a novella by benjamin kerstein

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


The Federationist advantage was obvious from the beginning of the war. Over 80% of domestic armed forces, including the entirety of the officer’s corps, with a handful of notable exceptions, stayed loyal to the central government. Federationist territory encompassed 67% of the country’s industrial plant. And they had the talent of unity their enemies lacked. Ohio, Minnesota and Oregon were invaded while Kilor was still arguing institutional restructuring with his lieutenants. The defense lines in Baltimore barely held. Most of the waterfront district was destroyed in a series of cruise missile attacks.

The DUF would have collapsed altogether if not for the uprisings in the Pacific Northwest and northern California, where eco-terrorist groups and anarchist flying columns led a large scale arming of the urban population. By July, Seattle, Berkeley, San Francisco, and several Oregon cities were in full revolt. But the rebels had no popular support outside of the large cities. Their only success was in distracting the Federationists long enough to allow the DUF to finish consolidating itself. The major cities were cordoned off by armored units and then bombed from the air. The infantry units moved in afterwards, mostly for the purpose of cleaning the bodies out. Only Seattle held out for longer than a week. Fighting was street to street. It culminated in running gun battles through the financial district, which was finally finished off by artillery fire. A famous photograph showed six anarchists in a burned out Starbucks. Their heads were wrapped in black bandanas. Most of their brains were spattered across the scorched walls. A blackened body behind the espresso machine clutched an AK-47 in a fleshless hand. Most of its intestines were on the cash register.

Worldwide satellite broadcasts showed the survivors being marched out of the burning landscape flanked by tanks. Huge crowds surrounded them at the city borders and threw bottles and rotting fruit at them. A fifteen year old grenade maker in a t-shirt with “Power to the People” written on it was severely beaten by an eighty year old woman with a cane. Foreign journalists later discovered that the boy belonged to an eco-terror cell that had forced the woman from her house at gunpoint and turned it into a makeshift bomb factory.

Contrary to popular myth, there was no mass slaughter of refugees by Federationist supporters. Despite Kilor’s televised speeches about “imminent gas chambers”, he was already in secret negotiations with the RFC over the possibility of mass repatriation. The RFC had no interest in feeding and housing several hundred thousand refugees. They even agreed to provide the trucks. It took three months to accomplish the biggest mass population transfer since World War II a hundred and twenty years before. Every half hour for three months an army truck rolled across the border and disgorged another mass of petulant humanity into refugee camps in New York, Philidelphia, Newark, and a thousand others dotting the eastern seaboard.

A cease fire was negotiated in 2058. The RFC believed it to be the prelude to total capitulation. In fact, Kilor was already secretly organizing the Refugee Brigades.

The Refugee Brigades were entirely made up of survivors of the Western Rebellion, and were entirely the product of Kilor’s genius. He had immediately guessed the capacities of traumatized, starving, homeless masses of young people for acts of extraordinarily savage violence. Kilor organized them into storm trooper units based in the refugee camps themselves. The new soldiers were exhorted by their new generals to the cause of revenge. Revenge on those who had driven them from their homes, who had killed their families, annihilated their lives. They were called to take a pint of Federalist blood for every brick of their abandoned homes. To turn their unspeakable loss into an indescribable bloodbath. “Three Hundred Thousand Exiles, Three Hundred Thousand Guns, Three Hundred Thousand Federationist Dead!” was their most famous slogan. It was shown every hour on the hour on television screens across the DUF, usually accompanied by a computer animated clip of a Federalist soldier having his skull smashed in and his brains scooped out and eaten by a family of starving refugees.

The Refugee Brigades served as frontline troops on ever major front when Kilor broke the cease fire in July.

They became legendary overnight.

Suicide squads dressed in oversized uniforms filled with TNT and nails dipped in cyanide broke the Federationist perimeter around Cincinnati. Nearly a thousand Federationist troops were killed in a single night by two Refugee units outside Columbus, Ohio. The bodies of the Federationists were hacked to pieces with shovels, photographed by official DUF media units, then thrown into the Mississippi River. In the most outstanding example of Kilor’s ironic sense of humor, the images were broadcast directly to the Republican Federation by the official DUF satellite channel. The Refugee Brigades withstood a 70% casualty rate during the reconquest of Chicago. Most of the city was reduced to rubble. The media units used a helicopter to photograph an entire platoon atop the ruins of the Sears Tower, waving the DUF flag and firing their weapons into the stratosphere in triumph. It was later revealed that only two of them survived.

