Saturday, October 31, 2009

DBTL 46C: Three Days in October - Vigil

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. In the absence of our timeline's Manhattan Project, nuclear weapons have been developed independently in Italy, France, Great Britain, and the Polish Commonwealth. To avoid a European nuclear arms race, the four nations join together in September 1946 to create the Atomic Control Commission, tasked with maintaining a global monopoly on nuclear weapons. Now that monopoly is being threatened by a secret American atom bomb project, and President Alben Barkley has a decision to make . . .

Washington DC, USA
15 October 1949

Alben William Barkley, 34th President of the United States, stood alone in the East Wing of the White House, staring down into the casket that held the mortal remains of his friend and predecessor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Far away in Los Alamos, New Mexico, he knew, General Leslie R. Groves and Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer were putting the finishing touches on a uranium fission bomb they called Little Boy. He knew that Oppenheimer, at least, had misgivings about the project, since it was in violation of the League of Nations' self-proclaimed monopoly on atomic power. But Oppenheimer was a patriot, and despite his misgivings he had worked tirelessly to reproduce the work of his colleagues in Italy, Britain, France and Poland.

Equally far away, he knew, in Alberta, Canada, were three Royal Air Force rocketplanes, waiting to put a final end to Dr. Oppenheimer's project by dropping their own fission bomb on Los Alamos. The United States, after thirty years of peace, had nothing in its own meager arsenal that could keep those planes away from New Mexico.

He had until noon tomorrow to make the decision: give in to the League, and let their Atomic Control Commission take over Los Alamos, or stand up to them, sacrifice Los Alamos, and risk war with the League.

His whirling thoughts were interrupted by the sound of approaching footsteps. He turned to see Eleanor Roosevelt, dressed in her widow's black.

"Hello, Alben. I'm sorry for disturbing you, I just wanted . . . "

Barkley smiled, relieved to be distracted from his thoughts. "That's just fine, Miss Eleanor, don't you worry about it," he said, turning on the Southern charm. "I'm pleased at the company."

"Thank you, Alben."

They stood side by side for a time, looking down into the bespectacled face. Then Barkley said, "Eleanor, what do you think he would have done?"

There was another period of silence before Mrs. Roosevelt said, "He would have done what was right. He would have done what was best for America."

"But what is right? Is it right to allow the League to interfere in our internal affairs? Is it right to defy the whole world for a principle? Is it right to risk war? Is it right to back down?"

Mrs. Roosevelt was silent once more, before saying, "Franklin would have found a way. He would have found the right thing to do."

Barkley heard her footsteps carry her away.

For a long time after that, there was only silence. Then Barkley heard another set of footsteps approaching, a man's set this time.

"Hello, Alben," said Harry Hopkins.

"Hello, Harry. Did Eleanor send you down?"

"No. I came here on my own."

Silence returned for a time until Barkley said, "Harry, you probably knew him better than any man alive. What do you think he would have done?"

There was a brief silence, then Hopkins said, "He would have done what people wanted him to do. He had the best political instincts of any man I knew. He knew what people wanted, what they needed, sometimes when they didn't even know themselves. He would have given them what they wanted, and told them why they wanted it, and when he was done explaining, they would have known that it was what they had wanted him to do all along."

"But what do they want? They don't want war, but they don't want to let the League tell us what to do either."

Hopkins said simply, "Franklin would have known what they wanted."

Barkley heard Hopkins' steps go off into the distance, and he was alone again.

An eternity seemed to pass while Barkley stared down into the casket. It seemed odd seeing Franklin without his leg braces. He wondered idly whether they ought to have included them, but immediately dismissed the thought. That wasn't how Franklin thought of himself, and it wasn't how he wanted others to think of him.

Another set of footsteps made their way across the hardwood floor. Barkley looked up, and was surprised to see Jack Garner.

Garner grinned at the surprise he saw on Barkley's face. "Wasn't expecting to see me here, eh Alben?"

"Well, you and Franklin didn't part on the best of terms."

Garner laughed that cracked laugh of his. "Ain't it the truth? But I had to come and say adios. He was a hell of a man, and the best damn President this country's seen since Andy Jackson."

Barkley found his spirits rising. He had been feeling terribly old ever since his meeting yesterday with Raczyński, but seeing Garner was guaranteed to make any man under 75 feel young. Nine years older than Barkley almost to the day, Garner was one of those evil old men who got older and older, but never died.

"What do you think he would have done, Jack?" Barkley asked.

"Something devious, Alben, that's what. He was the most devious man I ever knew, and coming from a Texan that's saying something!"

Barkley sighed. "Jack, it was being devious that got us into this mess!"

"You mean trying to get our own atom bomb without the League knowing?" Garner gave that cackle again, and said, "Naw, that ain't being devious, that's just being sneaky. Devious is a whole 'nother ball of wax. Devious is making Joe Kennedy head of the SEC. Old Frankie knew how to be devious." The cackle came once more, and Garner repeated, "Frankie woulda done something devious. Real devious. And he woulda got away with it, too!"

And laughing that horrible laugh of his, Garner left Barkley alone again.

Barkley stood beside the casket for a time, then turned and went back to the big office with the Presidential seal on the floor. He lifted the handset of his phone and said, "Dwight, I want you to get the Polish embassy on the line."

(to be continued)

Friday, October 30, 2009

DBTL 46B: Three Days in October - Ultimatum

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. In the absence of our timeline's Manhattan Project, nuclear weapons have been developed independently in Italy, France, Great Britain, and the Polish Commonwealth. To avoid a European nuclear arms race, the four nations join together in September 1946 to create the Atomic Control Commission, tasked with maintaining a global monopoly on nuclear weapons. Now that monopoly is being threatened . . .

Washington DC, USA
14 October 1949

In the last thirteen years, President Edward Raczyński of the Polish Commonwealth had gained a reputation as the most persuasive statesman in the world. In 1936, as the Polish ambassador to the Court of St. James, he had persuaded a reluctant Stanley Baldwin to declare war on Germany. In 1944, as the Polish Foreign Minister, he had persuaded a reluctant Konoe Fumimaro to declare war on the USSR. Two years ago, as the Polish Prime Minister, he had persuaded a most reluctant Antanas Merkys to rejoin the Polish Commonwealth. Now the recently-elected Polish President was in Washington, and Alben Barkley had a pretty good idea who would be next on Raczyński's list.

Of course, it was just coincidence that Raczyński happened to be in Washington at this particular time. Wasn't it? After all, practically every head of state or head of government in the world was here to pay their last respects to the recently departed former president Franklin Roosevelt. The fact that it was also ten days before the scheduled detonation of America's first atom bomb in the New Mexico desert couldn't possibly be involved.

There was no question that FDR's stroke had been the result of natural causes. Barkley was absolutely sure of that, having seen the autopsy report himself. So there wasn't a chance in hell that Raczyński had come here to Washington just to talk to Barkley about the secret atom bomb project at Los Alamos.

Barkley had told himself that a hundred times, and he still didn't believe it. Raczyński was here about the Bomb.

Still, even though Raczyński had requested a private meeting with Barkley, there was no need for Barkley to agree. It might be discourteous as all hell, but he could still give Raczyński the bum's rush if he wanted to. It wasn't like Raczyński would have raised a big stink about it if he did.

But that wasn't really the way Barkley did business. Much as he had admired FDR's political skills, he had no desire to emulate his predecessor's devious habits. If Raczyński wanted to talk, then Barkley was prepared to listen.

The oval office would have been a more impressive setting, but it was just a bit too public for a nice private meeting between two statesmen, so Barkley met Raczyński alone in his secretary's office. The Polish President was wearing a dark blue suit with a red-and-white striped tie. The two men shook hands and exchanged pleasantries, sat down in a couple of nondescript wooden chairs, and got down to business.

Raczyński reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out some folded up sheets of paper. When Barkley unfolded them, he was not entirely surprised to find himself looking at a copy of a report from General Groves that had crossed his desk four days earlier. The original, he knew, was sitting inside a manila envelope in a wall safe in his private quarters not a hundred feet from where he was sitting.

"In ten days," Raczyński said in his musical, moderately accented voice, "your country intends to set off an atomic bomb, in direct contravention of the League monopoly on atomic power."

"Mr. President," said Barkley, "as you know perfectly well, the United States is not a member of the League of Nations, is not party to any agreements reached by the League, and consequently is not bound by any agreements reached by the League."

Raczyński was slowly shaking his head. "Mr. President, although the League has been vested with sole control over the production and use of atomic power, through the agency of the Atomic Control Commission, the government of the Polish Commonwealth does not regard this control as limited only to the production and use of atomic power by League members, nor do the governments of the United Kingdom, the Kingdom of Italy, or the Republic of France. We regard this control as being exercised over the production and use of all atomic power, everywhere in the world, by both League members and non-members."

Raczyński gave a slight smile then. "After all, it would hardly be much of a monopoly if we let anyone ignore it who wanted to."

Barkley kept his own face expressionless. "Mr. President, it would be an unendurable abrogation of our national sovereignty if we were to allow the other nations of the world, individually or in combination, to dictate to us on matters of our own national defense."

Now Raczyński's face became equally expressionless. "Mr. President, the forces which have been let loose upon our world are too powerful to be allowed to remain the sole property of any one nation. We are prepared to use any means at our disposal to prevent that from happening. If you do not declare your nation's willingness to abide by the terms of the Geneva Accord within forty-eight hours, it will be the duty of the Atomic Control Commission to prevent your nation from making any unauthorized use of atomic power."

"Is that your final word, Mr. President?" said Barkley.

"It is," said Raczyński.

"Then this conversation is at an end."

Raczyński sat and stared at Barkley for a long moment before standing up. He turned and walked with steady calm from the office, closing the door carefully behind him.

Alben Barkley, sitting alone, feeling every second of his seventy-one years, let his head fall forward into his hands. The next two days, he knew, would be the longest of his life.

(to be continued)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

DBTL 46A: Three Days in October - Prologue

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. In the absence of our timeline's Manhattan Project, nuclear weapons have been developed independently in Italy, France, Great Britain, and the Polish Commonwealth. To avoid a European nuclear arms race, the four nations join together in September 1946 to create the Atomic Control Commission, tasked with maintaining a global monopoly on nuclear weapons . . .

