Magazine article The Spectator

The Right Stuff

Magazine article The Spectator

The Right Stuff

Article excerpt

New York

exactly one month before 11 September, Arnaud de Borchgrave, big chief of UPI and known as the last of the great foreign correspondents, came and addressed the Gstaad Symposium, the poor little Greek boy's contribution to international relations. Arnaud spoke about the coming terrorist threat, and in no uncertain terms informed us that biological and even nuclear terror was on its way. `It is not a matter of if it happens, but when it will happen,' said Arnaud. Although everyone was fascinated, and the audience asked him to stay on after the dinner, one man's reaction sticks in my mind. He was an Egyptian unknown to most of us. `Why did you come all this way just to scare us? Haven't you any good news?' Arnaud dismissed him outright, as well he should have. The man afterwards complained that both the speaker and I had been rude, which was only half true. Arnaud had been very polite in his dismissal; I had been rude over the stupidity of the question.

Well, we all know what happened one month later. It wasn't chemical, biological or nuclear, but it was almost as bad. Last week, during my stop-over in London, I picked up James H. Jackson's The Reaper, a novel which is as prescient as it is topical. Jackson is a post-graduate in military studies and a specialist in conflict analysis. He writes like a dream. The book begins with a spectacular outrage in St Peter's in Rome. Little do the millions watching realise how much more horror there is to come. For the perpetrators are no ordinary madmen. They are Satan's legions attempting to provoke the free world into a final confrontation that will usher in the apocalypse.

Does this remind you of something? While on the subject of books, my old Yom Kippur buddy Bill Tuohy, a double Pulitzer Prize winner, has written a non-fiction story about the The Bravest Man, the story of a US submariner in the Pacific War. A wonderful story and also very topical. The men who will now do the fighting are those with the right stuff, just like Tuohy's hero.

Later, at Heathrow, a not so heroic Pakistani woman working in security, managed to lose my cufflinks as she opened my carry-on bag. I had words with her and a United Airlines supervisor happened to be present. She informed the pilot that a passenger had been mistreated by United security personnel. The pilot, a tall and imposing black American, Captain Williams, came to my seat, apologised for the airline, gave me his card and told me that unless I got back my property he would make sure that heads would roll. …

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