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Oil and...Sponges

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  • Oil and...Sponges

    I always thought it was funny how so many politicians publish memoirs after they leave office. I mean, what kind of word is “memoir” anyway? And why do it all? If you’ve done something worth writing about everyone knows about it already. And these days anything a politician includes in their memoirs has already been dissected by the media and laid bare before the public microscope.

    My biggest beef with political memoirs, though, is that they’re just so cliché.

    I’ve been told that for an elected official I have a profound dislike for clichés. Political life is full of baby kissing, firm handshaking, “Stay the course!” garbage. It only gets worse when you’re the president. I never understood how bad they could be until the war with our nearest neighbor, the English.

    Elisabeth had been a good friend and it was an agonizing decision to invade. But the only deposits of saltpeter on the continent were in England and we had to have them.

    And so a war referred to in the history books as “The War of English Aggression” began. The English history books would call it “The Surprise German Invasion War” and that would actually be a more honest title. But there aren’t any more English history books, or English, and so the point is moot.

    During the war my speechwriting team practically bathed the public in clichés. We would “See this conflict through” and we would “Strive for victory.” At state fairs I urged people to “Fight the good fight.” In the cities I told the gathered workers that “Together, we will win this fight.” I said all that and more, and all with a winning smile, or with grim determination, or with any of a dozen other expressions I could call upon with little effort.

    I hated every moment of it. I hated the clichés, the insincerity, and the mindless doublespeak that crowds eat up and journalists tear into ruthlessly.

    I especially hated the war. What we did to the English was reprehensible, but I was so determined to forge Germany into a world power that I overlooked my desire to do so peacefully.

    In the years following the war I did everything I could to ensure Germany’s domination without resorting to armed conflict. No more war, no more clichés ladled onto an adoring audience, and no more rampant insincerity. Not from me, not from my office. I could get back to the business of running the nation and actually getting some work prepared.

    You know, I almost made it.

    The innocuous downfall of my ideals began at a gathering of Germany’s scientific community in a former English city now known as Bismarckia. (Not my idea, and talk about a cliché).

    The sciences were a huge part of my election platform. Let’s see how much of that old speech I can remember. “The flow of new ideas in a free and open environment can do nothing but benefit every German citizen. The nation that leads its neighbors in technology will stand astride the world like a colossus!”

    Yes, I know that’s a cliché and no, I’m not proud of it. I cribbed that colossus line from a former German military advisor. Hey, it got me elected.

    This particular year the science folk were all agog over something called “refining.” It’s not just anyone who can get excited about black goop from the ground but those guys were pretty crazy about it. I listened carefully and was soon caught up in the excitement too. I was filled with thoughts of an invincible military, one that could repel any and all invaders. I thought of the industrial might our country could achieve. I realized then a discovery of this magnitude was the only way for Germany to maintain a global lead.

    It all came down to the oil. All we had to do was dig for it.

    “Show me where it is,” I said.
    Last edited by Jeremy; December 20, 2001, 17:00.

  • #2
    My main military advisor was newly appointed Field Marshall named Frobe. An uptight man, his uniform was so crisp he seemed to cut directly through the air when he walked. This day he was even more brisk than usual.

    “Sir, with your permission…”

    I took the folder he handed me and opened it. The first sheet of paper inside showed a map of the world, the various nations color-coded. I noted that various strategic resources within the boundary of Germany were noted in green. This included the recently acquired saltpeter, which was near the German town of Coventryburg.

    Toward the bottom of the page were three bright red dots, each circled in red.

    “Red is not usually associated with good, correct?” I asked.

    “Red means bad. Red with a circle means very bad,” Frobe said.

    I looked at the map again. As the borders took shape I felt a sickening deja-vous and visions of saltpeter began dancing in my head. There was the precious oil, huge deposits of it, all within a small area of southern desert.

    And every damn drop of it was in Russia.


    “Had to be them, didn’t it?” he said.

    What he meant was that other than the English, the only armed conflict where we were involved was a short battle with the Russians a few years back. It was true that we had started it, but only because those Bolshevik morons had parked a city on the one - the only one - spot of unclaimed land on our entire continent. Relations with Catherine had not been good since.

    “There’s no chance of trading for what we want, is there?” I asked. He shook his head.

    “They probably don’t even know it’s there,” he said. “And they wouldn’t know what to do
    with it if they did.”

    I nodded and looked back at the bright red circles. We had to have the oil. It was absolutely key to our continued global supremacy. If we could take just that one city we could bring peace to the world.

    “If we do this it will have to be fast,” I said. “We need to get in, take what we need, and then make concessions for peace. The people won’t let us wage a global conflict.”

    My advisor nodded his understanding.

    “Even without the oil we have more than enough to take what we want. Sir, we stand astride the world like a…”


    • #3
      Mustering an invasion force was ridiculously easy given our huge industrial might. Our cities met the challenge of switching to a military economy in a way that made me proud. Actually getting our troops to Russia was not. Our cavalry and riflemen were some of our bravest citizens but even they were a little dubious as they boarded the creaking wooden ships of our navy. My advisors predicted great strides in naval transportation once we had oil but for now our glorious army would have to make due with sailing the seas on equally glorious, museum quality galleons. Surprise and superior forces made the initial landing at Kiev a short mission and the city was ours before the borscht was cold.

