Look to the West Volume VIII: The Bear and the Basilisk

I made a recreation of the Starry George. The stars in the canton are not align right but I think it looks good enough.



From: “Years of Infamy: The Black Twenties” by Maurice Yewdall and Ernest Young (1988)—

As the plague spread across the world, several mass movements of people played a role in spreading it further. In the age of the steamship and even, increasingly, the sun-oil engine, this was no longer the age in which such diseases would burn across a continent over a period of several years or decades, hollowing out cities as it went. An infected human could cross the world in half the time it took them to either die or recover from the disease they carried, and rats and fleas were often brought with them.

Western historiography has tended to focus, naturally, on those movements of people which impacted most directly on Western countries, though in the grand scheme of things, these were often rather small compared to some of the vast and devastating migrations in Asia. Western countries, like the Societists, were also more likely from early on to have access to the chemical pesticides used to help control the spread of plague. However, partly due to the sense of urgency caused by the war, they often failed to enforce quarantine and entry control procedures consistently – which China and Siam achieved more successfully, due to both well-organised bureaucracies and neutrality in the global conflict.

The initial wave of the plague was kicked off primarily by the internal migration of Chinese (and, less so, Siamese) people for the Lunar New Year celebrations of 1923; this created a critical threshold of plague carriers (humans as well as rats and fleas) which allowed foreign trade to then spread the disease to the rest of Asia, and beyond, primarily by sea. One region to be hit with the plague relatively early was the East Indies, which played a role in the Societist response as they became aware of its import before many powers. Thanks to those Societists, the East Indies (or Nusantara) at this time was already a place marred by conflict and cultural genocide before the plague arrived to make matters worse. The result of this was that the Siamese-controlled parts of Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula had been overrun by refugees, mostly Javanese Muslims, fleeing Societist domination.

This had been a significant headache for the Siamese before the war and plague broke out, and had probably played a role in King Sanphet and the Front Palace’s decision to engage with French mediation and sign the Treaty of Guiling with China in 1919 – Siam had enough problems on her plate without adding tensions with Hanjing. Public feeling against the refugees was sparking tensions, not only in Siam’s far-flung possessions but in her capital of Ayutthaya as well. The remnants of the Red Sash Brigades of the 1900s, previously quelled, threatened to be the kindling that could be reignited by the spark of racial and sectarian rioting. This was then worsened by the economic impact of the Panic of 1917, when angry Siamese were looking for anyone to blame. A solution had to be found, and it was clear that the Societists would not be ejected from Java anytime soon so the refugees could return.

Some of the refugees were resettled in Siam’s ally the Philippine Republic, usually specifically on the southern island of Mindanao, which both had a large (and restless) Muslim population of its own, and had been suffering a Societist insurgency. The Javanese refugees, though not entirely without their own problems, were at least a reliable anti-Societist bloc for the Philippine government (heavily influenced by Meridian Refugiados) to use to keep Mindanao quiescent. The most high-profile refugee of all, of course, was the former Sultan of Sulu, Alimud-Din V. He had undergone a dizzying reversal of fortune since the turn of the twentieth century, taking advantage of the power vacuum from the Meridian collapse to build a fairly impressive Sulu empire, only for it then to all collapse under him thanks to both the Batavian Societists and unrelated insurgencies. Even his ancient capital island of Buansa had fallen to the Societists. As Sulu had formerly ruled large parts of Mindanao and the deposed Sultan was a popular figure among the local Moro people, Alimud-Din was kept under effective house arrest in Manila by the suspicious Philippine Republic government, a card to play for another day.

Other Javanese refugees were also sent to parts of India, in particular the Guntoor Authority in which Siam had some trading interests. However, the programme which is of most interest to us in this context is what became known as the ‘One-Way Hajj’, in which the Siamese government offered free travel for refugee Muslim pilgrims to Araby, but was mysteriously quiet on what would happen to them after they visited Mecca. Despite many of the refugees regarding this with reasonable suspicion from the start, the move was nonetheless a cold-blooded masterstroke; after experiencing the suppression of their religion under the Societists and discrimination against it by many Siamese, many other refugees seized on the opportunity to complete their pilgrimage to the holy city. On chartered Siamese steamships, starting around 1918, the refugees entered Araby through the ports of Aden (in Scandinavian-backed Yemen), Muscat and Salalah (in Persian-backed Oman) and Mukalla (in the Ottoman province of Hadhramaut). Such an influx of almost penniless refugee pilgrims was not regarded as a universal positive by those governments, and led to particular tensions between Constantinople and Ayutthaya – relations which had already been cold due to the Ottomans taking a dim view of the Siamese considering Aceh to be an integral part of their royal domain. This was worsened when the war broke out, and both Oman and Yemen became involved on the Cannae side, bottlenecking those entry points for refugees and leading to more focus on Mukalla as an entry point. By the 1930s, Javanese (and other Nusantara peoples to a lesser extent) had become a significant minority group in southern Araby; some of the refugees never even made it to Mecca once they arrived.

