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Chapter 39

The White House, Washington, DC,
United States of America, Sol III
0558 EDT October 10
th, 2004 ad

"And the Missouri is on the way?" asked the President, shaking his head at the carnage.

"Yes, sir," said the secretary of defense, looking at his briefing papers, "and the Massachusetts. The Missouri will be on station within two more hours; she's just coming upriver. The Mass was steaming near New York City and won't be there for another twelve hours."

"And the Planetary Defense Centers are out of action?"

"Pretty much, Mr. President. We're caught between a rock and a hard place. When there's a take off, we have to engage it. But when we do we lose a PDC. High Knob makes four that we've lost. But if we let the landers move at will, they'll slaughter us."

"What about Fredericksburg?"

The SecDef turned to the High Commander, "And?"

"And they're still holding out, but that won't last long. We've effectively exhausted the Peregrines, so we're about out of reconnaissance assets. No reconnaissance assets mean no calls for fire although we've got some experimental stuff on the way. My guess is that once Fredericksburg is finalized they'll turn outward to the north and south."

"And we won't try to stop them between the James and the Potomac, right?" asked the President of the United States, somewhat bitterly.

"Yes, sir. Fighting them with a battleship is one thing, and even then we saw the sort of damage we can take; the North Carolina will be off-line for months. But engaging them in open terrain, with hasty defenses, is something completely different. The forces still are not as ready as I'd like—heck they're not ready, period, not for open field maneuver. Let us pull back behind the terrain defenses, like we planned, and pound them with artillery. That's the way to kill Posleen.

"Now, down in Richmond they're planning a forward firesack. But they have the terrain for it: Washington doesn't. So we pull back behind defenses and let them break their teeth, then we sally and mop them up. I'm glad we reactivated those battlewagons, though," he turned and looked at the video again, "damn me if I'm not."

"What about C-Decs taking off and counterattacking?" asked the President.

"General Horner has released the Planetary Defense Centers to fire on Posleen ships now that the main force is down. The centers are not fully operational, and they only have a few heavy grav-guns each, but they should be able to take out any landers that take off between the mountains and the sea. There's a little curvature problem in Maryland, but I don't think the Posleen will be able to use it effectively. The PDCs are still under strict instructions not to engage actual landings. We don't want them torn up like Europe's."

"Maryland," said the President.

"The Twenty-Ninth's forces got mauled, but Tenth Corps sent an extra division and that should do the job. If not, First Army has already ordered all the East Coast corps to send forces to Virginia. The Posleen in Maryland aren't going anywhere, Mr. President."

"But in Virginia . . ."

"In Virginia we have another problem. Once we concentrate sufficient forces across the Potomac and the James we'll begin to retake Virginia. As I think we've demonstrated, there are two aspects to waging war with artillery when it comes to the Posleen. The first is that you have to see them to kill them. That means that they can see you. If they can see you they can usually kill you. So we need troops in prepared positions to call fire on them. The second is that, given observers, they are extremely easy to kill with artillery fire. They are the definition of troops in the open. That is an artilleryman's favorite target. The second point, however, is that you have to be able to see them to kill them, and that means that we eventually will have to advance against them.

"When we do, I want our troops massed and fully prepared, with good artillery coordination in effect. Any harum-scarum attack in the glow of the good work put in by the North Carolina would be premature in the extreme, sir. We shouldn't throw away a relative success now."

The President nodded in thought. "Jody," he asked, turning to the press secretary, "what are the networks saying?"

"So far they haven't gotten any reporters into the area so there's not much they can say. There have been some sharp protests about the military not allowing them on the interstates because they've been taken over by the federal government, but so far that hasn't made the news. The only thing they are getting is whatever video we give them from the front."

The President nodded and shifted in his chair as if uncomfortable. He looked at the television again and said: "General Taylor, give me your opinion of the Forward Defense argument."

Taylor froze with his mouth open until he recognized how stupid the expression made him look. In a crystalline moment he saw the future laid out before him and realized that in good conscience, despite the futility, total and complete honesty was the sole option. "I think it's a crock of shit, Mr. President."

"Why?" asked the President, eyes narrowing.

"The proponents ignore every wargame ever played around it. Their contention is that the Posleen can be defeated in decent terrain because it permits maneuver of armored and mechanized forces. But when we've actually gamed it out, the Posleen can move nearly as fast and are more maneuverable than armored or mechanized forces. The Posleen may use primarily unaimed weapons and depend on mass fire, but between the heaviness of their weaponry and the aimed fire of the God Kings, mechanized forces in vehicles within one thousand meters of Posleen are slaughtered.

"If they are out of their vehicles and in prepared positions—not fortresses, just dug in—standard Army units have about a ten-to-one advantage over the Posleen. That is based on game theory and observational evidence from Barwhon.

