Niches and Diplomatic Incidents
In both the natural history of animals and the development of military aircraft there are niches, sharply bounded in time and space, in which seemingly reckless forays can be performed with a high probablility of survival.
Such a niche had existed since the middle of World War II for extremely high altitude photographic reconnaissance aircraft. At first, a high performance fighter, such as a Spitfire or Lightning, was fitted with a camera and stripped of guns, armor, and everything else inessential. It could then fly high enough over enemy territory so that a fighter with guns and armor couldn't quite get up to shoot it down.
There was, however, a problem. If the intruder was to penetrate to any great depth into enemy air space, he must carry a great weight of fuel. The enemy might then send up a fighter, stripped of armor and most of its guns, with just enough fuel to do the job. The PR aircraft needed enough of an aerodynamic edge to carry enough fuel for deep penetration while still maintaining its altitude advantage.
The answer was to design an aircraft for the specific PR role. It was then possible to seek maximum altitude and range at the expense of the combat capabilities of a fighter.
By the middle fifties, the American solution to the problem was the U-2, a single-seat jet aircraft with the elongated wings of a glider and the ability to cruise at more than seventy thousand feet. Given a not very affectionate nick-name, "the useless deuce," by its ground crews, the U-2 had terrible handling characteristics and was notably dangerous to fly. But that couldn't be helped.
Since the Soviet Union was notably touchy about over- flights of any sort, the whole project was top secret. Indeed, the very existence of the U-2 had to be kept secret. Any aeronautical engineer would know from a glance at its wings and fuselage what its mission would have to be.
Because of the vastness of the USSR, it was impossible for the U-2s to cover the whole area. Their pictures could only diminish, not eliminate, the possibility of surprise nuclear attack. It was also inconvenient, from the point of view of secrecy, that, to cover even a major part of the territory, a U-2 had to take off from an American air base in a foreign country near the Soviet Union and return to another such base.
A near-disaster occurred when, early in the program, there was a leak. Model Airplane News somehow obtained a description of the plane, and published instructions for making a model of it which included a reasonably accurate plan. There was, however, no Soviet protest. The magazine was intended primarily for boys with a median age of twelve, and it might have escaped the notice of the Soviet intelligence services.
On a night not long after the false alert of June 7, 1957, a sharp-eyed fisherman might have paused in the act of hauling in his exotic catch to notice an unusual-looking aircraft cross the path of the moon as it clawed unsteadily for altitude with a thin whistling noise. The pilot, a former air force fighter pilot, was a civilian who had been equipped with a number of stories, each more improbable than the one before, to tell in the event that he was shot down.
The pilots of the U-2s felt reasonably secure from fighter attack at their extreme altitudes, and, for the time being, they were also above the range of guided surface-to- air missiles. But those missiles were under constant development by both sides, and it was only a matter of time before some pilot would have his aircraft blown apart with no warning and something like a fifty per cent chance of survival.
On this occasion, everything went perfectly. Dawn broke over the endless steppes, even greater than the Great Plains of America, and the cloud formations were sparse enough to permit photography. The pilot did notice aircraft far below him, which might have been tracking him, and there did seem to be a good deal of radio traffic along his route. He landed in daylight in a friendly country, but it was in a sparsely populated area in which few people were good at aircraft recognition. When the pilot reported to the civilian who was his supervisor, he said, without any preliminaries,
"I think they know."
The supervisor, who had a definite military air, didn't seem to like having such outbursts directed at him. He made no direct reply and took the pilot through the whole flight in detail. At the end, he said,
"You're imagining things. They normally train fighters in that area, and we picked up the same radio traffic you overheard. That's also perfectly normal."
After the pilot had been dismissed and the films developed, the supervisor wrote out his own report from his notes. He concluded by saying that there was no reason to think that the intrusion had been detected.
The supervisor's report was transmitted immediately to a location in northern Virginia, where it was examined by a committee of three. They attached to the report their joint appraisal of it and forwarded the whole to the director of their organazition with a copy to Admiral Radford at the JCS. Admiral Radford spoke with General Twining concerning it, pointing out that no suspicious Red concentrations had been discovered. The general replied,
"That's good. I'll tell LeMay. When there are indications that the other side isn't planning a surprise attack, I want to make sure he knows about them."
