The invaders are comingthe Posleen, a seemingly unstoppable horde who have conquered one star system after another, literally feeding on their conquests. Earth's dubious allies, the Darhel, have given the humans a number of highly-advanced technological devices, including a process for rejuvenating the aged, including trained and proven soldiers who otherwise would be too old to fight. Rejuvenation may give a critical edge, since to survive, the Earth must use every resource at hand. Every resource . . .
In the dark days after the initial Posleen attack, but before the primary invasion, the Chancellor of Germany faces a critical decision. Over the years, with military cutbacks, the store of experienced German military personnel had simply dwindled. After the destruction of Northern Virginia, he realized that it was necessary to tap the one group he had sworn never, ever, to recall: the few remaining survivors of the Waffen SS. Has he made a devil's bargain, or is this a chance for the reviled SS at last to fight the good fight? And, perhaps, gain redemption. . . ?
Watch On the Rhine, a new chapter in the New York Times best-selling Posleen War saga, is perhaps the most unbiased, and brutal, look at the inner workings of the Waffen SS in history. Meticulously researched, it explores all that was good, and evil, about the most infamous military force in history using the backdrop of the Posleen invasion as a canvas.
About the Author
John Ringo is author of the New York Times best-selling Posleen War series which so far includes A Hymn Before Battle, Gust Front, When the Devil Dances, and Hell's Faire, as well as the connected novels Cally's War (with Julie Cochrane), The Hero (with Michael Z. Williamson), and Watch on the Rhine (with Tom Kratman), and is the hottest new science fiction writer since David Weber. A veteran of the 82nd Airborne, Ringo brings first-hand knowledge of military operations to his novels of high-tech future war.
Tom Kratman, in 1974 at age seventeen, became a political refugee and defector from the PRM (People's Republic of Massachusetts) by virtue of joining the Regular Army. He stayed a Regular Army infantryman most of his adult life, returning to Massachusetts as an unofficial dissident while attending Boston College after his first hitch. Tom is currently an attorney practicing in southwest Virginia. Baen published his first novel, A State of Disobedience and will soon publish his second collaboration with John Ringo, Yellow Eyes.
Read an Excerpt
Watch On The Rhine
By John Ringo Tom Kratman
Baen BooksCopyright © 2005 John Ringo & Tom Kratman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFredericksburg, VA, 11 November 2004
Snow flecked the cheeks and eyebrows, falling softly to cover a scene of horror with a clean white blanket. White snow fell upon, melded into, the hair of a man gone white himself. He was stooped, that man. Bent over with the care of ages and the weight of his people resting on his old, worn back.
The Bundeskanzler turned his eyes away from the gruesome spectacle even now being covered by snow. Bad enough to have seen a once vibrant and historical city scoured from the face of the earth as if it had never been. Worse to see the roll of casualties ... such crippling casualties ... from the army of a state in every way more powerful than his own. The Kanzler trembled with fear for his country, his culture and his people.
Yet, as badly and as plainly as he trembled, the nausea of his disgust was in every way worse.
Fearing to look at his aide, the Kanzler whispered, "It's the bones, Günter. It's the little piles of gnawed bones."
Günter, the aide-though he was really rather more than that, heard the whisper and grimaced. "I know, mein Herr. It's disgusting. We ... we have done terrible things in the past. Horrible, awful, damnable things. But this? This goes beyond anything..."
"Do not fool yourself," corrected the Kanzler. "We have been worse, Günter, far worse. We were worse because what we did, we did to our own. Cities burned away. Lampshades. Soap. Dental gold. Einsatzgruppen. Gas chambers and ovens. A whole gamut of horror visited upon the innocent by our ancestors ... and ourselves."
"And Dresden?" answered Günter, with a raised eyebrow and a sardonic air. "Hamburg? Damstadt?"
"I didn't say, my young friend, that we were alone in our guilt."
