"For the Sake of Ten Men" appeared February, 1973 in New Libertarian Notes No. 18. It is posted for entertainment purposes only and may not be crossposted to any other datafile base, conference, news group, email list, or website without written permission of the author.
Copyright © 1973 by J. Neil Schulman. All rights reserved.

For the Sake of Ten Men

by J. Neil Schulman

10 February 1986

The once closely-guarded secret of where this base is located, I will not reveal here. If this information has any further military value--which I doubt--then I will divulge it only to those with proper security clearance. If it is, as I suspect, totally worthless to anyone at this point, and the very security I am talking about--perhaps even the United States as a corporate entity--has ceased to exist... well, then there wouldn't be a hell of a reason to tell it anyway.

But I will say this much:

On 24 December 1985 at twenty-three hundred hours and thirty-four minutes.... a time in which the fear of nuclear warfare was something to be joked about as a nightmare out of the seemingly distant past which "experts" of all nations repeatedly assured us could never happen... I was the man with his finger on the button. It was I who would see the missiles approaching before anybody else would and I was the gentleman who had to get on a special telephone hook-up to the President of the United States and inform him that his precious country was about to be blown to kingdom come. I was also the fellow who was supposed to launch the massive retaliation.

Seven weeks ago tomorrow at a little past eleven-thirty p.m., I was reaching for that phone.

We were down to a skeleton crew: myself and thirty-two men under my command--and by the time I'd received the first confirmed sightings, I had already ordered the condition "red" that would alert A.B.M. and laser-defense units across the country. I made a dash for the private war room and made it in record time, only knocking over one man, two cups of hot coffee and a full ashtray on the way. I unlocked the safe containing all the contingency plans and retrieved the prime set marked TOP SECRET. Then I placed the plans--still sealed-- alongside the telephone and switched on the phone; a corresponding red light went on.

The President and First Lady were at a big White House party and within split seconds of the first ring one of the Presidential aides picked up and said in a very nervous voice, "Wait a second... I'll get him."

I can't remember how long it was before he finally came to the phone; not only was I rushed to my limit, but I was operating on about minus five hours of sleep. It might have been anywhere from a half-minute to ten; it just seemed forever. The President finally did pick up, and I suddenly realized that I too had been nervous, but wasn't any more. I was forty-eight years old and he was only sixty-three, but I felt as if I was ten again and my father had just tucked me into bed. "This is the President," said the President.

"General A__________ here Mr. President," I responded.

Then we traded signs and countersigns--very cloak and dagger--and he asked me to fill him in on the situation.

So I did.... I told him that we had confirmed sightings of nuclear-type missiles heading towards prime U.S. target areas and it looked like the entire northeastern megalopolis was about to be wiped out. He asked me whose missiles they were and I told him there was no doubt about it: they were Soviet. Then I asked him a question: "Why?"

"Beats the hell out of me," he said. Then I asked him what were his orders? "Do whatever you damn please," he said.

By this point I wasn't sure of my sanity, much less my hearing, so I asked him to repeat himself. "I said do whatever you like. I'm just an old man who is going to be dead anyway in a few minutes and I couldn't care less. You know those plans of yours? Well, you can either follow them or burn them, whatever you like. As for me, I'm going to grab the first pretty young ass I see and try and get off one last load. You know I'm not as fast as I used to be and I wonder whether I'll have time...." There was along pause at the other end of the line--I think he had started to hang up--when suddenly he said, "General A__________--you still there?"

"Yes Mr. President."

"I almost forgot, Merry Christmas." Then he hung up.

I just sat there for several seconds, too stunned to even move. I hadn't even remembered it was Christmas... or at least it would be in less than a half hour. I started wondering whether the President would make it--either to Christmas or his "last load"--then I silently wished the son-of-a-bitch good luck on both counts and proceeded to think about the dilemma he had just thrown into my lap. I opened the plans.

There were in front of me now: the detailed blueprints for the systematic and foolproof destruction of a continent and its people; all that remained was to give the order. No thought was required; no detail had been left out.

It suddenly occurred to me that I had never foreseen myself in this situation; I had always assumed this decision would be the President's and his alone. I felt as if I was physically standing outside myself and looking at my uniformed body hunched over those plans and I thought: It's you who must now make the decision. No one else. You're totally alone now and the result of whatever you do in the next few minutes will determine the course of future history--if any--for the next thousand years.

