Authors: Robert Conroy
Tags: #World War; 1939-1945 - United States, #Alternative histories (Fiction), #World War; 1939-1945, #General, #United States, #Historical, #War & Military, #World War; 1939-1945 - Japan, #Japan, #Fiction
Morrell seized on the comment. "And that's the point, Captain, we are still an army, not a mob. Those guys are destroying what we came here to liberate."
Maxwell laughed harshly. "Liberate? Let me tell you something, Lieutenant; we liberated Belgium and France, but not Germany. This fucking country we conquered with a lot of our friends getting killed or wounded in the process, and there's a helluva lot of difference."
"To the victor belong the spoils?"
"But what about our orders to maintain discipline and protect the people?"
The question amused Maxwell. "Things don't always work out like they were intended, now do they? Take Ike's nonfraternization order, for instance. Did anyone really think they could keep a couple of million horny GIs away from German pussy when the kraut chicks will give you anything you want for some cigarettes, or chocolate, or even a meal? Hell, the Russians are raping them wholesale and we're willing to pay for it. That makes us the good guys."
Grudgingly Paul agreed. That particular order truly was nonsense.
"And, Lieutenant, I am also supposed to employ Germans to run this area and get their local economy going again. Only orders say I can't use anyone who was a Nazi. Now tell me, just who the hell does that leave in a country where even the little krauts became Nazis before they could walk and wore swastikas on their diapers? Communists, that's who, and the brass'd kill me if I used commies to run the joint. At any rate, there aren't too many commies left after Herr Hitler got through with them, so I work with what I got, and that's what you're going to do as well."
"I see the problem," said Paul softly.
"Yeah, and we might as well settle down and enjoy it while it lasts. And might I ask just where the hell were you last night?" Maxwell said with a sneer.
Paul flushed. "At the gasthaus celebrating the Japanese surrender," he said sheepishly. There was no way he could lie about it. The captain had been there as well. It was where he had gotten this morning's headache, which was starting to come back. Shit.
"Yeah, and Herr Gasthaus-meister, or whatever the flick his name is, probably was a good little Nazi just a few weeks ago. Now he's doing his smiling best to get rich and get the U.S. army drunk and laid, and that makes him one of the good guys too."
"Okay, you've made your point, Captain. Now what do you think I should do?"
"Take some aspirin for your hangover and let me think. Now get out of here."
After Morrell had left, Maxwell's clerk told him that Major Lewis had come in the rear door and gone upstairs. Maxwell nodded, went upstairs, and found the major sitting on the edge of the bed in the largest of the bedrooms. One of the two dark-haired fräuleins they'd brought back from the gasthaus the night before was still sleeping, while the other sat in front of the dresser and combed her hair. Both were naked. The sleeping one snored slightly. He couldn't recall just which one he'd fucked and seemed to recall they were sisters. He was slightly concerned that they looked so much younger than they had last night.
The major looked extremely somber, and that worried Maxwell. "What's the problem, Bob?" Maxwell asked.
Lewis pulled a bottle of schnapps from a drawer and took a long swallow. "Tell me first about young Lieutenant Morrell. What's his problem?" Maxwell quickly filled him in on the situation.
"The problem is," Maxwell went on, "that those two idiots are gonna tell everyone they made a fool out of him, and it'll be difficult for him to regain control of the troops. He barely had it in the first place."
Major Lewis took another swallow. It was apparent to Maxwell that the major wanted to get drunk and do it right now. Why? Maxwell wondered.
Lewis belched. "Then ship him out. Put him on the levy to Japan."
Maxwell blinked in surprise. As a prelude to invading Japan, the army had begun sending individuals off to the Pacific. It was rumored that full units would follow. People with a lot of combat experience in the European theater would be returned home to civilian life, while others with less experience would either be retained in Germany or used in the invasion of the home islands of Japan. Orders had come down asking units to "volunteer" individuals, which meant that everyone was taking the opportunity to get rid of oddballs, troublemakers, and incompetents.
Maxwell shook his head in confusion. "Bob, the Japanese just surrendered, didn't they? I thought the levy was going to be canceled?"
