Dark PassagebyAdrian Leverkuhn©
The White House
"My Fellow Americans," the President of the United States of America began his televised address to the country, "since September 11th, 2001, Christians and Jews around the world have lived under the threat of annihilation by Islamic extremists bent on global domination. These terrorists, while certainly not representative of the main currents in Islamic teachings, have nevertheless managed to expand their ideology of hatred to vast segments of the global population. Despite America's intervention in Iraq in the name of peace, despite America's attempt to spread democratic principles of governance to long-repressed peoples in the Middle East, this radical current within Islam has in the years since 9/11 orchestrated numerous attacks on western cities, including Madrid, London, and Helsinki, and the virulence of the movement has only increased of late to heretofore unforeseen levels. Then last week, the world watched in horror when for the third time in human history a nuclear weapon was used against a civilian population, and Copenhagen was reduced to charred rubble. And while no one nation has claimed responsibility for this attack, it is clear that this action was precipitated by these same radical Islamic terrorists, only now with the support of Islamic republics who have secretly been developing nuclear weapons for some time. Intelligence agencies in both America and western Europe have delivered proof of this assertion to both myself and the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Of this than should be no doubt in your mind.
"It now seems clear to most freedom loving people around the world that radical Islam is a movement that cannot be stopped by conventional means, and that unconventional means of deterring future aggression must be attempted if the people of the world are to live in peace. When attempting to even conceive of new methods of deterrence, military planners in the Pentagon thought it best to analyze successful periods of deterrence in history, and it was concluded that the most recent past held the most completely successful example of deterring a well armed aggressor from pursuing a deadly course of action. This example is the Cold War, and the deterrent policy that best worked was what was known then as Mutually Assured Destruction.
"Just by way of giving you a little background, Mutually Assured Destruction was a policy that at it's most basic level insured that any aggressor-nation attacking the United States would itself be annihilated. This created a "Balance of Terror", whereby no nation dared attack the United States for fear of certain retaliation from America's strategic nuclear forces then arrayed around the world. This policy, developed by John Foster Dulles, grew out of George Kennan's policy of Containment, first implemented in document NSC-68, said document which sought to counter communist expansion by using conventional ground and air forces against Soviet sponsored aggression and expansion against peaceful citizens in first South Korea, then Vietnam, Honduras, Nicaragua, and finally, Afghanistan. The Soviet Union never attempted to use nuclear weapons in these conflicts for fear of invoking the policy response of Mutually Assured Destruction, and from 1945 through 1989 the world lived in relative peace.
"When confronting fundamentalist Islamic terrorism, military planners here and in Europe confronted once again the basic problem of trying to contain this or any terrorist movement; that terrorist organizations are loosely structured movements and not nation states, neither are they identifiable through open alliance with any one government or group of governments. But that is not to say that these movements operate without support from easily identifiable governments, indeed, without support from many governments which claim to support democratic principles in general and the America people in particular. This duplicity has made prosecuting the war on terror an almost impossible political task, and the United Nations, an organization established to contain conflicts of this nature, has been wholly ineffectual in this regard. Our adversaries laugh at our impotence . . .
"Now, freedom loving peoples in the Americas and Europe have been confronted with a new reality, the reality of living under the specter of nuclear intimidation and annihilation.
"My Fellow Americans, let me assure you that from tonight on we will no longer tolerate this state of affairs.
"To that end, from tonight on, our recently augmented and expanded force of B-2 strategic bombers will operate around the clock circling anywhere from two to five cities in the Islamic world. Each of these aircraft will be armed with two of our new third generation five-hundred gigaton hydrogen warheads - the most powerful nuclear devices ever constructed by man. In the event that Islamic terrorists and their sponsor governments in the Islamic world decide to further prosecute their reign of terror on freedom loving peoples anywhere in the world, they should understand that the consequences of their actions will be simply this: within one half hour of a major terrorist attack on any city or military facility of the United States or the European Union, a major city in the Islamic world will be utterly and completely destroyed.
