Unintended Consequences

Congress often passes laws that have unintended consequences.  The sociologist Robert K. Merton wrote a paper about the subject as early as 1936.  Some of unintended consequences are serendipitous, but others are negative or perverse.  It seems that Congress has a way of introducing negative or perverse consequences.

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 was designed to increase revenues for America and protect American jobs, but it almost single-handedly destroyed the world’s economy.  And was it President Clinton’s administration that caused taxes to be raised on luxury boats?  The result was that the poor guys who made boats were suddenly out of work.

Individuals can cause unintended consequences as well.  When I began to write my book, The Insider I had no ill will against anyone.  Yet, as the book is about to appear on the market, I found I have caused damage to a great American astronaut.  I had no such intention.

It was in 2002 that General and astronaut Thomas Stafford produced his book, We Have Capture.  It is a good book and I recommend it.  The General is an American hero.  Unfortunately, Stafford thought he was the first American to reach the secret Soviet launch station called Baikonur in April of 1975.  He said so in his book.

General Stafford was not at all the first American to reach that space launch station.  If it were not central to my book, I would have said nothing, but my book is about the guy who did get there first, and why he went there.

The Insider is about Tad Benson, MD, a space medicine scientist.   President Kennedy got him to agree (through Hugh Dryden) to go to both Moscow and Baikonur to share ideas on space medicine.  Oh, I know there are lots of people who said Khrushchev and Kennedy never reached an agreement on this subject, but they are wrong.  Benson spent almost nine years traveling back and forth to the USSR, doing what he could to keep both cosmonauts and astronauts alive in space.

I knew Benson.  He was a serious man a good friend who died too early.  I checked with various agencies of the federal government to find out what he was doing during the years 1962-1971, and found that Benson had been a contractor to the NSA, CIA, NASA and other groups.  I found that he also got an award from the USSR for his work.

There was a stranger on Gen Stafford’s plane to Siberia.  He was on the bus when it arrived at the launch station.  Stafford did not mention that Soviet scientists hugged and otherwise ganged up around the stranger, slapping him on the back and ignoring the other Americans.  Tad told me about it, and the story appeared elsewhere in the Internet.  Tad said that the other scientists wondered, “How did the Soviets know this guy?” but they were never told.

So I told the story in my book The Insider, with as much detail as I could.  Tad was dying as he told me and we did not have a whole lot of time.   I did not set out to take any of the glory that General Stafford richly deserves.  But I did want to tell Tad’s story because I am one of the few in the world who knows it.  And my health isn’t all that great.

The really sad part of the story about Tad and his heroic adventures is that I am not allowed to use his real name.

Agony of a New Book

Anybody can write a book.  Producing a book is very hard.  It is right up there with producing a new product for a large company such as General Electric.  I have done both and I am not sure which is more difficult.

A new appliance starts with the drawings and specifications.  From these you have tools made and you buy equipment that holds the tools.  You design the tests and find space for the rest of the production facilities including assembly lines.  You make sure pilot models work as they are made on equipment you will use in actual production.  And you assure that the boxes they are sold in are made correctly, fit the product and look good.

Authors would be well-served if they had a mental image of the finished product sitting on their shelves.   They need a rough idea of the plot, but must be flexible.  Characters do not always do what you want them to do.  So plot changes will probably occur.  A new book requires front and back covers, well-edited text, pictures of acceptable quality, readable type size with the correct font.  Covers do sell books, you know.  Chapters must be appropriately ended.  A book is in fact a list of details that must be accomplished before it can be completed.  Tables of contents and indexes must be prepared.  There seem to be no end of concerns for you to handle personally before the book is ready for production.

Finally, each author of a new book is an entrepreneur, trying to sell copies in the face of stiff competition from many other authors with the same idea.  But if he has a good story, he will never be at rest until he has written it and has seen the book on people’s shelves.

In spite of all this, I have completed my last book.  I named it The Insider.  It is a novel about an American doctor who spent nine years flying into and out of the USSR during the Space Race when the US and USSR were competing with each other to be the first to land a man on the moon.   President John F. Kennedy got Premier Khrushchev of the USSR to allow a NASA doctor to visit the USSR’s secret space launch site about 1963 in spite of problems in Cuba and other US-USSR conflicts.   These two world leaders were looking far ahead in the space business.

