General Smith, for the first time in Jones' experience, looked tired. He said,
"General LeMay is an amazing man. He never stops. He just wears people down, whether it takes a day, a week, or a month."
"Or, perhaps, a year or a decade."
Smith smiled wanly,
"Probably so. But we're not giving up. We can't."
"So far as I know, he's never known any kind of defeat or setback. I guess he's always had his way."
"Which is a dangerous thing for a commander. Napoleon in Russia comes to mind. The first defeat is a big one."
"Yes. Bombing Japan with B-29s was one thing. Their fighter force had been weakened by years of war. Bombing the Soviet Union is another."
"How does your simulation look?"
"We've made some progress, general, but it's not going to take us a great deal beyond military common sense. I can imagine some of our bombers getting through with atomic bombs. They'd cause immense damage, but we'd be lucky to get even a few back to friendly territory. It'd be worse than the Doolittle raid on Tokyo."
"LeMay inspires fanatical loyalty. He has men who'll do it, whatever the odds."
The next day, as Jones and Heike got off the machine, General Smith approached and said, with something of a sigh,
"It's become even more difficult. It's not just LeMay, it's all the people he's persuaded with arguments that sound fairly reasonable."
"I know of one. They exploded a bomb, but the second one is almost as hard to produce as the first, not to mention one that can be dropped from a bomber. We now have a great advantage, but, within a year or two, they'll start mass production. So we'd better get them first."
"LeMay speaks of beating them to the draw. These wild west metaphors resonate more than you might imagine."
Heike, looking distraught, said,
"But there's no need to attack them if they don't want to attack us."
Smith, apparently undisturbed by this burst of liberalism, said quietly,
"LeMay points to Stalin. He's undeniably hostile and acquisitive for more territory. Probably worse than Hitler. He's destroyed many thousands of his own people, perhaps millions, and he'll hardly be squeamish about destroying us if we give him a chance."
"Would it make any difference if we did come up with a simulation suggesting the futility of an attack?"
"It probably won't have any effect on LeMay. But you could go out to SAC headquarters and meet him. If he has a chance to give you some input, he might be more receptive later to what you have to say."
When going downstairs to leave the building, Heike and Jones often stopped to chat with Admiral Howard Harkins. On this day, he was at his most relaxed as he made tea for them. Indeed, it almost seemed as if he had already retired. He said,
"Only four months to go. We're looking at places to retire to. Anywhere but Florida."
After a discussion of various locations ranging from Maine to San Diego, he asked,
"What are you two up to today?"
"General Smith has decided to send us off to SAC to get information for the big simulation. We're also scheduled to interview General LeMay."
"I knew LeMay when he was a young army flier. I was a somewhat older navy flier, but the aviation community was so small that there was a lot of fraternization. He didn't seem terribly unusual at the time, and I never would have guessed what he was to become."
"He didn't go to West Point, did he?"
"Far from it. He's the son of a French Canadian migrant laborer. He did very well to work his way through civil engineering school at Ohio State. But his spelling is so bad that he cannot, unaided, write an intelligible report. He can go a whole dinner without saying anything at all. Contrary to rumor, he doesn't scream and shout at people. He just tells them that they can do better."
"Well, that's encouraging. We have a list of detailed questions to ask him if he seems amenable to that."
"That's better than waiting for him to say something on his own. Still, whatever his limitations, he's created what's probably the most efficient, and certainly the most powerful, military organization of all time."
"That makes him sound like Alexander the Great or Napoleon."
"No. This is the age of the administrator. LeMay has flown a lot of combat missions, and I have a feeling that, if it ever comes to the big one, he'll be in the co-pilot's seat of the leading bomber. But his secret doesn't have to do with leading people into battle. It consists in demanding that they work amazingly long hours and practice everything until they get it exactly right."
As they left the building, Heike said to Jones,
"A lot of this comes down to strength of personality. Admiral Benson isn't as strong as Dean Jensen and General Smith, so he lost his computer and a good deal else. But Smith may not be as strong as LeMay. I wonder what he might lose."
