Trinity's Child

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Trinity's Child
Author William Prochnau
Language English
Publisher Putnam Pub Group
Publication date
October 1983
Pages 400 pages (Hardcover)
ISBN 978-0-399-12777-9

Trinity's Child is a 1983 novel by William Prochnau. The book depicts a nuclear war waged between the United States of America and the Soviet Union.[1] During the waning years of the Cold War, the United States has engaged in a massive military buildup, hoping to press the economy of the Soviet Union to breaking point and so force them into political compromise. The break with real history comes here. In the books scenario, moderate elements who recognize the Soviet Union was in bad need of reform, and who were in favor of peace with the West, did not emerge as in the real history. Instead, hardline elements pressure the Soviet Premier into launching an attack on the US before it has the chance to squeeze the USSR any more.

The attack goes forward, and we see all the consequences of the doomsday scenario laid bare, conflicting claimants to the US Presidency as the line of succession breaks apart, devastation on the ground, and military staff having to choose between a treason which might save what's left of their country, and a duty which might lead to the extinction of the human race itself.

The novel covers 15 hours in which critical decisions are made.

Plot summary[edit]

Part I: A surprise Soviet Attack[edit]

The Soviet Union launches a limited nuclear counter-force strike against the United States, hoping to destroy their military capability while leaving the civilian population relatively intact.

The U.S. President, who has fallen asleep in front of the TV one night in the living quarters of the White House, gets an emergency call from the head of SAC in the bunker at Omaha Air Force Base. General Renning (codename Icarus) informs the President that a Soviet first strike is underway. Knowing there had been false alarms, the President at first thinks it's a computer error.

Frustrated, the General eventually convinces him it's real.

The President receives a HOTLINE message by teleprinter by the Premier, as the missiles are but minutes away, in which he offers the United States three choices:

  1. Accept the damage and the exchange will end.
  1. Respond in kind (which would result in the deaths of 3 to 9 million people on both sides), which would incur no third strike from the USSR.
  1. Respond with a massive counter-attack (to which the Soviets would respond in kind).

Icarus believes the HOTLINE message to be a ruse, and that the Soviet leadership will retaliate massively anyway, thereby crushing the United States. As the order is passed on, the first wave of Soviet ICBMs and SLBMs arrive, crippling most of America's missile silos and bomber bases.

A missile aimed at Andrews Air Force Base, so as to prevent the President from leaving Washington D.C., overshoots its target and detonates in the vicinity of Chevy Chase, Maryland. Icarus then informs the President that the Soviets have launched a second strike and urges the President to launch their remaining ICBMs and bombers not destroyed in the first exchange. The President reluctantly gives the order just before SAC and Omaha, Nebraska are destroyed.

As he is evacuated from the White House to be taken to Dover Air Force Base, the President is informed aboard Marine One that the second Soviet launch was directed at the Chinese who had launched their own strike against the Soviets in accordance to a treaty with the United States. Seeing his hasty response will result in further retaliatory strikes, the President falls into a stupor. Suddenly, a missile detonates over nearby Andrews AFB, and causes the helicopter to crash.

As missiles speed towards their targets and the alert goes out, the novel begins its sub-plot: tracking the actions of 'Polar Bear One', a nuclear armed B-52 bomber. Polar Bear One is ordered into the air to speed towards its 'Positive Control Point' just outside the USSR to await orders.

Part II: Finding 'The man'[edit]

Believing the President to be dead, Renning's deputy SAC commander, a U.S. Navy admiral code named "Harpoon" is given the assignment of locating a successor. It is possible that many high in the list are still alive under the rubble in Washington, D.C. or elsewhere, unable to contact them, Harpoon's rule book says find the most likely successor and go with him.

He learns through the 'Presidential Successor Locator System' that the Secretary of the Interior is in the swamplands outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and thus he begins looking for NO8 on the line of succession

Harpoon's Boeing E-4B (The 'Doomsday Plane') lands in the city without air traffic control on a runway not meant for such huge jets, with the terminal building gutted by nearby fires, and the FBI, Secret Service, and Army search teams find the secretary and bring him to the airport. The plane leaves Baton Rouge minutes before the city is struck by a Russian ICBM. As the only known successor to be alive, Condor is sworn in as the new president.

Part III: Making 'The Decision'[edit]

In the Presidential suite of the Doomsday Plane, the new President sits at the conference table with a battle staff of flag officers looking at maps that outline the condition of the world. Harpoon briefs Condor on what has happened, as well as the difficult decisions that have to be made. He outlines that it has been a relatively even exchange with the US taking slightly higher casualties.

Along with Omaha and Baton Rouge, the cities of Seattle, Los Angeles, Colorado Springs, New Orleans, Phoenix, Raleigh, and Washington, D.C. have been destroyed. Massive social disorder and rioting have broken out in American's remaining cities. It is briefly mentioned that Europe remained neutral during the conflict and that India and Israel have declared war on Pakistan. It is further noted that 'many mistakes are being made', for example a Russian nuclear missile aimed at China goes off course and detonates in India. The Indians then hit Pakistan with a nuclear strike assuming that the detonation was in fact a Pakistani missile.

