Near Misses and Hits
The Arctic Ocean in August is recognizable as an ocean. The ice, stretching in every direction, leaves many gaps of very cold water as it slowly shifts, crunches, and forms new floating islands. The lone Tupolev-20, flying at over three hudnred miles an hour at less than a hundred feet of altitude, riffled the patches of water with its prop-wash while the scream of its turbines destroyed the tranquility of one of the most tranquil places on earth.
At the controls was Svetlana Akkromeyeva, not trusting the auto-pilot at that altitude. Beside her, in the co- pilot's seat, was her husband, Sergei, still on leave from his think-tank, where he was, in turn, on leave from his tank unit. Not many Red Army officers took their vacations in that manner, but this was an unusual couple, each member of which was welcomed in the other's service.
It was another of the VVS's "reconnaissance" missions, always feeling for holes in the American defenses. If the Americans could find the intruder soon enough, and positively identify it, there was no need for them to mount a counter- strike only to abort it.
Going the other way, the VVS was making something of a game of it to see if they could get far enough to force NORAD to scramble its fighters and SAC to launch its bombers. There was, of course, a good deal of money involved. But, for the participants on both sides, the competition had taken on a certain grim earnestness that went far beyond financial considerations.
All kinds of things and people had gotten involved. There were the American spies and radio-intercept people, trying to predict a mission such as Svetlana's and trace its path. Countering them, there were various Soviet organizations trying to prevent the detection of the mission. There were the American tanker aircraft which could support fighters operating out in front of the DEW line, and then there were all the Soviet efforts to jam American radar and block transmissions of all kinds. In the end, it all came down to actual inteception and visual identification. Nothing less would allow the American forces which weren't already in the air to stay on the ground.
It was, in theory, the middle of the night. However, in August, there was only the Arctic half-light which, in combination with the low clouds, gave everything a peculiar grayish-blue cast. Sergei tried to work out how visible they would be to a patrolling fighter, and he tried briefly to scan the gently curved band of murk between horizon and cloud. Soon giving it up, he went back to watching the ice and water rocketting toward them only to whoosh harmlessly away in their wash. It amazed him that his wife, so relaxed and yet so vigilant, could keep on hour after hour with such a large aircraft under the control of her finger-tips. Svetlana had explained to him,
"They don't want to shoot us down for diplomatic reasons, even when we're over Canadian territory."
It turned out, moreover, that the Canadian property lines in that region were pretty vague. It was almost impossible to tell what was floating ice, and what ice was resting on something that would have been above water if the region hadn't been cold enough to have perpetual ice. Everything was in dispute, and they flew where they wished. Svetlana had also pointed out,
"If they should decide to shoot us down some time, they will. Nothing we could do would make any difference."
The whole crew recognized that fact, and no one minded having a temporary co-pilot who chatted with his wife and wouldn't begin to know which buttons to push.
Sergei happened to be looking out along the wing at the large contra-rotating propellors which looked like something out of the insect world when there was suddenly an enormous roar like a freight train passing directly over his head, and then an explosion. His wife remarked gently,
"I think they're trying to frighten me in the hope that I'll fly into the ice."
"What was that?"
"A supersonic American fighter. Here comes another."
This time, Sergei was prepared. But it was still alarming. He asked,
"Do they do this often?"
"Whenever they find us. Sometimes they come from the front, as if to ram us, and bounce upward at the last moment. The Americans do this sort of thing with automobiles. They call it playing chicken."
There were five more such near misses from the rear, and then one from forward. Sergei saw the fighter coming, at a combined rate of speed of some fourteen hundred miles an hour, and was certain that they were going to be killed. Then, when they weren't, Svetlana said,
"There's no point going on, since we've been spotted. But we'll stay on course until they stop this nonsense to show we aren't afraid."
"Some of us are afraid."
There were no more near misses for a while, and one American fighter slowed down and began to follow them. Svetlana said,
"This reminds me of the old days with the U-2s and the open cockpits. This plane is about as different from a U-2 as anything could be, but we're still sitting ducks for fighters. If we were at reasonable altitude and it was really war, I might try putting the ship into a spin the way I used to."
When Sergei went back to the rest area for a cup of coffee with the off-duty crewmen, it was almost like being in a civilian airliner. Svetlana was the only woman aboard, and he noticed that they spoke of her with the greatest respect. He thought that they would have even if he hadn't been there. He was very proud of her himself.
By the middle of August, it was noticed at DRI that things were getting increasingly tense. There was constant friction along the DEW line, including another full-scale aborted strike. Moreover, even American and Soviet ships at sea were playing chicken. There were some near collisions and one minor scrape. And, of course, there was always trouble around Berlin.