"I wonder too."
General Smith had himself arranged their weekend visit to the Strategic Air Command at Offutt Air Force Base just outside Omaha. Some organizations went into semi-hibernation on weekends, but SAC and General LeMay didn't.
Heike, on arriving in America, would never have dreamed that she would be working with and interviewing some of the most powerful military people in the country. Young women hadn't been taken that seriously, and still weren't. It was, of course, computers that made the difference. She did wonder, at times, when the novelty would wear off.
Their Friday morning flight was aboard a TWA Lockheed Constellation. Heike loved airplanes, and she thought that the Constellation, with its triple tail, sleek fuselage, and four big engines, was the most beautiful of airliners. It pleased her that 'TWA' now stood, not for 'Transcontinental and Western Airlines', but for 'Trans World Airlines'. It was that sort of thing that made America so forward-looking and exciting.
Jones had her take the window seat, which further delighted her. She could hardly wait to see out. Jones didn't seem as excited as she when the big engines started, one by one, with a sputtering and a roar. Nor did he seem to like all the little movements of the plane when they taxied. It seemed to her that the plane was a living thing, transmitting each little shock from one part to another. The take-off, with the sudden roar of wide-open engines and being pressed back into one's seat, was the most exciting of all. Midway down the runway, Jones admitted that he didn't like flying. She therefore somewhat curbed her outward enthusiasm, but still couldn't resist pointing out the sights of Washington as they curved over the city.
They got to a hotel in Omaha that night, and, the next morning, a car picked them up and took them out to SAC. Just as they approached, a great shadow passed over them. Heike looked up, and was thrilled to see the huge bulk of a B-36 waft gently over them. It was impossible to mistake. Aside from its size, no other aircraft had six pusher engines mounted behind the wings.
There was a cloud of dust some distance up the runway as the landing gear absorbed the great shock. Heike said to Jones,
"That truly is a battleship of the air. How could it possibly be shot down?"
The driver, a sergeant, answered for him.
"I'm afraid, maam, that the engines and gas tanks are just as vulnerable as on any other plane."
That, of course, was the problem. Bullets and shells bounced off the battleships of the sea, but the ones of the air had been stripped of armor to make them lighter. The B-36 was now disappearing into the distance in its long landing run, and they headed for the converted factory building that served as SAC headquarters.
There was no nonsense about a tour of the base. They were taken straight to General LeMay's office. After a much shorter wait than Heike had expected they were led in to the man with the much photographed face. He did have the cigar in his mouth, and it was almost a surprise when he stood and greeted them pleasantly. He then sat down and said nothing. Jones, ready for silence, led off,
"We're just beginning a large-scale computer simulation of air war, sir. The initial results aren't going to be very significant, but we need to get started. We'd very much appreciate your help."
General LeMay looked at Jones quizzically. With an element of dour amusement, he replied,
"The first operation of any military force is always a total foul-up. I imagine it'll be the same with computers."
"I'm sure it will be, sir. There are any number of things that can go wrong, but there's something in our favor. We can keep what works and eliminate the problems one by one."
"That isn't always true in the military case. It's easy to fix one thing, and then have two other things go wrong."
"Yes, sir. I was in PT boats during the war, and we had plenty of that."
The general looked thunderous.
"You're a PT boat officer and they have you formulating air strategy?"
"Because I'm also a mathematician and a computer person, sir. They seemed to think that some combat experience was better than none."
The general continued to stare, but Heike broke in,
"I haven't any military experience at all, general."
That brought a laugh of a sort.
"Well, no, Miss Herrnstein. I didn't really think you had. Are you a mathematician?"
Heike nodded and Jones said,
"She's also one of the world's best programmers. If we can give her the information she needs, she'll eventually produce something useful."
The general shrugged, as if to suggest that, however useful it might be, it wasn't likely to be useful to him. However, he then relented enough to remark,
"Our problem here is that we can't afford any initial mistakes. In the next war, there may be only one mission. Our training has to be so thorough that, for the first time in history, everything will go exactly right the first time."
