Sunday, November 1, 2009

DBTL 46D: Three Days in October - Proposition

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. After a long vigil in the East Wing, Barkley makes his decision . . .

Washington DC, USA
16 October 1949

This time, Alben Barkley made damn sure that the meeting was held in the Oval Office. He was going to need every advantage he could get.

Dwight ushered Edward Raczyński, President of the Polish Commonwealth, into the room, and Barkley rose from behind a desk large enough to land a B-17 on. "Mr. President," he said, "it's a pleasure to see you again." Which wasn't strictly true, but wasn't entirely untrue either.

The two men shook hands, and Barkley led Raczyński over to a pair of lushly upholstered armchairs.

"Can I take it from my presence here," said Raczyński, "that you have decided to comply with the League's request?"

"Not exactly," said Barkley.

There was a perceptible drop in the room's temperature.

"Then what, exactly, if I might ask," said Raczyński, "have you decided to do?"

Here goes, thought Barkley. All or nothing. "Mr. President, I've asked you here this morning in order to apply for admission by the United States in the Warsaw Pact."

Barkley could hear the clock ticking away on his desk. He could hear the distant murmur of traffic out on the Ellipse. After a very, very long pause, Raczyński said, "I beg your pardon?"

"Mr. President, the people of this country would never, ever consent to membership in the League of Nations. They would never consent to allowing the Atomic Control Commission to take charge of our atomic research project. Resentment against France, and especially Britain, is just too high to make that possible. However . . ."

"Yes?" The expression on Raczyński's face was one of puzzlement slowly turning into surprise.

"However, the people of this country have nothing but respect and admiration for the Polish Commonwealth. They've seen your people face adversities that would have crushed other nations, and not only survive, but prevail and triumph. If you don't mind my saying so, you rather remind us of ourselves. The liberals love you for beating the Germans, and the conservatives love you for beating the Russians. The American people would never agree to join the League of Nations, but many would be proud, and most I think would be willing, to join with you in the Warsaw Pact."

Now Raczyński's face showed nothing but interest. "And how would this resolve the current situation?"

"Well, Mr. President," said Barkley, "if we were full members of the Warsaw Pact, then of course we would be prepared to share military information with you. I'm sure that a delegation from the Polish Army would be welcome to serve as a liaison between the Manhattan Project and the Polish General Staff."

"And if the members of this delegation also happened to belong to the Atomic Control Commission?" Raczyński inquired.

"Well, naturally, the liaison staff might be expected to have a hobby or two when they were off duty. Just as long as they don't go around wearing any silly orbiting electron badges when they're on the job, everything should be all right."

Raczyński sat in silence for a time, then said, "Mr. President, by any chance, was it a Pole who suggested this course of action to you?"

Barkley thought back to the three conversations he had had during his vigil in the East Wing the previous evening. "No, Mr. President, I don't believe any Poles were involved."

"It's just that you practically have to be Polish to appreciate the subtleties involved." Raczyński grinned suddenly and said, "I'll have to consult with my counterparts in London, Paris and Rome, but I don't believe there will be any insurmountable obstacles to your proposal. And speaking unofficially, as a citizen of my country and nothing more, I believe that my countrymen will feel honored to have the United States as an ally."

The two men rose and shook hands again, and Raczyński left to begin his consultations. Barkley went back to sit behind his desk, and happened to glance at the clock. It was 9:53 AM.

Two hours later, three aircraft bearing the concentric circles of the Royal Air Force and the orbiting electrons of the Atomic Control Commission were already passing over Hudson Bay on their return flight to the United Kingdom.

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