Thursday, January 21, 2016

Silent Night: Maxwell's View, Part 2

Maxwell's View, Part 2

Lunch in the grand salon was as luxurious as the setting, and as luxurious as one would expect on a British Airways vessel. The room buzzed with conversation, as the passengers sat at large round tables and got to mingle with their fellow travelers. Waiters slipped in and out silently, refilling drinks and taking away plates. The sound of cutlery clinking on porcelain had died down as conversation increased. Those seated seemed in no hurry to get up and leave their new companions. The Maxwells were seated at a table with a retired couple from London, the husband had been a mid-level banker, and served in the War, along with a newly-married couple who had postponed their honeymoon until Christmas, and finally a middle-aged reporter from America, who was stationed in London and had been asked by his paper to cover the 30th Anniversary ceremonies. Jack had asked the reporter, Gary Smithfield, why he hadn’t taken an airplane. Yes, airships still ruled, but most industry experts agreed that the airplane would overtake it, and a ticket on an American-built DC-3 would be cheeper and quicker. 
“Oh I know that,” he’d said, “and Lord knows the paper didn’t pay for my passage today. I decided to use some vacation time and money and splurge a little. Grew up fascinated by airships, and I take any opportunity I can to sail on one.”
Jack had chuckled and commented that his youngest son Tom would really get along with the reporter. The whole table had laughed lightly at that. Tom himself just beamed, and went off on a short ramble about how wonderful airships really were. Jack had also traded a few stories from the war with the older gentleman at the table, Hiram Winters. Winters had been in a unit that had accompanied the French troops to Paris, one of the few British Christmas Army units that hadn’t marched on Strassburg in January of 1915, like Jack’s own unit. 
“Was such a wild time, when we entered Paris. Every building was draped either in the tricolor, our truce banner, or in socialist red. We still couldn’t quite believe it when we found out that Juares had been able to take control during the chaos and proclaim the world’s first socialist state.”
“The first of many, thankfully.” Samantha chimed in. Jack himself had grown up in a politically moderate family of Old Liberals, whereas Samantha’s parents had been radical Labour members. She’d grown up having regular trips to Red Paris, and actually served as university representative to the founding of the ISLP, but had mellowed some with age and marriage to a political moderate. But only some.
“You younger ones are more adept in this new world of socialism than I, Mrs. Maxwell,” Winters had said, “though I cannot deny the benefits that it has brought to quality of life as a whole on this continent, or at least where it’s been allowed ot take root. And no matter my personal qualms, I would take David Landsbury’s government, or his fathers, over that of America’s Thurman any day. No offense meant to present company.” Winters had nodded apologetically to Smithfield.
“Oh none taken. I grew up in Chicago, even if I work for a New York paper now, and many say that Chicago is as red as Paris.” The table chuckled. “I sure didn’t vote for Thurman.”
As there conversation had gone on, the Maxwells learned that the new bride, Sara Giles, had an uncle who had been part of the Christmas Army and stayed in Strassburg when the fighting ended. Her and her family had visited Strassburg for many a Christmas, and the holiday itself and a Strassburg Christmas in particular, held a special place in her heart. 
“We had wanted to marry at Christmas, but decided we didn’t want to wait quite that long. George did propose on Christmas though.” She had smiled at her husband and then leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.
Jack commented, “I have a friend, Harry, who stayed in Strassburg too. I read a report at work a few months back, and apparently it’s estimated that 1/3 of Strassburg’s population is made up of Christmas Army emigres and their families and descendants, and throughout all of Alsace-Lorraine it’s believed to be somewhere between 1/5 and 1/8 of the entire national population. Hard to imaging such a cosmopolitan nation in the heart of Europe like that.”
“Sounds almost like a miniature version of America, with all those immigrants moving to make a new life in a new home.” Smithfield said.
“Somewhat,” Sara chimed in, “though different, too. It’s still not quite the melting pot that America is, or is supposed to be. But my uncle says they’re trying to change that, making a truly new people out of all the emigres and locals alike.”