London, Great Britain
4 October 1949

Prime Minister Anthony Eden looked up from the classified ACC report to see Edward Teller, the organization's Deputy Director, looking at him with that intense expression he habitually wore. God, but it gave him the willies.

"I don't suppose there can be any question about what the Americans are doing at Los Alamos," said Eden.

"None whatsoever," said Teller. "They are planning to test a uranium fission device sometime this month."

"But dropping an atom bomb on the place seems a bit, oh I don't know, perhaps the word I'm looking for here is harsh."

"Mr. Prime Minister, they are flouting the authority of the Atomic Control Commission."

"Well, I suppose, technically," said Eden. "But it's not as though they're going to go out and start tossing the things about higgledy-piggledy, are they? They may be a bit stand-offish, but I think we can trust them to show appropriate restraint when the time comes."

Eden could tell from Teller's expression that he wasn't buying it. "Mr. Prime Minister, what the Americans might choose to do with their weapons is not the issue. The issue is whether or not the League of Nations is serious about maintaining control of atomic power throughout the world. If we let the Americans defy us, then what will we tell the Russians when they come to us in a year's time and say 'We too have developed atomic weapons, and we too feel no need to yield control of them to you'? It is the thin end of the wedge, Mr. Prime Minister, the slippery slope. If they insist on building atomic weapons, then we must insist on keeping control of them. If they refuse us, then we must act to forestall them.

"It is therefore the recommendation of the Atomic Control Commission," Teller concluded, "that if the Americans do not surrender control of their Manhattan Project, we must employ an atomic device of a size suffcient to completely obliterate the research facility at Los Alamos."

"Errrm, how big?" said Eden.

Teller gave Eden a stern look. "As big as necessary, sir."

"And you want us to do it? England, you mean?"

"Only the UK and the Polish Commonwealth have the means to deliver the device to Los Alamos," said Teller, "and the UK is closer to North America. Also, it will be necessary to use Canada as a base for the attack, and Canada is a member of your Commonwealth."

"But I say," Eden spoke in some desperation, "won't the Americans become rather, erm, angry at us?"

Teller smiled what he perhaps thought was a reassuring smile. "It will not come to that, Mr. Prime Minister. Once they recognize the cost of intransigence, they will accede. They will have no choice. There will be no need to actually use the bombs."

"Bombs? I thought you said we would just need the one?"

Teller looked surprised. "Mr. Prime Minister, one always employs a backup in case of unforeseen contingencies. It is common sense."

"Very well, Dr. Teller," said Eden. "Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention. I'll have a decision for you in the morning."

"But, Mr. Prime Minister, this is of the ut--"

"In the morning, Doctor."

"Yes, Mr. Prime Minister."

(to be continued)

How to run a newspaper

The problem: declining circulation.

The solution: fire a bunch of copy editors and use the money to hire William Kristol.

Problem solved.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

DBTL 45: Brain Drain

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. The Danzig War of 1936 - 37 saw an aggressive German regime under Ernst Röhm defeated by the combined forces of Great Britain, France, and Poland, and the three nations are now the dominant powers of Europe. In Britain, under the newly-elected Conservative government of Anthony Eden, industrial expansion proceeds apace, while the United States lags behind . . .

Newark, Delaware, USA
5 March 1948

If there was one thing Isaac Asimov hated more than traveling, it was moving, which was just like traveling, only permanent. Nevertheless, when his wife Irene told him about the job offer in the UK, Asimov did not hesitate.

"Take it," he told her.

"But what about your position with the University?"

Asimov shrugged. "Assistant Professor. Big deal. I don't have tenure, and I only make thirty-five hundred a year. The advance alone for The Caves of Steel was bigger. I make five times more writing than I do teaching. The University of Delaware can have their assistant professorship."

Five years earlier, Asimov would never have dreamed of quitting a steady job and trying to support himself by writing, but times had changed. After Hemingway had published To Sail Beyond the Sunset (and especially after the release of the film version), science fiction had taken off. The jaded readers of Astounding Science Fiction might dismiss Hemingway's effort as simple (though well-written) Doc Smith space opera, but the general public had been captivated. William Faulkner and Richard Wright had written their own critically acclaimed SF novels, and Asimov found his own stories being discovered by the critical establishment. In the last year he had seen two of his stories turned into films, the wretched "Nightfall" and Orson Welles' brilliant adaptation of "Evidence". John Campbell had confided recently that the circulation for Astounding had tripled since Hemingway's novel had appeared.

Irene, though, was still unsure. "It would mean uprooting ourselves. We'd have to build completely new lives for ourselves in England."

"Wales, actually," Asimov said absently. Before Irene could become annoyed at him for correcting her, he continued, "You've been telling me for the last two years how frustrating it is working at Dupont, how they're always playing it safe." Irene's group had been investigating the production of unbranched polyethylene chains. It had the potential to be a breakthrough technology, but the management at Dupont had been slow to develop it commercially.

Asimov had become convinced that Irene's troubles with Dupont were part of a wider problem. The Great Depression had changed America, and in Asimov's opinion it had not been a change for the better. The epic days of Washington and Lincoln had gone, and with them were gone a certain hard daring and resolution. The Depression might be over, but the habits of caution and frugality it taught had become permanent parts of the American national character.

Things were different in Britain. The British had triumphed over the Germans and faced down the Italians. Under Attlee they had begun to turn away from their old imperial past and to forge a new future. British scientists and engineers were in the vanguard of the Atomic Control Commission's efforts to build atomic power generators. British rocket scientists were designing continent-spanning aircraft, and nobody doubted that they would one day send a rocket orbiting the earth. And British materials engineers were pressing forward where their American counterparts were hanging back.

At least a dozen of Asimov's friends and acquaintances, here in Delaware and back in New York, had moved to Europe in the last year. America was the past, Europe was the future, it was as simple as that. And Asimov wanted his wife and himself to be part of that future.

"Are you sure this is the right thing to do?" said Irene at last.

Asimov nodded confidently. "I'm sure."

Catching her husband's confidence, Irene said, "All right, then. I'll tell Dr. Ziegler that I'm accepting his offer." Taking a deep breath, she added, "Next stop, the United Kingdom!"

Monday, October 26, 2009

DBTL 44C: The Long Auf Wiederseh'n - Book Three

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. In the absence of our timeline's Manhattan Project, nuclear weapons have been developed independently in Italy, France, Great Britain, and the Polish Commonwealth. To avoid a European nuclear arms race, the four nations join together in September 1946 to create the Atomic Control Commission.

In Danzig, a private investigator named Bednarski is approached by Norma Jean Baker, an OSS agent posing as Professor Fritz Strassmann's daughter Maria. He agrees to look for her "father", who went missing years earlier with the passengers and crew of the Minnie while taking a three hour tour. A storm wrecks their ship, and Bednarski and Baker find themselves on an uncharted desert isle . . .

Book Three
The Little Buddy

Somewhere in the Baltic Sea
7 September 1947

The sun was glaring down on me, and there was an idiot standing nearby bellowing inanities at me, but I was alive, something I would not have given long odds on too much earlier.

I somehow found the strength to roll over, which brought my eyes into blessed shadow. I opened them slowly and found myself graced by a closeup view of sand. Squinting, I raised my head to give myself a better view, and found that Agent Baker was doing likewise from a couple meters away. The two of us were a few meters above the water line on a beach. We had been joined here and there by washed-up bits of the Marlin. Regrettably, Captain Raeder was not among the bits. A damned shame; I had taken a liking to the old boy.

Standing equidistant from Agent Baker and myself, forming the third apex of an equilateral triangle, was the bellowing idiot. He had tangled black hair that fell down past his shoulders, and an equally tangled beard that reached halfway down his chest. He was dressed in a mix of tree bark, animal skins, and the patched-together remnants of what had once been a red jersey and white trousers, all topped off with a torn and battered sailor's cap. Through the numerous gaps in his clothing, I could see how thin he was, looking almost like those pictures of the concentration camp inmates after Piłsudski's army crashed through the gates.

"Mein herr, are you all right?" the tattered apparition asked me, then before I could answer he had spun around and begun to bellow "SKIPPER!" again. I knew without having to ask that I had found Adolf McGillicuddy.

A second figure dashed through the foliage at the edge of the beach, calling, "What is it, little buddy?" He looked much like McGillicuddy, only his long hair and beard were white, and the tattered remains of his jersey were blue. He bore very little resemblance to the newspaper photographs I had seen of portly Captain Joachim Gromburg.

"People, Skipper," McGillicuddy informed him, as though Gromburg were incapable of seeing for himself. "I found people!"

"I can see that, McGillicuddy," Gromburg replied with irritation. "Who are they?"

I stood up then, trying with little success to brush the sand off my trousers. "The name's Bednarski. I'm a private investigator. I'm looking for the survivors of the Minnie."

"Well, you've found them," Gromburg confirmed. "My name is --"

"Joachim Gromburg, and this is your first mate, Adolf McGillicuddy." I finished for him. "The young lady here is my client. She claims to be Professor Strassmann's daughter, but her real name is Norma Baker. She's an OSS agent."

Agent Baker was staring at me, momentarily speechless. She finally said, "How long have you known, Herr Bednarski?"

"It took me about an hour to figure out that you weren't Strassmann's daughter, but I didn't find out your real name until I had an interesting conversation with a fellow named Hochstetter Friday morning."

"What's going on here?" Gromburg demanded, and even after all this time, he could still bark out commands like a petty officer.

"Agent Baker here is an American spy," I explained. "She hired me to find Professor Fritz Strassmann so she could recruit him for her country's secret atom bomb project."

"You mean the Professor can build an atom bomb?" said McGillicuddy in astonishment. At first I was surprised that he knew about atoms bombs, since the Minnie had been lost before the Atomic Control Commission was formed, but of course they've been writing stories about atom bombs for years.

"Before he was shipwrecked here," Agent Baker explained, "he was a top scientist in the Polish atom bomb project."

