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."

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