The Golden Judge

A suggestion and a highly intriguing one--on how to settle the problems

that involve face-saving among nations!

UNITED NATIONS, N.Y., June 16, 1981--(AP)--In one of

the most impressive ceremonies ever held in the United Nations building,

the world celebrated today the 25th anniversary of the discovery of the

"Golden Judge."

General Terence P. O'Reilly, USA (Retired), the man responsible for the

discovery, was the principal guest of honor. Obviously moved by the

acclaim from virtually every member nation, Gen. O'Reilly made a brief

speech recapturing for a moment the accidental circumstances of 25 years

ago that so drastically reduced world tensions....

* * * * *

It was stifling hot in Jerusalem in the afternoon of June 16, 1956, and

Major General Terence Patrick O'Reilly, United States Army, was rather

more bored than usual. His Army career had gone well--two stars already

at forty-five--until the mysterious workings of the Pentagon had given

him perhaps the most frustrating posting a soldier could have.

He was chairman of the mixed United Nations armistice commission trying

to keep the uneasy peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors. For

months he had presided over unending investigations of border incidents,

some petty, some not so petty. He had signed reports reprimanding and

recommending and approving, but nothing ever came of them, and he no

longer expected anything ever would.

Today's hearing was different, and not strictly in his field. But

because he was an engineer, and because both Arabs and Israelis trusted

him, he had agreed to listen to their opposing arguments on using the

waters of the River Jordan.

Too many years ago, the United States had offered to provide most of the

funds for a "little TVA" on the river, benefitting both Israel and

Jordan alike. At first, both had refused outright to have anything to do

with the other. But over the years, skillful negotiating by Eric

Johnston, the American President's personal envoy, had brought Israel

and Jordan closer and closer together--until now they agreed on the

disposal of ninety per cent of the water.

But farther than this they would not go. For months, years, they balked

on the remaining ten per cent, and the dams remained only blueprints.

Terence O'Reilly was sick unto death of the arguments, and thought

everyone else was, too. He had heard them over and over; he knew them by

heart. He knew they were evenly balanced, with justice on both sides. He

knew both nations longed for a settlement, but he knew neither would

back down, for reasons of "face." Worst of all, he knew that any

decision of his was meaningless. It was purely advisory, and he knew all

too well what "advisory" opinions counted for out here.

Yet he tried to look interested as the delegate from Jordan wearily

produced an argument that every man in the conference room could recite

word for word.

In a brief lull, General O'Reilly groaned: "Why don't they toss a coin

for it?"

It was not as sotto voce as he meant.

The Arab delegate stared at him. "I beg your pardon!"

Flushing, General O'Reilly apologized, but the Arab was already talking

excitedly to his fellow delegates. Puzzled, O'Reilly heard a confused

babble of Arabic, then sudden silence.

The Arab delegate had a glint in his eye as he asked for the floor.

"In the name of my country," he said proudly, "we agree!"

The word "agree" had not been heard in this chamber for many months, and

General O'Reilly wondered if he had heard aright. "Agree?" he stared.

"Agree to what?"

"To toss a coin for it, as the chairman has proposed," the Arab said.

"That is, it the Israeli delegation has the courage, the sportsmanship

to agree." He looked tauntingly to his rivals across the room.

The Israeli leader sprang to his feet, indignant. "I protest, Mr.

Chairman, to this frivolous treatment of a serious matter, which will

affect the future of--"

He felt silent, aware of the contemptuous smiles on the faces of the


General O'Reilly kept his countenance. He said mildly: "Of course, if

you are not willing to risk the luck of--"

"We are afraid of nothing, sir!" the Israeli snapped. "We are as

sporting as anyone else, but--" One of his fellow delegates whispered

something to him. Then the whole Israeli delegation talked in low

voices. Finally the leader rose again. "Will you permit me to telephone

my minister?"

Gravely the general recessed the meeting for thirty minutes. In his own

room, he stared at himself in the mirror, still dazed.

"My God!" he breathed. "They can't be taking it seriously!"

But why not? If the arguments were so evenly balanced that not even

Solomon could have chosen, if they really wanted a settlement, if they

could never give in without losing "face"--why, what better method than

to trust it to the fall of a coin? Still--things just didn't happen that


When the thirty minute recess ended, the Israeli delegate arose. He

glared across the room and announced defiantly: "My government also

agrees! Let the coin decide!"