All the experts say it did not happen.  But it did and the man they sent was a friend.  The few Government records that still exist support the NASA scientist’s story, even though most were hidden from me and any other writer.  It seems that most writer-experts relied on the CIA to tell them the truth, or they relied on people in the USSR to tell them the full story.  You may have noticed that books by and about Khrushchev just did not talk about the space program.   It seems that the US Congress did not know about the doctor, either.  If they did, they would have blabbed about him to everyone they knew.  But they thought there was a serious competition and had no idea we were helping the Soviets.

But that was over forty years ago, almost fifty years now.  Do you think anybody is willing to release the files on this simple doctor who helped keep Soviet cosmonauts alive?  Not in this country.  Perhaps one Soviet cosmonaut is still alive who might be interested in telling what he knows.

Anyway, the pain of producing The Insider is almost over.  The anticipation of the joy of upsetting self-proclaimed “experts” has kept me to the task.  I don’t have any more book ideas now, and this will be my tenth book, so I think I will quit.

Khrushchev Lied and an American Spied

As I was writing yesterday’s post to this blog, I wondered who would be upset when my book, The Insider comes out. This is the actual story of NASA’s man who spent nine years flying into and out of the USSR during the Space Race and the Cold War. He was a space medicine scientist who was successful at keeping Soviet cosmonauts alive. He was a physician, a scientist, an inventor, and a serious man. That is why I believed my friend Tad when he told me about his adventures.

Seriousness aside, I checked his story. He had told me that on his return trips he had to be debriefed by two US Intel agencies. I found that he was attached to the NSA and the CIA for those nine years, according to their own records. The Department of State had absolutely no information on Tad except for one small document it had forgotten to purge. NASA had piles of information on Tad about his medical work in micro-gravity conditions, but it had no information about his travels to the USSR.

Tad had been a guest of the USSR at the invitation of Premier Krushchev. I wrote to authors of various books and articles about the Space Race and about “inside” information on the NSA and CIA, and I also wrote to one descendant of Premier Krushchev who knew a great deal about the USSR in those days. To date no one has told me that I am nuts. Most have said, “I didn’t know. Give me more details.” A copy of a letter from the NSA usually convinced them.

So now, as I finish my book on Tad, I wonder about the people I am going to offend. At least two countries are involved, of course: the US and Russia. Let’s look at Russia first.

Apparently, the Russian people know almost nothing about any assistance from the West. It appears from what I have read that the Russian people do not know about America’s Lend Lease program of the early 1940’s. In that program America supplied the Russians with aircraft, guns, ammunition, food and other supplies with which to fight the Germans. The Russian people do not know they were assisted in “The Great Patriotic War,” even sixty or more years afterward. The Russian people were not told the name of their space program manager until about 1985, when he died. His face was never shown on any Soviet TV, his name was never mentioned. Certainly, the Russian people do not know they were assisted in their space program by their chief competitor, the United States. Once the Russian people find out we helped them, they might be angry at their own leaders.

What about America’s allies? They might be offended when they find out we helped the USSR and didn’t tell them. More than that—we lied to our allies about what we knew. I doubt that we have come clean because no one seems to know about Tad. Of course authors of books and magazines and news articles in other countries will feel duped.

And in America, itself, there may be problems. President John F. Kennedy began this program a few months before he was killed. President Johnson and President Nixon continued the program and did not tell Congress. Those presidents lied to the US press and to the Congress in order to keep funds flowing for the space program. It may not have been a space race after all. Congress consists of the biggest bunch of blabbermouths in the US. If Congress people had known about Tad the world would have known about Tad, right after the Congress people were sworn to secrecy. There is no reason to think that NASA ever knew that Tad, formerly one of their own, had been in the USSR.

Several, if not all US Intel agencies knew about Tad. People in those agencies are all retired now and many have died. Newer members of the agencies don’t care about something that happened forty years ago. They have enough trouble with today’s problems.

Well, US Intel agencies might care to this extent: Tad’s trips to the USSR during the Cold War era were an intelligence coup. When my story is printed and people realize what the Intel people have done while claiming they didn’t even know where the Soviet secret launch was, they should have more confidence in these shadowy agencies.

Of course, there are American authors and former Soviet people in this country who write articles and books—they are sure to be embarrassed when the truth comes out. They have already commented on President Kennedy’s offer to share information on space medicine and have said that the offer was refused. Too bad for them.

