November 12, 1942. WOC (Wartime Operations Center) number 6, Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois. War Cabinet meeting of the executive branch; recently evacuated from temporary headquarters in Chicago.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt adjusted himself in his seat, but could not find a comfortable position.
He knew it was important to listen carefully to what Cordell Hull was saying. But Lord! That man could talk three hours with five minutes worth of words. And Franklin had other things on his mind anyway. They all did, a quick look around the table showed everyone in the cabinet meeting was similarly preoccupied.
Stimson wasn’t even pretending to pay attention to Hull. Instead Henry was holding a whispered conversation with one of his aides. Perkins looked like he was taking notes, but Franklin guessed they had nothing to do with the matter at hand. Vannevar Bush was scribbling away as well, doodling idly and not trying to hide it. Franklin was momentarily curious to see the paper; Bush had an artistic streak.
Bush was also the one Franklin most needed to hear from before he made his final decision. He shifted in his chair again, using his arms on the chair side to lift his butt and move it, then reaching down and adjusting his legs by pulling on the braces under his pants.
A throat clearing from Stimson told Franklin that Hull had finally wound down. Before Stimson could start Franklin leaned forward and said to his Secretary of War "Just tell them about the Madagascar thing Henry. Everyone already knows the situation in New York and Los Angelos. And right now nothing else matters quite as much. Even," he grimaced, "the war in Europe or the Pacific."
Stimson nodded his aristocratic head. "It seems we may know where the Germans found an extra fusion device, the one they detonated in New York harbor."
Everyone stirred at that, except Bush who already knew. It was clear the Japanese had used the power plant from the Yamato on Los Angelos; the great battleship had stayed in drydock for repairs so long there was little doubt. But the Germans had only one fusion reactor, purchased from the Japanese, and it was still powering their great land juggernaut, currently grinding its way across Africa.
Like the Americans in Cuba and the British in England, the Japanese had only found three of the Martian fusion reactors in their territory in the aftermath of the Martian invasion. And, so far as anyone knew, that was all of them there were; nine hydrogen fusion generators, each capable of being converted into a terrible bomb but generally more valuable to the war effort by powering an aircraft carrier. And no one knew, yet, how to build more.
"The German claim is almost certainly false," said Stimson, lighting a cigarette that he held between his middle finger and his thumb. "They probably didn’t build a fusion bomb, although we know they are working as hard on it as we are. However my intelligence boys have tracked down some information that suggests the Germans bought a damaged Martian fusion generator from someone in South Africa. We found the man ourselves, but it was too late. The Krauts got to him first.
"There wasn’t much left of the man or his business. But we found a couple of survivors and it appears the generator he sold the Germans came from somewhere in the mountains of Madagascar. Apparently the Martians landed there too back then, but no-one noticed."
"Tell them the rest." Franklin ordered.
Stimson’s mustache twitched around his cigarette, but he continued. "This also explains why Rommel is in Somalia and heading south. Madagascar is run by the Vichy government, which gives the Germans putative control there. However they don’t have many assets in place and what is left of their fleet is at least a month away. The Japs are weeks away as well, but reports tell us their entire West Pacific fleet is under full steam and heading for Africa.
"Clearly they hope to recover two more generators there, along with other Martian machinery. We believe the attacks on New York and L.A. were meant to keep us off-balance while they solidified their position. But it didn’t work. We started shifting our own forces weeks ago and expect to put a significant hitch in their plans."
Cordell Hull looked like someone had peed in his coffee. "The Axis has given us only one week to respond to their ultimatum before they start bombing all our major cities. If your information is wrong; or even if it is correct, but the Germans are building their own hydrogen bombs anyway, we will have a mass slaughter on our hands. Millions will die. America will be in ruins. Can we take that risk if we are not certain?"
Franklin clenched his jaw. That was exactly the question, wasn’t it? And he knew where the buck stopped on that one. "That’s why I need to know where our own efforts stand," he said, before anyone else could speak up. "Vannevar?"
Bush put down his pen and adjusted his tie. "Teller is still optimistic, but his team is depending on Oppenheimer giving them a trigger device, and they may be years away even so. Fusion like the Martians do it is even harder, and we believe that is what everyone else; the Germans, the Japs, even the Brits; everyone else is working towards. There are just too many hard problems to solve for that one. Which is why we followed Einstein’s advice.
"Oppenheimer, on the other hand, tells me that the renewed push they started last year paid off. He believes his team is less than six months from delivering a working fission bomb."
"Can you be certain the Germans haven’t cracked the problem?" Hull demanded.
"I am a scientist. If scientific reasoning were limited to the logical processes of arithmetic, I could give you certainty. Instead I give you belief."
"So the scientist asks us to depend on faith," Hull started to continue his sarcasm, but Franklin brought his fist down on the table hard enough to shake even that massive piece of furniture.
Faith. That was the key. Franklin looked around the table; every eye was on him. The ones that didn’t look frightened looked determined. They were all shaken by recent events and they were all handling it their own way, but he, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was the one who had to make the final decision. And he had to make it on faith. He, the man who had so often doubted.
Suddenly he was struggling to stand up, levering himself with the table. His chair fell over with a crash as he lurched to one side and an aide caught him. But then he was up on both legs and locking his braces enough to stand upright.
I cannot, he thought, say this while sitting on my ass...
"I have faith. I believe in America. I believe that this country will never back down from a fight. And I believe that there is no such thing as an honorable peace with Hitler, no matter what his lackeys say."
For a moment Franklin had a vision of an America laid waste. Of Baltimore and Philidelphia and Chicago, and Detroit and Saint Louis, and San Francisco all looking like the pictures on the table in front of him, taken the day before in New York. The burned bodies. The buildings flattened into undifferentiated rubble.
Lord God, he thought, he prayed; forgive me if I am wrong. But if you put me here to make this decision, then you already knew how I would make it...
"I have faith. And I believe we have no choice but to continue the fight. Vannevar; you said six months. I give you two. I want you to go to Los Alamos yourself and see to it. Henry; you’ll have your battle in Madagascar. The rest of you? I want you drawing up plans for what we do next week if the Germans can back up their threats.
"Get to it!"
The room cleared with admirable speed. Franklin shook off the aide still holding him up and took his canes, using them to walk himself to the window where he could look out over the Mississippi River.
I have faith, he thought, he prayed. Forgive me.
3/20/2007, Jack William Bell. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.