Price of August naps: history's rudest awakenings
Stay alert, stay alive – especially in August, when Washington and much of Europe are on autopilot.
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Had top officials been engaged and sharper that August, the 9/11 attacks might have been prevented, and perhaps today America wouldn’t be bogged down in Southwest Asia in what is now the longest war in US history.Skip to next paragraph
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Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev surely must wish he’d never taken his vacation in August 1991.
For months, there were signs all about him that the course he set for the Soviet Union was destined to end in a train wreck for the man who, more than any other, was responsible for hastening the end of the cold war. A cabal of hard-line Communists placed one of the most dynamic leaders of the 20th century under house arrest while the Soviet Union teetered on the brink.
The attempted coup that finished Gorbachev politically left us with one of the great unanswered questions of recent times: “What would Russia look like today had Gorbachev, the reformer, been allowed to engineer a peaceful transition from the dictatorship of Stalin’s Communist Party to an orderly democracy or Chinese-style capitalism?”
News executives, especially, should ban all August vacations. As a junior reporter for ABC TV in London in the early 1980s, I was delighted when more-senior correspondents took August vacations. I would get sent to Moscow on the “just in case” assignment, just in case something happened in the soporific eighth month. Happen, it did.
On Aug. 30, 1983, a Boeing 747 took off from JFK Airport in New York on a fateful flight with 269 passengers and crew. After refueling in Anchorage, Korean Airlines Flight 007 flew on through Alaskan airspace and then out over the Pacific. It strayed over the Soviet Kamchatka Peninsula before later returning to international airspace where a pursuing Soviet war plane blasted it out of the air.
To this day, I suspect that had this not occurred in August, when much of the top Soviet leadership was on vacation, a wiser, cooler head than Gen.Valery Kamenski might not have OK’d an act of mass murder.
President Reagan exploited the tragedy to excoriate the Soviet Union, which he hated, calling the incident “an act of barbarism.”
It was one of the most volatile moments of the cold war. True, Moscow lied about KAL 007, but the Reagan administration shamelessly used this tragedy to reinforce the president’s own virulently anti-Soviet agenda. Reagan did not need to indict 270 million Soviet citizens for what was a huge and tragic August screw-up.
Soldiers are admonished to “Stay alert, stay alive,” to which we should add the phrase, “especially in August.”