The Siamese had, at least partially, successfully transferred their headache to the three countries ruling Araby. They in turn began looking for somewhere else to offload them on – Punt and the other Somali lands, conquered from Abyssinia by Omani forces from Zanguebar but of little interest to anyone as a possession, was a popular choice, as was Scandinavian Madagascar. However, such a large transfer of people, begun before the plague broke out but continuing as it spread, had devastating consequences for much of the Indian Ocean rim. It is unlikely an influx of Javanese refugees would ever have been viewed positively by the peoples of the regions they found themselves in, but when they became associated with the idea of being plague carriers, things turned to violence and bloodshed. The plague itself still killed far more people than intentional human violence, but the latter did nothing to stop the former as its proponents often claimed. The most bitter, paradoxical irony of all was that all of this helped fuel Societist propaganda about the pointlessness of violence between the ‘nationalistically blinded’, held up in comparison to the relatively quiescent (at gunpoint) Societist-ruled Java itself, where the plague was being dealt with in an organised manner. Of course, the fact that the refugee crisis had itself been caused by Societist actions was not mentioned at any point.

The One-Way Hajj was probably the single biggest migration responsible for spreading plague across the world, though there were many others – those in India remain the subject of current research due to lack of many reliable eyewitness accounts. There were also movements of people in the African interior, where our only surviving sources are often the rather biased Societists. Yet Europe was not immune to such devastating spreader events, either, and it is these which are often more familiar to our self-centred historical accounts. The best-known of these is, of course, the Filleadh Abhaile Dubh or ‘Black Homecoming’ of Ireland.[18]

For over a century, ever since obtaining significant self-rule in the aftermath of the USE rebellion, Ireland had adopted a policy which amounted to staying very quiet and hoping the world forgot it was there. The reign of terror of Blandford in Great Britain, and the ensuing Inglorious Revolution, had almost, but not quite, broken this policy, and it continued thereafter. It was not until the Third Glorious Revolution at the turn of the twentieth century that Ireland was placed anew in a quandary – whether to recognise King Frederick III or Emperor George IV as her monarch. It was not until 1918 that the Treaty of Wexford resolved the ‘Irish Question’ by elevating the Duke of Dublin to King James III of the House of Wesley.[19] For the first time since Rory O’Connor in 1186, almost three-quarters of a millennium earlier, Ireland had a wholly native monarchy and government; yet, paradoxically, she was now more subject than ever to the whims of foreign powers.[20] The Treaty of Wexford had tied her into a bewilderingly complex and nigh self-contradictory web of alliances, which would break down instantly if France and the ENA ever broke ranks in foreign policy, much less went to war with each other. However, for the present, that prospect was not on the cards, as those two Great Powers signed the Treaty of Bermuda two years later and fought as allies (or at least cobelligerents) in the ensuing war.

The Irish people were singularly unenthusiastic about the prospect of going to war thanks to something that had happened three thousand miles away in Khiva and involved no Irishmen or Irish interests. But both France and America were united in applying pressure and, as with Scotland, France had been instrumental in bailing out the shaky Irish economy after the Panic of 1917. England, which did retain sufficient power to at least say no to France, had joined the war willingly, in part due to concern over the increasing threat of a Russian-ruled Belgium in a world of aero bombers and death-luft. This argument was also used by the Irish government, led by Prime Minister Niall Keogh of the Paírtí Óir, to justify Irish involvement in the war – Ireland was (barely) in range of aero attack from Belgium. This was mocked by former New Radical Alliance leader and Prime Minister Brian Mulcahy, whose government had lost power over the Panic, with rhetoric such as ‘I am sure Mrs Murphy of Ballygeary is grateful at our boys dying so her washing line is safe from the Russkie bombs’. This was in reference to a claim in the Royal Courant (of Dublin) newspaper that the hypothetical range of Belgian bombers only barely crossed the coastline of Ireland, touching the village of Ballygeary in County Wexford. The alleged Mrs Murphy became an aphorism in Irish politics (even spreading to Scotland and England) to describe a politician taking a position that appealed only to a tiny demographic, its importance exaggerated in their head, while alienating others. Of course, this does not accurately describe the original situation, where Keogh was acting under Franco-American pressure from outside, and Mulcahy eventually admitted in his memoirs that he would have been forced to do the same in Keogh’s position. Ironically, his frequent jests also ensured that Ballygeary, formerly a tiny but loyal NRA bastion, swung noticeably to the Óir Party in subsequent elections. Evidently, at least some of its inhabitants took the idea of a Russo-Belgian bombing raid as a serious threat not to be made light of, even if it never materialised.

Keogh found himself in a difficult position when Belgium was finally subdued in September 1923. His excuse for Ireland sending ships and soldiers to fight, already tenuous, was now gone. From now on, he would have to explain why sending those troops to fight on the front line in Germany and Poland served Irish interests. Notably, the French government was already discussing this matter at the time, and Madame Rouvier was arguing that less-reliable forces such as the Irish should be used to hold down Belgium as occupation troops, freeing up more French and German soldiers to fight in the east. At present, however, her suggestions fell on deaf ears, as Cazeneuve was still wedded to the idea of the national occupation zones over Belgium to avoid Russian propaganda accusations that France or Germany alone might try to seize parts of her territory. Making a single Belgian occupation authority, occupied by a mix of troops from second-rank Cannae Mondiale powers, felt like a step too far to Cazeneuve at present. Most analysts consider this a misstep on Cazeneuve’s part, as Keogh might well have been able to sell the idea of using Irish troops only for occupation duty to Parliament and his voters. Historian Mark Hunter famously joked that this could all have been avoided if Keogh had thought to make use of that great Irish invention, the quister, rather than relying on misleading and anodyne Lectelgrams to and from the Irish ambassador in Paris. However, this is sometimes repeated in all seriousness by people who do not realise (as Hunter well knew) that there were no reliable cross-Channel quist calls at this time.

