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Free Study Guide: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank - Free BookNotes

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ALAS, BABYLON: FREE STUDY GUIDE / ONLINE NOTES

CHAPTER 2

Summary

This chapter sets the scene for the impending war. Randy Bragg leaves to meet his brother, Mark, at the nearby McCoy Air Force Base in Orlando. As he drives there, he listens to the news reports on the radio. The Middle East is abuzz with activities and Russia is rattling its sabers at the United States. Randy has heard it before but had not paid much attention to it. In the light of Mark’s “Alas, Babylon” warning, though, the news reports are ominous.

Florence Wechek and Alice Cooksey meet for their weekly lunch. Alice tells Florence about an incident she had with Kitty Offenhaus, the wife of a prominent local businessman. Kitty, a Daughter of the Confederacy, wanted some books removed from the library, books she considered subversive and anti-South. Alice refuses to remove the books. When Kitty threatens to bring up the issue with the county government (who controlled Alice’s budget), Alice retaliates by threatening to call the media to report on Kitty’s actions. Kitty, realizing she has lost the battle, leaves “in an eight-cylinder huff.” Kitty understands that the negative publicity would hurt her husband’s business interests.

Florence then tells Alice about Mark’s telegram. She thinks it is odd that the children would be coming to Fort Repose before school was out. And, what was that final comment, “Alas, Babylon,” about? Florence, who does not think much of the Bragg brothers, thinks both the brothers are a little odd. Alice, however, knows them both much better than Florence and realizes that something important is being communicated in that cryptic phrase. After lunch, she returns to the library and looks up the phrase in the Bible. The phrase, from the Revelation to St. John, refers to the destruction of the cities in the end-times. Her job as a librarian, and her inquisitive nature, has made her much more aware of world events; she suddenly realizes that nuclear war, and its inevitable consequences, is at hand.


Randy arrives at the base and is sent through to meet his brother. On his way to Base Operations, he notices the changes at the base: there are fewer planes on the runways; there are fewer men on base; civilians and dependents are gone; and there is a general feeling of tension in the air. Randy’s escort, Paul Hart, a squadron commander, tells him about the “interim dispersal” of the aircraft and the quiet evacuation of civilians and non-essential personnel from the base.

Mark arrives. The plane is on its way to SAC headquarters outside Omaha and is stopping at McCoy to refuel. In the short time Randy has with him, Mark tells Randy about the travel arrangements for his family. He tells Randy about events in the Mediterranean and that a defecting Soviet general revealed the Soviet war plan to the Americans. He gives Randy a check for $5,000 (a huge sum of money in the 1950s) with instructions to cash it immediately and buy supplies.

Notes

Pat Frank paints a very realistic image of Soviet responses during the Cold War to the fictional events in the Middle East. In the era before either the U.S. or the Soviet Union had the technology to launch intercontinental missiles, regional events such as those depicted in the novel were critical. Russia’s centuries-old dream of a warm-water port was a key component of Soviet military plans during the Cold War and it colored much of our military preparedness, including the selection of allies such as Turkey and Iran (before the fall of the Shah and the rise of the ayatollahs).

Alice’s jousting with Kitty shows that the racist, segregationist, anti-Washington dreams of the Old South were still alive in the 1950s. However, attitudes were beginning to change. Alice, being well read and current on events of the time, was in the vanguard of this change. Kitty, as she is depicted in the novel, probably would not have accepted such a change, but she realizes that it is happening nonetheless. The consequences of a media scandal - the negative impact on her husband’s businesses - shows us that the tide toward integration and social equality was beginning to turn.

The two authors to whom Kitty Offenhaus objected were well-known black writers of the times. Carl Rowan (1925-2000) is primarily remembered as a journalist and a civil rights activist in the 1960s. In the 1950s, he traveled to the South to report on the Supreme Court’s decision requiring desegregation. Walter White (1893-1955) was one of the major writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

As in chapter 1, Pat Frank’s knowledge of geopolitical events and the U.S. military’s reaction to the events comes out. The events he describes were realistic and entirely plausible. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet Union tried to influence elections in Greece and Italy to secure Communist victories at the polls. Had those efforts been successful, NATO would have been outflanked on its southern front, dealing the western alliance a crippling, if not fatal, blow.


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