Chapter 18 Deep Thought in the Five-Sided Wind Box
On the third floor of the Pentagon, in the Office of Strategic Creativity and Modular Concepts, General Hogarth Toluene pondered a disturbing series of reports from I Corps. In his teeth he clenched a long black cigarette holder, which served him as a sort of oral swagger stick. He chewed it reflectively and squinted. He didn’t like to wear his glasses.
General Toluene looked like the driver in the Greyhound ads on television. He had a richly modulated voice, and was known throughout the Pentagon as a hell of a briefer, a man who could bring tears with nothing but a simple pointer and a flip chart. For these reasons he had risen far and fast in the strategic-thinking community. Insiders in the Pentagon argued that if only he had had a better profile, he would have been the greatest strategist since Clausewitz.
Three reports seemed especially ominous to General Toluene. The first showed the variation over time in the concentration of enemy troops around Danang. A year before, VC battalions had been scattered. Then, suddenly, they had moved closer to the city, and were now gradually, almost imperceptibly tightening the ring. Such things didn’t happen without a reason, thought General Toluene. Charlie was up to something.
He frowned. There were odd inconsistencies. Why in August had the enemy battalions suddenly withdrawn several miles and moved generally to the north? What malign chess game were the communists playing? What fiendish end were they working toward?
Perhaps the most unsettling thing, he reflected, was the obvious, sharp increase in the quality of the communist army. A man less versed in strategic thinking and modular concepts would not have noticed, but General Toluene did. In the first place, the shifting of the battalions northward had been done virtually overnight, implying a degree of discipline and organization that General Toluene would have thought impossible. In the second place, the Viet Cong displayed a most worrisome ability to remain hidden in a region thick with American forces. There had been no reports of contact. It was as if all those battalions weren’t there. He did not know that in August Colonel Rudyard Thackeray Toute had twisted his elbow while lifting a typewriter, and thus dislocated the entire war.
The second report concerned repeated heavy attacks on the compound of the Third Amphibious Tractor Battalion, just to the north of Danang. General Toluene frowned more deeply and began to drum his manicured fingers on his desk. Why was that particular position so important to the Cong? The other battalions were within easy striking range of the city, yet only an obscure amtrac outfit was hit. Why did Charlie persist in throwing his men against their massed firepower?
He took a drag on his cigarette, slowly elevating the end of the cigarette holder to a rakish upward angle. Once during an important meeting he had been too jaunty in this maneuver. Without his being aware of it, the cigarette had flipped onto the top of his hat, where it had continued burning. He had sat through crucial testimony with a stern expression and smoke pouring from the top of his head, a most embarrassing business. Now he was careful.
The third report had TOP SECRET written on it in red letters.
It was an analysis of the strange matter of the invisible airplanes. In it a pair of engineers from General Dynamics asserted that they had personally seen an American aircraft dogfighting with one of these inexplicable machines. The engineers had offered no explanation but said that more investigation was justified. The tone was somewhat noncommittal. Still, these were high-level design engineers. The communists must have something, from the Russians no doubt—some advanced device, but…what? Then there was a well-attested report, signed by General Grommett in fact, of the strafing of an officers’ club in downtown Danang. Several other reports were there from other positions near the city which had been strafed.
General Toluene rose and began walking slowly in circles around his desk, cigarette holder elevated like a howitzer. What was behind the invisible airplanes? All hell was breaking loose over them. They had been the subject of great attention in Washington’s papers, with right-wing politicians decrying the invisible-airplane gap and demanding massive investment to catch up. The marketing department of General Dynamics, claiming that the company had all the available expertise, was clamoring for a hundred-million-dollar research contract. Congressional hearings were going to be held before long.
General Toluene walked thoughtfully to the big wall map of Vietnam. With little red pins he marked the location of each strafing. Yes, there was a pattern. The attacks clustered sharply to the north, just in the region the Viet Cong battalions had occupied following their sudden relocation.
Suddenly he understood. The northward shift had been practice for an all-out assault through Happy Valley, and on…yes. His eyes widened.
General Toluene strode confidently to the telephone and called the Chief of Staff, General Walter Ponder.
“Sir, this is Hog Toluene. I’m sorry to bother you, but I have something I think you ought to see. If my reports here are right, it looks as though the communists are getting ready to….” His voice dropped to a whisper dripping with condensed significance. “Capture Danang”
General Ponder was an artilleryman and didn’t hear well. “What?”
“Yessir, what?” said General Ponder with irritation.
“Goddammit, yessir, sir, what?”
“Sir, yessir, sir, sir. Sir.”
“Any more of this bird-brained crap and you get a court martial. What the hell is wrong?”
The conversation wasn’t going as General Toluene had hoped. “The commies are going to capture Danang.”
“I hope so, sir. But I’d hate to be wrong and the evidence looks, well, solid.”
General Ponder thought for a moment. The idea sounded lunatic. On the other hand, if Danang somehow did fall, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs would probably be blamed, and that would be the end of his career. And who the hell knew what was going on over there? His intelligence people sure didn’t. Maybe the smart thing would be to bring someone else into it.
“Bring that stuff up here. I’ll let Wurther know.”