The hammer fell at the end of November 1923, when – as the Russians attacked Anatolia – Farmers’ Reform Alliance leader Seamus O’Houlihan threatened to withdraw support from Keogh’s government unless it began seeking an exit from the war. The Farmers’ Reform Alliance were a new agrarian populist party; O’Houlihan, a far more adept politician formerly leading the old Farmers’ Party, had managed to absorb a large chunk of the Anti-Semitic Party when it fragmented after its brief breakthrough following the Panic of 1917. One common pole between the pro-free trade farmers and the conspiracising Anti-Semites had been an anti-war position, blaming the conflict on major financiers with varying degrees of euphemism attached to descriptions like ‘international’ or ‘cosmopolitan’.

The FRA’s pro-peace position now gained support from voters outside their usual rural constituency; the NRA also attempted to take advantage of this, but given Mulcahy’s perceived supine position towards the French during the Panic, Irish voters did not trust them to practice what they preached. Keogh was caught between a rock and a hard place, and the Géarchéim na Nollag or ‘Christmas Crisis’ dragged on well beyond the Christmas season. In the end, unable to either defy the French or sustain his majority in the House of Commons, Keogh tendered his resignation to King James. Though the NRA sensed a potential opportunity, in the end the premiership passed to another Oír Party MP, Edgar Molyneux, who would be Ireland’s first Protestant prime minister since the 1870s. It is a measure of the crisis at the time that this was barely remarked upon.

Ironically, given the ancient French origins of his surname, it would be Molyneux who took the decision to stand up to France and refuse to participate further in the war. At this time (January 1924) Nesterov had just attacked Kalisz, and the Germans were appealing for further assistance from all members of the alliance. When the French pressured Ireland to make a contribution, Molyneux issued an ultimatum, saying that Ireland would continue to economically support the war and would refrain from trading with the Vitebsk Pact nations, but would no longer send her boys to die on a foreign field. The wording of the memorandum hints to many analysts that Molyneux (and presumably O’Houlihan) would have been satisfied with Madame Rouvier’s proposal of using Irish soldiers only as occupation troops, so it was a missed opportunity.

However, the consequences would not only be a cooling of relations between Paris and Dublin. Powerful though France was, she could scarcely enforce her will right now by sending a gunboat to bombard Dublin Castle, and she could take no subtler move to punish Ireland without calling unwanted attention to Molyneux’s move. Cazeneuve therefore chose not to publicly denounce the Irish move, but to act as though it had not happened, and to brush off questions from Parlementaires about what was happening. It took several weeks for it to leak out that Irish troops and ships were heading home, beginning around February 1924, even as the Russians launched their St Stanislaus Offensive in Poland. The controversy briefly threatened Cazeneuve’s position and was a target of Russian propaganda, making France look weak, but it was soon overshadowed by a greater threat.

It transpired that the ships that had brought the Irish troops home were largely not Irish-flagged themselves, but were Italian-owned and had just brought fresh Italian troops to Belgium from the Mediterranean. They brought the plague with them, though its entry into Belgian ports did not become clear for a few more weeks. When the Irish boys were brought home, they had spent a few days on ships still carrying plague fleas and rats, this coming before widespread disinfectant efforts, as the scale of the problem was still not recognised.

The result was the Black Homecoming. No sooner had families welcomed their boys home that both began dying. The threat was not grasped until the veterans had already spread out across the island via railway to return to their home towns and villages. It was probably the single most complete spreader event in the entire pandemic, overwhelming hospitals practically overnight, and was the single biggest killer in Ireland since the potato famine of a century before.[21] One harrowing statistic is that ten times as many Irish soldiers and sailors died from the plague after returning home than died in military service overseas – and, of course, they brought many of their friends and families to the grave with them. Many fled from cities, some unwittingly carrying it with them, and the plague first entered England and Scotland through Glasgow, Liverpool and Bristol, leading to a wave of renewed anti-Irish prejudice, though soon the plague would also enter from Belgium through Kent.

It was during this initial, apocalyptic outbreak of the plague in Ireland that Nuala Muldoon wrote her masterpiece, Dennis’ Letters. Muldoon is often presented in popular biographic sketches as a housewife of County Cork with no previous dramatic experience, which is untrue (she was an enthusiastic member of a local theatre group and a voracious reader) but her artistic achievement is nonetheless impressive. Partially based on a true story involving one of her friends, Dennis’ Letters is a play about the young newlywed Mrs Siobhán O’Leary reading the letters she receives from her soldier husband Dennis, telling her stories about all the exotic fields of war he has been sent to. Throughout the play, these go from the semi-plausible (being on a ship at the Battle of the Scheldt, fighting in Belgium and Poland) to the far-fetched (visiting Nueva Irlanda, fighting in Africa, Ceylon and India) to the outright impossible (being sent on secret missions to Constantinople, Russian Yapon or Gavaji, and borrowing from battles fought in the Pandoric War or earlier conflicts).