"Unfortunately," I added, "our rescue attempt has run into a little snag."

Gromburg shook his head in bewilderment before saying, "We'd better go back and see the others." He turned and headed back into the foliage, and we followed him.

The trail Captain Gromburg led us along wound through the trees and ground vegetation of a hardwood forest, sloping gradually upward until we came into a clearing. There were three primitive-looking log cabins built low to the ground with smoke rising from holes in the center of each roof. Behind them was a large vegetable garden, with newly-sprouting tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins and other things. There was a pigpen next to it, and a surprisingly large patch of barley beyond that.

"How did you manage all this?" I asked Gromburg.

"Janina did most of it," Gromburg answered with respect in his voice. "We were lucky to have her along." It took me a moment to place the name: Janina Wojas, the farm girl. "She knew just where to look to find all these vegetables, and she was able to grow all that barley from half a dozen plants. And the Professor was able to make fertilizer from bat dung in the caves, and from the fish I caught."

The noise of our arrival had evidently attracted some attention, because an elderly couple emerged from one of the cabins, dressed as Gromburg and McGillicuddy were in a mix of tattered clothing and scraps of animal skins.

"Captain," the elderly man said to Gromburg, "who are these people?"

Gromburg looked at us and made vague motions with his hands, but he had clearly forgotten our names. I introduced myself and Agent Baker again and said, "I presume you are Herr and Frau Max Silberberg."

The elderly man smiled at me through his beard and said to his wife, "You see, Lovey, I told you the Board of Directors would send someone to find us."

"But Max," said Frau Silberberg, "it's been three years."

"That's how long it usually takes the Board to make a decision when I'm not there," Silberberg chuckled.

"I have to hand it to you, Herr Silberberg," I said, "the two of you seem to have come through the shipwreck in good shape."

"We've had practice, my boy," Herr Silberberg replied with a grim smile. "We spent five years together in Buchenwald."

I remembered then a story from the paper about Silberberg. After the Röhm Coup, he and his wife had been arrested and their company nationalized. They had emerged from Buchenwald in 1937 with nothing but the clothes on their backs, but by the time they disappeared on the Minnie seven years later, Silberberg had amassed a second fortune. Looking at him now, I had no doubt he would be back in complete control of Silberberg Industries within a week of leaving the island.

My trip down memory lane was detoured by the sound of McGillicuddy calling out, "Hey, Janina, look what I found!" I looked behind me and saw a young woman. If the men all looked like Robinson Crusoe, the newcomer looked like Red Sonja from one of the Hollywood "Conan" films. She was dressed as the others were in animal skins, but on her they looked good. Her red hair hung in two braids down her back, and she carried a homemade bow slung across her back and what looked for all the world like a machete on a belt around her waist.

"Good morning, Fraulein Wojas. My name is Bednarski. I'm a private investigator from Danzig."
Her look was an appraising one. I had spoken to her automatically in German, but she answered me in Polish. "Is that a gun in your pocket, Pan Bednarski, or are you just happy to see me?"

"I left my gun back in Gdansk," I responded in Polish.

She gave me a cool nod, then gestured toward Agent Baker. "Who's the frail?"

"My client, Agent Norma Baker of the OSS. She's here to bring Professor Strassmann back to America with her."

"Is she?" Wojas said, and a slight smile came to her lips.

"I am," Baker answered her, also in Polish. If I saw two women trading looks like these over me, I'd feel three meters tall; I'd also be frightened out of my wits.

"Whyever would I wish to go to America?" a man said in German, and now I finally got a look at the object of my search. He was in his late 40s, thin and bearded like the other men, though his white shirt and trousers were in better shape than theirs. He moved to stand beside Wojas like it was the most natural thing in the world. I remembered that Professor Strassmann had a wife and daughter back in Berlin. I also remembered that Frau Strassmann had had him declared legally dead two years back, so I guess it all evened out.

"I think you'll wish to come to America," Agent Baker answered him, "because, unlike Herr Bednarski here, I did not leave my gun in Danzig." And just like that, it was in her hand, produced from heaven knows where, pointed right at Janina Wojas' heart. "And if I were you, sister, I'd leave that bow right where it is."

Prompted by Agent Baker, Professor Strassmann left Janina Wojas' side and followed her to the far side of the clearing. When they had disappeared into the foliage, a middle-aged woman with long blonde hair and nothing else emerged from the third cabin. "Is she gone?" she said vaguely. It didn't take much imagination to figure out how Emmy Sonnemann had managed to survive.

A look passed between Wojas and myself, and we both sprinted to the edge of the clearing. There was no sign of Baker and Strassmann, but Wojas was quick to spot a scrap of white clothing. It was the first of a series of scraps, and they led us through the trees to a section of beach. For some reason, I was not the least bit surprised to see a submarine surfaced offshore, an American flag painted on her conning tower. Four sailors were climbing into a black rubber raft beside it, while Baker and Strassmann waited on the beach next to the water. Wojas had nocked an arrow, but Baker was keeping to the far side of Strassmann. I head Wojas swear under her breath in two languages.

The raft had come halfway to the beach when I heard a low murmur coming from back the way we came. As it grew louder I recognized it, and I turned my head to face the sun just as the helicopter flew overhead. It was grayish-green, and painted on its side were the red-and-white square of the Polish Air Force and the silly orbiting-electrons sigil of the ACC.

The amplified voice of Wolfgang Hochstetter came booming out of the helicopter. "Agent Baker! This is the League of Nations Atomic Control Commission! Drop your weapon and keep your hands in sight! You are under arrest!" He repeated himself in what I guessed was English.

Baker fired at the helicopter, and Strassmann took the opportunity to hit the beach. Less than a second later, Norma Jean Baker was staggering back into the sea with an arrow sticking out of her chest. As the waves rolled over her, the sailors in the rubber raft turned back to the submarine.

* * *

It took two trips to ferry all eight castaways back to the waiting Polish cruiser. As short as the trip was, it was still pretty uncomfortable sitting there while Agent Hochstetter glared at me.

"I don't know what's got you so upset," I told him. "I think it was pretty clever of me to get shipwrecked on the same island as the Minnie castaways. The fine men of the ACC get the credit for locating and rescuing the castaways, I get a well-earned thousand złotys, and all these good people get their lives back."

"What the hell were you thinking, Bednarski, bringing an American spy with you on the search?"
"Come off it, Hochstetter," I sneered back, "you were just as sure as I was that Professor Strassmann here was dead." Strassmann didn't seem offended by my remark. He was too busy thanking Janina Wojas for saving him. "And like I said, all's well that ends well."

He didn't find my arguments at all convincing.

Arriving at the Navy ship, I was pleased to be greeted by Captain Raeder, who had been picked up safe and sound from among the wreckage of the Marlin. When we got back to the Commonwealth, Strassmann returned to Berlin with Janina in tow. The Silberbergs returned to Breslau, and it took Herr Silberberg maybe twenty minutes to get his Board of Directors eating out of his hand. Gromburg, McGillicuddy, and Sonnemann wound up in Warsaw, where their torrid tale of triune lust was soon dirtying up the bestseller lists.

As for me, I've got an ACC gag order to keep me off of publisher's row, but that's all right. I've still got my tiny office, my name in big letters on a door, and a battered desk with a bottle of schnapps in the bottom right hand drawer.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

DBTL 44B: The Long Auf Wiederseh'n - Book Two

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. In the absence of our timeline's Manhattan Project, nuclear weapons have been developed independently in Italy, France, Great Britain, and the Polish Commonwealth. To avoid a European nuclear arms race, the four nations join together in September 1946 to create the Atomic Control Commission.

In Danzig, a private investigator named Bednarski is approached by Norma Jean Baker, an OSS agent posing as Professor Fritz Strassmann's daughter Maria. He agrees to look for her "father", who went missing years earlier with the passengers and crew of the Minnie while taking a three hour tour. A three hour tour . . .

Book Two
The Big Shlep

Danzig, Polish Devo, Polish Commonwealth
6 September 1947

The ship I'd chartered was the Marlin, a small powerboat like the Minnie that catered to pretty much the same tourist trade. The captain, an old fellow named Raeder, nodded thoughtfully when I gave him our course. "You're going after the old Minnie, aren't you, Herr Bednarski?"

"What makes you think so?" I said.

He gave one of those wheezy chuckles that old sailors seem partial to, and said, "Every charter boat captain in Danzig knows the Minnie's last reported position. Some of us make a point of passing through it. Gives the punters something to ooh and aah over. You're the first charter I've ever had who wanted to make for it on purpose."

The old salt was sharp, I had to give him that. "Aren't you curious to know what happened to her?"

"Oh, I expect so," Captain Raeder said with a sigh. "You know, I told old Joachim that he oughtn't to go out. Awful weather we were having that week, but it cleared up Tuesday morning, and he figured he could do one of his three-hour coastal tours."

"You knew Captain Gromburg?"

"You could say that," Raeder said with another of his wheezy chuckles. "Met him back in the old days, when he was a crewman on the Moltke with the old High Seas Fleet. He joined the merchant marine after the war, knocked around a bit. That's where he met that sidekick of his."

"You mean McGillicuddy?" I prompted.

Raeder nodded, but his expression became mournful. "Now, I'm not a man to speak out of turn, Herr Bednarski, so I won't say there was anything wrong with Gromburg and McGillicuddy. Maybe the old man thought of the lad as a son, and that's all there was to it. But there wasn't a sailor here in Danzig who couldn't tell straight off that that McGillicuddy was a jinx. Every ship he served on came to a bad end, and soon as Gromburg took him on as mate on the Minnie I knew she was headed for trouble." Shaking his head at Joachim Gromburg's folly, Raeder went off to make the Marlin shipshape for the cruise.

Agent Baker/Fraulein Strassmann appeared at pier 94 at a quarter to seven, dressed in a check flannel shirt, denim slacks, and tennis shoes. I saw Captain Raeder's eyes widen at the sight of her, but he just gave her a friendly wave and went back to stowing supplies. After Agent Baker had brought her own luggage on board, she joined me on the dock and said, "Do you really think you can find my father, Herr Bednarski?"

