Monday, July 11, 2016

Final Blackout - Chapter IX part II - And Then the Americans Showed Up

So the scouts fan out to cover the hill the Tower of London is built on, snipers get in position, and messengers ride out on Scottish horses to bring every soldier to full alert in anticipation of the Americans' arrival.  Meanwhile the Lieutenant deals himself another hand of Solitaire he can't bring himself to play, so he walks over to the window and watches his men hurry to their stations.

The Lieutenant raised his eyes from the gray walls and blue uniforms below and looked at the banner which floated lazily from its staff upon the Byward Tower, over the gate.  Saintly white it was, with the insignia of a lieutenant embroidered upon it in gold.

Of course.

It had been presented to him by the people and, to them, represented peace and security and justice.  To him it represented the confidence reposed in him by his people, not unlike that which he had received from the Fourth Brigade.  No questions were asked or had ever been asked by his soldiers or his people.

Naturally.  I mean, these mindless sycophants are already willing to cast off part of their national identity, the flag that has flown over England for hundreds of years, to pledge allegiance to the Lieutenant personally.  No surprise they wouldn't dare question their beloved leader.

Man, it's just not enough for a Hubbard Hero to be respected by everyone, it has to be unconditional loyalty, if not outright worship.  Even when Hubbard wasn't involved in a cult of personality, he was writing about one.

Eventually the Tower is ready to receive visitors, hostile or otherwise.  But then there's a roar that makes all the seasoned campaigners go flat out of reflex - a reconnaissance plane, the first one seen in half a decade.  It does some banks over London before disappearing east.

Carstair came in from above.  "Sir, Gian signaled me to ask if you want to shoot the next time it comes over."

"With what?" said the Lieutenant.

My mouth twitched a bit.  I think I'm trying to find something to like in this book and setting my standards low.

Carstair stood a little straighter.  "Yes, that's so.  I've never seen anything so fast.  All motors and guns and bombs."

The Lieutenant did not turn from the window.  "Pass the word if anyone wants to leave this fortress, he has my permission."

"I can answer that one," said Carstair.  "When we leave it will be over the wall and into the river - dead."

The Lieutenant did not speak.

Yeah, yeah, undying loyalty, everyone's willing to die heroically in a hopeless defense of a symbolic fortress rather than put the reader through another couple of chapters of guerilla resistance, and so on.

Swinburne shows up.  Isn't it weird how he and Carstair have become so prominent in the story?  They were the ones Lefty was conferring with the most often during the Voyage of Revengeance, yet they only appeared at the book's halfway point, and only "bonded" with our hero very briefly in that barracks of exiled officers.  Yet they're now eclipsing older characters like... Mawkey? when it comes to getting scenes with the Lieutenant, even though their relationship with him was evidently developed during the timeskip before the voyage.  Guess it's because they're officers instead of grunts like all the other oh-so-memorable characters in this book.

Anyway, Swinburne is there, and then the American delegation arrives soon after, an honor guard of marines each armed with, get this, some sort of "miniature machine gun," as well as three bigwigs to do the talking.  Two are well-dressed but overweight, with protruding bellies and jowls - these would be the politicians, and therefore bad guys.  The other is a gaunt sea captain, a military man, and thus should be given the benefit of a doubt, especially since Lefty is able to deduce that he doesn't like the politicians.

The two fat guys are Senator Frisman (Arkansas - Social-Democrat) and Senator Breckwell (Ohio - Socialist), the officer is Captain Johnson, and they have "excellent news for our English brothers."  Swinburne reminds them that they are addressing the Lieutenant and tell them to get to the point.

"The Lieutenant?" said Frisman.  "But we have nothing to do with your army.  We wish to speak with your dictator or king or Communist leader-"

"'The Lieutenant' is a title," said Swinburne.  "He rules here."

"But," said Frisman, "a lieutenant is just a lower rank in the army and we-"

"The title," said Swinburne, keeping his patience, "has been removed from our army list out of respect.  You said something about a message."

It's just bafflingWhy did Hubbard think his hero needed a rank and not a name?  Why doesn't anyone ask what this lieutenant's name is?  Why is this rank so important and esteemed, just from one man having it, that it grows from a pay grade to an official title, something so prestigious that only one man is allowed to have it?  And where did this fetish for junior officers come from?

It's only just now that Frisman and Breckwell properly notice Lefty sitting in the throne room, and we get a good fat paragraph describing how handsome he is and, of course, what he's wearing.  Hubbard at least has enough restraint to keep the sunbeam coming in through the window on Lefty's desk and not the god-lieutenant himself, or maybe he thought it would be cooler if this left "the Lieutenant all the more indefinite of image behind it."  Less flashy, more mysterious.

