THE GARY POWERS INCIdent may seem an anachronism to many now (“Stamp of Approval,” The District Line, 11/5), but the U-2 is an aircraft that continues to fly today. Last year, Capt. James McGregor died in a U-2 crash over the Sea of Japan, but almost nobody heard of it or noticed.
The main reason the Powers incident captured the public’s attention was that the plane was new and its seeing-eye cameras represented technology that fit into the gee- whiz category at the time. Of course, the fact that Eisenhower, Khrushchev, the CIA, and the military lied to the public about the facts of the matter should be considered a given in such a case. But the public got confused by this. Powers just happened to be a convenient fall guy. Leaders in Washington are always looking for such, and Powers fit the bill.
I think the main reason the public did not side with Powers is they didn’t know much about the airplane and how difficult it was to fly. Powers was to spend over 10 hours in an uncomfortable spacesuit in an aircraft that was unstable in turbulence (especially the kind made by a near-miss from a missile). Three others before him had already ejected from breaking-up U-2s over U.S. airspace.