Major Lewis looked at the naked woman at the dresser. She had completed combing her hair and was now picking at the remains of some C rations, ignoring them both. "I have bad news for you, my friend. The Japanese may have just unsurrendered."
"Bullshit!" Maxwell sagged into a chair in disbelief.
"It's the truth. Seems there's been some kind of a coup or revolution over there, and the crazy people are back in charge. The invasion is on, at least until the next revolution, and the levy is not likely to be canceled anytime soon. So get Morrell out of here while you still have the chance. Send him off to fight the Japs with our blessing."
Maxwell nodded assent. It was an easy decision to make and would solve a lot of problems. If only he could get rid of Nevins and Wiles just as easily. At least, he consoled himself, they'd be shipped out somewhere soon enough.
Too bad for Lieutenant Morrell, though. He genuinely hoped nothing happened to the young man. Despite being naïve about some things, Morrell was a pretty good kid. On the other hand, Maxwell had a life to live in Germany for the foreseeable future.
God, Maxwell thought, let it be in Germany and not invading Japan. He reached for the schnapps and patted the sleeping woman on her bottom. She moaned slightly but didn't move. Maybe people would get their heads out of their asses and end this thing for good. Maybe the war would end a second time before Lieutenant Morrell even got there. But, what the hell, he had his own life to lead.
Nothing in the first six decades of his life had indicated that Harry Truman of Independence, Missouri, would ever become president of the United States and one of the most powerful men in the world. Born in 1884, he'd seen combat as an artillery captain in World War I, served as a county judge, and, to the astonishment of many, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1934. He'd stayed there, accruing seniority and serving his nation honestly, anonymously, and well. In 1944, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had surprised everyone and tapped him to be his vice-presidential running mate.
Although a high honor, the office under FDR was a thankless one. Roosevelt ignored his vice president once the election was done. Roosevelt considered it his constitutional obligation to have a vice president, but nothing said he was required to actually use one. One of Roosevelt's earlier vice presidents, John Nance Garner, had referred to the job as not being worth a pitcher of "warm piss." The word
had later been changed to
in an attempt to sanitize history. Roosevelt could accept this comment, but not Garner's temerity in trying to unseat Roosevelt as president. Garner had been dumped from the ticket, and it had brought about the 1940 pairing of Roosevelt with Henry Wallace. When Wallace's infatuation with Joseph Stalin and all things politically far left, if not Communist, became known, he too became unacceptable.
Enter Harry Truman, who was loyal, hardworking, honest, American, and not likely to lust after FDR's job. For the eighty-odd days he had served as vice president, Truman had been content to accept the honor of the office as a reward for long years of faithful service to his country and the Democratic Party. He considered it a pleasant prelude to a comfortable retirement.
On April 12, 1945, Roosevelt unexpectedly died of a massive stroke in Warm Springs, Georgia, and Harry Truman, the dapper little man with the often snappish temper, had become president of the United States.
Now, as he paced the Oval Office and waited for the others to arrive, he could only ponder how wholly unprepared he had been for the job he now held. He had known absolutely nothing about the development of the atomic bomb or the agreements made by FDR at the Yalta conference in February 1945, where the United States and the Soviet Union had set the pattern for the world's future. FDR had operated in a world all his own, and Truman was only beginning to plumb its depths. He felt he had not disgraced himself at the recently concluded Potsdam conferences and was learning more each day about the office of president. But he sometimes came near to despair at how little he knew and how much he had yet to learn.
Truman had made few changes in FDR's cabinet or command structure. Jim Byrnes had succeeded Stettinius as secretary of state, although Ambassador Grew had been a decent interim choice. Stettinius was now the first ambassador to the United Nations in San Francisco, while the sixty-six-year-old Byrnes had a wealth of government experience to draw on. Roosevelt had referred to Byrnes as his "assistant president," both insulting and ignoring Truman with the term. To the surprise of some, Byrnes and Truman functioned together efficiently.