"However, projections place Posleen forces at over one hundred to one for the total invasion.

"In this case we are talking about the five divisions in northern Virginia that will have time to dig in. Sort of, not well, just foxholes and bunkers and a little concertina. Locally emplaced minefields, some claymores, some Bouncing Bettys and M-833s. A division runs about sixteen thousand troops in its current configuration. About seven thousand of those troops actually fire weapons at the enemy."

"I know all those figures, General," snapped the President.

"Yes, sir, you do, but frankly neither you nor General Olds have done the math."

"I never said I'd spoken to General Olds," the President said.

"No, sir, you didn't; however, he is the most senior proponent of Forward Defense and he is a player in the Washington scene," the general retorted angrily. "I understand you did consult with him during your election campaign, which, since he was a serving officer, pushed a line that most officers don't prefer to push. Have I made my point, Mr. President?"

"Go on," said the President through clenched teeth.

"Yes, sir. Now, all I ask is that you do the math. If the math works out I will be the most vocal supporter of Forward Defense you ever heard. Are you ready, sir?"

"Don't get pedantic, General."

"Certainly not, Mr. President." The High Commander glared at the Commander in Chief for a long moment. "Here's the numbers. There are five divisions. Five. Give them the absolute benefit of the doubt, all the forces are in place. There are four million Posleen. Assume that the majority do not head towards the larger target and turn north; we still can assume that they will split. Can I make that assumption, sir?"

"Yes," answered the President, tightly.

"That is two million Posleen. Fifty-four hundred shooters per division. That includes all the infantry, cav and artillery. Five times fifty-four hundred is twenty-seven thousand. AID, twenty-seven thousand goes into two million how many times?"

"Seventy-four," said the artificial intelligence device supplied to him as a courtesy by the Galactic Federation.

"Every shooter has to kill, not slow, not wound, kill seventy-four Posleen for a forward defense plan to work. That won't happen even with massive artillery support; it's just not in the cards. Those Posleen can pin the divisions with a fraction of their force and go around or they can overrun them and keep going.

"If they choose to simply overrun our divisions, by straight math they will lose a quarter of a million troops. That sounds great until you consider that that is about ten percent of their forces! If, when, our troops get flanked the defense ratio goes out the window and the Posleen gain a two-to-one advantage over our troops, at which point it is all over but the screams."

General Taylor wiped his face for a moment, trying to find an argument, any argument, to stop the insanity he knew was about to occur. "Now if you can tell me how five divisions can stop two million Posleen, I will be happy to give 'cheerful and willing obedience to your orders' that I know are coming. If you can't, all I ask is that you consider the effect that the loss of eighty thousand soldiers will have on the American people's morale," he ended quietly.

"Why eighty thousand?" asked the secretary of defense. "You said there were twenty-seven thousand."

"There are sixteen thousand men and women in a division, Mr. Secretary. Given the road network and movement speeds of the divisions versus Posleen movement speeds, I would estimate that eighty to one hundred percent of the corps would be overrun."

"Don't you think you are underplaying the effect of armor and artillery on the Posleen, General?" asked the President. He actually appeared to be listening to General Taylor and considering his arguments. But after nearly a year's experience with the chief executive, Taylor was fairly sure he was not changing his mind.

"The Posleen three millimeter railguns go through Bradleys the long way and about one in ten carry a three millimeter. One in twenty carry an automatic hypervelocity missile launcher, which will take out an Abrams with a frontal hit. While they are 'unaimed,' what the term actually means is that the weapons don't have sights.

"However, the Posleen seem to be naturals at firing from the hip. And don't forget that those numbers discount the God Kings, whose weapons are automatically targeted and frighteningly accurate. They're accurate enough to act as antiaircraft fire against stealth fighters, for God's sake. There will be some five thousand God Kings in that mass. That's nearly a division of God Kings alone. And a God King is worth about five troops even if they are in the defense."

"I thought they dealt with them through sniper fire," commented the secretary of defense.

"That works in an ambush, sir, or where there is an intense conflict in limited terrain. But the God Kings are not all stupid. Most of them move in random evasion patterns that are hard as hell to hit and that is a lot of targets for snipers, even four or five at a time. The problem with Posleen is always a situation of target overload."

"Artillery," said the President.

"Probably our best bet," the infuriated general admitted, "but artillery is a wounder not a killer. And the Posleen can take more wounding than humans. I want you to consider something, Mr. President. That video we just watched showed a mass of casualties from the battleship rounds, the most effective weapon we have in our arsenal. AID, have you calculated the casualties visible in the films of the battleship action?"


"How many casualties?"

"Eight thousand, plus or minus four percent."

