1624: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 13:
“So tonight will simply deepen that loyalty,” Chomse concluded. “In private, you know”—he made a little sweeping motion with his forefinger at the apartment buildings visible through the opposite window of the carriage—“these folk are more likely to call him ‘Prince of Germany’ than they are to use his actual title of Prime Minister.”
Prince of Germany. Simpson had overheard the term once or twice himself, spoken by his sailors. But he hadn’t realized it had become so widespread.
He had to fight down another wince. There were at least three edges to that sword. One, he approved of; one, he didn’t; and of the third he wasn’t sure.
The edge he approved of was the obvious one. The informal title bestowed on its Prime Minister was a focus of militant enthusiasm for the new nation, which translated in time of war into a determination to defeat its enemies. Simpson would be depending on that determination himself, in a few months, when he finally took the ironclads down the Elbe to deal with the Ostender fleets. If a smaller proportion of his sailors were members of the Committees of Correspondence than the volunteers in the new army regiments, they were still plenty of them—and most of the men who weren’t actual CoC members shared many of their opinions.
But there was also the second edge, which worried him. Mike Stearns was leading a revolution in Europe. It was a simple as that, regardless of the fact that he was now doing it wearing his fancy dress as a head of government, and sitting in a office. And it was just a fact, attested to by all of history, that charismatic revolutionary leaders often wound up becoming tyrants. “Tyrants,” in the literal and original Greek meaning of the term, which was not a sloppy synonym for dictators but a reference to men who led the lower classes in revolt and whose determination to champion their interests often led them to crush ruthlessly everything that stood in the way. You did not have to impute wicked motives to such men to understand that, carried too far, their virtues could become vices. In fact, those very virtues—real ones, undoubted ones—could make them ten times more dangerous than men whose motives were simple personal ambition.
Now that he’d gotten to know Stearns much better, Simpson didn’t believe any longer that the man’s character and temperament would incline him in that direction. But a political leader’s personality was only one factor in history. Given enough pressure, any personality was malleable. And there was a great deal of pressure on Mike Stearns in the last month of the year 1633—and there would be still more in the years to come.
Finally, there was the third edge. Prince of Germany. No other man of the time would be given that title, because there were no other princes of Germany. Plenty of princes in Germany, to be sure—or “the Germanies,” as people usually expressed it. Most of those princes could even be called German princes, for that matter.
But there was no Germany, as such. In the world they’d left behind, Germany would not become a nation of its own for another two centuries. In this world, it was already emerging—largely because of Mike Stearns. And so, that third edge, that Simpson was very ambivalent about. A genuine national consciousness was emerging here, two hundreds years ahead of schedule. The name for the nation might be the neutral “United States of Europe,” but for all intents and purposes what was really happening was the unification of the German people and the German lands. A phenomenon that, in the universe Simpson came from, had had very mixed results indeed.
His wife, who knew far more general history than he did, was more sanguine about the matter. So, at least for the moment, he deferred to her judgment.
“Oh, don’t be silly, John,” she’d once said to him. “It’s inevitable that Germany is going to exist, sooner or later. Me? I’d just as soon have it emerge a lot earlier, with Mike Stearns conducting the orchestra instead of Otto von Bismarck. Fine, he’s an uncouth hillbilly, a lot of the time. But at least he’s never a damn Prussian.”
They’d finally arrived at the Navy Yard. Chomse got out of the carriage and held the door open for the admiral and his wife.
As soon as he emerged, Simpson looked to the ironclads. They were still there, of course, although in the darkness they weren’t much more than looming hulks against the piers, covered with snow. No fire such as the one that was drifting down the Elbe could really threaten the things. Still, Simpson was relieved.
The relief, combined with the sight of the great engines of war, joggled another thought forward.
“And don’t forget something else, dear,” he murmured to his wife. “There is at least one aristocrat in the nation who will have no trouble at all understanding what Mike did tonight—because he would have done the same. His name is Gustav Adolf, King of Sweden and Emperor of the United States of Europe, and he’s the only one that really matters.”
Mary chuckled. “That madman! At least he’s stopped leading cavalry charges. Well. Until the campaign starts next spring, anyway. After that, we’ll just have to hold our breath.”
As he escorted his wife toward the Naval Yard’s headquarters, the admiral found himself still thinking about the emperor. Because there was that, too. Yet another variable in the complex political equation. The emperor of Germany’s background, training, political attitudes—not to mention the advice of his counselors—would lead him to oppose his nation’s prince. But he was a strong-willed man, as much so as any European monarch of the past several centuries—and it was also a fact that he and Stearns were much alike, in many ways. If the emperor often looked askance at many of the doings of his prince, he did not distrust him. Not much, at least—and once he heard about tonight, as he surely would, whatever distrust might still be there would drop a little lower.
That might count for a lot, some day. It was hard to know.
Stearns was in the headquarters already, in the admiral’s own office, sitting in one of the chairs near the desk and wiping the soot from his face with a rag. When he saw Simpson and his wife come in, he gave them a small, slightly crooked smile.
“Don’t start in on me, Mary.”
“I never said a word,” she replied primly.