All In A Day's Work
Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin with his wife and daughter
Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin with his wife and daughter
Afternoon, 19th of February, 1938
Downing Street 10, London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Stanley glared with hatred in his heart at the massive pile of paperwork threatening to break his desk beneath its weight. Petitions, white papers, letters, memoranda, communiqués and sundry other documents fought for precedence after they overflowed his otherwise carefully managed trays.
How on earth had Winston managed to hold it all together during the last couple years?
Stanley gave it some thought to the question before realizing that he would not have been sitting where he was if Winston had been able to hold it together.
Fighting the claws of procrastination, he finally set to reading the document placed atop the pile of horrors, trusting his aides to at least have ensured that the most important matters had been placed there.
The first paper to make its way into his hands was a summary of current legislation tabled for debate in Parliament. A proposal for increased naval spending was making its way through the Commons in response to the travesty with the Dominion Fleet while changes to the legal framework around fraud were making being discussed in the Lords - more power to them, now if only they would take of the frauds in Parliament as well.
A summary of minutes from various committees followed, with a couple pressing letters followed soon after.
As he gradually began to make a dent in the pile he soon came across a message from the Marquess of Zetland (1) which drew his attention.
The old India hand was back at it again, once more campaigning for Dominion status for India - a bugbear which Zetland had been pushing ever since the Attlee Commission returned from India.
Stanley almost binned the letter before a sentence near the end of the letter caught his attention.
It read: "Young Erskine has a rather intriguing proposal, but I am uncertain if it would even be remotely workable. The Hindoo are, as any who have worked with the subcontinent know, by far the greater source of troubles so working out an arrangement with the Muslims might be the right way forward."
For a moment Stanley tried to wrack his memory for the contents of the mentioned Erskine proposal before giving it up for a bad job and setting to digging through the mountain of papers before him in hopes of finding it. After almost ten minutes of fruitless search, during which half the mountain of papers ended up spread across his desk and floor, he was left frowning and frustrated.
Ringing a small bell, he called out to his aide "Oh, John. Could you find me the proposal from that Erskine fellow? Should have come in the last couple weeks. Can't seem to find the blasted thing." (2)
A muffled reply was followed by the distant sounds of clacking drawers and impatient mutterings before a frazzled junior aide came through the door with a fat stack of papers.
Stanley accepted the folder with a smile before he set to reading through it, the memory of its contents slowly coming back to him as he went through the abstract.
The further he read the more intrigued and horrified he became. An hour later he called for the contents of the Attlee Report on India to cross reference, a dozen thoughts competing for prominence as he weighed the need for action against the political costs and feasibility of the proposal.
Before long he had his aides calling his advisors, the Secretary for India and various others to a dinner meeting in hopes of getting a feel for what everyone thought.
It was only at this point that he was able to turn back to the increasingly disordered stack of paperwork which had set off this whole tangent, rushing through the remaining urgent documents in an hour - barely stopping to read them before signing off on them - before a knock at the door announced that his guests had arrived.
Would the proposal be enough? Could it solve the problems they faced? There were so many unknowns that Stanley could barely keep track of the most obvious ones as it stood. Regardless something had to be done, or India might well be lost in its entirety.
(1) This is Lawrence Dundas, 2nd Marquess of Zetland - IOTL he served as Secretary for India between 1935 and 1937 after being appointed by Baldwin to the position.
(2) As should hopefully be obvious, this is a reference to Lord John Erskine's proposal for a Muslim Dominion.
Colonel Joseph Stilwell, Military Attaché to Fengtian China
Colonel Joseph Stilwell, Military Attaché to Fengtian China
10th of August 1938
American Embassy, Beijing, Fengtian China
Dear Winn (1),
I hope this letter finds you and the children in good health and with high spirits.
My posting seems to be nearing an end now that things have started to settle down between the Japs, so I hope to be back to California sunshine before long. All I need to do is settle the last few reports and prepare things for my replacement before I can join you all at home.