"And that is what percentage of the total Posleen force?"

"Point one six percent or one point six mils."

"Less than one percent, Mr. President, Mr. Secretary, actually, close to one-tenth of a percent."

He looked at the two civilian controllers of the military and saw their recoil of shock. "Don't look so surprised. We have to do that same thing, kill just as many Posleen, nearly one thousand more times. And the North Carolina took a lot of damage even before the lander tore her up. So the question is where are we going to get all the battleships we need!"

"So you're saying that we can't stop them with artillery?" asked the President.

"Sir, every indication is that the Posleen don't retreat or suppress under fire. The only option is to kill them before they overrun you. While artillery reduces their numbers, it can only stop them with masses of firepower that are not realistic in this scenario. What I mean is we don't have that many tubes on hand. The artillery is useful for reducing their numbers. But it does not have the consequential effect that it does with humans. It does not make them stop and hunker down or retreat. They just wade through it, the stupid bastards, and if it kills all but one of them, that stupid bastard is too stupid not to charge the guns anyway.

"Unfortunately, what has generally happened on Barwhon is that artillery fire kills maybe thirty percent of maneuvering Posleen and then the other seventy percent hit the defenses like a tsunami. In this case, that would be, AID?"

"One million, three hundred and seventy two thousand plus or minus six percent assuming recognized ratios for bonding scatter and rear area security."

"How many God Kings?"

"Three thousand four hundred and thirty, plus or minus ten percent."

"Number of Posleen per shooter."

"Fifty-one, plus or minus ten percent."

"This is not like fighting humans, sir," the High Commander concluded. "We need time to create fixed defenses and mass huge amounts of troops. If those troops are forced out of position and have to run, the other problems of training and maintenance come to the fore. If we had the time, the training and the room, I would send out some fast units with fast logistics support and mobile artillery to slow them up. I don't enjoy sitting on my hands. But, as it is, our best bet is to rig the Occoquan, mine the roads and retreat like hell until we have the Potomac between them and us.

"Once we have the whole First Army on the north bank of the Potomac and the Eleventh ACS in place and once we have masses of engineering support with convoys of concertina and cement trucks, we can start moving into northern Virginia again.

"Then we'll use firetraps to reduce their numbers until it is survivable to send in regular forces. We'll put the ACS out front and when they run into really heavy forces they'll backpedal onto fortifications that we'll make as we go.

"That is the plan, sir, and it's a good one. The only sticking point is that we have to lose Arlington Cemetery, but we will by God get it back!" the High Commander ended passionately.

"You're not retreating in Richmond?" asked the secretary of state.

"No, sir, that is a somewhat different scenario," the commander pointed out. His AID helpfully brought up the appropriate map on the wall-sized view-screen. "Very different in fact. Richmond is easier to evacuate across the James; they have fewer people to move and damn near the same roads infrastructure as south D.C. and Arlington. The point that General Keeton is defending has good terrain features and clear lines of retreat. Richmond itself has more in the way of terrain features than Arlington and there are some structures that Richmond has that improve the defense plan. For that matter, the firebase they are building is the nucleus of an outer fort like we intend for Fortress Forward and will hold almost the whole corps artillery and divisional artillery batteries.

"From Libby Hill they can pound the Posleen with relative impunity; the Posleen aren't going to make it up those hills in the face of massed fire. Although Arlington Cemetery offers some of the same benefits it is not as steep a slope and it would take too long to make it that way. Also, the really critical installations are in the areas the Posleen would hold." Taylor shook his head at the thought of trying to hold Arlington.

"I reviewed General Keeton's plan when CONARC announced his support and found it tactically and operationally sound. General Keeton has clearly stated that this is intended to slow the Posleen and he expects to lose Richmond eventually. Really all it is intended to do is give them a serious bloody nose. That being said, using his corps in that manner will have a far greater impact on the Posleen than meeting them in hasty positions in open field combat. The Richmond plan calls for employing fortifications that will stop them physically, leaving the soldiers with nothing to do but kill Posleen. The defenses also create an open and fixed target for massed artillery." He pointed to the appropriate positions on the view-screen, the icon of battalion after battalion lighting as the AID followed the Twelfth Corps forces. "This will have the Posleen in a trap of interlocking fire.

"If they complete all the defenses before the Posleen arrive I suspect that they will take care of the southern force for us. Schockoe Bottom will be the graveyard of the Posleen."

"And there is no way to replicate that in Washington?" asked the secretary of defense.

"Not easily, sir, and not with the same surety. As I said, the only really decent terrain feature in the critical area is Arlington Hill and it has a relatively light slope. Slope is a big factor with the Posleen. Replicating the complete defense is just not on, none of the other features, such as the floodwall, interstate embankment cuts or the valley channels, are replicated."

