For All Nails #255: Grits, Interrupted
by Johnny Pez and Noel Maurer
Governor-General Lennart Skinner kept thinking of George Bolingbroke's remark that history always repeated itself -- the first time as a tragedy, and the second time as a farce. Over the last two months or so, Skinner had had the unhappy feeling that he was overseeing a second, farcical version of the North American Rebellion. This time, instead of Taxation Without Representation and the Boston Tea Party, they had the Fiat Viceroy and the Tuesday Night Massacre. Instead of the Declaration of Independence, they had the Executive Revision Act. And now, instead of the Marquis de Lafayette, they had Exterior Minister Joshua Merkel.
Skinner found that he didn't particularly like Merkel. With his shaved head, metal-rimmed spectacles and closely-trimmed mustache, there was something downright spooky about him. On top of that, there were memories of unofficial battles waged in the North Atlantic during the Global War; for the last thirty years, pretty much every villain in a spy film who didn't have a Mexican accent had a German accent. However, a few decades as a politician had taught Skinner that you didn't have to like a man to do business with him. Just as well, too, or damn near nothing would ever get done between the rivers.
And they'd managed to get a hell of a lot done, too. The negotiations had gone as smoothly as a greased hog through a broken fence. The Germans would sign on to Monaghan's old Atomic-Free Caribbean Accord and remove those confounded missiles from Boricua. In a less publicized move, the Germans would take over from the recently-departed British the task of whipping the CNAA into something like a real fighting force.
Not that the Germans' co-operation didn't have its price, of course. Trade barriers would have to be lowered, and hadn't that given Tommy FN1 the Biloxi fits! Skinner swore that Tommy screamed like a gelding whenever he heard the German trade minister's name. But you had to pay to play, and the sight of those missiles being shipped back to Germany were going to look mighty good in the vita spots during Skinner's re-election campaign.
Skinner was not pleased, though, when his breakfast was interrupted by Michael Murphy coming into the dining room unannounced. On top of the interruption itself, Murphy knew perfectly well when he should and shouldn't intrude on Skinner's meal, which meant that something unusual was going on. Nevertheless, Skinner allowed himself one last spoonful of grits before he said, "Yes, Michael?"
"Governor, Minister Merkel is out here. He says it's important, and it's not something he wants to bring up during the scheduled meeting."
With a sigh, Skinner said, "All right, Michael, bring him in."
Merkel was dressed in his usual old-fashioned diplomat outfit. Skinner himself always ate breakfast in his dressing gown and slippers, and it annoyed him to suddenly be plunged into a fancy dress ball like this. Still, it didn't pay to be rude to a newly-minted ally, so he rose from the table and nodded while saying, "Yes, Mr. Merkel?"
No doubt sensing the Governor-General's sour mood, Merkel didn't bother with any of the usual heel-clicking stuff. He simply nodded back and said, "Governor-General, I've come here to inform you of an important development in South America."
"Go ahead," said Skinner.
"It concerns the nation of Grão Pará," Merkel continued. Skinner nodded. Grão Pará was one of the buffer states that New Granada and Brazil had been tussling over for the last century or so. The most recent tussle had been New Granada's invasion of the place a couple years back, when they had overthrown Cardoso and set up some sort of puppet government. "Three days ago," Merkel said, "we received word from our people in Rio de Janeiro that the British are offering to assist the Brazilians in regaining control of Grão Pará. Naturally, the Brazilians were not interested, but it is troubling intelligence nonetheless, as it indicates that the British are contemplating moving their own forces into the country."
"I can see how that would be a problem," said Skinner, "but what I don't see is why you're coming to me. The Mexicans are the ones who run the show down in South America, not us. Why not tell them?"
"We have," Merkel answered. "Our ambassador to Mexico has already alerted Madame del Rey to the problem. Unfortunately, her response was not very satisfactory."