“I read in the Times that the Congressional Republic has really been pushing the learning and use of that constructed language, called…..oh, Esperanto, I think?”
Byron piped up at this. “I heard that from one of my teachers at school. We have an Esperanto club, and they’re discussing adding a formal course of it next year.”
“What a brave new world we are in.” commented Mrs. Winters. She didn’t look so thrilled, more resigned. 
“I’m not sure just how new,” Jack said. “With all the noise coming from Germany over the conflict between the ISLP and the Junkers, we could find ourselves in quite an old world very quickly.”
George Giles tried to sound optimistic, showing the naivety of someone born after 1914. “Surely it won’t get as bad as that. It’s like old Landsbury said, this is the Century of Peace. We’re all going there to celebrate that very event now. The Junkers will back down. The Kaiser will keep them in line as he has for the past three decades.”
“One can hope, young man, but one should also be careful to not let wishful thinking cloud reality.” That was Mr. Winters.
Before Giles could offer a rebuttal, an announcement came over the intercom. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now approaching Paris. You should be able to see the city from either of the promenades, and the dining salon. We will be stopping briefly at Juares Memorial Aerodrome before continuing on to Strassborg.”
With that, the lunch conversation broke up, and the group joined many of the other passengers who wanted to look out and gawk at the French capital. Early fears after the Revolution that the new government would completely remake Paris in their own socialist image had been largely unfounded. The great palaces had been kept and in some cases restored. The Eiffel Tower was still the icon of the city. The only major addition to the center of the city was the Palace of the People, built at the site of the old Tuileries Palace. No one could deny that this building, the center of the new socialist regime, did stick out a bit. It was built in the new Art Moderne style that many within the socialist movement loved. It’s streamlined designs and lack of ornamentation were in stark contrast to much of the city. 
The Palace of the People’s main structure faced the Seine, flanked on either side by smaller wings. in the courtyard facing the river stood a large statue of Juares, father of the Revolution, carrying a red banner. The building was decked out in red banners of the French Socialist Party, along with the modified tricolor of the People’s Republic. As the passengers looked down on the city, the pianist in the salon began to play “La Marseillaise.” 
Before long, the aerodrome was in sight, and the ship began to descend to the Earth. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please return to your seats. We will be landing at Juares Memorial Aerodrome shortly. We will be on the ground for approximately half an hour to take on passengers, before we resume our flight to Strassburg. Thank you for your cooperation.”
With that, the salon emptied quickly. The Maxwells waved goodbye to their table companions, who had seats on the other side of the ship. Jack had enjoyed the conversation. You never knew who you’d meet while traveling. To him, it was one of the best parts of making such a trip. 
It was after 1:30 in the afternoon when the Limited moored at the aerodrome, and after taking on two dozen or so more passengers, a mix of British tourists in Paris and native French, the vessel was aloft before 2:30. The passengers were informed once in the air that they were right on schedule and should arrive in Strassburg by 6:00 pm. The weather was getting overcast, and they should expect a light snow in Strassburg overnight. The children were excited about the snow, especially Tabitha, who frequently said that snow was her favorite part about winter and Christmas time. 
The rest of the flight passed uneventfully. Jack took Tom to explore the ship a bit more, but they weren’t offering tours of the interior of the ship on this flight, so there was only so much to see in the passenger section. It got cloudy and hard to see much of the scenery below about an hour after Paris, so the rest of the flight the family sat reading their various books and magazines, and also played a round of canasta with cards that Samantha had packed. Her own parents had loved the game and she’d shared that with the children when they were old enough to learn how to play. Finally, at a quarter till 6, the announcement that they were beginning their descent into Strassburg International Airport chimed over the intercom. Tom cheered, as did several others of various ages in the passenger cabin. Soon the ship escaped the clouds, and they could all see the lights of the airport and the city beyond. Searchlights waved through the evening sky, finding the ship and locking on, helping the landing crews bring the gentle giant back down to the ground. The ship was then guided into an awaiting hangar, where the passengers would finally disembark. 
