Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book: “Seven Days in May”

While watching the news last night about General McChrystal and President Obama, I turned to my wife and said, “This sounds like ‘Seven Days in May.’” This morning, Maureen Dowd mentioned the 1962 novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey ll, and a few minutes ago a good friend e-mailed and asked if McChrystal should be cast in a remake of the 1964 film, which starred Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas with John Frankenheimer directing and Rod Serling adapting.
All this talk made me pull out a copy of the book, a yellowed Bantam paperback published 47 years ago. I remember the novel as a compelling, provocative page-turner—qualities bestselling commercial novels routinely possessed then but rarely do now.
The plot revolves around a conspiracy by the Joint Chiefs to take over the government via a military coup. Their motivation: the president has—in their eyes--gone soft on Communism as he negotiates a disarmament agreement with the Soviet Union. Heading the coup attempt is a charismatic Air Force general named James Mattoon Scott (a blend of Douglas MacArthur, Curtis LeMay and a retired, rabid anti-Communist general named Edwin A. Walker (interestingly, Lee Harvey Oswald tried to kill Walker several months before the Kennedy assassination)). A Marine colonel named Martin “Jiggs” Casey sniffs out the plot, and after many twists Scott and his co-conspirators are forced to resign. It’s a great read.
Now clearly McChrystal wasn’t James Mattoon Scott (I say “wasn’t” because it’s just been announced that McChrystal’s resignation has been accepted). McChrystal and his aides were openly contemptuous of the Obama administration (just check out the story in Rolling Stone), something General Scott and his followers manage to avoid, although Scott in private disdains the president’s perceived weaknesses.
“Seven Days in May” is melodrama—but melodrama of the first rank, and all these years later it remains a cautionary tale for what could happen someday.
Thankfully, General Stanley McChrystal is no James Mattoon Scott.


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