This is probably the last time I will be in China. I have told you before how much the country has changed since our first stay here all those years ago (2), but I do not think it is truly possible to convey the sheer scope of the transformation which has occurred over the course of the last decade.
Beijing has been electrified, rail lines run south along the rebuilt Grand Canal to Jiangnan and westward into the interior. The dirt roads and squalor have been replaced by concrete jungles and paved roads. Do you remember that hard-won dirt road I helped build in Shanxi during my first posting? It has now been paved and expanded, helping to tie together the entire region. It is an astonishing transformation which I would not have been able to believe had I not seen it for myself.
It is not only the constant buildings going up or the sprouting factories across the country, but the very people of China who seem to have been as though transformed. There are foodbanks and soup kitchens in every neighborhood and town, employment agencies and new businesses emerging wherever I go. The people seem… if not happy, at least contented - a far cry from those dark days in the early Twenties when it seemed as though the whole world would descend into darkness.
Even the state seems to have finally found its footing now that the last embers of the past have been pushed out with that sad-sack Puyi. The ministries do their work, the courts seem to be functioning once more and the military finally, FINALLY, seem to have cleared away most of the bloodsuckers at the top.
You should see the Chinese recruits for the Dongbei Army (3). I told you all those years ago that the Chinese would make the best soldiers in the world if they were but given the chance, and by golly if that does not seem to be what the Fengtian leaders have done. Their rations have improved manifold, the conscripts have largely been demobilized and the remaining soldiers are as good as any I have seen in my life. They are hardy, dedicated, unflinching and unquestioningly disciplined. When I remember the starved bandit-conscripts who used to form the Beiyang Army it is a struggle to believe they ever came from the same land, much less the same people. I think I might be able to truly hold some pride in the men I have helped to train these last few years.
However, there is something about it all which just sits wrongly with me. I cannot figure out quite what it is Winn, but there is something ominous about all of it.
I have always felt that the old man is something of a good egg (4). His handling of the situation at court these last few years has been quite impressive to say the least and you can trust that when he says something will be done it will be done - something which was depressingly uncommon amongst many of the Warlords of the past. However, if I am to be honest, I must say that I find Prime Minister Wu the superior man - He is ever on the move, directing half a dozen military and civilian affairs even during the tensest of meetings while remaining as pleasant a man as I have ever met. In truth, it is the future of China which worries me.
I think it all started when I observed the Kwangtung Garrison's transit to Chosun at the start of the Jap tousle. I had been meeting with the younger of the two eldest Zhang brothers, a man by the name of Xueming, who has been beating the drum for some sort of confrontation with the Japs for years, and here he stood forced to help them make the troop transfers through Manchuria. He was absolutely furious, to the point some of his aides actually had to draw him away to calm him down several times, and I think he might well have killed the Loyalist representative if he could get away with it.
As I was set to follow the Loyalists into battle in Chosun, I was about ready to get on the train when I heard Xueming swear that he would make them pay. With hindsight in mind, I cannot help but think that this was the moment he decided to end the Qing, cost what it may.
The actual fighting in Chosun was incredible to watch, I do not think I have seen anything like the struggle for Busan since the last bloody days of the Great War. The sheer magnitude of the fighting was astonishing and the frustrations of the Korean conscripts as they were forced to fight for their oppressors was hard to handle.
I cannot help but wonder what will happen as the methods of warfare continue to develop - it seems as though we get ever better at breaking the world around us. At what point do we get so good at this trade that there is not a world to fight for when the drums of war fall silent?
By the time I returned to China it was as a world changed. The Qing gone, Fengtian ascendant. It was around this time that I first met the elder of the two princes, Zhang Xueliang.
It was a weird experience. He is so utterly unlike his father that it often astonishes me to this day that they are father and son - a feeling that I have never had with his younger brother Xueming. The new Emperor, Hongzhi as he has named himself, is a man of harsh discipline and forthright leadership. He is a bit rough around the edges and has a short temper, but you know that appeals to me plenty, but he knows when to advance or retreat. The prince by comparison is polished beyond belief, he seems a gentleman at first glance. Someone who knows how to turn up the charm, and damn well knows it.