But it was the Battle of the District that truly created the legend of the Refugee Brigades. The reconquest of the District was Kilor’s waking dream. He wanted to return in triumph to the Capitol which had expelled him only a few months before, when the world seemed sane, and the events which followed impossible. He wanted it at any price. And block by block, street by street, corpse by corpse, the District became a Mephistophelean inferno of flares, tracer bullets, laser sights, muzzle flashes, bursting shells, erupting incendiaries, and the spitting, bursting plumes of exploding bodies. It was nicknamed the Devil’s Slaughterhouse. Piles of corpses filled the gutted streets. Insects, rodents, cats, dogs, and an encyclopedia of bacterial organisms fed on the severed limbs and rancid flesh. The stench of putrefying skin and rotted organs permeated the air until people began spontaneously vomiting into the sidewalks and garbage cans. Even this desperate concession to modesty was soon abandoned, and the streets filled with the detritus of collective nausea. DUF extraction units finally requisitioned and confiscated a fleet of municipal garbage trucks and outfitted them with armored plates. The Federationists used a barrage of Stinger missiles on them. The stench of burning rubber and gasoline temporarily overcame the stink of decomposition.

By the time exhaustion set in two months later, neither side had gained more than a few yards in either direction. Kilor decided to force the stalemate. He threatened a renewed offensive through secret channels. The Federationists threatened to respond with tactical nuclear weapons. Before long, they both started to talk about a cease-fire.

Initial meetings took place in the no-man’s land around the Jefferson Memorial. The regular field commanders were the participants. They all knew that a de-facto ceasefire had existed since the failure of the Refugee Brigades to pierce the Federationist defense line at DuPont Circle. The issue at hand was where the official Division Line would be drawn.

It became a wall and not a line. Officially, it was named the Jefferson Wall, after the location of the first negotiations. The official name never caught on. People called it the Division Line. It was two miles long and twelve feet high. A winding labyrinth of concrete, barbed wire, electric fencing, motion sensors, guard towers and security cameras. The final settlement left the Capitol building and most of the Mall in Federationist territory. The Refugee Brigades salved their wounds by raising the DUF flag over the remains of the White House and turning them into a permanent military headquarters. Kilor made a series of public statements pledging to move the DUF government to the District. He knew that such a move would have provoked an identical act on the part of the Federationist, and perhaps renewed fighting. It was a clear violation of the ceasefire agreement. He stayed in Manhattan and so did his government. It is considered likely that he intended to do so all along. The Federationists let the issue die. Moving their seat of government from LA was prohibitively expensive, and they had no grievances with the final settlement. They maintained control over the West District, which contained the major historical sites and the strategic advantage. Despite occasional exhortations to “liberate the East District” from some of the more bellicose Federationist politicians, no such plans were ever pursued. The Refugee Brigades followed a similar path. They sang songs about “sleeping tomorrow night in old Abe Lincoln’s lap” and raised flags that read “One People, One War, One District”, but the generals and Kilor knew that the DUF had only held the East District by the skin of its teeth. Intelligence reports indicated that the RFC was more than serious about a nuclear exchange. The Refugee Brigades had taught them the value of savagery. Nothing happened.

There was sporadic fighting along the ceasefire lines outside the District. Mostly in disputed territories like western Illinois and the upper Great Lakes, including a handful of skirmishes along the Ohio border. But there was nothing to match the slaughterhouse of the previous three years. No peace treaty was ever signed. The partition was accepted on a de-facto basis by both sides. Ironically, the shape of the respective territories was almost exactly that which had been predicted by Pelman. Excepting, of course, the vagaries of war. This was not predicted by Pelman. Pelman did not predict war at all.

This raised the uncomfortable thought among the post-schism intellectuals who finally noticed Pelman’s work. They were forced to entertain the disturbing thought that it was inevitable. That it was not worth fighting about in the first place.

History has a terrible capacity to state the obvious.

About Me

My photo
Benjamin Kerstein is an Israeli-American writer, editor, and novelist.

Michael J. Totten, the prize-winning author of The Road to Fatima Gate, has called him "one of the finest American-Israeli authors of his generation."

Jay Nordlinger of the National Review has referred to his work as "some of the most intelligent, clearest, most honest writing I have read in a long time."

He lives in Tel Aviv.

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