Mrs O’Leary suspects nothing wrong, and when Prime Minister Molyneux brings the boys home, she is ready to greet her husband in delight – then reads of the plague in the newspaper and realises he has been in many plague-ridden places it talks about. She locks herself in the house and refuses to come out when he returns home, locking herself in. He has to come clean and explain he deserted on the outbreak of war has spent the last two years working as a dock worker in Dublin under an assumed name. He drew from cheap bloody novels and stories he heard in the pub to create adventures to send to her. As he has never been abroad, he has not been exposed to the plague. The play ends in tragedy, with Mrs O’Leary knocking over a candlestick and setting the house on fire, unable to escape; Dennis, finally attempting an act of heroism for real, breaks in through the window, only to lose his own life in the process. Literary analysts continue to debate whether the candlestick incident (conveniently ‘off-camera’) is intended as an accident, or a despairing Mrs O’Leary deliberately committing suicide on discovering that her idolised husband’s life is a lie.

Given the quarantine restrictions of the plague, Dennis’ Letters was not performed until 1928, but became an icon of Irish drama around the world when it was. This is important to remember, because many popular historical accounts will tie the play directly to the events that then perpetuated elsewhere, yet it can scarcely have influenced attitudes before it was performed. However, it is easy to understand how the parallels jump out.

Ireland’s move to bring her soldiers home in the face of French opposition, followed by disaster, had a profound effect on France’s other subordinate allies. Some, such as Scotland, were convinced by the argument that bringing their soldiers home would cause more harm than good, and stayed in the fight by default. Others, notably Spain and especially the Portuguese Republic, took the interpretation that if Ireland had only acted faster, she would have avoided tragedy and kept her soldiers alive. Public pressure now began building in the Iberian peninsula against further involvement in the war, though few would have guessed how it would end...

[18] Although the Irish Gaelic language is extinct for everyday use in TTL, it frequently remains used as a language of record in contexts such as naming historical events – helped by a Diversitarian push in many countries to discourage the use of Latin and promote more native-specific ‘archaic’ languages for such purposes. England similarly uses Old English / Anglo-Saxon for the same purpose, but not as consistently or as enthusiastically as Ireland uses Irish Gaelic.

[19] See Part #255 in Volume VII.

[20] Rory O’Connor (or Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair in the form of Irish Gaelic spoken at the time) is often cited as the last High King of Ireland before the Norman invasion. However, this is an extremely arbitrary choice of comparison on the part of the authors, as the old High Kings did not rule a unitary Irish state as King James now does, and there were claimant High Kings from rebellions after this date.

[21] Recall that TTL’s potato famine (in 1822) was far milder than the later OTL one, but still killed many and this is still a heavy comparison to make.


Thanks as always for the comments everyone. Busy period at work coming up, got enough buffer for at least one week but bear in mind we may have to miss a week at some point - I'll let you know.

I made a recreation of the Starry George. The stars in the canton are not align right but I think it looks good enough.

View attachment 644838
That's a very nice take on the one I originally did in the illustration. In the published version of that volume (which I am told is coming out soon!) I've changed it to a more conventional circle. However, that doesn't invalidate yours as the mid-19th century is still "you can arrange the stars however you like" era in the OTL USA and I'm sure the same is true in TTL

It would be nice to see some more graphic elements for this TL. I don't think the wiki has been updated since the Jacobin Wars.
I don't update the wiki now because it's not easy to access, I've replicated the content offline and edited it there for my own notes.

I have thought about doing more graphics content (there's a few images in the next published volume) but I'm never sure what to focus on. If you and the other commenters let me know what you want to see (e.g. what is the current flag of country X as of year Y) then that might give me a starting point.

The TV tropes page could use some love too
I looked at the tvtropes page a while back and I was surprised to see someone had been adding updates more recently than I thought. I would appreciate people helping out further as you suggest though!

There is also a tvtropes page for my book The Twilight's Last Gleaming if anyone has read that and wants to add to it. At some point I should see about getting a page for my science fiction series that starts with "The Surly Bonds of Earth" and has now continued with "Well Met By Starlight".

I'll hopefully be able to update the TVTropes page somewhat once my exams are done - is there a good way to assess all possible tropes that can be referenced?
Thank you! (And good luck with your exams, speaking as someone who is currently stressing over finding the time to write an exam paper for my students...)

Maybe PM me if you're not sure if something should be on there or not?
Anti-Semitic Party

What a name for a political party.

Mrs O’Leary knocking over a candlestick and setting the house on fire


Public pressure now began building in the Iberian peninsula against further involvement in the war, though few would have guessed how it would end...

