The Luck of the Draw
The paper was shorter than General Taylor expected, and it didn't seem to have attached to it the usual computer simulation. The staff officer who handed it to him said,
"It's just a thought piece. But he has a point we might want to make."
Glancing through it quickly, Taylor said,
"He wants us to get involved in another Korea!"
"Yes, but there's an argument behind it."
Taylor was still running short on sleep from the night before the last one, but he settled down to read the paper carefully. Some of the points were already familiar to him, but the new idea was that they would have to do something extraordinary to keep the doves on the other side from being discredited. General Taylor had never knowingly done anything to bring aid or comfort to any faction of the enemy, much less give it hope that it might defeat the United States, militarily or otherwise. But, as he remarked to the staff officer,
"Right now, we're in a situation for which there aren't any historical parallels. We may have to do things we wouldn't have considered before."
They then discussed the position that would be taken at the JCS meeting that day. The general said,
"It's only the army that's keeping the JCS from giving the president the sort of overwhelming and unanimous recommendation that would be difficult for any president to resist. And this president is aging badly, more from the strain of decades of the highest responsibility than from old age as such."
The staff officer, a youngish colonel, replied,
"One good thing about this paper is that it suggests an ongoing policy that we could put forward as an alternative to striking now, or striking next week, or striking next year."
"Yes. The premise, perhaps false, is that the Soviets aren't on the point of launching a nuclear attack on us. They're going to use the ICBMs to threaten and bluff, but one of their satellites, probably in southeast Asia, will launch an attact which we must be prepared to meet with conventional forces, primarily army forces. And it'll be our policy that we'll meet such attacks anywhere anytime with our own forces."
The colonel replied,
"That'll be expensive. It sounds like the containment policy again. That brought us Korea, and it was expensive."
"But there's a difference. The object of containment was simply to keep them from conquering more real estate. We aren't so interested in mere territory now. We're offering them a chance to bleed us, hoping that they won't nuke us with their ICBMs until we get our own."
"We can never admit that, even in a JCS meeting."
"No. I'll just say that a consistent and determined defense will eventually deter the ememy from aggression, as it has in the past."
"Will the American people accept another Korea?"
"It may well be worse. Since Red will get to choose the place, we can depend on its being the wrong war for us, at the wrong place and at the wrong time. The army will again have to fight with one arm tied behind its back, perhaps in Vietnam, perhaps in some other worthless place. It's bad strategically, it's bad tactically, and it's bad logistically. But it's better than blowing up the fucking world."
The next day at DRI, all was still confusion, and Bruce was still the only one doing his regular work. Tom was working on a little assembly program when Mr. Holmes called. The family had already flown down, and the funeral was scheduled for that afternoon. It sounded as if they had decided to get it over with in a hurry, and Tom said that he could get off without difficulty.
The funeral was in a little chapel of the Washington Cathedral, and even Tom could see that the hastily-assembled group of some hundred people was full of notables. Elaine was already there, speaking with Hal's mother, as his father greeted Tom. Mr. Holmes said,
"Sorry for the hurry. The way things are right now, we thought that we'd better act quickly."
Tom realized that he was referring to the crisis, and he then remembered that Mr. Holmes had connections with almost everyone in power, including the president. Tom replied quietly,
"I know things are tricky. There hasn't been much out in the open, or in the papers though."
"There never is when things are really tight. Word gets out slowly. It's more like the spreading of a feeling than the transmitting of information."
The service was conducted by an Episcopelian bishop who had known Hal. It was an honest eulogy. The bishop suggested that the tragedy was that of a young man of extraordinary personal honesty who hadn't so far succeeded in quite finding himself. And then, even the bishop seemed to be informed. He said that, at such a time in history, when hundreds of millions might perish overnight, every single life and death still counted, perhaps all the more for that reason.
After the service, Tom spoke briefly with Hal's mother, a beautiful woman whose bravery was clearly evident, not for the first time. She wanted to know exactly what had happened, not only at the end, but long before. But there were too many people who wanted to speak to her. She ended by whispering that they would talk when all "this" was over, and gave Tom a little encouraging smile. She, at any rate, seemed to believe that the sun would rise the next day.
It was when the group was breaking up that there was another arrival, a man Tom recognized from his pictures as John Foster Dulles. He apologized to the Holmes for being late, and they thanked him for coming. Mr. Holmes gestured to Tom, and he was introduced as one of Hal's friends, a young man working at DRI. The Secretary seemed to be aware of DRI, and said a few kind words about it. They talked of Hal for a bit, and Mr. Dulles then said wearily,
"I'd better go back to see if anything else has happened."
Then, on leaving, he looked directly at Tom and said,
"In a democracy, things that are put off never get done at all. That's as true of facing up to the Soviets as anything else."
The black-clad Mr. Dulles was then on his way, his hat in one hand as he waved farewell to Hal's mother and father with the other.
Tom hardly knew what to think, but he then found Elaine at his side. They walked with the Holmes to the cars in the parking lot, where they encountered a little red-haired boy chasing a larger brother with a baseball bat and mayhem obviously on his mind. Tom was considering intervention when the child's mother came running up and grabbed the bat from the little boy. Mr. Holmes commented,
"There's at least one problem solved. It's so easy for ordinary people who don't know what's going on."
As they parted, Mrs. Holmes was crying softly. Tom suspected that she hardly cared whether there was a nuclear exchange before breakfast the next morning.
When they were alone, Elaine said to Tom,
"I'm glad that's over."
"Do funerals do any good?"
"I think so. Everyone gathers and says what they think they have to. And it makes the family feel a little better. The worst thing would be to have somone you love die without anyone noticing."
"Well, people certainly noticed. Including John Foster Dulles."
"All those people came for the parents. You were the only one who came for Hal."
"Yeah. I guess, as things ended up, I was his only friend."
"It all happened so fast. I only met him the day before yesterday, he was killed a little while later, and now he's already been cremated."
"They had it today because they think we may be nuked tomorrow."
"Those were worried-looking people. I've heard things, but I didn't know it was that bad. Are the Russian planes already in the air?"
"They were yesterday, but they turned back. As nearly as I can tell, we're deciding whether to attack them. And, of course, there'll be a return strike. Or they'll beat us to the draw."
"You know, it's always seemed to me that, if it ever came to this, the decision wouldn't be made just by the president and his immediate advisors, or even those men in consultation with congress. The whole American power-elite would be involved, including people like Jim Holmes. I bet that's another reason he's in Washington today."
"Could be. I'm a lot more depressed after having seen all those people. I'm used to hawks at SAC, and even some at DRI, but this seems like some huge groundswell heading toward war."
"From the look of it, it can't be very long before whatever happens happens."
"The trouble is that the building of that kind of consensus takes too long. If people like Boris sense it and report back, they can strike us without waiting to build a consensus. They might have gone ahead yesterday if we hadn't reacted so fast."
"Do you think we can win and come out alive?"
"Well, yes. With luck. But it is mostly luck."