The conference broke into clamor, but General O'Reilly had long since

learned the value of prudence in Jerusalem. "The chairman agrees," he

said judicially, "that in the circumstances, this is perhaps an

excellent solution, perhaps the only solution. But this has been, to say

the least, somewhat impulsive. Let me suggest both sides return to their

governments and consider this well. Then, if you are both still

willing, let us meet here one week from today, in this room--and the

coin will decide!"

* * * * *

He had expected second thoughts, and he was not disappointed. Extremists

on both sides of the Jordan screamed with indignation. Yet, oddly, most

people seemed strangely excited, even pleased by the sporting

proposition. They began to lay bets on the outcome.

And both governments held firm. Probably, the general speculated,

because they both wanted a solution--and there was no other solution in

sight. Also, each hated to be the first to back down from a fair bet. It

became a matter of honor.

On the week end, General O'Reilly flew to Cairo to meet some friends

passing through on a world tour. Like all tourists, they went to the

Mouski, Cairo's great bazaar, and it was there, in the Street of the

Goldsmiths, that the general got his idea.

It cost him a chunk of money, out of his own pocket, but like most

Irishmen, he was a sporting man himself. After all, he grinned to

himself, I started the whole business, and I might as well do it up in


He had decided that no ordinary coin would do for such an historic

occasion. So he had a goldsmith make him a heavy solid-gold medallion

almost twice as big as a twenty-dollar gold piece. He was not very much

pleased with the design he sketched out hastily, but on the spur of the

moment, he could think of nothing better.

The "Heads" side of the great coin bore a front view of the blind

goddess of justice, with her scales. The "Tails" side had a rear view

of the same lady.

It was rather crudely done, but time was short. "It'll have to do," the

general chuckled, as the plane bore him back to Jerusalem.

* * * * *

When the appointed day came, the United Nations conference room in

Jerusalem was jammed with Israeli and Arab officials, and with a pack of

correspondents who had magically appeared.

General O'Reilly had decided against asking each side to put its

agreement into writing. A true gentleman's agreement shouldn't be

written, he concluded. He merely asked the leaders for each side if they

agreed to abide by the fall of the coin. Solemnly, both assented.

Courteously, the Israelis had allowed the Arabs to call while the coin

was still in the air. There was silence as General O'Reilly flipped it

high up towards the ceiling.

"Tails!" cried the Arab leader.

The spinning coin glittered, falling onto the green baize table. The

general looked at it. The goddess had her back turned.

"It is tails," he announced, and the Arab delegation broke into happy


And, astonishingly, that was that. The leading Tel-Aviv newspaper summed

up Israeli feeling when it wrote in an editorial: "Certainly there were

many heavy hearts in our country when the coin fell against us. But let

us show the world that we are true sportsmen. We risked, and we lost.

Let this be the end of it."

Work began on the dams at last, without interference or protest. Not a

word was ever written on paper, but it was the only agreement between

the two countries that was scrupulously kept by both sides.

It was, of course, a wonderful story. The name of Terence O'Reilly swam

suddenly into the headlines, and his wife began keeping a scrapbook of

all the clippings. One among them was destined to be more potent in

world affairs than all the rest. It was a "profile" of General O'Reilly

published in a great American magazine, and it was notable for two


To begin with, it was the author of this profile who first gave the coin

the name by which it soon became so famous--the "Golden Judge."

But it also contained a casual, seemingly insignificant remark by

General O'Reilly. When the interviewer had asked how he happened to

think of the coin-tossing idea, the general had grinned. "Why not?" he

said. "Aren't the Irish the gamblingest people on earth?"

And it was this innocent sentence, hardly noticed at the time, that

started the "Golden Judge" on its fantastic career, and kept it from

being a mere nine-day wonder.

For a Chinese Communist diplomat in Berne, Switzerland, happened to see

it and, one night at a dinner party, he said mockingly: "This stupid

American general in Jerusalem is obviously ignorant of the world.

Otherwise, he would realize that no nation on earth loves gambling so

much as the Chinese. Anyone who knows the Orient will tell you this."

This made good cocktail party talk, a thing desperately needed in Berne,

and eventually reached the ears of an Associated Press correspondent. He

filed a paragraph on it for a box story and, in the inevitable way of

the press, a reporter in Jerusalem asked General O'Reilly for his


"Well," he said, "I've heard the Chinese are great gamblers indeed,

although whether more so than the Irish I beg leave to doubt."