"If I can't, Fraulein Strassmann," I assured her, "nobody can." It was up to her to decide whether my words were calm confidence or foolish bravado. As long as she (or the OSS) was willing to pay for my services, she could think what she liked.

It wasn't long after seven that we were pulling away from the dock. I sat on a grubby locker and looked back as Danzig receded into the morning mist. Agent Baker sat on another and did the same.

It's two hundred kilometers or so from Danzig to the coast of Lithuania. Being a thoroughgoing landlubber, I have no idea how much that is in nautical miles. Captain Raeder assured me he could make it there in the Marlin in ten hours. I told him to let me know when we were there.

The mist burned off in an hour or so, and as the bright September sun lit up the Baltic like a searchlight, I put on a straw hat I'd bought five years earlier in Minorca. Agent Baker dug into her bag and brought out something that looked for all the world like a ten-gallon hat from a Wild West picture.

As the Marlin made its way along the Prussian coast, Agent Baker and I mostly kept to ourselves, she staring out to sea, I making use of a fishing rod I'd found stowed on board. I've never been one for small talk, and I'm sure Agent Baker wasn't eager to share long reminiscences with me about growing up with her "father". When I was planning the trip, I'd been looking forward to spending my time killing off a couple bottles of vodka, but with Agent Baker along I reluctantly decided that I needed to keep a clear head, so I contented myself with small beer.

The sun was low in the western sky when Captain Raeder came back from the wheel to tell me that we had just entered Lithuanian territorial waters. I told him that I'd like him to steer a course north by northwest, angling away from the coast. I pulled out a chart of the Lithuanian coast and asked him to keep me appraised of our position.

We had been under way for about two hours on our new course when the sun slid behind a band of clouds, and night began stealing upon us. Captain Raeder suggested that we drop anchor for the night and resume our course in the morning, and I agreed. There was no point in looking for survivors from the Minnie when we couldn't see anything.

There was a small cabin belowdecks with a cot that Raeder usually slept in, which went by mutual consent to Agent Baker. Raeder slung a hammock near the stern, and I unrolled a sleeping bag along the deck. It had been a long day, and I was soon out like a light.

My first clue that all was not well was when I was awakened in the darkness by two hundred liters of seawater splashing over me. I fought my way out of the sodden sleeping bag to find that the Marlin was heaving like a college freshman after his first keg party.

"A storm's come up!" Captain Raeder shouted to me over the erratically blowing wind. As though to prove his point, another wave came sloshing over the ship's bow. "I had to weigh anchor!" he called again. I was soon joined on deck by an equally sodden Agent Baker. A flash of lightning was followed a few moments later by thunder, and the sky chose that dramatically opportune moment to open up on us. The only thing that could be said for the downpour that soon had us drenched was that at least it wasn't seawater (though of course we had plenty of that washing over us as well).

"Can you tell where we're going?" I called up to Raeder. He answered, "The storm came up from the south, but there's no telling where it's blowing from now!"

The night that followed seemed an eternity, but actually lasted only a few thousand hours (or five by my watch). Dawn was theoretically less than an hour away when our situation became an order of magnitude worse. Captain Raeder had begun to call out, "I think I see --" when the Marlin abruptly pitched over on its side. Raeder was thrown overboard, while Agent Baker and I clung to the rails that topped the ship's sides. Another wave served to jerk the Marlin in a semicircle, then roll it over on top of us. We were trapped underneath it for far too long before another wave caused it to break apart. I tried to fend off fragments of the ship while my life jacket dragged me up to the surface. I was barely managing to remain afloat when I felt a hand seize my ankle and try to drag me down. It took all the willpower I could muster to keep from kicking out, even though I knew it was one of the others trying to keep from drowning. Instead, I tried to lever myself in the water to bring whoever it was up to the surface. I felt like I was about to drown when the hand let go of my ankle and grabbed my arm, pulling my head back above water. I was able to shake the water from my eyes long enough to make out Agent Baker's face next to mine. Then another wave swamped us, and when it withdrew at last I realized with a shock that one of my feet had touched bottom. We were submerged again, and this time it ended with both my feet touching firm earth. Ten minutes later, as the sky was finally beginning to lighten in one direction (the east, obviously), Agent Baker and I made it up above the waterline, and collapsed onto dry land.

The next time I woke up, it was somewhat (though only somewhat) less rudely accomplished by someone standing over me, bellowing at the top of his lungs, "Skipper! Skip-perrrrrrrrrr!"

(to be continued)

Friday, October 23, 2009

DBTL 44A: The Long Auf Wiederseh'n - Book One

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. In the absence of our timeline's Manhattan Project, nuclear weapons have been developed independently in Italy, France, Great Britain, and the Polish Commonwealth. To avoid a European nuclear arms race, the four nations join together in September 1946 to create the Atomic Control Commission . . .

Book One
Hello, My Lovely

Danzig, Polish Devo, Polish Commonwealth
4 September 1947

It had been a good long while since anybody had come through my office door except me and the cleaning lady. I had gotten into the habit of spending my days conducting research on how long it took a bottle of schnapps to put me under my desk.

I usually postponed my chemical research until after the day's mail came, and it had been late that Thursday morning, so I was in an unaccustomed state of sobriety when the girl came through the door.

If she had waited until the afternoon I might have fooled myself into thinking I was schnappsgoggling, but when I saw her I knew that it was nature and not alcohol that had given her a face like an angel. She had dark hair and a pair of eyes that could have given the sky lessons on how to be blue. A modestly tailored skirt and jacket were arranged across an immodest figure, and sensible shoes supported legs that deserved better.

Those astonishing eyes quickly swept across the architectural disappointment that was my office before coming to rest on my face. I couldn't help wishing I'd bothered to shave sometime in the last few days. A pair of lips that were unenhanced by lipstick and didn't need it parted, and a breathy voice said, "I'm looking for Herr Bednarski."

"You've found him," I said. "What can I do for you, Fraulein ..."

"Strassmann. Maria Strassmann. I'm hoping you can locate my father."

"If you want to find a missing person, Fraulein Strassmann, you should go to the police," I said. "I understand some of them specialize in that kind of thing."

"My father has been missing now for three years, Herr Bednarski," said Fraulein Strassmann.

I was about to make a witty remark about how the police usually needed that long just to fill out a missing persons report when my mind suddenly connected the name Strassmann to the year 1944. What I ended up saying was, "Are we talking about Professor Fritz Strassmann?"

The look of hope that brightened her face made her look like an angel that had just remembered where it had misplaced its halo. "You've heard of my father then, Herr Bednarski?"

"Everybody in Danzig has heard of your father, Fraulein Strassmann. If you want my advice, you'll walk out that door and carry on with your life. Fritz Strassmann is dead."

Fraulein Strassmann's eyebrows drew together, and her face now resembled an angel that had just decided to invade Hell and beat the stuffing out of every devil it met. "That's what everybody else says, but they never found his body, or the bodies of any of the other passengers, or any wreckage from the ship. I'm determined to find him, Herr Bednarski, alive or dead. If you won't help me, then I'll just find another private investigator who will."

She had turned on the heels of her sensible shoes and had her hand on the doorknob when I said, "All right, Fraulein Strassmann, you've talked me into it. I charge two hundred złotys a day plus expenses, with a thousand up front." After all, if she was determined to waste her money, better she should waste it on me than on one of my less scrupulous colleagues. And there was even a small chance that I might find her father.

* * *

With Fraulein Strassmann's thousand złotys adding some comforting heft to my billfold, I set out for the Danzig Municipal Lending Library. There, after payment of a nominal sum, I spent a fascinating afternoon reading three-year-old newspaper accounts of the disappearance of Professor Strassmann and his fellow passengers.

On the morning of 6 June 1944, Strassmann and four other passengers had set out from Danzig on what was supposed to be a three hour tour of the Baltic coastline. A storm had blown up during those three hours, and when it ended the next day the tiny ship had vanished from the face of the earth. In addition to Strassmann, who was a respected member of the Maria Sklodowska Institute in Berlin, the passengers had included a wealthy industrialist from Breslau named Max Silberberg and his wife, the film actress Emmy Sonnemann, and a farm girl from Czechowice named Janina Wojas. In addition, the ship's captain, Joachim Gromburg, and first mate, Adolf McGillicuddy, were also missing and presumed dead.

The disappearance of the ship (which Gromburg had unaccountably named the Minnie after the American cartoon mouse) had created a considerable stir. The Silberbergs, Sonnemann and Strassmann would each have merited the two week search and rescue operation that followed. The three of them together had insured that no metaphorical stone was left unturned by the Polish Navy.

At any rate, no stone that had been within the Navy's reach had been left unturned. The Minnie had disappeared during President Smetona's final illness, when Poland and Lithuania were literally not on speaking terms with each other. I ran across a line in one story quoting a Navy spokesman named Canaris denouncing the Lithuanians' refusal to allow Polish ships to search in Lithuania's territorial waters. Then had come the Second Polish-Soviet War, and everyone had forgotten about the Minnie. As far as I could tell, nobody had ever actually conducted a search of the area around the Lithuanian coast. Now that Prime Minister Raczyński had sweet-talked the Lithuanians into rejoining the Polish Commonwealth, the way was clear.

I left the library a contented man. When I reported to Fraulein Strassmann the next day, I'd be able to give her a hopeful report, and present her with clear evidence that I was doing my level best to earn my fee. Of course, the chance of turning up anything by searching the Lithuanian coast was practically zero, but I had a feeling my client wouldn't let that deter her. I might well be looking at a good week's work, maybe two, before Fraulein Strassman's patience or money gave out. I could catch up on a lot of overdue bills, return to my landlord's good graces, and spend a leisurely time relaxing at sea.

* * *

Danzig, Polish Devo, Polish Commonwealth
5 September 1947

I was in my office the next morning looking up charter boats in the telephone classifieds when there was a knock on my door. At first I thought it might be another client, but my luck is never that good. As soon as my door opened and I got a good look at the man who entered, the word "police" popped out of my brain like a punch card from General Kowalewski's talos.