Whatever else I felt, the thought didn't frighten me. If the military had succeeded in drilling anything into me, it was the ability not to freeze up when vital decisions were to be made. I had an important problem before me-- one which through some fluke, or conditioning, or intellectual weakness on my part--I had never foreseen in time to think through. How should I approach it?

All right now (I thought). Let's look at the practical considerations first. If you launch this retaliation, will it increase or decrease the destruction of United States territory? If you don't retaliate, the Soviets will be free to continue bombing us past the point where our defenses would wear out.

But would they?

If the Soviets found that no retaliation was coming after a successful first strike, mightn't they assume our forces were destroyed and therefore all they had to do was wait a few weeks for the fall-out to settle then march their occupation forces in? By not retaliating--by playing dead, so to speak--might not I prevent further holocaust?

But I realized it could go either way; there was nothing to ensure that the government of the U.S.S.R.--which by launching this attack in the first place had already risked the total destruction of their own people--would act in their own self interest. Their hatred of Americans might be so great after so many years of listening to their own propaganda that they would prefer to see us dead even at the cost of their own survival.

If this was the case--and I had no of way knowing if it was--wasn't it a moral imperative for me to retaliate? Should the bastards in the Soviet government be allowed to destroy America and get away with it? Wouldn't that be injustice of the first order?

"I will not destroy it for ten's sake."

This phrase suddenly intruded into my consciousness: I.. will... not... destroy... it... for ten's sake... Where had I heard that before? What did it have to do with the problem at hand?

I tried blocking it from my mind and continue with my analysis. I realized that if retaliation was to be successful I had only a few more minutes to decide... and I felt as if I needed a lifetime.

By some process I still don't quite understand, the problem had switched over to being a moral issue rather than one of the purely tactical ones I was used to dealing with. I felt insecure on this new territory. Here I was, a man of forty-eight and I doubted I had ever come to terms with a purely moral issue. How was I to know what was right and what was wrong... by what miraculous process? What did I know of moral justice? A word, "justice," a word I had heard and even used all my life and never understood. An image... a blindfolded woman holding a balance scale... but what did that have to do with retaliation?

I decided to switch back to the "practical" territory on which I felt more competent. From a purely practical point of view, how does destroying one's enemy help the victim? How could destruction bring justice--whatever it was--when destruction was the problem in the first place? Perhaps if by destroying the destroyer you might bring back the state of affairs which existed prior to the destruction there might be some point to it... but I realized I was thinking nonsense. Reality was what it was and I saw no cut and dried solutions.

"I will not destroy it for ten's sake."

There it was again.... but what did it mean? I knew I had heard it--or maybe read it--a long time ago someplace... but where?

Then I knew. It was something I had read... when I was a child.. in the Bible. I don't know why, but it had made an impression on my young mind.

There was a Bible in the top drawer of the desk in front of me; I don't know what joker put it there. But it was there and I turned to the index in the back and started glancing through it... Yes! There it was. I turned to Genesis, Chapter 18 and read:

22 And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD.

23 And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?

24 Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?

25 That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked; and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

26 And the LORD said, if I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.

27 And Abraham answered and said, Behold now I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes:

28 Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy the city of lack of five? And he said, If I find there are forty and five, I will not destroy it.

29 And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty's sake.

30 And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it if I find thirty there.

31 And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty's sake.

32 And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake.

33 And the LORD went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.

I must admit that I'm, a devout atheist; I refuse to believe in anything that can't be proven. But I suddenly figured: Maybe this is nothing more than some pleasantly repetitive poetry, but damn it-- it makes sense! Forget how I knew but it justseemed right; it had the correct ring to it. What it comes down to, I thought, is: am I going to just group together the entire Russian people and forget that they're individuals the same as us? If this "God" won't destroy Sodom-- probably a very decent- sized city for its time-- because of only ten individuals, then how could I kill fifty to a hundred million individuals because of a few petty dictators whom they probably dislike as much as I do?

I knew what my decision was to be. I switched on the public address system and announced: "This is General A__________ speaking. As authorized by the President of the United States, we will use only anti-ballistic missile and laser defenses, standard procedures. We will not--repeat, will not--retaliate. That is all."

