In a previous feature article, I wrote about an early science fiction novelette written by Desmond Bagley, which appeared in the April 1964 edition of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
The Scott Meredith Literary Agency, who still act as the author’s agent in respect of this work, have kindly granted me permission to reproduce on this website, without payment, the novelette in full. I am indebted to Barry Malzburg from the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, Moore Stephens the Bagley trustees, and Gordon Van Gelder from Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine for their help in bringing this, one of Bagley’s early works, to a wider audience.
by Simon Bagley
I HAD BEEN WORKING ON Project American for five years before I really knew what it was all about. Now that may be all right for the ordinary man-in-the-street who is an unobservant character at the best of times, but for a live-wire newspaperman like I was sup-posed to be it showed a lamentable lack of whatever it is that goes to make a live-wire newspaperman. I make this point to prove that Project American really was secret. Compared to Project American the Manhattan Project was the Voice of America, which is not a bad comparison because both were infiltrated by about the same number of Communist agents.
You’ll realise the degree of secrecy when I tell you that even the Pentagon didn’t know about Project American. Some bright boy had reasoned correctly that where there are uniforms there are spies, so the uniforms were kept out and didn’t even know that Project American existed. And this in spite of the fact that Project American was developing the ultimate weapon, the greatest weapon in the world. Of course, everybody knows today how successful it proved in practice.
It was some time early in 1962 that I had a drink with an old college buddy of mine, Jack Lindstrom. College had been the parting of the way for us; I had gone into newspaper work, while Jack had majored in anthropology, taken his post-graduate course and was now a coming big wheel in the academic world.
He dropped into the office one day and announced that he had just come back from some forgotten rat hole in the Matto Grosso and what about having a drink for old times’ sake. Asking a hard-worked reporter to have a drink is like asking a mouse to have some cheese, so we soon found ourselves a quiet bar and were swapping lies about the good old college days over a couple of beers.
Then he told me a little about the work he had been doing down in Brazil while I kept making mental notes because it had the makings of a good Sunday Supplement article if I could cut out all the really important bits and stick to the trivia.
After about an hour of this sort of chit-chat he said that he was going to join a research group which was going to apply anthropological techniques to the current American scene. He seemed enthusiastic about this thing and said it was the biggest project in modern anthropology.
“We’re going to take the modern American apart and see what makes him tick,” he said. “It’s never been done before on a workable scale.”
“What about Middletown?”
“Peanuts,” he scoffed. “That was a survey of one town by a small group. We are going to survey the whole country. There’ll be hundreds of us working at it.”
“Where’s the money coming from?”
“Most of the big foundations are coming in and I think that Uncle Sam is contributing. This is important to the Government, you know; when the results are finally evaluated the Government will at last have an accurate yard-stick against which to measure policy.”
“How long do you expect to take on this job?” I asked.
Jack shrugged. “Ten—fifteen—twenty years; who knows in a thing like this?”
“You’re taking the cosmic view, I see,” I said drily.
He ordered another couple of beers, then said, “Why don’t you join us?”
I stared at him. “Look, Jack,” I said, “I think you’ve got your wires crossed. I’m Johnny Murphy, the newsman. What the hell do I know about anthropology?”
“What anthropologist knows as much about the newspaper world as you do?” he countered. This thing isn’t only for people like me, you know. We’re recruiting from all the communication industries —radio, T.V., newspapers and weeklies. All the moulders of opinion from Madison Avenue down to the Oshkosh Gazette. The fact is there aren’t enough anthropologists to go round. We’ll need experienced information gatherers and report writers. We’ll need people like you.”
He took a pull at his beer. “From a few remarks you’ve dropped you seem to be tiring of newspaper work, anyway.”
That was true. Like all news-men I had a secret hankering to write a novel. I was convinced I could write better than Hemmingway if I really tried. I also knew that newspaper work ruins a man for serious writing and my only hope of getting down to a novel was to give up my job.
Jack said, “And the pay is not bad; it’s probably better than you’re getting now.”
That was a big inducement. I was weakening rapidly. “What would I have to do?”
He leaned over the table. “Principally, you would form part of an information service. It suits us better to have informed men on the staff than to have to go outside the organisation every time we want the answer to a question. You would probably head the newspaper division if you came in now—your reputation is good enough.
“We would quiz you about the newspaper world—its functions and methods. If you didn’t know the answers you would go out and get them. We think an ex-news-man has the contacts and a better chance of getting information out of his old colleagues than an anthropologist would.”