In addition, the nights were getting longer in the north. An incoming strike would still be detected long before it arrived, but darkness, particularly combined with bad weather, would make interception more difficult. For either Red or Blue, the penetration phase, during which fighters could shoot down incoming bombers, would amount to no more than four hours. It could be arranged, in August, for the penetration phase to take place almost entirely in darkness as the bombers flew out of the Arctic half-light into the full night of lower latitudes.
As the weeks passed, there would be a more difficult interception that could reliably be made only by the limited numbers of all-weather rader-equipped fighters. If those fighters were to make full use of their few hours, they needed to be already scrambled, with their tankers ready to refuel them. The amount of warning the defenses would get depended on the time and place of interception, and that, in turn, determined the number of fighters that could be vectored on to the incoming bomber stream. All these probabilities were calculated for each day of the year at DRI, and the main model took account of them. The Soviet Union presumably didn't have a comparable computer model, but no one doubted that the same calculations were being performed by hand.
All this, of course, assumed that the enemy strike was properly timed. If it were a counter-stike launched in desperation, all bets were off.
The work on the main simulation was intensified, and Tom Williams decided that it was time to move from FRACE LIP, basically an economic model, to something more closely connected with current events. This was the simulation of the decision-making of the Red high command, and that depended, in part, on the Red perception of Blue intentions he and Hollins had been talking about.
By this time, it struck Tom, more than anything else, that there were no real differences in the attitudes of the Americans and the Soviets toward war. Both had their three kinds of hawks and, probably, their two kinds of doves. At the top, there were two men who seemed a great deal like the minister in Oswaldo Entrecote's religious simulation.
All the hawks were rather like Entrecote's older moneyed people, suspicious of the motives of others. The doves were like the young people, willing to try new initiatives. Both Eisenhower and Khruschev sincerely wanted peace, particularly nuclear peace. They were again, unfortunately, like the minister, instinctively dovish but very attentive to the fears of the conservatives. Most unfortunate of all, they were likely to join them in times of crisis.
In outlining his simulation, it seemed to Tom that there would be a starting position in which the majority opinion on each side was that the other was not about to strike. There would then be events and developments which might upset that consensus.
What really mattered wasn't the opinion of the most bellicose. S-t-w hawks always claimed that the other side was about to strike (whether they believed it or not), and their opinion would be discounted in a crisis. What mattered was whether moderate opinion thought that the other side was about to strike. This depended, not only on the nature of the crisis and the intelligence reports they were getting, but on the way the moderates interpreted those reports. These interpretations would, in turn, reflect the long-established habits of those moderates.
One preliminary question loomed large when it came to programming. Was it possible to arrange the various positions concerning the use of nuclear weapons in a simple linear order? If so, one could think of leadership A giving leadership B a current bellicosity score which would be bumped up or down, not only be B's actions, but, indirectly, by A's own actions. The linear assumption would certainly simplify matters.
It was, however, easy to imagine the falsity of that assumption. Mr. X might be quicker than Mr. Y to strike in situation A but slower to strike in B. In that case, it might be impossible to say in a simple way that either was more bellicose than the other. The question was, however, whether such phenomena actually occurred frequently enough in the ruling circles of either country to justify giving up the immense programming advantages of the linear assumption. After all, time was getting short.
It did seem that all strike-to-win hawks were also beat- to-the-draw hawks, but not vice versa. The s-t-w hawk might prefer to wait for the optimum moment to strike, but, in practice, he would be almost as sensitive as the b-t-t-d hawk to the kind of information that would tip the latter into strike mode. The difference was that, sooner or later, the s- t-w hawk would strike. The b-t-t-d hawk might never strike if reconnaissance never suggested a build-up at enemy air bases. The s-t-w hawk should therefore be placed at the top of the scale of nuclear bellicosity.
Major Williams was clearly a s-t-d hawk. General LeMay advertized himself as a b-t-t-d hawk. There was no reason to doubt him.
LeMay could also be contrasted with President Eisenhower. No one doubted the latter's resolve to loose SAC when there was clear evidence of "a general attack on the west," as he put it. The difference was that LeMay wanted to strike when he thought the attack was coming and Ike wanted to wait until he knew that it had started. The president couldn't be counted as a b-t-t-d hawk.
And then there was Adventurism. It didn't make sense to the s-t-w hawk. Why pick off a little country here or there when you're going to win all the marbles anyway?
An adventurist was basically someone who pushed pawns, here, there, and yon. When his bluff was called, he said,
"Oh, I'm sorry, I'll pull my pawn right back."
Of course, everything was prettified with diplomatic language and face-saving compromises, but it could all come down to that.
