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Test pilot and astronaut Joe Engle meets the Academician

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — how an exchange of Cold War stories broke the ice for US-Soviet cooperation in space ]
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Joe H Engle, X-15 test pilot and Space Shuttle pilot

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I was talking with a friend, ML, and she told me this story of her cousin, USAF Maj Gen Joe Engle (ret’d), test pilot and astronaut, which I reproduce below from a NASA oral history interview. It is the tale of the exchange between diplomatic enemies which opened up joint US-Soviet NASA-MIR collaboration in space — an extraordinary, exemplary dialog. I believe Zenpundit readers will find it powerful reading.

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To set the stage..

When Engle was asked to go to Russia to prepare the way for a joint commission between the US and Soviets to explore the possibilities of space cooperation, he remembers saying:

I was about as right-wing military as could be expected and I had spent a good deal of my professional career on the end of a runway sitting alert to go after them. I said, “I think I’m probably the last guy in the world that you want on that or that they want to see come and work with them.”

To which the response was:

“Well … that’s really kind of why I want you there, as a piece of litmus paper. … I figure if you can make it work and if they can work with you, why, then anybody will work.”

So Joe Engle went to Russia in January 1995, and things did not begin smoothly — but I’ll give you the rest of the tale in his words:

I went over with a group of two or three people and we had scheduled visits with the deputy head of Rosaviacosmos, RSA [Russian Space Agency], and RSC [Sergei Pavlovich Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation], Energia. The gentleman who had been identified to be Tom [ie Gen Tom Stafford]’s counterpart on the joint commission, who was Academician [Vladimir F.] Utkin, who is the most respected rocketeer that Russia’s ever had — well, next to Korolev, but most respected living one, an old gentleman, just a big bear of a guy.

We were not doing well at all. Mr. [Boris D.] Ostroumov had essentially thrown us out of RSA and Mr. Semyanov did throw us out of Energia. He didn’t want anything to do with us, didn’t want any independent—they didn’t know what an independent review group was. It wasman entirely foreign concept to the Russians. They were more prone to the stovepipe, of this enterprise has this task to do and you turn the finished product out and it will fit with this finished product, and you don’t talk to each other. Everybody was very, very closed door about it. So they didn’t want the idea of anybody looking over their shoulder, even their own people looking over each other’s shoulder.

It was a difficult concept to sell, and we were just about to say, “This doesn’t look like it’s going to work.” In fact, I had called Tom from over there and he said, “Well, pack it up and come home.” He said, “We’re not going to waste our time on this.”

And I remember telling him, “Well, we got one more guy, the guy you’re supposed to be the co-chair with, and I’ll go see him, because we can’t move the flight up anyway. It costs too much money to move the flight up.”

So we went to Academician Utkin’s, and he was pretty much the same way. I remember going in and being told to go in and sit in his office and wait for him. He walked in, and at that time, they didn’t have phones with pushbuttons. Each line had a separate phone, so he had fourteen phones on his desk, I remember, and a big map, a wall map of the Soviet Union. It was still Soviet Union then to them. Finally he walked in, strutted in, and sat down at his desk and started making some phone calls. We were sitting there, [William] Bill Vantine was with me and there was an interpreter present.

Finally, after about, I think, about twenty minutes, he turned and he said,”So,” through the interpreter, he said, “So, you are going to tell us how to go to space?”

I was trying to be as diplomatic as possible, but not wimpy about it, and I said, “No. No, sir. We’re here to join with you and go to space together and see if we can combine our resources.”

He reacted with a couple of things about, “But you want to use our space station? You don’t have a space station. You want to use ours.” Finally, he leaned back in his chair and he said, “Let me tell you. I was the head of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Program for the Soviet Union and I designed the SS-19,” which was a superb rocket, booster, and he went to the big map on the wall and he said, “We had — ,” and he started going through the numbers of missiles that they had targeted for New York and Chicago [Illinois], all our major cities. After he’d completed, he walked over and he sat down and he folded his arms and looked at me.

I remember saying, “Well, sir, I know that you did exactly what you thought was the right thing to do for your country.” I said, “At the same time that you were doing that, I was sitting in a [Boeing] F-100 [Super Sabre] in Aviano, Italy, with a nuclear bomb strapped under the belly,” and I walked up and I pointed at Aviano, Italy, and I said, “I had one target, one bomb and one target only, but I felt I was doing the same thing for my country that you were.” I said, “My target was this airfield right here,” and it was back in Hungary; it was not in Russia, but it was in the Soviet Union. I said, “That was my target.” And it’s amazing, the intelligence that the Russians had on us at the time.