“Somebody has been thinking hard about this,” I said.
Jack grinned. “I tell you it’s a big thing,” he insisted. “If you come in now I think I could guarantee that you would be head of a department with your own staff of field men.”
I thought about it for a bit, then said, “O.K. I’ll talk to who-ever is doing the hiring and firing. But there’s one thing. Before I join I would like to write it up as a news story. If it’s as big as you say I might get a nice fat parting bonus for breaking the story.”
“Sure,” said Jack easily. “There’s nothing secret about it.”
I didn’t know it then, but I had just been recruited for the super-secret Project American.
I got into the organisation easily. I don’t know if it was because of the yarns Jack had been spinning or whether it was my own scintillating personality. Whatever it was it worked. I was made head of the newspaper division, and the first year was devoted mainly to organisational problems, getting things squared away for the big job.
There’s a line of verse—”Not for an age, but for all time.” That describes the organisation perfectly. It was BIG and everyone in it worked at a steady, unhurried pace that was deceptively slow but which got the work done even though the end results would only be seen half a lifetime away —or maybe a whole lifetime—or a couple of lifetimes. Nobody knew because a thing like this had never been done before.
I never really got used to it. I was a newsman and accustomed to working to a deadline. The work I had done yesterday was dead—there’s nothing deader than yesterday’s news—and the work of today would be dead tomorrow. Impermanence is the very fabric of a newsman’s life, which is one of the reasons why a novel is impossible. I found it difficult to adjust to this new pace and to set my sights a little higher than tomorrow morning.
The men at the top certainly knew what they were doing. Within six months we moved into our New York headquarters, a sizeable skyscraper in the familiar Aztec pyramid style. My own office was lush. A ten-acre desk, a Turkey carpet, wood-panelled walls and more gadgets than you could shake a stick at. After I had installed a hidden cocktail bar I was open and ready for business.
I really pitied those guys back in the newspaper office, working on beat-up typewriters in the crowded and noisy newsroom. After a while, though, the quiet got on my nerves, so I moved my personal secretary from the outer office and put her desk in the corner of my office. I felt better then, I wasn’t so lonely.
So we got the organisation into a working shape and after that I didn’t have time to feel lonely, nor did I get to spend much time in my nice, luxurious office.
I travelled—how I travelled. After I had had my brains wrung out, as Jack had promised, I was sent to San Francisco to organise the West Coast Area office and from there to Chicago and then to New Orleans and a dozen other cities.
I answered questions—some of the damnedest questions—and I recruited and I answered more questions and I organised yet an-other branch office and I got a lot of field teams on the road and I answered some more questions and I failed to answer questions and I went out into the highways and byways to find the answers—and the years rolled by.
I didn’t see much of Jack Lindstrom but sometimes our paths crossed and then we would get together for an evening and exchange organisation shop-talk. Once I met him in Columbus, Ohio, and we had dinner together. I was interested by then in certain curious aspects of the work I was doing and I wanted some answers for myself instead of finding them for other people.
Over the steak I said, “How many people do you think are working for the organisation now, Jack?”
He shrugged. “Must be a lot.”
“That’s what I mean,” I said. “Funny, isn’t it.”
“What’s funny about it? It’s a big job.”
“Yes, it’s a big job; but what’s it all for?” “You know what it’s for as well as I do,” said Jack. “It’s the biggest survey of its kind ever. We’re getting masses of beautiful data.” His eyes lit up as he said that. He was the typical scientist who can’t see behind the data in front of his nose.
I said, “I wonder how many billions it’s costing?”
“Billions?” said Jack doubtfully. “I don’t think that … well, maybe . . .”
“Look, Jack,” I said patiently. “My own salary isn’t small, and I have over two hundred people working in my division and I know their salaries. Then there are the other media divisions—radio and T.V. and so on. They are not as big as mine but it all adds up. Then there are all the other divisions collecting all kinds of goddamn information from an evaluation of the national debt down to the sale of popcorn in theater foyers last Thursday week.
“On top of that there are the brains who analyse and evaluate all this stuff. In all, that makes up the working staff—people like you and me. Add to that the house keeping staff—all the secretaries, stenographers, the cleaners and janitors and the electronics engineers who keep the computers from getting indigestion—and it adds up to a fair population. I estimate it as not far short of 25,000 bodies.”