On the other hand, there was a much more bellicose player, whose position was actually between the s-t-w and b- t-t-d positions, but who started out looking like an Adventurist. When he pushed his pawns, he, like the ordinary Adventurer, looked to see if the enemy was lining up to nuke him. If so, instead of pulling back, he was prepared to strike first, quick like a rabbit. This went beyond the ordinary b-t-t-d position of General LeMay, who didn't have any investment in pushing pawns. It amounted almost to luring or provoking the enemy into a position which would give one an excuse for striking first. Tom christened this the "Gobble and strike (G and S)" position. It was possible to think that John Foster Dulles was a Gobble and Striker disguised as a mere Adventurist.
So far, there was a nice linear progression from s-t-w hawk down through Adventurism, and there was allowance for variations. For example, some b-t-t-d hawks were triggered by less than others, and some Adventurists pushed bigger pawns harder.
It looked as if Khruschev was basically an adventurist. He pushed little pawns hard, but the bigger ones, particularly those around Berlin, more gently. If his seeming bluffs were called directly, it seemed more likely that he would draw back than strike.
Next came the official American position, and that of the president. The United States and its allies would eventually win peacefully because of the superiority of their democratic capitalist system. In the meantime, their nuclear power would deter aggression on the other side. There was, however, something of a paradox.
The containment policy of Kennan and Acheson and the massive retaliation policy of Dulles both counted under the economic-win dove position. However, it was part of the containment policy to resist most non-nuclear aggression with conventional forces. In practice, this amounted to a willingness to fight regional wars with American troops against Soviet client states. The Dulles policy, while intended to avoid such wars, was actually more bellicose. The message was really,
"We can't believe you'd do such a thing as X unless you were also prepared to strike us. So, if you do X, or if it even looks as if you're about to do X, we'll strike first."
So, assuming that Dulles wasn't a disguised Gobble and Striker, he threatened to adopt a b-t-t-d position that was triggered by relatively little. Indeed, where LeMay's trigger lay in such things as activity at Red air bases, Dulles' lay in a wide range of activities having little to do with bombers. But, then again, no one doubted what LeMay's position was. There was always doubt as to whether Dulles would really take up the position he threatened to take.
Of course, the Dulles people weren't the only ones ready to shift positions. Even Major Williams might become a dove if he were convinced that the Soviet Union was quickly falling apart both economically and militarily. In assessing the opposing leadership, one had to take account, not only of positions, but of likely change of position.
Near the low end of the scale there was Ellie. The people who hoped the Soviets would win economically so that they wouldn't have any reason to nuke were akin to those who wanted America to disarm unilaterally. Tom had a friend at Michigan who had once said,
"Suppose we tell the Russians that we're disarming, and that they can do anything they want. Will they send the Red Army over to occupy Michigan?"
Tom, in fact, couldn't imagine what the Russians would do, and was tempted to ask Elizaveta. Anyhow, it was a radical view held by no one who was ever likely to have any influence.
Mac Hollins turned out not to be easy to convince. Apropos of the s-t-w hawks, he asked,
"Do you here have in mind guys who want to strike right out of the blue even when there's no incident?"
"Yeah. If you wait for an incident, the other side will augment its fighter patrols and keep more bombers in the air for a counter-strike."
"That may be rational, but there isn't a set of leaders on either side who have the balls to simply order a sudden full- scale nuclear attack on the other country with no special provocation. Even Hitler needed incidents. So did Napoleon. So did Caesar."
That, of course, was Mac's view of history. Where the philosopher Bradley had characterized time as "one damned thing after another," Mac thought human affairs went from crisis to crisis with only slow build-ups of pressure in between. Tom didn't share the attitude, and asked,
"Didn't Alexander the Great attack out of the blue?"
"The history there is a little sketchy, but, of course, there had been endemic warfare in the area. Someone may have taken someone hostage, or done any of a thousand things to set Alexander off. So far as I can guess, only Genghis Khan and Tamarlaine would qualify as Strike-to-Winners in your terms."
"How about General LeMay?"
"Well, he says that he believes in beating Red to the draw. That should put him squarely in your B-t-t-D category. But he doesn't recommend striking until there are signs that Red is preparing a strike. And Red won't prepare to strike without an incident. So, like others in his position, he doesn't just rely on aerial reconnossance. He's also incident sensitive."
Tom then told Mac about Major Williams from SAC. Mac responded,
"I did meet the SAC people briefly, and I know what you mean. Practically all the pilots in SAC are like that. But pilots don't decide whether to strike. They simply hope that they'll get orders to strike. When a man gets to the level where he can really make decisions, the recklessness almost always disappears. It seems just to be a fact of human nature."
A little later, Mac allowed,
"You can keep those categories in the simulation if you want. We may just have to agree to differ on how many people there are in them."
"So you're willing to accept a linear ordering for bellicosity?"
"Yes, I know you people have to make assumptions like that to get anything in the machine."
"So the next thing is to figure out what makes people shift positions enough to destroy an existing balance."