He said, “Yes, I know.” And he said, “You would not have made it.”

I said, “Well, I think I would have made it.” I said, “My route was to fly up this –” We had memorized our routes so that we didn’t have to look at maps, so I followed the track up the river valleys and I said, “You had antiaircraft here and you had radar here, so my route was to go around these hills and on in.”

And he started to scowl and he said, “You would not have made it back.”

I said, “No, I would have run out of fuel before I got back, but I was going to bail out in Austria. I felt if I could get to Austria, why, I would make it back.”

And he sat there and he just scowled at me for a while, finally pushed his chair back and he got up and — he was a big guy — and he started to walk around his desk toward me, and I figured that — he wasn’t smiling at all, and I thought he was going to cold-cock me, so I figured I’d stand up and take it like a man. [Laughs]

I stood up and hadn’t really got my breath from standing up and he just grabbed me and gave me one of those big Russian bear hugs and he said, “It’s better this way, isn’t it?” [Laughs]

I recall just before he said that, when I finished I said, “This was what I was doing, but I really think that we have the opportunity to take off our gloves and do something together for the whole world.” And that’s when he didn’t smile, but he walked around and he said, “It’s better this way.”

So he set the commission up. A month later, when Tom went over, it was all set up and ready to go, and it’s been working for over — well, it’ll be ten years coming up next year. And even Academician Utkin said, “We’ll try this, but these things don’t ever last more than a year or two.” [Laughs]

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For more on the contrasting philosophies of the US and Soviets with regard to their fighter aircraft and space programs, and what it took to reach accomodation, read on from the tail end of page 16.

Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

[ from the crew at Zenpundit via Charles Cameron ]
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Blog-friend Michael Robinson emailed me yesterday to let me know that the (US) National Archives have now posted all their Thanksgiving films — many taken abroad in war zones — and suggested Zenpundit’s readers might enjoy one or more of them.

This first clip from 1930 is almost more of an online education than I need, but if my tech skillz are sufficient it should be followed by others from the same archive — several clips in the series showing wartime Thanksgivings during WWII, in Vietnam and elsewhere.

My 70th birthday fell yesterday, so that first clip would have been shot a dozen years before I was born: time flies. As a Brit, I didn’t run acrsss Thanksgiving until I was in India of all places, decades later — and this evening I’ll be celebrating it here in California with my boys.

So before I go spruce myself up for the event, I’d like to wish a Happy Thanksgiving — and Chag Sameach — as appropriate, to all our ZP readers.

And thanks, Michael, for the suggestion!

Oh, those papal mullahs

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — Iranian diplo communiqué on Twitter uses Vatican imagery, huh? ]
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Here’s Seyed Abbas Araghchi‘s tweet announcing the conclusion of the first series of negotiations with Iran:

Here’s the tail end of the Guardian article, Iran seals nuclear deal with west in return for sanctions relief, in which that tweet is translated:

The first announcement that a deal had been reached, by Ashton’s spokesman Michael Mann, and the confirmation by Zarif, were both made on Twitter – a first for a major global accord.

“Day five, 3am, it’s white smoke,” tweeted the deputy Iranian foreign minister, Seyyed Abbas Araghchi, referring to the terminology used in Vatican for the announcement of a new pope.

Julian West, dear friend and one-time Telegraph war correspondent covering Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, quoted those two paras with approval, and commented:

Not just a first on Twitter, I’d say the first time an Islamic state has used a papal metaphor, thereby confirming my first impressions while reporting there early 2000s. These aren’t a bunch of woolly mullahs.

Woolly mullahs, Julian? I don’t know — but I too like the reference to white smoke and papal elections.

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For those who don’t like the deal — me, I don’t feel well-enough informed to want to comment — here’s Omer Bar-Lev‘s view, as presented in a Times of Israel piece titled Labor MK: Compared to strike, deal is ‘far superior’:

Considering the achievements such as the dismantling of [Iran’s] stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, reducing the number of centrifuges, halting construction of the heavy water facility [in Arak], all the while the sanctions of Iranian oil and banking industries continue — compared to the alternative of a military strike at this point — it is clear that the agreement reached is far superior…

John Schindler‘s tweeted comment:

Bar-Lev is no softie, he’s the former CO of Sayeret MATKAL, the IDF’s top SOF unit.

and ah, yes, his next tweet:

I think it’s too soon to tell; I have no faith in Tehran.

