Fiction Meets the Cold War

Were you ever–how to put this?–grateful that the best candidate for an important federal office lost his election, and lost it to the sleaziest exercise of “opposition research?” Turns out, there’s an overarching reason literate Americans should be happy about the outcome of California’s 1992 U.S. Senate race.

No, not that Democrat Barbara Boxer turned out to be a closet conservative. Anything but. Worst still, the shrill Bay Area leftist–now bidding for a third term–has yet to face an opponent so formidable as conservative heavyweight Bruce Herschensohn.

A brief refresher: Bruce–I call him that because of our longtime friendship–was just days before the fateful election surging to what looked like a possible victory.

Then, an 11th-hour scandale. A Democrat operative named Bob Mulholland revealed that, once upon a time, Bruce, his date and married a couple visited a Sunset Boulevard nightclub where strippers performed. Never did West Coast liberals pull such moralistic faces, demanding that Bruce explain how he could so hypocritically betray his solid, pro-family supporters. (This was, of course, a few short years before the Democrats’ next President, eventually to be related by marriage to Boxer, would be turning the Oval Office into a steamier spot than the Seventh Veil.)

The unconscionable tactic worked. I wrote a column in the Orange County Register trying to minimize the matter, gamely hoping that Bruce had proved himself a big tipper. But Bruce was shoved off stride, forced to explain to suddenly inquisitive reporters a brief episode about as far removed from any senatorial issue you can imagine–unless you can imagine Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings. Bruce, history tells us, stumbled before the finish line and repaired to a more contemplative life at the Claremont Institute and Pepperdine University.

Ah, but Bruce–ever the artist; he was, after all, an Oscar-winning documentarist as well as a rhetorically gifted television commentator before his entry into politics–spent his non-senatorial time writing this epic, this magisterial novel of the Cold War. As that parlous period fades, or is taught through a leftwing prism in our classrooms, this book will capture the imagination of the next generations, explaining with historical accuracy the grave moral stakes for which men and women fought and died.

Even before finishing this novel, in his non-fiction book Lost Trumpets published a decade ago, Bruce prophetically called for a declared war on terror. In Passport, Bruce has some of his characters proposing the supplanting of the corrupt United Nations with an alliance of pro-liberty nations. Maybe we shouldn’t wait ten years for that idea’s realization.

Barbara Boxer’s legislative votes? Ashes on the tongue.

This sweeping, cinematic novel begins, in 1960, at the moment of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. But it begins in Bruce’s beloved Hong Kong. Serendipitously, 11 Americans find themselves cast together as the ambassador’s guests. They dine, they conjecture over the new administration’s prospects, they visit Victoria Peak. And they pledge to return, one and all, to the same spot in 1997, there to commemorate the handover of that libertarian paradise from the British to Communist China.

Bruce’s 11 include heroes and heroines, some less hardy souls buffeted about by the gales of the Cold War, and some downright scoundrels. Not all survive until 1997. The pre-eminent scoundrel, naturally, is a journalist–a top network correspondent known for regularly taking the side of America’s enemies. One of the more delicious moments comes when his ideological foe, Bruce’s best protagonist, with whom the jackass journo had once dallied on a Moscow desktop, recommends him for a Lenin Peace Prize.

We follow these lives through the major cities of every continent, all painstakingly described by an author who knows these venues intimately. Especially Hong Kong, whose symbolism holds special intrigue. We become engrossed. We see the depraved depths and the humanitarian heights through an artist’s eyes–this, not politics, being Bruce’s true calling. And never mind that real-life visit to a strip club. He lifts the veil on more stark places–in Hong Kong, for example, and the Middle East. He summons sympathy for women who, owing to geopolitical displacement, struggle there. You’re grateful he didn’t blink.

Bruce dedicates this page-turner to “those Americans who have lived the highest morality by risking their lives for the liberty of strangers.” And on every page you turn of this massive novel–which has been compared, perhaps far-fetchedly, to War and Peace–you do find yourself working it out, while never preachily prodded, to an awareness that, yes, this is the moral hierarchy for which the Cold War was fought through to the end.