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 Chapter 26

Potatoes and Golf

Mr. MacDonald Hollins was out in his garden at six on Monday morning. He was, somewhat contrary to his appearance, a vigorous gardener. There was much digging and transplanting, and he took a perverse pleasure in saving small amounts of money by growing such things as potatoes. Even now, turning over earth with his pitchfork, he sifted potatoes out of the dirt and dumped them into his basket. Working diligently, he soon filled the whole basket and carried it in to the kitchen. Marcia Hollins, a tall spare woman who sometimes broke wind in public, was just starting coffee. When she saw the basket she said,

"Mac, it'll take us months to eat all those, and they'll spoil."

"I thought we might give some to the neighbors."

"You can't go from door to door in Chevy Chase giving people potatoes! Swiss chard or Chineese cabbage maybe, but not plain old potatoes. You might as well offer them some cleaning rags and left-over bits of sandpaper while you're at it."

"Potatoes can always come in handy. The Irish survived on very little else for centuries."

"Well, we're not Irish. If it comes down to it, I'd rather starve than survive on potatoes."

Mac found his wife amusing. But he still couldn't get other thoughts out of his head. When he sat down at the table with her, he remarked,

"What do you think the Soviets would do if they had reason to think that we'd resist more strongly than usual the next time they embark on one of their little adventures?"

"They might decide not to embark on it."

"But, remember, they're deeply committed to creeping expansion. They might lose power in their own country if they gave it up for any length of time."

Marcia considered for a moment and replied,

"So the answer is that they'd continue to creep, but be quicker to nuke us if we resist than they have in the past."

"At least some of their leaders will think that way. What do we do?"

"If we give them the impression that we won't resist, they'll creep faster."


"But, since we're likely to get nuked if it looks as if we're resisting harder, we have to maintain exactly the same level of resistance."

"That's one conclusion. Of course, there are others."

"I bet I know what one is. We suddenly resist harder, and, at the same time, get ready to nuke them before they nuke us."

"Yes. Tom Williams can't believe that we have people so reckless, but that's because he doesn't himself know the people involved."

"And you do know them?"

Mac nodded and replied,

"A man like Foster Dulles would really rather be dead than have to live in a world over which communism is slowly and steadily creeping."

"The president won't allow him to do anything foolish."

"He's not the man he was five years ago. He doesn't have as much authority. Pushing on him is a very powerful combination: Foster and his brother Allen at the CIA, Admiral Radford, Generals Twining and LeMay, Admiral Burke, and more important congressmen than you might guess."

"Are you including yourself, Mac?"

Hollins smiled and replied,

"I'm just a simple researcher, my dear. I don't influence policy."


"Well, it would be nice if we struck first and didn't have to crawl into the basement and live on potatoes for a month while the radiation clears."

"There is that."

"I wish you had some other kind of job, Mac. The mass of the people hardly worry about these things, and they're better off for it."

"Oh, I don't know that it bothers me so much. If I didn't have this to worry about, I'd worry about having a heart attack, or having cancer."

"No you wouldn't. You aren't serious about anything anyway. I've been the one who had to solve just about every problem we've ever encountered."

"You're good at solving problems. You'd better keep on solving them."

It seemed to Tom Williams that the events of the weekend called for another Monday morning conference with Mac Hollins. Hollins said,

"If I decided to play golf some Monday morning, would you come tearing up the fairway after me with the latest crisis?"

Tom admitted that he probably would, and told him about General Howard and his views. Mac listened, and then replied,

"It's amazing how you meet people, Tom. First that Russian diplomat, then Elaine Kittredge, and now Buzz Howard. There isn't much that they don't know between them."

"Is his picture of things accurate?"

"In some respects. He over-emphasizes the army vs. marines conflict because he's a marine. It may be as bitter as all get out, and probably is, but the marines don't really matter that much. There've been two conflicts that did matter."

One turned out to be that between the air force and the navy. According to Mac,

"There was a total showdown a few years back. The air force said that, with the B-36, the day Billy Mitchell predicted has arrived. The range of aircraft has become so great that aircraft carriers are unnecessary. The navy reacted with amazing violence and hundreds of arguments, some good, some bad, and some indifferent. But they didn't really matter. The navy has a strong lobby in Congress, particularly in the armed forces committees. They got their carriers."

"What was the other big conflict?"

"That was the "new look" army. The army was down-sized, and most of the money saved divided between the air force and the navy. Generals Ridgeway, Taylor, and Gavin all left the army as a result. Maxwell Taylor, of course, came back. But he still resents it bitterly."