"Herr Bednarski?" he said, in that accusing way of confirming your identity that all policemen quickly master.

"What tipped you off?" I asked. "Was it that big sign on my door that says 'Bednarski Investigations'?"

"A wise guy," he sneered, making it clear that in his world being a wise guy was only one step up from running pyramid schemes. "My name's Wolfgang Hochstetter," he continued, pulling an ID card from an inside pocket of his cheap suit jacket. "Atomic Control Commission."

The ID card had that silly orbiting-electrons sigil that the ACC uses, along with Agent Hochstetter's name and a blurry photo of a vaguely humanoid being. I gave it a cool once-over even though both of us knew that I'd never be able to tell the real thing from a library card.

"If you're here about my atom bomb," I said, "I already sold it to the Belgians."

"I'm here to talk to you about your new client," Hochstetter said, ignoring my sally.

"Specifically, you're here to tell me that she's not really Fritz Strassmann's daughter," I said. "I figured that one out a while back. Professor Strassmann' daughter Maria is nine years old."

Hochstetter glared at me, but I could tell I'd gone up a tiny notch in his estimation.

"All right then, smart guy, who is she?"

"Since you know and I don't," I said, "it would be pointless for me to answer. How about you?"

The conversation wasn't going quite the way Hochstetter wanted it to, but he evidently decided to let that pass. He said, "Her name is Norma Jean Baker. She works for the American Office of Strategic Services."

"So why would the OSS want to find the Minnie? Do they want Emmy Sonnemann to do training films for them?"

Hochstetter gave me another look at his Glare face. "They want Fritz Strassmann to help them design their own atom bomb."

"Then they're in for a disappointment. Like I told Fraulein Baker, Professor Strassmann is dead. They all are."

"If that's what you believe," said Hochstetter, "then why are you looking for him?"

"For two hundred złotys a day plus expenses," I said with what I hoped was disarming honesty. "I get paid the same whether I find him or not."

"Taking money from a foreign government doesn't sound very patriotic to me."

Now it was my turn to glare at the ACC spook. "I figure that the year I spent in a Polish Army uniform being shot at by the Brownshirts is all the patriotism I need to show. You're about my age, Agent Hochstetter. Were you in the war? Which side?"

"I spent the war in Dachau, with my wife," said Hochstetter quietly. "She was Jewish."

If Hochstetter was hoping to elevate my opinion of him, he succeeded. There was a long silence, and I finally broke it by saying, "Is that it?"

Hochstetter said, "That's it. But we're going to be watching you, gumshoe, and don't you forget it."

"I'll be sure to include it in my diary," I said.

He sneered at me again and left my office.

* * *

I rang up Fraulein Strassmann/Agent Baker that afternoon to give her a status report. I told her that I'd chartered a boat to follow the Minnie's old course, and that I'd be departing the next morning.

"That's wonderful," she replied in that breathy voice. "Where should I meet you?"

"You're not meeting me anywhere, Fraulein Strassmann. An investigation is no place for a woman."

"Oh, Herr Bednarski," she sobbed, "I've waited so long to find my father. I couldn't bear to wait here by myself, not knowing what was going on! Please let me go with you, Herr Bednarski! Please!" Agent Baker had missed her calling; she should have been an actress.

"Very well, Fraulein Strassmann. Be at pier 94 tomorrow at seven o'clock sharp."

Agent Baker showered me with profuse thanks before hanging up. I had three reasons for letting her come along. First, if I turned her down she would just follow me anyway. Second, I wanted to have her where I could see her. And third, I knew it would annoy Hochstetter.

(to be continued)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

DBTL 43: Book Review - The Voyage of Eärendil

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. The Danzig War of 1936 - 37 saw an aggressive German regime under Ernst Röhm defeated by the combined forces of Great Britain, France, and Poland, and the three nations are now the dominant powers of Europe.

From Time Magazine
2 June 1947

Ten years ago, the literary world was shaken awake by the publication of JRR Tolkien's Tinúviel. With that (literally) epic work, a world that had all but forgotten the virtues of heroic romance was suddenly reminded of its existence, in a manner that ensured that it would be long before that particular literary genre would again be allowed to pass out of thought. Professor Tolkien laid out before an astonished public an ageless love story between an ordinary mortal man and an immortal fairy woman, set against the backdrop of a vast war between the forces of good and evil.

The story of that war, the War of the Silmarils, continued in Professor Tolkien's next two works, The Children of Húrin and The Fall of Gondolin. By the end of the latter volume, the last bastion of the Elves had been overwhelmed, and the Dark Lord Morgoth had established his dominion over all the lands of Middle-earth. In The Voyage of Eärendil, Professor Tolkien brings the War of the Silmarils to its final triumphant conclusion.

Eärendil, whose birth we saw in The Fall of Gondolin, has grown to manhood among the exiled Gondolindrim who have taken refuge at the mouth of the River Sirion. There he meets Elwing, herself an exile from the ruin of Doriath, and the two marry. Eärendil sets out to sea in search of the Lost Road to the Undying Land of Valinor in hopes of persuading the semi-divine Valar to come to Middle-earth to rescue the Elves from Morgoth's rule. Elwing remains behind with their sons Elrond and Elros. However, Elwing has inherited one of the Silmarils from her grandparents Beren and Lúthien, and this brings the remaining sons of Fëanor, who have sworn an oath to recover their father's stolen masterworks. Attacking the Elves of Sirion, the sons of Fëanor capture Elwing's children, but Elwing takes the Silmaril and throws herself into the sea. She is rescued from drowning by Ulmo the Sea Lord, who changes her into a bird and sends her aloft. Elwing reaches Eärendil's ship, where she resumes her human shape, and the two set off together to find the Undying Lands. The results of their search provide the book's climax, and a fitting conclusion to Professor Tolkien's Silmaril tetrology.

Professor Tolkien has acknowledged his debt to Elias Lönnrot, the Finnish country doctor who crafted the Kalevala out of various Finnish folk tales over a century ago. Not only did the Finnish language provide the model for Quenya, the High Elven tongue of the tetrology, but the whole work is meant to provide England with a counterpart to the Kalevala. Professor Tolkien first began work on an early version of The Fall of Gondolin in 1917, and over the next twenty years he drew upon sources many and varied in compiling the vast epic that has resulted.

When it was first published in 1937, Tinúviel struck a chord within a nation that had seen disillusionment and discord end with victory over the brutal regime of Ernst Röhm. Professor Tolkien in his Forward to The Voyage of Eärendil denies creating an allegory of the Danzig War, and given that the basic story of the War of the Silmarils had been finalized by him as early as 1930, there is no denying the truth of his assertion. And yet, there are undeniable parallels between the war against Morgoth and the war against Röhm. Morgoth's theft of the Silmarils can be seen as an echo of Röhm's seizure of Danzig. And there is no denying the similarities between the Breaking of Angband and the fall of Berlin and the subsequent partition of Germany. If there are parallels between Middle-earth and modern history, though, it can be seen as a testament to the universality of Professor Tolkien's themes, that have caused life to imitate his art.

JRR Tolkien was recently appointed Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University. He is currently at work on a modern translation of the medieval romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and a precursor to the Silmaril tetrology called The Flight of the Noldor.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

DBTL 42: Priest and a Rabbi Walk Into a Bar . . .

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. The largest state in Central Europe is the Polish Commonwealth, which includes the historical Second Polish Republic, eastern Germany, and the former Soviet republics of Byelorussia and Ukraine. And now, having absorbed the two Soviet Republics, the Polish Commonwealth is experiencing growing pains . . .

Białystok, Belarus Devo, Polish Commonwealth
6 May 1947

"Believe me," said Hermann Göring, "the last thing in the world you want me to do is go into politics."

It was a quiet Tuesday night, and Göring was in his private office behind the bar of the Flying Deutchlander, along with two men who had entered his establishment five minutes before and asked to speak with him.

The first man, who had introduced himself as Dr. Gedali Rozenman, was an elderly, bearded man in black. Although they had never met, Göring knew him by reputation; as the Rabbi of Białystok's Great Synagogue, he was a leading member of the city's Jewish community. The second man, who had introduced himself as Edward Kisiel, was a young Catholic priest of whom Göring had never heard. They certainly made an odd pair, and their proposal had been equally

"There I must disagree with you, Herr Göring," said Dr. Rozenman in Yiddish-accented German. "Both Father Edward and I feel that you would be the ideal man to represent Białystok in the Sejm. You're a respected local businessman, you have important contacts in Warsaw, and best of all . . . "

"Best of all," Göring finished for him, "I'm not Leonard Kosnowski."

Nine months before, Göring would have bet a year's profits from the bar that Kosnowski's political career was finished. The National Socialist Polish Workers Party had been enveloped by a scandal when it was learned that they had been receiving clandestine funding from the Soviet NKVD. The Nasos had been banned from the Sejm, and their leader, Bolesław Piasecki, had fled Poland for the dubious sanctuary of Moscow.

Kosnowski, though, had proved more adept than his Duce at weathering the resulting storm. He had denounced Piasecki as a traitor, renounced the Nasos, and in a breathtaking display of ideological legerdemain, instantly transformed himself from a xenophobic, anti-Semitic Polish nationalist to a xenophobic, anti-Semitic Belarussian nationalist. He was now a fervent member of the Free Belarus Party, dedicated to withdrawing the newly-enlarged Belarus Devo from the Polish Commonwealth, and reducing all of Belarus's Poles, Lithuanians, and, especially, Jews, to the status of second-class citizens.

The FBP, with its heavy support in the former Belorussian SSR, was the second largest party in the devo behind the Federalists, and in next month's elections they intended to become the largest. With the example of the Lithuanian Devo before them, they were certain that they could win a referendum to secede from the Commonwealth and set up their own independent state. Of course, Göring knew from his sources in Warsaw that Lithuania would probably be rejoining the Commonweath before the year was out, so he didn't think the FBP would succeed. He had to admit to himself, though, that he had seen far more unlikely things come to pass.

"And best of all," Dr. Rozenman echoed, "you're not Leonard Kosnowski."