Skinner found that he was not surprised. According to Carter Monaghan, President Moctezuma seemed to have a deep aversion to foreign interventions. Not to mention that the Mexicans had acquired an unsavory reputation for that sort of thing back in the bad old days. "All right," he said, "I can see that, but that still doesn't answer my question. Why are you telling me this? Surely you don't expect us to take over Grão Pará."
"Not take over, certainly," said Merkel. "However, the CNA has a well-developed, and may I say well-regarded, reputation for dispensing aid to nations in economic and social distress. It was your fellow Liberal Mr. Mason, was it not, who established this tradition? Since the New Granadans withdrew their forces from the country last year, Grão Pará has suffered a catastrophic collapse. It certainly finds itself in need of aid both economic and social, and your nation has the institutional means to provide it. Of course, given the degree to which order has broken down there, it would only be prudent if your humanitarian efforts were accompanied by, shall we say, a small peacekeeping force, to assure that order is maintained."
"Lord God Almighty, you do want us to take it over!" Skinner exclaimed.
"Not officially, of course," Merkel insisted. "Nevertheless, if you do not wish to see the Bornholm Alliance in Grão Pará, it may be necessary for you to do so. I would be remiss if I were to fail to point out the advantage this would provide if you were to, as a hypothetical example, begin providing covert material assistance to the New Granadans. Panama is a terribly narrow country, and it would be all too easy for the British to block access there."
"Jesus," Skinner muttered. "All right, Mr. Merkel, thanks for bringing this to my attention. We'll think it over, and let you know what we decide."
"Thank you, Governor-General." This time Merkel did click his heels before he turned and left the dining room. Murphy remained behind.
"All right, Michael," said Skinner as he reseated himself at the table, "first thing I need to know is, is Fritz there giving me the straight poop? Are the Brits really getting ready to move into Grão Pará?"
"Well, Governor," said Murphy, "if they aren't, it can only be because General Cumberland's come down with a sudden case of the stupids. They've got the whole coast up to Cartagena under their control, and all the way up the Orinoco. If they keep the FANG from getting resupplied in Rio Negro, then the remaining resistance is going to fold up like an accordion. This time next year, Gold would probably be the de facto ruler of New Granada."
Skinner mulled that over for a time before saying, "Next question. Can we do it? I keep remembering the Mocazo. That nearly cost Monaghan the damn election. If we try to move into Grão Pará, will the same thing happen to us?"
"You're asking the wrong man," said Murphy. "That's Trevor's patch. If it turns out we can't do it on our own, though, then we ought to think about asking the Mexicans for help."
"Michael," said Skinner as his eyebrows rose, "did I just hear you suggest a joint military operation between us and the United States of Mexico? Détente's one thing, but we were shooting at these people only four short years ago. Do you think folks are ready for us to be fighting alongside them?"
"Again, Governor, you're asking the wrong man," said Murphy. "If you want to know what the Tory-in-the-street thinks, you should ask Danny. Of course, it'll go down a lot easier if you don't call it a joint military operation. It'll be better if you don't call it a military operation at all. Like Merkel said, the thing to do is to sell it as humanitarian relief. Just Masonism, only on a larger scale."
"Masonism, eh?" said Skinner, and now, for the first time, the ghost of a grin appeared on his face. "Won't that throw Creighton-Young and his professional pacifists for a loop? Just a little applied Masonism, is all. Nothing wrong with that, is there, Michael?"
"Nothing wrong at all, Governor," said Murphy, returning his grin.
"And if the Messicans are involved, well, that just shows how far they've come from the bad old days, don't it? Some of our humanitarianism must be rubbin' off on 'em, eh?"
"Sounds good to me, Governor," said Murphy.
"Right then," said Skinner, "you go get on the horn with Monaghan and fill him in. Right now, I aim to finish eating, and that's something a man's got to do for himself."
Murphy left, but Skinner found to his dismay that his grits had gone cold.
- Chapultepec Castle
- Mexico City, Jackson, USM
- 16 May 1976
Chewy Enciso had arranged the presentation with Maria del Rey. He knew the President, and he knew how to convince him. Was it manipulation? No, no it wasn't, Chewy thought to himself. Over and over. Perhaps too much.