      “Actually, sir, borscht is served cold,” an advisor told me shortly after I delivered that line to a group of woodworkers at a fund-raiser.

      “No problem,” I said. “They’ll think I was being ironic.”

      Irony may not be the word to describe what happened in Kiev but it’s close enough. The oil reserves were well within the city border when the Russians were there. But once we took over, the oil was suddenly within the domain of a different Russian city. If we called for peace now the mission was for nothing but a small slab of frozen land where they voluntarily eat cold beet soup. No amount of spin would make that look right to my constituents no matter how much I lowered domestic vodka prices. The war, it seemed, would have to go on.

      And on, and on. And for a backward people, the Russians had a lot of friends. First the French joined their cause, then Babylon, and then Egypt. I was now the instigator of a massive global conflict with next to nothing to show for it. There was no choice but to continue operations in Russia and guard our own borders from the approaching Egyptians.

      Years dragged by and the Russian campaign made little progress. There seemed no end to the line of warriors and horsemen willing to sacrifice everything to keep me stuck in Kiev.

      And the oil! I was Tantalus to its cool, refreshing spring. It was so damn close but it may as well have been on the moon for all the good it did me. I was fighting a purely defensive battle with no end in sight.

      Meanwhile, the enemy horsemen kept coming.

      “You know, the Russians are like sponges,” my aide announced one day.

      “Excuse me?”

      My aide, Thomas Detweiler, was legendary in his strangeness. I’d have booted him long ago but he was a pretty solid performer most of the time. Besides, anyone as odd as he was who still manages to get as far as he did must be related to someone important. This is politics after all.

      “Sponges,” he repeated.

      “Sponges,” I said. More information was surely forthcoming.

      “You know how sponges have teeth, right?” he said.

      I glanced around my office for a point of reference.

      “Yeah, Tom,” I said in a casual voice I would never use on TV. “Okay, yeah, I seem to remember that in school.”

      He nodded vigorously and consequently dumped an armful of papers to the ground.

      “Real sponges, not the artificial kind,” he said as he bent down to collect his things.

      “Sure, yeah. No teeth in a plastic sponge,” I agreed.

      “No,” Tom said. “But the Russians are like real sponges. They aren’t big teeth, but they’ve got a million of them.”

      And with that he walked out the door.


      • #4
        The next meeting of the scientific community lacked the cheer it once had. I involved myself with the process more and to be honest, I let my bitterness taint the dialogue. A group of us sat down on the opposite side of a table from a half dozen scientists led by, forgive me, a man I referred to as “the head nob.”

        “The last time we gathered, it was all about refining and what a wonder this technology was,” I began. “We were a peaceful people with a need for one itty bitty resource. And now look at us. The world is in flames and I’m responsible!”

        “We’re working night and day, sir, but…” the nob said.

        “There must be a substitute!”

        “I’m sorry, Mr. President, but there is no substitute for oil.”

        “Use black water! Use, I don’t know, something!”

        “Oil is much more than black water. It’s thick and viscous and…”

        “Thicken it then! Oh, come on. Am I the only one coming up with ideas here? Get me to that oil!” I was livid and I felt a cliché coming. I was not disappointed.

        “Mr. President, you’re putting the cart before the horse.”

        “Carts and horses I have plenty of! That’s the problem! You told me we would have the ability to create rolling metal boxes of spewing death that would annihilate anything standing in front of us.”

        I realized just as I said the words “rolling metal boxes of spewing death” that I was going to have to work out my problems with a professional very soon.

        “We said these things could be done once we had the oil, sir. The entire plan is contingent on the oil,” the nob said indignantly. God save us all from indignant nobs.

        “So we need the oil to make the weapons but we need the weapons to get the oil. Swell. Do you have anything for me at all?”

        The scientists all nodded very quickly, their ID badges jingling on their little chains.

        “Yes, sir. We’ve developed…marines.”

        “Do what?” I asked.

        My aide, Tom, who was nearly asleep in his chair by this time, sat upright.

        “Marines. I’ve heard of that,” he said. That’s the place on a lake where people store their boats.”

        “Oh, well then the war is ours,” I said sternly. “Gentlemen, I congratulate you. Who needs oil when our enemies will fall before our mighty boat parking?”

        “No, sir. Marines are not…Let me start over. Marines are squads of armed soldiers able to attack directly from a transportation vessel such a galleon,” the nob explained.

        “Regardless of where the boat is parked?” I asked.

        “Can we pretend he never said anything?” the nob said, pointing at Tom.

        “I do it all the time,” I answered, but only to myself.

        To the surprise of no one, our citizens protesting the war began to openly riot as the conflict continued. Leipzig was the first to erupt when the audience at a free outdoor concert turned on the police. I quickly made efforts to appease the people but other cities began to react.

