A work of fiction, standard disclaimers. Inspired by works of alternative history, such as those published by Harry Turtledove, in which a point of departure from recorded history is postulated, and its consequences imagined. And, by the historical evidence that resistance to science, so prominent in American political and social life today, is engrained in American culture, and has been practiced even by some of its most famous ‘liberal’ figures:
Instinctively we recognized a deeper need—the need to find through government the instrument of our united purpose to solve for the individual the ever-rising problems of a complex civilization. Repeated attempts at their solution without the aid of government had left us baffled and bewildered. For, without that aid, we had been unable to create those moral controls over the services of science which are necessary to make science a useful servant instead of a ruthless master of mankind.
– Franklin D. Roosevelt, Second Inaugural Address, Washington DC, 20 January 1937.
* * *
Alexander Sachs began to sweat under his collar, and not from the warmth of the White House office he was in. It was, after all, October 11th, 1939, and the legendary heat and humidity of Washington DC summer had, at last, begun to abate.
Nor was he particularly nervous about being in the company of the President of the United States. He had worked for and with Franklin Delano Roosevelt since the beginning of FDR’s first term as President, and he rated himself the President’s equal in drive and repartee. Moreover, the two trusted each other; canny economic forecasting had won for Sachs the President’s admiration, and his ear.
But, for the past hour, he had pushed hard on that trust and that ear, and knew it. Pushed, in their words and his own, to get Roosevelt to grasp the importance of what the country’s top scientists had discovered. Scientists like Szilard and Fermi and Teller, and even Einstein himself. That the splitting of the atom could be a source of unimaginable power, for good and, especially, for ill, and that the US government should spend money to figure out how to work it, before somebody else did. Like Adolf Hitler, for instance.
Pushed a Roosevelt whose science knowledge had famously been compared to that of an ordinary beat cop, a Roosevelt who, just as famously and far more publicly, had declared that scientists should do as the politicians (namely, himself) told them to do, not the other way around. Or else. A Roosevelt whose energy and patience for deep science topics might have been insufficient before Germany had sucker punched Poland on the first of September, never mind a month later, with Poland wiped out and Europe at war. A Roosevelt who was now signaling that he had run out of both.
But Sachs had not gotten into FDR’s inner circle by being a shrinking violet, and his canny forecasting sense told him that now was not the time to start.
“As much as it takes for you to get the message”, he retorted. “Especially Professor Einstein’s bit about what would happen if the Germans figure it out first.”
“So,” Roosevelt mused, “what you are after is to see that the Nazis don’t blow us up?”
“Precisely”, a suddenly-hopeful Sachs responded.
“Which, you argue”, Roosevelt’s tone abruptly sharpened, “needs the US Government to invest huge sums in a project that, we hope, will beat the Germans to the punch. Run by those same scientists who have written those precious letters in your hands!”
“Oh, shit!”, Sachs thought.
“Seems to me”, Roosevelt continued, “that the best way to prevent the Germans from blowing us up is to beat them before they have the chance to do that! And it seems to me that, if the Germans want to get themselves ruled by science instead of being masters of it, and waste time and energy and money looking for fancy ways to split rocks, that’s the best news we could hope for. Especially since we seem to be needing all the time we can get to get out of our own way!”
Sachs didn’t let his shoulders actually slump, not in front of FDR he wouldn’t, but they slumped in his mind all the same. Roosevelt’s bitterness over the failures and caustic critiques of many of his second-term policies, after the smooth sailing of his first term, clearly had cost Einstein and his colleagues any chance of getting Federal support for their nuclear-fission research proposal.
“Well,” Sachs moved to close the meeting, “I think it’s important, and I ask that you think about it. Perhaps we can talk about it again tomorrow morning at breakfast?”
“Can you give me some way to get around these damned neutrality laws and get men and materials to Britain and France before they get overrun like Poland did?”
“Um, not yet.”
“Send me a note when you have.” The President of the United States of America spun in his wheelchair and rolled out of the room.
* * *
Ramunas Songailas, political editor for the Lithuanian SSR’s edition of Pravda, showed his press credentials to Kremlin officials in Red Square. For the seventh time in fifteen minutes. “Cost of doing business”, he thought. “The victory parade’s going to be showing off all the Soviet Union’s new toys, and General Secretary Putin’s going to make a major speech. Everybody’s ducks had better be in a row. Including mine,” he reminded himself as he hastened to his assigned position in the gallery, near enough to be able to hear, and record, Secretary Putin’s remarks.
Once there, he looked at the reviewing stand, and the immense propaganda poster that rose from behind it, several stories high. It was a gigantic image of a mushroom cloud, from the stem of which gazed the stern, determined, heroic faces of Secretary Putin and President Medvedev. From the top of the cloud, on high, the faces of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao gazed down on those of Putin and Medvedev in solemn benediction. Below the faces was the inscription, in flaming red and gold Cyrillic.
Proletarian Victory Day
25 November 2017
The same poster that has been used for the previous dozen Victory Days, Songailas thought. Only the year changes, from one year to the next.
And, he remembered with a start, the armaments. A decade ago, the highlights were the big missiles, designed to cross continents and cast multiple warheads over as broad an area as possible. Weaponry that made sense when the enemy was oceans away.
Last year? The emphasis was on cruise missiles and other tactical armaments, which the conquest of the Americas from Mexico south had made far more appropriate, and far less costly in terms of the land wastage necessary for converting nations to proletarian rule, than the big, crude, and expensive ICBMs. Thousands of these more elegant arms were now, doubtless, deployed along the southern border of the United States of North America, waiting on Putin’s word to be unleashed against this last remaining bastion of murderous, regressive capitalism.
This year’s improvements would soon be rolling through Red Square for all the soviets to see and admire, and their rolling would be accompanied by Secretary Putin’s ringing words proclaiming the imminent demise of the enemies of the people.
Songailas looked at the dais from which those ringing words would come, from the real Secretary Putin whose person was so much smaller than the personality-cult goliath that loomed behind him. Or, it would be when he actually showed up. The Lithuanian Pravda editor grinned sardonically. The General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics knows better than to expose himself to the cutting winds of a late November Moscow day until he has to, Songailas thought, and he has the power to assert that he doesn’t have to.
When he did come out, he would be flanked by Medvedev and by the leaders of the People’s Republics of China and Korea, whose countries had played such a critical role in the events of Victory Day. Songailas had forgotten their names, but as a privileged member of the Party, he knew that, when he got to an appropriately-wired office, he could use the fledgling computer network to look up those names, and the history with which they were associated. The history of Victory Day, November 25th, 1950, when the Soviet Union, acting in concert with China and what was then North Korea, unleashed a barrage of nuclear weapons on the American and European forces massed along the Yalu River, obliterating them and starting the inexorable progression of communism to world domination that continued to this day.
Nuclear weapons that Soviet scientists and their captured German tutors had perfected in total secrecy, while their capitalist foes capitulated to their science-averse populations and refused to sponsor or fund the necessary research until well after it was too late. The wise Voices of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, beginning with Marx the theorist, then Lenin the first practitioner, and now culminating with Putin, had showed them the error of their ways, and the rump, increasingly resource-strapped United States was all that now stood between that Dictatorship and mastery of the world. As the dialectic had long ago predicted.
The blare of loudspeakers! The rumble of military engines! The roar of the crowd as Putin and his entourage appeared on the reviewing stand! All hail Victory Day! Tears of pride formed in Songailas’s eyes as his voice roared with the rest.