Then his eyes twinkled. "Why don't they prove it? Why don't they toss a

coin, say, for Quemoy and Matsu? The danged little places aren't worth a

nickel to either side, and well they both know it. But they'll neither

of them back down a hair, for losing face. I say, if they think they're

the greatest gamblers on earth, let 'em prove it!"

This sped into print, caused a world-wide stir, and brought General

O'Reilly a sizzling reprimand from the Department of the Army. He was

not REPEAT NOT to express opinions about the value of allied territory.

He read the reprimand ruefully, reminded himself that another great

Irish failing was too much talk--and said good-by to any hopes for a

third star.

* * * * *

But this was before the black headlines from Formosa. With popping eyes,

General O'Reilly read that the Chinese Nationalist Foreign Minister had

taken up the challenge. He offered to toss a coin with the Chinese

Communists for Quemoy and Matsu!

"I'll be jiggered!" the general breathed. "They'll fight about

everything else, but be damned if they'll admit the Irish are bigger

gamblers than the Chinese! Now let's see what the Commies say."

Peking was silent for two weeks. Then, in a broadcast from Radio Peking,

Chou En-Lai made his reply.

He agreed--but with conditions. He insisted on a neutral commission to

supervise the toss, half Communist members, half non-Communist. World

observers, weary of neutral commissions that never achieved anything,

interpreted this as a delaying tactic and agreed the whole thing would

fall through.

"This is further proof," the Nationalist Foreign Minister commented with

icy scorn, "that the Communists are no longer real Chinese. For any

Chinese worthy of the name would not be afraid to risk the fall of the


But Marx had not quite liquidated the gambling fever that runs strong in

the blood of any Chinese, be he ever so Communist.

Stung, Chou En-Lai retorted: "We agree! Let the coin decide!"

It was agreed that Prime Minister Nehru of India, as a neutral, should

supervise the matter, and that New Delhi would be the scene of the

actual tossing. And Nehru thought it fitting to invite General O'Reilly,

as the father of the whole thing, to bring the same "Golden Judge" to

India, to be used again.

The general came gladly, but declined to make the toss himself. "My

country is too closely involved in this matter," he explained, "and

there might be talk if an American made the toss."

He suggested Nehru himself do it, and the Prime Minister agreed.

The actual tossing was done in the great governmental palace, and

Communist China won. Chiang Kai Shek's delegate bowed impassively and

said coolly that his government yielded without question to the goddess

of chance.

That night the Indian Prime Minister was host to a glittering official

banquet to celebrate the ending of the "offshore island" crisis.

"And we must lift our glasses," he said eloquently after dinner, "to the

man who discovered this eminently sane method of settling quarrels--a

method so sensible, so fair that it is difficult to believe that in all

the world's long search for peace, it has not been discovered before. I

give you General O'Reilly!"

The general rose to loud applause. He expressed his thanks modestly, and

disclaimed any merit except that of pure luck. Then he held up the

"Golden Judge" itself, with a gleam in his eye.

"I hope," he said, "that this coin will have still more work to do.

Surely there are still disputed places in the world, where justice lies

on both sides, where only 'face-saving' prevents a settlement. And

surely it is better to resort to this coin than to force and war and

bitter arguments that drag on year after year."

"Hear! Hear!" Nehru cried, leading the applause. General O'Reilly stood

smiling until it died away.

"Places like Kashmir," he said clearly.

There was a gasp of laughter, quickly hushed. Nehru's face was pale with

anger; he was famous for his temper. And everyone knew how India and

Pakistan had quarreled for years over Kashmir, and that all the efforts

of the United Nations had come to nothing so far.

"I was delighted to hear Prime Minister Nehru say," General O'Reilly

went on calmly, "how much he approved this method of settling old

disputes. And I should be very glad to help--with this." Smiling, he

tossed the Golden Judge in the air and caught it again.

Nehru could keep silent no longer. Like a skilled Oriental debater, he

struck back indirectly. "We thank General O'Reilly," he said acidly,

"for his kind offer, but perhaps it should be first used by his own

people, the Irish, of whose gambling prowess he is so proud. Surely no

bitterness has lasted longer than that between the Republic of Ireland

and the 'Six Lost Counties' of Northern Ireland. Let the Irish use the

Golden Judge themselves before they counsel it for others!"

