Warsaw, Polish Commonwealth
16 March 1945
"Ambassador Kurusu isn't pleased," said Foreign Minister Edward Raczyński. "He wants us to keep on fighting until the Bolsheviks agree to evacuate Manchuria."
War Minister Stanisław Skwarczyński shook his head. "Being allied with the Japanese does not obligate us to be as stupid as the Japanese."
It was dark in the Cabinet room of the Belvedere Palace. The windows were blocked off as part of the wartime blackout conditions, and most of the lights had been switched off to conserve power. The four men who made up the Polish Commonwealth's War Cabinet sat in the dim light and tried to steer their embattled country towards a peace that beckoned through the gloom.
"It's not a matter of stupidity as much as stubbornness," pointed out President Jósef Beck. "In their whole history, the Japanese have never lost a war, and Prime Minister Tojo does not intend to be the first Japanese leader to do so."
"You don't have to tell me about stubbornness," said Skwarczyński. "I am a Pole, after all. We are a stubborn people. But we also know when to cut our losses. If the Japanese keep fighting, they may well be driven off mainland Asia completely. They are lucky the Bolsheviks are willing to call a halt to the war now."
"They will not accept the loss of Manchuria," said Raczyński. "They consider it a matter of honor."
"Then they will fight for it alone," said Skwarczyński. "We will not sacrifice our victory for the sake of their pride. If they will not agree to the terms of the truce, then we should sign it without them."
"Would we truly be sacrificing victory?" asked Prime Minister Edward Rydz-Śmigły. "In five months of campaigning, we have halted the Bolshevik invasion of the Commonwealth, and gone on to drive them back hundreds of miles. Kiev and Smolensk are ours. If we wished, we could take Moscow as well."
Again Skwarczyński shook his head. "Napoleon took Moscow, and what good did it do him? This is Russia. The Bolsheviks could retreat for another year, and still not be beaten. And do not forget, when they first invaded our country, the Bolsheviks had not fought a real war in over twenty years. But they have spent the last five months learning how to fight, and they are learning. Another six months, and our armies would be deadlocked. In a year, we would be retreating. In three years, the Commonwealth would be gone, and a new clutch of Soviet Socialist Republics would be hatching in Central Europe."
Now Skwarczyński smiled. "It is said that genius consists of knowing when to stop. I do not claim the title of genius, but I do at least claim to know when to stop. The Bolsheviks have offered to cede Belorussia and the Ukraine to us, and Karelia to the Finns. It is enough, and more than enough. The Finns and Estonians have pronounced themselves satisfied with these terms, and if the Japanese had more sense and less pride, they would do the same. I believe we should accept."
"If we do," said Raczyński, "our alliance with the Japanese will be at an end. They will neither forgive, nor forget."
"The price they ask is too high," said Skwarczyński.
"I find I must agree with the Marshal," said Beck. "The Japanese have been given a chance to back away with most of their empire, if not their dignity, intact. If they refuse this chance, on their own heads be it."
"It would be better," said Rydz-Śmigły, "if we could end the Bolshevik threat once and for all."
"On that much," said Skwarczyński, "we agree. The Bolsheviks will only keep the peace for as long as they think they must. They have learned much from us about how to fight a modern war, and they will build on what they have learned. Once they decide they are ready, they will attack again. I believe we will have ten years at least before that day comes, but I also believe we will have no more than twenty. Rest assured, gentlemen, there will be another war." Skwarczyński shrugged, then added, "Barring anything unforeseen."
Murzuq, Tripolitania, Kingdom of Italy
16 March 1945
General Galeazzo Ciano, Director of the Prometheus Project, stared in awe and exhilaration as the small, man-made sun rose up above the Libyan desert, temporarily turning the arid night into day. The human race was entering a new era today, and Ciano was proud to know that he had done so much to bring it about.
His father-in-law, he knew, would be quite pleased.