"One advantage of computer simulation is that it multiplies possibilities. If we run the program a thousand times, we might uncover something that hasn't turned up in the normal course of training."
"Well, I won't say that I've anticipated everything that could go wrong. No one could. But I don't really have any idea how you could represent air war with a computer."
"It's like the traditional military and naval games, sir, but faster and more complete. It's also more revealing of basic assumptions that may turn out to be wrong."
The general looked at him questioningly, and Jones added,
"We don't want to be surprised by new weapons, like the machine-gun and the submarine in the first war."
That seemed to make a certain impression, and Heike said,
"We'd particularly like to have your ideas about the effectiveness of Soviet air defenses."
"They're a hell of a lot more effective than they ought to be. A socialist government in Britain gave them the Rolls- Royce Nene, the best jet engine they had. Those are now in fighters, and, of course, the Russians produce them by the thousand. That decision will eventually cost us many planes and lives."
"Does that make an attack impossible?"
"Not in the least. There's another factor. Every piece of Russian aviation equipment I've seen is unbelievably crude. They copied the B-29, but I'd be willing to bet that there's a huge difference. We have something mechanical go wrong every third flight or so, but our people are trained to take care of it immediately. The Russian copies will have ten things go wrong every training mission, and they won't cope as well. In many cases, the planes will have to abort their missions and return to base."
"And their fighters will have the same problems?"
"Just consider this. Soviet fighters, on paper, weren't that much inferior to the German ME-109. But, every time the odds were anything like equal, the Germans wiped them out. Many Russian pilots were afraid to take to the air at all. It's partly a matter of mechanical problems, but, even more, training."
"Why do we have such an advantage in training, general?"
The general laughed enough to cause him to remove his cigar. He replied,
"If I were the commander of a Soviet air force, there'd be a gentleman sitting right over there."
The general paused to point to his right and continued,
"He'd be a commissar. He'd report everything I said to you to Stalin. He'd also have the power to countermand any orders I might give to my own people. It's hard enough to train a force to the present level of the Strategic Air Command as it is. I couldn't possibly do it under those circumstances. Neither could anyone else."
"I can imagine the Soviet air defense commander being under pressure to assign most of his squadrons to politically important regions, regardless of military considerations."
"Exactly! I almost feel sorry for the poor chump. That's one reason among many that we'll be able to penetrate."
This was the most enthusiastic response they had gotten, and Jones summoned his nerve to ask,
"When do you think we'll have the most relative advantage for an attack, sir?"
The reply came without any hesitation, as if General LeMay was used to the question.
"When we get the hydrogen bomb. We've already got the B-36s, and there'll be jet bombers to follow. A majority will get through, bomb, and land in a friendly country."
"Will the Soviets be able to mount a return strike?"
"They'll probably get something in the air, but, if we time things right, we'll be ready for the return strike. One or two ships might get through, and we might get an atomic explosion somewhere in the great plains."
There was a moment of silence, during which Heike contemplated that explosion in the plains. To her surprise, the general, unprompted, continued,
"You asked me when we'd have the greatest relative advantage. But you don't always get to go to war when you want to. The Soviets could invade some country next week."
"Do you think we'll eventually lose our relative advantage if we don't attack, sir?"
"Certainly. When they also get the hydrogen bomb, probably through espionage, we might have to pay a much higher price. When they get missiles with the necessary range, all our advantage will be gone. We'll be sitting ducks."
"Can't it be assumed that we'll have comparable missiles?"
"When it comes to missiles, their skill disadvantage is wiped out, and is overcome by their quantity advantage. They aim twenty atomic missiles at Washington. Five don't even get off the ground. One comes down immediately and kills a hundred thousand of their own people. That's no problem for the Soviets. Another ten reach this continent, but either don't go off or land all over the place. But four come close enough to Washington to destroy it. Or, if that's not good enough, you aim forty at the target. There's no defense against such an attack."