But General O'Reilly was unruffled. "I'm an American, myself," he said,

smiling, "although proud indeed of my Irish blood. And the Irish Irish

will have to speak for themselves, although I venture to say you'll find

them a sporting people indeed. But that's not quite the point, is it?

'Twas you yourself, sir, who praised the Golden Judge so highly. And

you've seen today what fine sportsmen the Chinese are. The point is, are

the Indians a sporting people?"

"Of course we're a sporting people!" Nehru glared.

"Then I take it you'd be willing, assuming Pakistan agrees, of course,

but I'm told they're a very sporting people, to--" The general tossed

the coin again, absent-mindedly.

"All right!" Nehru grated. "If they agree, so do we!"

* * * * *

It took a month before Pakistan could agree, and all the arrangements be

made for the Toss on Kashmir. But in that month, the world had other

things to think about. Chiang Kai Shek accepted his gambling loss

without a murmur and removed his troops from Quemoy and Matsu, the

American Seventh Fleet helping, the Communists not interfering. All

civilians on the islands who wished to go to Formosa were taken there.

Washington said little officially, but in the corridors of the

Pentagon, Congress and the White House, the sighs of relief reached gale

force. General O'Reilly received a confidential and personal message

from the Army Chief of Staff that made him pink with pleasure.

"May get that third star after all," he told his wife that night. "And

not too long to wait, maybe."

But, above all, the month was filled with clamor from Ireland. Her

Majesty's Government in Whitehall had immediately issued a communique

which took a glacial view of the "puerile" proposal to toss for Northern

Ireland. It was the timing of this communique, rather than its contents,

that proved a tactical error. It had come too quickly, and Irishmen,

both north and south, resented it.

As a Belfast newspaper wrote tartly: "Irishmen on both sides of the line

are quite able to decide such matters for themselves, without the

motherly interference of London."

Dublin agreed in principle to toss, but the wrangling over conditions

and exceptions boiled up into the greatest inter-Irish quarreling of

twenty years. It was still raging when General O'Reilly flew into the

Vale of Kashmir with a broad smile and the Golden Judge.

Again the great coin glittered high in the air while none other than

Nehru himself called out, tensely: "Heads!"

It fell "Tails."

"So be it!" Nehru said calmly, shaking hands with the Governor-General

of Pakistan.

"Well, general," Nehru said, turning to O'Reilly with a smile, "are you

satisfied now? I think we've proved we're a sporting people. So have the

Chinese, and the Jews and the Arabs. But what about your own folk, the

Irish? From what I read, their sporting qualities seem to be highly

overrated. I'd say they'd never gamble but on a sure thing."

The general's face went red at the insult, and so, a day later, did the

collective face of all Irishmen, North and South. For a while there was

aghast silence from the Emerald Isle, a silence sullen and embarrassed.

And then a great rumbling roar of indignation.

"Mr. Speaker!" cried a member of the Dail in Dublin. "Are the Irish

people, who honor great gamblers only a little less than great poets,

to be outdone by dark-skinned heathen? Mr. Speaker, I say no!"

The following morning, the government of Eire formally offered to toss

for the Six Lost Counties and, if the coin fell contrary, to say no more

about them forever. Belfast agreed that same afternoon, and the whole

island went wild with excitement. Hardly any Irishman failed to place

some kind of side bet on the outcome, and stakes were laid that day that

would be spoken of with prideful awe for generations to come.

The remark of a Limerick drayman was widely quoted. "There's not a man

of us here," he commented in the course of a game of darts at the Sword

and Shamrock, "but would toss a coin for his grandmother's head, and

well ye know it. So after all the blatherin' and yowrin', why not have a

go for the Six Counties, and let the coin decide it now and foriver,

once and for all, win or lose?"

The British Government surrendered with grace, and offered to play host

to the toss in London, as a neutral place. They soon learned, with

burning ears, that the last place on earth any Irishman considered

neutral was London.

As a matter of course, General O'Reilly was invited to preside, using

the Golden Judge. Like most Irishmen in America, he had long sung of and

sighed for the Auld Sod, while carefully avoiding going there, even for

a visit.

