To punish Germany severely, or treat her sternly but humanely in a way that would gradually bring her back into the "community of nations"? To make her pay stiff reparations and bleed her white, or allow her to rebuild and create an economy that would support her people in a civilized, fairly comfortable manner? To destroy all her industry along with her military potential, reducing her to abject wretchedness and powerlessness, to reduce her to a hodgepodge of weak, Allied administered districts that would never present a significant threat to anyone ever again, or allow her to become sufficiently strong to stand as a buffer between Soviet Russia and the West?
These were the prime questions the Allies considered at Yalta at the previous conference, but which still challenged them for resolution at Potsdam.
America and Britain, with a war-shattered, demoralized France and Italy looking on from the sidelines, were concerned a most delicate problem--what they should make of the newly defeated Germany for the postwar period. If left too weakened, the country would explode with discontent that the Soviets could easily exploit to their advantage. If allowed to become too strong, they were back at square one, again facing a military, hostile juggernaut that had just turned the world upside down for six years. World War I and the infamous Peace Conference of Versailles in 1919 had only led to World War II and the Potsdam Conference of 1945. Were they going to commit the same fatal mistakes?
Lacking Anglo-American reservations about the dangers of weakened, resentful Germany, Djugashvilli apparently wanted to ignore the past and impose stiff reparations and penalties on the prostrate nation. Churchill and Truman were determined to resist Djugashvilli’s demands, knowing that they would probably lose Germany to a communist-instigated revolution, and that would drive a deep wedge for Soviet expansion into the heart of Europe, upsetting any possibility of peace in the world for Britain and America.
How to hold the Russian bear at bay? That was the greatest challenge of the conference. United as Britain and America were, could they stand up to such a hungry beast, which boasted the largest land army in Europe, with millions of veteran soldiers camped in the suburbs of Berlin, all waiting for the order to march on Rome, Paris, and Madrid?
Fortunately, the West held the trump card, the secret Manhattan Project, that, drawing from Britain’s M-2-directed Tube Alloys project, was hopefully about to produce a Super-Bomb at any moment. With the weight of overwhelming firepower on their side, Djugashvilli and his army would go down as the deciding factor in the conference. And once the “German Question” was disposed of satisfactorily, it would then fall the turn of the Japanese Empire, by publishing a Potsdam Conference statement calling for unconditional surrender by Japan. That was the thinking in Whitehall and Washington . As for just what would happen if Japan refused such terms and stubbornly chose to fight on, no one quite knew, but complete plans for invading the Japanese home islands had been completed and signed by Truman, and those at the top of American decision-making agreed that the Super-Bomb would surely finish the Japanese if they wouldn’t listen to reason and the Potsdam Declaration stuck in their throats.
But first the Germans!
“That’s very generous of you, sir,” Truman responded, smiling, wearing his new "victory suit" he had first worn on the voyage over on board the S. S. Augusta. “But things are going well, and we expect to be in Tokyo in a couple weeks, so you needn’t bother sending any forces.”
Winston looked, it was reported later, a bit disappointed in his own jaunty version of a military suit, which he like to wear when dealing with other heads of state and their commanding generals and admirals. He lit another cigar, forgetting the one he had set down. “Well, well, just in case it doesn’t go all that well--we’ll be standing by to do our part if need be.”
Truman’s trademark ear-to-ear grin seemed to contract a bit. “Oh, stand by if you like, but help won’t be necessary.”
The remark may have seemed too abrupt and firm in emphasis, for Truman smiled brightly. “After all,” he added, “they jumped us first, remember? That means, to be fair, America gets first crack at them!”
Winston nodded, blowing a choking cloud of smoke over Anthony Eden his War Secretary at his side. The chief ministers breathed easier. A reference to the infamous surprise bombing attack on Pearl Harbor, of course!
The conversation then turned to other matters as the aides listened in, taking notes, and Jimmy Byrnes, American Secretary of State, simply looking on and saying nothing..
Finally, with Italy and Spain and some other questions touched on in preparation for meeting the third party in the conference, Winston cast a coy smile toward the east. “I believe we are ready for him now, are we not?”
Truman didn’t seem to take or relish the humor, but he smiled gamely. “You mean the--ah--er--Generalissimo?”
“Must we call him by that ridiculous, tinpot despot's title?” Churchill expostulated, blowing smoke all over everybody. “Yes, I do mean him! But the important thing is that we--together--possess the preponderance, the right and winning card, a veritable trump, to put on the table.”
Truman shifted in his ornate, gold-decorated chair (one of three allotted to the three chiefs of the three allied nations present at the table), and his smile was slower this time. “I suppose so. It isn’t quite in the bag, but it soon will be.”
Winston paused, peered at Truman, then at Eden who gave him an affirming look, and the prime minister made signs to go.
After several tremendous attempts, like an aging elephant struggling to perform old tricks, he succeeded in gaining his feet, showing his age to Truman, who was visibly embarrassed. Truman showed Churchill to the door.
“He’s coming by rail, you know,” Churchill remarked on parting. “Doesn’t trust planes not to blow up on him. It’s the private train of the imperial Romanov family, I am informed. Complete with gilded plumbing spigots, jewel-encrusted champagne buckets, and Gobelin tapestries and diamond-encrusted chandeliers and all that fin d' siecle sort of thing. A true museum piece, which he dug out of a secret underground depot somewhere in the Urals! So typical of these Asiatic Russians to want to put on the dog this way!”
Truman wasn’t interested, nodding politely, and Churchill decided he had better things to do than bore an American ally with British wit and took himself off.
What to do with the rest of the day? Truman thought it might be interesting to tour Berlin. He rode with his top aides, Jimmy Byrnes and Admiral Leahy, from Babelsberg-Potsdam to Berlin, taking Shickelgruber’s famous Autobahn, a divided, four-lane military, high-speed highway that went straight to its destination without allowing cross traffic. Churchill surprised the Americans by passing them in his Rolls limousine, for he evidently had the same idea.
No American (and certainly no Southerner worth his grits and hominy and chitlens) could let this go by uncontested, and Truman’s Packard, its V8 engine roaring, shot forward. The two vehicles were soon neck in neck, their speedometers showing 80--90—100—120--135 mph when flag-bearing roadblocks in the near distance were sighted and they just had time to slow down by braking hard. Even then Churchill’s car waited to the last moment to apply brakes, which caused his heavier vehicle to swerve sharply toward the shoulder as his chauffeur tried to avoid the Soviet Russian roadblock and checkpoint.
Two unknown vehicles arriving so quickly threw the checkpoint into full alert, and it looked tense for a few moments, as troops poured out, surrounding the cars. But Churchill’s chauffeur--a Secret Serviceman--spoke fluent Russian, and the way soon cleared, the Russians waving their caps at the popular British leader who had sent--they were told by British propaganda leaflets and reminded by the chauffeur--uncountable ships full of weapons, food, and clothing as a sign of the good will and love of the British for the Russian people.