"It's as if we have a mastiff on a leash and have to hold on for dear life."
It was the end of the report that caused both men amusement. It was known to both that the Soviets had protested the flights privately but vociferously. Admiral Radford said,
"I wonder what it is that convinces these low-level people that the flights aren't being detected."
"It's probably a good thing that the pilots don't know that the Russians know. Since they're civilians, they could quit at any time."
Admiral Radford paused a moment, and then commented,
"I think the Russians keep it secret that they know because they'd find it humiliating to admit that they can't do anything about them."
General Twining seemed not to have thought the matter out on as many levels, but he replied,
"If they ever do knock down a U-2, there'll be a regular incident with the wreckage displayed on Red Square."
"Yes, they'll go public then. But I still think the flights are worth the risk of provoking a diplomatic incident. The president seems to think so too. He cancelled them once, and then ordered them resumed."
It was understood at DRI, and at other defense research organizations, that the United States was engaging in various secret activities that could be considered provocative. There were, of course, the spies of the CIA. It was also understood that the CIA might engage in other quasi-military activities in the course of gathering intelligence. In addition to simulating a nuclear exchange, another part of DRI's mission was to estimate what sorts of incidents might prompt a Red attack on Blue. According to Bruce Hammond,
"That part of DRI's mission consists in trying to guess what crazy things the CIA might do, and whether they're likely to touch off war."
"You mean, things like assassinating Khruschev?"
"That would be a case in point."
"We don't deal with that kind of thing in Complab, do we?"
"The organizational chart says that we're part of the War Gaming Division head-quartered upstairs and directed by General Edwards. But it's also understood that Complab assists other divisions with their inquiries whenever they get technical. They're located in the main building, and in other out-stations. I'm very careful to stick to programming, but if they catch you looking around and being generally curious, you're likely to get recruited for almost anything."
"So it's one of these other divisions that deals with the CIA?"
"I wouldn't know."
Bruce smiled as he spoke, indicating, Tom was fairly sure, that he didn't want to know. At any rate, it seemed to be no accident that the director of DRI was a professional historian who studied the incidents which had preceded past wars and tried to say to what extent the incidents had precipitated the wars. There was a published paper of Hollins that was circulating around, and Tom decided to read it. It might lie beyond the scope of his present assignment in Complab, but it would give him something to talk about if he did meet Hollins.
The article began,
"A war arises out of a series of incidents of increasing severity. It is possible to predict the onset of the war by studying the incidents, and it is my object here to make such predictions more precise and reliable."
It soon developed that Hollins had devised a way of measuring incidents. Some, like the Kaiser's encouraging telegram to the South African Boers when they were warring with England, were merely imflammatory without impinging on anyone's real interests. Others, however, arose out of economic conflicts with military overtones. Of them, he said,
"Such an incident either leads to a diplomatic resolution of the conflict, or, more likely, leaves each side more willing to resort to force the next time."
In recent history, Tom could recall no diplomatic solutions to any of the conflicts between Blue and Red.
Hollins had twelve questions he asked of each incident, and he weighted the points given to each answer to arrive at a total score. The scores of the incidents were then plotted on a graph with one axis representing time and the other the seriousness of the incident. The resulting curves fell into a number of different patterns, and, by looking at the past, it could be seen which led to war.
Unlike any other historian Tom had ever heard of, Hollins then fitted equations to the curves. It might have been that he was at DRI and thought he had to be scientific and use the computer. In any case, there was an extremely strong correlation between war and certain kinds of curves. The result was an equation giving the probability of war at any given distance in time from the last incident in a series. Then, if there were more incidents short of war, the probability could be up-dated.
This was history rather than philosophy, but there was a certain overlap. Tom could easily imagine one of his professors at Michigan asking,
"Has he chosen his sample so that it will support a hypothesis that he's previously adopted for other reasons?"
That was always a danger in the social sciences. Some people actively cheated, and others, their theories in their heads, just managed to overlook or dismiss as irrelevant anything which might tend to disconfirm them. It was really a question as to Hollins' intellectual integrity. Tom didn't know about that, but was pretty sure that he would be caught out if he had skewed the sample too much.
