The special Air Force jet circled Pearl Harbor twice before landing at the Naval airstrip further inland. Sitting in the front seat, Federer could see what that had brought him here — the supercruiser, two destroyers and two giant troop transports — pieces in an unlikely chess game, their greenish hue differentiating them from the familiar U.S. Navy gray.
“Could you swing around and tilt the plane to the left a little so I can get a better view?” he asked. The pilot, visibly nervous, responded immediately and now Federer could see clearly the remains of the Arizona at the bottom of the harbor, etched perfectly in the crystal-clear waters. Federer’s great-grandfather had been aboard one of those ships. Almost our entire Pacific fleet sunk to the bottom in one morning. Were we now better off or worse? Federer wondered. He would soon find out.
The plane banked again and descended, the steep volcanic escarpments coming into profile along the horizon. There’s nothing like this in China. No wonder they covet the Pearl of the Pacific, thought Federer as his stomach started to churn once more. The “Fasten Seat Belts” beeper came on and their descent took a steeper incline. In a few minutes they were on the ground.
Greeting him at the bottom of the movable stairway was a full honor guard with a red carpet. This always aggravated Federer immensely. Nobody in Washington ever paid any attention to his advice yet when he arrived somewhere there was always an honor guard telling him how important he was. He descended into the dazzling sunshine, his remaining hair whipped by the sea breeze, and shook hands with General Foster Schoonmaker, head of the Pacific Command. Schoonmaker was a big, handsome figure with battle ribbons all over his chest. Federer wondered how he collected them when there hadn’t been a major war for 50 years. As they greeted each other, however, their eyes averted. Federer immediately realized what was happening. For perhaps the first time in American history, two high officials were meeting on what might be called occupied territory. Was this the way the British felt at Yorktown? Federer tried to regain his composure.
“Mr. Ambassador,” said the general, making his own recovery. “Glad you could come.”
“Under the circumstances, I’d say it was entirely appropriate,” said Federer.
“We’re in touch with the White House,” said the General. “They want to talk to you right away. Then we’ve got a PAC command meeting to brief you at 1600.”
“If I could just get a chance to unpack my bags,” said Federer. He had misplaced his heart medicine, although he was sure he packed it somewhere.
“We’ll get you right to quarters,” said the General, taking his elbow and steering him toward a waiting black limousine.
“Can you tell me anything about… ” Federer wasn’t quite sure how to phrase it.
“Our Visitors?” said the General, with a sarcastic smile. It was a nice touch. Maybe they would just pay their respects and move on.
“Yes, our Visitors,” said Federer. So this was to be the protocol. At least he knew something. The Marine guard opened a rear door for Federer as the General slipped into the passenger seat. Then the stone-faced young warrior took a seat beside Federer. Oh what things those ears were going to pretend not to hear.
“Right now we don’t know quite what to expect,” said Schoonmaker, becoming more informal as the car motored off the runway. “They want to speak to someone with at least the rank of ambassador. Washington was going to send the SECSTATE but decided that would be kowtowing. So we’ve settled on you.”
“That’s alright, I haven’t been back to Hawaii since my honeymoon,” said Federer, trying to sound upbeat.
“It’s certainly a gem, isn’t it?” said the General, surveying the lush landscape. “Eight million U.S. tourists a year and another eight million from China.”
“Well, at least we’re even with them in that respect,” said Federer. “You know that ‘kowtow’ is a Chinese word. It means ‘head-floor.’ It’s what you do in the presence of the Emperor. The Chinese still do that reflexively sometimes when you talk them. They bow slightly.”
The General gave him a suspicious glance. “You’re not saying we should start practicing, are you, Mr. Ambassador?”
Federer felt his heart turning somersaults.
HE FUMBLED WITH HIS MEDICINE as he entered the general’s office. Spartan in the usual fashion, it was still elaborate in ornament. An antique American flag covered one entire wall while on the other hung photographs of the General shaking hands with every senior official who had ever entered the Pacific theater, including four Presidents. Behind his desk was mounted a huge, hand-carved eagle that looked as if it had once decorated the prow of a ship.
Federer counted the stars on the faded flag. “Forty-five, right?” he said, trying to relieve the tension.
“That flag flew over Admiral Dewey’s headquarters in Manila,” said the General, hardly concealing his exasperation. “People respected us back then.”
“Well, let’s see if they can respect us again,” said Federer. “Now, what can you tell me?”
“We’re not entirely sure what’s going on,” said the General, motioning Federer into a bamboo chair. “You know with the Chinese, everything is positioning. Sun Tzu and The Art of War and all that. ‘Know your enemy. Avoid direct confrontation. Use the element of surprise.’ They seem certain we won’t retaliate with nuclear. Our air wing could blow them out of the water in a moment but we’re not sure they wouldn’t go nuclear themselves. So we wait. It seems like a two-pronged attack, both military and economic. They’re making demands on the debt. That’s where they’ve got us by the balls. If they stop lending us money, the whole country will collapse within a month.”
