipment, up $1.5 million from 1970.
. . ."Carter was going to cut
the proliferation of arms, and he can't, simply because it is
good business and the market is there," Grand Pre explains.
. . .Recognizing that we live in
"a destructive world," Grand Pre advocates a strong
defense. "In order to control evil we need two forces. One
is the force of arms; the other is the force of love." Strange
bedfellows, but Grand Pre quotes novelist I. B. Singer in calling
love "a stabilizing: force" behind the "sin, sex
and revolution" that life is made of.
. . .But the proliferation of weapons
is out of control because of greed, he maintains. Governments
and arms dealers alike are "out for the money. It's the most
highly profitable business in the world, so you sell to all comers."
. . .But it doesn't have to be that
way, Grand Pre insists. He is surprisingly optimistic that change
on a grand scale can come about, if individuals change, if they
recover their integrity.
. . .He cites the second assassination
attempt on former President Gerald Ford's life as another of the
steps that led to his change of heart — a signal that things
. . ."It isn't society that's
gone wrong," he decided. "It's some of the people in
it, or some people at the highest levels of government who have
so corrupted themselves. This kind of hanky panky or collusion
or bribery, when tolerated at the highest level, affects the whole
. . .He did his part, got out while
he could, told his story in hopes that it might make a difference.
...The book, says Grand Pre, is "a
sort of catharsis, a cleaning of my mind if not my soul. I'll
get it out of the way and get on with writing."
. . .Writing must be in his blood,
he figures, since he put himself through Dickinson State College
as wire editor of the Dickenson Press.
. . .And he has already gotten on
with writing, explaining arms negotiations in a journalistic fashion
in "The Golden Calf," exploring North Dakota history
through a novel about growing in Rolette County, "The Brothers
Iverson," and humorously depicting his own new life in "Confessions
of a Madison County Farmer," all works in progress.
. . .He comes back
to North Dakota partly to write at the home of his parents Mr.
and Mrs. Leo Grand Pre, Dickinson; partly to visit the scenes
he needs for his new novel; partly to get away from the "militaristic-materialistic"
hedonism he finds on the East Coast.
. . ."I think we have grass
roots integrity in the Middle West," he says. "These
are the people who have earned the name 'Silent Majority;' United,
they could become a power for good.
. . ."But we have to get outside
ourselves. We have to think more broadly than self-interest"
. . .A return to the country's foundling
principles — democracy, decentralized government, individual
responsibility — a return to Christian principles too, might
work the miracle of global change, Grand Pre seems to say.
. . .If we could wake up and devote
the day to doing what we can to implement these teachings, and
if we all were to do that just a little, we'd get back to the
integrity of the nation." If, as John F. Kennedy said, we
each "lit a candle in the darkness, we'd get on the road
to a society we'd like better, and we'd like ourselves better.
. . .This, he says, is what he and
his family are trying to do with their National Association for
Deaf-Blind Children, a charitable organization they founded. On
their 300-acre farm, they are establishing a center where multiple
handicapped children can learn and play, where their parents can
learn how to help them, and where teachers can be trained to educate
. . .The Grand Pres' adopted son,
Thaddeus (called "the tadpole") is multiple handicapped.
. . .Grand Pre's transformation is
a spiritual Cinderella story, except that instead of a glass slipper
there are those cowboy boots and the feather-banded ten-gallon
hat gallon hat — big enough to contain the courtly manners
and the magnetism, the slightly raspy, slightly twangy voice that
quotes from Betrand Russell and from "I'm OK, You're OK,"
that discusses handicapped children and the Shah of Iran.
. . .It all fits.
. . .Grand Pre's life is likely to
get even more interesting, thanks to his book, which has already
brought him attention in the Washmgton Post
and other East Coast papers, which has led to talk show dates
and is being considered for a film.
. . .Has success, or at least the
threat of success, spoiled the 53 year-old author? Well, he hasn't
outgrown his roots, if that's any indication.
. . ."I'm still in love with
North Dakota," says Grand Pre, who has always maintained
his voting residence, his permanent home, in the state.
. . ."I've been in 69 countries;
conducted negotiations in 17, and I still think the best spot
in the world is North Dakota. It's because of the people."