I guess we will fairly shortly be saying goodbye to at least Spain and Portugal for a few generations.
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That's a very nice take on the one I originally did in the illustration. In the published version of that volume (which I am told is coming out soon!) I've changed it to a more conventional circle. However, that doesn't invalidate yours as the mid-19th century is still "you can arrange the stars however you like" era in the OTL USA and I'm sure the same is true in TTL
Thanks. I made it on an online flag designer website. I also made a recreation of the Jack and George but I couldn't get the bezants right. I assume the arrangement of the stars on Starry George are supposed to be an eagle but it's hard to tell.

As I side note, here's what I image the ENA national anthem would sound like:


Part #286: Frozen Nightmare

“Criticism continues to mount as Sir Robert Derby, First Commissary of the Imperial Diamondball Federation, insists that plans to reform the rules of the Imperial League to ban soakballs remain on track.[1] This comes despite the joint ultimatum by the Philadelphia Quakers, Chichago Cardinals, Boston Riflemen and Mount-Royal Grenadiers that four of the Big Seven will leave the league before complying with the new rules. All eyes are now on the owners of the New York Knicks, Washington Pipers and New Norfolk Raiders, who for now remain silent. Rumours continue fly concerning alleged money-laundering by California businesses, purportedly an attempt to force the League into compliance with the anti-soakball rules instituted ten years ago for the Adamantine League to pave the way for joint games and the corresponding advertising revenue…”

– Transcription of a C-WNB News Motoscope broadcast,
recorded in Waccamaw Strand, Kingdom of Carolina, 29/03/2020​


From: “A History of Europe, 1896-1960” by Susan Dempsey (1985)—

The time between April 1924 and November 1925 is frequently referred to as the Two Years of Hell in most of Europe, despite being closer to eighteen months. Nonetheless, it is quite understandable how much larger this period looms in the cultural imagination; journals at the time record that many people felt like the very passage of time itself had slowed to a crawl. This was not synonymous with the presence of the plague in Europe, though it did contain the peak of the first wave; plague had already entered Italy, Catalonia and wartorn, Ottoman-occupied Greece, and the Black Homecoming in Ireland had shocked the continent by showing what impact the out-of-control epidemic could have.

Rather, the Years of Hell refer specifically to the time in which the battle front of the war in Poland and Germany ground almost to a halt, both the Russian and allied armies hollowed out by the devastating plague, yet neither side willing to commit to a ceasefire. Even if Tsar Paul might have considered such an option under other circumstances, the fact that Prince Yengalychev had cited the plague as an excuse to surrender to the Americans in Russian America, and had since been blasted as a traitor by Paul’s propaganda, now made it politically impossible to consider. Furthermore, from Paul’s perspective, Marshal Fanlivenov and General Nesterov were on the verge of a breakthrough, having crossed the Oder and being on course for a penetration of the High Saxon heartland. It took long and painful months before this impression was dented in the eyes of Paul and much of the Imperial Soviet – in part driven by the death of Anatoly Nesterov himself from plague in July 1924. As had been observed centuries before, the plague was no respecter of persons – though the common soldiers in their muddy trenches had a lot more opportunity to catch it than their generals.

And it would be those trenches that would become emblematic of the Years of Hell in Europe, just as much as the yellow quarantine flags flying over cities and the squads of fumigators in rubber suits using death-luft reserves to purge their evacuated slums of rats and fleas.[2] The long front stretching through Germany, Poland and to the borders of Lithuania, from Karaliaučius to Walcz through Fürstenwalde to Rawicz, became practically immobilised for more than a year. It was proposed by generals on both sides that a retreat should be made to fall back to a shorter and stronger defensive line, considering their plague-ridden armies struggled to maintain the line. This was rejected by the leadership of both sides. Paul and the Soviet were, again, stubbornly unwilling to abandon Nesterov’s bridgehead across the Oder. While the Germans considered pulling out of Danzig and Karaliaučius, Chancellor Ruddel and Marshal Prittwitz flatly rejected a proposal to fall back to Silesia, or even to abandon it in favour of a defensive line on the Sudeten Mountains.

Having fought hard to secure the territory they presently had, neither side was willing to surrender any – not least because many politicians expected a peace negotiation sooner or later and wanted to hold more cards to bargain with in trades. Yet none of them were willing to risk the perception of weakness by being the first to pull the trigger and open talks. Under other circumstances, the process might have begun from the sheer momentum of lukewarm allies pulling out of the conflict to focus on dealing with the plague. However, the Black Homecoming in Ireland successfully scared other such countries into maintaining the war. There was also a specific tendency to wish to keep troops overseas, due to fears they would similarly bring the plague back with them (even when the plague was already spreading among civilians, this remained a fear). It was not only smaller countries that would be subject to this fear; much of the history of the twentieth century was inadvertently driven by the fact that President Fouracre and his cabinet began desperately searching for excuses to stop his soldiers coming home, and began looking for new worlds to conquer…

But to return to Europe. With both sides wishing to look strong before they risked opening talks, both sought a symbolic victory – fruitlessly, and at the cost of thousands of lives that mixed into the broader death toll (both military and civilian) of the plague. Trench systems ran on the long, static, overextended front from the Baltic Sea to the Sudeten Mountains.[3] Protguns and aerocraft had not ceased to exist, though they were vulnerable to their skilled drivers, pilots and mechanics falling victim to the plague. This caused a disproportionate reduction in capabilities, as it took much longer to train replacements for these specialised roles than it did to recruit line infantry. The result was two archetypal forms of conflict during the Years of Hell, both ultimately futile.

