Friday, July 8, 2016

Final Blackout - Chapter IX part I - Everything Was Going Great...

Do you think Hubbard regretted having his hero describe artillery as "worthless stuff" by this point, after chapter after chapter of Lefty's superior gun battery winning engagements?  I highly doubt Lefty's dismissive attitude towards artillery in the first chapter is Hubbard's subtle way of showing that the lieutenant isn't in fact a military superman, and can make mistakes but also learn from them.

I think, since this was originally published in chunks, Hubbard originally intended Lefty to be a straightforward infantry commander, but his tendency to take stuff from defeated enemies meant that Lefty had to take those Russian artillery pieces, and then once his hero had them Hubbard kept finding uses for them, and before he knew it his artillery-hating lieutenant was winning every battle with the stuff.  And since the chapter with him hating on artillery had already been published, it was too late to change it.  Which isn't to say that Hubbard would have gone back and rewritten something that didn't work even if it hadn't already seen print.

Oh, right, Lefty is now the lord of England.

For years the soldier government ran smoothly, holding sway over England and Wales.  A steady, calculating hand dealt adequately with the redistribution of the land and rehabilitation of the towns, for what war had failed to do, the Communists had done by way of wrecking any semblance of social system.

And now, after overthrowing them, we learn that the commies were in fact incompetent and destructive rulers.  Because I guess they wanted to create a classless society, and of course that would undermine any attempt to resettle the war-torn country.  How could you expect old nob families to be productive farmers if they have to live next door to their social inferiors?

There were seven hundred and fifty thousand people within the Lieutenant's boundaries and, if fully half of these were under twenty, the restoration of central power was only made the easier by making old forms not only obsolete but also unknown.

Yes, let's destroy the past so it doesn't interfere with the present.  Also, can we take another moment to boggle at how easily less than four hundred soldiers were able to take over an entire country?  Does everyone else in England think that whoever sits in the Tower of London is in control of everything?  Do they all consider the lieutenant and his forces the legitimate rulers now?  What happened to the communist government?  Was all of it in London to be wiped out in one decisive confrontation with Lefty's forces?  What happened to those rival warlords who Hogarthy was contending with?

Maybe there were a bunch of undoubtedly exciting battles during this latest timeskip, like in the one in which Lefty captured his fleet.

Hubbard goes on to lay out the perfect form of government for us, or rather what he thought was a perfect form of government at this stage in his life and literary career.  Lefty's "soldier government" takes a tenth of all production as a tax, creates currency backed by food, and maintains a governmental police force that stamps out abuses of power - it's unclear if he creates one from the ground up or continues something set up by his predecessors.  Though the war and communists have destroyed many libraries, Lefty encourages education and puts people to work cleaning up all the rubble and wreckage, but he gives up on industry since to make a clothing factory, for example, they'd basically have to start all over with smelters and mines to rebuild the infrastructure needed for modern manufacturing.  So he settles for setting up districts of people with hand looms for a low-tech, home-made clothing industry, and also manages to set up a sea trade with the King of Scotland.

No mention of, say, private enterprise.  Nothing about elected officials, just soldiers running the country.  And all political and economic decisions are coming from a centralized authority.

You know, the funny thing is, if you take away all ideological talk about dialectical materialism and the class struggle and all that rot, a communist government can look awfully similar to a military regime.  Which would make America's actions during the Cold War, all that effort spent propping up autocrats to keep commies from taking over, look almost pointless, huh?

The happiness of a country is directly dependent upon the business of that country.  And here everyone had seven times more projects to accomplish than he could ever hope to complete in his lifetime, and there was the ground goal of making a destroyed country live again.  Everyone, therefore, was happy.  And there was no worry whatever about politics.

Oh, sure, there's a million things that need to be done to get England back on her feet, but everyone's just pleased as punch about it instead of overwhelmed and/or depressed.  And because there's just so much crap to clean up, nobody has time to think "I never voted for this guy" or "but I wanted to be a musician, not a tailor."  There's no die-hard communists who are enraged that the military has taken over like this, or old monarchists looking to re-establish a royal family.  Everyone bows to Lefty's wisdom and is perfectly happy to be ruled by him.

By him personally, I should specify.

The Lieutenant sat in audience for four hours each day, his fatigue cap on the back of his head, his elbows on his battered desk and his chin cupped attentively in his hands.  He seemed oblivious of the fact that he was against a background used by half the kings of England.  He would listen to a young farmer's rambling account of how things were going up in Norfolk without any indication of the fact that agriculture bored him to the point of fainting.  And he would sift out the problems and solve them without much effort, and the farmer would go away happy and content that the government, for once, was in the hands of the grandest fellow alive.

Lick me, Hubbard.

Yes, this peerless military hero also happens to possess a mastery of agricultural science, and is able to effortlessly solve the problems of every gormless farmer who makes the hike to his court.  Not only that, he can also settle marital disputes, such as an instance where a sergeant-major in charge of a specific district is accused by a woman of not doing his job because he "would not compel her husband to take her best friend also to wife despite the fact that there was too much work for just one and that her friend was not needed in her present home."  So Lefty... okay, let's rewind a second, this is weird.

I can get polygamy being a thing in post-apocalyptica due to skewed gender ratios, but what is this nonsense?  Someone needs to marry his wife's best friend too because his first wife is overworked, and this second girl doesn't have anything to do?  How does that excuse hold any water at a time when "everyone had seven times more projects to accomplish than he could ever hope to complete in his lifetime" but there's no mention of any real hardship coming from that fact, just contented labor?  And doesn't the wife's friend get any say in the matter?  Does she actually want to marry this guy just so his first wife will have some help doing whatever undefined work needs doing?

