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Aside from possibly the idea of world peace being a fantasy (har har) I don’t remember this story having any particular F/SF elements about it except that it was either written by an author associated with SF and/or came out of an SF anthology for whatever reason. Perhaps it’s alternate history, though a bit of a stretch I think.

Story is told from the perspective of a history book looking back to the 20th century and the development of world peace. The story goes something like this:

Young man is a very junior diplomat stationed in the Middle East. While his superiors are in the midst of negotiations with Israel and Palestine over a few inches of land, he realizes that at this point, neither side particularly wants, needs, or cares about the land but wants to keep it to save face. Disgusted, he mutters “why don’t they just flip a coin over it?”

The dignitaries, incensed over his interruption, huddle together and come out saying that they would indeed be willing to honor a coin toss and challenge the other side to see if they are good sportsmen enough to accept the wager. In effect, it allows everyone to end the misery at last but preserve face.

It turns out that the only person who has a coin is the muttering guy, so he flips, one side wins- and the entire respective country respects the toss.

This starts a chain reaction, and the UN has a special golden coin made and given to the guy who makes the official calls. He decides to make the rules- something like the toss would only happen to save face, etc. One country ends up trying to reneg on the toss and suffer trade wars almost universally because the rest of the world is simply disgusted.

Eventually the guy receives a Nobel prize, and the coin itself has a special name, the Golden somethingorother.

It was a fun story and I think about it sometimes when I watch the news...for reasons...I would like to read it again.

Fairly sure I read this in an anthology but would not swear to it. The story is quite short. I know I reread it only five or ten years ago. I keep thinking it felt like a story written in the 70’s.

On an off chance, I keep thinking it might have been in the Harry Harrison collection 50 over 50 or something like that, but I don’t know for sure.

  • Might be a better fit for Literature... As you said in your first paragraph, the story itself doesn't seem to be that much SFF :/ – Jenayah Feb 16 at 2:38
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    @Jenayah I know, I know, and yet I keep thinking it’s connected to SF somehow. Arguably, being told history book style looking back makes it fall under alternate history, but I understand that’s a stretch. – Broklynite Feb 16 at 2:46
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    I've read it. It was published by a reasonably well known SF author (though I can't recall who) in a SF venue. You could easily class it as utopian, which has always seemed a speculative form to me. The "official" coin is given a name and I feel like remembering what that was would help me remember more. – dmckee Feb 16 at 2:46
  • Fair enough, the utopia argument works for me :D – Jenayah Feb 16 at 2:48
12

The Golden Judge by Nathaniel Gordon.

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!"

...

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 things.

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."

  • Since you found the story: is it sci-fi/fantasy, or should we migrate to Literature? – Rand al'Thor Feb 16 at 12:00
  • @Randal'Thor well it's on the ISFDB and was published in Astounding Science Fiction, December 1955 and Short Science Fiction Collection Vol. 013 ... – John Rennie Feb 16 at 12:04
  • There we go, must have read it in the original magazine. Thank you! – Broklynite Feb 16 at 12:46
  • @Randal'Thor - Water-sharing agreements between Israel and Jordan didn't actually happen until the 1990s. At the very least this is futurology, which is broadly on topic – Valorum Feb 16 at 14:46

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