Noticing that the Russians didn’t wave as much for the Americans, it was rather glum in the president’s car.
“After all the shipments we sent over of food, weaponry, and the like, you’d think they’d show a little more enthusiasm toward us,” the president groused. “You would think Churchhill re-stamped the shipments “Made in England” when he shipped them to the Bolshies!”
Byrnes smiled behind his hand. He knew Churchill had done just that. “I’m expecting word from Alamagordo any time now,” the president remarked a little more cheerfully.
Byrnes squinted at the president. “You really think it will work!”
Truman laughed. “Of course! We have Oppenheimer, the best atomic scientist in the business! Even the British had to throw the towel in, when they saw what he was accomplishing. That’s why they gave us everything they had done at Tube Alloys! They knew for sure we’d beat them to the punch with this, so why waste good English sterling--which they don’t have a lot of right now thanks to the drubbing Shickelgruber gave them earlier in the war.”
The Secretary of State didn’t seem to hear Truman. They had reached Shickelgruber’s pride and joy--the immense struts of his glass and titanium sky-dome that had covered Berlin and kept out cold weather until massive bombings had reduced it to a shattered hulk. He looked out at the twisted lampposts, the bombed out buildings, and could smell the stench of corpses and burning fires.
Truman darted a glance at Byrnes, but didn’t press the point any further, and turned back to viewing the acre upon acre of ruins. As for the admiral, he could be counted on not to speak unless spoken to.
“That is what happens when a man overreaches himself,” he commented to his touring party, who were thinking more about dinner, or what the British, who administered the Allied commissariat, might consider dinner. “Imagine all this absolutely wonderful German technology, the dome and the highway system and the rest, all going for naught--” the president cheerfully remarked to Admiral Leahy, who was sitting to the president’s left, but like Byrnes was saying very little.
“Yes, Mr. President, how true, ” the obliging admiral offered.
The two cars of Truman and Churchill crossed each others paths a number of times in the streets of the destroyed capital. Finally, they met again at the Chancellery, for both leaders wanted to see the bunker where Shickelgruber had spent his last days. He was informed that the underground shelter had been looted by the Russian soldiers, but there was still some of the heavier furniture in the Fuehrer’s private suite to see.
Churchill started down the dank steps littered with shell casings and broken dome glass, reaching the second level, but he still had one more level to go, but he halted, calling for a chair. There wasn’t one unbroken, so a toilet, already torn out but left by a soldier who found something not so hard to carry out, was set up for him. After a rest, he found his second wind and went back up to ground level, pausing only to glance at some fire-blackened petrol cans.
“They were the ones used to incinerate that clown Shickelgruber’s miserable carcass,” someone commented, and Churchill frowned and showed his distaste by cutting the tour short. He didn’t go into the Chancellery, though his aides were free to go and they collected various souvenirs from the wreckage--pieces of the wall molding, bits of Shickelgruber’s marble desk top, Nazi medals, and such. The prime minister walked about the half-inhabited, desolated city, drawing crowds. He was clearly enjoying the fruits of victory, even if he didn’t wish to view Shickelgruber’s last abode.
But victory couldn’t disguise the squalor and hopelessness of the dismal scenes around him. The streets everywhere were lined with ragged people walking along, carrying their meager goods, or working with brooms and naked fingers to gather the glass and titanium shards that lay everywhere, so that they could sell it for a few pennies to the men with the horse carts who would take it away to the trains loading up everything valuable. Those soldiers not assigned to such duties prowled the city. Off duty Russian soldiers were gathered in groups on every corner, watching the younger women and where they were going, then stepping off to follow them if they still wanted women after the first mass rapes.
Churchill, feeling the evening chill coming on, returned to his car, and his ministers soon joined him, and they drove off back to Babelsberg. Somehow the talk--gloomy talk incited possibly by the scenes in Berlin--turned to Coventry, but the moment it did, Churchill cut it short. “Expediencies are never pleasant!” he snapped. “No one will find out for years what we had to do for the sake of the greater welfare of the nation. Truth, since it is so precious, particularly in wartime demands a bodyguard of lies--so we become expert liars for the sake of national security! We cannot tell even our own people the truth, or risk betraying them into the hands of their enemies. And so--and so we must bow to the goddess of expediency, who can be a cruel mistress at times! After all, we couldn’t possibly sacrifice the many for the few--it would be madness!”
No one, as before, dared disagree with the great man when he was pontificating on solemn matters of state, and the conversation ended abruptly, with Churchill getting the last word--which in this case was “madness.”
As was his custom, he dropped by the Ultra huts that followed him everywhere, just to check on the latest teletypes. He was handed the latest, frowned, crumpled it, then was handed a second, and he responded the same, but with his teeth clamping down on his cigar and a couple snorts of rage that threatened to choke him. Taking a third teletype from the now flustered Ultra man, Churchill’s face bloomed scarlet, in big fiery spotches, as he saw it contained the same repeated message—-COVENTRY MEETS PYRRHUS. Flinging it to the canvas floor, he stormed out at the Ultra men present. “What is the meaning of this?” he boomed. When they stared at him, aghast, one man uttering only, “What, sir?” he waved the teletype in their faces. “Don’t you ‘What me, sir?’!” the p.m. thundered. “I want the dirty, little bug who’s playing this mischief on me, immediately dragged out of hiding and shot! That what, my good sirs!”
The three little Ultra service huts practically collapsed as the infuriated, snorting Churchill swept out like a charging Spanish bull and away to his private quarters, where it took quite a few stiff whiskeys to rid himself of a certain disturbing image that kept coming back into his dreams and even his conscious daytime hours.
“That odd name of his,” he remarked to Byrnes, “no wonder he lost, it hasn’t any ring to it. To really succeed in this game your name has to have some cachet, or you’re finished before you’ve begun. And even if you’ve succeeded to a point, you’ll never reach the top--not with a funny-sounding name. He should have shortened it to two syllables at least—like, ah, my name! ”
“The same with “Byrnes’? Or is “Pendergast” too long for you, sire? Perhaps that is the reason he isn't standing where you are?”
Truman was silent for a moment. “Still a little sour in the gills about losing your main chance, aren’t you, Jimmy boy?”
“Can’t help it,” said Byrnes. “Can you blame me for not wanting to sit where you are now? You know it was my turn, not yours.”
“Yes, I do know that, and know it very well,” the president laughed. “And that’s why I have you along as my chief adviser. You know exactly what to do in every circumstance, for you’ve thought it all out thoroughly beforehand, and a man without a tether who knows as much as you would be a very dangerous foe in this pool where all the fish are man-eating sharks. Am I right?”
Byrnes managed a wry smile. “Yes, Mr. President! But don’t take me for granted. Presidents aren’t immune to assassination by close confidantes. Remember what happened to Napoleon and quite a few others who aspired to world power.”
Truman laughed uproariously. “That’s good, Jimmy! That’s really good! Arsenic in his claret carried old Nappie off, I've heard! Applied by his best friend too just after his crowning, victorious come-back at Waterloo! Must have taken the cue from Brutus’s example, right? And the fellow they substituted--he couldn't fight his way out of a paper bag!”