Göring peered curiously at the two men. To Dr. Rozenman he said, "Now, I can understand why you wouldn't be eager to see the Belas gain power." Turning to Father Edward, he continued, "But why are you getting mixed up in all this? I thought the Church didn't go in for politics here in Poland."

The priest tapped his fingertips together. "I am not here as an official representative of the Church," he said. "As you say, the Church has always felt it prudent not to become involved in national politics in this country."

"I'm guessing, though," said Göring, "that Archbishop Wyszynski is not ignorant of your presence here. Unofficially, that is."

Father Edward paused before saying, "Not ignorant, no. Unofficially."

"Then why is he expressing this unofficial interest in these elections?" Göring wondered.

"In addition to their other, ah, policies," Father Edward explained, "the Free Belarus Party considers the Church to be . . . "

"UnBelarussian," Dr. Rozenman supplied.

"Thank you, Rabbi," Father Edward replied. "UnBelarussian. Naturally, the Church would consider the status quo under the Federalists preferable to a government that openly favored the Orthodox faith."

"So," said Göring, "now that you've explained what's in it for you, I'd be interested to hear what's in it for me. Why should I get involved?"

"I should have thought that was obvious," said Dr. Rozenman. "If the FBP succeeds in seceding from the Commonwealth, the first thing they're going to want to do is find someone to run the Garden who isn't German."

Göring shrugged. "I'd still have the bar, wouldn't I? And frankly, running the Garden is one headache after another. Why not let someone else deal with it?"

He didn't mean it, though, and the Rabbi had no difficulty seeing through his feigned disinterest. "That doesn't sound at all like the Hermann Göring my congregation tells me about," said Dr. Rozenman with a smile.

Göring let himself sigh. "All right, Rabbi, you've got me. I'd hate to give up the Garden! I built that whole place from the ground up, turned it into the most advanced aircraft plant in the world! No way in hell am I going to let a gang of filthy pigs like the Belas take it away from me!" Rising from his chair, he slammed a fist onto his desk. "You want me to run against Kosnowski? You bet I'll run! I'll make that sorry excuse for a human being wish he'd never heard of me!"

The outburst caused Father Edward to shrink back from Göring, and even Dr. Rozenman was blinking his eyes in surprise at the storm he had unleashed. Göring didn't care. They wanted a candidate for the Sejm? They had one!

Let anyone get in his way, and he's show them just what kind of candidate, too.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

DBTL 41: The Decider

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. The Danzig War of 1936 - 37 saw an aggressive German regime under Ernst Röhm defeated by the combined forces of Great Britain, France, and Poland, and the three nations are now the dominant powers of Europe. In Britain, under the newly-elected Conservative government of Anthony Eden, industrial expansion proceeds apace . . .

London, Great Britain
19 March 1947

Anthony Eden looked up from the report in astonishment. "Norman, this is absurd."

"Admittedly, the report does possess a number of characteristics which might tend to produce a certain measure of scepticism," Sir Norman Brook replied. "Nevertheless, given the requirements which were specified in the original request, this is the closest approximation available to an optimal solution."

Eden had been PM long enough that he was now able to sort through Sir Norman's grammatical circumlocutions. "So you're saying this is the best you can come up with."

"Yes, Prime Minister."

Eden drummed his fingers on his desk. "I'm tempted to just put the plastics plant in Teeside and let the Welsh have an atomic reactor."

"I'm afraid you've already promised the Welsh the plastics plant," pointed out Rab Butler. "For that matter, you've already promised the Scots the atomic reactor."

Eden sighed and said, "All right, I'll make a decision by the next Cabinet meeting."

"Yes, Prime Minister," the others echoed before leaving.

Sitting alone in his office, Anthony Eden stared at the top of his desk for a time. Finally, he opened a drawer, reached in, and drew out a two-shilling piece. A flick of his thumb sent the coin spinning through a short, narrow arc that ended in Eden's right hand, followed by a quick slap on top of the left. Eden lifted up his right hand. Heads.

Aberystwyth it was...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Just Another Blog [From L. A.]

M. Bouffant is the proprietor of Just Another Blog [From L. A.] and a contributor to the Fire Megan McArdle blog. For reasons best known to himself, he has chosen to blogroll the Johnny Pez blog under his "May/may not be worth clicking, you fucking decide" category on the former. As punishment for this heinous act of blogrollery, we will be adding Just Another Blog [From L. A.] to our own blogroll. On your own head be it, M. Bouffant!

DBTL 40: Every Breath You Take

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. In the absence of our timeline's Manhattan Project, nuclear weapons have been developed independently in Italy, France, Great Britain, and the Polish Commonwealth. To avoid a European nuclear arms race, the four nations join together in September 1946 to create the Atomic Control Commission . . .

Alice Springs, Australia
4 November 1946

There are two seasons in the Australian outback, hot and hotter. With the coming of spring, Klaus Fuchs knew he was in for another scorching summer.

The trouble with the British was that they had gotten so used to running their empire on a shoestring that they would economize on the most ridiculous things. Like air conditioning. Here he was in the middle of a scientific project that had, all told, cost the British government almost five hundred million pounds, and they couldn't even splurge on air conditioning for the laboratories in the middle of the vast, stinking Australian desert.

Ah well, a man had to deal with these sorts of inconveniences. At any rate, it was still bearable in the daytime. When he had first arrived in Alice three years before, he had purchased one of the peculiar local hats with the cork-tipped tassels hanging down from around the brim, and in the summer it shielded him from the worst of the sun's heat. He was walking through one of the typically dusty residential streets on the way to one of his usual dead drops, a rubbish bin, when he noticed a young man slouching next to a wall nearby. He was dressed like a local workman, except for his shoes, which were not the sort of shoes a local workman would wear. Fuchs had just decided not to make the drop when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

Fuchs turned slowly to find himself looking at an exceptionally ordinary man with an exceptionally ordinary face. "Good afternoon, Herr Doctor Fuchs," said the ordinary man in German. "My name's Smiley, George Smiley. I'm with the Atomic Control Commission."

Fuchs knew without having to look that the slouching young man he had seen was no longer slouching, but was standing quietly a meter or two behind him. He sighed a slight, noiseless sigh and replied in English, "Good afternoon, Mr. Smiley. How may I help you?"

"You and I will be going into that question in considerable detail later on this evening, Dr. Fuchs," said Smiley. "For now, I would like you to accompany us to our rooms."

"Are they air-conditioned?" asked Fuchs.

"I'm afraid not," said Smiley sympathetically. "We're on rather a tight budget."

Sighing again, Fuchs followed Smiley up the street.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wingnut hate overwhelms Secret Service

From today's Boston Globe comes the following story:

The unprecedented number of death threats against President Obama, a rise in racist hate groups, and a new wave of antigovernment fervor threaten to overwhelm the US Secret Service, according to government officials and reports

Yeah, I don't think anyone could have predicted that electing a black president would cause all the racist mofos in this country to go batshit crazy. According to the story, one possible solution to the rising tide of hate would be for the Secret Service to stop catching counterfeiters (which is the other thing they do) and concentrate on protecting the president.

Here's a prediction (AROO AROO must cite the Johnny Pez blog): the next wingnut hissy fit will be about how Obama is now using the Secret Service to look for counterfeiters. "Our Marxist President is expanding socialist government! They're coming for your guns AND your fake money! PATRIOTS BEWARE!!!eleven!!"

The Bobblespeak Translations

One of the most powerful generators of Beltway conventional wisdom are what Duncan Black calls the Sunday Bobblehead shows: Meet the Press, This Week, and Face the Nation. However, watching the three shows involves the surrender of two and a half hours of your life that, as the saying goes, you'll never get back.

The solution has been presented to us by a blogger known only as Culture of Truth, who has mastered the art of reducing an hour of brain-pummelingly bad punditry into several hundred words of masterly snark, posted on his blog The Bobblespeak Translations. A sample from the August 23, 2009 edition of Meet the Press, in which host David Gregory interviews Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen (aka General Mullen):

Gregory: General I love your epaulets

Mullen: thanks Greggy

Gregory: have the American people lost the stomach to conquer Afghanistan?

Mullen: maybe but lets not forget the guys in the caves still want to kill lots of Americans

Gregory: do we need more troops to defeat these crafty Afghans?

Mullen: could be

Gregory: but President McCain says we do

Mullen: actually Obama won the election

Gregory: what?!? [ starts sobbing ]
So, if you want to keep up with the conventional wisdom and preserve your precious brain cells at the same time, go look up The Bobblespeak Translations.

DBTL 39: As Sweet As Any Harmony

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. In the absence of our timeline's Manhattan Project, nuclear weapons have been developed independently in Italy, France, Great Britain, and the Polish Commonwealth, creating the potential for a European nuclear arms race . . .

Gevena, Switzerland
18 September 1946

Werner Heisenberg was engrossed by an article in Time magazine describing the frenzied crowds that were greeting the Vontzim upon their arrival in New York City. He was a trifle startled when the door suddenly swung open, for reflexes honed by five years under the Röhm regime and another four years directing a top secret military project are not easily put aside. He relaxed when he saw it was Stanisław Skwarczyński, Minister of War for the Polish Commonwealth.

"Herr Minister, what news?" he asked Skwarczyński.

"The news is good, Herr Director," Skwarczyński answered. "Negotiations have been successfully concluded. We will all be present at the conference room tomorrow to sign the treaty creating the League of Nations Atomic Control Commission. The terms are substantially those we have been pursuing for the last year."

Heisenberg closed his eyes in relief. "That is good." For the last six years, ever since the publication of his paper on uranium fission, he had been prey to fears of Europe being wracked by wars fought with atomic weapons. Those fears had grown ever greater as Poland and the other Great Powers had pursued their own independent atomic weapons programs. Just one year ago, he had been sleepless with anxiety as he followed Mussolini's attempt to blackmail his way into control over Yugoslavia, and as the other three Atomic Powers had counter-blackmailed him into withdrawing. The whole episode remained unknown to the world's general population, who to this day were unaware of the existence of atomic weapons.

