On March 23, 1983, president Reagan announced plans for a Strategic Defense Initiative in order to ?preserve peace and freedom' all over the world. It was the time to show those crazy Russians who was really boss. The nation was ignited- rumors of cov
ert intelligence operations, stealth nuclear attacks, the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of ?Red China' were rampant This is the environment into which ?The Aquitaine Progression' was born. Though the circumstances surrounding this book were lar
gely unique, and critical to fostering the immense popularity of it, it was, neither a unique genre nor plot-line which emerged in 1984.
Because of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), Americans were living in a world of fear, national pride, unity, fragmentation, and most importantly, MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction. If either of the two monster superpowers launched a first strike
, everyone would die. This reality was extraordinarily conducive to the type of book that emerged out of the time period.
There are three different aspects of life in the early eighties that effected the popularity of this book. The first of these is the most obvious: The Cold War. Spies. Spies were everywhere. Spies were out defending the country from Russian infiltrat
ors and out bringing the defectors into the country. That was what they were doing. Ask anyone. Why is this the way people were thinking? Well, maybe it was the fact that the CIA was active during the Cold War, and people glamorized their role. Mayb
e it was that a couple of stories got out and people thought that they were not only true, but also the norm. Maybe it was all true. Regardless, people thought about it. The mystery of it was enticing, and it was something that maybe made the Cold War
a little more bearable.
The Cold War also brought a new wave of national pride into the country. The United States was the crusader of liberty against the monster of oppression. Beyond that, it is likely that there was some level of xenophobia. People were paranoid. Anyon
e could have been a communist. You just didn't know anymore, right?
Then the SDI came along- it was the beginning of the Space Race- Star Wars. Reagan and his advisors concocted this wonderful idea to change the tactic of the United States from one of offensive maneuvers to one of defense. The plan was to initiate a re
search and development program to create a satellite that would be able to shoot down ballistic missiles before they had the chance to get to the United States. These systems were known as BMD's- Ballistic Missile Defense.
In an address to the nation on May 23, 1983, Ronald Reagan appealed to the masses of the United States to support further expansion of the military through the SDI. With this speech, the message went out that America must continue to be strong. The peop
le were told that America is the policeman of the world and that we had to maintain our power. ?If we stop midstream, we will send a signal of decline, of lessened will, to friends and adversaries alike. Free people must voluntarily, through open debate
and democratic means, meet the challenge that totalitarians pose by compulsion.' (Reagan)
The third factor in the American attitude of the time was the general attitude of ?Red paranoia.' As mentioned above, many people were filled with fear of the communists. No one knew who was a spy in their own country, and people actually thought that
there were Russian infiltrators around every corner. All three of these things served to create a general feeling of interest in the intelligence activities of the Cold War.
The Aquitaine Progression is about an American lawyer working in Geneva. He receives a call from an opposing attorney requesting a meeting before the actual legal conference. The man, Joel Converse, finds out that his adversary is actually an old frien
d from high school who is drawing on Joel's background as a POW in Vietnam to stop an elite international organization that has goals of taking over the world by creating international instability. There is a client somewhere (Avery wont reveal the name
) who is willing to pay Converse a significant amount of money to investigate the organization, named Aquitaine, and gather enough evidence to legally indict these men. Converse is the only one who can do it- there is no other option. The two catalysts
for him- the things that convinced him to take the initiative to stop Aquitaine, are the fact that the main man in Aquitaine is George Marcus Delavane- the butcher of Vietnam who sent many innocent children to their deaths, and the fact that Avery dies in
Joel's arms after getting shot, whispering ?Aquitaine.' So, Converse embarks on a journey all over Europe meeting with the powerful men of Aquitaine and trying to infiltrate their organization. The story progresses from there, with Joel turning into
the ultimate spy and working with the women he loves- typical of novels.
There are several aspects of this book that reflect the time period, and this is why it was so popular. First, and least obviously, the book reflects the growing amount of regret about the Vietnam war. The characters in the book understand that the war
was wrong, and that is what the entire plot is based on- the man that killed so many people there. So as this sentiment grew in the America of the eighties, a book which condemned this mistake was popular.
Secondly, with the threat of international annihilation hovering over the population, a novel that shows one lone, brave man saving the world from the totalitarian monsters fosters pride among Americans. He could be any lawyer anywhere called upon to de
fend his nation. Also, as the above quote by Reagan shows, the fear of the world was that totalitarian governments would gain power an become unstoppable. The fear was ubiquitous. So The Aquitaine Progression showed the fear that America had concernin
g the Soviet Union, but used a different organization to represent it.
Thirdly, there is an amount of criticism for the intelligence community. It is Converse, and ordinary attorney who accomplishes the goal. He is asked to do it legally which shows that there is concern about the use of covert subversion. Also, when he
attempts to achieve his goal, he is accused of many crimes, and seen as a psychopath in his own country. Animosity towards the good guy is something that Robert Ludlum frequently chooses to demonstrate.
This book is not unique in any way. There are a number of other books that were published during the seventies and eighties that have almost the same plotline, by Robert Ludlum and other authors. Usually, they had something to do with Russians, or spie
s. In 1984, The Hunt For Red October came out by Tom Clancy. This was a story of a Russian General who decided to defect without telling anyone. The entire world goes to nuclear alert when his submarine is found missing- ?red paranoia.' In 1980, the
Bourne Identity came out by Robert Ludlum. This had the familiar theme of one man who had to save the world, only this time, it was from a Russian assassin. The Parsifal Mosaic was in 1982, Red Storm Rising in 1986, and the second of the Bourne trilogy-
The Bourne Supremacy. 1988 produced The Cardinal of the Kremlin, by Clancy, and the Icarus Agenda by Ludlum. All of these books are spy thrillers- and almost all of them are about a man who has to take on a new role to work against national enemies- Th
e United States comes first.
This genre is not unique to the eighties, however. Picture this: an ordinary attorney finds out from a source that there is a group of Americans that are planning international evil. The only person that can stop them is that one attorney. That book w
as written by Robert Ludlum and published in 1972. It is called The Osterman Weekend. Next, there is a college professor who finds out that there is a giant drug racket conspiracy taking place at his own university. He is informed that he is the only o
ne who can stop it. That is The Matlock Paper, published in 1973. In the Cry of the Halidon, there is a yung geologist who is sent to Jamaica to do a survey, and ends up caught in the intelligence fiasco. 1973, a man who used to be the undersecretary o
f state was selected to do an investigation ans was, once again launched into the world of international intrigue. That one is Trevayne.
Why is this such a popular theme? Well, it more than likely has something to do with the combination of fear of the big government, and fear of foreign forces as mentioned above. It made people feel good to think that an ordinary man could go out and s
ave his country. It could be any doctor, lawyer, or businessman. It cannot, according to Ludlum, be a lower class person though. All of his characters are hugely successful, if not famous.
The Aquitaine Progression is a book that is only a representative of the type of books that were popular during the Cold War. It is a member of the family of books generated from the fear and the focus of the time period, and it was a combination of all
the things that people worried about in their everyday lives. One reviewer The Osterman Weekend that it ?exposes the inadequacies of American Intelligence and our deepest fears that our friends cannot be trusted.' Now that the Cold War is over, we wi
ll inevitably see a decrease in the number of spy novels, just as all plots change with the times. This only goes to show the extent to which public opinion effects the writing of the stories and also their success in the world of the American novel.