Bill Todd -- Jones:A Novel of the Early Cold War_2.0
Table of Contents  Last Chapter  Next Chapter  Home Page
 Chapter 7


The call came at a good time, right before Thanksgiving. Jones' presence was urgently requested in Washington for the morning of Thanksgiving day, and he was to remain for the weekend. He had just made good progress on his thesis, and felt that he needed a change, if not a vacation.

Not many organizations in Washington worked during the holidays, particularly that uniquely American one. However, defence think-tanks couldn't be accused of a lack of patriotism, and Jones suspected that many of his fellow researchers wanted to avoid a family Thanksgiving. Some, like himself, weren't particularly grateful to the Pilgrims and the turkeys. Others thought it a mistake to bring together relatives with barely concealed hostile feelings, feelings likely to be loosened with a glass or two of holiday cheer.

This suspicion was strengthened by the fact that the people at JOAD really didn't work very hard. Indeed, they could easily accomodate an unusual press of work by shortening their lengthy lunch hours. But no one could question the need to work at odd times when a national defence crisis was at hand, the sort of thing, one explained to one's relatives, that didn't get into the newspapers.

In the message to Jones, the stated reason was that glitches had arisen in one of his hand-simulations of submarine warfare. He doubted that there were any very serious problems, but he was happy to hop the night train, all expenses abundantly covered.

The other half of Jones' dual existence came into focus when he arrived at the Washington Union Terminal. He was one of the first to hit the platform, and he was upstairs quickly. Cleaning women outnumbered passengers on the holiday morning as he passed a closed coffee shop and crossed the vast rotunda with echoing footsteps. Then, dwarfed by the arches thought appropriate for entering or leaving the nation's capitol, he emerged into a light mist. An early morning rain had washed the forecourt clean and left clear puddles with a little water gurgling in the gutters. There was a lone taxi in sight with its driver sleeping at the wheel. Jones woke the man, who had been wheezing unhealthily, and got in.

Even without any traffic, it took half an hour to get out to JOAD in Chevy Chase. The building which housed the organization was a former mansion at the end of a long driveway. The taxi driver, smoking noxiously, was much impressed. He also seemed to expect a tip in proportion to the length of the driveway. Jones left him grumbling with ten per cent of the fare, and pushed open the heavy iron-girded front door. A new guard was on duty in the foyer, and he had to identify himself. Passing into one of the high-ceilinged main rooms, he found a festive atmosphere. Many good things to eat and drink had been sent by wives to recompense their husbands for missing Thanksgiving. Jones was having an initial dollop of cranberry sauce when the other two members of his particular team came up.

A crooked smile disfiguring his narrow handsome face, Wentworth Huntington Thurmond greeted Jones with his usual touch of irony. He had been a conspicuously successful submarine commander during the war, and was, of course, a much respected man in a mixed civilian-naval organization.

Heike Herrnstein, now helping welcome Jones, was a dignified and handsome young woman in a shy ascetic way. There was just a slight shadow in her manner, and it was all too easy to remember that she was a refugee German Jew.

Delayed by the intransigence of her parents, Heike had waited until it was almost too late. Her parents had finally refused to accompany her, and, by war's end, no trace of them could be found. Heike, arriving in America in a turmoil of inner feeling, had immersed herself in her mathematical work. After the war, JOAD had managed to temporarily lure her away from her university.

There was, Jones knew, a certain hidden tension between his two team members. It was known in a vague and muted way that, whenever he sank a Japanese ship, Wentworth had spent the next half-hour machine-gunning the survivors in the water. While German U-boat commanders who had done the same thing were condemned by war crimes tribunals, there were, of course, different rules for winners and losers. Moreover, there was a straight-forward justification. Submarines had no room for prisoners, and enemy seamen who were left to be rescued would continue to fight and exact casualties. Other American submarine commanders had also done the same thing. But Went once returned to base flying a banner reading, "KILL THE SUNZABITCHES." That sort of thing made some people a little uneasy around him. Heike was one of those persons. However, she had learned how to hide her feelings in Germany.

Just then, Admiral Benson came up. Greeting Jones somewhat less enthusiastically than had the others, he said,

"Glad you're here, Jones. We're just about to have a meeting to go over our new orders."

It was unusual to have a rear admiral in command of an organization that included civilians whom he didn't command in a military way, but only as an employer. Outside of setting general goals, he couldn't really tell them what to do, say, or even think. Many of the staff members did come from university faculties, and it was common for them to engage Benson in arguments featuring the sort of academic rough-and-tumble they were used to. The admiral, for his part, adapted better than most flag officers would have.

With his bent-forward posture, wide mouth, and insistent, somewhat rasping, voice, Benson often sounded like a salesman engaging a housewife on her doorstep. While it was a point of view rather than a set of brushes that he was trying to sell, he didn't stand on dignity. In fact, he didn't seem to mind what people said to him as long as they bought the product.