All of a sudden I felt very tired and I realized that in addition to not sleeping much lately, I was totally exhausted from all that thinking. I wasn't used to it; the service doesn't require much. I wasn't needed any longer-- my men could handle everything else-- so I returned to my quarters and got ready for bed. I didn't have to worry about getting "nuked" myself; this base is in a spot the Soviets couldn't have hit in a million years. And I didn't have any family or friends in the outside world. That's one of the main reasons I found myself in this particular job. I wished the world a very merry Christmas and slept for ten hours.

When I awoke I learned that at least on a tactical level, it looked as if my decision had been correct. My analysis to the President-- the late President, I should say-- had been correct: New York, Washington D.C., Boston, Philadelphia.... all gone. The rest of the U.S. was untouched, however. Perhaps the Soviet government had taken the lack of retaliation as a sign of surrender; whatever the reason, they waged no second attack. And with the destruction of the officials in Washington, the U.S. was--temporarily, at least--a de facto anarchy.

I wondered how long before the Soviet troop carriers would land? Two weeks? Three? A month?

Five weeks passed before any ships landed on American soil. But these weren't troop carriers; no invasion or occupation was to take place. These were private Russian relief ships; the Soviet government no longer existed. And it wasn't until this week that I received enough information to finally figure out what had happened.

The government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had counted on our retaliation in order to justify-- that is, attempt to justify-- their own aggression to the Russian people. A few minutes after they launched their first missiles, they broadcast a message to the public stating that the "American Imperialists" had launched a first strike against them, and the broadcast ordered the citizens to take shelter. Millions of their people crawled into whatever shelters had been prepared--or whatever other holes-in-the-ground they could find--and waited to die. They waited three hours. Four hours. Five hours later they were still waiting for an attack that never came.

In the mean time, another arm of the Soviet bureaucracy had already broadcast the "successful retaliation" against the American "imperialists," and they gave an accurate account of the damage. Quite a few of the Russian people were listening to radios in the shelters and heard the reports. The rest found out soon enough.

The Soviet authorities were caught with their pants down... and they were so disorganized and confused by our surprise non- attack that it was already too late for them. In an almost Biblical manner, the Russian people --killed, kicked, and beaten into submission for three-quarters of a century-- rose up and slew their masters. They were so enraged and nauseated at the thought that their government had brutally slaughtered millions of innocent American--people who had both the means and the reason to destroy them but "gallantly chose not to"--that they swarmed out of their shelters and literally went for the throat of the Soviet government.... a government whose leaders were so busy blaming one another for this "blunder" that they were impotent for any real resistance.

Weeks later, when virtually anyone wearing a police or army uniform had been killed by angry mobs roaming the streets--and soldiers and police had torn off their own uniforms and joined the mobs against their former comrades who chose not to remove theirs--things finally settled down and people started wondering how to prevent this disaster from ever happening again.

Some proposed a constitutional republic modeled on what our own had been, but the Soviet propagandists had given them such an accurate and detailed picture of what our country had deteriorated to--from a half-decent republic to a fascistic welfare state--that most found that solution totally unsatisfactory. Then certain cries began circulating through the streets, soon picked up by handbills and pamphlets: KROPOTKIN, BAKUNIN....you were right! EMMA GOLDMAN, ERRICO MALATESTA....we were wrong! To hell with all government!!

And in America....representatives from all the remaining state legislatures were sent to a Constitutional Convention in Los Angeles....rioting broke out and the convention disbanded in chaos. Certain books have been suddenly appearing in new editions.... works of early American anarchists such as Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker.. and the more recent of laissez- faire no-governmentalists such as LeFevre and Rothbard that have become popular in the past few years....

Two of the most powerful governments in history are gone... The long civil war in mainland China continues unaffected by the events around it... and people everywhere seem to have decided that no matter what new problems living in a society without government might create, it can't possibly be worse than the mass poverty, destruction and chaos that governments throughout history have produced. Maybe that sounds strange coming from a man who has spent most of his life in the military, but... I don't know.... there just might be something to this idea of getting rid of government...

I wonder how long it would take to learn to speak Russian?

Go to Diary of a Former Science Fiction Writer.

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