The Kanzler blinked away several snowflakes that had lodged themselves in his gray eyelashes. "And ... after all, what is guilt of the past?" he sighed. "Do our own young people now need to be destroyed because of what their grandfathers did? Is it right for our children to be eaten, to be turned into little piles of bare, gnawed bones? How far does the sin of Adam and Eve go, Günter?"
Straightening that old and worn and overburdened back, the Kanzler announced, "In any case, it doesn't matter. Whatever we have done, nothing deserves this ... this abattoir. And whatever we can do to prevent it ... that shall I do."
Günter, the aide, scratched his chin, absently. "But what we can do, we have done. Production of everything we need for defense or evacuation is proceeding apace. The old soldiers of the Wehrmacht have been remobilized, what there were of them, and are being rejuvenated. The conscription is in legal force, and exempts only those who conscience cannot abide military service. We are doing all we can."
"No, my young friend," answered the Kanzler, slowly and deliberately. "There is one resource yet we have not touched. One that I would never have touched, myself, before seeing this nightmare with my own eyes."
One resource? One resource. What could the Kanzler mean? Suddenly Günter's eyes widened with understanding. "Mein Herr, you can't mean them."
Tightening his overcoat about him in the cold, reaching up a hand to brush away yet more of the steadily falling snow, the Kanzler looked skyward as if asking for guidance. Not receiving any, still with eyes turned heavenward, he answered, definitively, "Them."
The chancellor thought, but did not say, And anything else I must bring back to prevent this from happening to our cities, our people.
Paris, France, 13 November 2004
The crowd was immense; its intensity, palpable. One among half a million protest marchers, Isabelle De Gaullejac felt as she had not since her happy and carefree days as a Socialist Youth.
Though past forty, Isabelle was yet a fine looking specimen of womanhood. Typically French, she had retained her slender shape. Her shoulder-length brown hair was untouched by gray. And if her face had a few more wrinkles than it had had as a young college student, the sidelong glances of men old and young told her she had not lost her appeal.
Then it had been the Americans she had protested; them, and the war they had inherited from France. Now it was France she protested against, France and the war it had seemingly inherited from the Americans.
She was sure, certain, that it was all the Americans' fault. Had the aliens, these Posleen, attacked Earth first? No. Foolishly, at American behest, the French Army had gone to the stars, looking for trouble and becoming involved in a fruitless war, against a previously unknown alien civilization.
And for what? To save a crumbling federation of galactics?
France's business was here, on Earth, looking after French people.
And now they were talking about increased taxes? To help the common people here? Again, no. It was to grease the wheels of the war machine that the money was needed. Isabelle shuddered with revulsion.
More revolting than higher taxes for lesser purposes, the talk was that universal conscription was about to be expanded. She looked at her two young sons, one held with each hand, and vowed she would never permit them to be dragged from her home to be turned into cannon fodder in a stupid and needless war.
Isabelle's voice joined that of the thronging masses. "Peace, now ... peace, now ... PEACE, NOW!"
* * *
Berlin, Germany, 14 November 2004
Word had spread; Günter had ensured it would spread.
As the chancellor entered the Bundestag, Germany's upper legislative body, he saw a sea of mostly neutral faces, sprinkled with those more hostile or, in a very few cases, even eager. He wasn't sure which group he feared more-the left that was going to raise a cry for his ouster, or the new right that might raise a cry for him to assume a title he loathed, "Führer."
No matter. He could only persevere in his course and hope that the great mass of legislators would see things as he did. To help them see he knew he must show them.
As he took his seat the chancellor made a hand motion. Immediately the lights dimmed. Almost immediately thereafter a movie screen unrolled from the high ceiling.
For the past four days a specially selected team of newsmen and women had been assembling a documentary using mostly American but also some few other sources. It had been America, however, which sensed a need for Germany to continue as an ally, that had been most willing and able to provide the team of German journalists with everything needed to complete their mission.
Nothing had been censored, no holds had been barred. The German legislature was about to be kicked full in their collective teeth with the horror about to descend upon their country.