But the people who really care the most about this story probably are those who make up the US president’s office. I suspect (but do not know) that President Kennedy promised Premier Khrushchev that the US Government would never tell the Soviet people that we helped them in the Space Race. There is, according to the CIA, a file on TAD that has a presidential seal on it. That means the file is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act laws.

Also, it may be that the US President does not want the US Congress to know that a previous president failed to report to Congress that we had a man in the USSR during the Space Race.

I sure would like to see that file. I have written to two presidents and asked to have a look. I even asked my congressman to ask the President. The President has not honored my request.

When Tad told me his story, he was dying. He has been gone for almost seven years. To my way of thinking he was a great American hero, a brave man who ventured into the Soviet Union without protection. He did it not once but many times during the Cold War, even when there was a sudden change in Soviet leadership in 1964 and he did not know whether he would be arrested. But by then he had many friends among the Soviet scientists and cosmonauts, and maybe they had enough pressure to protect him. We will never be certain about that, only that Tad went when he was called.

Beating Ploughshares into Swords

It’s over. My ninth book is on the market and I can turn to more important things, such as my tenth book. And Ham radio. And maybe, politics.

My ninth book, Ploughshares into Swords, is about WWII—how civilians and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) helped win the war. A friend of mine was also a friend of several Caltech physicists during and after the war. She supplied part of the information I used. One of her special friends was physicist Carl Anderson, who discovered anti-matter.

My friend and I were talking about scientific achievements that she knew about almost first hand. She observed that I understood what had been accomplished and that perhaps I could have kept up with these Nobel scientists had I been in their fields. I knew this wasn’t true, but I certainly wasn’t going to say so. Anyway, as I was writing about the physicists and discovered what they did as kids, I realized I had done many of the same things. But I also had become a licensed Amateur Radio (Ham) operator at an early age.

So as I wrote, I thought about being a Ham again and wondered if it were too late. I had not been licensed since 1954. In January of 2008 I took all the tests and passed them. Now Ham radio is cutting into my writing time.

Writing Ploughshares was work, but it was also fun, remembering the past and the hardships and comparing people’s attitudes then with attitudes today. I concluded that we are among a lot of dainty whiners in America.

Choosing the title from the Bible, where it talked about beating swords into ploughshares because it was a time for peace, I found of course WWII was a time for doing the opposite—taking scrap metal and forging it into guns, tanks and ammunition.

Writing Ploughshares was a trail of discovery as I learned new things about the atomic bomb, about the way that Caltech became a rocket factory and how Caltech built the China lake facility. No, I am not talking about Jet Propulsion Laboratory, either. I am talking about dry powder rockets fired from airplanes. There was enough fuel for those rockets stored around the area to blow Pasadena, CA off the map.

It is not my practice to write about the commonplace. I have no capacity or patience for it. So I wrote about secret or little-known facts that only friends of physicists at the time could know. In the process, I came to admire Caltech and its growth from rags to riches. I came to admire the practical physicists and administrators who shared a common vision and caused that growth. Now Caltech is synonymous with rocket science, cosmology and many other exotic fields. In a way I saw it happen.

While writing about world politics leading up to WWII, I had the opportunity to revisit the foreign and domestic policies of President Franklin Roosevelt. As writer with a background in economics, I found myself critiquing the seven lean years of the Roosevelt administration when he compounded the economic misery of the United States. In these days, I am seeing a new edition of the Roosevelt plan unfolding, so when I get back to writing on this web site I am very likely to comment on repeating mistakes of the past. But right now, I have to sell a few books and finish my tenth book.

“What is my tenth book about?” you ask. Well, during the Space Race with the USSR, the US had a space medicine scientist in Russia at its secret Baikonur launch site, courtesy of Premier Khrushchev (& Brezhnev). It is a deep, dark secret in both countries, but with reluctant help from NSA, CIA, NASA, and the Department of State, I am slowly putting the story together. Many “experts” have written that this did not happen, so my tenth book will be controversial. But I knew the NASA scientist who spent almost ten years going back and forth from the US to the USSR, making friends with Soviet cosmonauts and Soviet scientists, and helping them stay alive in micro-gravity conditions.

There is a great deal to write about, and the Agony of Writing continues despite adventures in a very vibrant hobby called Ham Radio.

Before I forget, Ploughshares is a paperback, 6 X 9 inches, with about 324 pages including an index.  Amazon and most dot com book stores sell it eagerly.

Tom, AA6Tf