For All Nails #228: Now We All Did What We Could Do
by Noel Maurer and David Mix Barrington
Will Knight liked Cabinet meetings. He'd come to appreciate the Governor-General's skill in running them -- getting a selection of views aired before gathering a relative consensus around a single policy, probably the one he had had in mind when he came in. As the youngest Cabinet minister by almost a decade, it would have been easy for him to be shut out of discussions, but Skinner gave him a chance to be heard. Managing was not rocket science, but given the way he'd seen perfectly competent rocket scientists run meetings at Confav Aviation, it was not a skill to be taken lightly.
Part of the staging of the meeting, he'd noticed, was that the agenda was never given in advance. Once everyone was seated and settled, in would come Skinner and Marshall, together with the last men they'd been speaking to. Today must be a foreign policy, because there was Murphy and -- Carter Monaghan? Back from Mexico, apparently, though there'd been no mention of it in the papers. Something big, maybe, too big to trust to the dedicated 'phone line. Will had studied the potential security weaknesses of that line in some detail. He'd be willing to bet a thousand pounds that the Brits or Germans couldn't tap it, but the stakes could easily be a lot higher than that--Skinner was ready.
"Gen'men, let's come to order. Ah've asked Gov'nor Monaghan to come back to Burgoyne to report in person on an interesting conversation he's just had with the President of the United States. Gov'nor?"
"Thank you, Governor-General. The President raised the subject of Alvin Silva and the grand strategy of the Global War. He asked me how I thought the USM had managed to lose to two nations whose combined economies were a third its size."
The Special Envoy stopped speaking. Alone among politicians of Will's acquaintance, Monaghan seemed to feel no need to fill an empty conversational space. Now, Will thought, we'll see what Skinner wants out of whatever Monaghan has to say.
"That's a dam' good question, Gov'nor, and what was his opinion?"
Surely Skinner knew what El Popo's opinion was? Ah, he must be looking for input from the cabinet. Unprejudiced input. Hence a question to get Mongahan talking...
"I mentioned the usual answers -- badly defined war aims, incomplete mobilization. But the President blamed the defeat primarily on the logistical support we gave to his enemies. Without all those CNA ships full of supplies -- he mentioned the CNA-flagged ships with Australian crews in particular -- he thinks they could have at least forced Japan to submit without having to fully mobilize themselves."
Another pause. Skinner asked, "Uh-huh. Trevor, you think the President's right about that?"
The Minister for Defence looked a little perplexed. "Maybe."
"Well, he couldn't very well stop our ships," said Foreign Minister Michael Murphy, "not while preserving our neutrality."
"He did have the option of going to war with us," Monaghan continued. "He chose not to. El Popo thinks he would have won, actually."
"Against our economy?" Will found himself blurting out. "They never could have managed it in the long run."
Freeman again: "The thing is, Will, if you do well enough in the short run there doesn't have to be a long run. They had hundreds of divisions of battle-hardened troops, and a whole lot of our industry was right near the border. If they had grabbed New Orleans and half of SV in the first month, we'd have given them a treaty in a minute to get them back."
Murphy seemed discomfited at the thought of Mexicans pillaging his home city. Actually, the whole table was a bit discomfited -- why were they discussing ancient history at all? Skinner had some angle going, but Will didn't yet see what it was.
"So, Trevor, could the Mexicans have taken us in a fair fight?" asked Skinner. "Conventional wisdom when I was at school was no."
"We've done a lot of simulations at the War College," said Freeman. "A general war set in 1942, 1948, 1951, even 1954 against Mason. Actually, Governor-General, on a tabletop the gringos kick our behinds most of the time. 'Course, a real nation with real troops is different. It's a race between their winning the war on our side of the border and their falling apart completely on their own side."
Now, it seemed, Skinner had gotten the information he wanted. "I'd like to hear more of the President's opinion on this matter. Gov'nor?"
"El Popo thinks Silva wasn't willing to roll the dice because he thought the whole Pacific War was a mistake. His point is that today, Gold doesn't even have that choice."
Gold? The British Prime Minister? Time to connect the dots. Silva couldn't win as long as we were backing his enemies. Gold can't win now as long as... That was what the whole business was about. New Granada.
"I'm beginning to see," Murphy put in. "It's clear that the remaining Bornholm powers will win the present war unless New Granada gets massive aid from some outside source." Nods around the table. The British had halted their advance after securing the lower Orinoco valley and the coast of what they now called "Venezuela". Taiwan and Australia held Guayaquil and a large enclave around it. The next advance, toward Quito city and Bogotá itself, would be difficult and expensive, but the FANG were rapidly losing the wherewithal to prevent it. "An outside source that Britain can't afford to challenge directly, any more than Silva could challenge us."
Down the table, the Minister for Home Affairs was still a bit confused. "Moctezuma wants to aid the RNG? I thought he was doing that already. And aren't we entirely happy with that?"
Freeman answered -- a bit condescendingly, Will thought. "There's a trickle of supplies going through Guatemala into the Darien area, yes. But to make a difference in the war we'd be talking aid on a much larger scale. Lots of man-portable weapons, anti-airmobile, anti-terror. FN1 Do that, and I could see the FANG holding out indefinitely. After all, they've been fighting insurgencies on that terrain themselves for decades, they've got a good idea what works."
Murphy again: "But the Mexicans aren't about to put any substantial part of their budget into foreign aid, not if there's any chance their public is going to find out about it. The Mexican on the street probably likes King Ferdinand better than King Henry, and there's some feeling of South America being their sphere of influence, but fundamentally they see it as a dispute between two corrupt monarchies. They have 'no dog in the fight,' if that's the expression, Governor?"
