It’s time for a little timely flag-waving.
Last year, around the time I started this column, Operation Blue Bat wrapped up. It was one of our better moments, foreign policy-wise. Who’d even heard of Lebanon before 1958? But when that country came to the brink of civil war in the aftermath of the Iraqi revolution, American troops, particularly the Marines, were dispatched to help keep the peace. Their mission successful, the last of them came home on October 25.
Now, I’m as cynical as the next person. I know our action in Lebanon was political more than humanitarian. We were calling the bluff of the Soviets, who insisted we not interfere. We were protecting the pro-west Christian government from the pro-Soviet Arab government. As Tom Lehrer put it in a recent song, “They’ve got to be protected, all their rights respected, ’til somebody we like can be elected.”
And yet, I still have to applaud the avoidance of bloodshed, as well as appreciate the now-concrete evidence that the Soviets and the U.S. will not come to blows over petty conflicts (the Suez Crisis of ’56 was the first proof of that.)
So it’s timely that the next story I read in the February 1959 Astounding was The Stoker and the Stars by John A. Sentry (Algis Budrys’ Anglic pen-name). In this story, Earth had been roundly trounced after an interstellar war, and all of humanity had been confined to our own Solar System. Only limited trade was allowed. One proud Marine, defeated but not beaten, became the lynchpin to earning the respect of our cordoning aliens. It’s an old-fashioned piece, a reminiscence of a space merchant remembering how he’d known the great man “back in the day,” when they had shipped together on one of the last Terran cargo vessels; destination: occupied Alpha Centauri.
It’s jingoistic. It’s a little maudlin. It plays into Campbell’s penchant for Terrans-uber-alles stories. I recognize that. But the memories of Iwo Jima and Lebanon are still fresh, and a good Marine friend of mine only recently returned from his station in the Middle East. Whatever your politics, it does not hurt to recognize that there are some fine people in the service, and I saw a little of my friend in the hero of Sentry’s story.
Oribtal Cold War department:
Remember Sputnik III? This was the first “real” Soviet satellite following the bare-bones Sputnik I (which went beep-beep) and the rather stunt-like Sputnik II (which carried the Muttnik, Laika). Weighing in at over a ton and carrying a dozen experiments, it was certainly a feat of Soviet engineering.
It was also the only Soviet satellite launched throughout all of 1958. Thus, while the American Vanguard I continues to chatter happily away from orbit, and Explorer IV is also still up there, albeit silent since October, Sputnik III remains the sole Soviet sentinel in orbital space. So I can just imagine the consternation in the Kremlin when Sputnik III’s signal started to decay and warble like a drunkard’s whistle. Since December 17, Sputnik III has probably been of little use to anybody.
But the day before yesterday, radio eavesdroppers in Napa, California announced that the poor space lab had recovered (perhaps with fuzz on its geiger counters and the need for some strong tomato juice). The current theory is that Sputnik III gradually got tipped out of alignment so that its solar cells were no longer getting sufficient charge. The probe has finally returned to a favorable tilt, and is happily back on the wagon.
Thus, what began with an American flag-waving has ended with some Soviet flag-waving. All in the spirit of fairness, of course.
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