He now realized his error. He was received as one of Ireland's most

glorious sons. He was set upon by thousands, perhaps hundreds of

thousands, of proud O'Reillys--there were O'Reillys from the bogs and

O'Reillys from the great houses, O'Reillys in tophats and O'Reillys in

tam o' shanter. He was assured, and came near believing it, that in both

looks and wisdom, he was the spitting image of the Great O'Reilly, one

of the many last rightful Kings of Ireland. A minstrel composed a lay

about him, "The Golden Judge of Ireland"; he was smothered in shamrock,

and could have swum in the gifts of potheen. Secretly he much preferred

Scotch whisky to Irish, but the swarming O'Reillys made the disposal of

the potheen no very great problem.

* * * * *

The actual toss took place in a small railroad station, hastily cleaned

up, on the railway line between Dublin and Belfast. Impartial surveyors

had certified it as being exactly astraddle the frontier.

Amid a deathlike hush, with a high sense of history in his heart,

General O'Reilly flipped the Golden Judge high in the air.

Eire won. The Six Counties were no longer lost, and there was little

enough work done in Ireland for a fortnight. Eire instantly and

magnanimously granted to her new north all the points that had been

fought over so bitterly for so many years. For the northerners, to their

surprise, life went on exactly as before, except for different postage

stamps, and a changed heading on their income-tax returns, which were

considerably lower. For the first time in many years, there were no

brickbats thrown if a man felt the need, on a summer night, to sing

"God Save the Queen."

General O'Reilly flew away from Ireland with a mist in his eyes and a

great glow in his heart. In a shaven second, he had achieved the thing

for which long and gallant generations of earlier O'Reillys had fought

bloodily and in vain. For a fleeting moment, he wondered if his nervous

right hand that day had shown any subconscious partisanship, but

rejected the thing as impossible. If the toss for the Six Counties was,

in a way, the crowning peak of General O'Reilly's career, it was by no

means the end of it. Both he and his coin were fast becoming settled

tradition. He continued his normal military career, but with the tacit

understanding he would have a few days' leave of absence whenever the

Golden Judge was needed.

He took it to Stockholm for the toss that settled the old and bitter

fishing controversy between Britain and Iceland. Britain won.

He took it to Cairo, where Britain and Greece tossed for Cyprus. Greece

won, and at once offered Britain all the bases she wanted there, and

granted special extraterritorial status to all British colonels,

knights' widows and former governors of the Punjab living in retirement

on the island.

He got his third star just before he flew down to Rio de Janiero for the

toss that finally settled the nagging quarrel between Britain and

Argentina as to who owned the Falkland Islands. Britain won.

He took it to The Hague in Holland for the toss about the Saar. The Saar

had remained a European sore point despite a series of Franco-German

"settlements" which never seemed to settle anything. Germany won the

toss, and immediately, of her own free will, granted the French equal

commercial rights.

The Saar toss had two odd results. The first was purely personal for

General O'Reilly, but he never forgot it. One day, driving through The

Hague, his official car passed a huge dignified building, which his

chauffeur explained was the World Court. With a strange feeling, the

general noticed a solemn old man in black, staring bleakly out the

window. He realized suddenly it was probably a judge, and that the

golden coin in his pocket had turned this costly mechanism into an

anachronism. Nobody used the World Court any more now.

The other result of the Saar toss was, from the viewpoint of world

jurisprudence, far more important. It transformed the Golden Judge from

a mere tradition into an established legal institution, in this manner:

France and Germany had been unable to agree whether the Saar was really

tossable--a term that soon entered dictionaries--and had appealed to

the United Nations to decide. A temporary or ad hoc United Nations

commission had been named to settle this point and, after due

deliberation, had pronounced the Saar tossable.

Technically, this "Saar Commission" should have then dissolved itself.

Instead, in the way of parliamentary institutions, it lingered on and

soon became the accepted body to decide on tossability. And,

illogically, it was forever afterwards still called the "Saar


Whenever, anywhere in the world, some international dispute reached

stalemate, it became commonplace for some delegate to rise and say: "Mr.

Chairman, I move the question be referred to the Saar Commission."

In due course, the Saar Commission would then give its solemn judgment

as to whether or not the dispute should be put to the arbitrament of the

Golden Judge. If so, General O'Reilly would board a plane, and be off.

Once the Saar Commission had its say, no nation ever dared refuse to put

a dispute to the hazard of the coin. Whereas nations yawned at being

called "warmongers" or "imperialists" or "aggressors" or "international

bandits," none could stand being called "bad sportsmen" or "poor

losers." So many nations had accepted the verdict of the Golden Judge,

that it became increasingly more difficult, not to say impossible, for a

given nation to admit it was less sporting than the others.