The Admiral then briefs Condor on SIOP and the complexity of nuclear war. He worries that the new President is overly-simplifying things and is not appreciating the nuance of nuclear war. He explains there are no victors in a nuclear war, no victory by body count and the only sane thing to do now is turn this thing off.

Another flag officer then explains to that the world has taken a lot of abuse in its time and even the damage done today would be absorbed and things would eventually go back to normal. However, if there is another nuclear exchange it could spell disaster for the planet up to and including human extinction from nuclear winter or the destruction of vital parts of the atmosphere.

Following on from this, Harpoon urges Condor to turn the bombers, orbiting their positive control points just outside the USSR, and see if the Soviets respond in kind. This is a way of communicating with them and signaling an intent to de-escalate, as communications are now down and direct talks are not yet possible.

Colonel Fargo (Codename 'Librarian') a Soviet capabilities expert, believes however that Condor should order the bombers on a decapitation strike, a 'grand tour' of the USSR targeting the leadership bunkers. He believes the people of the USSR will then overthrow the govt once the 'head of the communist body' is cut off. He further believes that the US can use asymmetrical warfare such as using civilian airliners as rammers against Soviet bombers.

The Admiral thinks this is insane that a country of 'panicked Baton Rouges' cannot put together such a plan, and the Soviet people are in no shape after nuclear war to start a revolution.

Condor goes to his office to think these two options over, and to pray.

Part IV: 'The Decision' and Treason[edit]

Believing that the US is "losing" the war due to having a higher casualty count, Condor, orders the decapitation strike. Orders go out for the "Grand Tour".

'Harpoon', stunned at Condors decision, resigns his position. On his way out of the Presidential suite, 'The Librarian' has to remind him to give the President 'the biscuit', the plastic card with the codes required to order a nuclear strike. Condor appoints the Librarian as his new adviser.

'Polar Bear One' gets the orders for the grand tour. At first relieved that they don't have to drop nuclear gravity bombs on civilians, they discuss the consequences of a USSR without leadership, and conclude it would mean more chaos and loose nukes, and that there would be nobody to negotiate with. They envision panicked Colonels in Europe without leadership letting tactical nukes go, submarine captains surfacing to fire without knowing the full story, etc. They turn their bomber around rather than risk the future of the planet.

Seeing it as a sign for a truce, the Soviets turn 15 of their bombers around. Condor orders Polar Bear One shot down.

On the phone from the Looking Glass plane, Condor is urged by the flag officer now in charge of SAC ('Alice') aboard the Looking Glass Plane who has taken over for 'Icarus', to turn another squadron of B-52s in response to the Soviet squadron turning, saying it will lead to a cease fire and end the war. Condor, seeing the act by the lone bomber as cowardly, states that the United States has "one deserter and the Soviets have 15". 'The Librarian' insists this Soviet move has given the US a clear military advantage. In his quarters, Harpoon contacts "Alice" and asks him to turn the bombers without Condors authorization. He initially refuses.

Polar Bear One encounters an aircraft carrier on its return trip, two fighter jets get ready to shoot them down when their own carrier gets torpedoed by a Soviet submarine and the fighter pilots lose the will to shoot down one of their own planes.

Part V: Two Presidents, Two Decisions[edit]

Civilians find the crashed Marine One and take the President and his military aide to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) bunker in the outskirts of Olney, Maryland.

There, his military aide (the carrier of the nuclear football) learns that the Soviet Premier is attempting to make contact through a shortwave radio. Not knowing if the call is authentic, the President, now with his legs broken from the crash and blind from the flash of the nuclear detonation, negotiates a cease-fire with his Russian counterpart.

The President manages to make contact with Alice, who at first doubts the identity of his commander-in-chief. However, after much urging and conversation, Alice comes to realize that the man he is speaking to is authentic and gives him the codes as the President has lost his card in the Marine One crash. The President orders Alice to turn the bombers around. Alice, a US Air Force General, cannot issue direct orders to the submarines, and the President's identity codes will conflict with Condor's.

The President then makes contact with Condor, urging him to help secure a cease fire. Condor, thinking he is a Soviet imposter, refuses and hangs up. Alice tells the President that if both he and Condor give the subs two different sets of orders, the sub Captains will assume the Soviets have intercepted US military communications and gotten the codes in the intervening hours, and so will go with the original orders.

When the first Soviet nuclear strike was incoming, SAC had ordered the navy subs to submerge and hide, and resurface in a few hours to listen for orders. They were instructed that if they hear nothing, they should fire their missiles.

Without Condors help, there appears to be no way to stop the march to Armageddon.

Part VI: 'Turning it off'[edit]

During the 7-hour window, the President and Alice attempt to create a plan to stop Condor. Alice then states that he will use the Looking Glass as a weapon to intercept the E-4B, thus killing Condor and relinquishing authority to the President. The President refutes the plan, urging that there must be another way.