"Joining me now is Major-General Ernst Bayer of the United States Air Force. General, could you please describe for the people listening tonight just where you are, and what your mission is?"
[if you were watching television that evening, your screen split to show the President in the Oval Office on one half of your display and what was obviously the darkened cockpit of an airplane, a helmeted figure dimly seen in silhouette against banks of glowing red and green flight instruments, on the other half . . . ]
"Ah, yes, Mr President, we are currently above the Holy City of Mecca, orbiting at very high altitude, and we will remain on station here for approximately eight hours before we return to base. We are armed with two Mark 98 hydrogen weapons, and will deploy these weapons on authenticated signal from National Command Authority."
"General Bayer, can you tell me what your orders are if your aircraft is fired upon by ground forces below you?"
"Yes, Mr President. If either on-board instruments or our local AWACs aircraft detect the launch of a surface to air missile aimed at either our aircraft or the AWACs aircraft, both of the nuclear weapons on board this aircraft will be armed and deployed on the target, sir."
"Thank you, General. And now my fellow Americans, I would like you to hear from Colonel Deke Hayward. Colonel Hayward, are you there?"
[. . . your television screen flickers for a moment, then resolves on a scene similar to the one it has just replaced, only the figure is more clearly illuminated. You see a handsome middle aged man behind the controls of an aircraft . . .]
"Yes, Mr President, read you loud and clear."
"Colonel, would you please describe for us just where you are tonight, and please state clearly what your operational orders are."
"Well, uh, wait one, ah, yes, Mr President, we are currently above the city of Tehran, over the Islamic Republic of Iran, orbiting at a classified altitude, and we will remain on station here for approximately seven more hours before we return to base. We are armed with two hydrogen weapons, and will deploy these weapons on authenticated signal from National Command Authority or if we are fired upon by hostile forces."
"And again, Colonel, let me be clear here, if fired upon by any force you will without hesitation arm and deploy your nuclear weapons, is that correct?"
"Yes, Mr President."
"Thank you, Colonel Hayward. God bless you."
[. . . your television screen returns to the President in the Oval Office. . . ]
"My Fellow Americans, indeed, to everyone listening to me this night, let me assure you that this policy has been implemented only in the desire that rational thought and sanity will return to discourse among nations, that conflict between peoples and ideas can be resolved without resort of force or intimidation, and that all of the people in the world can unite to confront the huge problems facing our way of life and, indeed, our very world.
"I would like to restate again very clearly; an attack on the United States or any of our military bases around the world will bring swift and final retaliation on a random city in the Islamic world; an attack on any of our allies in the European Union or Israel - or their military facilities - will bring swift and final retaliation; and here I must add that if any attack is carried out against the capital of the United States of America here in Washington, D.C., the full retaliatory power of the United States will be deployed against all population centers in the Islamic world, and the religion that was Islam will simply cease to exist.
"I appreciate your listening to this address, and God Bless America."
RAF Mendenhall Air Force Base
U S Air Force Media Affairs Center
The pale green room in the visitor's center was large and brightly lighted, but a pall of tobacco smoke hung in the air just beneath dingy beige tar-stained ceiling tiles. The cloud hovered over the room below with what could easily have been mistaken for latent malevolence. The room was full of smartly dressed men and women; everyone was scrambling around the increasingly crowded room setting up cameras and microphones, checking sight angles and doing sound-checks. Stylishly dressed men and women stood before video cameras, microphones in hand, and in hushed tone tinged with awe they all described the scene and the import of what was going to be said to the world in the next few minutes.
Colonel Deke Hayward looked at the room full of reporters, the conference room flooded with intense light - the dense splintered strata of light and smoke and dust hovering over the reporters heads, and he shook his head with a mixture of amused disgust and boredom painted on his forty-something year old care-worn face. He looked at the assembled mob of reporters, the camera operators with their microphones trained on the podium where a brace of NATO Generals and Air Marshals would soon gather to outline the logistics behind the President's address to the world the night before. Hayward watched the reporters for a moment more, then turned his attention to the Air Force public relations Captain who chattered incessantly but who - really - seemed to say very little.