* * * * *

However, not all disputes were held tossable, to the disappointment of

some people who had too quickly believed the Golden Judge would bring

immediate Utopia, the end of all quarreling forever. Gradually the Saar

Commission evolved certain criteria:

1. A dispute was not tossable if it might give great populations and

great nations over into systems of government they abhorred; it was

tossable only if the population involved had no very great bias one way

or the other.

2. A tossable dispute was one in which justice lay on both sides, evenly


3. Tossing was clearly indicated where both sides ardently wished a

settlement, but where neither side was willing to cede an inch, for fear

of losing "face."

Thus the Saar Commission pronounced untossable the proposal by the

Soviet Union to have the Golden Judge decide whether or not America

should abandon all her overseas bases. It also turned down the

suggestion of an American senator that Russia and the United States

should toss for Soviet withdrawal from all Eastern Europe. It denied the

appeal of an idealistic Dane who wanted a toss to decide whether Germany

should be all Communist or all-Western. It likewise rejected a Swiss

proposal that Chiang Kai Shek and Chou En-Lai should toss again, this

time for Formosa itself.

In passing, it is of interest to note that only once did Soviet Russia

agree to toss. It was in the matter of her old dispute with Persia over

caviar fishing rights in the Caspian Sea. Persia won but, to the

consternation of the world, Russia refused to abide by the outcome. It

was the first and only time that the decision of the Golden Judge was

not obeyed, and it had startling repercussions.

All over the world, fellow-travelers abandoned the Soviet cause. They

had been able to find some excuses, however tortuous, for Russian

purges, forced confessions, concentration camps and aggressions, but

they turned away, shocked and saddened, from a nation that openly

welshed on a bet.

There were strong reactions within Russia itself,

although the convulsions were largely screened from Western eyes.

However, an unprecedented number of Russians fled across the Iron

Curtain, seeking asylum in the West. They said gloomily they could no

longer support a regime that reneged on its fair gambling losses, and

protested fiercely this was not the true soul of Russia.

In a gallant effort to recoup face for Russian sportsmanship, many of

these refugees grimly began playing almost non-stop games of "Russian

roulette," which gives the player a five-to-one chance of living. Some

extreme chauvinists proudly reduced the odds to three-to-one by

inserting two bullets, and a former Red Army major named Tolbunin even

used three. His tour de force was widely admired, although not

repeated, and Tolbunin himself was given a magnificent funeral.

Yet, except for the Caspian caviar toss, the Golden Judge was obeyed as

unquestioningly as the Voice from Sinai, and perhaps more so. And if it

could be used only in what some called "minor" disputes, it was

surprising to see, once these were settled, how really few "major" ones

remained. It is impossible here, of course, to list more than a few of

General O'Reilly's tosses, but he flew to nearly every spot on earth, a

beloved world figure.

He flew to Ethiopia--and caught malaria there--to settle an old quarrel

between that country and the Sudan over a one-square-mile Sudanese

enclave named Gambela, well inside Ethiopia. A relic of the times when

Britain controlled the Sudan, Gambela had long been a thorn in the side

of the Conquering Lion of Judah. Although the Negus lost, he accepted

the verdict as uncomplainingly as earlier disputants, some three

thousand years before, had once accepted the awards of his putative

ancestor, King Solomon.

General O'Reilly ended a tiny but poisonous quarrel of many years'

standing as to whether British Honduras should become a part of the

Republic of Honduras. Britain won.

* * * * *

In an epic tour in 1973 that left the world gasping with admiration,

General O'Reilly spread lasting balm on many sores in the Middle East.

The Golden Judge settled--in favor of Pakistan--her friction with

Afghanistan over the long-disputed Pathan territory. Saudi Arabia won

from Britain two small and completely worthless oases on the undefined

border between Saudi Arabia and Trucial Oman. These oases had, over the

years, produced many hot and vain notes, and desultory shooting, but the

Lord of Saudi Arabia was subsequently much disappointed that they never

produced oil. He was further dismayed when the Golden Judge awarded to

Iraq a "neutral zone" between the two countries, on which they had never

been able to agree, and this zone did, in fact, produce tremendous

amounts of oil. However, he complained only to Allah.