The first, generally more favoured by the allies and in the earlier part of the period, was to use what protgun and drome strength remained to punch through the enemy lines and outflank them, then try to follow up with infantry strength. This inevitably failed as the plague ripped through both the skilled and unskilled soldiers (and their logistical support), weakening them and favouring the static defenders in their strongpoints, who at least did not have to worry about movement and mobile supply. The second option, more favoured by the Russians (who had already burned up much of their dromes on Nesterov’s last offensive to take the Oder bridgehead) and in the later part of the period, was to focus on mass infantry wave attacks (supported by artillery bombardment) and hope to overwhelm the enemy trenches by sheer numbers. Ultimately, the hopeful doctrines of Fanlivenov’s strategists shattered on conflict with reality, and no amount of bombardment could sufficiently weaken the sick Germans and their allies to stop them from being able to mow down the waves of Russian conscripts with cingular gun fire.

The situation was not helped by the fact that both sides also tended to focus on the Oder bridgehead as the target for their symbolic victory. Paul still envisaged the possibility of taking Berlin, while Ruddel wanted to push the Russians back over the Oder before opening talks. The result was a particularly dense (and plague-ridden) military concentration around the bulge of the bridgehead. Three German offensives were launched throughout the period (Unternehmen Wotan, Unternehmen Siegfried and Unternehmen Johann Georg) and all failed to achieve anything beyond slaughtering thousands of young men.[4] It is a measure of the remarkable ability for Bundeskaiser Anton to always make the wrong decision during the war that he applied his unpopular father’s name to the third operation, just around the time when his own former anti-war stance could have resonated with the sick and fatigued people. It is believed that the deluded Anton thought that a victory with Johann Georg’s name attached to it would encourage his son Maurice, then on the verge of succumbing to the plague, and for the people to support him – rather than the more obvious option of appending Maurice’s own name to the operation. In the end, the final operation that did succeed in ejecting the Russians at the end of the period would bear the name of the former Chancellor Ziege, with a grieving Anton having washed his hands of participation in the war at exactly the wrong moment.

The Russians also attempted to push westward to Berlin, but fewer details of their plans survive due to later events. Notably, Fanlivenov’s newly-promoted subordinate General Boris Lobabov-Rostovsky, rejected the focus on Berlin in favour of an attack to take Danzig and break the fragile German salient stretching to Karaliaučius. Though he was not spared many troops, Lobanov-Rostovsky came close to a breakthrough in August 1924 before he, too, succumbed to the plague and the leadership of his weakened army collapsed. This is merely the best-known example of a story that was told and retold many sullen, enervating times on the Polish Front. As for the Polish people themselves, they suffered perhaps more than any other civilians in the Black Twenties, with the double punch of war and plague. It was a bitter irony, given that Poland had been one of the few places to be spared the Black Death of six centuries perior.[5]

As the months dragged on and the deaths from both war and disease mounted up, it became increasingly clear that neither side would get the quick victory that would provide them with a face-saving excuse to seek peace. Criticism of the leadership of both sides mounted, but was naturally suppressed – brutally in Russia and, to a lesser extent, Germany, while France and Italy were subject to media blackouts. Only in England and Scandinavia, safely removed from the bitter Polish Front, was some muted public criticism in the written word permitted. Neutral Danubia, with its Grey Societist-led government, was one place where an anti-war position in the media was not only permitted, but positively encouraged. Danubian papers typically emphasised the fact that Danubia was able to devote all her resources to the public health crisis, which – combined with largely sealed borders save for essential imports – ensured that her death tolls would be proportionately smaller. In the early days of close cooperation with the Combine (which then still saw the Danubians as part of the same movement) there was cautious sharing of some of the chemical breakthroughs. While even then the Combine held on to the Tremuriatix recipe, some earlier prototype chemicals were shared, allowing Danubia to fumigate her cities far more effectively than the distracted Germans or Russians, or even the French or Italians.

The Danubian papers also frequently implied a refugee crisis, with hordes of not only Poles, but also Germans, French, Italians and others pouring over the border to seek the peace and health of the Hapsburg monarchy. Analysis of these sources shows a fascinating example of how one can draw entirely different conclusions from the same information; some observers will see a convergence of attitude between the local Societists and others, while others will see them as entirely distinct and merely sharing a track in the same direction. Both Societists and others wanted to celebrate what refusing to join the war had done for Danubia, but whereas Societists tended to portray the refugees positively, others sharing the former sentiment wanted to turn them aside. While frequently portrayed as Societist supremacism, much of the public attitudes of Danubia in this period were more borne of traditional Hapbsurg AEIOU – Austriae est imperare orbi universo or ‘Austria will rule the world’.

It is this distinction, relatively subtle in some eyes, which confuses many attempts to understand Danubia in this period and its relations with the Combine. While Danubia did not open its borders to all refugees, several high-profile anti-war figures from France and Italy did emigrate to Vienna and its thriving cafés and salons, schools of thought largely free from both restrictions on free speech and the deadly plague. Among these were the French writer Julien Massard and the Italian artist Bruno Castellenghi. Both are remembered for their roles in cultural works critical of the war in this period.