As the Maxwells went down the gangway stairs and on to the hangar floor, they were directed to an entrance hall that would presumably take them to the main terminal and ultimately out of the airport. Jack chuckled mildly to himself as they went through the door. Above the door there was a large sign that said “Bonvenon al Strassburg!” Yes, he thought to himself, Esperanto is definitely alive and well in the capital of Europe. He just hoped that the language of peace would spread its influence east and keep Germany from shattering modern day “Pax Europa.”

As they emerged into the main terminal, all thoughts of gloom and war faded from memory. Everywhere imaginable, evergreen garland and twinkling fairy-lights decorated the space, and several large Christmas trees filled the center of the hall, as passengers came too and fro. Somewhere in the hall, out of immediate view thanks to the travelers and Christmas trees, a choir sang Christmas carols. And, prominently displayed at either end of the main terminal hall, the flag of the Congressional Republic of Alsace-Lorraine: A white banner, with a single red and single gold stripe at the bottom (added to represent Lorraine), a simplified Christmas tree in the center, and three red stars in the upper left-hand corner of the flag.There had been some discussion after the Peace of 1915, which established the Congressional Republic, as to whether or not a new flag should be adopted that was different from that used by the Truce Army. However, since much of the Truce Army leadership had stayed in Strassburg and helped set up its new government, the flag of the truce fighters was kept. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Silent Night: Maxwell's View, Part 1

An aside from the Author:
 So, I realize it has literally been ages since I've posted anything on this blog. A mix of travel and work (lots of work), and other mundane "life" things kept me from writing much, and when I did write it was a lot of odds and ends and nothing complete enough to post here. 

FINALLY, this past Christmas break I finally had some downtime to start this little project, a first-person perspective set thirty years after the events of the previous 7 posts. Set in 1944, we see the Maxwell family of London embark on a vacation to Strassburg to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Christmas Miracle. This is the first in what I hope to be at least a 3-5 post series showing a little snapshot of what the world has developed into in a world where World War 1 ended at Christmas, 1914, instead of dragging on for four more bloody years. 
I also am looking at another project to get me back into writing and posting on here regularly. But more on that later. For now, enjoy the first installment of "Maxwell's View"

Maxwell's View, Part 1

Jack Maxwell took one last glance at the hallway mirror. The tie was straight, his shirt and jacket looked presentable. HIs short brown hair was slicked back. He sighed a tad as he saw the grey hairs creeping in around his temples. Forty-seven this year, he could hardly believe it. Sometimes Jack felt as though it was just yesterday that he was that bright-eyed and eager young recruit on a boat crossing the Channel to France. How the world had changed since 1914.
He glanced at his wristwatch. Nearly 8:00 in the morning. As he turned to call out for his wife, Samantha, she appeared coming down the stairs, flanked by their nine-year-old son, Tom. She wore a fashionable blue dress, with her blonde hair done up in a side bun, the latest fashion from Paris. Despite the doomsday sayers, the socialist revolution had not snuffed out the French capital’s central place in the world of fashion. Her blue eyes sparkled a little as they met his. He was once again struck, as he often was, that he must have been the luckiest man on earth. 
“Hello there sweetheart. Everything ready to go?” She asked, as Tom went passed them both and into the parlor, where his older sister Tabitha and brother Byron sat waiting. Thirteen-year-old Tabitha sat reading the latest copy of London Girl Magazine, reading about the latest fashions, movie stars, and the most recent gossip about crown princess Elizabeth. Tabitha’s dark blonde hair was in a long, stylish braid, similar to what the crown princess herself sported. Where Samantha’s hairstyle came from Paris, Tabitha’s had been made popular by the Kaiser’s daughters and imitated by much of the lady royals in the British court. Byron sat in one of the arm chairs in the quaint little parlor, the spitting-image of his father. The sixteen-year-old was reading the new and best-selling novel by J. R. R. Tolkien, Andor’s Quest. Telling the story of a young wizard’s quest to master his newfound powers at the same time as he had to try and fight evil and restore balance to the world, the book had become immensely popular since it’s publication a few months ago, and Byron and all his friends had really taken to it. It wasn’t Jack’s cup of tea, but he preferred this interest to the comic books coming from America. 