Tom then told Mac what Howard said would happen to them if they let loose a report that could be used against the army. Mac replied,

"Buzz exaggerates a little. It wouldn't be overnight. We'd have three or four days, maybe even a couple of months, to wind up our affairs. Except that there's something Buzz doesn't know about."

At first, Tom wasn't sure that Mac was going to tell him what was obviously the real secret. Then, after a moment's hesitation, he got up and closed the door. It was only then that Tom realized that Mac had known all along that it was his secretary who was the source of the leaks from his office. He then sat down again with the air of a man confiding something he didn't want his wife to know. He said,

"Before I was appointed as the first director of this institute I had a long interview with General Maxwell Taylor, who had just succeeded Ridgway as army chief of staff. Now, Taylor is a man who reads everything. He was familiar with my published work, and he knew me as one who thought that war was inevitable. His very first question was what sort of war I expected. How would you have answered in my position?"

That startled Tom a bit, and Mac continued,

"Remember, this may be the smartest man the army's produced since MacArthur, and he was deciding, probably on the spot, whether to appoint me to a position I wanted."

"I think I would have said that my theory was intended to cover all of history, and that the kind of war varied with the period, the weapons, and the goals of the participants."

"That's about what I did say. I was being very politic. Do you think he was satisfied?"


"Right again. He wanted more, much more. So this is what I gave him."

Mac, evidently improvising on the spot, had suggested a place for the army in a nuclear age. The first premise was that a nuclear war would arise out of a conventional war when one side started to lose. This wouldn't take place in Europe, but somewhere else on the periphery of the Soviet Union. The first conclusion, the obvious one, was that American conventional arms, probably led by the army, would have to be strong enough and prepared enough not to lose.

The other conclusion, not so obvious, was that the army had to be so strong that it could avoid winning in too overwhelming a way. There were some strategies like amphibious landings behind the enemy front that were part of the American military tradition, but which might easily succeed beyond all expectations and cause an enemy to panic. Similarly, the use of new and sophisticated weapons might fundamentally alter the terms of combat. Troops in earlier wars had fled on first encountering tanks, and something similar might happen again with the next new non-nuclear weapon. Such a panicked reaction, on either the strategic level or the tactical one, might trigger nukes.

The upshot was that the army would have to fight with one hand tied behind its back. There was inherently no help for it. Therefore, the army must have strength and resources much greater than had been required in comparable circumstances in the past. After Mac had laid it out, Tom said,

"General Taylor must have thought he could use that position to get a bigger share of the budget."

"Yes. He's used it, and he continues to do so. Not publicly. It doesn't even come up at JCS meetings. It's all secret because it would destroy army morale if it were openly admitted. But he makes sure that it gets to the president and the key congressmen and senators. And then, he periodically sends certain critical people around to me to be briefed. I point out that it would destroy most armies to have civilians telling them what strategies and tactics they can use, and that ours has to be extra strong to make up for it."

"Doesn't anyone ever say that army commanders ought to be allowed to use their own judgment?"

"Not often. Almost everyone who counts realizes that, in the nuclear age, political decisions intrude downwards. There may be some circumstances where you can't even use napalm."

Tom drew a deep breath and said,

"Until this minute, I hadn't imagined that there could be another extended conventional war."

"I'm not sure there can be, but that's the position anyhow."

"So we can stay in business as long as we don't cast doubt on that possibility?"

Hollins looked a little embarrassed as he said,

"You don't have to worry about it. I'll adjust our results to the army's needs."

Tom wondered, but couldn't ask, whether Hollins would, under some circumstances, leak what didn't fit the army's needs to the air force or navy. He guessed, from his conversation with General Howard, that the answer was affirmative.

Changing the subject somewhat, Tom said,

"I got some more interesting material from my defector. I'm not sure whether it should go to you or Mr. Desmond, or both."

"Is it a matter of targetting, like Stalinabad?"

"Yeah, but on a much larger scale, and with greater political implications."

"You'd better take it to Dave. Then, if he thinks it's relevant for us, he can send it back with you."

As Tom was about to leave, Mac said,

"I'll come over to Complab with you, and we can speak with Bruce. I got Sam to assign him to us. Bruce probably isn't thrilled about it, and I wouldn't usually interfere in this way. But this is different."

When they convened with Bruce, Hollins stated the project. The first object was to predict, out of the conglomeration of economic statistics, some notoriously unreliable, whether and when the Red surge to overtake Blue would succeed. More precisely, the output would be a series of probabilty values, each measuring the likelihood that the "passing" would occur by a particular date.

The second object, partly based on the first, was more subtle, and just as important. This would amount to simplifying the simulation to reflect only the kind of information that the Red decision-makers would be likely to have. It would also leave out the sorts of "surprises" that a sophisticated simulation is likely to yield.

