Many of us believe that it could never happen here and that the United States is too stable and developed for the military to even attempt a coup. The suggestion would be dismissed instantly by those who believe such things happen in Third World nations. But what if it did happen in the United States? And how would the plot develop? Fletcher Knebel (1911-1993) and Charles W. Bailey, II (1929-2012) put their minds together as they pondered these questions and others resulting in this masterpiece, Seven Days in May. According to legend, President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) liked the book so much that he allowed director John Frankenheimer (1930-2002) to use the White House grounds while creating the film of the same name that was released in 1964 starring Burt Lancaster (1913-1994) and Kirk Douglas (1916-). Kennedy did not live to see the film and his assassination was more than the writers could have imagined as they created this book.
The story is set in the 1970s and the main character is Marine Colonel Martin J. “Jiggs” Casey who begins to notice strange occurrences within the U.S. military which give the impression of the development of a dark and sinister plot that reaches all the way up the chain of command to the White House. The President, Jordan Lyman, has recently agreed to a nuclear weapons treaty with the Soviet Union. The military brass is beyond infuriated and a majority of the American public views the treaty as a bad idea. And while his approval rating has plummeted, Lyman is unfazed and believes he is doing the right thing. After a joint chiefs meeting in which Casey comes into possession of a scrap of paper left by another office, he decides to go directly to the White House to warn the Lyman of what he believes a plot to remove him from office. And from this point on, the book picks up pace and never slows down.
Unbeknownst to Casey, Lyman had been concerned with several strange events which occurred before their meeting. As the parts begin to fuse together, the full nature of the comes down on the oval office like a sledgehammer. Lyman realizes what is at stake and realizes he must act fast. His first step is to put together his team of Senator Ray Clark, Secret Service Chief Art Corwin, White House Appointment Secretary Paul Girard, lawyer Chris Todd and Col. Casey to construct their counter-attack. The plot to remove Lyman is the work of U.S. US Air Force General James Mattoon Scott, Senator Fred Prentice, Colonel Ben Murdock, Colonel John Broderick and Air Force General Hardesty, The teams have been decided, the stage has been set and before seven days have passed, a showdown will take place but the question is who will win the race against time?
Having read the book it is not hard to see why it was a success and caught the attention of Hollywood. It is a thriller that keeps readers on edge of their seats as they turn the page to see what happens next. The story reads like a film and contains all of the necessary elements. A secret U.S. air base, mysterious death, clandestine meetings and right media combine as a credible threat to the security of the United States. And as I read through the book, I kept asking myself could this happen in America? And are we as a nation so secure in our belief in the constitution that we could never fathom a coup taking place on American soil? As seen in the book, the plot developed at the highest levels of government and even then many high-ranking officials were unaware of the ECOMCON project, secret base and the transport maneuvers which NORAD had no knowledge of. Compartmentalization is evident but the game turns into a chess match and the oval office has some of the best players in the game.
President Lyman comes through as a hero in the book especially when presented with damning evidence of transgressions in General Scott’s personal life. And even when faced with one staggering blow after the next, he never waves in his ability to see things in political terms. And while that can sometimes be a handicap, the president is a shrewd leader whose goal is to preserve the constitution and stop the conspirators in their tracks. He is supported not only by his team but by others who believe in preserving the government from any type of attack and those who support his presidency. And what at first seems like a big jigsaw puzzle scattered across the country, comes together revealing what had been thought of as unimaginable.
As a reader of mainly non-fiction, I thoroughly enjoyed this book which provided a change from my normal pursuit of historical information. The pace is just right and as a person who loves history, the references to past presidents and events gives the book even more a feel of authenticity. Each of the characters are interesting on their own but fit into the story precisely. But this is a story that I hope remains a work of fiction and not a premonition of things to come. Much has changed since this book was published but the reality is that every president has enemies and foreign is not always looked up favorably at home. But what is paramount is that the president remains in control of the country at all times and if needed, by all means available. This may be fiction, but we shall find ourselves in dark times if there ever is a real life version of Seven Days in May.