Massard collaborated with the Danubian playwright Istvan Rauch on the epic Troja und Zeit (“Troy and Time”), a new depiction of the Trojan War as described in Homer’s Iliad. Contrary to popular belief, this was not the first iconoclastic take on the legend. In the nineteenth century, historians’ consensus had been that Troy was entirely legendary, so it had been a shock in 1878 when a joint Belgian-Ottoman expedition had successfully identified the site of Hisarlik, on the southern bank of the Dardanelles, with the ancient city.[6] With Troy now no longer an imagining of Homer but a real city of bricks and mortar, writers and playwrights had already begun considering the question of depicting the war with all the banalities of reality, rather than the glories of the Greek epic. However, Rauch and Massard were the first to hit the public zeitgeist in their depiction. Their portrayal of the Siege of Troy – which, after all, Homer describes as going on for over a decade – makes deliberate and knowing comparisons to the then-ongoing Polish Front. The figure of The Writer appears as a metatextual character in the play (sometimes, though not necessarily, identified with Homer himself) who monologues after each scene to describe what he is writing down. Invariably, there is a harsh and jarring distinction between the bitter realism of the actual scenes and what The Writer records as fantasies of glory and honour. The message was that the cycle would continue, and that one day people might look back on this war as a time of glory – and seek to pursue war themselves thanks to this false memory.

Castellenghi is best known for his illustrations in the satirical magazine Dei Wult.[7] First and foremost of these is Erwartungen und Realität – “Expectation and Reality”. With similar themes to Troja und Zeit, this is a double political cartoon contrasting what people may have envisaged of the war at the top – a thought bubble containing a gentlemanly sword duel between the national personifications of Germany and Russia – with the brutal reality at the bottom. This shows two thuggish, muddy and wounded figures, each with one broken arm, wrestling ineffectually at the bottom of a trench surrounded by spike-wire. In the background, a woman and child drown in a black pool to imply the civilian deaths from the plague, yet neither man turns aside to help her.

These and other artistic efforts were suppressed in France, Italy and elsewhere, not only during the war but frequently afterwards as well. Collectively they are known as the Grey Dawn movement, in contrast to the Morne movement which grew up in France (q.v.). Thanks to paranoia and suppression during the Second Black Scare, men such as Massard and Castellenghi are frequently portrayed as Societists, which is strictly untrue at the time they achieved their greatest works. Istvan Rauch was a heterodox Societist (as evidenced by his choice to combine German and Hungarian names, rather than using Martial Latin or Novalatina). Castellenghi described himself as ‘a disciple of Sanchez, but a bad one’ in later life, but Massard always denied any sympathy with Societism of any school. In 1954 he would comment that “If one may no longer say that slaughter without meaning is a bad thing for fear of being accused of raising the black flag, we might as well all hurl ourselves in the sea now and leave this world for the animals” (reflecting his actual, Stewardism-based political beliefs).

In 1970, the critic and historian René Regaud observed that the powerful message of Troja und Zeit, circulating illegally in Spanish translation, was much more influential in encouraging the Societist message in Iberia than clumsy Combine-produced efforts like The Madhouse. For this, he faced criticism in his own France for implying a Frenchman had instigated the following events, but – reflecting the fanaticism now dominant in the Combine after the Silent Revolution – he was made the target of a death squad. Paradoxically turned him into a popular martyr among the same French people who had just been criticising him.

So much for the Polish Front, which inflicted so many pointless deaths among the young men of both armies, while preventing their countries from devoting their full attention to the killer plague in their cities. Yet, though the Polish Front was the best-known of the ‘Frozen Fronts’ in the west, it was not the only one – nor even, perhaps, the most influential for the post-war world...

[1] A soakball, in the game of diamondball, is a ball that ‘soaks’ the player, meaning a ball thrown directly at a player running between bases in order to put him out. In OTL this was permitted in the ‘Massachusetts Game’ rules of proto-baseball, but banned by the ‘Knickerbocker Rules’ or ‘New York Game’ which became the dominant one. In TTL it has been retained, but has become increasingly violent and problematic – as balls became weightier and more damaging as materials and aerodynamics shifted.

[2] The origins of the yellow quarantine flag considerably predate the International Code of Signals for which it now signifies the letter Q (and, confusingly, today means clear of disease). It is uncertain exactly how far back it goes, with some even tying it to the use of yellow in the Middle Ages to mean those who should be shunned (whether the diseased, heretics or Jews) but it was certainly used as early as the eighteenth century. The yellow flag is technically a square jack, hence the British term ‘yellow jack’ as an alternative term for yellow fever (though the latter owes its name to yellowed skin being a symptom).

[3] As always, when writers in TTL sound like they are evoking the Western Front of OTL’s First World War, one needs to take this with a pinch of salt. TTL has simply never had a conflict as compressed, dense and static as the Western Front, and even observers who had experienced the war being described here would be horrified with the level of misery, slaughter and lack of movement of OTL’s Western Front. So they are using superlatives here without a basis for comparison; this period of war is much more comparable to the Eastern Front of the First World War, and the implied ‘continuous’ trench systems have big holes in them by the standards OTL historians would use.