Still, that time had been the low point. Mussolini had fallen from power shortly thereafter, and the new government of Marshal Badoglio had been receptive to Skwarczyński's proposal for international control of atomic weapons. Prime Minister Attlee had concurred as well, and the last impediment had been removed with the fall of the Weygand ministry and the return of Leon Blum to power in France.

"I cannot tell you," Heisenberg continued, "what a relief it will be to have this burden lifted from my shoulders at long last."

Now the glowing expression on the War Minister's face dimmed. "Ah, Herr Director, there is one final item of business from the negotiations that you ought to know."

Heinsenberg felt the blood freezing in his veins. "Is there something wrong?"

"Oh no, nothing wrong, it's just that, ah, when it came time to choose the new head of the commission, the delegates all felt that, ah ..."

Heisenberg was dumbfounded. "They chose ME?"

"Well, you did write that paper, and you are the Director of the Sklodowska Institute."

"Why not Einstein, or Fermi, or Bohr?"

"Einstein and Bohr know nothing of the work that has been done in this field, and the Italians would never agree to Fermi. I'm afraid it has to be you, Herr Director. The delegates could agree on no other candidate."

As he gave the matter consideration, Heisenberg found that the prospect was not quite so terrifying as he had initially thought. After all, his new job would be to stop the terror weapons from being used, and that had to be a more noble pursuit than building them in the first place. And from a strictly scientific point of view, it would be wonderful to follow developments in the field firsthand, instead of having to rely on military intelligence briefings of dubious provenance.

"Very well, Herr Minister," Heisenberg said at last, "I will accept this appointment."

"Excellent, Herr Director, that is excellent. After the ceremony tomorrow morning, you can meet with Attlee's intelligence people. He says they've got some fellow named Kurchatov who's turned up in New Delhi claiming to be the head of a Soviet bomb project."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

DBTL 38: The Artist

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. The largest state in Central Europe is the Polish Commonwealth, which includes the historical Second Polish Republic, eastern Germany, and the former Soviet republics of Byelorussia and Ukraine. Following victory in the Second Soviet War of 1944 - 45, the Commonwealth is experiencing a cultural renaissance, typified by a fast-paced mix of klezmer and jazz called klezmerol . . .

New York City, USA
9 September 1946

Shlomo Kaminsky had decided that New York City was almost as wonderful as Warsaw.

It would be just as wonderful if only all the signs weren't in English. Shlomo could speak English with moderate fluency, but the spelling left him totally baffled. Why couldn't English be spelled in a sensible fashion, the way Polish was? It amazed him that the Americans ever managed to spell anything correctly.

It felt good to be in New York, though. There wasn't a village in Europe, it seemed, that hadn't seen at least one family emigrate there. Shlomo himself had relatives in Brooklyn, and he meant to take the opportunity to stop in and see them. First, though, he had had to get outside of his hotel.

The reaction to their arrival in the country two days before had been overwhelming. Apparently, every young girl in New York had decided to stand outside their hotel and scream at the top of her lungs. It had taken some deft maneuverings on the part of their manager Leonid to sneak them out of their hotel on Sunday for their gig at the CBS network. And who would have guessed that the television variety show they were booked on would be hosted by Ed Murrow?

Shlomo had vivid memories of the days ten years before when the Brownshirts had come swarming across the German border, leaving a trail of murdered Jews and burned synagogues behind them. The Brownshirts had never reached Białystok, thank God, or the other eastern cities, but they had been terrifying enough. And from embattled Warsaw, Ed Murrow had made his weekly radio broadcasts to America, sharing with his countrymen the experience of being besieged by a horde of brutal fanatics. Radio Poland had rebroadcast Murrow's reports, accompanied by Polish translations. Shlomo had been too young - just - to join the army, but hearing the Murrow reports made him feel like he was in the capital itself. And like everyone else his age, the first English words he had ever learned had been "this is Warsaw".

Murrow's Polish had been rusty at first, but it wasn't long before he was in full flow, sharing stories of the Siege of Warsaw and General Skwarczyński's Christmas Offensive. It had been like something from a dream to hear the famous voice intoning, "Now, yesterday and today our theater has been jammed with newspapermen and photographers from all over the nation. And these veterans agree with me that the city never has witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Bialystok who call themselves the Vontzim. Now tonight you're going to twice be entertained by them, right now and again in the second half of our show. Ladies and gentlemen, the Vontzim!" Then the American audience roared, the curtain rose, and Shlomo and the boys had played.

This morning, the screaming girls had continued their vigil around the hotel. After breakfast, Shlomo had borrowed a uniform topcoat from one of the bellhops and snuck out of a side entrance, passing undetected by the mob until he managed to grab a taxi. He told the driver he wanted to drive around Manhattan for a while, and had tipped the man too much because he had forgotten that a dollar was worth four złotys.

As it happened, the taxi driver spoke Yiddish (his family was from Łódź, though he himself had been born in New York six months after they emigrated), and he proved to be a knowledgeable tour guide. He had a hundred stories about the city, about speakeasies and gangsters, showgirls and political bosses. He cursed the Isolationists for keeping America out of the Danzig War (as they called it here), and praised Franklin Roosevelt to the skies, pointing out the townhouse where the former president stayed when he was in the city.

To Shlomo's way of thinking, the most sensible thing about New York City was the way the streets were laid out, in a nice regular rectangular grid with the streets numbered from south to north. His first few months spent trying to navigate around Warsaw had cured him of the idea that twisted, winding streets were quaint or romantic. He knew they were on 53rd Street when the driver pointed out a building to their right and mentioned that it was the current location of the Museum of Modern Art.

"Stop here," Shlomo told him. The driver did, and Shlomo picked up the bellhop's greatcoat and got out. He tipped the driver too much money again, and went through a set of broad glass doors. If there was one place in the city where the screaming young girls would never think to look for him, this was it.

Inside was a wide two-story atrium with galleries leading off from either side. Entering one brought Shlomo into a world where shapes and colors existed independently of the objects they formed. Impressionists and Cubists, Pointillists and Postmoderns, pixillated Picassos, disturbing Dalis, as well (Shlomo was pleased to note) as the occasional work by Zygmunt Menkes and
Henryk Epstein.

One section of the gallery, he found, was given over to an exhibition of works by someone he had never heard of. Since many of the works were self-portraits, he had no difficulty recognizing the artist when he spotted her talking to a reporter.

The reporter, unfortunately, had no difficulty recognizing Shlomo, either. "Ah, Mister, ah Kaminsky, right?" he said to Shlomo in English. "I wasn't expecting to find you here. I thought you'd be out getting chased around by bobbysoxers."

Shlomo had no trouble deducing the meaning of "bobbysoxers" from the context; it obviously referred to the screaming girls. In the same language, he answered, "We are very cultured people in Commonwealth. Even popular musicians go to art museums." Then, because he really didn't feel like talking to a reporter, especially one who was supposed to be interviewing someone else, he winked at the artist and walked away.

He was pondering a sculpture by Katherine Lane when he heard a woman say in English, "You are a musician." He turned and saw that it was the artist, whose name momentarily eluded him.

Shlomo wasn't quite sure whether her comment was a question or a statement, so he settled for saying, "I am."

"What music do you play?"

"Klezmerol," he explained. "It is Jewish music with good solid beat, four four time." He sang a few lines in English of Herschel's "In the Ghetto".

Down in the ghetto, out in the sun
Down in the ghetto, we'll be having some fun
Down in the ghetto, sure as heaven above
Down in the ghetto, we'll be falling in love
Down in the ghetto, in the ghetto
Then, using a phrase he had read in one of the American newspaper stories about the band, he added, "It is crazy hepcat music."

That made her laugh, he was pleased to note, then was less pleased to further note a pained expression on her face.

"You are hurt?" he asked, concerned.

"Only an old injury," she said.

"Injury how?" he inquired.

He had trouble at first understanding her explanation, since his English vocabulary didn't include "impaled". Eventually, though, to his horror, he got it.

"You should come to Warsaw," he stated. "Best doctors in whole world, they can cure rainy day. They can fix you up."

"No," she insisted, "no more doctors, no more surgery."

Shlomo shrugged. "If you say so."

The artist gestured at the greatcoat and asked, "Is that how musicians dress in Warsaw?"

He had forgotten he was wearing the bellhop's greatcoat, which bore a strong resemblance to a Napoleon-era military uniform. A sudden inspiration led him to say, "We dress like marching band. Is irony." None of the bands in the Commonwealth dressed in old military uniforms, of course, but it would make for an interesting motif. They were supposed to go into the studio and record another long-playing record after the American tour. Perhaps they could use old uniforms for the cover photo?

The artist smiled and said, "That sounds like fun."

Even as he smiled back, Shlomo found himself wondering what it was about this woman that he found so fascinating. She had to be at least ten years his senior, and her eyebrows could have given Leonid's a run for their money. Was it simple shikse appeal? By now he ought to be immune to that sort of thing.

"Would you like to come and see show?" he asked. "We play tonight at Madison Square Garden. Here." Reaching into his shirt pocket, be brought out a backstage pass. He had meant to give it to his cousin Melvin, but he could always get another pass from Leonid. Holding the pass out to her, he said, "You will come?"

Taking the pass, the artist said, "I will come. I want to see you all in your ironic uniforms."

Oy. Oh well, he supposed he could get more bellhop uniforms from the hotel. The hard part would be talking Herschel and the others into wearing them, but he thought he could bring them around. They were always looking for new gimmicks, and this certainly qualified.

"I must go to hotel now," he told her. "Madison Square Garden, eight o'clock." Waving goodbye, he turned and made his way back outside.

As he scanned 53rd Street for another taxi, Shlomo found himself thinking that maybe New York City was just as wonderful as Warsaw after all.

Friday, October 16, 2009

DBTL 37A: Indochina 1937 - 1947

In 1937, flush with victory over the vicious Röhm regime in Germany, the Popular Front government of Leon Blum begins to institute a series of reforms of French colonial policy. In Indochina, legal reforms are initiated to end discrimination against native Indochinese. The middle-class nationalists of the Viet Nam Quoc Dan Nang, or Vietnamese National Party, reject Blum's reforms, demanding an immediate end to French rule. The peasant-based Indochinese Communist Party, encouraged by the Communist International in Moscow, choose to cooperate with the new policy.

