1988. The end of the Iran-Iraq War. Before Gulf War I, before Kuwait, before 9/11 and Operation Iraqi Freedom, when Saddam Hussein was nothing more than an obscure Middle Eastern dictator with a stockpile of biological weapons and a grudge against Kurds. Saddam calls Canadian artillery engineer Gerald Bull into his office.
"Mr. Bull," says Saddam. "I understand you are doing research on how to cannon people into space. You are probably in need of funding."
"Cut to the chase, Mr. Hussein," says Bull. They are old partners, due to Bull's previous work on the GC-45 howitzer and the Scud; Saddam's flair for the dramatic neither impresses nor intimidates him. "What do you really want?"
The dictator swivels around in his chair, watching smoke rise from the cigar in his hands. His signature black beret droops over his long, prematurely wrinkled forehead, but he makes no effort to adjust it. "I want you," he says, "to build me a gun."
"A gun, sir."
"Not just any gun. A very, very big gun."
"The biggest gun EVER BUILT."
"And you will call it..." Saddam leans close, and speaks in a reverent whisper. "
"You're insane!" exclaims Bull.
"So are you, my friend. So are you."
Two years later, shortly before the gun is completed, Bull is murdered outside his Brussels apartment under mysterious circumstances.
After the first Gulf War ends, the U.N. locates and destroys the half-completed gun.
Sound like a half-baked Tom Clancy thriller?
But it also actually happened in real life.
Truth is more awesome than fiction.