“As many as that?”
“Probably more,” I said firmly, “And you can’t hire that many people in a non-profit organisation like this without large slices of the tax-payers’ money.”
“I think I told you once that Uncle Sam was in on the act,” said Jack.
“Sure,” I said, “But there’s a funny thing. This project isn’t secret. Hell, I wrote it up myself be-fore I joined the organisation. But it is being played down. Everybody knows it’s there, but nobody knows how big it is. To the public it’s just another foundation up-in-the-sky inquiry. You know how the man-in-the-street thinks: — ‘It’s all very interesting, but what the hell good is it?’ ”
I pointed my knife at Jack. “But I know a couple of Congressmen who, if they got wind of the kind of Government money that is going into this, would raise the dome right off the Capitol. It’s a perfect vote-catcher.”
Jack said softly, “I wouldn’t tell them, you know.”
“Why should I,” I said. “It’s my living. But if I ever saw a time-waster and a dollar-waster it’s this project. Still, I’m cashing in on it, so why should I worry. But I wish I knew what it was all for.” Jack opened his mouth to speak and I held up my hand. “And don’t give me any of that stuff about helping the Government to govern better. No government will spend billions to find out how to govern better. Why should they when they are convinced that they already know how to govern better than anyone else? What’s more, they can prove it, too; didn’t the voters say so in the election, and voters are never, never wrong. Hell, boy, you’ve never met any dyed-in-the-wool politicians.”
Jack said, “Well I suppose the Government knows what it’s doing.” He seemed uneasy. “I wouldn’t worry about it. just carry on the grind and take home your excessive pay check.”
“Sure,” I agreed. “I’ve got a job for life.”
I decided that Jack wasn’t as high in the organisation as I thought he was. I had got as much information out of him as would fill a gnat’s eye, so I dropped the subject and started to talk about something else.
I was wrong about Jack because two days after that not-very-illuminating conversation I was pulled back to the New York office and put through the hoops. The name on the door said J. L. Haggerty and he was a tall, thin-faced man with white hair and eyes like a double-barrelled shotgun. He flicked away his secretary who had escorted me into his office and said, “Sit down, Mr. Murphy.”
His voice was as cold as his eyes. He put his hands flat on the top of the desk, and said, “I hear you have been putting in some overtime thinking about the ultimate aims of this organisation.”
There wasn’t much I could say to that because it wasn’t a question—it was a flat statement. If it wasn’t for the way he had said it I would have thought that it was a preliminary to congratulations and promotion. Anyway, I just nodded.
His eyes glinted. “And further, you have been thinking aloud, thinking in public where people can hear.”
I dropped the idea of promotion on the carpet and let it lie. This was no promotion, it was a bawling-out. Haggerty’s voice was nasty.
I said cautiously, “I have been wondering about some things. Mostly the scale of this operation.”
Haggerty merely nodded and dropped his eyes to a file which lay before him. He turned a page and said, “Apparently you’re a professional snooper—a good news reporter. Fortunately for you you’re clean, not a stain on your record. No Communist affiliations —no contacts with fellow-travellers—you don’t even see European movies.”
I looked at the file again, startled. It was a thick file, about four pounds deadweight. If that was my dossier, Haggerty knew more about me than I did. I started to sweat gently.
Haggerty looked up and pinned me with his eyes very much as a bug-hunter would pin a butterfly to a card. “I have to tell you that if it wasn’t so, if you weren’t clean, if you had so much as tipped your hat to a man who knew a man who had read Das Kapital, I’d have you shot. It would lie heavily on my conscience, but I’d do it.”
I believed him. Looking into those eyes I believed nothing else.
He cleared his throat. “You’re lucky, Murphy; I’m not going to have you shot. Instead, I’m going to tell you all. I’m going to let you in on the rest of the secret. You’ll have to take an oath of secrecy, which means that if you do open your mouth again after taking it I can have you shot without having it on my conscience. Is that clear?”
It wasn’t, of course. I had no idea of what he was talking about. But the basic meaning came over loud and clear. I had stumbled over something I shouldn’t. I didn’t know what it was, but I had stubbed my toe on Security and whatever was on the fire was hot. I was hot, too; I was sweating more than gently now.
I said, “I understand.”
Haggerty said coldly, “You understand nothing—yet.” He thumbed the desk communicator and said, “Have Mr. Lindstrom come to my office.”
