The B-70 Disputation

The Boeing Aircraft Company in Seattle, Washington designed the B-52 Stratofortress bomber in the 1940s and 1950s, and then built 744 of them from 1955 to 1962.  The US Air Force is still flying them today and plans to continue to do so for at least another decade.  The Air Force conceived and deployed it to perform a vital role in the then-raging Cold War pitting the Western democracies led by the US against the Communist Block led by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the People’s Republic of China.

Though designed to carry nuclear weapons, the B-52 has never dropped any in combat.  It did, however, drop a lot of diverse conventional weapons.  By the mid-1960s, the airframe had endured a lot of takeoffs and landings, the engines had burned for thousands of hours, and the Soviet threat capabilities had improved.  It was time to develop, build and deploy a replacement for it.  North American Aircraft won the competition with Boeing to create the B-70 Valkyrie as an aircraft initially intended to fulfill that role.

Not everyone agreed.  Various groups lined up on both sides of the B-70 debate.  Opinions addressed the issues of Defense Department spending and the US role in international disputes.  The positions were grounded in engineering, strategic, ideological, economic, and political beliefs and passions.  Sometime in 1969, the White House, Defense Department and Congress stopped efforts on the Valkyrie.

Enter therein Dave and I in sometime in 1970 or ’71.  We took up the batons for each side over a ridiculously passionate two day period.  To characterize it as a disputation provides a wonderful academic halo over our barroom behavior spanning those two days and intervening night.  No doubt we would have liked to have had our engagement perceived in that academic light.  In fact, at least some of our thoughts, speeches and actions were in the best rules of an academic disputation.

However, there’s no doubt in my mind that each of us (at least, me, for sure) engaged one another on this issue of the B-70 To Be or Not To Be principally from our ideological perspectives and let’s git it on attitudes.  However, let me address this look back from just my own perspective.

I grew up in a moderate, middle class, middle income family (note:  a difference really does exist, though many people and most new organizations think income and class are synonymous and interchangeable).  We tilted left in social issues and right on international issues.  I reflected that upbringing, tempered by my education at Eastern Washington State College and inflamed by being a college student in the late 1960s.  It was a volatile vortex.

Dave, coming from his own background, knew just how to ignite, fuel and fan the fire.  Damn, this was gonna be a good one!

The B-52 was aging and I thought the Administration said we needed the B-70 as its replacement.  Good ‘nough for moi!  Dave took exception.  Honestly, I cannot recall what I said or what he said, but I think his view was that we may not need the B-52, we may not need a replacement, we sure as hell didn’t need the B-70, and we could use the big bucks it would cost to put against other programs primarily on the domestic side of the budget.  If any of that’s wrong, I sure do defer to the correction!

No doubt it was a casual comment by someone during the bus ride to our school in the afternoon that prompted either Dave or me to support or criticize the decision to shelve the plane.  Maybe even it even came from one of the two of us.  In any case, the discussion ensued.  Afore long, lines were being clearly drawn ‘tween the two of us and we pawed the ground right up to those lines.  We were in full intellectual rut.

I’m sure we each focused on rational quality data and views during the early hours of our engagement.  However, quality can only go so far when the opposing disputers just cannot (or will not) see the truth of the matter, acquiesce and shake hands.  Oh, hell no!

We – or at least I – “advanced” to the quantitative stage.  Quantity there meant number of words and the volume with which they were spewed forth.  The quality of ideas had long been abandoned because neither of us gave an inch on each other’s reasoning.  That first afternoon witnessed a sea change from quality to quantity.  The ride back to the St George Hotel in Cho Lon focused solely on quantity.  Exasperating quantity.

At some point the two of us must have turned into quite a circus for our friends, acquaintances and everyone else within earshot.  Not satisfied with stopping there, we probably morphed into an embarrassment for our friends.  Let me remind/tell you why I believe that.

At some point well into the night, I just about lost my voice.  No pain, but I really could not do much more than whisper.  I’d talked for hours until I was blue in the face.  I had “progressed” to being hoarse.  Thank goodness we kept the assault on a verbal level.  We took leave of one another hours after we’d already taken leave of our good senses.

A few nails were left lying around the next day at lunch so we decided to seal up the coffin all the way.  Picking up right where we had left off, we must have entertained everyone on the bus ride to school on Day Two.

One of us tossed the ol’ ball onto the court and the other picked it up.  Game on, again.  It didn’t last long though.  Within minutes my hoarse throat was silent.  Literally.  I could not make noise.  Not a rasp.  Not a croak.  Not a whisper.  Silence.  The only pain I felt was in not being able to engage with David.  My vocal chords were taut.

I also couldn’t teach normally that day, a condition I kept from my supervisor.  In class, which was primarily based on a listen-and-repeat process of students copying whatever the teacher says, it was all grammar, vocabulary, reading and writing and student role-playing.  All my teaching was via chalk to the chalkboard and pen to paper.

I hadn’t changed Dave’s position. I’d made myself speechless (a dilemma for Rhetoric Rod).  I limited my ability to do my complete job.  In that I couldn’t speak and time passes quickly, I probably failed to apologize to all around me for my performance.  I do that now.  Too little too late, but with total sincerity.  I had, however, no doubt completely succeeded in making a fool of myself.

Over time, I‘ve developed some perspective and greater knowledge on the topic of the B-70.  That time-garnered perspective only makes that disputation in the early 1970s even more moot (read, ridiculous).  Here’s what I know now I didn’t know then:  The B-70 was by that time solely an experimental aircraft (the XB-70).  The Administration had decided not to review any production efforts because neither the USAF nor DoD wanted it by then because the USSR had developed fighter aircraft and missiles that could defeat it.  Only select Congressional members wanted it revived and continued because doing so would financially benefit the companies and job seekers in their districts.  Money and jobs meant reelections for those folks.

David was correct.  I was wrong.  Have a nice day.

By the way, while at the US Air Force Air and Space Museum at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, I saw the one remaining XB-70 bomber.  Damn, that’s a beautiful bird!



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