Return Engagements: Book Three (Part Twenty Three)

By the time we were in southern Washington state, the cops had called the CIA, informing them that I wasn’t there. They also advised them that Bush was nowhere to be found. They had shown their sketch (of me) to the stewardesses, who confirmed that I had been on the flight, but didn’t see where I went. One of the porters (Skycaps) said that someone picked me up in a late-model car, but that he saw no more than that.

Hillenkoetter was furious; Senators, Generals and the Prime Minister of England had all called asking for reports. President Truman didn’t seem terribly concerned, but he was the exception.

Hillenkoetter sent agents to question Bush’s wife in Massachusetts. They reported back that she knew nothing and was disgusted with Hillenkoetter. (“He steals him away from me, loses him, then asks me where he is?”)

Actually, Hillenkoetter was afraid for his reputation. He never wanted the job of running CIA, but he did care how he would be remembered. And the likelihood of him being remembered as a great war admiral was declining.

* * * * *

It was a slow drive south from Spokane. We had taken the more rustic route so we’d be harder to find, but it was slow. We made it to Lewiston for lunch. It was there, in a diner, that I gave Bush his first big surprise.

I’m from Chicago,” I said, realizing that I was more or less repeating what I told Mike Burroughs in 1963, “but I’m not from this time. I’m from your future… from 2021 to be precise.”

I don’t see how that’s possible.”

No, I’m sure you don’t. I’ll explain more about that later, but please humor me and leave that aside for now. You may not think so, but there’s a limit to how much of this you can take in one setting. I know because I’ve gone through almost the same thing.”

Bush tried to believe me, then started asking questions on the future. And so I decided to give him some facts that no citizen should know in 1947.

I know a great deal about your Manhattan Project,” I went on, “including the difficulty of attaining a proper implosion, and even about the Super.” (The Super was the hydrogen bomb, then in early development.)

That got his attention. “You haven’t told anyone, have you?”

Certainly not. I know how crucial that was. I’m only telling you to support my claim.

We ate for a few more minutes, until he said, “What else?”

I laughed. “There’s seventy years of material to cover!”

Still, I thought cementing this point was important, and it gave me a chance to spend time on less-than-heavy conversation.

You’re from Boston, yes?”

More or less.”

Than I regret to inform you that the Red Sox won’t win the series until after 2000.”

He half laughed, half smiled.

What about science, technology and adventure?”

Well, I’ll start with this: The scientists you got in Operation Paperclip…”

You know about that too?”

Like I say, 2021.”

Right, right.”

Anyway, after the Russians put a satellite into orbit in 1957, the American bosses got serious and we put men on the moon in 1969. I was a boy then, and it was an utterly magnificent adventure.”

From there we went on to discuss the entire NASA program, its collapse, and the private space developments that are presently underway.

At that moment, a man opened the front door of the diner and announced to everyone that the road into the mountains was closed because of an early snow. “What about the other roads?” several people asked. The man said that only the mountain road was closed for now. Unfortunately, that was the road Bush and I were using.

We’d better get going,” Bush said, rising from the table. “We should be able to reach Route 12 and go that way.”

* * * * *

There was snow falling as we went west, but just a little, and so we continued on US 12, then took a risk on a narrower road to get to Walla Walla. We had to drive over some unpaved areas (not uncommon at that time), but we made it.

By the time we hit Walla Walla, the sun was declining and Bush looked beat. I wasn’t surprised, but he was. The weariness spawned by learning radically new things is one you have to experience to understand.

As we were at a red light in Walla Walla, I said, “You don’t look good Vannevar. Put it in Park.”

Bush didn’t say a word, but disengaged the transmission and pulled the parking brake. I got out, opened his door, and helped him into the passenger seat. “This is where you let go of the reigns,” I said. “Hopefully you’re ready for them again tomorrow.”

He nodded and I started looking for a decent hotel.

* * * * *

The Generals and Senators were convinced that either I had kidnapped Bush, or that Soviet agents had us both. It seemed that they could see no further than their existing mental models; that when pushed too far, they fell into an odd sort of panic, an elitist panic, and felt an overwhelming need to strike whatever threatened their model.

They went to Truman, wanting emergency powers. Truman declined. Whatever the man’s vices or virtues, his character was formed on farms and in worker’s camps and in businesses; it wasn’t formed in the halls of power.

A few days later, still in an elite-panic, high-and-mighties on both sides of the Atlantic were talking with the President’s Cabinet. (There was no Vice President at the time.) These men had been picked by Roosevelt, and they were far more politically- and power-centered than Truman. Between them and some very rich men (including, I think, representatives of the Fords and Rockefellers) pressure was placed upon Truman to do something about the situation… that if he didn’t go along with the Generals, they would cease backing him.

Truman finally broke down and agreed to a three-pronged strategy:

First, he would seize the spacecraft from the museum in Chicago, citing overriding national security concerns. It would be brought to Wright-Patterson, where work on replicating it would commence immediately. This would be funded by siphoning money from the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe that was being organized just then.

Second, the CIA and the Army Security Agency (later to become the NSA) were tasked with aggressively infiltrating the USSR and gathering far more intelligence than they had been.

Third, he would order the CIA, directly, to find Vannevar Bush.

As this was happening, Eisenhower, still overseeing the US Army as Army Chief of Staff, was kept out of the loop. Nonetheless, he had thousands of people throughout government who were supremely loyal to him, and he learned of it quickly.

Eisenhower didn’t do anything about the situation, but he made sure he was kept up on details; informally, of course.

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Paul Rosenberg