Pointing to the suitcases stacked by the door, Jack answered his wife, “We are all set. The cab should be here any minute to take us to the train station.”
At the mention of their impending departure, Tom perked up and shouted “We’re flying on an airship! I can’t wait!” Jack chuckled. His youngest son was fascinated with the graceful giant of the skies. He had a mobile of famous German and British zeppelins in his room. He’d been so excited when Jack had told the family he’d set up a trip to Strassburg for Christmas this year aboard the R132 Strassburg Limited
Jack and Samantha both chuckled at their son’s outburst. Just then, a horn beeped outside, announcing the arrival of their taxi. “Byron, come help me with the luggage!” Jack called out to his son. Before picking up any bags himself, Jack grabbed his fedora hat of the rack on the wall, and looked at his wife for approval. She smiled and went to straighten it out. She then kissed him before she herded Tom and Tabitha out the door. Byron had already grabbed some of the bags. Jack grabbed the rest and followed his family out of their townhouse. On the street, the black cab sat waiting. The driver got out and opened the boot and starting helping Byron with the bags. Jack took his handful of bags to the curb then went back up and locked the house. On the front door hung a big evergreen wreath with red ribbon wrapped about. Most of the other houses on the street were similarly decorated for the upcoming holiday. No snow, however. The weather had been cool and wet, but no snow was expected until New Years Day, and by then the Maxwells would be back in Great Britain. 
With the house locked up and the bags secured in the boot of the cab, Jack piled in with the rest of his family and they were off to Victoria Station. The railway hub was bustling with Londoners going to and fro. Like the Maxwells, many were starting their holiday journeys, as it was a mere two days before Christmas Day. The station was decked out in garland and ribbon and even twinkled with fairy lights. Jack had read that in America that more and more people were decorating their own private homes with those lights. As of yet, the trend hadn’t crossed the Atlantic, but as with so many things, it was probably only a matter of time. 
A porter helped the Maxwell’s with their luggage, and in no time they were waiting on the platform for their train. A newsboy came by shouting the day’s headlines. “EXTRA! ISLP Considers General Strike!“ “German Junkers Crack Down!” and “30th Anniversary of the Christmas Miracle!” Jack paid a boy for a copy of the Times to read on the train. Moments later their train came into the station to carry them to the newly completed King George V Airport outside London. The new state-of-the-art facility replaced the hodgepodge of smaller airports that had serviced the airplanes and airships that flew in and out of the British capital. The train ride took about 45 minutes, and the train arrived directly at the airport (one of the first airports in Europe to boast direct train service). More porters came and took their luggage away to be loaded up on the airship. The Maxwells walked into the main terminal and checked in at the British Airways counter. They were directed out from the central terminal out to the primary airship departure hangar. At this point, Tom is about to burst from excitement. He finally broke from his mother’s hand and ran to the window. “I can see the airships! I can see them they’re so big!” Jack smiled at his son’s enthusiasm. 
When they actually entered the massive departure hangar, Tom wasn’t alone in his awe at the huge sky ships. All of the Maxwells were impressed by these huge machines. Uniformed British Airways officials directed them to the lowered stairs that had been lowered from the bottom of the ship. Several other passengers were already queued up and waiting to board. Jack and his family got in line. He noticed from the corner of his eye that their luggage was being loaded onto the ship via a lift platform further to the back to the ship. They wouldn’t need it until they got to Strassburg, as the flight was only 8 or so hours. It could actually be made in less time, but the Strassburg Limited took the scenic route over Paris. And unlike the larger trans-oceanic vessels that flew from Europe to America and elsewhere, this ship didn’t have private cabins. It was designed for same day travel and so was set up more like a train cabin, with individually assigned seats, with lounge and dining spaces as well. Jack handed the tickets to the agent at the bottom of the stairs, and then he and his family ascended into the ship. This entire trip had been organized by the War of 1914 Memorial Foundation, which provided a way for veterans to attend the annual celebrations in Strassburg each year, and the foundation always provided good seats on transportation and nice accommodations in the “City of Peace.” This trip proved to be no exception. The seats were set up like a train berth, two comfortably upholstered benches facing each other with a table in the middle, with a wonderful window to look out at the world below. The passenger areas of the ship were all done in the popular Art Nouveau style, with flowing and fanciful lines and patterns seeming to dance about the rooms. Once they were settled, Tom begged his father to take him exploring. Jack agreed, and the two got up, and Byron decided to join. Samantha and Tabitha had started talking about the latest news, styles, and gossip that his daughter had read about in The London Girl and agreed to stay with their seats. 
