Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Unsettling Reflections Off An Iron Heart

(Warning: this post is chockful of spoilers for Harry Turtledove's novel The Man With The Iron Heart.)

For several years now I've been a fan of Harry Turtledove's alt-history books; not only do I find the stories entertaining, but they often inspire thoughtful reflection of my own views, how much they reflect my character versus merely reflecting the time and culture in which I live -- mental contamination by the zeitgeist, if you want to be pretentious about it. Back in 2006 I shared some ponderings inspired by Turtledove's Guns of the South; today it's The Man With The Iron Heart giving me food for thought and possible mental indigestion.

I read the book once when it first came out and I borrowed a library copy; I bought my own copy on vacation last week, and now I'm roughly halfway through my second reading. The point of divergence is, in our World War Two reality Czech partisans assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, their brutal Nazi/SS military governor; in Turtledove's version the attempt failed. So Heydrich was alive to see the German defeat at Stalingrad, realized Germany would lose the war, and started stockpiling men and weapons for a future partisan fight against the Allied occupation army.

Heydrich's "Werewolf" forces included many suicide bombers who gladly sacrificed their lives to bring down important targets. Basically, Turtledove took the real story of the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, gave the anti-occupation terrorists/partisans/fighters infinitely better resources plus almost two years' time for advance planning, and transposed it into the Allied occupation of postwar Germany. (Putting real history into other contexts is a common trick of Turtledove's; if you read his Confederate victory series, you can accurately predict many major plot developments if you're familiar with the real history of Germany's rise and militarization in World War Two and the decades before it.)

The book has a bad ending; American troops ultimately pull out of Germany and pretty much give up on Western Europe altogether, and at book's end the Nazis are rising again in Germany and Stalin's Red Army no longer content to stay behind their Iron Curtain confines of our history, and it's pretty likely World War Three (this time, with nukes!) will break out in a generation or less ... and the reason America gave up on Europe is because back home, opposition to the continued occupation grew too great.

Of course I, living in a world where both the Nazis and the Communists ultimately vanished from Europe, read the story thinking "No, fools! Stay the course! Don't pull out of the region" ... the exact opposite of my view on Iraq/Afghanistan.

If I were actually a character in the story, a 1940s-era version of my real self remaining stateside the whole time, which side would I take? Would I have attended the "US OUT OF GERMANY" and "BRING OUR TROOPS BACK HOME" rallies, or supported the continued anti-Nazi, anti-Communist "STAY THE COURSE" side?

I'm guessing/hoping I would prefer "Stay the course" on the grounds that I would have empathized more with the suffering concentration-camp and gulag victims than with the suffering US occupation soldiers, plus the more practical and obvious difference "The Nazis and Communists were actual proven threats invading and occupying multiple countries in addition to their own, and could easily conquer entire continents," which is not the case for the band of terrorist criminals in whose name Americans lose civil liberties and soldiers' lives in ever-increasing numbers today.

EDIT: Fixed an enormous typo which I blame not on myself, but on the freakin' earthquake which inspired me to hit "send" a bit sooner than I otherwise would have. Ahem. (Embarrassed throat-clearing.)

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