The whole scenario is ludicrous, but at least Lefty seems like a sensible fellow, so he's sure to do the right thing and-

The Lieutenant would listen to the husband's protest that he doubted he could handle two women when he could barely mange one's uncertainties.  And the Lieutenant, smiling, might say, like as not: "Snyder, I regret to say the deed is done.  You have just been married to a second wife.  Make a note of that, Mawkey."  And Mawkey would grin and write it all in a book, and the farmer, now that the thing was done, determined to be cheerful about it if the Lieutenant thought it was right.

-force a woman to move in with a guy, do whatever his first wife tells her to, and presumably submit to him sexually.  Yeah.  That is... obviously the... correct thing to do in this situation.

Not even a priest around to do the marriage, Lefty just says they're married and that's it.  Or maybe he's also the highest religious authority in addition to being the highest military and political authority.

Apart from such... wisdom, Lefty does have two buttons that are sure to provoke a quick and fatal response: anyone who wants him to deliver on what the British Communist Party promised them, and any "discourtesy" to a soldier who served in Europe proper.  But other than that, everything is wonderful, especially after Lefty sends Bulger and Weasel back across the channel with a recall order for all the remaining British soldiers.  "A few" have become warlords, but the rest all hurry home, so that by the summer the year after Lefty seized power, he's bolstered by close to seven thousand troops "and ninety-four officers," and of course it's the officers that are important.  Like Lefty they're all hardened veterans, tested by natural selection until only the most competent, most resourceful, and most insightful officers survived.  And since they're all good guys, we can assume none of them are above the rank of major, because remember, only junior officers are competent and heroic, the rest are all maliciously stupid.

Since they're good guys, they don't view Lefty as a usurper or dictator who took over their homeland instead of reinstating a civilian government, they think his actions at the field HQ was his way of "avenging all of them," and are "anxious to please him."  The grunts become part of the National (military) Police to help suppress the "brigandism" ...and I have to stop for a moment.  Hubbard, don't.  Don't throw in a word like "brigandism" with a footnote defining it as the "Action of being a bandit, especially of one of a gang of robbers in mountain or forest regions."  Just say they're suppressing brigands.

Anyway, the troops get to fight bandits, while the officers are given extensive land rights and administrative districts to lord over, and of course they're just rulers who "did not abuse their rights and powers because there was no reason," and its a perfect aristocracy "founded on the basis of skill and leadership," and it is not fascism, the author explicitly says as such.  Yes, a former military man has taken over the country, and all positions of authority are filled by his officer lackeys, and ordinary people have no say in how things are run, but "money and military were not combined," and that's the critical difference.  In fact, there is no money, just that "food currency," the aforementioned government-issued "script which was valued as being backed by food," and since that obviously isn't money, then this government isn't fascist.  Got it?

It also helps that Lefty's bakufu has "no need for indirect and cunning controls over the populace," because its leadership is out there patrolling "walking among their people," running their lives "serving more than they were served."  And there's enough food for everyone because natural selection has finally led to plants impervious to the plagues of insects that are apparently causing problems, and England is full of "cheerful activity," and since things are so good there's no talk of revolt, and there's no problem from continental Europe because what domains survive there just want to be left alone, and the King of Scotland is on good terms with Lefty after he sent the surviving Scottish soldiers home "with their tales of the lieutenant," and there's flowers and candy and puppies and so on.

In short, it looks like we're at a natural place to end the story, with the Lieutenant returned home to fix all its problems with a fascist military government.  There's peace, prosperity, and a real hope that despite all the decades of horrible conflict, the world might be able to rebuild, and could even be better than it was before now that all those dirty commies are gone.  But there's still 34 pages left in the book, because Hubbard has one last curveball to throw at us, something even more shocking than how useful that "worthless" artillery turned out to be.

One day, after an undisclosed number of years of perfect governance, Lefty is given a report about a vessel that showed up off Sheerness.  The thing is enormous, bigger than even some of the wrecks left behind from the war, it runs on motors instead of sails, and it's flying a strange flag that not even Lefty recognizes, something with "horizontal bars, red and white, according to the message, and a field up in the corner with a bunch of white stars."  Lefty has to send Weasel to the barracks to ask some of the older soldiers about it, and someone named Old Chipper thinks he recognizes it as belonging to the "Union States," the country that Lefty remembers started the round of atomic bombing back at the start of the war.

So our hero dismisses his chief scout, and sits alone in what is explicitly referred to as an "old throne room," his mind in turmoil for the first time in the entire book - he's so agitated that can't even bring himself to play solitaire.  Lefty knows there's a chance that this is just a trading mission, but he's also inexplicably preparing himself to resist an invasion, even though he's set up additional defenses since his victory in London.

Soon he receives another report that the big ship dropped off a smaller motorboat and a landing party, which leads to a proper message:

To the Lieutenant
From Commanding Officer Sheerness Battery, Via Blinker, helio.

U.S.S. New York anchored this afternoon and landed captain of vessel and twenty marines and three civilians.  States pacific intentions.  Wishes permission of interview with the Lieutenant

He read the message through twice.  He could find no reason to refuse such a request, though he knew that he should.  But would it do any harm to talk to them?

Less harm than trying to keep an American trading fleet out, which isn't to say that your government won't collapse after this destabilizing contact with outsiders.

In the end, Lefty sends word that permission is granted to have a talk, but he also gives Order A to man all the guns and garrisons.  Weasel is struck by the "note of tired kindness" in Lefty's tone, whatever that is, and only reluctantly leaves to carry out the order.  And let's stop there, on a genuine cliffhanger during a plot twist that you probably didn't see coming.

Back to Chapter VIII 

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