Tom walked slightly ahead, eager to see each part of the ship he could before take off. Jack planned to find out if he could get his son access to see the non-passenger sections before they landed if possible. Byron kept pace with his father, and started asking him about the articles in the Times
“Do you really think Socialist Labor will call for a general strike?”
“It’s possible. They’ve called for an emergency meeting of the European-wide Party Congress to discuss the matter in one week, the first friday after Christmas.”
“How bad could things get if that happens?” Byron had an inquisitive mind, and for all that he loved to read his fantasy novels, he payed more and more attention to world events.
“Could get very bad. We’ve never had a Federation-wide general strike before. The last large general strike happened in the mid-twenties during the Tory Twilight, when it looked like a bulk of the Landsbury reforms might get dismantled. France joined that strike along with Denmark and Ireland, but the ISLP didn't come about ’til 1930.”
“Why are the Junkers fighting back so much?”
“The same reasons the Tories did here. Germany is basically following the same path we did, they’re just further behind because of how much slower they’ve been to adapt to change and how much further behind they were at the start after 1914. The Junkers don’t want to lose their place in society, the power they’ve held for so long.”
“So they’d plunge the whole of Europe into chaos rather than share power with the workers?”
“It could be worse than that.”
“How could it be worse than the whole European economy at a stand-still?”
“War.” That one word answer struck Byron hard. It was unfathomable to someone his age. There had been no real conflict in Europe since 1914. A few minor clashes, mostly internal revolts as the ideas of socialism spread from France, but nothing on the scale of the Last Great European War. 
“War? Over a general strike? Surely that’s not on the table Father. Why would Frederick IV make war over this? Wasn’t he the great man of peace after 1914?”
“His hands will be tied if the Junker-controlled Reichstag want war. And if Prime Minister Landsbury and First Consul Perrot publicly support the general strike, they will want war.”
“I hope you’re wrong.”
“So do I son. War is ugly, and it’s something I hope you don’t have to see for yourself to find out.”
At this point, Tom came back to join them. they'd walked through the passenger seating areas, the interior shops, the library and now were at the grand dining salon. The two level room was breath taking. It was the full width of the ship, and flanked on either side by floor to ceiling windows that allowed for some amazing views of the world below. Like the rest of the ship’s interior, the room was ornately decorated in the popular Art Nouveau style. At one end of the room was a large clock being held by the statue of a goddess, and at the other a beautiful mural showing a graceful airship floating above Strassburg at Christmas time. As Jack and his sons milled about the dining room, an announcement came over a nearby loudspeaker: “Attention passengers, please take your seats, we will be taking off shortly.”
With that, Jack escorted his two sons back to their seats. Shortly thereafter, a chime rang out, and ship began to move forward, out of the hangar and into the openness of the tarmac.  Tom was glued to the window, but the whole family watched eagerly as the Strassburg Limited glided out of the hangar. The chimes sounded again, and a voice crackled from the overhead speaker: “Up ship!” 
And with that, the silver giant began its ascension into the sky. Tom practically squealed with glee. Jack noticed that both Byron and Tabitha both looked excited as well, though they tried to hid that fact and show themselves to be more mature than their youngest sibling. Soon the airport began to shrink away, looking like little more than a tiny diorama, like something you’d see at the science and industry museum. In no time, the ship was headed south east towards the continent. As the Maxwell’s gazed out their window at the passing landscape below, another announcement came over the speakers, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have now reached our primary cruising altitude, and you are free to move about the cabin. It is now 10:20 a.m. We have clear skies ahead, and we should arrive in Strassburg just after 6 p.m. British Airways and the crew of the Strassburg Limited hope that you have a pleasant flight.”