It also seemed likely that Hollins had ignored those vast areas of history for which there would be inadequate documentation of incidents. That would include, for a start, wars between the Sioux and their neighbors, not to mention the civil wars of China in Confucius' time. Probably, Hollins was really only talking about Europe and America in the last couple of hundred years. His tone suggested that he thought he was describing the fundamental laws of human nature. That was probably unjustified. But, still, if he had something that applied to the present world situation, that would be important enough.
As Tom read along, his doubts tended to diminish. Hollins seemed to be sensitive to the kind of objections that could be raised. Indeed, Tom could see why Goldstein had spoken of him as he had.
There was, however, something which separated this paper from the other academic ones which it resembled so closely in style and kinds of reasoning. This one, in effect, purported to tell the reader whether he was going to be killed in a nuclear holocaust in a few years' time. Or, at least, that was what Tom assumed as he read toward the end with increasing intensity and anxiety.
The really maddening thing was that, at the end, there was nothing about Blue and Red. Hollins had evidently not gotten that far. He seemed to have the wherewithal to predict whether there would be war, but he wasn't telling.
The next day being Saturday, Tom took the bus and trolley into Washington. Getting off at a place that looked interesting, he walked down what turned out to be Pennsylvania Avenue. It was wide, moderately busy, and rather attractive. There were trees, shrubs, and pleasant subdued sounds.
Tom soon noticed a couple of men, walking in a brisk but relaxed manner, who looked as if they had power. The older of the two, probably about fifty, had a cap of gleaming prematurely white hair which stuck up above the heads of the other pedestrians. When he was greeted by a man in the back seat of a large chauffeur-driven car which was stopped at a light, he flung out his arm and called airily in a deep voice,
"Morning, Jed. Splendid dinner at your house the other night."
The tone was easily recognizable. It was entirely devoid of self-consciousness, as if the speaker hardly knew or cared that there were dozens of people within earshot. At the same time, it expressed the wary cordiality of those members of the northeastern upper class who flirt with the academic life as undergraduates before irrevocably choosing a path that leads inevitably to the higher reaches of business or government. These men evidently found the exercise of power so fascinating that they came in to work on Saturdays.
Tom quickly got ahead of the two men, and then slowed slightly so that he could hear what they were saying. The white-haired man said to the other,
"If we change the rate, hardly anyone outside the area will even notice."
"They certainly will inside the area."
It sounded as if the first man was smiling slightly when he said,
"I think you'll find, Chet, that you don't even have to do anything to counter-act the influence of the various kinds of Latin American trade delegates who may raise objections. The doors that matter are already closed to them."
It seemed likely that, if the older man was in a position to make a decision, which he probably was, some Latin American country was about to see its already modest profits squeezed a little harder.
Too interested in their conversation, Tom had slowed enough so that the men walked by him imperiously. When they turned into a small office building, he followed casually and watched them get into an elevator. Consulting the registry, he guessed that they were headed for the 'Agency for Special Trade Settlements.' That was the sort of title people chose when they were looking for cover without absolutely making a fetish of secrecy.
Before long, Tom came to the White House. There were tourists with cameras and garish clothing lined up outside the railings. Not wanting to be mistaken for one of them, he walked briskly past, only casting occasional glances at the building. A little further down Pennsylvania Avenue, he happened next to a group of three pretty young women. Again, he got ahead of them and slowed down. It was his experience that women wouldn't pass a man who was walking slightly slower than they wanted to go, perhaps because it would give him such a good opportunity to look them over. These young women didn't look or sound shy, and so he moderated his speed only very slightly. He could clearly hear one say,
"He looked just like a camel, so I said to him, 'I don't dance with camels.'"
"You didn't, Paula!"
"Of course I did. If you don't say things like that to camels, they'll end up following you around."
The discussion then changed to one about clothing, with one saying,
"I'm trying to find shoes to go with my navy dress, but I don't want them to look like they were bought to match."
Before this subject was explored further, they rushed past Tom with authoritatively clicking heels. Their voices were soon lost in the commotion of traffic, but they lingered in his mind.
Goldstein would surely have said that they were idiots. Tom wasn't so sure. They were young, high-spirited, and a little silly, but they might have their reflective moments. On the other hand, their categories were certainly odd and rather arbitrary. No young man could look very much like a camel, but God alone knew what defect of appearance or behavior might get him so classified. While Tom was always trying to think of ways of making the acquaintance of pretty young ladies, the thought that he might be classified as a camel zeroed out any inclination he might have had to catch them up and ask for directions.