“Every American has been wondering whether this would happen for the last twenty years,” said Federer glumly.
“And now it has” said the General. “It’s like Commodore Perry sailing into Tokyo Harbor and demanding the Japanese trade with us. Not an invasion so much as an armed request.”
“Well, they’ve certainly gotten our attention.”
“That supercarrier is a giant rook pointed straight at our queen in Washington,” said Schoonmaker, with a bit of a smirk.
“We’re in the middle of the chess board,” said Federer. “And we’re in check.”
The General rose from his chair. “It’s time to get to our meeting.”
“What about this business of the Chinese women?” asked Federer as they headed down the hall.
“We’re not sure,” said the General, hurrying beside him. “It seems to be some domestic issue. But then it wouldn’t be the first time two nations went to war over pretty women, would it, Mr. Ambassador?”
“It certainly wouldn’t,” said Federer, clutching his pills as they rushed into the meeting.
THE DIVISION WAS ABOUT EQUAL between uniforms and civilian, thought Federer as everyone scurried to take their place. Tricia Slocum, the Undersecretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, had flown in from Washington. Federer recognized Daniel Inouye IV, the Governor of Hawaii, from a photograph. The only person he couldn’t identify was a little roly-poly Hawaiian in a flowery shirt seated near the door.
“Alright, let’s get started,” said Schoonmaker, calling things to order. A brittle silence descended on the room.
“This is our the honorable Samuel Federer, our Ambassador to China. He’ll be meeting with a Chinese delegation in a few days. He wants to be briefed as thoroughly as possible. General Borlander, would you start?” He turned to a lean, tanned officer beside him.
“Yes, sir,” said Borlander, lining up his i-World. He had the look of a scarab beetle baked too long in the sun
“Mr. Ambassador, before you begin,” interrupted a roly-poly Hawaiian. “Can I say something?”
“Who is this?” Federer whispered to General Schoonmaker.
“Viscanu Garawalawall, the Mayor of Honolulu,” Schoonmaker whispered back. “He practically clawed his way into the room.”
“Mr. Mayor, we’ll hear from you later.”
“Yes, but I just want to tell the Ambassador,” continued the Mayor, “the people of Hawaii are loyal citizens of the United States. We are completely opposed to this action. Many of us have Chinese heritage, but we in no way approve of this despicable invasion by foreigners.”
“We’re confident of your loyalty,” said Federer, trying to return to the matter at hand. “The Hawaiian people are more at risk than anyone right now. But I’d like to hear from the military first.”
“Now this business of Polynesian independence,” continued the Mayor as if nothing had happened. “We want no part of it. This is something thought up at the university.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Ambassador,” said Anderson. “The leader of the Polynesian Independence Movement will be here in a moment. They’re bringing him over now.”
“Alright, let’s talk about this when he arrives,” said Federer.
“But Mr. Ambassador — ” the Mayor continued.
“Mr. Mayor, I’m going to have to throw you out if you don’t stop,” said Schoonmaker, slamming his fist on the table. The Mayor shrunk back in his chair. It was always people who didn’t belong at meetings who tried to do the most talking, thought Federer.
“As you know,” continued Borlander, “our defenses in this theater have long been in decline. We have not fought a war in the Pacific since Vietnam and although China was a rising power, we have not felt compelled to meet their threat. Even after they annexed Taiwan in 2040 and barred us from the Western Pacific the assumption was our nuclear shield would protect us. Frankly, we thought the Chinese might be preparing a claim for Samoa or the Marshall Islands but we did not anticipate a thrust toward Hawaii.”
“Was there any planning for this contingency?” asked Federer.
“Of course, Mr. Ambassador,” snapped Borlander. “But it’s very difficult to get the attention of Washington. The TSA affair has left both the Administration and Congress with very strong anti-military feelings.”
Federer sucked on a pencil while mulling this over.
“So there’s no chance of kicking them out of here any time soon?” he said.
“That would be correct, sir. Unless we want to risk a nuclear war.”
“May I put a word in here,” said Slocum, the assistant Secretary of State. She was the kind of woman that was now common in government, an academic who had probably done her Ph.D. on the oppression of women under the Ming Dynasty of the 17th century. “I feel a great deal of tension in this room. I would like to have everybody — “
Suddenly there was a commotion at the door. Two guards entered, leading a tall, middle-aged man with a long black ponytail.
“Excuse me, Mr. Ambassador,” said Alexander, rising quickly. “This is Preston Ward, chairman of the Polynesian studies department at the University of Hawaii. We thought you would want to question him.” The aides led the man to an empty chair across the table. Although he appeared to be in handcuffs, Ward quickly unfolded his arms and propped them on the table. Federer saw he had a small gold ring embedded in his nose.
“You’re the leader of the Polynesian Independence Movement?” asked Federer.
“I am,” said Ward sullenly.
“Are you Polynesian?”
“I am 1/16th Polynesian on my mother’s side. I am also a fully inducted member of the Menehune, who are the original settlers of this Island,” his combativeness beginning to rise. “And its rightful owners, I might add.”