Both hawks and doves on both sides would have to make assumptions in these areas, and news that upset the existing assumptions would probably be de-stabilizing.

It was obvious that they needed an economist to help them, and Tom suggested Ellie Goldstein.

"This is the kind of thing she does, and I think she's just as smart as Goldstein."

Tom caught a momentary look from Bruce. By this time, Tom knew him well enough to know that he was wondering what kind of horror a female Goldstein might turn out to be. Hollins, on the other hand, liked the idea. He called Goldstein, and then Ellie at the embassy. She couldn't be reached, but Hollins said,

"I imagine we can lean on the Icelanders hard enough to get them to loan her to us for a few weeks."

It was early afternoon when Tom got over to see D. O. A. Desmond. When he entered his office, Desmond was putting a golf ball into an overturned waste basket. Tom paused while the ball rolled up, hit the rim of the basket, and bounced off. On seeing him, Desmond smiled, handed him the putter, and said,

"Have a try."

Tom did as instructed and missed the basket entirely. Desmond said,

"I can see you've been rushing all over the place and have frayed nerves. In times like these it's important to relax and be methodical. One doesn't make mistakes that way."

"Things have been happening rather fast the last couple of days. I saw Elizaveta Saturday night. She keeps joking that I give her secrets, and now that I defect to Russia with her. She must know that I wouldn't really do that."

"Did she offer you sex if you did?"

"Yes. Also Russian dinners cooked by herself and my choice of ballerinas from the Bolshoi."

"I see. More jokes. But, of course, jokes have their meaning. I think she's not far from defecting to us, for real this time."

"Could be. Then there's the really important thing."

Tom told Desmond about Elizaveta's friendship with Nina Petrovna and the flight to Berlin. Desmond replied,

"That is interesting. Good work. As a DRI man, what do you take to be the strategic implications of this?"

"We nuke all of eastern Europe in addition to Russia, leaving only the Berlin area untouched. They nuke west Germany and our forces there. Then, they use their armored forces sheltering in Berlin to counquer France and loot it. Just as Hitler did."

"The remaining question, which I'll ask you to take back to Mac, is whether they can shelter sufficiently large forces in the safe area of Berlin to allow them to roll to the channel the way Guderian, Rommel, and company did."

"Okay. Although, now that we know, we can block that, can't we?"

"Whether to hit Berlin isn't my decision. The president has insisted that all targetting be under the control of a single officer, and that's General LeMay. The rest of us can write him letters, but I'm not inclined to myself. Although, of course, I'll see that your information is forwarded."

Desmond then smiled and leaned back as he said,

"At this point, I might make some suggestions. You've done very well so far, just following your instincts. That's almost always the best way. But it takes a long time. And there comes a time when you have to call in your IOU's, collect your various resources, and, well, push it all into the pot. You understand, of course."

Tom understood very well. He could only imagine what was going on in SAC while Desmond putted golf balls across the carpet. The other continued,

"First, as for the lady, a sudden effort may do it. Seduce her if you can. Money probably won't help much, but it's available in large sums if it does. Take her on a shopping spree on us if that might help. We can also arrange a fake marriage with one of our people as a very convincing preacher if that's what she wants. You can get out of it later, and we'll deal with any complaints."

"What do we want in return?"

"At the start, every last bit of information she has. And then use her to get to Boris. We know, through other sources, that Boris is controlling her. He's much more important than she is. We've known that. He's on the outs with his ambassador and the whole embassy staff. But he's kept here. He's reporting to someone important back home."

Desmond paused, as if to let Tom draw some inferences. Tom was used to that from professors, and said,

"So we'd like to know what in America he's reporting on and what he reports?"

Desmond smiled.

"We'd like to know those things, certainly. Even better, we'd like to be able to influence those reports he sends back, or best of all, write them ourselves."

"I may be on friendly terms with him, but I'm sure he wouldn't even talk about things like that with me."

"That's where the lady comes in. She also may not know what he's reporting on, but, if we know what instructions he's giving her, we may be able to figure it out for ourselves."

Tom had actually got up to leave when Desmond said,

"There's a message I was going to send over to Mac, but, since you're here, I'll give it to you. It's just this: Red has stopped producing heavy bombers, the Tu-20s and the Myasischev whatevers. We don't know when they stopped, but we have it from several sources that they have."

Tom had hardly digested that when Desmond said,

"By the way, I noticed before that you were bringing the putter back jerkily, and then jabbing at the ball. Try it again and take it through smoothly."

It took Tom several tries, but he finally got the ball into the waste basket. Mr. D. O. A. Desmond seemed inordinately pleased.

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