* * *
Annemarie Mai, Green and Socialist representative from Wiesbaden, had been among those unutterably hostile to the Kanzler's idea. As the film began to roll she was by no means displeased to see Washington, DC, in ruins. American policies, from their cowboyish adventures in imperialism to their wasteful and destructive energy and environmental policies to-most damning-their insistence on an outdated economic system that had the infuriating habit of making her own preferred statist system seem inefficient; all these made Washington a loathsome symbol of all she despised about America.
Like many in the world, however, Annemarie liked Americans, as people, just as much as she hated their country.
And so her reaction to much of the rest of the film was quite different. Little children gone catatonic with fright at having seen their parents butchered and eaten before their eyes made Annemarie weep. More horrid still were the children not gone into oblivion, the ones shown who screamed and cried continuously. These made the legislator quiver with terror.
And then there were the soldiers, with their sick, dirty and weary faces. They were white enough to seem no different from the boys and girls of Germany. The shrieks of the wounded, especially, tore at Annemarie's heart.
And then came the piles of meat-stripped bones, human bones, along with separate piles of neatly split skulls, some of them very small indeed. These sent Annemarie running for the ladies' room, unable even for a moment longer to keep down her gorge.
* * *
"You must think very little of the strength of the democratic spirit in German hearts to be so concerned about the dangers of rejuvenating twenty or twenty-five thousand old men," the chancellor told a group of hecklers, shouting slogans from the gallery.
If his words had any effect on the hecklers it was something less than obvious. Their chants of "No more Nazis. No more Nazis," even seemed to grow a bit in volume and ferocity.
"They were not always old men," answered one of the legislators. "When young, as you propose to make them again, and when armed and organized, as you propose to make them again, they were a menace, fiends, thugs, criminals ... murderers."
"Not all of them," the chancellor insisted. "Perhaps not even most. Some were drafted into the war. Others found no place in the Reichswehr and went, as soldiers will, to whichever military organization they could find that would accept them. And I intend that no one, not even one, who has been convicted, or even reliably accused, of a war crime or a crime against humanity shall be permitted to join."
"They were all guilty of crimes against humanity," the legislator returned. "Every one of them who fought in the unjust war this country waged against an innocent world were guilty."
"Were this true," said the chancellor, mildly, "then equally guilty would be Heinz Guderian, Erich Manstein, Erwin Rommel, or Gerd von Rundstedt. They actually did the higher level planning for that war. The people I propose to bring back were low-level players indeed compared to those famous and admired German soldiers."
"They murdered prisoners!" shrieked another legislator.
"In that war everyone murdered prisoners."
And so it went, seemingly endlessly. Opponents spoke up; the chancellor answered mildly. Proponents spoke up, usually mildly, and opponents shrieked with fury. In the end it came to a vote ... and that vote was very close.
* * *
All eyes turned to the ashen-faced Annemarie Mai as she mounted the speaker's rostrum. The tie was hers to break, one way or the other. With the images of split children's skulls echoing in her brain she announced, "I have conditions."
"Conditions?" asked the chancellor.
"Several," she nodded. "First, these people are the bearers of a disease, a political disease. They must be quarantined to ensure they do not spread their disease."
"To get any use out of them, I have to use them as a cadre for others."
"I understand that," Annemarie answered. "But that group, once filled up to the military body you desire, must be kept as isolated as possible lest the disease spread beyond our ability to control."
"Then we are agreed," the chancellor said.
"Second, they must be watched."
"They will be," the chancellor agreed.
"Third, they must not be allowed to preach their political creed, even in secret."
"The laws against the spread of Nazi propaganda remain in effect and have served us well for decades."
"Fourth, you must use them, burn them up, including, I am sorry to say, the young ones we condemn to their 'care.'"
"That much I can guarantee."
"Then, I vote yes. Raise your formation, Chancellor."
The peace of the assembly immediately erupted into bitter shouts and curses.
* * *
Babenhausen, Germany, 15 November 2004
There is peace in senility, for some. For others, the weakening of the mind with old age brings back harsher memories.
