Edge of Apocalypse: pages 8-13 (Chapter Two)
So, to make up for my delay, I’m going to do all of Chapter 2 in one go. This chapter features Captain Han Suk, who is the commanding officer of the Daedong, a “missile launcher” as the book calls it.
Han Suk appears to be the token Conscientious Objector type often featured in spy-thriller type books in which there would be the One Good Soviet Man/Woman, a person who might have issues with his or her home country, ranging from very mild disloyal thoughts about the state of affairs all the way to full-out ideological opposition.
“The nation’s prestige as an international military power soared. After all, the imperial American menace would soon be cowed by the sight of dozens of ships along their coastlines flying the red star of North Korea.
That was the glorious future as Captain Han Suk saw it […]
Still, he had reservations. Reservations he would never raise to any of his superiors, reservations he allowed himself to consider only in the few moments he had to himself, between sleep and duty.”
The captain goes on to muse upon problems with the ship he’s on:
“The captain had been able to catalogue some of the ship’s shortcomings. Most pressing of which were its communication systems … [f]rom the moment the ship had entered the Atlantic, the Americans had been jamming its radar.
All this the captain kept to himself. It was his duty to honor the flag of his beloved North Korea and to bring glory to his grateful nation and leader. It was especially important since Supreme Naval Commander Admiral Sun Tak Jeong was himself on board, to report, firsthand, on the glorious news of their triumphant voyage.”
Some quick nitpicks before I continue:
Entered the Atlantic? North Korea’s geographic positioning would make it far easier to send the ship across the Pacific. Not to mention I’ve no idea how much fuel the ship could be carrying to make a voyage all the way around South Africa (or through the Suez Canal and out the Mediterranean past Gibraltar), or for that matter, what about provisions? And reprovisioning/refuelling? There are very few countries actively friendly with North Korea, though I suppose at least one oil-producing country might cut the North Koreans a break.
We’ll see as we keep reading that it’s pretty likely that neither LaHaye or Parshall have really researched much in the way of militaries around the world.
The admiral turns out to be on the bridge at an unexpected time, and the captain feels the imminent foreboding of an unpleasant turn of events:
“‘Captain, we received a coded message.’ The admiral held out a slip of paper for him to read. The text was brief but chilling:
2 KPA jets ambushed and shot down over sovereign Northern territory by overwhelming American occupying air forces. No provocation. No warning. Missiles launched…
‘Why wasn’t I told of this immediately?’
‘Because I received it first,’ enunciated the admiral. The implications were clear. He scanned his men for a hint of betrayal. No one met his gaze.
So the admiral is asserting his authority, and the captain realizes they are in a potential war situation. A point to note here is that for some reason LaHaye and Parshall seem to be writing the captain and admiral as though they were equals, rather than as superior officer to subordinate. This may just be my perception, however.
“‘The message said, ‘Missiles launched,” the admiral barked, making sure his meaning wasn’t lost on anyone in the room, especially the captain.
‘The message was interrupted, sir; we can’t just leap to conclusions.’
‘The interruption wasn’t here, Captain; it was in Pyongyang.’
The captain felt a sting of rage, blindsided, as he turned to his XO. The XO blurted out, ‘I don’t know, sir; we cannot confirm one way or the other yet.’
‘Then get me a confirmation!’
‘We don’t need a confirmation, Captain; we need to act.’
‘We are acting, sir.’
‘Like cowards with our tails between our legs!’ The admiral’s words echoed through the bridge.”
The dearth of dialog tags also makes it a little confusing to tell who’s talking. Again, maybe it’s just me but why is the Captain talking to his XO and effectively ignoring the Admiral? I’m not much chop on military courtesy when differing ranks of people are in the same room, so I don’t know if it’s considered acceptable for subordinates to do this kind of thing with sub-subordinates, as it were.
The situation further escalates.
“‘Do you have an order, sir?’ Han Suk retorted.
‘Do you need an order, Captain?’ The captain remained silent. The admiral quickly turned to the firing officer. ‘Then here’s an order. Proceed to commence prelaunch procedures…’
‘Admiral?’ shouted the captain.
The admiral continued, ‘I will transmit the nuclear authorization code–‘
‘Admiral!’ The captain’s voice was steadily rising.
The admiral snapped open a hard plastic stick revealing a coded set of numbers, then turned coldly to the captain. ‘I need your key, sir.’
The captain stepped back.
‘That is an order, Captain.’
The captain continued to back away.
The admiral turned to the XO and said, ‘Give me your firearm.’
The XO hesitated.”
And yes, the Admiral does perform a summary execution when the Captain refuses to yield the key for the nuclear launch.
That having been said, while the intent of this chapter is to tap into cultural viewpoints regarding the supposed venality and lack of honorable behavior among the North Koreans (there is an obvious unstated, “We would never do such a thing!” tone to this chapter), the fact is that the Captain repeatedly questioned his commanding officer and acted in an insubordinate fashion. Even Western militaries would have given the Admiral perfect legal grounds to have the Captain escorted to the brig pending a court-martial for refusal to obey orders.
It is only because we instinctively take the Captain’s side – that the launch of nuclear weapons seems to be a hasty, unprovoked, disproportionate response – that we can ignore his breach of discipline in the service of a greater good.
And, to be fair, movies like Crimson Tide are popular for also giving us sympathetic American military officers who understandably hesitate to unleach nuclear weapons without clear and direct orders to do so. But let’s not confuse ourselves: disobeying orders in the military is serious business.
The admiral stared out at the sea for a moment, then smiled with an air of manufactured confidence. ‘They’ll write stories about us someday.’ He turned slowly to the XO and nodded. ‘The ship is yours now, Captain. Make us proud.’
I don’t know if LaHaye and Parshall intended this but they make this North Korean vessel sound like it’s being run like a Klingon warship.
Finally, we learn of the destination, ending on a cliffhanger:
“The voice on the other end of the phone didn’t let him finish. ‘General, we have a status red, repeat, a confirmed status red.’
The general’s body shot up in his chair. ‘What and where!?’
‘Two birds incoming, U.S. East Coast,’ intoned the voice on the phone.
‘Specify!’ roared the General. ‘Where?!’
‘New York City.'”
And that’s the end of that chapter.
As I mentioned previously, there are some shades of Red Dawn peeking back in here, in the form of a sympathetic “objector” type who questions some of the things he’s seen, and acts on his human instincts, rather than his military ones, when a situation arises which could result in the deaths of innocents (in the Red Dawn movie, the Cuban officer refuses to shoot one of the teenage protagonists, urging him to disappear instead), or at least quasi-innocents.
We’ll see that chapter 3 involves a pretty massive POV shift and a fairly infodumpy catch-up on the erstwhile main hero of the book, Joshua Jordan. I’ll take that up soon.