Then he looked up and smiled thinly. “We heard you were thinking aloud to some effect, so I sent Lindstrom to find out exactly what you were thinking. It was dynamite. Do you know exactly what it was that brought you to this office?”
I shook my head wordlessly.
“It was that stupid remark about you knowing a couple of economy-minded Congressmen.” His voice hardened. “Congress doesn’t know about this, neither does the Senate. There’s not more than a hundred people in the country who know exactly what’s going on in this project. “We couldn’t take the risk of your talking to people who have both the ability and the desire to stir up trouble, and that’s why you are being let in on the secret—so you’ll know why it must be kept. It’s a matter of ‘if you can’t lick ’em, join ’em’—and you are joining.” His voice had the right tone of finality.
He hefted the dossier and let it fall with a dull thump. “I know you’re a patriotic American. I know I can trust you.”
I said, “To be honest, I don’t know what this is all about; but whatever it is, you can trust me.”
He gave a wintry smile but said nothing. Just then Jack Lindstrom came in and Haggerty said, “Well, let’s get this over with.” He rummaged in his desk and came up with a thick folder which he shoved at me. “Read that,” he said.
I dutifully read it. It seemed to be the standard security oath plus a lot of other stuff about assigning patents to the Government if I invented anything—which seemed highly unlikely. I got to the end of the legalistic jargon and looked up.
“Have you read it?” demanded Haggerty.
“I have to ask you this question legally—do you understand what you have read?”
He barked a quick laugh. “You’re a liar. Nobody but a lawyer could understand that stuff, and he’d have to study it for a couple of days. But let’s get the main thing straight. If you breathe one word about the project from here on in, you are a dead man. Understand?”
I swallowed and nodded.
“O.K. Sign it—every page.”
So I signed every page and Haggerty and Jack countersigned as witnesses. When we were through Haggerty said, “O.K. Jack, take him away and put him through the works.” He seemed suddenly tired of me.
Jack said, “Everything? Even you-know-where?”
Haggerty gestured. “Everything; no use in half measures. Besides, I’ve always found it a good policy to trust the press. If you play ball with the press, the press will play ball with you.”
He pointed to me but spoke as if I wasn’t there. “This man is still a pressman at heart. Maybe he’ll come in handy when it’s all over, explaining things to his public in words of one syllable.”
With that he waved us out.
When we got outside I turned to Jack and said, “Will you tell me what the hell this is all about.” He grinned. “You’ve jumped into the middle of the biggest secret since the Manhattan Project. It will take a bit of explaining.”
“O.K. Let’s go down to my office and talk about.”
He shook his head. “Nothing doing. You’re one of the elite now. You are moving up and someone else is taking your place here.”
We turned into a bare office and Jack said, “Stick around here for a while, and don’t go away.”
So I stuck around. After a few minutes a mousy little guy came in with a Leica and wanted to take my photograph. I let him. A quarter of an hour later a beefy guy came in and wanted to take my fingerprints. I let him. Two minutes later a pert nurse came in with a hypo. She wanted a blood sample. She got it.
Eventually Jack came back and gave me a card on which was my photograph and a facsimile of my fingerprints. It appeared that I worked for Carson Electronics as a member of the office staff. I was a Junior Personnel Officer.
I went with Jack to the garage and we drove out in his car. As soon as we were moving I said, “Now, tell me what this is all about.”
He said conversationally, “Normally a moving car is considered a good security risk for a private conversation. This car is checked continually, but it might still be tapped, so I tell you nothing until we get to where we are going.”
“Where are we going?”
He gave me a look which shut me up.
We went to an airport and boarded a civil plane which was waiting for us. The plane flew west for a long time, then landed on what seemed to be a private airfield. We got into a car which was waiting and drove off the field into open country. After half an hour we arrived at Carson Electronics. I knew it was Carson Electronics because a big sign said so.
Jack said, “Carson Electronics is working on classified projects for the Air Force. Therefore there are plenty of security regulations. It has a very enlightened management-worker relationship and provides plenty of facilities. There’s a club-house with a swimming pool, a cinema and lots of other trimmings to keep the staff happy and contented. So nobody wants to leave Carson Electronics even though it’s nowhere near a town.”