        I called a meeting with my domestic advisor, Greta Schmidt, and asked Tom Detweiler to take notes. I was used to decent approval rating and it was difficult not to take the riots personally.

        “Leipzig is nothing to worry about,” Greta said. “Let’s be honest, our numbers there were never that good anyway. Besides, it’s a college town, and you know what that means.”

        “The demonstration in Munich was pretty calm,” Tom offered.

        “Calm?” Tom, they burned me in effigy!” I said.

        “Good lord, what?” Tom’s face was aghast with mixture of confusion and concern.

        “That means they burned a dummy that sort of looked like me,” I said. “Although I would never have worn that necktie.”

        “Oh, thank god,” Tom said. “I thought effigy might have been one of those old English cities.”

        I shook my head.

        “No, and even if it was we would have renamed it Effigystaag or something by now.”

        “Moving right along,” Greta said. “We’ve scheduled a series of events over the course of the next few weeks and that should help keep the peace. We’ve also completed roadwork that will allow access to more vineyards.”

        “Wonderful,” I said. “I’m reduced to subduing the people of Germany with alcohol.”

        Greta put down her paperwork and removed her glasses.

        “None of this is going to be enough, not if we wish to maintain our current spending levels in other areas,” she said. “Sir, eventually we’ll have to reduce the science budget just to maintain order.”

        “Greta,” I said. “The people need to give our war effort their support in this time of crisis. Our new weapons and our desire to win have strengthened our resolve. Now more than ever we need to focus our energy on the goal. Together, we will win this fight.”

        Tom blinked twice and then looked at me. Greta paused and then slowly nodded.

        “Good god, did I actually just say that?”


        • #5
          Marines and attrition eventually turned the tide in our favor. The combined losses of our various enemies gave our battered troops enough respite to overtake another Russian city and thus claim the oil. By now we had a fairly safe sea passage from Russia to our mainland and we were able to funnel the oil directly into our cities. Our troops were handed new equipment and yes, the galleons were transformed overnight into sparkling new transport units.

          The hoard of enemies never let up completely but it was now only a matter of time before they fell to whatever mechanical monsters our scientists would dream up. I surveyed the battlefields from the safety of Kiev. The huge military buildup there made that city a safer place to be than even Berlin. And besides, I had developed a taste for borscht.

          “They still send men on horseback and we still push them back,” Field Marshall Frobe said. He wore a thick wool coat over his uniform but even that looked like he had somehow ironed it.

          “Frobe,” I began. “Our enemies are a lot like sponges.”


          I smiled and shook my head.

          “I don’t know either. But it’s not a cliché.”


          • #6
            wow! nice story.


            • #7
              Ah, my first post in Stories... Normally I just read and enjoy them but this is one I feel I have to react to.

              I really like it so far but after reading the first part at the time it was the only part I thought that the story ended.

              A politician who didn't want to go to war, the reason why he did, the relief when it was all over and then to finish it of, that last sentence: "Show me where it is."

              With that line you already told the rest of the story...

              IMHO (and the H is the important one here) you should have left it at that and it would be a certain winner, I feel that the rest , tho a good read is superfluous (sp?).

              But since you continued I'll keep on reading because you sure write well...
              Within weeks they'll be re-opening the shipyards
              And notifying the next of kin
              Once again...


              • #8
                Hey... great story!
                Infograme: n: a message received and understood that produces certain anger, wrath, and scorn in its recipient. (Don't believe me? Look up 'info' and 'grame' at


                • #9

                  I agree that the story would have been cool to end after the first section. I would have needed to change the title though...

                  The story was always meant to be, well, not silly, but sort of goofy. The first part was rewritten a few times to try and show that but I see how it is still less goofy than the rest of the story.

                  Thanks much for the feedback.


                  • #10
                    Hey, Jeremy!

                    I really enjoy this story . . . especially that politician touch.


                    • #11
                      and the city was ours before the borscht was cold.

                      “Actually, sir, borscht is served cold,” an advisor told me shortly after I delivered that line to a group of woodworkers at a fund-raiser.

                      “No problem,” I said. “They’ll think I was being ironic.”
                      I’m sorry, Mr. President, but there is no substitute for oil.”

                      “Use black water! Use, I don’t know, something!”
                      “Marines. I’ve heard of that,” he said. That’s the place on a lake where people store their boats.”

                      “Oh, well then the war is ours,” I said sternly. “Gentlemen, I congratulate you. Who needs oil when our enemies will fall before our mighty boat parking?”
                      ...very cute. ... and classic.

                      Continuing the story was actually, in my opinion, a great move- by telling the story (in minature) with the English first... and then expanding it with the Russians and delving deeper into characters and problems and the issues, you created a much more vibrant and fulfilling tale.
                      -->Visit CGN!
                      -->"Production! More Production! Production creates Wealth! Production creates more Jobs!"-Wendell Willkie -1944


                      • #12
                        Another good one!


                        • #13
                          a great revival
                          Gurka 17, People of the Valley
                          I am of the Horde.