Syria and Turkey resorted to the toss to decide about the Sanjak of

Alexandretta (Iskanderun) which Turkey had been given by France back in

the Thirties, when France ran Syria. Turkey won. Damascus sighed but

smiled, and reopened diplomatic relations with Ankara that had been

severed for more than twenty years.

But on a golden January day in 1975, in Malaga, Spain, General

O'Reilly's aide-de-camp noticed that his chief seemed strangely

preoccupied. The occasion was a toss between Sweden and Finland as to

the possession of four large rocks lying in the sea at the head of the

Gulf of Bothnia, just off the Finno-Swedish frontier. These rocks, just

south of the Arctic circle, contained no population other than sea

gulls, but had been warmly claimed by both nations for years. And since

the weather in Scandinavia in January is miserable, the Finns and Swedes

had sagely decided to hold the toss in Malaga, which was as far south as

they could go and still be in Europe.

In public, General O'Reilly was himself--charming, dependable, cheerful.

He carried out the toss as gracefully as he had all the others, and he

made a winning speech at the banquet given by the Finns that night to

celebrate their acquisition of the four sub-Arctic rocks.

But the A.D.C. was not deluded and later, on the flight back to

Washington, he observed that General O'Reilly was unusually abstracted

and pensive, lost in thought. But since a major does not ask a

lieutenant general about such matters, he kept silent.

The fact was that the general had now reached sixty-five, and in the

American Army, sixty-five is retirement age. As the ocean fled away

under the racing plane, he was remembering a scene the week before in

the office of the Army Chief of Staff.

"It's up to you, Terry," the Chief of Staff had said. "You know

perfectly well that the President is willing, even eager, to keep you on

past the retirement age. You're a big man in the world now. You can stay

on the active list as long as you want. If necessary, he'll ask a

special law, and there won't be one vote against it."

Then the general remembered his wife: "You've done enough, darling. It's

time we had a real permanent home for once in our lives. That garden for

me, those Aberdeen Angus for you--remember? You've traveled too much;

you've never really gotten over that malaria. Darling, you need a rest.

You've earned it."

The general gazed out the plane window, trying to make up his mind. Then

suddenly he chuckled. The A.D.C. saw him pull a leather case out of

his pocket and watched, puzzled, as a golden coin spun briefly in the


The general caught it on the back of his left hand, covering it with

his right. Then he removed the right, looked at it.

He chuckled again.

* * * * *

When General O'Reilly retired the following week, the President asked

Congress for a fourth star for him and, in a special message, listed in

glowing terms the services he had rendered to America and the world. The

bill passed without a murmur, and Terence Patrick O'Reilly became at

last a full general.

Messages poured in from nearly every country in the world, from dozens

of presidents and premiers, and the handful of remaining kings. Along

with them came hundreds of gifts. They included a carved elephant tusk

from Nepal, a Royal Copenhagen dinner service for twenty-four from the

Kingdom of Denmark, a one-rupee note from a ten-year-old girl in Bombay

and--a gesture that excited much speculation--a case of caviar from the


The Department of Defense announced that General O'Reilly had become the

most decorated soldier ever to wear American uniform. In every toss,

each of the rival sides had awarded him some kind of decoration. When he

wore full-dress uniform, the ribbons solidly covered both sides of his

tunic, and he was nearly strangled with various stars and orders that

dangled from ribbons around his neck.

"He retired just in time," his wife told her daughter-in-law one day at

tea. "There's not another square inch left for another ribbon."

General O'Reilly presented the Golden Judge to the United Nations, and

the King of Saudi Arabia proved his sportsmanship by having a

theft-proof case made for it of solid crystal, so that it could be on

public display. It was soon as visited and cherished as the Magna Carta

and the Liberty Bell. A night and day guard stood watch over it.

Yet it was far from a useless relic. Often the crystal case was empty,

and this meant it was seeing service somewhere in the world, in the

hands of a Swedish general who had finally been chosen by the United

Nations to succeed Terence O'Reilly.

In his final press interview, General O'Reilly unburdened himself of

some thoughts which--refined--have passed into international

jurisprudence under the name of O'Reilly's Law.

"For thousands of years," the general said thoughtfully, "mankind has

been making all kinds of commandments and laws and prohibitions and

contracts and treaties--and broken them all when the mood suited them.

Perhaps it's a sad thing to say, but so far nothing's ever been invented

that men will really live up to more than the terms of a bet. With very,

very few exceptions, a man--or a nation--will respect a bet when he

won't respect any other damned thing on earth!"

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