Few or none in the nursing home knew just how old the old man was, though, had anyone cared to check, the information was there in his file. Among some of the staff it was rumored he was past one hundred, yet few or none of them cared enough to check that either. Though he was almost utterly bald, shriveled and shrunken and sometimes demented, none of the staff cared about that. The old man spoke but rarely and even more rarely did he seem to speak with understanding. Sometimes, at night, the watch nurse would hear him cry from his room with words like, "Vorwärts, Manfred ... Hold them, meine Brüdern ..." or "Steisse, die Panzer."
Sometimes, too, the old man would cry a name softly, whisper with regret, hum a few bars of some long-forgotten, perhaps even forbidden, tune.
It was whispered, by those who washed him and those who spoke with the washers, that he had a tattooed number on his torso. They whispered too of the scars, the burns, the puckermarks.
Everyday, rain or shine, bundled up or not as the weather dictated, the staff wheeled the old man out onto the nursing home's porch for a bit of fresh air. This day, the fresh air was cold and heavy, laden with the moisture of falling snow. What dreams or nightmares the cold snow brought, none ever knew-the old man never said.
At the front door to the home, a matron pointed towards the old man. "There he is."
Another man, one of a pair, clad in the leather trench coat that marked him as a member of the Bundesnachrichtendiest-the Federal Information Service, Germany's CIA-answered, "We shall take care of him from here on out. You and your home need trouble yourselves no further."
Unseen, the matron nodded. Alles war in ordnung. All was in order. Already the two men had turned their backs on her and focused their attention fully on the old man. They walked up to him, one crouching before the wheelchair, the other standing at the side.
The croucher, he in the trenchcoat, spoke softly. "Herr Gruppenführer? Gruppenführer Mühlenkampf? I do not know if you can understand me. But if you can, you are coming with us."
Some faint trace of recognition seemed to dawn in the old man's watery, faded blue eyes.
"Aha," said trench coat. "You can understand me, can't you? Understand your name and your old rank anyway. Very good. Can you understand this, old man? Your country is calling for you again. We have need of you, urgent need."
* * *
Berlin, Germany, 17 November 2004
And my, my don't those two seem urgent, mused the patron of the gasthaus nestled in an alley not far from where that patron lived. As was his normal practice, the patron sat in a dim corner, nursing a beer. And when will the Gestapo, under whatever name they chose to go by, realize that those coats mark them for what they are as clearly as my Sigrunen-the twin lightning bolts-used to mark me.
The objects of the patron's attention walked from table to table, from customer to customer. The Wirt, the owner and manager of the establishment, looked discreetly at the elderly man, dimly lit in a corner. Shall I tell them?
The patron shrugged. Machts nichts. "Matters not"' You know what they are as well as I do. If they want me they will find me.
Nodding his understanding the Wirt called to the two. "If you are looking for Herr Brasche, that's him over there in the corner."
The patron, Brasche, watched with interest as the two men approached. When they had reached his table, he raised his beer in salute. "And what can I do for the BND today, gentlemen?"
"Hans Brasche?" one of them asked, flashing an identification.
"That would be me," Hans answered.
"You must come with us."
Brasche smiled. If he was afraid, neither of the men who had accosted him, nor any of the other patrons, would have known it. He had never been a man, or a boy, to show much fear.
* * *
Times were hard and getting worse. The calendar on the wall said 1930. As the boy entered the bare cupboarded kitchen, the expression on the mother's face fairly shrieked "fear."
"Your father wants you, Hansi."
The boy, he could not have been more than ten, suppressed a shudder. This was always bad news. He steeled his soul, raised his ten-year-old head, and walked bravely to where his one-armed father-more importantly, the father's belt-awaited him. He knew he could not cry out, could not show fear; else the beating would be worse, much worse.
