1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 14:

By now, Mike had figured out the truth. But he was tired of people dancing around it — starting with Gustav Adolf himself. He was damn well going to get someone to admit it out loud.

“In short, he proposes to divide his forces in order to fight two enemies simultaneously. A military error so basic and egregious — even a neophyte like me knows that much — that it is inconceivable that a general as demonstrably superb as Gustav Adolf would commit it –”

Brunswick-Lüneburg started to say something but Mike drove over it. “– unless he had what a suspicious soul would call ‘ulterior motives.'”

This time Torstensson tried to interrupt but Mike drove over him too. “And the only such motive a suspicious soul like me can discern is that Gustav Adolf is bound and determined to defeat Saxony and Brandenburg quickly enough to leave most of the campaigning season available for some other purpose. Such purpose, of course, being an invasion of Poland.”

He paused, finally.

After a moment, Torstensson said: “Well. Yes. That is his plan.” A bit hastily he added: “We have it on good authority that the Poles will be sending a contingent to join the Saxons. So you might say they will begin the hostilities themselves.”

Mike chuckled, quite humorlessly. “Exactly how big a contingent are we talking about, Lennart?”

“Not… big.”

The duke’s chuckle, on the other hand, had some real humor in it. “To be precise, one small unit of hussars. But the commander is an Opalinski.”

“In other words, a pretext.” Mike gave Torstensson a level gaze. “I don’t suppose there’s any point in expressing my conviction that launching a major war against Poland is folly.”

Torstensson shook his head. “No, Michael, there is not. You’ve made your opinion on this subject clear enough in the past. On several occasions, to the emperor himself. Very bluntly, too.”

The two men stared at each other for a few seconds. Then Torstensson said: “You may resign your commission, of course.”

Mike shook his head. “In for a penny, in for a pound. Gustav Adolf is the head of state of the United States of Europe. Yes, he’s also the king of Sweden and so on and so forth, but that doesn’t matter here. He’s the commander in chief, according to our constitution — and I signed that constitution myself. So whatever I think of the wisdom of his decisions, I’m duty bound to obey them.”

“That constitution does not oblige you to serve personally, Michael,” George pointed out. “I’ve studied your up-time history, you know. So, yes, your President Truman fired your general McDonald’s — no, was it McCarthy? — but no one including him felt that McWhateverhisname was obliged to continue serving in the army.”

“Technically speaking, you’re right. But there are political issues involved here. Given the history of the USE — which is less than two years old, remember — and my position in that history, it would be dangerous for me to resign my commission over an issue like this one.”

“A battlefield is likely to be far more risky,” said Knyphausen, “especially one where you’re directed to behave recklessly.”

“I wasn’t referring to the personal danger to me. I was referring to the danger to the nation.”

There was silence, for a moment. Then the Frisian professional soldier nodded his head. “Well spoken, Michael,” he said softly.

“Say better, well done,” chimed in George. He gave Mike another of those cheerful smiles that seemed to come readily to the man. “Maybe there’s something to this ‘Prince of Germany’ business after all.”

Torstensson made a derisive sound. Close to a snort, but not quite. “Don’t say that in front of the emperor,” he muttered. The Swedish general pointed to one of the several side tables against the walls of the room, this one covered with maps instead of bottles of wine. “If you would, Dodo.”

Knyphausen rose and went over, then came back with one of the maps and spread it across the low table in the center. As soon as he’d done so, Torstensson leaned over and pointed to a place on the map. After a few seconds to orient himself, Mike realized that the Swedish general was pointing at Leipzig. Near it, rather.

“In this area, gentlemen,” said Torstensson. “I think the battle will happen here. It’s good, flat terrain that will favor the Saxon cavalry.”

“Favor our APCs too,” grunted Knyphausen.

Mike cocked an inquisitive eye at Torstensson. “We’re going to use the APCs against the Saxons? For God’s sake, why?”

Before Torstensson could answer, Mike waved his hand. “Never mind. Same reason.”

Torstensson nodded. Mike leaned back in his chair, and couldn’t help issuing a sigh. “Well, I say it’s stupid — and I don’t care if Gustav Adolf is a certified military genius and I’m just a grunt. It’s still stupid. Saxony is not one of the great military powers of Europe, and those so-called ‘APCs’ are just armored coal trucks — which we can’t replace. Not for years, at any rate. So why use them in this war? I leave aside the fact that the things are fuel hogs, and USE oil production still hasn’t recovered from Turenne’s raid on the Wietze oil fields during the Baltic War.”

Torstensson had a pained expression on his face. “Michael…”

“Never mind,” said Mike, waving his head. “I know it’s pointless to pursue the matter. I just want my opinion on the record.”

The decision to use the APCs was just another indication of how determined Gustav Adolf was to start a war with the Poles as soon as possible. He was willing to use the APCs now rather than hold them back, even though Poland was a much stronger military power than Saxony — or Saxony and Brandenburg combined, for that matter.

But Mike’s objection would just be overruled, and Mike would be stuck in the same bind he was stuck in now. The USE was simply too new and too unstable for him to risk precipitating a political crisis. Especially since he had mixed feelings on the subject, anyway. On the one hand, he thought the Polish situation did not lend itself well to military solutions. On the other hand…

Who could say for sure? The old saying “you can’t export a revolution with bayonets” certainly had some truth. But a lot of it was just wishful thinking, too. Mike had read a great deal of history since the Ring of Fire, and one of the things he couldn’t help notice was how often history was shaped by the outcome of wars. Napoleon was often denounced as a tyrant, but the fact remained that many of the revolutionary changes he made were not overturned after his defeat — not even by those he’d defeated and forced to accept those changes.

So… There was no way of knowing the outcome of a war between the USE and Poland. If was possible, in the event of a clear cut USE victory, that serfdom in eastern Europe would be destroyed. Not by Gustav Adolf and his armies, maybe. But one thing you could be sure of was that Gretchen Richter and her Committees of Correspondence would be coming into Poland on the heels of those armies. And they hated serfdom with a passion.

In fact, they were already there. Mike knew from his correspondence with Morris Roth in Prague that Red Sybolt and his radical cohorts were active in Poland. Possibly even in the Ukraine by now.

On balance, he thought a military approach to eradicating serfdom in eastern Europe had far more risks than benefits. Still, it was tempting. Military solutions had the great advantage of being clear and definite.

Appearing to be, at any rate. Often, though, that was just a mirage. Mike’s close friend Frank Jackson was a Vietnam veteran, and could expound for hours on the stupidity of politicians who thought a map was the territory.

He looked back down at the map in front of him and wondered if he was looking at another such mirage.

“Near Lützen, then,” said George. “Hopefully, this time there will be a better outcome.”

In the universe Mike had come from, the Swedes had won the battle of Lützen in 1632 — but Gustav Adolf had also been killed there. So, a tactical victory had become a strategic defeat.

“I will not be leading a reckless cavalry charge,” said Torstensson firmly.

But that didn’t really matter, thought Mike. There were a thousand ways that tactical victories could turn into strategic defeats.