Even as both cars drove back down the Autobahn toward Germany’s version of Beverly Hills, the Djugashvilli-Romanov Imperial Train slowed to a halt at a station in Potsdam. There it stood, heavily guarded all that evening and during the night. Whether Generalissimo Djugashvilli was in the train or somewhere else, no one knew except Djugashvilli and a few close aides. He hadn’t come this far in life to be blown up on a siding in Prussia, eastern Germany!
Churchill’s "clever chaps," the M-5 and Ultra people, worked overtime, of course. They had cracked the German code, using German’s Enigma machine--a tremendous advantage all through the war. Now they had the primary Russian codes penetrated, and knew the train was an elaborate front. Djugashvilli was no fool even if the lower grades loved to call him “Jughead,” for this parvenu Georgian upstart had many enemies in Russia's highest circles, particularly after his savage purge of the top Russian military echelons just before the war, when every Russian was given good reason to recall that their ruler was no Russian but a foreigner from the Caucausus. Having put millions of absolutely innocent Russian and Ukrainian people to death by execution, forced famines, and in slave labor camps, he could expect no mercy if he let his guard down--and he never relaxed his guard.
Knowing this, Churchill was well aware he could trust almost no one in his own entourage. Eden was trustworthy, and Cardogan, and a few others, but Djugashvilli’s paid informants were everywhere—-even entrenched in Truman’s entourage.
“After all his nasty purges of rivals and massacres of peasants, I trust the Generalissimo sleeps well tonight,” Churchill commented to Eden as he settled into bed in the early hours of the 17th. “--wherever this throwback to Atilla happens to lay his head.” He chuckled. "Historians say the Huns that were the terror of Imperial Rome came from the East, and it could be they were orginally Georgians--a respectable surmise in my judgment, since he is the most Hunnish fellow you could hope to meet!"
Ignoring his aging superior's Hunnish ramblings, Eden shook his well-groomed head. “Regardless of age, private trains are comfortable places, sir, more comfortable than these East Teutonic lodgings, I dare say. Prussians prefer hard-as-rock beds, which explains why these beds are impossible to sleep on. I daresay I would gladly change places and take a berth on his museum piece of a train.”
At this reference to the train, Churchill snorted. “Oh, that ridiculous antique of his--purely for gaudy, neo-Byzantine show! He’s not on it, not in a million years would he come in on such a contraption, literally begging every angry Ukrainian, thirsting for revenge on the man who starved his whole family to death, laying in wait along the route to throw a bomb on the tracks! And they lack no sufficient cause to throw bombs, he’s slaughtered so bloody many millions and millions of them. As his old mentor and colleague, Lenin, said, 'One man's death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic.' That's how he thinks too--the monster! Why, after this conference is over, he’s got plans to take the four or five millions of Nazi-interned Ukrainians and Russians we give him from our side who fled to us for refuge and stuff them all into his slave camps. We can’t feed them, and he certainly won’t either since he calls them traitors for having been captured by the Nazis. He’ll work every last wretch—-man, woman, and child--to death. But it can’t be helped. We can’t possibly feed them over on our side when he has the best farmland. It's a pity, but our hands are tied!” Eden smiled at his superior’s contradictory statement, the latest in a long series of such by a leader with an increasingly fading memory for lapses. “Yes, he did kill quite a lot of Ukrainians, now that you mention it. Was it three million? Four? And didn’t they mostly starve to death by his direct order?”
“A conservative estimate is twenty millions, dear boy. And, yes, the monster created the famine by abandoning the region to the Nazis after shutting off all food transports and taking away what stores of corn they had. And this happened in the breadbasket of Eurasia! Well, you see what strange bedfellows I must sleep with in this dirty, ungentlemanly world of modern politics! Sometimes I think I should have tried another trade than government, one not quite so bloody!”
The war secretary’ eyelids were drooping. He had already listened to Churchill’s Elizabethan monologues and fits of second thoughts and even remorse for past sins for several hours that evening.
He excused himself, closing the double, white and gilt French Empire doors behind him.
Churchill, still nursing a whiskey, let his cigar burn in an ash tray, then fell asleep with the light on, Clemmie his wife not present to turn it off for him. On his nightstand sat the Red Box, with all its top secret papers, some the latest Ultra information on Alamagordo, unread. For him, Potsdam was a vacation, a diversion from the upcoming British election, not a working conference. Would his Conservative Party win? Or dreary little Attlee’s dreary Labor Party? He knew it would be too close for comfort. That was why he jumped at the Potsdam conference--just the thing to take his mind off nasty thoughts about what he might possibly do if--perish the thought--he were turned out by the British electorate at his age. Oh, he wouldn't have to give up politics entirely, even in defeat. He could find something to do--and they'd let him do it as long as he didn't try to manage major, important issues anymore. He’d still be hanging about the corridors of power as leader of the minority opposition party, but what kind of an existence was that? He might as well be dead as assume such a niggling, minor role again.
Over in London’s Buckingham Palace, King George also had access to the Red Box, and he had dutifully read every paper in it before retiring on the 16th, though a family man who wouldn’t think to keep his wife up waiting for him.
He must have turned too many times, for the queen spoke, “What’s troubling you? Something you ate? Or is it the election coming, and our dear Winnie perhaps losing and being turned out so ungraciously after all he’s accomplished for our country and the world?”
“No, dear, som--som--something I read. That bloody Al-Al-Alamagordo thing of the Americans--it’s not going quite so well as we'd h-h-h-h-h-h--hoped.” And there were the mystery “COVENTRY” teletypes, which he wouldn’t ever mention to her. They had caused quite a stir among the M-1 and 2 people, when it got back to them what had happened at the Ultra camp with Churchill and his latest messages. He himself wasn't officially privy to what happened, but even a king has sources--and can't trust everything to the regular channels.
“So?” his wife sighed wearily. “Don’t let it bother you. The war’s won! Who really cares if the Americans and Russians steal more than their share of the glory for the victory in Europe. We can all go back to peacetime life from here on. Isn’t that something to celebrate? As for the Asian theatre--well, that will wait a bit. They might just surrender anyway, after they hear how well things are going for us over here.”
“No, it may not go that w-w-w-w-w-way, dear. ”
This remark slapped his wife awake. She rose up to look at him, flicking on the light.
“What did you say?”
The king gazed at her with slightly bloodshot, worried eyes. “They’re experiencing some d-d-d-d-d-d-difficulty in the process--I read about it this evening. Oppenheimer is a bright young man, to be sure, but apparently not quite the experienced g-g-g-genius Einstein is. The operating theorem governing the explosive is not checking out as it s-s-s-s-s-s-s-should, and it may not--”
“It may not go pop, you’re saying?”
There was a long pause from Her Royal Highness, after she sank back down in the bedclothes.
The king was beginning to snore through his pronounced German Guelf nose when her voice startled him awake.
