I have attached a complete copy of a letter I discovered hidden deep in the stacks of my university library. The letter was part of a 1920s thesis on the state of "modern" telecommunications, written by a graduate student named DK Fields. Our Mr. Fields was quite the writer himself, but something of a Utopian (and something less of a grammarian); it is the darker, more ominous nature of the letter--which he did not write--that bears on our present business.
The letter was written by a German fieldmarshall named von Kronen to his cousin during World War I. It was later translated into a troubled and archaic kind of English by one Hendrik Basel, a Swiss national and friend to the studious Mr. Fields. That explains how it ended up in Fields' thesis and then on to the library stacks, the final resting place of all otherwise unpublished scholastic writing. How Basel got ahold of the letter in the first place remains a mystery.
Despite the great distance in time between Fieldmarshall von Kronen's savage era and our own, the letter contains the germ of a frightening philosophy which looms yet over all free thinkers. In this wondrous age of electronic communication, man has never been more free to express himself; but then, he has never had more to lose, either. By fixing his words in writing, von Kronen has inadvertently handed us a warning across time. It is a dark warning of dark days to come, if we do not take certain precautions against the von Kronens of the world.
The novel manner in which I transmit this to you should suffice to underscore the legitimacy of von Kronen's dread. If he were alive today, he would be absolutely stiff with fear that we could communicate so much, so swiftly. Rest assured, there are those among us today in whom his anxiety lives still. There follows the text of the letter in full; I have done nothing editorial except to lowercase a few of the nouns, modernize the spelling, and reform some appalling punctuation.
Hoping you will see fit to publicize this important avatar of suspicious times, I remain,
Prof. Humbabba Jurgowaasix
Master, Exogenic Mythologies
P.S. Gentlemen: Any remuneration you could offer for my efforts would be greatly appreciated. These are, as you know, hungry times.--HJ
Kaiserlager Hapsted, 4. June, 1917
Fieldmarshall Egon von Kronen to Friend and Cousin Jochan:
Greetings and keep you God.
As I write it is a quiet morn on the Western Front. The supply train from Holdenstaad is now five days late, and the troops are understandably upset. I spoke with Capt. W. about procuring victuals and sundry from the local townsfolk, but his blasted ethics got in the way again. He says a war cannot be won through unscrupulous behavior; he insisted we buy the bloody stuff. In the end, I was forced to advance the Kaiser an immodest amount of cash to feed his [expletive deleted by Basel--HJ] soldiery.
I do sometimes despair of victory, Jochan. But it is not the French I fear; they are stout enough fighters, but no match for the German infantry. No, I fear that our own will be our undoing. You know we have suffered from equipment failure and supply delays. I have also had to contend with unmitigated idiocy among my chiefs of staff, reluctant soldiers, and--God forgive me!--a Kaiser waging a war on borrowed money.
Speaking of reluctance among the soldiers to fight, do you know I caught them playing football last week? With the French! Can you imagine? Germans and Frenchmen, merry as blinking children, kicking a football about the bomb-craters during a ceasefire. I was naturally flabbergasted, and berated the lads quite fiercely, saying "You lot of [expletive]! I could have the [expletive] bunch of you hanged!" God forgive me, Jochan, that's what I said, and it was nothing next to what I told Capt. W. after. I can only hope Routanne [the French general defending Chirbourd--HJ] gave his lads as good.
I think I have isolated the cause of all my troubles. It is not the inefficiency or sloth of our army (great generals throughout the ages have had to deal with as much). Rather, I think the problem lies with the civilian people. With all the people, French and, yes, German, too. We rely on them every bit as much for the glory of the Empire as we do on the common soldier. And I think we give them the respect they warrant on that count.
Still, you'd never know it by the cold looks I sometimes get when I go into Ausenhof for my occasional constitutional. Why, a fieldmarshall and his chiefs of staff can hardly sip a pinch of good sherry without feeling the resentment cast upon them by the blasted ungrateful mob. Oh, to your face, it's all smiles and "What can we do for you, Herr Fieldmarshall?" But in secret, in their black hearts, these ignorant country swine loathe us. Us! Their defenders!
You may say I'm overreacting, Jochan, and a week ago I'd have agreed with you after a moment's reflection. Now, however, I am not so certain. I have at times felt that the civilian population on both sides was conspiring to stifle this war; now I have some proof on the matter. Allow me to explain:
My staff have been working closely with the local authorities at Ausenhof to step up production of munitions, both in terms of quantity and quality. Of late, we have been hard pressed on both fronts. There have been days when enough blasting powder to dislodge a pebble could not have been found in my entire battalion. There have been days when I have sent soldiers to the trenches with unloaded rifles. On other days, they have bullets, but sickly [expletive] things that sputter and fly no further than four meters. I have watched my artillerymen load their gun six times before a ripe shell could be found, then only to see it explode upon leaving the barrel and nearly killing the lot of us.
When I approached the civil authorities and the factory foremen in a state of agitation, they blamed the deficiency on the military. The supply trains were late, they said. We demanded more shells than they had materials to produce, so we got weaker, less reliable shells. The local mines had all been sealed off by French artillery, they said. The rail lines had been hit, too, they said. As calmly as I might, I suggested they send out a crew of those men who had no other work to do. Reopen the mines! Repair the lines! This is war, I told them, we can't afford to be slack; the French shan't.
So the crews were dispatched and the work was done. All ran well for a day or two, and just when I felt we might be getting somewhere, the trouble started again. The bombs, they said, had undone all their work. Truth be told, I thought they were lazy, and their work ineffective; for we have had but few bombs lobbed at us by the French of late, almost as few as we have thrown at them. I was driven nearly to my wits' end.