We swung up to a gate which opened and then closed behind the car leaving us in a small enclosed yard. Jack got out of the car and I followed. As he slammed the door he said, “That’s the cover story, of course, in case anyone gets over-interested. Up to now nobody has, as far as we can judge. It’s not all cover, though. Carson does ship out quite a lot of stuff to the Air Force just to make the cover convincing.”
A man came out from nowhere and jack handed over his security card, so I did the same. Then we went through a door which led into a block of offices. Jack showed me a room not much bigger than a phone cubicle. “This is where you hang your hat and do whatever we give you to do—if we can find anything. It’s going to be a problem,” he said pensively.
I got the picture and felt depressed. I was deadweight; just somebody taken into the fold to shut him up. I said acidly, “Now can I be informed what is going on? What has an electronics outfit got to do with anthropological re-search? And why all the cloak and dagger?”
“All right,” he said, “This is where you are told. I’ll give you the bones of it, enough to make sense, and you can fill in from the rest of the staff.” He brightened. “Now why didn’t I think of that before? You can be the historian of Project American.”
“The organisation you used to work for is half of Project American, the half we couldn’t keep entirely secret. This is the other half, and it’s all secret.” I sighed and Jack grinned and threw up his hands. “All right, I’m coming to it, but it’s a bit complicated.”
I said stubbornly, “All I want to know is how an anthropologist gets mixed up in electronics.”
“Well, I was one of those who first proposed this thing. Several of us in different fields first saw the possibilities. That’s why I’m in it so deep.” He grinned sourly. “I’ll bet I’m the only anthropologist who ever worked himself out of a job.”
He saw my expression and hurried on. “It’s this way. Why was the airplane invented in 1903?”
I blinked. “Uh —because the time was ripe, I guess.”
Jack nodded. “Give the man a cigar.” He ticked off points on his fingers. “There could be no airplane without the gasoline engine, so that had to come first. It had to be a lightweight engine, so there had to be aluminum. To extract aluminum takes electrical power and plenty of it, so it follows that without an electrical technology there could be no airplanes.
“What I’m getting at is that any specific development is the resultant of the whole of a particular culture. It doesn’t matter where the culture is—it could be on Mars or Venus.”
“Hey, are there extra-terrestrials and space travel mixed up in this thing?”
He chuckled. “Not quite, although there is a satellite which we are going to use in the project.”
“Brother,” I said. “Now you’ve got me really lost.”
“I’m getting to it,” he said. “Now it happens that sometimes a few apparently unrelated sciences will make sense if you look at them all together. It happened in the early ‘forties with cybernetics and it’s happening now in Project American.
“In Project American there’s a lot of electronics, a sizeable piece of psychological theory relating to hypnosis, a big slice of neurology, as much space theory as we need and, what makes the project what it is, my own contribution of anthropology.
“What happened first was that the neurologists and the psychologists got together on the problem of hypnosis and licked it. In the past there were as many theories of hypnosis as there were hypnotists—it was a messy field of research. It was known that hypnosis is a purely mechanical process—people have been hypnotised by a phonograph record, for instance—but now we know what it really is.”
“What is it?”
“I couldn’t explain it to you,” he said kindly. “I don’t know myself, it isn’t my field. All I know is that it has something to do with the electrical conductivity at the synapses—the nerve junctions. Alter the conductivity selectively and the subject thinks different thoughts, his thinking goes through different channels. That’s an outrageous simplification, of course.
“Luckily, all this work was classified from the beginning because it was part of a study on how to combat the Red brain-washing techniques. What happened next was that one of the neurologists had a flair for electronics—he used to build his own experimental equipment—and he invented a gadget that would alter the electrical conductivity from the outside, mechanically and at a distance.”
“You mean a beam or a ray—something like that?”
“It was more like a field. Of course, by now it really couldn’t be called hypnosis; it was beyond that. The neural field, when properly operated, changes the brain of the subject permanently. That is, you turn the field on, turned to the desired pattern and the subject mental pattern changes to conform. You turn the field off—the subject stays changed.”
I thought about that for a while, then said carefully, “What you have here, to all intents, is a super brain-washing machine.”
Jack nodded. “That’s right, but we don’t like to use the term `brain-washing’. We call it a readjustment machine. And that’s how Harrod thought of it—he’s the guy who whipped it together. His idea was that it would be an adjunct to the psychiatrist’s couch—that it would cure insanity. Which, of course, it will; it has a great future in that field.”
I thought of all the tens of thousands of the insane and the millions of neurotics who could now be straightened out and brought back to humanity.