“Is there anybody left in this country who hasn’t found some Indian blood in him?” said General Borland to no one in particular.
“I beg your pardon,” Ward seethed. “We Polynesians are not Indians, as you call them. We migrated from the Marquesas Islands, not across the Bering Strait. I consider it very racist that you cannot make that distinction.”
“Well, let’s see how the Chinese take to all that,” interrupted Federer. “Have you ever had contact with the Chinese?”
“The Chinese government is the same capitalist, imperialist machine as the United States government.” Ward fairly spit out the words. “We will have nothing to do with them.”
“Have any of your Polynesian members had contact?” he pursued.
“This man has nothing to do with Polynesians,” shouted Mayor Garawalawall, rising from his chair again. “He represents only himself.”
Federer glanced at Schoonmaker. “Alright, I think we’ve had enough of this,” said the General, rising. “Guards, take both these men outside.”
“No, it is important I be here,” wailed the Mayor, turning to Federer for help.
“Alright, let him stay,” said Federer.
“Long Live the People’s Republic of Polynesia!” shouted Ward as the guards escorted him outside. “Free Hawaii from American Occupation!”
Federer felt his heart wrenching in anguish. How had America become such a seething cauldron of hatreds, he wondered. He sensed the same sentiment floating around the room. There was nothing to do but to plow forward.
“Ms. Slocum, you were saying something,” he began again.
“Yes, thank you, Mr. Ambassador,” said the Undersecretary. “You know, I feel a tremendous sense of tension in this room. I’d like to have everyone relax for a moment. Let’s everyone close their eyes and take a deep breath.” Federer looked around the room and was amazed to see pairs of eyes closing. “That’s it,” said Slocum, her voice descending to a reassuring murmur. “Now exhale very slowly, making a hissing sound.” She hissed for example. “Visualize that breath as it leaves your body. Now take another. Just relax your mind. Think of waterfalls in the woods.” There was a sound at the door. Federer peeked and saw an aide thrust his head in, then disappear. He could hardly believe four-star generals were submitting to this.
“That’s it,” continued Slocum. “Nice thoughts. Now take the hand of the person sitting next to you.” There was a rustle of dissent around the room but in a moment Federer felt the meaty hand of General Schoonmaker fumbling for his own. He felt a huge hollowing in his stomach as his hand nestled into the General’s large mitt. On the other side of him, General Borlander did not seem to be participating.
“There, isn’t that better?” said Slocum, suddenly returning to the moment. Federer actually felt much worse but said nothing. “Now I want to convey a message from President Armageddon,” continued the Undersecretary. “There is to be absolutely no thought of retaliation. We’re pursuing the Gandhi approach — passive resistance. Violence only leads to more violence and the stakes are too high. We want everyone to disengage from such thoughts.”
“General Borlander, do you have anything to contribute to this?” said Federer, trying to regain his narrative.
“Well, I suppose what’s-his-name, or her-name, or whatever-the-hell she is back in Washington –” Borlander looked around with alarm, knowing he might have just lost his job. “I mean, with all due respect, sir, our President is probably right on this. We do not presently have the means to retaliate against our adversaries — “
“Our Visitors,” Federer corrected him.
“Yes sir, our Visitors. We do not have the means to engage safely. That would be correct.”
“Mr. Ambassador, if I may.” Mayor Garawalawall once again had his hand in the air. “Mr. Ambassador, the people of Hawaii are prepared for guerrilla warfare. We know the territory. The Chinese — our Visitors — do not. We can outlast them. Look what the people of Nepal did to India or even the Vietnamese 100 years ago. It is not so easy to win a war on someone else’s territory.”
“I don’t think you’ve been listening –” began Slocum.
“Ms. Slocum, if I’m going to be negotiating with the Chinese I’d like to hear all points of view,” said Federer resolutely.
“What about those one million Chinese women they want to take back?” interrupted General Senyanu, who hadn’t been heard from to this point “Do you think holding hands is going to help them?”
“It’s a matter of women’s rights, General,” countered Slocum demurely. “We’re certain the international community will stand with us on this.”
“Wouldn’t it help if we had a few armed men defending them?” interjected Borlander.
“That’s just the old idea that women always need protection,” said Slocum. “One man threatens a woman, another says he’ll protect her, either way she loses. Women are tired of this game.”
“Alright, I’m going to have to call this to a close,” said Federer, his heart now beating wildly. He clutched the bottle in his pocket. “I’m sorry but I’ve had a long trip and feeling a little out of sorts. Perhaps we can continue tomorrow.”
“Mr. Ambassador,” said the indefatigable Mayor Garawalawall. “I just want to assure you that the people of Hawaii are 100 percent for repelling these invaders. Because this is an invasion. And the people of my city are not going to stand for it.”
“Thank you, Mr. Mayor,” said Federer, genuinely grateful. “We’re glad to have you on our side.”
As Federer headed for the door, one thought struck him. The little roly-poly mayor was the only one in the room who had given him hope.