Finally, I sent letters to Fieldmarshalls Dreck and Kittergen, to see how things were faring in the North. Never better, they wrote back. We're winning, they wrote. To be sure, they had their share of misfortunes...mines and railroads do get hit sometimes, and the occasional bad shell interrupts the smooth routine. But they thought me mad to speak of my troubles so earnestly, as if these setbacks were the outer signs of some reluctance on my part. [Expletive] turncoats! Both those men studied with me; they ought to know my blood runs thicker than that.
In any case, their appraisal of the situation made clear to me that the afflictions are local, and not universal among the whole German host as I had rather believed. No, it seemed that my battalion alone suffered from this malady of misfortune. Hippocrates dictated the next step: find the cause of the illness and remove it!
I set my best men to the task, but to my chagrin it was that weasel Capt. W. who found our traitor. For treason it is, dear Jochan! W. was out walking around the perimeter (probably looking for a football field, the lousy dullard) when he quite literally tripped over the answer. It was a cable, an underground telegraph cable, brought to the surface by the spring rains. It took some time and some digging, but my men were able to trace the cable to its source: Ausenhof.
This was no military cable, nor an authorized civilian telegraph. On this side it was connected to an inn, a formerly reputable place at which I myself had been known to raise a glass. On the other side...we can only guess, but it certainly travels deep into French territory and I fear straight to the heart of Chirbourd. Needless to say, the innkeeper is currently in my custody.
The innkeeper has been quite forthcoming with his confession. He claims to have set up the entire operation himself; kilometers of cable and a year's work at least. But I cannot believe that one man could be behind this much treachery. He must have had the cooperation of many strong hands, even if they were guided by weak minds. It was an undertaking of nearly military grandeur, a coordination of resources both vast and deadly in its implication. And the materials? Where did he get all the wire, and the telegraph terminal he had set up in his basement? No doubt it was stolen from military supply trains he and his co-conspirators sabotaged.
Yes, I have said it: sabotage! They--and I mean the town of Ausenhof as a whole--have been conspiring against the Kaiser and his army. They have been wrecking the rail lines (or at least intentionally repairing them inefficiently, which is tantamount to negligence in peace time, to sabotage in a state of war). They have perpetrated the cave-ins at the mines, and they have with willful malice tendered bogus explosives to the Imperial Army.
Failure to cooperate with the military is wicked at best; yet I submit that they have been acting in full cooperation the French. How else does one explain the line to Chirbourd? Surely the entire French army helped them lay the cable and is laughing at us right now. Consorting with the [expletive] enemy, to the ruin of us all!
And what messages did this vile innkeeper and his accomplices send and receive over this treacherous wire? No doubt all our military secrets: our numbers, our armament, what they could glean of my strategy from the loose lips of drunken soldiery.... My mind must be nearly laid bare to Routanne. I marvel that we are not overrun by the French already.
Of course our pretty innkeeper has a smart answer to this. He claims that the French are having the same problems we have. He tells me that he has not been conspiring with the French army, but with the French people, with the townsfolk of Chirbourd. The plot, he says, was to sabotage the munitions of both armies and thus stop the fighting. As he says in his rustic way, "Rifles ain't dangerous when they ain't loaded."
Poor deluded man. I do feel he believes what he says. It is incomprehensible to his simple mind that he has been a pawn in an intricate French game of control. They may have looked like ordinary townsfolk when they helped him lay the cable, but they were French spies to a man! They were preemptively undermining our every attempt to dominate the field by turning our own people against us. It is due only to the staunch loyalty of my men (if they are a bit misguided, it is but the monotony these quiet weeks have thrust upon us), as well as my own gifts of foresight and vigilance, that we are not yet conquered.
Needless to say, the cable has been snipped, and the innkeeper will be hanged in the morning. Soon we shall have routed out the last of the traitors and munitions production will be back to normal. I shall meet Routanne on the field in open battle, and no longer be relegated to defending a trench with bayonets and half-spoiled gunpowder. We will be fortunate if the French are inclined to delay the formidable offensive they have no doubt been planning during our weakness, at least until we regain our strength. Then this war can go on as it was meant to from the beginning, violently.
It is a sadness that the wonder of the telegraph was turned to such ruinous misuse. Even if the innkeeper's ravings hold some modicum of truth, and he was merely talking to the peasantry over there, the threat is still too great. What the ignorant hordes of French and German chattel, acting together as one body, could do to the respected and established order of our fair continent...it is a loathsome thought. And think that their wretched schemes might infect the common soldier, who but for his knowledge of honor and duty is as ignorant as they. Communicating with the French! Pishaw! The only message I have for Routanne is written on a bullet, and hopefully I will soon have the opportunity to deliver it.
But enough poetry; I have serious business to attend to. This incident has forced me to realize that the modern communications apparatus is too powerful and important to leave in the hands of civilians. As a matter of fact, I'm not certain that I can trust even my staff with such might. Ideally, I'd like to send and receive all telegraphic communications myself, if I could ever learn the blasted code. That is, however, impossible, for I am a busy man.
I have been left with no choice, then, but to dismantle the whole system for the sake of security. I have ordered the civilian wires cut along with the military; the copper will be melted down for shell casings. No more clandestine communications will cross the line in my sector! Nor official communications, alas, but that is the price one pays for peace of mind. If the Kaiser wishes to reach me, let him write a[n expletive] letter!
Your friend and cousin,