Don't Mention the War

Posted April 5, 2022  ‐ 10 min read

As John Cleese once recommended, I shall not mention the war. Though it might come up by accident.

This is my first newsletter in more than two months. The delay is inexcusable, I know; but I’ve been writing books. I had hoped to finish this one particular novel and then come here and tell you all about how clever and hard working I’ve been, but … well, the process drags on, you see. And while writing this novel, I kept having ideas for its sequel, so I worked on that too. Now the first novel is almost finished and its sequel is two-thirds of the way there. What does this mean? The first two books equate to nine hundred pages altogether. And two books will follow it next year.

Been a taxing process on me, as you’d imagine. I’m fortunate in that I can concentrate on a single task for many hours. I normally work all day, and then do some light editing when the children go to sleep. Then I lay there thinking about what I’m going to write the next day until past midnight, wake up at dawn and get started again. It’s an obsessive sort of life. I’ve never done anything moderately; I tend to work until my mind begins to fray around the edges. You ever seen someone obsess about a video game? That’s the energy I bring to writing books.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is that I work with constant interruption and commentary from my daughters. Hattie, now aged six, was talking to her Nana recently and said: “I’ve been very good, I haven’t even started any fires in the house.” This did make me sit up sharply and look around. Her Nana didn’t even bat an eye-lash. Which really makes me wonder what sort of child I was. Then again, you can probably guess what sort of child I was by reading between the lines. My point is – if in twenty years Hattie is not captain of a pirate PT boat in the South China Seas, then you should thank me for my powers of parenting. Because basically the only thing standing between Hattie and that profession right now is me.

Anyway. Let’s get this newsletter started.

Square

Well, the world became more dreary earlier this year. Russia was threatening to invade Ukraine, and I had to tell a friend to let me know if war broke out because I was way too busy writing books to read the newspapers. We all hoped that Russia wouldn’t do anything stupid and evil. But fascists gotta be fascists, I suppose.

I was about to qualify my next remarks by mentioning I’m a great fan of certain Russian satirists, like Gogol and Bulgakov. Then I remembered they were both born in Ukraine, so that idea went out the window. Because I so immensely enjoyed reading Bulgakov, I once spent a semester learning Russian. Then I came to my senses. In short, I believe there is something about Russian grammar that makes a person need to drink vodka. But I’ll say no more.

February was a bit of a strange month for everybody. The German Luftwaffe was flying patrols over Poland again, and nobody seemed to mind – apart from that tiny Russian despot, of course, but fascists like to complain, don’t they? Actually, fascism is mostly about complaining. Their rhetoric is a litany of whining over various grievances, both historical and imagined. For supporting evidence, see every fascist ever. Fascists like to boast of their toughness and strength, whilst simultaneously and continuously whining about how unfairly they’ve been treated by everyone.

There’s no stoicism or resilience. Fascists act tough – exactly like over-compensating teenage boys, whilst also whining about how nobody likes them for being stupid and nasty. Much like, I don’t know, over-compensating teenage boys.

But at the governmental level, fascism is mostly about enabling corrupt officials and looting treasuries. Which basically requires the elevation of mediocre-but-loyal bureaucrats above their intellectual station. And, frankly, firing just about anyone who shows any sign of decency or commonsense. Because, as I’ve written elsewhere, fascism doesn’t work. It’s a pyramid scheme of mediocrity.

Did you know the current head of Russia’s Space Program has degrees in economics and journalism? And he came by those degrees during the Soviet era. I suppose I should mention that the Soviets were famous neither for their excellence in economics nor journalism. Even so, that’s the credentials you need if you want to run a fascist-era space agency.

So if anyone is still wondering /why/ the Russian Army has been so thoroughly ill-supplied and incompetent, the answer obviously is the F-word. Well, it’s either that or they really wanted to donate hundreds of tanks and armored personnel carriers to Ukrainian agricultural workers. The Russian Army has proved itself incompetent and unprofessional; professional soldiers don’t loot, massacre civilians or rape people. This is both bad news for Ukraine, and also good news for Ukraine, because they’re going to win.

Now, I mentioned I was more or less working around the clock, but I did somehow read some news about a dramatic increases in German military spending. I was probably tired but it made me laugh like a lunatic. You see, many people these days have forgotten just how clever the Germans used to be when it came to ‘military spending’. They never had much in the way of resourses, but they could go quite far with what they had. To the outskirts of Moscow, one might argue.