“And that’s how the declassification officer saw the situation,” said Jack. “It stayed declassified for 36 hours; that’s when I got to know about it. I discussed it with a couple of people and we wrote an urgent letter to an Important Man. Then someone saw the light and clamped down on it again.”
He saw the expression on my face and said hastily, “Don’t worry, it won’t stay classified forever. But we have one big job to do first, a job more important than curing the insane.”
“What can be more important than that?” I said flatly.
“Uniting the whole of humanity,” said Jack calmly.
I stared. “Are you sure you aren’t a candidate for this neural field yourself?” I asked.
“We are all candidates,” he said soberly. “Now hang on to your hat while I give you the big picture. Harrod’s prototype machine had several drawbacks. It was under powered and it wasn’t directional. We have improved it but it’s still a field and not a beam. That doesn’t matter in view of what we are going to do with it; in fact, it’s an advantage.
He rubbed his chin. “Do you know what causes wars?”
The switch confused me. I said, “Who knows? We’ve been having wars as long as the record shows, but no one has taken the trouble to find out why.”
Jack smiled. “We anthropologists have taken some trouble but most of our results lie buried in the journals where policy-makers don’t see them. As near as we can make out, war is the result of a clash of cultures. A difference of culture means a difference of outlook. One set of people thinks north and south, another set thinks east and west, result—misunderstanding and violence.
“Occasionally we come across a cohesive and isolated community like the Zuni Indians. They don’t even have a word for ‘war’, or they didn’t until we taught them.”
I said, “That doesn’t account for civil war.”
He nodded. “You’re sharp,” he said. “But it doesn’t take too much difference to start a war. Take the War of the States. This country was split into two differing cultures; the agrarian and feudal South and the industrial and democratic North. The two cultures couldn’t co-exist under the same rule; one of them had to go. Violence is the only answer that man has found which decides which culture will survive—until now.”
He stopped to let me think. I said, “Go on. You’re coming to some kind of a point.”
He tapped on the table. “This machine is the answer. You see, I got the idea of processing the whole of humanity, giving all mankind a common basis of thought, a common culture. But humanity won’t sit still to be processed. Besides, the job has to be done all at once. The way to do that is to build a very powerful machine, put it in a satellite, whirl it round the earth and bathe the whole planet in the neural field for as long as it takes.”
I took a deep breath. “You mean that you are going to impose a standard pattern on to the minds of everyone on earth?”
I didn’t say anything more for a long time. This was too big to be taken in all at once. All sorts of thoughts chased through my mind. Eventually I said, “What pattern are you using?”
“That was the joker that caused a lot of argument among the boys at the top. There was a lot of woolly talk about the ‘ideal man’. A crowd of philosophers were consulted about what constitutes the ‘ideal man’ and they got nowhere.” He shook his head sadly. “For every philosopher who says one thing, you can find two to contradict him. It was a mess; the whole project nearly bogged down there and then.”
I said, “I can understand that. It’s a difference of opinion that makes a horse race—and a political free-for-all. What happened next?”
“Well, I had thought up this project, so they passed the buck back to me. I said that they should stick to science, stick to things that can be measured and forget ideals. And that is what is happening. We set up a program to find out what makes an American an American—that’s the outfit you have been with until now. When we find out, that will be the pattern we will use.”
I dropped my head in my hands. “Boy, now I’ve heard everything.” This thing was explosive; no wonder it was secret and no wonder Haggerty shut me up so fast. If one word leaked out, the H-bombs would start flying in the next hour. The Russians wouldn’t stand still waiting to be helplessly Americanised. Neither would any other nation.
I said, “But this is imperialism —mental imperialism. It’s not the sort of thing we do.”
Jack’s voice was grim. “It’s the sort of thing we’ve got to do. You put your finger on the problem yourself when you said ‘the time is ripe’. If we don’t do it you’re liable to wake up one morning thinking that Charlie Marx was the greatest man who ever lived.”
His voice softened. “This is the greatest of all weapons—and the last of them. When this is all over we can all start disbanding the armies and junking the stockpiles of bombs. The world can take a deep breath of relief, look around and start a good house clean. The only thing is that I will have worked myself out of a job; there’ll only be one culture to study and that will have been studied to a frazzle in order to get the big job done in the first place.”
I shook my head. “It doesn’t seem right.”
“You’re an American. Don’t you like being an American?”
“Sure I like it.”
