By William LindSource.
Every year I place a telephone call to my reporting senior, Kaiser Wilhelm II, to offer my best wishes on his birthday, January 27. He usually has a surprise waiting.
Last year he had just returned from a bombing raid on London in our finest Zeppelin, L-70. (In heaven, bombers drop sausages.) This year der Reisekaiser had made a voyage to America. I was bold to enquire, “How did Your Majesty make it through the British blockade?”
“In the Royal Swedish ship Venus, one of Mr. Chapman’s superb 40-gun frigates,” the Kaiser replied. “You may remember I am an admiral in the Swedish navy.”
“So you copied Count von Luckner in Seeadler and ran a blockade of armored cruisers in a sailing ship?”
“Luckner had a tricker wicket,” His Majesty said. “In Heaven, only like can fight like. We sailed right through the battle line of the Grand Fleet and all my English cousins could do was offer a 21-gun salute. One 18th-century British warship did sight us—I think it was H.M.S. Surprise—but Chapman’s frigates can do 14 knots and no limey tub can come close to that. Besides, while the English are happy to catch a Frenchman, a Swede is another matter. We would have given him a thorough drubbing.”
“May I ask why Your Majesty visited the United States?”
“To see your president,” the Kaiser answered.
“President Woodrow Wilson?”
“President William Howard Taft. That humbug Wilson is not to be found in heaven. Try the other place. Circle VI, among the intellectually obdurate.”
“Very fitting. Might I ask as to Your Majesty’s business with President Taft?”
“First, to invite America to join the Central Powers,” the Kaiser replied.
“That would indeed have been an alliance made in heaven,” I said.
“Second, to discuss a danger to your country your politicians seem unable to perceive: American exceptionalism.”
“Does Your Majesty refer to the idea that America is not subject to the laws of history?”
“Indeed. American exceptionalism follows Spanish exceptionalism—I was just talking about that with Philip IV over lunch—French exceptionalism, Austrian exceptionalism, Russian exceptionalism, and so on. It seems every Great Power, when it has passed its peak, convinces itself it can be as imprudent as it pleases and pay no price.”
“Your Majesty is speaking to my time. Republicans in Congress, who call themselves conservatives, now proclaim ‘American exceptionalism’ as their core belief.”
“What fools,” the Kaiser said. “Conservatives are supposed to learn from history. It teaches that no nation is an exception to its laws. If you overreach, you fall. My Germany overreached, grasping for Weltmacht, and I died in exile in Holland. Now your country has overreached, in Iraq and Afghanistan and in a broader push for world dominion. Speaking of your current wars, I thought you might like to speak with Max Hoffman.”
“The best operational brain in the German Army in World War I? You bet I would!”, I said.
“Well, it’s not exactly Zeppelin science,” replied General Hoffman. “If you flood an area with troops, you can win some tactical successes. But you don’t have enough troops to do that in many places. And, as is typical of Fourth Generation wars, you cannot opertionalize those tactical victories. Worse, you are sacrificing a high goal to a lower, destabilizing Pakistan in your quest for an elusive Afghan victory. If Iraq has not taught you the fallacy of American exceptionalism, Afghanistan surely will. Like every other invader, you will be only too happy to get out.”
“And your assessment of General Petraeus?”, I asked.
Heaven, it seems, has not dulled Max’s edge.
I had hoped to ask more of His Majesty, but central pulled the plug. Regarding “American exceptionalism,” the man I really wanted to speak with was Bismarck. But then I realized he had already answered me: “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”