"I think there's a great deal of tacit cooperation between certain elements in the American government and their Soviet counterparts. How would you describe the present balance?"
"Soviet adventurers try to get us into local wars with their clients. They hope to exhaust us economically and spiritually as they gain a little territory. We respond by sending aid to the embattled country. If that doesn't work, we send in our own troops."
"What do we get out of it?"
"The most important thing is that it keeps an adventurer like Khruschev in power. He can claim to be winning the cold war, and that keeps all the more hawkish people in check."
"Is he really winning the cold war?"
"That's debatable. Our economic-win doves think that we're slowly winning. To them, the local wars are a price we can afford to pay."
"So there's your balance. Khruschev the adventurer and Eisenhower the economic optimist. They'll never get to the point of agreeing explicitly with each other and deciding which local wars they can both live with, but it isn't so far from that."
"It's Dulles who may destroy the balance. At the next provocation, he may not respond in the usual way. He may treat it as a bluff and call it with a direct nuclear threat. Pull back or we'll nuke you."
"He says that he'll do that. But can he get our government to do it? What support will he get? Will he himself really want to do it in the midst of a crisis?"
"Once we've laid out a numerical scale for bellicosity, we've got to get together algorithms to describe the tendency of Red leaders to predict that someone like Dulles will shift his position up or down. Some predictions would make everyone cluster at the middle, and some would drive them apart."
"And some things would make them all piss in their pants."
The secretary then stuck her head in to announce the arrival of General Edwards. Mac said,
"He's coming over for lunch. He'll be glad to have you come along."
Tom wasn't so sure, but General Edwards smiled and said to Mac,
"Those SAC pilots wanted to nuke the place after they'd talked with Goldstein, but I sent them out for lunch with Tom. When he brought them back, they were as meek as kittens."
"That was mostly because of Sid, general."
"I did tell you to take her along, didn't I?"
"I was thinking clearly that day. Mac, I'll loan her to you if you're ever faced with an insurgency over here."
"Most of the excitement seems to emanate from your building, Al."
"Well, yes, I suppose a reasonable man would have to admit that. It's all these civilians."
He then explained to Tom,
"The army's likely to coop you up somewhere in some God- forsaken base at the end of some forgotten road in a place where there isn't anything anyway. You have to learn to get along with one another."
"That's why we've put you in charge of the Goldsteins of the organization. They don't know how to quarrel with you."
As they proceeded to the Petit France in Mac's car, which he detailed Tom to drive, the discussion returned to the precarious balance and the forces trying to shatter it. General Edwards was more sanguine than Mac and said,
"I don't think the hawks on either side will be able to bring about a first strike unless the hawks on the other side have taken initiatives that are alarming enough to discredit the local doves."
"There can be the same kind of implicit cooperation between the hawks on opposite sides as there now is between Eisenhower and Khruschev."
"It sounds like like two men deciding to duel in a place where duelling is illegal. They have to act secretly together to flout the law. That must have happened at various times."
General Edwards replied,
"Yes, I'm sure it has. But, in this case, neither side will want a fair fight with simultaneous shots. Each set of hawks might help the other set escalate tension, probably by leaking information, but each will try to shoot the other before he turns around."
As a result of these considerations, Mac, not quite jokingly, put forward what he called "A best case for Armageddon."
"The hawks on both sides think they have a good chance of winning an exchange, and they also think they're losing the economic race. They then implicitly co-operate to escalate tension, to the point where one or another set of B-t-t-D hawks is able to overcome the adventurers and the doves."
The lunch ended amid general good humor, and Tom returned to Complab with General Edwards.
The next day, Tom came out of his office for a drink of water and saw someone with a horrifyingly disfigured face. In much less than a second, he realized that it was Pete Helton. Pete spoke cheerfully,
"Hi Tom, let's have lunch today."
There was, again, no reasonable way out. Tom knew that he should have been ready with an excuse. He should have known that Pete wouldn't realize that other people wouldn't want to be with him, or would be embarrassed at being seen with him.
In the event, Bruce came too, and it wasn't at all bad. Tom had heard that, in time, one could get used to any disfigurement on the part of someone else. Tom wasn't sure about that, but he did get to the point of not wincing when he looked at Pete.
Tom had supposed that Pete wouldn't talk about the incident at all, but, mid-way through lunch, Pete said,
"I got a bit carried away with that forty-five, heh heh."
It reminded Tom of the time Pete had told him about driving his car over the trolley island. He seemed to regard this as exactly the same kind of misadventure. That, Tom supposed, was good. On the other hand, he had no idea how to reply. Bruce said, rather casually,
"Guns are dangerous. I don't keep one in the house. I'd be much more likely to shoot myself than a burglar."
Pete was nodding, and Tom realized that Bruce had put the perfect gloss on things. Pete had had an accident with a gun. That was all.