As it becomes clearer to Fred that Madison’s precipitate evacuation from Coq may damage his reputation, he tries to wangle a return to the Equateur. The reaction in Léo: Get lost!
Evacuating refugees from Coq: in the plane flying back to Léo, I become more and more convinced that Jules is right. If we do not return almost immediately to Coq – even if it means living out of a packed suitcase and doing nothing but tending the radio – we may jeopardize our entire investment in the town. An American presence must be there, I feel, until things get a great deal worse than they are at present. Tom radios the plane, wanting to know if he can pick me up at the airport. I suggest he come without Sally so that we can seriously discuss the possibility of a return.
But when we arrive, Sally is there with him. Madison’s handling himself badly. He still needs support that he’s done the right thing, but I begin to suspect he does not want to go back merely out of fear for Sally. He’s afraid. He dismisses my suggestion of a return. We’ll jeopardize our investment, I argue. Then I realize it’s an investment to which he has contributed almost nothing. Despite his protests – “I can get along just fine in Coq. What do I care if the job’s below my capabilities?” – probably he’s wanted to get out all along.
I try to suggest that he not justify his decisions. As the man on the spot he knew better than Léo people what was best for our personal safety. Justification only places questions in the listener’s mind. But assuming a positive stance, exuding confidence, takes more political savvy and more brazenness than Tom possesses. Instead, he wants every sympathetic ear to hear the story. He’s even begun to say: “I’ve been criticized.” “Oh, no!” reply his listeners. “Not really!” And they go away mulling the criticism. Sometimes Tom obligingly details the charges.
Back in town I want to see Mowinckel to tell him we must get back. He’ll still be at the office, if I can get there. But instead I get involved in settling Thérèse and the kids into the pied-à-terre. (I’m happy at last to be able to do something for the Andrés who’ve done so much for me.) But by the time we’ve delivered luggage and gotten keys and made certain that Mme Herman is set up, it’s well past 7:30. I’ve missed Mowinckel. There’s some big ball at the DCM’s house to which he will surely be going.
I can’t see Mowinckel the next day either. He’s entertaining USIA wheels from Washington. Tom tells me he’s been informed of my feelings and wants to hold off for now. I go over to the Embassy to try to sell the idea of our return to Political. One of the girls in Personnel greets me cheerily: “You were afraid up there, weren’t you?” Even though she knows nothing of the situation, the implied criticism stings me. Our manhood’s being called into question.
As I’m giving my pitch to the Political Section, Tom walks in on other business. (I give the guy real credit for being so patient with a subordinate who’s trying hard to force him into a spot where he doesn’t want to be and who’s undermining his confidence.) We leave POL together. He says nothing till we’ve driven to USIS. Then he counsels: “I don’t think it’s wise to talk about a return to POL. State has different objectives than USIS. Let them send their own man.”
Sunday night there is a cocktail party at Mowinckel’s apartment for the USIA wheels. Tom is looking worse and worse. The ravages of worry are showing in his face; his skin has grown flabby, pasty; he’s lacking sleep; his manner is defensive. He smiles obligingly to everyone, courting support wherever he can find it. But his spirits have somewhat revived due to a rumor that Boende has fallen to the rebels. “There’s nothing like experience, old boy,” he tells me with the ingratiating, exonerated closed-mouth smile that reduces his eyelids to mere slits.
At the end of the party Mowinkel tells me he hears I want to go back. With the air of a parent soothing an excited child, he advises: “Calm down. Let’s not think about it now.” What I think about it is: to hell with the whole thing.
After Mowinckel’s cocktail I go with the Madisons to Thérèse André’s pied-à-terre. The kids are already asleep on the floor, stretched out on air mattresses. With Thérèse are M. and Mme Nizet; he’s a conseiller working closely with Justin Bomboko, an Independence-era politician from the Equateur who still has influence. The Nizets have spent much time in the Equateur and Monsieur wants detailed information about the situation in Coq. We get out a map and go over what we know. Nizet feels that the Central Govt must act to save Coq. Bomboko’s the logical man to push this aid. Not that Coq is particularly worth saving in itself. But it’s the gateway to Léo. Its fall could have tremendous psychological impact.
Nizet and I get into cars. He leaves his wife at home and I follow him out beyond the city into the suburb of Djelo Binza. Nizet has a casual appointment with Bomboko, but he’s not home. The night guard doesn’t know where he is. Nizet goes inside to call around and returns ten minutes later having found no one. We wait, chatting. Nizet says it is always like this. Much important business is conducted at night, at midnight conferences such as this one would be. But often ministers go out without leaving word of their destination. Finally there seems no more point in waiting. It’s almost midnight. I try to reassure Nizet of my willingness to help in any way. We drive back into town.
Early Tuesday I receive a phone call from California, where it’s 3:00 a.m. Tootie, Dad and Bob [my twin brother] have tried all night and most of Labor Day to get the call through. Plans are all set for me to meet Tootie and Dad in Rome. All seem relieved I’m out of Coq, Tootie especially. She’s glad I will be in Paris tomorrow. They’ll get ready for their trip in peace. Not to have them worried about me is a relief and compensates in part for my disappointment in leaving Coq.
What was Donanne doing at this time? Having returned from a summer with her parents at their Foreign Service posts in Cambodia and Malaysia, Donanne arrived at UCLA to begin a year-long master’s degree course in Library Science.
Next post: Fred does not go to Paris the next day.