Lefty calls Captain Johnson up to discuss the recon plane.  Lefty more or less chews him out for spooking all these people who have suffered through so many air raids, and says that if they had any anti-air defenses, they would have sparked an international incident by shooting down the aircraft.  Cappy apologizes, and when Lefty surmises that the plane took photos, the American offers to hand them over, but Lefty says Cappy already saw them so the gesture is meaningless, before letting the matter drop and asking for the reason they're here.

Frisman says they're on "a mission of mercy," or rather they're trying to be merciful and failing.  They offer serums against the soldier's sickness and poisons to take care of the great offscreen insect plagues that have been troubling Europe, and Lefty points out that they're all immune and have bug-proof crops.  They offer food and Lefty says they have plenty.  They offer to send workers, vehicles, industrial equipment, everything England needs to repair itself, and even promise to give "back its African possessions and all the development which has been done upon them," because it's not like the Africans were doing anything with Africa.  Lefty only shows interest in who's doing the offering.

"Who is this man?" said the Lieutenant to Johnson.

The naval officer looked uncomfortable.  "He is a great man in our country, the leader of the majority group of the Senate and chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Colonies Committee."

"Committee?" said the Lieutenant, for the word had taken on poison from the B.C.P.

Oh good grief.  You're not that stupid, are you?  One bad guy used a word so everyone else who uses it is just as bad?

"Yes," beamed Frisman.  "And my worthy friend, Senator Breckwell of Ohio, is the leading light of the second great party of the United States, the Socialist Party."

I guess I should take a moment to point out the difference between communism and socialism, since Americans in particular have been well-trained to conflate the two and fly into a rage when either is mentioned.  Both have roots in Marxism, a political and economic theory that described history as a conflict between laborers and the elites who exploit them, they just differ in how to resolve that conflict.  Communists want to completely overhaul society, using the state to take control of everything and redistributing it justly, theoretically creating a classless utopia that just never seems to work out when people try to put it to practice.  Socialists aren't this extreme, and are happy with reforming the current system and working with a democracy, rather than "dictatorship of the proletariat," to make things better for the little guy, though they will at times argue for the nationalization of key industries like energy or health care.

We get a paragraph break after this latest revelation, and Hubbard dumps some more backstory now, in the second-to-last chapter of the story.

England's Socialist leader had led an abortive revolt, starting it with the assassination of many members of Parliament.  The leader, on trial, had gone free by giving up his lists and was later shot as a traitor by his own people.  The Lieutenant gave Jefferson Breckwell a very perfunctory glance.  He had no respect for creeds or statesmen; between the two the Continent and the British Isles had been destroyed.  Thirty million fighting men and three hundred million civilians had paid with their lives for mistaken faith in creeds and statesmen.

And since the argument between communism and democracy turned ugly, the only sensible solution is to shun both of them in favor of a fascist soldier government that believes in nothing but its own right to rule.

So Lefty turns down the dirty reds' overtures, saying that England doesn't need any help rebuilding and a bunch of food or machinery would just disrupt everything.  He addresses most of his statements to Captain Johnson as he says he's not eager for war, and when Cappy claims to have peaceful intentions, Lefty points out that "the first step in any war is the landing of armed forces."  I always thought it was better to go through a planning phase before throwing troops at a distant shore, maybe even soften the place up with a bombardment of some sort if I'm set on invading, but I'm no junior officer.

Frisman claims that the US is a peace-loving nation (snort) that wisely stayed out of the rest of World War II after getting A-bombed at the start of it, focusing on rebuilding until everything had calmed down.  Lefty continues to ignore him in favor of talking to Cappy about the folly of empire, how England now has a chance for at least a century or two of peace.

Then, perhaps, war will come again.  But it will not come until we again have so little that people will be foolish enough to listen to the harpings of political mob makers.

Apparently the root cause of war is resource scarcity, and not border disputes, or nationalism, or military adventurism, or a sense of irreconcilable ideological differences with a neighboring nation.  Nope, it's only when things get scarce that people listen to all that rot.

A new influx of population now will restore that chaotic stupidity which your civilian friend calls 'culture.'

Uh... yeah.  Apparently when there's not quite enough food and people start listening to warmongers, that's called "culture."  All that stuff about art and music and literature and such, not so much.

The only good government is that government under which a people is busy and, as an individual, is valued for himself.

Nothing about a government that represents the people, or even a government that has the people's best interests at heart.  Just a government that keeps them busy and knows how valuable they are.  "You're a very good laborer, #4199.  Now get back to work."

Such a government exists.  We want no machines, no colonizers, no foreign 'culture.'  We are not an exhausted people, but a small, compact band that was strong enough to survive bullets and bombs, starvation and disease.

I wonder if Hubbard might be in favor of certain forms of population reduction?  I mean, Lefty talks about the bad times when there was a bunch of "the weak and the stupid" were leading England into ruin...  Oh, wait, here's the token support for democracy.  Well, not quite democracy.

