Authors: Robert Conroy
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Time travel, #Alternative History, #War & Military
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BAEN BOOKS by ROBERT CONROY
1920: America’s Great War
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1920: America’s Great War
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Robert Conroy
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Book
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
Cover art by Kurt Miller
First Baen printing, December 2013
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Pages by Joy Freeman (www.pagesbyjoy.com)
Printed in the United States of America
Getting a novel published will never grow old.
It was a dream come true from the first, and remains so today.
I can only thank everyone at Baen and Spectrum who had a
hand in the development of
1920: America’s Great War.
Life is good.
To Quinn and Brennan: Ask your parents.
The Genesis of 1920
In the summer of 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Imperial German Army invaded Belgium and France. He planned a quick and brutal war that would result in a decisive victory over France and England; thus ensuring dominance in the world. At the end, national boundaries would be redrawn with provinces gained and lost as had been done in the past. Losing governments would fall and, after a few months of carnage, the world would go on.
Germany also found herself at war with Russia, but felt she could defeat France before dealing with a ponderous and slow-mobilizing Tsarist Russia.
It didn’t happen as planned and the horrors and convulsions of the next hundred years and more are directly attributable to the mistakes made by both sides in the summer and fall of 1914.
In the early weeks of what came to be called the Great War and later, World War I, France and Germany fought a titanic battle near Paris along the Marne River. Because of a combination of French luck and bravery, along with German mistakes and miscalculations, the French prevailed, Paris was saved, and the world was doomed.
The ironic and unintended consequences of the unexpected and somewhat undeserved French victory condemned the world to four years of horrific trench warfare which resulted in scores of millions dead and maimed.
The Germans lost the Battle of the Marne and it took four long and bloody years for Germany to be fully defeated.
The four years of World War I resulted in the destruction of empires. The collapse of Imperial Germany led tothe horrors of Hitler’s Germany and World War II. Russia fell to the communists and precipitated the equally horrific years of Stalin and the Cold War. The Ottoman Empire ruled from Istanbul disappeared, which ultimately led to the present chaos in the Moslem world. The disintegration of the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire resulted in nationalistic violence in the Balkans.
But what if France hadn’t won at the Marne?
In this revised scenario, the Germans won the battle, took Paris, and drove the combined French and English armies south in a retreat that turned into a rout. This resulted in the taking of hundreds of thousands of French and British prisoners. Germany became the world’s one remaining Great Power. England and France were humbled.
The only remaining potential threat to the ambitions of Imperial Germany would have been the United States. America, under the stubbornly idealistic and unrealistically pacifist Woodrow Wilson, would discount any possible threat from the kaiser. As a man who had stated he would go to virtually any length to avoid fighting a war, Wilson likely would have allowed imperialistic Germany more expansionary latitude than any other president since Abraham Lincoln when he had been forced to ignore France’s invasion of Mexico during our Civil War. The toothless Monroe Doctrine would have been ignored.
Understanding both Wilson’s frail health and his devotion to peace at any price, Germany would have made preparations to eliminate the United States as a future threat. The United States already was an economic titan. Her population was far greater than Germany’s and was growing at an uncatchable rate. It is very likely that the kaiser would have wanted the U.S. eliminated as a power before she reached her full potential.
The Germans had contempt for the United States in general and Woodrow Wilson in particular. An aggressive and extremely ambitious Germany, led by the ultraimperialist Kaiser Wilhelm II, would have found it difficult to resist the temptation to eliminate the United States as a real or future threat.
* * *
This novel’s point of departure from real history is that late summer and early fall of 1914 during which the First Battle of the Marne was fought. Therefore, anything that happens after that is up for conjecture and subject to my vivid and sometimes warped imagination. In some cases, I’ve decided to have a little fun. For instance, I have the drive to make Prohibition an amendment to the Constitution defeated. There is some logic to this, as America’s bloody involvement in World War I was at least partial impetus for the silly law’s approval in the first place.
Similarly, the great flu epidemic of 1918 would not have occurred in the same time period since American troops weren’t training in cramped, unsanitary camps, and weren’t being sent to Europe at that time. I’ve chosen to have it occur in early 1921. Further, sources such as the
New England Journal of Medicine
now believe it originated in the USA and not in Europe or Asia as previous epidemics and plagues did.
If the idea of Woodrow Wilson, a victim of multiple strokes and virtually bedridden in 1920, running for a third term is implausible, think again. In his lucid moments he desperately wanted a third term to vindicate his legacy and try once more to have the U.S. join the League of Nations. He would not step aside, which, in the real history of 1920 sent the Democratic Party into a state of disarray. What helped him, of course, was that his wife kept the seriousness of his condition from the rest of the world.
Strange though this position may seem, when the Democratic convention opened that summer of 1920, New York bookies had Wilson as an odds-on favorite to be the Democratic nominee.
Many historians consider World War I to have been the most significant event in the last hundred years and the Battle of the Marne the most important single incident in the war. The tragedies of the last century can all be traced to the Fall of 1914.
In my novel, the world following 1914 would have been very different. But would it have been better?
How could this have come to pass?
Reggie Carville wondered. He was a captain in the British Army and was about to become a prisoner of the German Army and its demented leader, Kaiser Wilhelm II. Instead of victory, he and many tens of thousands of British soldiers would be guests of the Hun until they were repatriated back to England.
What a humiliation. What a terrible, horrible way to end this dismal year of 1914. He and thousands of others were squatting in the damp and clammy mud of southern France, waiting their turn to give up. It seemed so strange to be able to look across a field and see the German soldiers they’d been trying to kill just the day before standing in plain sight. He could almost hear their laughter and his humiliation ate at him. The British Expeditionary Force, the BEF, would soon cease to exist.