Jack shrugged. “There’s worse things than being an American and worse ways than the American way of life.” He stuck his finger under my nose. “We Americans are good people. We took this continent and shook it up. We have the highest standard of living in the world, the highest industrial production in the world. We are licking disease and our hospitals are the envy of the world.
“Sure, we’re good-hearted on the whole and we like to see that other peoples don’t get a raw deal. So we give and give and give. But we can only give dollars. People are human, whether they’re Europeans, Africans or Asiatics; they dislike and resent charity. They take it because they need it, but they don’t like taking it.
“All that we Americans have was produced by the way we think. All that we are doing by Project American is to pass on that way of thinking to everyone else. Boy, the world will really start booming when this project goes through.”
I shook my head dizzily. I was thinking of 600 million Chinese Americans and 450 million American Indians—the Eastern kind.
Jack went on talking, but softly, as though more to convince himself than to put me in the picture. “We, on this project, are like the atomic physicists of the ‘forties. We’ve got a tiger by the tail and we dare not let go because, if we do, somebody less sympathetic will grab it. But some of us working here are sick to the stomach at what we’re doing. I know I am, and the whole thing was my idea.”
Suddenly he grabbed my hand and held it. “Johnny, do you think we’re doing right?”
I shook my head. “Jack, I don’t know; I really don’t know. I haven’t had time to think about it; this thing has been sprung on me.” I thought a little and said, “Maybe you would have been better advised to have stuck to the ideal man gambit.”
He gestured. “Who knows what is the ideal man. We have to work with what we know.”
I said, “Well, under the circumstances, you can’t do anything else. Being an American isn’t bad —for an American.”
He sighed, and said, “Well, that’s it. You can fill in the details yourself when you see the other people on the project. As from now you are the Project Historian. And there’s one other thing. You don’t leave Carson Electronics until the project is through.”
I protested, “What the hell. . . .?”
He smiled grimly. “Orders. Not mine. Haggerty’s. Come on, I’ll show you your quarters.”
I followed him meekly, thinking bitterly of Haggerty’s strange ways of putting his trust in the press. But under the circumstances I couldn’t say that I blamed him. Not one little bit.
Carson Electronics was the most luxurious jail I’ve ever been incarcerated in. The club house was up to Westchester Country Club standard and had tennis courts and a golf course adjoining. The theatre showed the latest movies every night and the bar was well stocked.
At first I malingered a lot, but time began to hang heavily so I got down to my sinecure job of historian. From what I had heard I would be at Carson for a long time so I thought I had better keep the brain cells exercised.
It was not a big place, at least not the section dealing with Project American. This was really a shoestring operation all the big money was being spent outside on the anthropological survey. The ‘re-adjustment’ machine was to fit into a small satellite and, while it was complex, there was not an excessive amount of it. There was nothing of the immensity of the old Manhattan Project which, of course, was a great help as far as security went.
I talked to all the men working on the project. There were the anthropologists who processed the raw data coming in from outside. This data had already been given a preliminary screening so there wasn’t as much of it as you would think. With the help of mathematicians the data was transformed into sets of equations which the electronics boys could push through their circuits.
One engineer confessed that he had never designed such crazy circuits in his life. “Look,” be said, and switched on an oscilloscope. On the screen appeared the green trace of a waveform which looked as though it had been designed by Picasso when he was drunk.
“That’s just the preliminary basic,” he said. “I’ll have to superimpose a lot of stuff on top of that before we’re through.”
The project was infiltrated by psychologists and neurologists keeping a careful check on all aspects of the operation, making sure that only the stuff they wanted got by. One man I didn’t get to see was Harrod, the genius who had started all this. He had cut his throat with an old-fashioned straight razor just before the operation got under way.
Heading the project was Dr. Paul Harden, who had degrees in both psychology and neurology. As Project Historian I got very friendly with him—and he with me; the man had an eye on the future and a keen sense of personal publicity. He explained in much more detail what the project was designed to do, including a lot of stuff that Jack had been pretty vague about.
“We’re not interfering with free will, or anything like that,” he said. “But we are reforming humanity in the American mould. The Russian who is a son-of-a-bitch now will still be a son-of-a-bitch when we’re through with him; but he’ll be an American son-of-a-bitch.”
I said, “There’s a point I don’t understand. You say that you are not really changing people’s political convictions, but at the same time you say that the politics of the people will change. Isn’t there a contradiction?”