“But what happens to US then, darling? What happens if they don’t blow up the mad Emperor over there with this horrible doomsday bomb and end the war with it?”
The king, claiming a chief executive’s privilege of silence, refused to answer for quite some time. Then a final comment on the subject, which was muffled, said as much to his pillow as to his faithful, long-suffering life mate, "That H-H-H-H-Hirohito fellow is a living g-g-g-g-god to them, and they all, man, woman, child, gladly die f-f-f-f-f-f-f-fighting for him! That is what we have to look forward to--without the B-B-B-B-B-B-B-Bomb, there's not going to be any s-s-s-s-s-s-s-surrender!"
All that night and the next morning, Djugashvilli was up partying like a true Georgian bandit or warlord half his age.
He had much to celebrate, even before the start of the conference. His NKVD had informed him that Alamogordo was a bust, and there would be no American Super-Bomb, not for 1945, in any case. Both Britain and America had lost their chance, by trusting information that turned out to be fatally deficient. He knew more. Britain had kept back the key elements, which would have made the bomb work, and America, the upstart, break-away British colony, was the dupe.
“That’s all right for us,” Djugashvilli observed. “Britain hasn’t the Bomb, and stubbornly, or stupidly--I haven’t decided which--sits on the information. Perhaps, they don't like the idea of killing millions in a single moment! Imagine that! But we have the necessary information, and can build the bomb, and ours will be ready before the Amercans’. What will these arrogant, white-gloved British aristocrats do then? They will have to treat us as we deserve!“
One thing did not fit, however. Why hadn’t the British, possessing the whole theorem, built the “ultimate weapon” and dumped it on Moscow and Leningrad as soon as bombers could be loaded and sent out? Shickelgruber had planned to do the same to Washington and London with his Bomb, delivered by intercontinental missiles, but had run out of development and deployment time. Why had the Brits let the Americans go ahead with the project? Why didn’t they seem to care who developed it?
In any case, he had what the British were too mutton-brained and stiff-necked to accept, a wonderful “neutron bomb” that would gnaw the mutton right off a man while he stood on his two feet! Let the other powers throw away billions developing the nuclear explosive--he had the ultimate weapon he wanted! Why destroy what Russia’s infrastructure desperately needed? They could use most everything, down to the plumbing, in their enemies' territories, homes, cities and industries. Russia was eminently sensible, the Americans and the British were mad. What was the point of conquering the world, if it were turned to a pile of radioactive ash and all the inhabitants were dead? Who would do the dirty slave labor then?
And these little strokes he had, what were they? How dare anyone suggest to him they were any impediment to his vigorous leadership of the Soviets. It would take a thousand such strokes to cut him down to the size of a common man. He had something to celebrate! He had gained the edge over the mighty Americans, who seemed about to overtake Britain with their bigger and more powerful air force and army, and who might have been thinking to push his own Russia back from Eastern Europe, which he was determined to hold as his war booty along with reparations from all of German territory. Besides all that, as soon as Imperial Japan was wrapped up and under occupation by his Red Army, he had determined to complete Shickelgruber’s task, by eliminating all Jews residing in Soviet dominions.
Djugashvilli’s paralyzed left hand lay stiff on the table while the good right lifted glass after glass, toasting the army and accepting toast after toast to his own leadership of that army offered by his top generals.
His house--not the official one at Babelsberg--was one big party. Surrounded by whole division of his army, his position was impregnable, and he felt safe and in a particularly good, expansive mood.
“We shall force our way into the Americans’ war against Japan,” he confided to General Zhukov seated next to him.
“Begin moving troops and trains toward the Manchurian front. We will declare war in a week or so, so have the armies there and ready for action. I’m depending on you. We are going to take our share of Korea and Japan, and Manchuria too, so that we will never be deprived of warm-water ports, not to mention the iron mines and steel mills in the area too that the Japanese so thoughtfully developed for us. The Americans and British haven’t invited us into the Japanese theater because they want to shut us out of such facilities and resources. But we shall not be shut out! Then, after I have dealt with the Jewish population in our territory, we will take Constantinople from the Turks—but in the meantime, Japan--”
“Of course, Generalissimo!”
“And we will use this new bomb of ours as soon as it is ready, and carve the flesh off every little yellow bug of a Nip who opposes us! They shall look very funny, each soldier standing with only bare bones beneath his bulky uniform!”
“Of course, Generalissimo! A toast to your illustrious, single-handed re-capture of Djugashvilligrad--a stroke of military, strategic genius the world has not witnessed since Alexander the Great—-a most glorious feat of arms and strategy crowned by your utter annihilation of the enemy and the conquest of Berlin!”
More such toasts followed, extolling the Generalissimo for every victorious campaign in the war, many of them more properly American or British victories--but who present was brave enough to correct the slight oversight?
Djugashvilli seemed to have no limit of how many vodkas and toasts he could absorb, and the generals began to be worried as the morning dawned, and he was still drinking.
Finally, he stood, the big gold buttons on his potbelly taking the tablecloth with him and upsetting a with a crash a huge, top-heavy confection of flowers, candles, and Romanov necklaces draped across the whole centerpiece. He stretched his good arm, and ordered a shave and freshening up of his person.
Then he sat down and promptly collapsed and passed out, his rigid left arm twitching into temporary, useless life now that its owner was unconscious. Was it simple inebriation or another “minor” stroke? No doctor dared approach him for the diagnosis, for fear of being executed should Djugashvilli find out. Everyone knew the great leader of the Soviets was a drunk, a lush, a sot—-so it was best left at that.
Arriving late at the conference hall, which was the Cecilianhof Palace overlooking Griebnitz Lake at Babelsberg. Djugashvilli was greeted by Truman and Churchill, and then their chief ministers shook hands, but Djugashvilli surprised Churchill by expressing regret that he hadn’t brought his king.
“But it isn’t done on this sort of a working, practical mission of state,” Churchill explained. “I represent the primary political organs of the body politic, the king represents the soul and spirit of the British people. He has no proper role to play here, though I do everything, of course, according to the spirit and soul of the people and our unwritten constitution. We can’t have our monarchs meddling in politics. It would be resented. We revere our monarchs, in their place. His active role in things, well, that would spoil everything!”
Soul, spirit, political organs? A grimace said everything. Djugashvilli, showing no understanding of fine distinctions, simply remarked, “Why can’t it be one political organ, so to speak, as in my case? I alone am the acting member of state! Why must you British be two-headed at the top? There is only one head and one face and one organ in Russia--I am the the state! Then beneath me there is the civil service, the government nomenklatura, with their fine pens and their spectacles down on their noses, followed by the army, the industry, the collective farms, and the working classes whose sweat greases the gears. And making everything work together like fine-tuned machinery, our excellent secret services to supervise and see everyone does his appointed duty. Isn’t that simple and rational? But you democracies complicate everything by dividing everything up endlessly, until you are splintered beyond comprehension! Bodies cannot work that way harmoniously. How do you think that governments can?”