I was nearly caught up in his charm myself, and I do have to say that there seem few better women in China than his secondary wife, Lady Soong. But from what I have heard amongst some of my Chinese contacts, there is far more too him than the polished image he presents. His dealings in the south have many suspicious and from the rumors making the rounds in the embassies there seems to be this pall of fear surrounding the prince. In my meetings with him since then, I have come to hold no doubt that he would be more than happy to gut whoever got in his way, with a sigh and an apology, before holding a banquet later in the evening, smiling and laughing as though nothing had happened.
You can trust anger and rage, you can trust forthrightness or boldness, but I fear that what China will have when Hongzhi departs the throne is a viper like few others. A man who can and will do anything to get his way, with the utter conviction that he is ever in the right and the ability to convince anyone he wants of the same. He is someone who can seem direct, forceful and energetic, drawing others about him like moths to a flame, but should he ever feel the need for it he will do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals. I have little doubt that when the time comes his brothers will have to either bow down or find themselves bowed in turn (5).
It will be good to leave this place before that happens. I look forward to seeing you and the children soon.
My love to you,
Joseph P. Stilwell
(1) This is a reference to Stilwell's wife Winifred Alison Smith, it is how she was generally addressed in his letters. Note that this is one of the letters in which he is in a contemplative mood, so we aren't going to get the full Vinegar Joe experience - more a soldier contemplating what he has seen over the past several years as he nears the end of his posting.
(2) Stilwell was one of the real old China Hands IOTL and his career has followed a somewhat similar trajectory ITTL, although the experiences he has gotten in China have been quite different.
(3) The Dongbei Jun is the Chinese name of the Northeastern Army, thought Stilwell, who likely has spent quite a bit of time in contact with them, would use an admixture of the two names in his private correspondence and speech.
(4) This is a reference to Zhang Zuolin, who was generally known by various old-something monikers. Given Stilwell's tendency to provide nicknames, I felt this would be the easiest to work with. As for the "good egg" descriptor, that is one used repeatedly by Stilwell in his diaries and letters for people he approved of.
(5) So some of these sentences describing Xueliang are lifted from OTL Stilwell quotes, primarily those related to Chiang Kai-shek, if with adaptations to better fit Xueliang's personality. Hope that it provides a bit more of a feel for Stilwell's commentary.
A Widow's Musings
Alice Roosevelt-Longworth with her husband Nicholas Longworth
Alice Roosevelt-Longworth with her husband Nicholas Longworth
Late Evening, 14th of December 1938
Upper Eastside, Manhattan, New York City, United States of America
Alice tucked her blanket in underneath her reclining body, a cold compress resting across her eyes and forehead after a festive evening with family and friends (1).
It has been more than half a decade since Nicholas died, and she had yet to find the comfort in the quiet of the night that she used to.
The last few years had been a bit of a struggle. The dire economic straits of the country had threatened to undermine the fortune her father and husband had both prepared for herself and Paulina while the struggles of widowhood and of a sole parent took up most of her time.
The fact that those years had been sufficient to get that lummox Ted involved in the highest offices of government with Long was as much proof as anything of how mad the world had become (2). Ultimately she had sought to supplement her income with tobacco advertisements and an autobiography about life in the White House under Pappa.
She had been writing another book as of late, trying to put into words what the reckless days of the Woods Presidency had been like, Anastasia running riot across Manhattan, Prohibition only recently taken up, the war in Siberia seeing the return of ever more coffins and the economy shaken with the aftermath of the Great War (3).
She was still weighing exactly how she should portray the whole affair, particularly in light of events in the Don. Anastasia, while an entertaining pen pal, was finding herself back in the spotlight of late for all the wrong reasons as of late - although she had always seemed a bit like a handle-less blade. With the political situation as it stood, and Long rushing to rewrite the constitution, it was a rather dangerous time to start digging into these sorts of affairs.