"And then, Colonel," the woman said, "after Air Marshall Lake concludes his introductory remarks, he'll introduce you to the cameras. I want you to just move out to the podium and fix your eyes on the Tele-prompter. Just look right into it, the text will scroll along, and read the prepared text. A lot of what you're talking about will be augmented by video presentations on the screens behind you, so don't be distracted by cameras moving from you to the wall behind you, just keep on talking - read the statement. I want you to get through these remarks pretty fast, then tell the reporters that you'd be happy to answer a few of their questions. We'll leave you out there for about five minutes or so, and remember, keep your answers short and don't elaborate, and if you feel uncomfortable with any question just say so and move on to the next reporter. Clear?"
"Yes, Captain, I think I handle that," Hayward said, his voice barely containing the sarcasm that roiled beneath his ironic smile. He turned again to look out at the room full of reporters. His eyes wandered the room, looking for threats to avoid or a friendly face to latch onto, but then his senses screamed and his eyes stopped searching. She was pale, her strawberry blond hair was cool and radiant, and he could just make out those famous green eyes set amidst fields of pale freckles.
"Oh crap!" the PR woman said. "Looks like the BBC sent one of their big guns tonight. You see her?"
"Who, what are you talking about?"
"The redhead you're staring at, Colonel Hayward. Stuart, Angela Stuart is her name. She's the ace reporter for BBC One. She's the closest thing the Brits have to a celebrity newsie. If she's here you can bet this will be the lead story for the BBC World Service tonight, so try not to fuck this up, OK, Colonel Hayward?"
Hayward turned to look down at the short, squat figured Air Force Captain that stood beside him, and he tried but could barely keep his contempt in check. He watched the captain for a moment, watched her wither under the impact of his contemptuous stare, then turned back to look at the BBC reporter.
She was about twenty feet away, walking toward the front ranks of the assembled reporters, and Hayward watched as men and women parted and gave way as she made her way to the camera crew that was set up and waiting for her. A technician hurriedly hooked up an earpiece to the reporter and said a few words into a small microphone, then moved off. Hayward watched the woman for a few more moments, then flinched with a start as the lights dimmed in the room and the podium lights increased to an almost blinding intensity. He watched as RAF Air Marshal Sir Gregory Lake moved to the podium and addressed the reporters in crisp, precise language. Lake recounted the high points of the Presidents address and went over the logistics of the operation that would be carried out primarily from British soil. He began to wind down his part of the presentation, and though he seemed to enjoy this moment in the spotlight, it was apparent to Hayward that the Air Marshal was conscious of this moment in History, conscious of the tremendous forces coiled around his words, waiting for release. The reporters seemed to pick this up, too.
"As you know, operations of this nature exact a tremendous toll on men and machines," the Air Marshall stated, "and operational conditions for these missions will be incredibly stressful on the air crews assigned to Operation Resurgent Glory. Keeping anywhere from three to five B-2 bombers on station 24/7 for the indefinite future - well, there is no operational precedent for this level of sustained operational readiness since the 1960s. The president has assurances that 25 additional B-2 bombers will be delivered within 12 months time, and it is possible that several B-52 bombers from Diego Garcia will augment the force from time to time, but for the next year the stress on these machines will be incredible. Here to talk to you tonight about these operational parameters is Colonel Deke Hayward. As you know, Colonel Hayward was in commend of the aircraft over Tehran last night. He will make a brief statement, then take questions from you. Colonel Hayward."
Hayward stepped out into the light and walked easily up to the podium that seemed to him to be an island of light in a sea of dimly lit faces. He sought out the little plexiglass Tele-prompter screen and saw the pale green words glowing in the air in front of the podium, and he felt a little reassurance when he saw the prepared words he had studied for the past two hours hovering there, waiting for him.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I've been asked to relate to you what was involved in carrying out last night's mission, and I'll try to do so with as little jargon as possible, but I'll ask your pardon ahead of time and if there's something I say you're not clear about, I've been advised that there will be personnel available at the end of this conference to help you with any questions you might still have.