"What about our counter-strike?"
"We'll kill lots of Russions, but that won't stop them. They lost twenty million in the war. Stalin will attack when he thinks the balance favors him. We have to beat him to the draw."
"So it's a matter of being ready all the time."
"Sure. I keep a force in the air at all times, not just as a deterrent, but to make possible a quick pre-emptive strike. The opportunity might come when we least expect it. That's happened often enough in war."
A colonel hovered nearby, and the interview was obviously at an end. General LeMay bade them farewell with good grace, adding,
"Colonel Scott here will give you any technical information you may need."
Colonel Scott rather reminded Heike of a Mormon missionary she had once met. Tall, handsome, and utterly anonymous, he was obviously a disciple of the general's who, in turn, inspired his subordinates with the same faith. And faith it was. He even believed in the B-50. When Jones queried him on that score, he responded,
"It's not the B-36, but it's ten times better than anything they have. We've got the aerial re-fuelling down, for example. Just a few months ago, we flew one non-stop around the world. You won't see the Soviets doing that."
In a way, it was true. SAC was an elite force, probably the best of its kind in the world. But Scott, even more than LeMay, believed that it was invincible in all circumstances. After going to his office and being shown every statistic that Heike could imagine, she admitted,
"This is just the sort of thing we need to get our simulation going."
Scott smiled winningly, clearly confident that the simulation, if done correctly, would favor an attack at any time.
As they were leaving, Jones happened to ask a question about in-flight refuelling. Scott replied,
"I'm not sure about that, but you can interview one of the tanker pilots. I'll find one for you."
Jones suspected that Scott was happy to hand them over to someone else, and they ended up with a Captain Hanson, who was having his lunch in the cafeteria. They urged him to keep eating, and Heike went to the counter to get a snack for herself and Jones.
Captain Hanson was quite young, big and blonde, and he told them that he liked any job that allowed him to fly. Heike asked him if he would like to be a civilian airlines pilot, and he replied,
"They make a lot more money, but the flying isn't nearly as interesting. Refuelling a B-50 can be quite a challenge."
"How about a B-36?"
"They're easier because of the pusher propellors. You don't have to worry about them cutting a hose."
What SAC called the "main mission" had the bombers being re- fuelled by a fleet of tankers in a designated re-fuelling track not far from the North Pole. Heike said,
"The weather there must be awful."
"It is on the ground most of the year, but there may be clear blue skies at our altitude."
"But what if there aren't?"
"We and the bombers both have radar to find each other, but, assuming that works, the last part is purely visual."
Heike, rather alarmed, asked,
"How would you avoid collisions in clouds if you have to get that close to the bombers?"
Hanson laughed and replied,
"That's why we aren't airline pilots. We like solving those problems, and we practice constantly."
"We've heard how hard SAC works, and we've just talked with General LeMay. I can see how demanding he must be."
"We've all had more contact with him than you'd expect, given the difference in ranks. I've even helped him with the race car that he's building. He's quite considerate in many ways. The most he says is, "You can do better." And, since anybody can always do better, that's not unreasonable."
There was another LeMay anecdote which seemed to be known all over SAC. Merchants in the small towns near SAC bases had been in the habit of overcharging airmen. However, the general had gone into a drug store in the Dakotas, ordered a milk shake, and then talked the druggist into charging airmen the same prices as the locals. As Heike smiled, Hanson added in an undertone,
"The tough mean guy is Major General Power. I've just had an argument with him."
"That would have been like my having an argument with a rear admiral. The navy didn't permit that."
"Well, SAC is more democratic. At least in some ways."
It wasn't hard to get Hanson to continue,
"Once we've flown to the arctic and re-fuelled our bomber, we won't have hardly any fuel left. If visibility happens to be decent, which isn't terribly likely, we might manage to land on the ice-cap. But the ice isn't smooth like a landing- strip, and it'lll be a crash landing. Whether anyone would survive the landing and stay alive long enough in the arctic weather for some sort of rescue is damned doubtful."
