LN: In his "Foreword" to Berlin 1961 by Frederick Kempe, General Brent Scowcroft says "History, sadly, does not reveal its alternatives." How did you decide which alternative history might have presented, if the intelligence information from the legend had been used to stop construction of the Wall?
Hill: While General Scowcroft was hesitant to speculate what might have happened, Henry Rowen, now Professor Emeritus at the Hoover Institution Stanford University, then on the staff of Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Paul Nitze, wasn't. In his review of Berlin 1961, Rowen says that Kempe's book "leads to the following speculation: Had Kennedy been more determined over keeping West Berlin open to East Berliners, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the most dangerous episode during the Cold War, might not have happened."
On the one hand, General Scowcroft is right. History does not come right out and say, if you had done X, the outcome would have been Y. Those types of nice cut and dried scientific solutions don’t exist in the real world. That kind of approach is only valid in laboratories where they deal with the hard sciences.
When people are involved, there are no 100%, black and white guarantees that changing one variable will result in a predictable outcome. History does, however, rhyme a lot, as Mark Twain said. It is, therefore, possible to present probable outcomes for changing certain variables in a scenario, based on the history that has gone before.
To create my alternate history of the Berlin Wall crisis, I studied the history of the end of the four-power occupation of Austria. Vienna was divided into four Sectors, one for each of the occupying powers, the same way that Berlin was. Vienna, like Berlin, was deep inside the Soviet Zone of Occupation. Many of the political issues were the same in both cases. The occupation of Austria ended in 1955, on the basis of perpetual Austrian neutrality, with the withdrawal of all occupation forces. German neutrality was a continuing demand from the Soviet side. I envisioned an outcome based on the acceptance of permanent German neutrality and the withdrawal of all occupation forces. In the context of Austrian history, my alternate history is not as outlandish as it may seem to those considering the Berlin Crisis of 1961 in isolation.
If Lucius D. Clay, the former military governor of the U.S. Zone, Germany (1947–49) and the "father" of the Berlin Airlift (1948–1949), had still been alive to write the “Foreword” for The Day Before, his comments might have included a statement that Clay made about the building of the Wall. Clay felt that "we might have been able to have stopped the Wall from being built that night," if the American Commandant of Berlin had taken action, "even if he had been in violation of his instructions, he would have succeeded and he would have been forgiven and he would have become a very great man."