I usually telephone my reporting senior and oberste Feldherr Kaiser Wilhelm II on his birthday, January 27, to offer my best wishes. But His Majesty is fond of surprises. This year, he gave me quite a surprise.
A fortnight earlier, on January 8, I received a peremptory telegram from Berlin: “Report to His Majesty January 26 at Nordholz.” That set off a wild scramble. I grabbed the first train from Cleveland to New York, where to my great good fortune our Doppelschifffschrauberturbinenschnellpostdampfer (H.L. Mencken’s favorite German word) Kronprinz Wilhelm was sailing for Hamburg that evening. I informed the captain that I was a General Staff officer traveling on personal orders from His Majesty the Kaiser and he poured on the coal. We made it into Hamburg with time to spare, and a quick train ride took me to Nordholz. When the Imperial train pulled in on the 26th, I was on the platform.
Nordholz is the great base of German naval aviation. Located close to the North Sea (and Britain), its heart is an astounding, vast hanger that holds two Zeppelins and revolves. To see something that big move is quite astonishing. The purpose is to enable the navy to launch airships regardless of the direction of the wind. Getting a Zeppelin out of its shed in a crosswind is not something anyone tries a second time.
After greeting His Majesty on the railway platform and offering my best felicitations on his coming birthday, I asked where we were off to the next day by Zeppelin. I expected a raid on London. We and the Brits still bomb each other in heaven, but the bombs contain food rather than explosives. Still, a six-hundred pounder filled with with Teewurst makes an impression on Whitewall.
“We are going to Hell,” the Kaiser answered.
“Which Hell does Your Majesty have in mind?” I asked.
“If it’s the one in Washington, I’d just as soon stay here. I’ve seen enough of that one to last a lifetime.”
“Which Hell? The real Hell, of course. I want you to hear what the master strategist Satan is up to, and I want you to hear it direct from him.”
Great, I thought. From an America going to hell in a hand basket I’ve come to Germany to go to Hell in a Zeppelin. Max Hoffman to the contrary, life on the General Staff is not all sausages and Champagne.
The next morning the Imperial party boarded L11, with Kaleu Mathy as ship captain, a reassuring choice. Strasser wanted us to fly with him on L70, but His Majesty wisely declined. “That didn’t work out too well last time, Peter,” the Kaiser reminded the old jinx. His Majesty gave the order “Up ship!” And we rose majestically in the cool morning air. It was nice to be flying as God intended, not in a cigar tube that falls out of the sky if the engines fail.
Out of His Majesty’s hearing, I quietly asked Kaleu Mathy how our hydrogen was likely to react to Hell’s flames. “You have forgotten your Dante, Herr Oberst,” he replied. “Hell is cold.”
Cold it was, bitter cold, worse than Cleveland in January. We had picked up our guide, Virgil, in Limbo, and he wisely was wrapped in more than a toga. Our journey ever downward was swift, far swifter than Dante’s; he was walking and we sailed through the fumes that passed for air. The engines didn’t like them much but being Maybachs they kept running.
“Won’t Satan and his devils spot us?” I asked Virgil. “We’re not exactly small.”
“Fear not,” he replied. “With all the politicians raining on Hell these days, no one will pay attention to one more giant gasbag.”
Even through Hell’s frigidity, as frigid as a female fighter pilot, my first sight of Satan frozen in the ice pierced me like a dagger from Mordor. Mortals are not meant to see such sights. We cut the engines and we drifted in close. “Good timing,” the Kaiser said to me. “He’s lecturing a group of new Joint Staff officers on Hell’s strategic plan.” I did know service on the Joint Staff was hell; now I knew why.
“Like all good plans,” the Devil began, “my strategic plan is simple. No matter what course humans choose, what path they take, what door they open in the world I own, they come to me. Do they embrace politics on the Left as a way to help the poor? I have twisted that desire into Marxism, the destroyer of churches. Do they turn to the Right? I smeared all that was good there with the mud of fascism and Naziism. Thank you for your good help Herr Hitler.” Satan nodded to the Fuhrer, who was sharing an eternal plate of gefiltefisch with Stalin and Roosevelt. The Fuhrer did not look pleased.
“Perhaps they seek to find the good causes such as environmentalism or ‘animal rights’,” the Devil continued, munching on a PETA member. “I am twisting environmentalism into the most anti-human ideology yet conceived, and I use pets to absorb the love people should have for their own kind.”
“Of course, most humans, sheep without wool that they are, just follow the herd in seeking pleasure and entertainment. The sensual pleasures, carried now to such extremes as to know no limits, have always been mine. In consumerism, I have built a world economy on the sin of covetousness.”
“Even many of the Enemy’s churches are now mine. Instead of worshipping Him Whom We Name Not, they tell the poor fools who go there, “We’re all about you. We want to make you feel good about yourself!” And so instead of the Enemy they worship themselves.
“Even this might not have given me victory. But Hell Laboratories have in recent years created what philosophers call a meta-level: the Internet, to give it its true name. Now, whatever poor mortals seek, they seek through their computers, phones, and the Internet, which is to say me. So powerful is this tool, whereby the image displaces the Word, there can be no escape. Conditioning through images and, soon, through HL’s latest brilliant stroke, genetic engineering, will destroy human free will altogether. And that will be my final victory, for it will mean that when the Enemy returns to Earth, there will be no creatures made in His own image there to meet him, at least not among the living.”
Smirking in self-satisfaction, Satan asked, “Any questions?”
Far in the back, a small claw rose tentatively into the icy miasma. “Yes?” The Devil indulged.
A very junior imp, probably a National Guardsman, ventured, “Sir, what if people just decided to go back, you know, just dumped all the technology and ideologies and the rest of the modern stuff and returned to the old ways of living? I think there are some people who do that, called the Amish. If lots of people started doing it, how would your strategy work?”
With a snarl of rage, Satan lashed out, grabbed the offending imp, and bit his head off. “Any more questions?” The Devil asked. Most Joint Staff officers knew never to ask questions.
“That’s it, time to head home,” His Majesty ordered. Kaleu Mathy dumped water ballast, the engines kicked over, the elevators swung and L11 rose fast, as only a Zeppelin can. Virgil thanked us for a much easier trip than his last one — the Kaiser graciously offered to send the airship whenever he wanted to travel — and in no time we were dropping the landing lines at Nordholz.
“A most instructive trip,” I said to the Kaiser. “I can truly say I’ve been to Hell and back.”
“Just wait until next year!” His Majesty replied. Der Reise Kaiser indeed!
Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.