Tom found the National Gallery rather easily. It wasn't air-conditioned, but, in contrast to the rising heat outside, the air in its huge stone hulk remained cool. In addition, there were, on the main floor, three delightful fountains with circles of seats arranged around them. Tom realized that he could, not only rest there between sojourns into the galleries, but read books and establish a weekend base. A little later, he discovered a cafe in which he had a coke and a sandwich.
It soon became apparent that J. W. M. Turner, despite his reputation, couldn't paint water. While some of his greatest paintings were pre-impressionistic seascapes, he seemed invariably to come to grief when he tried to represent waves realistically. For one thing, he had them curling, as they do on a beach, in water deep enough for ships to sail. Tom had read that Turner had had himself tied to the mast of a ship during a gale to observe waves, but it had evidently done no good. Then, too, the great painter seemed to be oblivious to other things. In one painting, he had two vessels in a harbor scene sailing in opposite directions, both full before the wind! Tom couldn't help bursting out to the lady next to him,
"He's got the wind blowing in opposite directions at the same time."
Smiling, she said something about artistic license in a British voice. She was a nice lady, accompanying her husband on a business trip, and they chatted for some little time. When she eventually drifted off, Tom had an idea.
Taking up a strategic position near one of the fountains, he watched people moving up and down the main concourse which ran between the rows of galleries. There weren't many young women in view, and those few were in groups. The longer Tom stood there, the more his standards went down. Then, suddenly, there appeared a very pretty young lady, perhaps twenty or so. She was with her parents and a younger sister, but that might not be an impossible situation. Indeed, having nothing to fear, she might be more approachable in the presence of her family.
As Tom got himself into position in front of the flawed Turner, he became conscious of the guard. What would he think if a young man stood there for an hour saying the same thing to different women? In the event, everything went perfectly. The family came to the painting, and Tom made his remark. This time, though, he refined his technique and put it in the form of a question,
"Doesn't he have the wind blowing in opposite directions there?"
The guard did smile, but he said nothing. On the other hand, the whole tourist family showed amusement and interest. They were probably a bit bored by too much art, and were quite ready for someone to de-bunk it gently. The only trouble was that the one who seemed to most like Tom was the younger sister, perhaps fourteen years of age.
Tom ended up having another coke and sandwich with the Tolliver family from Texas. The younger sister, Annie, had an unusual and active sense of humor, and was much given to pranks and jokes. When Tom told her that Van Gogh's ear, the one he cut off, was preserved in a special glass case in the Smithsonian, she was ready to drag the whole family off to see it. Her mother exclaimed with good nature,
"Tell her it isn't true. Otherwise, we'll have to search every nook of the Smithsonian for it."
When Tom finally did admit his fabrication, Annie replied,
"No matter. When I get home, I'll tell all the kids at school that I saw Van Gogh's ear. They won't know any better."
Throughout all this fun, Tom got no more than a faint smile from the older sister, Mary. At close range, she was really quite beautiful. She also had a cool knowing look, and had probably guessed exactly what he was up to. Still, if the Tollivers hadn't been leaving that evening, he would undoubtedly have hung around with them just on the chance of ingratiating himself with Mary.
Out on the broad grassy mall which runs from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol, Tom was suddenly hit by the heat. After taking a minute to adjust, he approached a group of five men playing soccer with the idea of watching for a bit. One called out to him,
"Would you like to play? We need a sixth."
Tom had always been willing to play just about anything, and it evidently showed enough to prompt the invitation. He called back,
"I don't have the right shoes or shorts or anything."
Someone else replied,
"You can play barefoot, and I've got some extra shorts in my bag."
Tom was doubtful about kicking the ball barefoot, but it was explained that only the side of the foot is used. He was quickly convinced, and changed into the shorts while the others formed a circle around him.
The rudiments of the game were explained, and Tom was paired with the two best players to even the sides. He didn't touch the ball much when his side had it, and instead concentrated on defense. At six four and a hundred and eighty five, he was bigger than the others, and was also able to use his speed and quickness to good effect. In fact, he played harder and tighter on defense than anyone else, and was largely able to keep his particular opponent from getting the ball.
