Saturday, September 27, 2014

Death Merchant #17: The Zemlya Expedition

The Russians have constructed an experimental underwater "city" above the Arctic Circle. The Death Merchant's mission is to infiltrate the city (known as Zemlya II) and smuggle out Dr. Raya Dubanova, a Russian-born scientist who "has a secret so important it affects the entire planet". The Russian government does not take her claims seriously, so she has covertly alerted the CIA.

Control of the world's oceans is posited as the next battle in the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Joseph Rosenberger offers a lot of mumbo jumbo about weather modification and a country's apparent ability to wipe out its enemies by altering tides and causing storms. There is not a lot of action in first 100 pages of The Zemlya Expedition, with Rosenberger offering long, in-depth descriptions of the undersea city, both what its various domes look like and how the massive structure can withstand the tremendous water pressure.

There are also long conversations. One exchange in particular is interesting. Camellion has been captured aboard a Russian vessel, but before he is sent to Moscow for execution, he is brought before General Vershenky at Zemlya II (thus taking care of the problem of how to get the DM into the underwater city). Vershensky has no desire to torture information out of Camellion and is quite amiable, sharing his vodka, for example, while assuring Camellion that the Russians will get the full truth from him on how the CIA learned of Zemlya II. After Camellion makes a crack about the Russians using inhumane "mind control" techniques - typical "pig farmer" behavior, in his mind - Vershensky opens up a file that includes piles of evidence of U.S. "mind control" experiments.

Vershensky reads directly from an article in the November 1975 issue of Argosy: "The Unsavory Business of Mind Control", by Dick Russell. "Controlling human behavior with drugs, brain surgery and electronic stimulation may sound like 'Brave New World," but it's not. It's America, 1975." The article - which mentions Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker (who acted at one time as Richard Nixon's therapist) - actually ran in the magazine.
"'But consider a Hutschnecker proposal, first outlined in a 1970 memo to Nixon's White House, which proposed mass psychological testing of all six-to-eight-year-olds "to detect the children who have violent and homicidal tendencies." On a compulsory basis, those who were found to be "severely disturbed" would then be assigned to "camps with group activities." There they would learn "more socially acceptable behavior patterns.'"

The Death Merchant shifted uncomfortably on his chair. "The plan was never implemented. The American people wouldn't have stood for it."

"Oh no!" exclaimed Vershensky, sounding as if he were congratulating himself. "Let me quote the following from the same article in the magazine known as Argosy." His eyes flashed down to the page, and he began to read.

"'Yet Hutschnecker's basic formula is now coming to pass. The Ervin Report discloses a California program, "not yet fully confirmed," to computerize files on "pre-delinquent" children, so that early behavior problems can be watched and "the individuals who exhibit these tendencies can be checked for the rest of their lives." Prepared without the consent of the parents, these files are linked up to those of various law enforcement agencies.'" ...

"There is more, Gentlemen Camellion. I quote directly: "The fact remains that Hutschnecker's plan is not unlike one proposed in Nazi Germany. A 1943 memo of the Gestapo's Crimino-Biological Institute suggests: 'The task is to identify as early as possible the criminally inclined person. Those with continual character failures who are fully capable of work will be put into a youth protection camp.' "
Hutchnecker died in 2001 at the age of 102. In his obituary, the New York Times reported: "In 1970, Dr. Hutschnecker achieved notoriety as the author of a confidential White House report on crime prevention. In news reports of the time, the report was cited as urging that all 7- and 8-year-olds be tested for violent and homicidal tendencies, and recommending that the most serious juvenile offenders be treated in camps."

Interestingly, Camellion does not respond to this information in a jingoistic manner. The Death Merchant admits (though only to himself) that Vershensky is completely correct. ("The damned pig farmer general had been right!") But at the end of the day, it is of no consequence to the Death Merchant if the United States becomes a third-rate nation. "[I]f Uncle Sam wanted to try for a police state, that was Sam's business."

The Argosy article serves no purpose in the larger story. I'm guessing Rosenberger read the article in late 1975 and wanted to spread the news to a wider audience (The Zemlya Expedition was published in July 1976).

After Dr. Dubanova - the person Camellion is supposed to bring out to the US - actually helps Camellion escape from the cell the Russians have him held in, the two of them have a quick, stilted conversation about religion.
[Camellion's] derogatory remark brought a quick but quiet condemnation from the Russian scientist, who said in a low, soft voice, "Mr. Camellion, it is a mistake to condemn a belief because you yourself have doubts. In the West, the present Christian tendency to suspect divine power as immoral and to emphasize Christ as the principle of love is partly the consequence of the decline of belief and is partly responsible for it ... I am aware that like Marx you equate religion belief with weakness. ... If religion is a crutch, it is a very necessary and stabilizing one."

"Millions of people say the same thing about alcohol, tobacco, and drugs," Camellion cut in viciously. "As far as I'm concerned, religion is the worst moral evil on the fact of the earth, next to Communism. It's an evolution towards debasement, with the survival of the unfittest! Personally, I don't give a damn if you want to worship the moon, but I don't like to think of myself as being the victim of either a sardonic joker or a whimsical tyrant; and I despise any system that forbids man to think and to reason. That's what your damned Christianity does, in all its forms; it makes man a moral slave and would deny him his right to reason!"
Later in the book, Camellion is riddled with slugs during a shootout. But this time, thankfully, he is bullet-proofed from wrists to ankles, including wearing "Kelvar-Thermacoactyl underwear". The only time in these books that Rosenberger mentions any type of protection is when Camellion gets whacked with a bullet. (Perhaps he wears it all the time and Rosenberger simply doesn't mention it. More likely is that Rosenberger feels Camellion has to catch a bullet once in a while, but he is conveniently protected whenever he does.)

Rosenberger engages in his usual name-calling silliness, having Camellion refer repeatedly to all Russians as "pig farmers", though he also uses "dumb corn pickers", "hog callers", "Commie creeps", "Lenin louses", "Stalin stupids", and "Russian fig newtons".

At one point, Vershensky tells Camellion: "Worry is nothing more than today's mouse eating tomorrow's cheese." ... Rosenberger writes: "The 9mm bullet banged into Nardrokin's skull and broke his brain." ... Late in the book, Rosenberger gives us our fruit metaphor: "His skull popped open like an overripe orange as Richard's two 9mm pieces of steel stabbed into his forehead and scattered his think-tank in assorted directions."


johngoldfine said...

CS Lewis had a lot to say in 'That Hideous Strength' (1945) about the issues raised here. Whatever you may think about his Christianity, the man was prescient, maybe more so than Orwell.

johngoldfine said...

Fascinating that a schlock drugstore-rack paperback should allow itself the leeway to include that strange Argosy piece detour.

allan said...

I really enjoyed Lewis's book, An Experiment in Criticism, which I excerpted here. (I could have typed out a lot more!)