I’ll buy “too early to tell” — curious, hopeful, wary, that’s me.

Zen at War on the Rocks on China and Avoiding War

Thursday, November 14th, 2013
Chinese Navy

Chinese Navy

[by Mark Safranski, a.k. a. “zen“]

The editors of the excellent War of the Rocks invited me to post a short rebuttal to the op-ed “How Not to Go to War With China”, by Scott Cheney-Peters, which appears in their “Hasty Ambush” section:

UNDERSTANDING CHINA: THE REAL KEY TO AVOIDING WAR

….A place to begin our efforts in avoiding war with China might be avoiding engagement in some of the same incorrect mirror-imaging assumptions we once made about the Soviet Union, not least of which was MAD.  As a doctrine, Soviet leaders never accepted MAD and the Red Army general staff ignored it in drafting war plans to fight and prevail in any nuclear war. While the Soviets had no choice but to tackle the logic of deterrence as we did, the operative Soviet assumptions were predicated on a different strategic calculus, a different force structure and above all, different policy goals from their American counterparts.  A dangerous gap between American assumptions of Soviet intentions and the reality of these intentions came to light when in 1983 the Reagan administrationdiscovered to their alarm that Soviet leaders had interpreted the NATO exercise Abel Archer 83 as preparations for a real, imminent nuclear first strike on the USSR and ordered Soviet nuclear forces on high alert.

The military-to-military confidence-building initiatives outlined by Cheney-Peters intended to construct “habits of cooperation” are not entirely useless. There is some value in ensuring that high-ranking American military officers have personal and limited operational familiarity with their Chinese counterparts in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), but as potential game-changers, they need to be taken with a grain of salt. Such a policy misses the essential strategic and political centers of gravity in the Sino-American relationship.  Namely that for the first time in 600 years, China is building a blue water Navy that will foster power projection as far away as the Indian ocean and Australia.  Secondly, this naval expansion, coupled with a new Chinese foreign policy, aggressively presses grandiose territorial demands on nearly all of its neighbors, including India and Japan.  These are fundamental conflicts with American interests that cannot be explained away or papered over by banquet toasts with visiting delegations of Chinese admirals. […]

Read the rest here.

Also read another WotR  China piece “99 Red Balloons: How War with China would Start” by Matthew Hipple

The Vietnam War at Fifty

Monday, November 11th, 2013

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Today is Veteran’s Day. It is a day when Americans remember all of those who served, in peace or war.

Originally, this day was called Armistice Day in honor of the cease fire that came in ” the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” and brought the horrific slaughter of  World War I to an end. This was fitting.  The First World War loomed large in the memories of our great grandparents and grandparents the way the Civil War did for earlier generations. It was an ominous touchstone of the nadir of which Mankind was capable until it was thoroughly eclipsed by the subsequent horrors of Nazi barbarism in a Second World War – a conflict that seemed a maturation of the first. In the postwar era, Armistice Day became a national tribute to the sacrifices of all veterans.

This year also marks the fiftieth anniversary of American entry into the Vietnam War.

Historians may quibble with this, as American involvement in Vietnam went back to WWII and OSS agents giving advice to Ho Chi Minh in the jungle war against Imperial Japan and Vichy French puppet colonialists, but 1963 is when “American boys” first went to South Vietnam in real numbers.  And many of them were indeed little more than boys. Fifty-eight thousand, two hundred and eighty six of them did not come home.

Those that did are now grown grey with the passage of time.

The Vietnam War caused deeper divisions in the American psyche than any other war except the one that began at Fort Sumter. The wounds have never really healed and they rest inflamed and sore just beneath the scabrous surface of American politics to this day. America has an unenviable historical track record of not treating its veterans very well and those who served in that unpopular war that ended in defeat received on their return home far more than their share of  disdain and abuse.

Even the attempt to build a memorial – the now famously cathartic Wall – roiled at the time in a controversy of unimaginable bitterness. The site eventually became a place of pilgrimage, alive with memory of the dead and compassion for the living. This was a good thing but in truth as a nation we could have done far, far better for the men who served in Vietnam than we did.

The best tribute to these veterans of Vietnam that we can make as a people would be to see that the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan do not repeat the sad experience of their fathers.


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