Saturday, December 26, 2009

DBTL 48: With Enemies Like These

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth. With no spellbinding demagogue to unite them, Germany's radical right remains fragmented. In October 1932, ex-Army Captain Ernst Röhm, the leader of Germany's right-wing street fighters, siezes power in a coup d'etat. The lawlessness and misrule of his Brown Revolution leads to growing popular discontent, and in an effort to head off a possible uprising, Röhm launches an invasion of Poland on 10 May 1936 . . .

Madrid, Spain
27 May 1936

José Maria Gil Robles y Quiñones had considerable misgivings about the upcoming meeting. "Are you sure this is a good idea?" he asked his companion.

"Quite sure," answered the Father.

The door to the apartment opened to reveal the face of Indalecia Prieto y Tuero. He looked as uncertain as Gil Robles felt.

As Gil Robles entered the apartment, he noticed another man standing by a half-opened window. Was it an assassin? But no, the man's hands were empty. Suspicious nevertheless, Gil Robles asked Prieto, "Who is he?"

"A visiting colleague," Prieto answered. "No need for you to fear him, it was he who convinced me to meet with you. He is Tomasz Arciszewski of the Polish Socialist Party. I would be interested to learn the identity of your companion, though."

With dawning understanding, Gil Robles said, "It was he who convinced me to meet with you. He is Father Stefan Wyszynski." Gil Robles and Prieto spent a long moment looking at each other.

"A subtle pattern begins to emerge," said Prieto.

"Father," Gil Robles asked, "are you by any chance acquainted with Señor Prieto's guest?"

"Ah, you have found me out, my son," said Father Wyszynski.

"Found us both out, I should add," said Arciszewski. "We are here at the behest of Marshal Piłsudski."

"And of Cardinal Pacelli," Father Wyszynski added. Gil Robles, at least, was impressed. As Secretary of State to Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli acted with full Papal authority.

"I assume," said Prieto, "that we are meant to discuss the recent uprising that has troubled our nation." Seventeen days earlier, General Emilio Mola had attempted to depose the Spanish government. Army garrisons all over Spain had risen up in support, and General Franco had flown in from the Canaries to assume control of the rebellious troops in Spanish Morocco. Gil Robles himself had been tempted to bring his own CEDA organization into the coup attempt, but he had finally decided that Mola's uprising was too uncoordinated to succeed. Most of the rebellious army troops had been subdued, and Mola had been captured. News of Franco's flight from Spanish Morocco the day before promised to bring an end to the last holdouts there.

The coup attempt had failed, but Spain remained in turmoil. The rising had precipitated union militants to seize power in Barcelona and Valencia, and the central government in Madrid was hard pressed to maintain control of the country. Spain might yet dissolve into chaos.

"Spain is a troubled land," Arciszewski confirmed. "You need some great cause to bring you all together."

"And we believe," said Father Wyszynski, "that Poland can be that cause. Both of you have spoken out to denounce the unprovoked attack upon our nation by Röhm's vile minions." It had been Röhm's attack, in fact, combined with Manuel Azaña's election as President of Spain, that had convinced Mola that the time had come to strike.

"Together," Arciszewski continued, "you can both persuade Azaña and the Cortes of the need to come to Poland's aid in the present emergency."

"What need has Poland of our aid?" asked Prieto. "The British and French are already your allies."

"And what allies they have been," said Arciszewski sarcastically. "Winston Churchill seems to be the only man in England who actually wants to fight the Germans. And two weeks after declaring war, Leon Blum has yet to mobilize the French army."

"He may fear," said Prieto, "that if he does so the troops will choose to attack Paris rather than Germany. After the example provided by our own dear General Mola, I cannot blame him."

"Nevertheless," said Father Wyszynski, "this still leaves Poland fighting alone against Röhm's brutal hordes. Frankly, we will take all the help we can get."

"And look at it from your point of view," said Arciszewski to Prieto. "Even with the leaders of the coup fled or captured, you still have an army you can't trust to defend you. Very well, send them to defend us instead."

Gil Robles spoke up. "While it is true that the ignominy of the German attack on your country is one of the few things the people of Spain can currently agree upon --"

"Except for Largo Caballero," said Prieto with distaste. His rival for the leadership of Spain's Socialists, Francisco Largo Caballero had, predictably, chosen to echo Moscow's view of the German-Polish war as a battle between two equally reactionary regimes.

"Except for Largo Caballero and his followers," Gil Robles agreed, "that is still no guarantee that they will support a declaration of war on Germany."

"Your voices command the attention of many in Spain," said Arciszewski.

"Together, they will command even more attention," Father Wyszynski added. "The shock of seeing the two of you acting in concert will see to that."

"Now we come down to the crux of it," said Gil Robles. "Father, in good concience, how can I act in concert with a man who is so hostile to the Church?"

Eyeing Arciszewski sourly, Prieto said, "My Polish colleague here has spent the last two days convincing me that the government has, perhaps, gone too far in its effort to reduce the Church's role in Spain. It should prove possible to modify the Spanish Constitution to remove the more objectionable anticlerical articles."

"The Socialists would agree to that?" said Gil Robles skeptically.

"Most of them," Prieto admitted. "The ones who are not in Largo Caballero's pocket."

"There will be enough in agreement to effect the changes," said Father Wyszynski, "provided that the parties on the Right do not obstruct them."

Gil Robles sighed. "The CEDA I can guarantee, and probably the Carlists will go along, but who can tell about the Falange?"

Father Wyszynski smiled. "Do not worry about the Falange. Cardinal Pacelli has already seen to them."

"So it is agreed?" said Arciszewski. "The Socialists will agree to amend the Constitution to make it less odious to the CEDA, and the CEDA will join the Socialists in calling for war against Germany."

Again, Gil Robles found himself exchanging a searching look with Prieto. "Agreed," he said gingerly.

"Agreed," Prieto echoed. "I have to wonder, though, even if we do persuade Azaña to call for war and the Cortes to ratify it, how can our forces reach Poland? The Czechoslovaks will not allow us transit, nor the Russians, and certainly not the Germans."

"The Romanians," Gil Robles blurted out. "It must be the Romanians."

"Absurd," said Prieto. "The Romanians are in even worse shape than we are." Like Mola, Corneliu Codreanu had seen the German invasion of Poland as a signal to seize power. The Romanian Army, under newly appointed Premier Ion Antonescu, had succeeded in thwarting Codreanu and his Iron Guard, but Romania remained in an unsettled state.

Father Wyszynski said, "Cardinal Pacelli --"

"And Marshal Piłsudski," Arciszewski interjected.

"-- are seeing to it that General Antonescu understands the importance of allowing the Spanish Army to pass through Romania."

"And once they are in Poland," Arciszewski said, "their battle against the reactionary Brownshirts --"

"-- in the defense of their Catholic brethren --" Father Wyszynski added.

"-- will unite the Spanish people," Arciszewski concluded.

"So you propose to bring peace to Spain . . . " said Prieto.

" . . . by plunging our nation into war," said Gil Robles.

"Exactly," said Arciszewski, as Father Wyszynski nodded in affirmation.

Once more, Gil Robles found himself exchanging a look with Prieto, and he knew they both shared the same thought:

What a strange people these Poles were.

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