The President had been a happy man, until Chewy had wheeled in and switched on the vita. The entire kitchen cabinet was seated around a conference table in a Chapultepec Castle briefing room. The towers of downtown Chapultapec loomed outside the window, the sun gleaming off the glass windows.
"Dios mio. Is that a burning llanta around that man's throat?" The President's mouth hung open.
Maria del Rey smoothed her skirt over her knees and answered the question. "Yes, sir, it is." Her face, unusually, was almost expressionless.
"How long has this been going on?" asked the President.
"It's been getting worse since the war started, Mr. President," replied the Secretary of State. "The Granadinos ended the occupation in a huge rush after Bali. They'd barely been there four months. Once they yanked their troops and administrators, civil authority in Grão Pará essentially disappeared. The result is . . . that."
The scene now was of several women being crucified in the plaza in front of the Regent's Palace. A mob was waving the flag of the old Brazilian Empire.
"Dios mio," repeated the President.
"Unfortunately," said Chewy Encisco, stroking his goatee, "it presents a problem for us."
"Well, uhhhhhhh, yeah," said the President. It meant "go on" in Moctezuma-speak.
"I'll let the Admiral explain. Admiral?"
Admiral Francis Medeiros looked a little uncomfortable addressing the President. He'd been an operative in the Office of Naval Intelligence and the Naval War College, but back under Mercator everything Navy was subordinated to anything Army. He'd never before thought of anyone actually reading his intelligence reports before, let alone briefing the commander-in-chief. In fact, he'd never even expected to make Admiral. The idea made him nervous. At least they'd told him to wear his working blues, not his dress whites. He stood up and went to a poster board propped up next to the vita screen.
"Uh, thank you. As you know, Mr. President, the United States maintains a rather extensive military presence in Rio Negro. We have bases here," he pointed to the capital, Manaus, "and here," pointing to the town of Humaitá, near the Brazilian border and the neutral territory of Acre. "This presence is strategically-vital to maintaining our presence in the hemisphere. From these bases, we can fly reconnaissance airmobiles over most of the continent, and maintain rapid-reaction forces within striking distance of most potential hot zones." He paused. "Or at least we used to. Most of the regular Army equipment stationed there, uh, 'disappeared' in late 1974, and much of the rapid reaction force consisted of FANG soldiers using NUSM logistical support. We are currently rebuilding our assets using Marines and selected reserve Army units, but it is slow-going."
"Aaaaaahhhhh hah," said the President.
"Our presence in Rio Negro, however, relies on an open supply-route through Grão Pará. There are no decent rail or road links across the Amazon, save a single U.S.-built road here." He pointed to a red line that ran south from Manaus to Humaita, and north to the Granadino town of Buenavista. FN2 "Deep water ships, however, can reach as far inland as Manaus, and shallow-draft vessels can get to Iquitos, in what is now Nueva Granada. Without access to the Amazon, our position becomes difficult. "
Now Maria del Rey spoke up. "The disorder in Grão Pará, Mr. President, presents us with a number of very serious problems. The first, simply, is the humanitarian crisis. It looks very bad on the vita. The second is the growing chance that the disorder will spread. None of the Lusoamerican republics are particularly prosperous or stable. Anarchy in Grão Pará could easily infect Maranhão or Brasil, by providing guerrillas and terrorists a safe haven."
She paused and glanced at the Admiral's map. "The third is the impact on our position in Rio Negro. Rio Negro is a delicate area. It's strategically vital, as Admiral Medeiros pointed out. It's also unstable. Before the war, the FANG regularly intervened against Jeffersonista guerrillas in the border areas. Once Colonel Elbittar took over, Manaus's allegiance switched over smoothly from Coyoacan to Bogotá, and our bases in the country became our best hope of containing Elbittar's expansionism. Now they are our only hope of containing the American War. Admiral, do you have anything to add?"