While Tom stayed glued to window, the rest of the family quickly settled in to the flight. Samantha pulled out the latest romance novel she was reading. Byron pulled out his Tolkien novel, and Tabitha got her magazine back out. Jack quickly re-immersed himself back in the Times he’d bought at the train station. The main pages were of course totally focused on the growing possibility of a general strike and what some were already calling this generation’s Sarajevo Crisis, though Jack silently prayed they were wrong. Having read those articles, his attention turned to the international section. American President Horace Thurman was bellowing support for the German Junkers in the face of what he called “continued socialist aggression.” Thurman had just won a comfortable reelection to a second term in November, and for better or for worse Europe would have to deal with the hard-line anti-Socialist Democrat for at least four more years. Thurman alarmed Jack, as he alarmed many good British and European socialists. He’d taken the presidency in 1940 as a bit of a shock. America had become increasingly isolationist in the 1920s and 30s, following increasing European integration and international involvement. He’d been able to draw away enough support from the Republican party to prevent the insurgent Progressive-Socialist party from taking the White House, and in the past four years had cracked down hard on PSP activity and labor rights that had been granted during previous administrations, claiming to be “cleansing America of Euro-socalist ideology.” Thurman seemed to stand for the opposite of everything that the nations of the European Congress had been working for the past thirty years. What was worse, Thurman had started a massive build up of the American armed forces and seemed to be abandoning isolationist tendencies of the previous decades. 
America wasn’t the only place with less than happy news. Russia was growing more and more unstable, something that Jack and his colleagues at the Interior ministry weren’t to surprised by. After the War of 1914, Czar Nicholas II had managed to stave off crisis by issuing a series of reforms between 1916-1929, when Russia became a fully constitutional monarchy with a true power-sharing structure between the Czar and the Duma. But there was still a great gulf between the rich and poor, and Russia still lagged pitifully behind Western Europe in industrialization. And ever since Nicholas II’s death in 1936, there had been growing unrest. The International Socialist Labor Party was but one voice in the cacophony of left-wing parties demanding reform, and far from the most radical. And Czar Nicholas III’s health was poor. If the Czar died it was unlikely that his young son Michael would be able to save the monarchy. Some feared revolution, though Jack personally didn’t know if that wouldn’t be a good thing. It had worked in France, after all. 
Elsewhere in the world, Japan was continuing to consolidate it’s empire in East Asia, at the expense of China and the European powers. Jack suspected that if the Germany situation didn’t explode within the next six months that the next Imperial Congress would be directly addressing the situation when it gathered for it’s next pentennial meeting in Toronto this summer. Australia was continually screaming about increasing Japanese aggression and encroachment, and Hong Kong was also worried. For that matter, if the trend continued India may start feeling the pinch. Most expected Japan to slow it’s territorial appetite now that China had essentially capitulated, along with former European colonial holdings that had briefly gained their independence in the 1920s.  The watchword for the Pacific was appeasement. Jack personally wondered if that was the wisest choice, but knew that Britain, and indeed the Empire as a whole, to say nothing of the European Congress, would not willingly get involved in a drawn out conflict with Japan. 
Jack looked up from the paper and sighed quietly to himself, as he looked at his children, especially Byron. His eldest son was nearly the same age he had been when he went off to fight in France. It seemed like a lifetime ago. The world was so different then. And until recently, Jack had believed that the world his children would grow up to enjoy would be the one of peace that he and his comrades had fought to achieve thirty years ago. Now, it seemed as if the idea of making the 20th Century the “Century of Peace” that George Landsbury spoke of after the signing of the Strassburg Treaty in 1915 might have just been a pipe-dream after all. For the sake of his children, he hoped not. 

Having had enough of world events for one day, Jack folded his paper and decided to lean his head back and take a nap before lunch. 

To be continued...