Truman, briskly, interrupted Churchill’s beginning lecture on the glaring differences between democratic procedure and totalitarianism, got down to the business at hand: Germany.
“Gentlemen, we are here to decide the nature of the administration of Germany for the coming period after the war--”
The Generalissimo shook his head. He thumped the table with his good hand.
“No, there must be a settlement first concerning reparations. I will not discuss administration until the promised reparations are awarded.”
In the dimly lighted, poorly ventilated conference room, the windows kept closed because German mosquitoes and gnats were a plague by the lakeside at that time of year, cigar smoke performed strange tricks of perception. Churchill blew smoke over everybody, making configurations of them that gave Djugashvilli, for one, huge, multiple warts and tumors before dissipating. He seemed to amuse himself disfiguring Djugashvilli in particular, once he realized what a wonderful, artistic device a cigar could be. Truman, squaring his shoulders, was not going to be put upon by a cowardly Communist who couldn't trust himself to an airplane.
“Not reparations again, surely! We’re not here to flog and punish a prostrate Germany, what they did back in the Versailles conference, the cause of this appalling, shameful second war we’ve just fought so hard and won so expensively! It’s proper, civilized administration we’re after here, to see to it that war doesn’t happen again!”
Djugashvilli smiled at Truman's reference to civilized conventions and lessons to be learned from past blunders while sporting temporarily a smoke-created tiara of many horns and crowns. He continued his objections. “And proper administration is predicated on reparations to which we, as the country that has suffered most from the Germans, have a right to exact. My estimates are fair, and we must have the twenty billions, a figure to which Mr. Roosevelt agreed at our last meeting.”
At the mention of the missing eminence everyone had in his thoughts, Truman’s face grew whiter, while a single shaft of light penetrating from the outdoors transfixed his forehead like a unicorn’s horn. "Unfortunately for you!" he was thinking, but he said instead: “Unfortunately, Mr. Roosevelt is not with us,” he reminded Djugashvilli gently. “Reparations cannot be imposed, for the reason conditions have changed and the war is over. We are holding the majority of the German population in our territories, while you have the food- producing regions of Eastern Germany in your possession. If we impoverish our districts, take away their means of self-support, we shall have no means to feed them, since you possess the agricultural districts and then they will have to look to us for everything. No, we are not prepared to assume that burden.”
“But the great glassed cloche-domes the Germans built were all destroyed by your bombers, and the fields are exposed and not producing as they had been before,” protested Djugashvilli equably. “You’ve got the fertilizer too, the potash deposits, so how are we going to get anything to grow here in this worthless sand they call soil?”
He blew cigarette smoke toward Truman, but a current of sluggish air rolled it round Churchill’s head instead like a lion’s mane. “You also have all the coal and heavy industry on your side, so you can easily build an economy. We have little on the German side, and our own has been extensively damaged by the Germans. Millions of our people have died at their hands. We need the reparations to rebuild our own country. It must come from the side you control, as agreed at Yalta with Mr. Roosevelt and you, Mr. Churchill.”
Truman seemed to be considering calling a halt in the conference at this point. Conferring with his secretary of state, he then turned back to Djugashvilli. “We have information coming that will rapidly change this situation, and so this discussion is not about reparations but more about the best administration we can devise for the occupied territories, so that we can all be spared the burden of feeding and clothing practically the whole German population. As for potash, I have no information on such deposits in the Western regions.”
Djugashvilli’s face showed nothing, but he was not slow to respond. He shook his head. “I don’t know what information you have or do not have, but it won’t change the problems we face as winter comes on. We need the industry to rebuild our own, and Germany has what we need to replace the factories they destroyed on our territory.”
The conference was at an impasse, and the room grew tense, the smoke-clogged air nearly unbreathable. <> Then Churchill smiled expansively. “Well, now, I think we’ve done all we need to today, gentlemen! I have dinner for all tonight, and special entertainment. You all know how I detest music, so you will be treated to the best musicians available in Europe, my Royal Black Watch bagpipers, along with a special dance troupe from Spain who were hired to provide kitchen help and custodial service at my quarters.”
“They’re fascists, then, and I won’t accept entertainment from Franco’s people,” Djugashvilli objected. “After all, I believe this present war we’ve concluded was fought over such issues, was it not?”
“No, no, no!” Churchill thundered, perhaps forgetting himself as he was wagging his finger as if Djugashvilli were a naughty, little schoolboy. “These are Basque separatists, quite another animal, I can assure you! They’ve come to beg me for Basque independence, you see, and Generalissimo Franco has nothing to do with them! In fact, if he knew they were here, he’d send assassins.”
Now Churchill, using the title of the Spanish dictator, took care to stress it, but the irony seemed lost on Djugashvilli, who smiled so broadly that the tension was relaxed immediately. “Well and good, let them perform!” the Soviet generalissimo said. “I like dancing and singing with my vodka and Caspian Sea caviar! I can forget they are fascists if they perform half as well as my own Russian virtuosos!””
With that, the first day of the conference was adjourned by Truman, and the delegations broke up to prepare for dinner.
At his dressing, Truman was interrupted by a teletype message. It was decoded for him.
He forgot the dinner, and sat down on the edge of the Prussian-hard bed mattress. Then after a moment he got up and went to Byrnes’ room. Together they digested the message.
“There was just a bit too much cooperation, a bit too much friendliness on their side,” Byrnes began. “You weren’t present to see it, so this is a surprise to you but not to me. I never trusted them when they were that friendly, not like Franklin did.”
Truman still said nothing. He seemed to be thinking hard and fast.
Finally, he faced Byrnes squarely. “We’ll act as if nothing has happened. Just let the conference go the course, and demand unconditional surrender from the Nips the same as we did for Germany, and--”
The President paused. A strange look came over his face, as if his hand had just slipped into a forbidden cookie jar.
Byrnes waited, but the president seemed loath to finish.
“--and?” the Secretary of State who should have been President (if the world were a fair place) prompted.
“--try the ace up our sleeve!”
It was time for Byrnes to smile his bitter, worldly smile. “Why bother, Harry? The world will go to hell anyway, wouldn’t it? Even if we had gotten the Bomb to work? We’re just repeating, repeating. Old King Pyrrhus, for example. Remember reading about him in high school history class? He was so good a commander he could beat the Romans on their own turf, but the effort cost too much, and he had to retreat and let the Romans have their way. Every victory of ours until this has been Pyrrhic--a waste of time and effort since it will all come out a vain effort in the end! Anyway, what is the real difference between us and Jughead, or between us and Shickelgruber? We’re playing the same dirty game with the lives of humanity, aren’t we? Trading this country for that country, the poor slobs caught in our meat grinder never getting one real chance to say anything while we, four or five old men tottering on the edge of the grave without a shred of human feeling for them, decide whether they live or die.”