[4] Unternehman means ‘Operation’ in German. In TTL, of course, Wagner and his operas did not exist, but there was a similar (if less intense) growth of interest in Germanic myth as a subject for new novels, plays and operas during the Kulturkrieg period in TTL. One major difference is that, as opposed to Wagner incorporating many elements from Norse myth, the messaging during TTL’s period was explicitly German-supremacist and anti-Norse, due to the attempt to Germanise Jutland being a major focus of the Kulturkrieg. So it is the differences rather than the similarities of the two traditions that are emphasised.

[5] As is commonly the case in OTL, this is a misleading description – the Black Death certainly made it to Poland, it was just a much milder outbreak compared with most of Europe.

[6] This rediscovery was made around the same time in OTL.

[7] The title is meant to humorously imply a typographical error, with a double meaning – is it a mangled rendering of Die Welt, mocking a serious newspaper at the time, or a grammatically warped version of Deus Vult, reflecting edgy criticism of the Catholic Church?


In addition to the above update, I am pleased to announce that Look to the West Volume V: To Dream Again will now be released by SLP in a few days' time! Watch this space for updates.

I know people have also asked about paperbacks for Vols 3 and 4 - as I understand it the pandemic caused an issue with the supply chain and there's had to be a switch to a new setup, so I'm trialling this with my novel The Twilight's Last Gleaming first and will get to doing the rest of the LTTW volumes once I know whether that's worked out OK or not.
squads of fumigators in rubber suits using death-luft reserves to purge their evacuated slums of rats and fleas
I take this to mean that at least some nations were using their chemical weapons intended for military use as pesticides!

That seems dangerous: obviously a lot depends on exactly what chemicals and delivery systems they planned for military use and what delivery systems they're using for pesticides, but I'd expect the risk of accidents killing people in those slums to be a lot higher than any purpose-designed pesticide. I wonder how effectively Societist propaganda will make use of that? Of course, one of the important themes of the past couple of updates has been that there's at least two groups of Societists operating propaganda machines, even if neither is willing to acknowledge the split yet...
Nonetheless, it is quite understandable how much larger this period looms in the cultural imagination; journals at the time record that many people felt like the very passage of time itself had slowed to a crawl.
Okay, now that's not cool dude. Too close to home. :wince:

President Fouracre and his cabinet began desperately searching for excuses to stop his soldiers coming home, and began looking for new worlds to conquer…
Well. From the context, it sounds like the ENA is gonna end up coming to blows with the Combine somehow then as a result of this... but I could be wrong.
In 1970, the critic and historian René Regaud observed that the powerful message of Troja und Zeit, circulating illegally in Spanish translation, was much more influential in encouraging the Societist message in Iberia than clumsy Combine-produced efforts like The Madhouse. For this, he faced criticism in his own France for implying a Frenchman had instigated the following events, but – reflecting the fanaticism now dominant in the Combine after the Silent Revolution – he was made the target of a death squad.
From: “A History of Europe, 1896-1960” by Susan Dempsey (1985)—
A generation of fanaticism? Hmm...

I think it's interesting that this war is essentially just as miserable as the Eastern Front, but the peace is so much more horrifying. I mean these veterans might be coming back to families who have already watched helplessly while their own government sprays down their homes with toxic fumes and goes "well, it's either this or the whole neighborhood wakes up in the 1300s." The Black Homecoming in particular is... Just being fenced in on a tiny island, the parochial society within has no safe place within their refuge of centuries.

I'd argue it goes back to the Jacobin Wars. Even there I'm not sure if it was the warfare itself that was that scary outside Bavaria, really just the blood flags and the unnatural square departements and imagining a concrete Paris with Lisieux's office complex steadily growing and eating up surrounding buildings. As interesting as the wars are, the homefronts are also consistently alien enough to add this persistent spooky streak to the generally-adventurous LTTW as a whole.


Thanks for the comments everyone.

I'd argue it goes back to the Jacobin Wars. Even there I'm not sure if it was the warfare itself that was that scary outside Bavaria, really just the blood flags and the unnatural square departements and imagining a concrete Paris with Lisieux's office complex steadily growing and eating up surrounding buildings. As interesting as the wars are, the homefronts are also consistently alien enough to add this persistent spooky streak to the generally-adventurous LTTW as a whole.
Eye of the beholder; people in TTL would say the same about OTL, though I can't say specifically what things without spoiling future updates.
For this, he faced criticism in his own France for implying a Frenchman had instigated the following events, but – reflecting the fanaticism now dominant in the Combine after the Silent Revolution – he was made the target of a death squad. Paradoxically turned him into a popular martyr among the same French people who had just been criticising him.
This implies that the Combine uses targeted assassinations 'abroad' (not that they would really see it as such) as standard policy? Well, that would be a nasty way to help justifying the hatred for Societism seen in many in-TL sources.
Flags of Europe 1922


Someone upthread suggested more media updates, so here are the flags of Europe as of 1922.

Let me know if you want me to continue this with other continents!


edit: just realised I accidentally missed Spain off the end so have added it.
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