"More or less," Monaghan replied. "He could do it, and get away with it, but it would cost him and he just doesn't care that much." There was a pause. Again you expected Monaghan to say one more thing, and then he didn't.
Murphy took up the slack. "So he wants to use his channel to deliver our materiel to the New Granadans. That's the offer?"
"Reading between the lines, yes." Aid to New Granada. Guns and bombs to an unhappy land with too many guns and bombs in it already, Will thought. Murphy was still talking...
"--We just drop the stuff off at the Canal, marked as aid for Guatemala or something, and they haul it along the isthmus into mainland New Granada." Monaghan nodded -- more precisely, he indicated assent with a slight change in his face. "And the British let them do that because Mexico has guaranteed the security of the isthmus and they can't afford to bring Mexico in openly." More silent assent. "And they let us do it, after they find out about it, because--"
"Because they got no God-damned choice." Skinner, as usual, had summed up the discussion. "Which bothers me not one bit, given the way Sir Geoffrey God-damned Gold has handled the whole thing. He wants a real war 'gainst a real opponent, Ah think we could just about give him one. Reasons against? Political?"
Marshall was the closest thing to a political advisor at this meeting. "We're talking deniable but pretty obvious material support, right? Like the stolen goods in Iceland?" FN2 Nods around the table. "They ain't no votes to be won by doing it, I'll tell you that much."
"Quite a few to be lost, if you kick the duck." That was Monaghan, drawing several sharp glances. Not for the Mexican expression, Will thought, as they'd all gotten used to his talking more like a gringo the more time he spent in El Popo's company. No, it was the "you." It was a little more than two years now until the election, and sometime during those two years Carter Monaghan was going to stop being an unorthodox member of a Liberal government and start being one of the political leaders of the People's Coalition, maybe even a candidate for his old job. When that would happen was a question not far from the mind of anyone between the rivers. What was Marshall saying?
"--I don't think the downside is that bad, actually, unless oil prices go up even more. Any of our people involved'll be volunteers, right? The Masonists will hate it, and the Nats of course, but they were never gonna vote for us anyway."
"Well I hate it, and I'm not a Masonist." There, he'd said it, Will thought. Somebody had to say it. "We're talking about deliberately making a war bigger by pouring our own money into it. It's cynical, for one thing, asking the New Granadans to fight a battle we know we shouldn't and can't fight ourselves. People are going to be killed, infrastructure is going to be destroyed--"
"Oh, come off it, Will!" Freeman seemed genuinely offended. "It's self defense. We've already got the Germans in Brazil, and if we have the Brits in New Granada there's essentially the whole continent in the hands of European powers. I'd like to be able to stop them with our own forces, but I can't. We do what we can do."
Skinner moved to calm the waters. "Now, Trevor, we gon' have to answer the Masonists when they raise the same point, and not as politely as Will just did. You can talk about Brits and Germans coming to South Beach, but even from New Granada they're a long way off. Why's it worth our money and the FANG's lives to stop'em?"
Murphy stepped in. "I have the answer, Governor-General, though I don't know if it's the answer for public consumption."
Will could see Murphy winding up for a speech, or perhaps a lecture. "There are now three status-quo powers in the world -- ourselves, Mexico, and the German Empire. With mutual respect and coordination, we have a chance to establish the nucleus of a stable and peaceful world order."
Will was not having it. "Right, a peaceful world order. Established by peaceful means. How can we possibly expect to establish the ends of peace by the means of war?"
Murphy didn't seem offended at all. "Because mutual respect implies that no major power can be able to gain advantage over one of the others militarily even in the short run -- only then can each power consider its own long-term interests. Markstein felt free to place atomic rockets in Boricua because he was confident we couldn't stop them by conventional military means -- and unfortunately he turned out to be right. But Gold accepted our fait accompli with the Caribbean islands because we did have the conventional power to stop him from doing anything about it. I'm a great believer in international law and order, Will, but there are no millies out there to enforce it. It can only be enforced by nations with military capability and the willingness to use it when necessary."
It was an answer, Will thought. Maybe for now it would have to do. No, it didn't, it couldn't. "The trouble with that idea, Mike," he threw out, "is that Gold and his allies can say the same thing. In fact, they are saying the same thing: that they're using force to restore international law and order after Bali. So what we'll end up with are two groups of nations trying to impose their own versions of international law and order on each other. Just like before the Global War."
"It's certainly not a perfect solution, I'm the first to admit," said Murphy. "But we tried it your way back then, didn't we? Hogg called down a plague on both sides' houses, we stayed out, the war happened, we didn't like how it was going, and we weighed in non-militarily just as we're proposing to do now. We weren't willing to let Britain go down then, and I'm not willing to let New Granada go down now. Not if we can act with tolerable risk, in a way that strengthens our ties with the other powers that favor stability."
"Gen'men, Ah think this has been a productive discussion. If we're in general agreement?" Skinner glanced around the table -- nods all around except for the naive kid from Science, Will could see. A decision made, a war widened. Had Skinner made up his mind before the meeting? Will thought not, actually. He'd been honestly looking for input, gotten the answers he'd wanted, and then decided. And Will's input had not carried the day. Well, at least he'd said his piece and put the issue out there. He hoped to God he was wrong.
Forward to FAN #229 (American War/New Granada): The Tailor of Panama.
Forward to 20 November 1975: Rise Up, Gather Round.
Forward to CNA politics: Strange Bedfellows.
Return to For All Nails.