In the movie, “The Hunt For Red October,” I heard a term that intrigued and fascinated me. Sean Connery is the captain of a submarine charged with the responsibility for finding a Russian nuclear sub, dubbed “The Red October.” At some point during the underwater search, torpedoes are launched at Connery’s sub, and the captain says, “Release the countermeasures.” From what I can determine, those countermeasures were chunks of junk injected into the path of the incoming torpedo, and were designed to thwart the torpedo’s homing system. The water-bomb’s radar would lock onto the junk spray and be guided away from the sub, an effective “counter” against the threat.
Children can display great skill at deploying countermeasures. When one child has been identified as a transgressor — a violator of some family rule of law — that child deploys countermeasures: “Chris busted a hole in the basement window. He stuffed the hole with paper towels.” Now mom is distracted from the task of upbraiding and correcting the delinquent behavior of the first child and charges to take to task Chris, the window-basher. The first child makes herself small and unnoticeable, thereby escaping punishment.
I used to deploy countermeasures when I was an assistant creative director in the advertising department of a St. Louis store. The head of the department was blessed with something akin to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He spent great chunks of time making sure that his desk pad was centered on his desk, his pen holder was parallel to the edge of the desk, and his stapler aligned with the desk pad. When he would call me to his office with the intention of disciplining me for some infraction (I was a rogue operator in the department), I would enter his office, pass his desk, and knock some item slightly out of alignment. I would apologize, pretend to try to correct the mistake, and knock more things askew. My boss would then spend the rest of the time I was in his office re-aligning his desk accessories, a task that ended with his tepid and distracted admonishment of me about my misdeed. I don’t think he ever caught on to my deployment of countermeasures whenever he launched a discipline-torpedo at me.
Countermeasures are also employed in the sport of pocket billiards. In bars, the flexing, posturing, and “woofing” between the players is designed to distract the shooter. “Don’t miss,” you’ll hear, “’cause I’m gonna run out.” Or a player will reach across the table as you line up a shot, ostensibly to grab the cue chalk, but really – to distract you. The better players will see and hear more of this than those less skilled, but it happens in all the bars, all the time. I compete in a pool league that has named these countermeasures “sharking,” and the behavior is frowned upon, considered poor sportsmanship.
Josef Stalin is said to have passed on to his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, the ultimate countermeasure. Stalin, the story goes, tells Khrushchev that he is leaving him two letters, one of which he is to open when things go sideways with his administration. Nikita’s reign gets rocky and he opens Stalin’s first letter: “Blame everything on me.” When things really start sliding off the edge, Khrushchev opens Stalin’s other letter: “Sit down and write two letters…”
Considering the volume of countermeasures that have been flung into our current political waters — “Barack busted the basement window” — I wonder if there were two letters written and left in a drawer in the Oval Office. It certainly appears that the first one may have already been opened.
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