Alice convinces him otherwise, and the President accepts his sacrifice. Several hours elapse as Alice attempts to catch up to Condor, who declares the Looking Glass to be manned by treasonous men. Minutes before the submarines emerge and the order is given to launch, the Looking Glass intercepts the E-4B, killing everyone on board. Command is returned to the President who orders a full cessation of hostilities of his military. The Soviet Union responds in kind. However, the outcome of the conflicts in the Middle East and the Soviets and Chinese are left unanswered.

Television adaptation[edit]

The book was made into a television movie, By Dawn's Early Light. There are some significant differences between the two - most significantly, in the movie the initial nuclear exchange is prompted by renegade Russian terrorists rather than part of a Soviet plot. This is likely intended to avoid demonizing either side as being the aggressor. Another element of the movie is a romantic subplot between the captain of the B-52 and his female co-pilot, something absent from the book.

See also[edit]

  • The Third World War: The Untold Story by General Hackett, portrays a conventional Soviet invasion of Western Europe, including the behavior of the formally neutral Ireland and Sweden, and internal Soviet debates and thinking.
  • Invasion, a 2000 novel by Eric L. Harry showing a future Chinese invasion of the United States, after China develops into a global superpower.
  • Team Yankee, a 1987 novel by Harold Coyle set in Hackett's scenario
  • Red Army, by Ralph Peters, showing a Soviet invasion of Western Europe from an entirely Soviet perspective.
  • Red Storm Rising, a similar World War III scenario covering a conventional Soviet invasion of Western Europe, by Tom Clancy
  • The Third World War by Humphrey Hawksley depicts a slow building crises that culminates in a nightmarish World War III involving nuclear and biological weapons.
  • Arc Light, a World War III scenario set post-cold war, where a strategic nuclear exchange between the Russia and the US is followed by a conventional World War III in the midst of a major US economic crash and a constitutional crises.
  • The Last Ship by William Brinkley. Portrays a sudden massive nuclear exchange between the superpowers, with further escalating exchanges over a four hour period leaving most of the northern hemisphere choked in radioactive fallout. The ship loses contact with the U.S. Navy, and then investigates various sites around Europe and Africa starting with Naval Station Rota in Spain, making contact with other stray ships, military and civilian. All the consequences of the exchange for the crew, and humanity as a whole, are explored.
  • Special Bulletin, a 1983 made-for-TV movie about nuclear terrorism, shot in the style of simulated news broadcasts
  • Countdown to Looking Glass, a TV movie made in the form of a news broadcast following a deterioration in NATO-Warsaw Pact relations that ends in nuclear warfare.
  • The Day After, a 1983 made-for-TV movie about a NATO-Russian nuclear war.
  • Damnation Alley, a 1970s movie about a sudden Soviet nuclear attack.
  • Deterrence, a 1999 French-American movie about a Walter Emerson, about a man who's just become US President in the same manner as Gerald Ford, without having been elected. Emerson is on a campaign tour, trapped by a storm in a small town diner, when he gets word Iraq has invaded Kuwait a second time, and is poised to do the same to Saudi Arabia. With US troops committed in a separate engagement on the Korean penensula, Emerson decides the only way to stop Iraq is to threaten to air-burst a 25 megaton nuclear weapon above Baghdad.
  • Fail Safe, a 2000 film about a computer malfunction at the NMCC in the 1960s giving false Emergency Action Messages to B-52 bombers to penetrate Soviet airspace and commence strategic nuclear strikes. The President, Joint Chiefs, US Strategic Air Command and national security council all try to stop the bombers by various means. They find it hard to get through to the bombers who have been trained to ignore recall signals that are not properly encoded, and at the same time, the Russians are not sure if this is deception warfare or a real malfunction.
  • Miracle Mile, a 1988 movie about an ordinary group of people, who learn, via a phone call from someone in an ICBM silo (who was trying to reach their father at the diner) that a nuclear exchange is about to take place, thus within the hour Soviet missiles will reign down on them. Some believe it and try to flee, others scramble around the city to find loved ones in a desperate attempt to join those already headed for the airport.
  • The Sum of All Fears, a 2002 movie with Ben Afleck and Morgan Freeman. Terrorists plant a nuclear weapon in a US city in an attempt to frame the Russians for the attack and prompt the two powers to wipe each other out.
  • Threads, a 1984 UK film about a major Soviet nuclear attack on the United Kingdom.
  • The War Game, a 1965 film about how well civil defense and homeland security would cope in the event of nuclear war.
  • On The Beach, a 2000 film about the aftermath of a series of major nuclear exchanges between the US-Russia-China choking the northern hemisphere in fallout which is slowly spreading to humanity's last refuge in Australia.
  • Testament, a 1983 American film which tells the story of how one small suburban town near the San Francisco Bay Area slowly falls apart after a nuclear war destroys outside civilization.
  • When the Wind Blows, a 1986 animated British film that shows a nuclear attack on Britain by the Soviet Union from the viewpoint of a retired couple.
  • Able Archer 83, NATO command post exercise that resulted in the 1983 nuclear war scare and changed thinking about nuclear war in Britain.
  • Operation Square Leg a military analysis of the effects of a nuclear war on Britain.
  • Protect and Survive, the 1970s British government information films on nuclear war.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, 1895-1984" by Paul Brians, Kent State University Press, 1987

External links[edit]