The President nodded his head when it was clear that General Taylor was done. "General, that is a very well-reasoned presentation."

"And it didn't change your mind one bit, did it, sir?"

"It made me fully aware of the risks, which I admit certain individuals had glossed over. Let me ask you something, since it's unvarnished-truth time. What is your opinion of Generals Simosin and Olds from the point of view of carrying out a Forward Defense of northern Virginia?"

General Taylor looked that one over carefully before he responded. "General Simosin is probably one of the best defensive generals in the business for heavy troops such as Tenth Corps. If we tell him, 'center your defense south of the Potomac' I think he will do as good a job as anyone on earth could. I don't think he's going to come back with much in the way of the corps and I would request that such an order be a written Direction of the President. I don't want to lose him to political splatter when he crawls back with fewer troops than are necessary to bury his dead."

The President took that like a man. "What about losing you to political splatter?"

"If it's a Direction of the President, there's not going to be much splattering on me, especially when you include phrases like, 'against the advice of my most senior military advisors,' " said Taylor with a thin but determined smile. "And frankly I could give a damn. I'm worried about the poor sacrificed bastards in Tenth Corps, not political fallout."

The President's face hardened at the implied insult. "And what about General Olds?"

"Well, if he joggles Arkady's elbow too much I'll send Warrant Kidd up to New York with a direct order to terminate him with prejudice. I am dead serious, Mr. President, pun intended."

The President leaned back in his chair and considered his senior commander with his hand on his chin, forefinger lightly tapping his cheek. "You're really against the Forward Defense, aren't you."

"I think it's a Goddamned nightmare, sir."

The President nodded his head. "Yes, it is, and I appreciate your candor, believe it or not. You maybe got too strong, but that is the vice of your military virtues, General, and I respect those virtues. Now, let me tell you about political fallout, 'splatter' as you call it." The short politician knew better than to try to overawe the general with physical presence. He simply leaned back in his chair, steepled his fingers and fixed the officer with a blue, basilisk stare.

"Political fallout occurs when an administration tells the American public that it is going to throw away the most historic cities in our country for military expediency. Political fallout occurs when the politicians ignore the desires of their constituents for whatever reason seems appropriate at the time. Political fallout occurs when politicians get so wrapped up in listening to their own thoughts, ambiguous polls and advisors that they forget to listen to history. And I intend to do none of those things."

Edwards leaned forward suddenly and tapped the black top of the table. The situation room was absolutely still as he dictated the future of the nation in a few words. "The people in those divisions are American citizens, citizen soldiers. And their families and loved ones are American citizens. And those people sent me a clear and certain mandate to defend the United States with my last breath. And, General, we are going to start right here."

"Yes, sir," answered the general gravely.

"Not because of any political expediency, but because the citizens of the United States want us to defend those cities and towns. And if we do not perform the will of the people, we have failed in our mandate."

"Yes, sir."

"Are you going to carry out these directives to the best of your ability?"

"Yes, Mr. President," answered the High Commander, back straight. "I have always carried out my orders, even when I had clear and strong objections. It is my duty."

"Very well, here is my direction. The United States Ground Forces will defend against Posleen incursions further into northern Virginia. Such defense will take place south of the Potomac, certainly, and all available forces will initially defend in and around the area of Quantico Marine Base. Most of the corps is stationed there so they won't have far to go.

"I will put that in writing and I will address the nation and both read the written directive and present both views as evenly as possible, giving full credence to both views. But in the end, it is my responsibility to call the hard shots. Are you clear on this directive?"

"Yes, sir. What is the primary intent? Beyond the defense of northern Virginia. What is the main target for defense?"

"Don't lose an inch of ground is the idea. The last place to lose is Arlington, but defense is to be as forward as possible given constraints of movement and time. Initial defense by the majority of Tenth Corps will be south of the Occoquan. You are clear on that?"

"Yes, sir, in and around Quantico."

"Very well, General. Winston Churchill once said 'war is too important an endeavor to leave to generals.' I don't completely agree but I do agree that there is a reason for civilian control of the military and it is for reasons like this, not to prevent coups. Good luck, and may God be with us all, especially those poor souls in Fredericksburg."

As the general left the Situation Room, the President glanced at the secretary of defense, who was still fuming. "General Taylor doesn't think much of Forward Defense, does he?"

"No, Mister President, he doesn't," agreed the secretary, with gritted teeth. "I can't believe you let him say those things to you."

Edwards nodded his head. "He's become quite popular. There has been a noticeable turnaround among the forces under his direction."

"So," said the secretary, "what you're saying is we have to put up with his bullshit?"

The President leaned back and gripped the arms of his chair firmly. "What I'm saying is, your friend Olds had better know what he's talking about."

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