The death sentence that had been passed in absentia against Communist leader Nguyen Sinh Cung (aka Nguyen Ai Quoc, "Nguyen the Patriot") is overturned, and he returns to Indochina from Moscow. Pham Van Dong and Le Duc Tho are released from prison, as are the wife and child of Vo Nguyen Giap. Land reforms are initiated in Nguyen Ai Quoc's native Nghe An Province.

In June 1940 the Communists withdraw from the Popular Front in France, and the Blum government falls, to be replaced by a right-wing coalition under Henri de Kerillis. Blum's reforms in Indochina are abolished, and the Indochinese Communist Party is outlawed. A revolt in Nghe An Province is brutally repressed, and the Communist leadership goes into hiding or flees Indochina.

Nguyen Ai Quoc, now going under the name Ho Chi Minh, "He Who Enlightens", retreats to a cave in the mountains of Cao Bang Province. There, he and Vo Nguyen Giap expand their organization to include remnants of the Vietnamese National Party, creating an organization called the League for the Independence of Vietnam, the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh, or Viet Minh.

For the next six years, the Viet Minh expands throughout Indochina, particularly in the area around Hanoi. The expulsion of the Japanese from China in 1945 by the Red Army brings a steady stream of money and munitions from the USSR to the Viet Minh, and Ho is able to build up a large guerilla army throughout Tonkin and northern Annam.

A return to power by Blum in July 1946 prompts a right-wing coup attempt in France, and fighting breaks out in Indochina between pro-Blum Loyalist troops and pro-coup Nationalists. This is the signal for the Viet Minh's uprising. The Viet Minh seize control of several cities in Tonkin, including Hanoi, and also the Imperial capital of Hue, forcing the Emperor Bao Dai to flee to Saigon. Ho declares himself head of a new Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

By the beginning of August Indochina is a patchwork, with some areas controlled by the Loyalists, some by the Nationalists, and some by the Viet Minh. With the failure of the coup in France the Loyalists and Viet Minh both advance against the Nationalists. The Loyalists are reinfoced by fresh troops from France. Ho politely declines Marshal Gordov's offer of Red Army
reinforcements, mindful of the fate of Chiang Kai-shek. Instead, he uses the continued flow of Soviet weapons to strengthen his position in Indochina.

Wishing to avoid further fighting in Indochina, Blum sends Foreign Minister Robert Schuman to Hanoi to negotiate with Ho. Ho demands French withdrawal from Indochina and recognition of Vietnam's independence. Schuman offers Indochina dominion status within the French Union, with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia becoming autonomous devos. Ho is inclined to reject Schuman's offer and press for full independence, but an influential advisor named Ngo Dinh Diem urges him to accept, pointing out that Vietnam can declare independence after the Vietnamese militia have supplanted French troops.

Diem and Ho are both elected to the Vietnamese Chamber of Deputies in elections held in September 1946, and Diem surprises everyone by gaining the support of a majority of the Deputies, becoming the first Premier of the Vietnamese Devo. General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, first Governor-General of the Dominion of Indochina, vetoes Diem's choice of his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu for the post of Interior Minister, and pressures Diem into appointing Vo Nguyen Giap.

In October 1947 Diem introduces a measure into the Chamber of Deputies calling for the Vietnamese Devo to secede from Indochina and form an independent state. Ho is suspicious of Diem's motives, and the Viet Minh Deputies oppose the measure, which is defeated. Diem asks de Lattre to dissolve the Devo's Chamber and call for new elections. The result is an electoral victory for a Unionist coalition led by the Viet Minh, and Ho succeeds to the Premiership in November.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

DBTL 37: Bad to the Bône

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. The Danzig War of 1936 - 37 saw an aggressive German regime under Ernst Röhm defeated by the combined forces of Great Britain, France, and Poland, and the three nations are now the dominant powers of Europe. However, the colonial empires of the two Western nations are growing restive . . .

Bône, Algeria, French Empire
24 August 1946

The soldier snapped off a sharp salute and said, "The prisoner Juin is here as ordered."

Major General Charles de Gaulle returned the soldier's salute, but his attention was focused on the prisoner. In the month since de Gaulle had last seen him, Alphonse Juin had been transformed from a confident conspirator to a demoralized traitor, and the change had not improved him.

The sight of Juin took de Gaulle back to that earlier meeting. In answer to a brief, cryptic message, de Gaulle had gone to a quiet, out-of-the-way bistro in the French quarter of Tunis. After perhaps a quarter of an hour spent nursing a cup of coffee by himself, de Gaulle had been joined by a man in a white cotton suit and panama hat. Despite the anonymity of his clothing, de Gaulle had immediately recognized his companion as Brigadier General Alphonse Juin, commander of the French garrison at Bône in Algeria.

The sight of a fellow general skulking about in civilian clothing a hundred and fifty kilometers from his post had raised immediate suspicions in de Gaulle, and Juin had quickly confirmed the worst of them.

"That vile Jew has gone too far!" Juin had declared emphatically. "It is not to be endured! It will not be endured!"

"I take it then," de Gaulle had blandly replied, "that you do not wholeheartedly agree with Premier Blum's new Algerian policy."

"Policy!" Juin had said scornfully. "Madness, rather! That Jew and his godless allies will not be happy until they have gift-wrapped Algeria and delivered it into the waiting hands of the bloodthirsty infidels! Violette's scheme was bad enough, but this is a hundred times worse! Granting full citizenship to every Mohammedan in Algeria! It is the Jew's final revenge upon the faith he has so perversely rejected! That can be the only possible rationale!"

As it happened, de Gaulle agreed with Juin about the lack of merit of Blum's proposal. Algeria's Muslims were simply not ready for full citizenship, and there would be no end of trouble if the Chambers voted to ratify the Blum Plan. However, there was a hysterical edge to Juin's protests that de Gaulle found unpleasantly similar to the rhetoric of the late unlamented Ernst Röhm and his Brownshirts. He said to Juin, "The French people have grown weary of the endless bloodletting in Algeria, and weary as well of General Weygand and his eternally receding 'light at the end of the tunnel'. That is why they voted Blum and his Socialists into power, to end the conflict once and for all. If the Chambers vote to enact Blum's scheme, then that is the will of the French people."

Juin snorted. "It is the will of the corrupt politicians, and of their Jew masters. We who have fought for so long to restore order to Algeria will not allow our work to be undone by these criminals. The time for words is over, old comrade; now is the time for action! It is time for patriotic, Christian Frenchmen to take back their country's government! We of Algeria are ready to strike. We have allies in Morocco who will heed our call, and friends within France itself who will do what needs to be done. You are a man of patriotism, sir, and you stand at the head of our forces in Tunisia. When the day comes to take back France, will you stand with us?"

De Gaulle stared unblinking at Juis as the latter's ringing oratory shrank away into nothing, and his fierce expression lost its excitement to became progressively more uneasy. Finally de Gaulle said, "You call Blum's proposal madness, yet you somehow fail to see that your own is madder still. France is not Germany, to cringe submissively before a self-proclaimed leader and let him lead her to her destuction. If Monsieur Laval -- it is Laval, is it not? -- thinks to make himself a new Napoleon, then he does not understand the nation he seeks to control. France is no longer the uncertain, self-doubting nation that stood unmoving while the Germans remilitarized the Rhineland thirteen years ago. France has faced the Germans in the field of battle, and prevailed. France has stood eyeball-to-eyeball with the Italians in Africa and the Balkans, and prevailed again. France is a great nation, conscious of her greatness. A great nation will not lie passively and let a small man like Laval attempt to master her. France will defend her honor, and she will prevail once more!"

De Gaulle had risen from his table and said, "You have given good service in the past, Juin, so I will allow you to return to Bône. But I urge you and your so-called allies to give up this mad scheme of yours, for if you do not, you will all come to ruin." Leaning forward, de Gaulle added, "I will see to it personally." He had turned away from Juin then, left the bistro, and he had not looked back.

Now it was a month later. Leon Blum was still Premier, and Pierre Laval was on trial for his life. The ports of Algeria and Morocco lay under the guns of blockading Loyalist ships. In the south, the Secret Army Organization was being driven back, commune by commune, by the Free Algerian Army. In Bône, de Gaulle himself was triumphant, and was preparing to move against his next objective, the Secret Army stronghold of Constantine.

But first, he had some unfinished business to take care of.

Alphonse Juin seemed to have grown smaller. Partly, of course, it was because the prison uniform he now wore had been intended for a larger man. Mostly, though, it was due to the aroma of defeat which clung both to him personally and to the cause to which he had rashly pledged his honor. Juin stood silently before de Gaulle, face expressionless, eyes cast downward.

"When last we met," de Gaulle said at last, "I promised that I would personally see to it that you would come to ruin, and I have kept that promise."

Juin interrupted. "Must you gloat? Is it not enough that you have betrayed France?"

De Gaulle was momentarily struck speechless by the brazen effrontery of Juin's comment. At last he said, "You and I, Juin, seem to have very different ideas about what constitutes 'France'. I have remained loyal to the chosen representatives of the French people. You, on the other hand, seem to feel that the French people may be overruled if they act contrary to your wishes."

"The people are cattle!" Juin snarled. "They are sheep! France is more than a rabble of ignorant peasants and vulgar mechanics. France is an ideal, a symbol of Christian civilization, a shining city on a hill! That is the France I serve!"

"I see," said de Gaulle. "You love France, but you hate the French. And there is no contradiction, because the one has nothing to do with the other. That strikes me as being an excellent rationale for doing whatever you please."

"You cannot understand," Juin sneered. "It is beyond your comprehension."

"I understand perfectly," said de Gaulle. "I understand that you and your allies are a danger to France, and when you have been eliminated France will be a safer place." To the escorting soldier de Gaulle said, "Return the prisoner to his cell."

As Juin was led away, he called out, "Long live France!"

"France will indeed live long," de Gaulle said to himself after Juin was gone. "But you will not."