"I am neither a politician nor a statesman; I am a soldier.

Then why are you running the country instead of contenting yourself with defending it?

I know nothing of the chicanery which goes by the name of diplomacy.

On the contrary, you've got gunboat diplomacy down pat.

But I learned long ago that there is only one way to rule, and that is for the good of all;

And oh, the things you can do when you say it's For the Greater Good.  You can seize all the country's property for the state, rid the nation of its undesirable elements, torture people to death so their souls at least will see Paradise...

that the function of a commanding officer or a state is to protect the rights of the individual within the bounds of common good, but never trifle with the actual welfare of any many or to attempt to carry any man beyond his own ability and strength, for to do so weakens the position of all and is not for the common good.

Yes, our hero is very much an anti-communist - the state isn't here to help you or help you stand when you have a tumble, the state will watch dispassionately as you die in the gutter like the weakling you are.

A state, gentleman, is not a charity institution.  On this score alone I cannot accept you gifts.

So because his state isn't a charity, he can't accept anything from a state that thinks it is a charity?

Lefty wraps up his page-and-a-bit-long speech with the statement that this interview is over, and he doesn't want to see any American battleship at Sheerness come the morrow.  Everyone is very impressed.

Swinburne had never heard the Lieutenant speak before,

You literally talked with him eight pages ago.

had never believed that he could.

Hubbard probably means to say that Swinburne never heard Lefty give a big speech before, which I suppose is true going by what we've seen in the book, though this would suggest that when Lefty was preparing for the voyage to England, or talking to his men about invading their own country, or even setting up his "soldier government" - all those big events that happened off-screen, in other words - Lefty never gave an address like this.  If that's true, why not?  Why wouldn't you come up with an address to give the city you've conquered as you try to set up a new government?  Why wouldn't you want to rally your men before a dangerous voyage or potentially treasonous campaign?

But now he knew that the Lieutenant had pleaded for the life of the country he had returned from the dead - and it seemed that he had won.

And so the Americans go home and Lefty continues to rule over a golden age of English history and they all lived happily ever after, that's what doesn't happen.

Instead those evil politicians fume for a bit over how this "junior officer of some sort" has utterly defeated them, or something.

They could not attack, for he had told them that the place was defenseless against them.  They could not buy him, because he said that food and machinery would ruin his country.  They could not colonize the place, because, guilelessly, he had made that into the form of a national insult.

Um, I think the fact that they couldn't stop you makes it easier for you to colonize them, don't you think?  Or you could do it, but the guy you deposed would think little of you for doing it?  And that's holding you back?  Hubbard Villains, man.

Anyway, Frisman almost follows Cappy out, but then he thinks about the case he made in the Senate for this relief mission to Europe, and how he promises "all those millions and millions of idle workers" back in the States some "wide horizons to redeem, in place of those huge areas of radioactive prohibited land," and...

I'm having trouble computing this.  America got nuked so badly that it had to sit out a World War and there's still substantial parts of its landmass that are unfit for human habitation.  Yet it still has "millions and millions" of people in it - unemployed people, who can't find anything to do in this post-apocalyptic setting - and the infrastructure to support this super battleship and further commerce and movement across the Atlantic.

Anyway, Frisman has one last card to play, and tells Lefty about a Spanish fishing vessel that came to Florida just that spring, a ship carrying General Victor and Colonel Smythe, who told a horrible tale of "the wanton murder of your last Communist ruler, of soldiers pillaging and burning all that was left of England, of children starving and women despoiled."  So Frisman demands that, to stop all this burning and starving and raping, Lefty allow these two officers to return to leadership positions in England, something he's sure the Lieutenant will agree to since "they are, in the final analysis, your own superiors."

Surely this isn't why Hubbard made Lefty "the Lieutenant" instead of an actual named character?  Surely he didn't think that Frisman would only make this argument if he could appeal to such "logic?"

Lefty bluntly accuses the Americans of trying to install a puppet government so they can colonize England, which Frisman calls "Rather crudely stated" but "perhaps it is near the truth."  And since he can't hope to stand against the invaders, Lefty agrees to a deal - if they bring in General Victor and Colonel Smythe that evening, and if the Americans agree to let the English people live in liberty, he'll sign the treaty that makes those two bad guys we last saw in Chapter V the supreme heads of London's government.

So the Americans leave, and we end the chapter on a decidedly down note.

Frisman, beaming, went.  Just before the door was closed he looked back.  The beam of light from the high window was gone now.  The Lieutenant sat very still in the murky gloom of the ancient room, eyes cast down. 

Good ol' environmental symbolism, you can always count on it to get dark when the story does.

So, there's our thirteen-pages-left-in-the-book final conflict all set up.  Tune in next time to see how Lefty plans on getting out of this mess.

Back to Chapter IX part I 

No comments:

Post a Comment