"So it's really a suicide mission?"
"Sure. That's what I told General Power. It's a one-way mission. We'll do what we're ordered to do, but we should be honest about it."
"Did he admit that?"
"No. He kept saying that it's part of the main mission. We both got pretty mad."
"I didn't know that the American military had suicide missions."
"There's always supposed to be a ray of hope. In this case, I don't think anyone's even thought about planning a rescue for us."
"Maybe General LeMay will think of something."
"I hope so. General Power certainly isn't going to."
They couldn't say much in front of the officer escorting them to the downtown shuttle, or on board the bus mostly full of SAC personnel, but, when they reached their hotel, they sat down in a corner of the lobby. Heike immediately asked,
"Is there any hope at all?"
"If you assume that Stalin really will attack us when he gets the chance, LeMay's arguments are very strong."
"I can think of only two replies. One's the moral one. We shouldn't kill enormous numbers of people even if, by not doing so, we put ourselves at great risk."
"At this point, I hardly know. But I think a great many people feel that. We had men who wouldn't shoot at the enemy no matter what."
"Were they pacifists?"
"Not officially. But, when it came down to it, they wouldn't pull the trigger."
"The other possibility is that Stalin will be satisfied enough with the present world situation not to strike us. Even he must not actively want to sacrifice many millions of his own people."
"A lot of that would depend on how things go for them. If they get richer and a whole series of countries go communist, they might think that they'll win without a war."
"But, Jones, that's an argument we could never sell to our own people. It would amount to saying, 'Let the communists win economically and politically so that they won't need to destroy us.'"
"Some people, even in power, might secretly have that attitude."
"And then put it in moral terms."
"Anyone who tries to combat LeMay with these sorts of arguments is going to lose."
"Certainly. That's why I wondered if there's any hope."
"The best hope is probably to wait. He doesn't want to attack until we get the hydrogen bomb. That's probably a matter of two or three years."
"But the plans are being made right now!"
"Yes. We'll see what General Smith can do."
Heike shook her head.
"I think he's already been defeated. I imagine that he's now just trying to find some way for the army to claim a part in LeMay's strategy."
General Smith was hardly surprised when they reported to him on their interview with General LeMay. Smith said only,
"That's how he was with me. He's absolutely convinced that he's right, and he doesn't see any need to bluster."
"If you assume, as he does, that Stalin will attack us at the first opportunity, everything else follows."
"I know. Then, if you question that first premise, you wind up arguing, not military grand strategy, but political science. None of us can really do that. Besides which, the supposed experts in that area all disagree with one another."
"At that point, General LeMay will argue that, since there's uncertainty, we'd better launch an all-out attack to settle the issue."
"Yes. A sudden devastating atomic attack out of the blue. You know, it's ironic about LeMay. I grew up in a tough town divided roughly between Irishmen, Italians, and French Canadians. The French were the weak ones, the little kids on their way to church who you beat up, just for fun. Now, it's one of them that turns out to be the toughest of all, absolutely impervious to anything except maximizing the probability of victory. But I have an ace in the hole."
Heike, amazed and delighted, asked the obvious. Smith replied,
"It isn't really a secret and shouldn't be one, but it sort of is. I have to wait for the right time."
"Jones and I are good with secrets. We already have a few."
Smith laughed and replied,
"An air attack on a dug-in infantry regiment isn't effective. If you drop a hundred bombs, you might kill twenty men. Nuclear weapons have killing circles, but, of course, the radius only increases as the square root of the area. The Red Army is dispersed over all of eastern Europe."
"So LeMay can drop all the bombs he has, and still destroy only a small percentage of the army."
"Which then rolls into Berlin and conquers western Europe."
"That seems pretty obvious."
"To someone with an infantry or artillery background. But not to LeMay and his airmen. Sooner or later, there'll be a critical meeting of the chiefs to consider a first strike. I'll be there with our chief, and I'll make the argument."