“You’re wrong, Jimmy,” the president returned. “Forget Alamagordo--even if it cost us a bundle and we got nothing! We’ve still got this last card, and I’m playing it for all it’s worth. It’ll save a lot of our brave boys’ lives. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
Byrnes shrugged. “How about Japanese lives--save any of them? Or will you do Churchill’s thing, sacrificing the whole city of Coventry for the prospect of a future victory, and never mind the men, women, and children bombed without a single word of warning when he knew hours ahead that the attack was coming? What kind of man could do that to his own people? How could he sleep at nights? Can't he hear those people's screams?”
Truman sighed. “What a carping old philosopher you’ve turned out to be--in another year, you’ll be good for nothing if you keep thinking that way! If you want to be a bleeding heart, you should have left politics long ago. This is a man's world, all rough and tumble--and we only put on white gloves when the real work is over!”
By this time, Truman had bounced back and seemed his old, brisk self. He had always possessed immense reserves of determination, and Byrnes, looking at him, wasn’t surprised. The expression of a cookie jar thief who’s slipped a cookie up his sleeve and ran out of the house, was utterly gone.
“You’re way too cynical and defeatist for a true American statesman, Jimmy,” said Truman, opening the door and straightening his tie. “Well, let’s go to dinner! Since he’s worried sick about losing the upcoming election, Churchill is set on diversion and is determined to have his little fun with us tonight, so let’s not show any Sunday night prayer meeting faces! We can play his little game, and beat him at it too!”
America’s second-in-command followed slowly, a stagey, Trumanesque smile on his face for the numerous diplomats he was likely to meet in halls and rooms of the Little White House on his way out. “They trained him well in Jackson,” Byrnes thought behind the grin. “They always keep something in reserve for the final hand! He learned that from old Tom himself!”
Uniformed guards, secret service men, quickly formed up the presidential entourage. The glossy black, gangster-style Packard limoisine stood ready, doors opened for them. Byrnes stepped in, the president, then secret service men quickly slipped in, the doors shut, and they shot off to Churchill’s domicile.
It was only a minute before the whole ritual was repeated in reverse. Byrnes could do it with his eyes half-closed, which they were, the grin soon slipping from his features. “This is some kind of nightmare we’re concocting,” he was thinking. “How do I get out of it now? How?” he was wondering as they were escorted into the cigar-reeking den of Winston Churchill, “Tommie Savior of Britain and European freedom.” Despite Truman’s cocky optimism, everything stank of Pyrrhic victory to him--a kind of shameful odor of booze and old cigars and bordello in some sleazy, tinpot Balkan principality.
He could have choked, but he kept a tight rein on himself, his face showing just the right expressions for greeting everybody they encountered. Truman sat down, and then he too took his seat. Djugashvilli came in, late as usual. Churchill’s musical brigade struck up a deafening rendition of “God Save the King.” The charade began. Before the conference even ended, the election in Britain took place, and went badly for Churchill. He was out, Attlee and Bevin were in. The Permanent Undersecretary arrived to take Anthony Eden's chair, and Attlee and Bevin came to replace Churchill.
The Generalissimo, who had dearly wanted to meet King George and got only Churchill, was even more disgusted by the results of the British election (something he could not begin to understand, not knowing any election that could not be rigged). Churchill was a pleasing fellow, even if he were British and arrogant and thought he was more powerful than he was. But these pathetic replacements from the British Labour Party--dour, humorless, poorly attired fellows! Why did they dress so shabbily? Were they affecting to be poor or truly poor? He felt insulted, and from then on ignored the British contingent and dealt exclusively with Truman on the dividing up of the world. That was just what Truman wanted anyway. Britain was not really a major player anymore--Truman had decided that before the conference. But it took the Generalissimo's recognition of the fact of the British eclipse for Truman to feel free to lay his cards on the table with someone he thought was more or less an equal.
Though ignored by both Russia and America in the remaining portion of the Potsdam Conference, Britain still played an important part--even if the Labour Party were in charge and determined to downsize the Empire to something more in keeping with its diminished powers and war-shattered, nearly bankrupt treasury.
The “Sunday night prayer meeting faces” that Truman had no desire to see darkening the banquet room of the Babelsberg beano were perhaps those of Winter Grace prayer warriors, still gathering faithfully at the conclusion of the war.
The Intercessors’ Prayer War Room was still active, achieving some notable victories such as the saving of the QUEEN MARY from capsizing in the mid-Atlantic with 15,000 troops after being broad-sided with a 100 foot killer wave. Even so, as the sense grew stronger that the campaigns were visibly winding down on the war tables, there was a note of impending judgment upon the world that was impossible to ignore. As the Lord’s command centre on Earth, they had served to direct, with His Spirit’s guidance at every point, a thousand different actions and campaigns, acting as the spearhead for the prayers of four thousand faithful in the land--factory workers, grandmothers, sick and shut-ins, disabled, elderly widows, working chars, and the like--as they sought God Almighty for mercy to intervene and enable Christian Britannica to rise once again from the ashes.
Ian was aware of the note of judgment in the midst of culminating Allied victory (on the very day the Western allies were celebrating!), and he wanted to hear any prophecy or tongues and interpretation that could shed light on it. Down what road would the world plunge next? Saved from Nazism, but saved for what other tyranny? What evil would the nations beget next? He could hope for peace, but he knew there would never be real peace established as long as the unregenerate hearts of men ruled the destinies of individuals and nations.
Prayer continued for a time, well into the evening of the 16th, and then a prophecy came, uttered by a prophetess from Hump Tulips reservation, Sister Sarah, a granddaughter of Second Horse’s mother. She spoke of a vision of three banqueting panthers all eating flesh at a big table, and two panthers pushing one other panther away from the meal, but the one pushed away turned out to be the greater, for he would return to the table, and this time it would be heaped with the flesh of all mankind.
This grotesque scene was confirmed by a prophecy from Sister Gabrielle, who had returned from the latest relapse in hospital. It struck every sense present in the room like lightning.
Back before Attlee and Bevin could darken the door of Bebelsburg Palace, while Churchill could still divert his thoughts from the coming election, Churchill’s British-style beano went off without a hitch, it was a smashing success with the Americans and Russians--perhaps a bit too smashing though. The Basque dancing troupe performed as scheduled after the Black Watch band and bagpipers had performed full blast such numbers as everyone but Churchill loved to hear--old favorites that brought Russian troops to the windows outside to listen in. But the dancers struck a sour note. Their leader, the “Zamalzain”, was doing his intricate maneuvers, by leaping and lightly touching a champagne glass in the middle of the floor when he miscalculated and it shattered.
Later, after the party, which went very well otherwise, Churchill turned to Eden in his private suite. “Those peasants from Spain, those Basques, what effrontery, to demand to dance for me, then they go and spoil the effect by refusing to finish the dance! Imagine that! As for independence, after that performance, they’ll have to wait another thousand years if I have anything to do with it!”
Sir Anthony Eden, patiently listening, forgot his diplomacy for moment. “But, sir, if you only knew, they have a good reason for stopping this particular dance.”
Churchill nearly dropped his cigar as if someone had shouted, “Viva Coventry!”
