Chapter 2 - Emergency Mission
There was a time when wars were started with swords held high, when horses shook the Earth and battle cries mingled with their thunder. And there were other times when wars were signaled with smoke pouring forth from cannons and explosions ripping the Earth, when there were no battle cries. And then, there is this modern time, the thermonuclear era. Will the start of war in this age be signaled by a convulsion that will encircle the Earth and silence all human sounds?
Some people say that this war has already started. They say that it started during the golden days when the US was riding high on its atomic triumphs, and those later days when it was reaching for the moon and for political greatness, when hundreds upon hundreds of intercontinental missiles were installed against the Soviets, the time when the great Polaris submarines went into service, ready to erase Soviet cities with the push of a button. These were days of great fright for the Soviet Union. Some of these days were days of deep humiliation, the days when the US military had readied a campaign that might have destroyed the entire Soviet Block of nations with an estimated two hundred million casualties of human beings, which was brought to naught by Russia developing the H-bomb. The Cuban Missile Crisis might have also started such a war in earnest, when the US sent the Russians packing and the Soviet leaders vowed that this would never happen again. This was perhaps the time when mankind started 'loosing' the Cold War.
Of course there are still people around in today's world who are as naive as I had been then, who insist that the thermonuclear 'war' has not in fact been started, who feel secure in their illusions that all is under control, who believe that nuclear war is something that nobody should ever seriously worry about, something remote and unattached to the Cold War battle. But it isn't unattached. I had learned that nothing in this world exists in isolation. The Cold War and the nuclear war were one, with one single aim, to reduce the world population to very low levels, and we were rapidly loosing that war. The Russians were laughing at us with all the rage of a hyped up wrestler who is accustomed to winning. Russia had never been defeated, but they might defeat us. In fact the President became terrified that the Russians might light the nuclear fire when our fortunes are low, as they had been at the time when the financial markets were in the process of crashing. He suddenly saw the tables turned with Russia riding high, and the West reeling in trouble.
The awakening that the Cold War was actually real, came to me as a shock right in the middle of the most exciting period of my life. It stirred not a gentle awakening. I had seen the Russian tanks in great numbers in East Germany. They were there to be deployed in the aftermath under the Ogarkov Plan for waging and winning a nuclear strike against Western Europe. I had ignored the tanks that I saw, as though they didn't exist in the real world. Tanks in the countryside have little meaning against everyone's heralded devotion to peace.
Even when Steve and Ushi had confirmed what I knew about the Ogarkov Plan, I had remained unmoved. It seemed like a bad dream then that any group or country could be depraved enough to desire world domination at the risk of global destruction. It appeared that the Soviets did fit into this category. Of course they were not playing their own game. I knew that. They were playing someone else's game. They were playing the game that they were coerced into playing. Against this background the Ogarkov Plan had sounded more like a clever mystery novel, rather than a serious component of international policy. Maybe it was its scope, its science-fiction nature, which had cast the whole thing into a light that didn't touch me as anything real. But this perception changed that morning.
On the morning when I was on the plane coming home from Washington something had clicked in my mind that caused my carefully preserved world of placid illusions to fall apart. We were indeed loosing the Cold War.
When a stewardess passed out the usual newspapers after takeoff, I asked for the Washington Post. In the financial section, a two-column headline said something about a systemic banking collapse. I didn't even know for sure what this meant.
In June, the largest bank of America had reported a slight operating loss, a month later heavy losses with a warning that the whole financial industry was so deeply in trouble that the entire pyramid could be tumbling down once reality would move people instead of their illusions. The writer of the article found it alarming that the world's largest banks were in dire straits, but he found it even more alarming that their stock still kept on rising sharply in value, and that this pattern was visible everywhere. The Dow had been on a continuous upswing for years in total disregard of the economic facts. Steel production had slumped by a whopping 70% during this timeframe, so the article warned. The machine tool and farm equipment industry fared not much better. While everyone was talking about a recovery, the article noted that production plants, mills and blast furnaces were being torn down all across the USA. The gap in lost production was filled with imports. Household names of America's farm equipment sector, like International Harvester, John Deere, Allis-Chalmers, which once stood synonymous with American prosperity, were fast on the way to becoming relics of history.
I put the paper down and shook my head. The Russians must be laughing at us, I kept thinking. I remembered the uproar some time ago, when US Steel dynamited its flagship operation, the National Tube Plant in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. They said that this became necessary after years of depressed prices, when steel production became unprofitable in the post-industrial-society era, the era of the brave new irrational world. The Russians could just as well have bombed the place. The result would have been the same. This time the global oligarchy, that hates prosperity as a threat to its existence, had chosen a more novel approach than war. It had somehow managed to get the American people to blow up the plant themselves. They were calling the USA checkmate, without having taken one single pawn in the game. They were the great chess masters for sure. This insanity had defined the battle for us in a war that we were close to loosing.
No sooner had I laid the paper down, which had told the ugly story, that I picked it up again. A sub-headline glared at me; "Two out of Three trillion in loan assets are worthless!"
The writer insisted that this was only the tip of the iceberg of the economic chaos, considering the tight interdependence of the entire economic strata. With basic industries collapsing and unemployment forcing defaults on mortgages amidst slumping prices, mortgage loans became worthless, and the trend was having a ripple effect that was just beginning to gather momentum.
I laid the paper down again. The banking crisis was undoubtedly real. It all made sense. I recalled the chaos when Bell and Beverly went under, with paper assets of over five billion. Deregulation and bad management had been blamed for the failure. This, suddenly, looked like a shameful excuse. There was a pattern behind this spreading wave of disaster that the article brought into focus.
The Ogarkov Plan came to mind again, and its possible connection with the world-financial disintegration. It seemed logical to me that before an adversary could even dare to think of waging a war against a military giant like the USA, it would first have to bring the giant to its knees. This, of course, the article didn't say. The fact, however, was clear. According to the article, the once proudest of all giants, the mighty USA, lay dying, financially and economically wounded from within.
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