It was, of course, hot going. But Tom had always taken a certain perverse pleasure in racing around under the hot sun. One man, who seemed to be English, did say to him,
"Don't you ever bloody wear out?"
He was probably more irritated than admiring. The others seemed to have an unspoken convention of letting their opponents bring the ball half way up the field without harrassment, and weren't really happy with Tom's soccer version of the all-court press in basketball.
They had been playing for an hour and a half when someone called out,
"Let's play to the next goal."
Since no one had been keeping score in the first place, the only element of winning or losing hinged on the last goal. Everyone began to play harder, hoping to score, but, at the same time, hoping that someone, even on the other side, would score soon. The goal was, in fact, a long time coming.
Tom eventually managed to knock down a pass intended for the man he was covering, and came out with the ball. One of his opponents moved quickly to cut him off, but, seeing no one in the clear to pass to, Tom tried a long shot. The goal consisted of a gym bag on one side and a pair of shoes on the other. His shot, starting well to the right, curved and bounced left when it hit. In the end, it trickled up to the gym bag, hit it, and bounced over it. It was a borderline case. But, at that stage, everyone wanted to stop anyway. They were also pleased at the idea of the beginner's scoring the last goal. It counted, and a man named John shouted out,
"First one to the lemonade stand gets treated by the last one."
There was, indeed, a lemonade stand with an awning in front of the old Smithsonian building, the one that looked as if its architect had been clinically depressed when he designed it. John was much the nearest to it, and everyone else was too tired to race him. However, the rest arrived in a group, and, there being no one who was clearly last, John had to pay for his own drink.
It was only after they were all collapsed with drinks under a large tree that introductions were made. One of the players said to Tom,
"My name is Charles, and I'm British. You probabably aren't aware of it, but you've blundered into the middle of the diplomatic corps. John, over there, is also British. The rest come from various and sundry other countries."
Tom had met Englishmen at Harvard and Michigan, and he recognized the tone. It was always partly humorous, and it always chided gently those who weren't English. The various and sundry other countries turned out to be France, Mexico, and the Soviet Union.
All the players appeared to be between thirty and forty, but despite their common calling, age, and liking for soccer, they didn't seem to have much else in common. Even the two Englishmen were of entirely different types. Charles was tall, and, even in his sweat-soaked shirt and shorts, he had a definite personal elegance. The other, John, was the one who had originally invited Tom to play, and whom he had played opposite most of the time. He was earthy and funny in a way that contrasted sharply with Charles' rather sardonic humor. It came as no surprise when John later said,
"Charles is a bit of an aristocrat, but I'm a Liverpudlian Irishman who's crossed the line from untouchability."
The Mexican, Carlos, had been to a German university, and he acted the part of a pleasant polished technocrat. There was hardly anything Latin about him. The Frenchman, Pierre, did look the part. Dark, handsome, and obviously successful with women, it was alleged by the others that he disliked work of all kinds. He did say,
"I may quit the corps and go on welfare here. Since the French discovered so much of America, I feel that the country owes me a living."
It was the Russian, Boris, whom Tom most wanted to know about. A middle-sized man with sandy hair and a round face, he had been on the other side in the game. While noticeably competent in managing the ball, he wasn't particularly fast or aggressive. It was only when he spoke that one realized that he was an unusual person. While his English was almost without accent, there was a play of expression on his face which was distinctly non-American. It was, indeed, a little different from anything Tom had seen anywhere. Charles was moved to remark,
"Only on this field can you have an unguarded conversation with a Russian. Boris isn't supposed to go out alone with westerners, but his minders aren't willing to play soccer in the heat."
Everyone laughed, including Boris, who substituted a gesture for an admission he might not have cared to make.
It wasn't long before Tom was formally signed on as a permanent member of the Diplomatic Corps Saturday Afternoon Mall Soccer Group. John said,
"We play all year round. In fall and spring, we often get enough for two games, but, in summer, we've occasionally had as few as four people. That's bloody too much running."
When the group eventually broke up, Tom had been disabused of some of his pre-conceptions about diplomats. They weren't snobs in striped pants who sipped tea and made a point of saying nothing that could possibly offend anyone. On that latter score, Charles alone was a telling counter-example.