James Forrestal was the secretary of the navy, and Henry Stimson remained the secretary of war. Adm. William Leahy was chief of staff to the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy. Leahy, a quiet man, sometimes seemed to be dominated by Adm. Ernest King, the navy chief of staff, and George C. Marshall, the army chief of staff. Truman could easily imagine anyone being intimidated by King and Marshall. Forrestal and Stimson would not attend this day. Byrnes, Leahy, King, and Marshall were expected, along with anyone else they chose to bring.
Truman thought it ironic that he, a man who'd never graduated from college, could be in charge of such highly educated and well-qualified men of great renown, and that he now hobnobbed with kings and premiers. It could easily be an ego-swelling experience, and at times Harry Truman thought he could learn to like his new job.
Truman entered the conference room, took his place at the head of the table, and gestured for the standing men to be seated. The only additional member of the group was Maj. Gen. Leslie Groves, the man who had administered and ramrodded the Manhattan Project and the development of the atomic bombs that had recently been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Truman gestured them to their seats and began with characteristic abruptness. "Gentlemen, have we learned anything new in the last few hours?"
Byrnes responded, his brow wrinkled with concern. "As of yesterday, we thought we had a deal with the Japs. The Swedish government, acting as an intermediary, informed us that Hirohito and Premier Suzuki's government had accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, which required them to agree to unconditional surrender. Their radio even warned the Japanese people that a major announcement would be broadcast at noon their time. It now appears that a bunch of fanatic young officers have seized the palace and kidnapped Hirohito. When the noon radio announcement was made, it said nothing about surrender. War Minister Anami, who alleged to be acting on Hirohito's behalf, called for continued resistance and made reference to using the entire population of Japan as human weapons against the United States should we be so foolish as to invade. Anami also said that the rumors of surrender were false and made by officials in the government who had treasonably conspired to act on behalf of an unknowing emperor."
Byrnes shook his head in dismay. "Sir, this was not wholly unexpected. There were many factions in the Japanese government and military who were opposed to any surrender, and they have taken control of both the government and the emperor."
"We were so close," Truman muttered. "So damned close. We were even willing to let them keep their emperor, even though most of the United States would like to see the little bastard hanged. Didn't they understand they could keep Hirohito?"
Byrnes nodded grimly. "I've spoken with the Japanese experts at State and they've informed me that the Jap hierarchy knows full well that Hirohito gets to stay. The problem, as they see it, runs much deeper. It really goes to the fact that their culture and values are so different from ours that we, in their eyes, might as well be from another planet."
Adm. Ernest King's voice was a snarl. "If they don't surrender and do it soon, they may well be blasted to another planet."
Truman hushed him with a wave. "The problem is, do we recommence hostilities or try to wait this out?"
Marshall spoke for the first time. "I don't think we have a choice. What Anami said was a complete rejection of any surrender at this time. We must continue the war."
"I agree," said King firmly. Leahy looked away in dismay. He had taken the failure of the Japanese to surrender very hard. After a moment, Byrnes too agreed.
Truman groaned. "The country has been anticipating an end to the Jap war for several days now. There have been premature and false announcements of peace, and people have been celebrating and dancing in the streets. Now, they have to be told that all their hopes have been dashed and we're still at war with a bitter and fanatical enemy." He turned to Byrnes. "I must go on the air and make an announcement very quickly before the rumors get out of hand."
General Groves coughed lightly to get attention. Although a belligerent and highly confident man, he was outranked and somewhat awed by the people in the room. "Mr. President, gentlemen, I presume you will want a continuation of our atomic bombings?"
Truman nodded. Destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki had almost brought the Japs to their knees; perhaps more bombs would succeed where the first two had not. It had been Truman's decision and his alone to use the little-understood weapon against the Japanese. He had made the decision hoping to save lives, American lives, and now that decision again confronted him.
As before, Truman did not hesitate. "Do that. When can we atomize another city?"
Groves paused. "Not immediately, sir. It will be at least two weeks before we will have the materials in place at Tinian to assemble another bomb. We are beginning production of the bombs at our facility in Hanford, Washington, but the pace will be slow. We estimate that we can make at least one a month, with a strong possibility of accelerating that pace once we learn more about the process."