“What’s that?” the prime minister whispered, his thunder fled away momentarily.
“I said, they have good reason for stopping, it’s an ill omen to their thinking when a glass is smashed, for it means the world cannot be mended.”
Churchill turned apoplectic in the face, and looked as if he would explode like the Super-Bomb of the Alamagordo-Manhattan District Atomic Project. But he too fizzled.
Instead of blowing up, the aging prime minister hobbled to a wet bar and helped himself to some restorative and a squirt from the siphon. Soon, without another word to his war minister, he was plumping off to bed on fat, bare feet.
“I had a dream!” the prime minister informed Cardogan and Eden. “Don’t look at me as if I were mad. I had a dream! Can’t a sane man have a dream? It used to be that dreams by heads of state were highly valued objects, worthy of respect, not the subject of incredulity and pity!”
“What was it then?” inquired Anthony Eden, seeking to humor the old man.
The old war horse drew himself up further on his pillow. “Not very pleasant, to be sure. Well, for one thing, I saw myself lying on a bed, under a single sheet, and my feet were sticking out. I was quite, quite dead.”
Everyone in the room looked at each other with sinking hearts. Was this all the prime minister had dreamed? Why bother telling them this? It was surely trivial and shabby, and no one could attach any significance to it. After all, the Grim Reaper paid a call to every mortal eventually, so why make such a fuss about it?
“You fools!” Churchill suddenly thundered, when he observed their exchange of pitying glances at his own expense. “Don’t you get it? I AM the British Empire, personified! I’m dead in the dream, dead in the water. Just like this present, exhausted, white-veined ‘empire’ of ours. Don’t fool yourselves at this conference, we’re only here for show, just to play a niggling minor part, while America and Russia, the real players here of the game, decide what the world will be for the next half of the century! I knew that before I came out here! Do you think I am a fool? I know this game better than anybody! These brash Missourian Americans with Mississippian mud on their shoes--they really think I don’t know all they’re hiding from us. But there’s more to the dream, I sense.”
They were waiting, breathlessly, though shocked to hear Churchill calling their empire both a dead man and a show-off. What more shocking things could the prime minister say than he had already said?
“Well, you said there was more,” Anthony Eden prompted him, when Churchill seemed to be sliding back down his pillow. “What do you mean, sir? Please explain it to us.”
“Oh, I just sensed it, that’s all. I sensed it wasn’t all over with old Britannica, and us. I didn’t see anything, I confess, but I just felt in my bones that the Empire wasn’t really dead as it looked on that bed with its naked feet sticking out from the winding sheet. There may yet arise life from the ashes! You know, the phoenix? It could rise yet again!”
What more could be said? The old man had finally gone off his head, evidently! Imagine, spouting tired old myths, as if they might become reality in the modern world! Churchill had really blown his top this time!
The men crept away, each going to his own wet bar, if he had one, or helping himself to whatever he had brought along that could possibly dull the edge of this latest Churchillian outburst into whimsy and possible senescence. Some reflected the loss of the election would serve him right after all. What Churchill had done was great, but it was clearly over, and the times demanded new blood, new brains, new vision. Unfortunately, they had served Churchill so long, they would fade away with him, if he had to go. And, for men who had known the corridors of power, and made a lifetime profession of cultivating that wonderful power and directing human destiny into safe and productive channels, becoming redundant and turned out in the cold would be a fate worse than death.
Alone, horribly alone once again with his own thoughts--thoughts that stumbled like a mansion's marble statuary of obese Grecian maidens come to life, blundering from empty room to empty room in his darkening brain--Churchill stared across the bed.
What he saw in the dim light of his single lit lamp, beyond his two icy cold, upturned, cadaverous feet, was a wall mural. Some clever artist, before the Russians and the Red Army had taken Berlin, had painted a spoof of a tophatted, scizzors-legged Marlene Dietrich. She was the world-famous German femme fatale, later the provocative emigre actress and cabaret artiste in London and America--and now her sidelong glance, cast toward his from under huge eyelashes, seemed to take his measure as a man and laugh.
Let her laugh! he thought. Love-making wasn't everything, he knew. He had his conpensations in politics. Lately, they might seem to be flagging, but he wasn't dead yet!
Truman and Djugashvilli both be damned! Eden too, he reflected, didn't know quite everything! He had kept back one dream from them all. Rather, two. First, the haberdashery one, showing the main contenders, the world-conquerors Djugashvilli and Truman, exposing them as empty suits play acting as real men. How true to the mark! Then, next, was another just as amusing, the Permanent Undersecretary from the Labour Party Government come to replace him--as if he could be replaced!
Everything on the docket was managed more or less in accordance with the the meeting’s agenda by a determined-to-get-the-best-deal-possible, practical-minded Chairman Truman, ending August 2, with the Potsdam Declaration setting forth the conditions of postwar Germany and demanding Japan’s unconditional surrender.
Spain was left in Franco’s fascist control despite Djugashvilli’s obdurate, unwearying protests. He also failed to get reparations from the West’s occupied portions of Germany, and the contested potash he needed to grow potatoes and cabbages in sandy soil remained unofficially in Western hands. In return he was allowed a de facto occupation of Eastern Europe, despite Churchill’s and Truman’s suitably vigorous protests that he had set up communist regimes in defiance of the Yalta Agreement which guaranteed free, democratic elections in each country. Germany itself was permanently divided, it appeared, with Russian controlling Prussia and half Berlin, while the Western Allies of Britain, France, and America administered three quarters of the country, with millions of German refugees added to the crowded Western portions, all people thrown out of Djugashvilli’s portion, which he had divided with the puppet Communist Polish government.
Nobody was satisfied with this division and arrangement of the German state, since the industry , iron and coal were on one side, and the breadbasket on the other--with no possible bridge between them for sharing what each lacked for the good of both sides.
“Why with your army you’ve drawn an iron curtain across the whole length of Europe, north to south!” Churchill expostulated, using a reference to the "Iron Curtain" of Soviet domination he later turned into gold on a speaker's circuit of American universities.
“But you have all the main factories and coal and steel and potash, and all I have are the ruined farms,” Djugashvilli countered.
Djugashvilli further reminded the Western Powers without even acknowledging the millions of refugees he had added to the Allies’ responsibility, that he had been grievously short-changed. “In return for my concessions, what have you given? No reparations, no guarantees that bandit Franco will be thrown out of Spain, no--”
Churchill interrupted, unable to bear the shade of a lesser power no longer. “What concessions? If you want money, you already have it! You have the immense Romanov gold reserves, worth some forty billions I had been informed, plus oil and diamond mines. Then you have the stolen Romanov baubles, their private train, even their bones hidden away somewhere in Siberia!” he thundered. “That should be more than enough! Why do you have to go adventuring across half of Europe always seeking more, more, more territory and slaves! Haven’t we given you enough the way it is?”