“Look at it this way. An Italian has Italian habits of thought which have been conditioned in him by his Italian environment. So he emigrates to America. Slowly he adopts American habits of thought —more quickly if he is a younger man. He is the same man but his thoughts are expressed outwardly by different actions. For instance, in a fight he will tend to use his fists rather than a knife because fist-fighting is an American mode of aggression.
“He doesn’t go the whole way to Americanisation because the habits of the old country die hard, but his children are pure American. The same thing would happen in reverse if an American was transplanted to Italy, of course.
“Now, what we are doing with this gadget is a sort of forced training or conditioning. The American mode of thought will be indelibly impressed upon all minds, which will mean that in any given situation people will tend to respond with an American mode of action. They will indicate their political preferences by voting democratically instead of throwing bombs; the Orientals will lose their preoccupation with ‘face’ and will become more understandable to us.
“But they’ll still be the same people with the same odd quirks. The dyed-in-the-wool English conservative will still have the same political views, but he’ll probably vote the straight Republican ticket. The French radical will still vote radical but in the American tradition.”
I said, “So the Russians will give up Communism because that isn’t a natural American mode. They’ll adopt our system.”
“And there will be no tendency to fall back into the old patterns because everybody will have been treated simultaneously,” I said thoughtfully.
“That’s right; they can’t fall back because there will be nothing for them to fall back on. It’s a self-reinforcing system of education.” He beamed at me. “Wonderful, isn’t it?”
I thought that Dr. Harden didn’t seem exactly weighed down with doubts about the moral and ethical questions raised by his work. And he was right; it was wonderful. But I wished the damned thing hadn’t been invented. Sure, we were falling over backwards to be fair to everybody, to see that the democratic process continued. But sooner or later some fanatic would rise who, like all fanatics, would like everyone to think precisely as he thought, and then humanity would be on the quick road down to a termite civilisation.
But—‘the time was ripe’—if we didn’t do it then someone else would, and I’d hate to be condemned to a life of ancestor worship, for instance.
So the time went on. After three years the machine was ready for hoisting into orbit. The only thing holding up Project American was the anthropological survey which was not yet completed. It was a tricky job ensuring that the big broadcast would contain the quintessence of Americanism and only that. No chances could be taken.
The data was gathered and sifted and evaluated and the outside organisation grew bigger and bigger. Harden told me that there were 60,000 on the staff and the camouflage was still holding out. Apparently, after I had nearly gummed up the works they had brought in a sort of cell system, so that it was impossible for any one man to even guess the size of the organisation.
When they started to assemble the satellite I knew that the time was near. I asked Harden how long the operation would take once the bird was in orbit. He rubbed his ear and said cheerfully, “Oh, about a week should do it. The effect is cumulative and I expect we’ll let it go on a bit longer, of course. It’s a polar shot, you know; it will give us complete coverage.” He sounded like a sharp Madison Avenue account executive.
There was a point I was still curious about. “What is the effect on native Americans?”
“Nothing much. Just a reinforcement of Americanism. It will have hardly any effect at all.” He grinned suddenly. “The Un-American Activities Committee will go out of business permanently, though.”
The tension grew at Carson. A week before the shot was due the entire area was sealed off and everyone was jittery. The bar was selling more liquor than usual and there were some heavy losses at poker.
Two days before the shot was due Harden called a meeting for all hands to be held in the club house. I had woken up late and my head felt muzzy although I had not been drinking too much. I got to the meeting feeling as though my head was stuffed with cotton.
Harden and half a dozen departmental heads were at a table on the stage and, after a couple of minutes, Harden stood up and thumped loudly on the table with a gavel.
“Comrade scientific workers,” he said. “I have called this meeting so that we can elect a properly constituted Workers’ Committee for this organisation.”
I stuck up my hand. “I nominate Comrade Doctor Harden as Chairman.” It seemed the right and proper thing to do.
Somebody else yelled, “I second that,” and the motion was carried.
Comrade Harden held up his hand and stopped the cheering. “Comrade scientific workers; it must be obvious to you by now that the great and glorious Soviet Union has once again shown its natural superiority over the capitalist-bourgeois-imperialist powers.”
All we Communists cheered.
‘Welcome, Comrade’, originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (New York: Mercury Press Inc., 1964), Volume 26, No. 4, Whole No. 155, April 1964, pp. 38-55.