A few minutes later, they gathered in the meeting room, the former library of the mansion. When Admiral Benson entered, looking rather harrassed, he dumped his papers contemptuously on to the lecturn, as if to disown them. He then spoke to the group of some thirty staff members in a sidelong way, at first muttering to the front row, and then grudgingly recognizing the existence of the others.

As a submarine specialist who, for many years, had been trying to enlighten surface officers as to the most elemental features of submarine warfare, it wasn't surprising that the admiral spoke as if his patience were at an end. But he soldiered on and announced,

"We've just received new orders, and what amounts to an entirely new mission. The daily activity of almost everyone here will be profoundly affected."

Most people not being entirely thrilled with the prospect of unknown and profound changes in their daily activity, there were some unhappy faces in the room. Some people, perhaps, thought that they were already doing less than they would be likely to get away with under any new scheme.

No one said anything, and Benson, looking as if he thought some people were getting something that would serve them right, seemed about to explain the new orders. But, first, there was a bit of history mixed with autobiography.

"When I was a young submarine officer,"

He then paused and looked around the room, apparently to see if anyone doubted that he had ever been young. Satisfied, he continued,

"The old admirals of the fleet thought that submarines should accompany the battleships into fleet actions and attempt to torpedo enemy capital ships."

Benson had, in all fairness, been one of the ones who had eventually convinced the navy that subs were entirely unsuited to such a role. It took a while for him to recount exactly what he had said when.

Next came the notion that subs should range the seas, hoping to pick off small groups of enemy warships that happened to come their way. That was a little better. Still, they were too slow to catch hardly any warship, and the odds of being in exactly the right position were slim.

Finally, the successes of German U-boats in the Atlantic, together with those of American submarines in the Pacific, had convinced almost everyone that the sub's true role was that of commerce destroyer and blockade enforcer. The most enlightened officers, of whom a majority were in that very room, believed that submarines, almost unaided, could starve island nations like England and Japan into submission.

The only trouble was that the current potential enemy, the Soviet Union, was about as far from being an island nation as it was possible to be. As long as it had the Ukraine, and didn't disastrously mismanage its agriculture, it couldn't starve. Nor would it run short of strategic materials even if every ship in its miniscule merchant marine were sent to the bottom. Those thoughts had been troubling the ladies and gentlemen of JOAD for some time. Benson touched on these facts, concluding,

"The Soviet Union cannot be attacked by submarines in the usual way."

It was a little hard to imagine in what unusual way the attack might be carried out. Benson seemed to be about to give an explanation, but then turned away to the lecturn and picked up a piece of paper. He didn't read from it, but waved it in the air for everyone to see. No one was nearly close enough to read it, and, relenting, the admiral said,

"I might as well announce here that intelligence has confirmed our suspicion that the Soviets exploded an atomic bomb two weeks ago."

Jones hadn't known that there had been any such suspicion, and, judging by the stunned silence, neither had the others. Then, suddenly, Benson laughed. It wasn't a laugh of mirth, but of something deeper and darker. At the same time, his mouth, wide open, was reminiscent of the comedian, Joe E. Brown. Jones had recently seen a movie in which Brown danced until dawn with a rose stem clamped in that same mouth, the flower protruding grotesquely off to the side. Benson, minus the rose, continued to guffaw.

No one else seemed to find his announcement as funny as he did, or, in fact, funny at all. Even Went Thurmond looked rather serious. People, at JOAD and elsewhere, were used to the American atomic monopoly, and it seemed unjust that it could vanish so quickly. Before this news could be entirely digested, Benson added,

"Since the Soviets captured more German missile scientists than we did, they're ahead of us in missiles. You put the bomb on the missile, aim it at someone you don't like, and go bang!"

Benson laughed again, this time in such a way as to suggest that he had perceived some advantage to himself or JOAD in the potential catastrophe. Heike, sitting next to Jones, let out a low soft moan. But, of course, refugees from the Nazis were especially sensitive to the prospect of more war. Thurmond, sitting on her other side, now looked pleased. He had evidently spotted the silver lining.

According to Benson, the missiles of the next few years would have limited range, perhaps only a thousand miles. They also wouldn't be very accurate. But they would be good enough to utterly destroy western Europe, including England. The range and accuracy would gradually improve so that, within some five years, the United States would itself be under the gun. Then came Benson's punch line,

"A good many of these missiles will be small enough to be launched by submarines. You sneak up to the enemy coast, surface at night, and fire your atomic missile."

There was, finally, some discussion. It might take some time to prepare the missile for firing, and there would consequently be a period of vulnerability on the surface. If war were already declared, and one had to run submerged in daylight, it might take some time to reach firing position. And so on. Finally, Thurmond said to Benson,

"It sounds to me, sir, as if the country with the better submarine arm could overcome a disadvantage in missile technology."

Benson was delighted.

"Exactly! And a large part of that arm will be its tactical and strategic doctrine. That's our mission."

Bill Todd -- Jones:A Novel of the Early Cold War_2.0
Table of Contents  Last Chapter  Next Chapter  Home Page