A quiet shuffling beside her announced the presence of her daughter, Paulina, there to bid her a good night. A small smile cross Alice's face as she lifted the compress to meet her daughter's gaze with half-lidded eyes.
"About ready for bedtime?" She asked, a bit of suppressed mirth in her voice as she regarded the long-haired twelve-year old clad in a heavy night gown, looking half her age.
A mussed nod was her reply, Paulina clearly near-dead on her feet. The contrast to earlier in the evening was particularly sharp.
She had been hosting the Kennedy family, having found them pleasant company - particularly the two older boys, Joe and Jack (3). Paulina had trailed after Joe like some lost doe throughout the entire evening, watching him utterly enraptured, with Joe playing the gallant and answering any and every question she had about life at Harvard.
Watching little Paulina goad the decade-older Kennedy boy into pontificating on his lessons with Harold Laski, trying to explain the complexities of modern economics he hadn't quite grasped himself to the adoring twelve-year old, had been an exercise in suppressed hilarity which she had enjoyed alongside Joe Senior and Rose.
In general the entire family were pleasant company, and the fact that the elder Kennedy was so willing to listen to her advice did not hurt either. If only her brother were as accommodating. The arrogance Teddy had displayed at their last meeting had soured their relationship considerably - Alice struggling to comprehend how the idiot ever thought he would succeed in pushing Long aside now that he had handed their father's political machine to him on a platter.
The President was a fascinating man, one her brother was utterly unsuited to beating in a political struggle. In some ways, the President reminded her a bit of her own father - the disregard for the traditional order, his heartfelt urge to propel the United States to unheard glories, his utterly unfathomable way with people. However, while there was much to like, there was even more cause for worry and wariness. The President's political maneuverings in dealing with the South, while commendable, were being undertaken with a reckless abandon which might prove costly for everyone involved, and his tendency to promote his own friends and supporters, while understandable to some extent, were growing ever more pronounced - nearing the point of impropriety.
Suppressing a groan, Alice let her dark thoughts scatter as she got to her feet, taking Paulina's hand in her own, yet again marveling at how she was nearly of height with her daughter, as they walked the scant dozen steps to the latter's room.
Regardless of what might happen in the future, she had a young daughter to put to bed, and she doubted it would be long before she followed.
(1) So as is hopefully quite clear, we are following Alice Roosevelt-Longworth this time around. We have had an encounter with her in a prior narrative section, but it was nearly two decades before this one, so things have changed quite a bit since then.
(2) The Ted referred to here is Theodore Roosevelt Jr., Alice's younger brother and the sitting Vice President under Huey Long.
(3) This is based on Alice's OTL activities during the Great Depression. Despite this it is worth noting that her circumstances are quite different from OTL. She is an even more significant political figure ITTL, with a great degree of influence within the Roosevelt Machine which has become a core section of the Progressive Party, and has more means to make a relatively comfortable life for herself and her daughter.
(4) IOTL Alice ended up having a quite close relationship with the Kennedy family once they got into power. Things are quite different ITTL since the Kennedys stayed situated in New York to a greater extent and were eventually integrated into the Progressive Party alongside so many other Irish-Americans. IOTL the Democratic affiliations of the Kennedy family were one of the barriers keeping the two parties from interacting, but without that I think there is some plausibility to them quickly getting to know each other and enjoying each other's company.
And with that we close out this round of narrative updates. Hopefully you guys enjoyed them, they are a bit more quiet and contemplative than some of the others I have done, and I played around a bit with the format with the letter from Stilwell.
In fact the whole Stilwell as PoV was originally supposed to be a meeting between Xueliang and Xueming, but I was listening to the last chapter of the Stilwell Diaries with my father while we were driving to our summerhouse and I thought this might be an interesting outside perspective on Chinese events.
Really hope you guys enjoyed this one. I have now finished the first section of Update 40, so there will be an update next Sunday, but as mentioned we are right up against my backlog and these sorts of more general updates are very challenging to write and research because of how far ranging the subject matter can become, so no promises about the timeline of updates thereafter.