Excerpted from Watch On The Rhine by John Ringo Tom Kratman Copyright ©2005 by John Ringo & Tom Kratman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Though the earthlings defeated the Posleen (see A HYMN BEFORE BATTLE), in space, the enemy centaurs attacked the planet (see GUST WIND). In spite of technological aid from the pacifist Galactic Federation and that the prime assault has not begun, earth stands on the brink of disaster with Northern Virginia already in ruins. --- Military cutbacks have left the world with few combat experienced officers so the leadership deliberates whether to recall the only group with the needed battle hardness to defeat the invaders. There is one problem however. Everyone swore to never arm any of these dangerous abusive soldiers let alone allow them to reunite. Failure to bring this violent amoral group back means almost certain defeat at the hands of a foe prepared for pandemic genocide. Bringing them back may still mean defeat, but provides perhaps the only chance to win, but what about the post war clean-up with these raging sociopaths in charge of the military? Will humanity¿s leadership recall what is left of the tabooed Waffen SS in what could prove in the long run jumping from the frying pan into the fire? --- WATCH ON THE RHINE is military science fiction at its thought provoking best. The story line works on three fronts: a deep insider look at Waffen SS that the Nuremberg Trials declared as outlaws, a powerful glimpse at how cultures struggle to adapt to situations outside their collective moral system, and a potent indictment of modern day roving politicians who insist the ends justify the means by using misinformation, disinformation, and omission to make the facts fit one size solution. The characters are two dimensional, but no one will care as John Ringo & Tom Kratman provide a mind boggling exhilarating thriller that the above two paragraphs only scratch the surface of a great tale. --- Harriet Klausner
Couldn't put it down
I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book. I have been reading the other Posleen books, but the thought of having to root for Nazi Germans just seemed wrong on many levels. However, I believe the authors pulled it off. If you are of the liberal persuasion you will not like this book as they are basically treated like traitors to humanity. It did make me curious how many people on the left actually read military SF so maybe this won't bother anyone. Next up, I'm going to give the book about Panama a shot.
PREPARE to have your mind put under the heel of a well-polished JACKBOOT! In this absolutely breathtaking novel (whose premise takes refuge in sheer audacity), the last vestiges of a reviled and hated force are called up from history to defend their Fatherland again. The Waffen SS was one of the most well-trained and vicious fighting forces in history. They were the whispered terror of Europe, once. Now, they are the living nightmare of the Posleen! Ringo and Kratman set up a scenario in which the SS can regain their shattered honor, in the only way good men should: by fighting and dying in a desperate struggle for their home. And there's the kicker; in a drastic change from most fiction, those who are the villains of history become heroes. Because these ARE good men, even for the lightning bolts on their collars; indeed, it is often because of their hated status that they fight harder. Plus, Ringo and Kratman go into almost mind-numbing detail in describing the differences between the fighting units of the SS and those which operated the camps. If the rest of the SS are the Himmlers and Goerings, these men are the Rommels and Stauffenbergs. The only character who could be LEGITIMATELY called a Nazi gets his just desserts in spades. If the characters are one dimensional, then that single dimension is as nuanced as any classical masterpiece. In the end, it is these men who save their people. With no attitude other than "I did my duty, for God and Country." And that is all that matters.
The events in this book take place during Gust Front, and while that one takes place in the United States, this one is in Europe. Ringo mixes sci-fi military with world war 2 nazis, who are regenerated to youth to battle the posleen. This is as good as the first 4 books of this series and but more vicious and audacious, and more of the posleen point of view.
Seeing this novel rated as a 4 1/2 star has prompted me to review it. I loved this series of books until this one. This is the worst book of the first 7 and I hesitate to read anything else written by Tom Kratman. His writing was subpar at best and the premise of the novel was poor too. I would only recommend this book to those who are hard core fans that feel the need to complete the series. It's a pity that Ringo sold out and went the way of collaborations. Too many authors are doing this these days even some of the most respected authors like Tom Clancy. I guess it's all about the money to someone, either the publisher or the author. I find it distasteful that these books are marketed as being by a certain author when it is obvious upon reading that the style is nothing like what has come before. I have begun to avoid all collaborations now, which is a pity, because sometimes there are some that work very well such as the one between David Weber and John Ringo in the Empire of Man series.