The armies of Islam are in retreat.
The Morocco Offensive, patiently prepared in the year-long retreat to the Atlas mountains, carefully supplied with guns and ammunition sorely needed against the Russians, ruthlessly kept secret until almost the hour of the preliminary bombardment – the offensive that was to break the armies of the infidel and sweep from Gibraltar to the sources of the Nile, winning the Great War on the way – has failed. The Sahel cannot be conquered thus; its vastness dwarfs all human ambition, deadens fanaticism, swallows enthusiasm, destroys elan. The Sultan’s soldades drove their enemies back and back, from Casablanca to the Gold Coast – but no further; and in spite of the thousands and tens of thousands that left their bones in the desert, they failed to break the armies of Norway, of England, or of Russia. They made western Africa a charnel house; but they did not end the war. And when their hoarded ammunition was gone and the bravest of the faithful had paid the price of the aggressive courage that leads from the front – then their enemies were still there, battered as regiments but intact as armies, ready to fight with dogged determination and hard-learned skill a third time over the same ground they had taken the year before. The Spanish regiments that reached the Atlas again were as badly shattered as those that fought in the Winter of the Faith; this time, even the mountain redoubts did not hold. Only Iberia remains, now – the final stronghold of Islam against the infidel. And though Spain is not without friends, and though the peasant soldiers of the peninsula have carried the Crescent Banner through disaster and defeat many times, still, of the Muses only Calliope is impressed by the plight of a beleaguered garrison. Her sister Clio is a heartless bitch, and favours only the big battalions; and, in this year of grace 1936, all the armies of Europe are, at last, ranged against Islam. Not even the European Jihad saw that happen; and united Christendom is in no mood to show mercy to its ancient foe. This time there will be no peace, not even a bear’s peace, negotiated from the mountain fortress of the Alps. This time the long retreat of the Sultan’s armies will end when the Spanish state can fight no more.
But if the ancient strife of Christian and Moslem is – perhaps! – about to reach its end, still, history is not over. Behind Spain loom the shadows of its puppet-masters, the nations for whom three million European dead are only a good beginning: Wealthy India, enigmatic China, blood-stained Inca of the thousand sacrifices. What will the real victors of the War, the ones whose industries have grown fat on delivering guns to both sides of the front, do when the war is over? The unity of Europe is a fragile thing, papered over ancient quarrels. It cannot outlast the war; and when it ends, will not the wolves of Asia pick a weakened victim and fall upon it openly? The subterfuge by which Spain and Greece were ground to dust will no longer be required against a Europe that has bled itself white.
Ah, but perhaps these are only night fears, to be dispelled by the coming of peace. Perhaps the beginning of the War was what it looked like, nations stumbling into conflict because they were led by mediocrities (*) when statesmen were needed; perhaps the appearance of a deep-laid plan to finally destroy the nations that once threatened to conquer all of Asia is only that – an appearance, a shadow. Perhaps, when the last gun falls silent in the shattered streets of Granada, there will be peace in our time. Perhaps humans can finally learn the hard lessons of machine gun and trench, and send no more young men to their deaths in the blood-stained mud.
And perhaps the horse will learn to sing.
(*) With myself as the chief mediocrity. I did not in fact intend to kick off a Great War when I accepted Russia’s call to arms; nor did I intend to lose 100 prestige when I neglected to support Russia in the crisis. Both things happened because I was paying attention to industry, not diplomacy.