"Yes, ma'am," said the Admiral. "Intervening in Belem would not require a major effort on the part of the British or Australians. They were using the dry season to concentrate on reducing Granadino resistance and penetrating as far into Cundinamarca as possible, but now that the rains have begun they might soon turn their attention to Grão Pará. With Grão Pará in British hands, and a suitable puppet government in place, they would effectively control the back door into Nueva Granada." He took a breath.
"There's a second consideration, Mr. President, which is that it wouldn't take much for the British to cut off the North American pipeline through Panama. We have hopes that the Granadinos will be able to keep it open through to the end of the rainy season, but it is uncertain. More importantly, the main oil fields in Cundinamarca are here, on the wrong side of the Andes. Without logistical support from the south, the FANG cannot hold them."
"Uhhhhhhhhh." The President looked at the vita screen again, which showed dead bodies laid out on the streets of Altamira. Their hands had been chopped off. "Jesucristo almighty," mumbled the President. "I know what this is all about. You want me to intervene."
Chewy and Maria del Rey briefly glanced at each other. The President was a strong man when it came to domestic politics. He could face down hostile crowds or coup plotters, he could risk political capital to do what he thought was right. But when it came to the deployment of Mexican military force, he suddenly turned to mush.
Chewy didn't understand it. The President had fought in the Global War. He'd even been in the disastrous Honshu invasion attempt back in '44. Why then was he so afraid of using Mexico's military? What was the point of having the single largest conventional military establishment on the planet if you were afraid to use it? Getting him to deploy troops to Cuba had been like pulling teeth, and it had only been considerations of the silent war with Mercator at home that had convinced him. Even then, he'd insisted on such stringent force-protection measures that the troops had been entirely useless outside Guantánamo.
"Not exactly," replied the Secretary of State.
This, Chewy knew, was the baited hook, and judging from the look the President gave del Rey then, it had worked like a charm. "Not exactly?" he said. "Not exactly intervene? Then what exactly do you want to do?"
"We want to let the Tories intervene," she said.
"Uhhhhhh huh," said the President. "Y what makes you think the Tories want to intervene?"
"Because Carter Monaghan told me they did."
Moctezuma blinked. "The fuck he did. I want to hear this from his lips."
Chewy and Maria shared another glance. This was it, the fish had taken the bait, and it was time to reel him in. Chewy got up, went over to the door, and opened it. "Carter? You can come in now." Carter Monaghan walked in.
The President glared at them all indiscriminately. "I smell a rat."
"Mr. President," said Monaghan, "I apologize if this seems a little underhanded, but it was necessary. Right now, Grão Pará is the most important place in America. The outcome of the war hinges on it. The Governor-General wants to intervene, both to end the horror there and to pre-empt the British. But we know the USM also has strategic interests in the area. We want to be certain there are no misunderstandings."
Chewy spared a surreptitious glance at Medeiros. The Admiral didn't look particularly happy about letting the Tories move into Grão Pará. As far as most military men were concerned, a CNA-controlled Grão Pará was only a small improvement over a British-controlled Grão Pará.
The President, meanwhile, was still annoyed. "Suppose," he told Monaghan, "suppose I said that we weren't ready to cheerfully hand over our strategic interests in South America to our good friends to the east? What then?"
"Then," said Monaghan with a smoothness Chewy envied, "we would invite you to participate. In fact, we would encourage you to participate. Just between you and me," he added, "I think the Governor-General would prefer having someone along who knew the terrain, so to speak."
Moctezuma frowned suddenly. Chewy surmised that the President had just realized that he had been maneuvered into insisting that Mexican troops be sent to Grão Pará. "Uhhhhhhhhh. Alright, you pendejos have talked me into it. Now kindly get the fuck out of here."
Chewy Enciso had never in his life been happier to obey one of his boss's orders.
Forward to FAN #256: It's the Real Thing.
Forward to 28 May 1976: How You Like Them Oranges?
Forward to American War: Crash of Civilizations.
Forward to USM politics/CNA politics: O Joy O Rapture Unforeseen.
Return to For All Nails.