On his first evening in Washington, Tom was rather at loose ends. There was no opportunity to take a shower, and many people as dirty as he would have hesitated to enter a decent restaurant. However, he was soon hungry again, and he decided to go to the best restaurant he could find. If they let him in, he wouldn't worry about his appearance, or even his smell. If not, he'd go to the next best restaurant, and so on down the line.
In the event, he scored on his first try, a steak-house just off Connecticut Avenue. They did require jackets, but they happily produced one. The sleeves came only part-way down Tom's fore-arms, but he settled down quickly in the air- conditioned comfort.
The restaurant never got more than half-full, and he had no immediate neighbors. There were a couple of attractive women having dinner together, too far away for eavesdropping, but he watched them closely as he enjoyed his pepper steak. One of the women did glance in his direction, but then looked quickly away.
This matter of having women look quickly away wasn't new to Tom. For as long as he could remember, he had spent almost all of his free time more or less prepared for sport, often with grass-stained trousers and a shirt that showed signs of sliding into base or being tackled. Since he did want women to react favorably to him, he dressed properly when he knew them to be in the offing. However, since they generally appeared without warning, he most often got the quick glance, and then the look away. He supposed that the woman who glanced might have said to her companion something like,
"I can't imagine why a man wouldn't get cleaned up to come to a restaurant. Perhaps he's mental."
After dinner, there was nothing to do but go to a movie. Consulting the paper and choosing one that was some distance away, Tom got on a trolley. Washington was the only major city to still have trolleys in large numbers, and this one was really the remnant of an old inter-urban line. The track left the streets entirely for considerable stretches and went plunging through foliage at a high rate of speed. It finally arrived at what seemed to be a closed amusement park, and Tom found the movie house nearby.
Most of the people Tom knew had little regard for the movies that were being made, but they went to them just the same. He himself went because movies were sexy, full of beautiful actresses who managed to put sexual innuendoes into almost everything that they did. In a way, they were perfect, better than watching women on the street. He wasn't getting any action in real life anyway, so it seemed to him that he might as well watch the most beautiful women in the world act in provocative ways.
The film was an English one, which seemed appropriate on a day on which Tom had met three English people. The heroine was one he hadn't previously seen, a tall elegant young woman with quantities of glossy black hair. She was portrayed as a good girl who had strayed. Having gotten into the company of heroin smugglers in France, the male lead said to her,
"You'll be under suspicion when we return to England, and you may be searched at Customs. But you won't be carrying anything, so it won't matter."
It might not have mattered to the hero, but it mattered a great deal to Tom whether she would be searched. His hopes were then raised considerably when there was a scene at the customs office and the heroine was taken by the arm and conducted to a back room.
Tom had a pretty good idea of what the movie code would allow. The woman would certainly not be stripped naked on screen. But it was hard to know just how much would be shown, and, in those circumstances, the excitement mounted.
The female customs officer instructed the heroine to stand against a wall, and she did so, with some dignity, as her purse and coat were gone over carefully. The customs officer then said,
"Please remove your dress."
Those words, spoken in a cool crisp manner, had a tremendous impact on Tom, quite before any action had taken place. The heroine seemed about to refuse, but, with a pretty pout of her full lips, she did as instructed. She was left standing, still quite self-possessed, in her black slip. She was then asked to remove that too. Tom was transfixed. She had hardly reached for one delicate strap before the camera zoomed off, but that was enough to fill his mind with thoughts for the long trolley ride back home.
It was on that ride that Tom recalled a conversation he had had a few months previously with a friend at Michigan, a man named Phelps. Phelps had said, innocently enough,
"I was just reading that there are still many people who believe that masturbation makes you go blind."
Tom had responded,
"Oh, I've heard that. I guess that's a little extreme."
Phelps had caught his tone immediately, and had fairly shouted,
"You guess. A little extreme. My God, Tom, what do you believe? That it causes insanity? That it makes the old whatsit fall off?"
Tom's beliefs were mercifully somewhat vague, but he had believed that masturbation had deleterious effects, and had tried hard not to engage in it. Phelps finally said,
"It really is amazing that someone could go all the way through Harvard, and then two years of graduate school, with such beliefs."
It had been embarrassing, but also enlightening. Also liberating. The lady on the screen had started something going, and there was no reason for Tom not to finish it when he got home.