I actually lived in Germany for about a year and a half. I was always impressed by the Germans and their country. It’s not a large place; you can take a train across it about a day. Nonetheless, it’s striking how the Germans conquered most of Europe and North Africa. They picked a fight with practically the entire planet, and had us all on the ropes for about six years. And they only really lost when because they ran out of gas. And they managed that, it must be remembered, despite being run by a bunch of mediocre fascists like Hitler and his cronies. Which would be like trying to swim the English channel with one hand tied behind one’s back. Because … men like Hitler (and Putin) micromanage! And they make stupid decisions, and rule by fear, which makes everybody around them tread on eggshells and feel too afraid to speak candidly about any issues. So, problems don’t get addressed. Russian tanks run out of fuel, to pick a random example. But my point here is that even with a fathead like Hitler in charge, Germans nearly won a world war. Imagine what they could have achieved with a more capable system of government, i.e., a democracy?

Well, you don’t need to speculate – you can visit Germany today and be impressed. Having also lived in the United States for fifteen years, I often thought that all Americans should visit Germany, if only to see what competent governance actually looks like.

But here’s a thought – imagine if Germany had attempted to take over the world, but you know – without the fascism and ugly racism? Imagine if they had been aided by the Jewish scientific community of that era? To put it another way, imagine if the Germans had been a militant democracy? I mean, the thought experiment requires they also be somewhat xenophobic and sufficiently entitled to want to rule the world, so – oh, you know what? Imagine they were like Americans! Whilst also retaining that peculiarly German (and utterly un-American) taste for good governance.

I know, I know. I’m not being very sensitive. My mind works this way. I write, I tell stories, I over-generalise. That’s the job. And frankly, I can’t tell you how often I’ve looked at a Scandinavian and thought to myself, Wow, you must be so torn right now; half of you can’t stop thinking about elegant furnishings, and the other half wants to pick up an axe and raid a nearby village. See? I’m not a historical commentator. I get to be silly. That’s why I got into this business.

Anyway, all I’m saying here is that when Putin decided to invade yet another neighbouring sovereign nation, I suspect he’d forgotten all about Germany. He didn’t think to himself hmmm … there’s a chance this might make the Germans rearm themselves once more into a massive military power. It was simply one of the several thousand things the man didn’t adequately think through.

Oh, in case you didn’t see the headlines, the Germans are spending an extra hundred billion on defense and have committed to an increased military budget for the foreseeable future. Which makes this a fascinating moment in European history.

Part of me feels uneasy. I’d love to go back to Germany and talk to people about it. I suspect they’re all a bit uneasy themselves. I can see them polishing their steel-rimmed spectacles thoughtfully and saying, in that way of theirs, “/Ja, well, you know, last time things got out of hand, but this time, I think we can be more careful and there will be absolutely no bombing of anyone, even when they are being annoyingly inefficient. Zis time, vee shall only blitzkrieg ven absolutely necessary…

Another part of me feels relieved. Having the Germans on the sidelines has kept humanity vulnerable for about seventy years to an alien invasion. Oh, come on. You must have thought about it.

I’m just going to come out and say it – if aliens invade, it’ll be the Germans who see them off. Don’t get me wrong – Americans will fight a good fight, and then they’ll make a lot of solid movies about their own involvement in the conflict. And then they will give themselves awards for those movies. And we will watch them and enjoy them, of course; that’s what we do. Still, I’m only being fair when I say this, but those movies will be made only because the Germans beat the aliens. And by the way, unlike the Americans, the Germans are going to hire the best available fashion designers to design their uniforms. Again.

Sure, the Americans have given us many things, but I’m calling it now: the Germans are going to bring back knee-length boots. And if we’re lucky, maybe even capes.

Now look, I feel like I’m inches away from saying the wrong thing here. At best, I might have provided you with a nuanced and well-considered response to a rather complex geo-political situation on the far side of the world. I mean, my analysis might not match the dizzying heights of armchair expertise popularly known as ‘The Casual Twitter User’, but look – somebody has to consider how increases in German military spending might affect future alien invasions.

And look at that – well done me! – I’ve wandered through a range of dangerous topics causing offense to none but passing fascist – but those clowns whine about everything anyway; I have no time for them. In fact, it’s indecent not to make fun of them.

But enough about the big picture. Let’s talk about me. In summary, I’m close to finishing one rather longish science fiction novel, and I’ve written most of its sequel. I’m excited, obsessive, and working hard, though somewhat sorry I haven’t sent out a newsletter recently. I love writing these things; I just get lost in my work for long stretches. The better news is that I’ll publish two somewhat lengthy novels this year.

You know, I should probably get back to work. I hope you’re all doing well. My kindest thoughts to everyone – and most especially to people in Ukrainian and the rest of Europe. In my next newsletter, I will tell you all about how – through no fault of my own – I managed to get myself pulled off a train, arrested, and thrown out of Poland. No really, the dumbest things happen to me.

With restrained affection,

Kris St Gabriel