"Yesterday afternoon two U. S. Air Force B-2 bombers departed RAF Mendenhall for airspace over the Middle East. These two aircraft arrived on station in time to coincide with the President's address to the nation, and the world. These aircraft were refueled in-flight over Turkish airspace by U. S. Air Force KC-10 Extender aircraft, then proceeded to their assigned targets over their specified cities. We remained on target for approximately ten hours, then each aircraft returned to RAF Mendenhall, arriving at approximately 0900 GMT today. On our departure from airspace over Mecca and Tehran, two additional B-2 bombers resumed station over unspecified locations in the Middle East, and this operational tempo will continue until the President of the United States decides that this mission is no longer warranted or justified.
"The Press Packet each of you received has relevant operational details that you might find interesting, so rather than bore you unnecessarily with details ad nauseam and ad infinitum, I think it would be reasonable to turn this briefing over to you. I'll be happy to answer any questions of a non-classified nature you might have, so fire away."
As Hayward concluded his prepared remarks, his eyes seemed of their own volition to seek out Angela Stuart, the BBC One reporter who had caught his eye just moments before, and he saw her hand raised. He caught her eyes in his, and held them there a moment. "Yes, Miss Stuart, go ahead," Hayward said to her.
He could see satisfaction on the woman's face, satisfaction at having been chosen first and satisfaction at having been recognized before a global audience. "Yes, thank you, Colonel. You mentioned that your aircraft departed British airspace and refueled over Turkish airspace. Could you tell us, did your aircraft overfly airspace of other members of the European Union, or was your flight to the Middle East in international airspace?"
"Ah, yes, because of fuel constraints, it was necessary to fly the most direct route to the relevant airspace. Our flight plan took us over many member states of the European Union. Yes, Mr Duvall?"
"Yes, Colonel, could you tell us, were the aircraft armed with nuclear weapons?"
"Yes, sir. Ah, Mr Rank?"
And so it went. Reporters questioned and sought clarification, asked Hayward for his opinion of the operational strategy of the mission (which he dodged successfully more than once), and through it all his eyes came back to Angela Stuart's time and time again. He sought reassurance there, and when he found none, he sought insight. He studied her face as he answered question after question, studied her reactions. Soon he noticed a wry smile on her face, and he shook himself from her gaze and let his eyes wander to another face, and he answered another question only to find his eyes locked squarely on Stuart's again. He began to sweat a bit, he could feel little beads of moisture forming on his upper lip, and he knew he had lost this round to her.
Soon the lights came up in the conference room and an RAF public affairs officer came out and thanked Colonel Hayward for his insight, and Hayward walked out of the light and off the stage.
"Nice work, Colonel," Air Marshal Lake said as Hayward returned to the briefing room.
"Nothing like a pretty face to focus on, eh Colonel?" said the squatty Air Force captain. He turned to see the smirk on her face.
"You know what, Captain. I could learn to hate you without much effort."
He watched her smile knowingly. "Want me to arrange an introduction?"
"Oh, I don't think that'll be necessary, Captain."
"She's a little out of your league, if I may say so, Colonel."
"Well, Captain, I'll let you know how it turns out after you've settled in at your new posting in Adak, Alaska." He smiled at the toad and walked away, whistling the simple refrain that John Wayne had whistled when he walked away from the stricken airplane at the end of The High and The Mighty.
Hayward took the GNER express to London later that night, and he sat - lost in his thoughts - as the train hurtled through the night. He could just make out the streaking landscape though the pale reflection his face cast on the cool glass, and he wondered if life wasn't like that. Could we ever get past the images of our selves, the reflections of ourselves that we cast out on a world? A world we can barely perceive through our own reflections? Could we ever really see, Hayward thought, the world through another person's eyes? If we could, he thought, so many misunderstandings could be avoided.