, Carville thought,
it was far worse for the French.
At least the British force had remained intact. Not like the French Army; it had utterly disintegrated after its defeat on the Marne and the subsequent capture of Paris by the Germans.
And who could blame the poor French soldiers who’d finally thrown away their weapons and run like rabbits? Poorly led and poorly trained, they’d been directed to charge into the rain of bullets coming from the German machine guns. They’d been told that
, the spirit of the warrior, would carry the day. Machine guns would be as nothing in the face of Gallic courage. Instead, they died in bloody heaps, their bodies broken and the
of the survivors evaporated. Hell, Carville thought, they were still wearing their traditional red and blue uniforms, which made such splendid targets. The British wore khaki and the Germans a field gray, both of which served as far better camouflage.
Ironically, the Germans hadn’t been much smarter in the early days of the war. They too had marched across bloody fields in mass formations. But they quickly learned the error of their ways.
In a curious twist of linguistic irony, Field Marshal Sir John French commanded the British forces operating in France. He was widely considered to be overtimid and did not get along well with either his own officers or his allies. Carville wondered if a more aggressive leader might have avoided this debacle. Perhaps not, he concluded. There’d been too many Germans and too few British, although three hundred thousand Brits hardly counted as a trifle. They and their French so-called allies had confronted more than two million Germans.
Carville was attached to Field Marshal French’s headquarters as a junior aide and could have avoided any contact with the fighting, but his upbringing and training demanded otherwise. On several occasions he’d gone to the front and watched as highly-trained British soldiers fired their Enfield rifles with a speed and accuracy that made the Germans think they had many more machine guns than existed. In front of the British, it had been the Germans who’d died in heaps. Too bad there were only a few hundred thousand British soldiers in the entire army and too bad they were all going to have to surrender. What, he wondered, would happen to poor England without an army? At least the Royal Navy was largely intact and could probably defend the nation from a German invasion.
Being part of the headquarters’ staff, Carville knew things that others didn’t. He knew that, months earlier, their French allies had been informed that the German Army on the Marne had split and that a counterattack on the German westernmost flank would stop them in their tracks.
But no, the old-fashioned French generals rejected the notion because they didn’t quite trust the sources. Much of the information had come from pilots who’d seen the German mistake, but they simply hadn’t been believed. People who fly planes are all mad, don’t y’know. The commander at Paris, General Joseph Gallieni, had begged for permission to attack the exposed German flank, but had been denied. Sit tight and wait, he’d been told. When the Germans were defeated at the Marne he could attack their retreating forces. Carville’s own leader, Marshal French, had also been reluctant to authorize a risky breakout.
Of course, the British and the French had been defeated at the Marne and Paris taken after a short but bloody siege that saw many landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, in ruins. The British and French armies had retreated south, hoping to reach the Mediterranean and rescue. Instead, they had gotten no further than the city of Clermont. The French army had disintegrated while the British stayed intact and continuously bloodied the noses of the Germans.
Carville felt pity for the French soldier, the
, and contempt for his leaders. Of course, he wasn’t all that fond of the English leaders who’d led him to this surrender field. In his opinion, Field Marshal Sir John French was a horse’s ass.
Carville also knew that the Germans were exhausted and at the end of their tether. Their armies were in disarray and their supply lines had been unable to keep up with their army’s needs. The German Army was in rags and almost out of food and ammunition. One good push and they’d either be stopped or defeated.
One problem—the French army no longer existed and the British Army was in even worse shape than the Germans. Victory, Carville concluded, would go to the side that was least exhausted. Wellington had prevailed in battle and called it a near-run thing. Well, this campaign had been a close one, but the result had been defeat, not victory.
Carville saw Sergeant Smith—the sergeant pronounced it ‘Smeeth’—staring at him. “Well, sergeant, are you ready?”
“Oy, but I’ll fookin’ hate it.”
Carville grinned. Smith sometimes affected an outrageous accent when he felt like it. He and the dimunitive, wiry and outspoken Smith went back several years. Smith was a consummate professional soldier of the King. “I can’t think that anyone’s looking forward to a German prison camp,” Carville said. “Can’t imagine it’ll be for too bloody long, though.”
Smith nodded glumly. “Oy don’t give a shit how long it be. Oy’ve lost too minny mates to take kindly to Germans. Hate the bastards, I do. Next time I hope their lordships in London gives us at least a fookin’ fighting chance to kill the Kraut fuckers.”
Carville clapped him on the shoulder. The little man had killed more than a dozen Germans with his Enfield. As a sniper, he was almost a legend. In fact, the only better shot Reggie Carville knew of was Reggie Carville.
Whistles blew and men formed up. Carville nodded at Smith and returned to headquarters. They would march out, turn in their weapons, and be returned to their encampment. Officers would be paroled to live in local hotels, and the enlisted men would be kept at the camp until arrangements were made. Carville didn’t think they would take long. The Germans didn’t want to have to house and feed three hundred thousand Brits any longer than they had to.
What really concerned Carville was the thought of the world with Germany as its only preeminent power. England had been defeated. France and Russia had been crushed. There was no one left to be a real rival to Imperial Germany and the ambitions of the half-mad and half-crippled Kaiser. The United States was a possibility, but they seemed more than content to hide behind their ocean moats and listen to their president, Woodrow Wilson, proclaim how terrible war was and how important it was that the United States stay out of it.
Carville sighed at such naiveté. What was one do when the town bully attacks you? Someday, America and Woodrow Wilson were in for a rude awakening.
Later, as he marched through the German lines, he saw how fatigued and dispirited they were. They looked at their late enemies with dull, dispirited eyes. Their faces were gaunt, their uniforms filthy and torn.
We could have had them.