This furious outburst took even the experienced horse-trader by surprise. He blinked slowly, then blew his cigarette smoke against the banks of smoke that Churchill had generated. “Oh, that affair of the Romanov family is long past. I know nothing about it. Why dig up such motheaten, old things? This is the modern world. We have more important matters to consider than the corrupt and dilettante ancien regime of the Romanovs!”
Churchill, ignoring Truman’s warning look, pressed on against the Russian bear. “The Romanovs were substantially British in blood too, you should know! Why, Empress Alexandra, whom you bloody Soviets murdered with a firing squad of cutthroats and cowards, , together with the Emperor and his hemophiliac son and all his innocent daughters, was British, a grand-daughter of our own Queen Victoria! What do you say to that? And you dare demand one thing more of us after slaughtering our own blood royalty?”
Djugashvilli smiled, letting the main shot of the cannon go crashing over his head, as if he hadn’t quite gotten the point.
“But the Romanovs are not here, are they? We are here, deciding things. That is the point! Victors take all. That’s the way it’s always been, and always will be.”
Truman, eyeing his aides, all seemed to agree with Djugashvilli, and Churchill, by looks alone, was pressured down. Blustering behind his tumultuous smoke clouds, he subsided sufficiently for the meeting to go on.
While the Big Three’s diplomatic circus at Potsdam performed as expected, laying the groundwork for the world-wide power struggle between East and West, Britain and America against Russia, the real conference had taken place a year before, in quite a different venue.
A cabal of five of the world’s “best people,” blue bloods and international financiers who with tongue-in-cheek referred amongst themselves to their secret yearly gathering as “The Pentocracy,” met at the ducal house of Wickham Heights deep in Somersetshire in 1944.
Strict adherence to Roger’s Rules and minutes were not needed. They rotated yearly as “Governeur-General” of the meeting, so that no one could indulge dynastic ambitions. Discussions, usually geopolitical, were informal, but there were no notes taken ever, and everyone but the five were rigorously excluded. If a sixth person did happen to break in upon a meeting, and that had happened only once in twenty years, the meeting was considered ended for that day, and a new meeting had to be convened at a later date.
The one in the summer of 1944 was not interrupted, so they got a great deal of practical business accomplished, while designing the shape of things to come for the remaining six decades of the century.
Who were they, that they could presume to wield so much influence?
Three were British, two were American, but the entire group was overwhelmingly Anglophile.
It wasn’t going to be an “American Century,” if they could help it. And, with a thousand connections of the right sort in the corridors of power, they could help it.
With four men and one woman, gender meant little, as the noblewoman present was married to one of the men, and they held the same aims for the British Empire, being both titled nobility, with respective families going back to the Normans and, by Continental blood-ties, to the reigning houses of Europe for over a thousand years prior to William the Conqueror. As for the two men who were American, one was from a leading banking family, the other the heir of a railway-shipping magnate and who had gone into politics and knew everybody of importance in Washington. Their three remaining male peers were either nobility and rich, or rich for so long that they were as good as English nobility.
Together, the Pentocrats held, if not the whole world in their hands, then a good half of it.
The estate, like the major estates in England, was gas-heated, so that the grounds would support trees and grass and flowers as usual, instead of the heather and bracken that followed the descending Arctic Circle. The glassed-in Orangery patio furnished a pleasant room for the meeting, and the Pentocrats wandered in from their suites at the appointed time.
According to a rule, as soon as five were present, the meeting officially began. Until then they might say anything, but it wouldn’t be considered “on record.”
Coming in the glass door of the Orangery, the cold air squiring him, a tall, lushly dark gentleman who called to mind the Bonnie Prince Charlie in the painting at Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott’s estate, found his specially-elongated chair laid out for him, and set his lanky form down. He was the fifth, and the air noticeably became expectant as he was handed a red baton by Sir Tony. As Governeur-General that year, the throwback to Bonnie Prince Charlie would start the meeting off, of course.
“First, I will make an announcement. The “American Century” has ended before it started. Oh, it will seem American, but we will be pulling the strings as usual.”
Everyone was amused.
“But won’t some clever chaps over there catch wind of us, and turn everybody into Anglophobes? What happens then?”
The moderator awarded the member a mock serious response. “We’ll say in certain highly respected quarters, even in newspaper commentary and editorials, that such an attitude isn’t worthy of civilized beings--we’ve all progressed beyond zenophobia, and to put forward the notion of a British conspiracy is preposterous, unthinkable, and--and ungentlemanly.”
With this good start, the moderator went on to the details of that turn of events which they had engineered.
“But, sir, what about the--ah--the Iberian artifacts?”
“Oh, we’ll retain them in our archives for the near future at least. Now let us decide the shape of things for the century’s second half of the British Century! But, first, let us observe a moment of silence for the departed, honorary Pentocrat, dear Mr. Shickelgruber, our intrepid knight.”
The Pentocracy fell silent for a moment.
“Now a moment of silence for the Foundress. Please rise.”
The whole company rose, observed silence, then sat back down.
The Governeur-General rapped his baton on his chair’s arm. “Now, to begin! The departed served well, in his way, and we are at the stage where we can set up the initial structures for unification. The Parliament of Nations thing is going well as planned. The Americans aren’t putting up too much of a fuss that we can’t handle it, and this time they will be going in. Mr. Roosevelt won’t last the war, according to prognosis, and I have in mind a replacement. He is a sensible chap, though a bit brisk. Let him polish his rough edges over in Japan a bit, and then his successors will follow suit with our programme with a bit more vigor. Any comments so far?”
The American banker nodded. “Winston? Are we keeping him on, or should we let him go? I’m not sure he won’t be useful. Consider all he has accomplished to bring Shickelgruber to the appointed end.”
The room paused to consider this. The Governeur-General addressed the question. “No, we’ll need to puff Labor this time. Get the welfare social state going full-speed. Atlee and Bevin will do the job nicely. Winston--well, he has too many antiquated ideas--freedom of individual, freedom of conscience, national identity and allegiance--we would have serious difficulties in the future with him, if he carries on in public office, as he might want to do, given the extensive life-spans of his family.”
Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt disposed of satisfactorily, the Pentocracy proceeded.
“But what about this Djugashvilli fellow? He’s a crude peasant in fancy dress. His style is just too rough and doesn’t really suit our program. Isn’t he getting a bit too unwieldly on the map? He's such a bloody, greedy fellow--nothing will satisfy him! Before he encamps on London and Paris, shouldn’t we stick a pin in the fellow now?”
“Good point,” commented the leader. “Well, what do the rest of you think?”
The discussion that followed came to agreement quickly.
The Governeur-General spoke for them all. “Well, then, Roosevelt’s replacement will be advised as to sticking hard. And he will stick to his allotted turf, you can be sure. He was trained to do that--not going and overreaching himself, and he’ll expect others to act the same. Djugashvilli, before we take him off the gameboard, won’t be permitted Greece, or Turkey, or Spain. There! He’s contained. We’ll get up some nice name for the program, that will stir up supporting democratic sentiments over in America. That’s your job, gentlemen.”
The red baton with the five serpent heads pointed at the two Americans.