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History Lessons

by ghandi Sat Feb 25th, 2006 at 10:20:09 AM EST

from the diaries. -- Jérôme

Crossposted at Empire Burlesque

BERLIN, May 12, 2153 – Within the ivy-covered walls of Farben University, a great battle is now raging. But although the Reich's ancient capital has seen its share of warfare down through the centuries, today's combatants have no swords, no guns, no bio-disrupters – just words and pictures, marshalled on either side of a fierce debate that has split the staid academic world in two, and is beginning to spill over into national politics as well. It all revolves around a simple question: Was the German Empire a good thing or a bad thing?

At one time, the answer would have seemed clear. In the three decades since the last "Reich Protectorate" gained its independence (Ukraine, 2122), the liberal consensus among German historians has been that the Empire founded more than 200 years ago by Adolf Hitler was largely a malign development: "a system, born in aggression and atrocity, that inflicted terrible suffering on the conquered lands for generations, and warped German society itself with its arrogance, brutality and corruption," as Germany's leading historian, Yuri Vinogradov, put it in his landmark 2128 work, Reich and Reality. That book set the tone for a flood of hard-hitting probes into Reich history that left almost no nationalist myth intact.

But in recent years, a group of conservative historians – dubbed the "Revisionists" – have sternly challenged this view. Led by the young Danzig firebrand, Gregor Metzger, the Revisionists argue that the achievements of the Empire – and the "Leader-State system" that was replaced by parliamentary democracy in 2120 – have been denigrated by, in Metzger's words, "liberal apologists picking at old scabs."

"Everyone knows there were blots on the Empire's record," Metzger says. "No one today would countenance, say, the early Reich's treatment of the Jews or the excesses in putting down the Muslim Rebellions in the Caucasus, etc. But neither should we look back and impose our modern values on the people of those times. Rather, we should try to understand them in their own context – and appreciate their many accomplishments."

These accomplishments, say the Revisionists, include: the eradication of Communism in Europe; the establishment of a continent-wide free market for goods, labor and capital; the creation of a common legal system and government institutions now used by most of the old colonies; and the planting of large settler communities throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia that have evolved into thriving cities and "carried the values of Western Civilization deep into benighted and lawless lands," as Metzger writes in his best-selling new book, The End of Shame: German Power in Perspective.

The Revisionists' work has been taken up by conservative politicians seeking to roll back many of the democratic reforms and cultural freedoms instituted by what they scornfully call "the new Weimar Republic." Citing Metzger and others, they are advancing a "national greatness agenda" to foster pride in the Homeland, restore "traditional moral values" to society, and reassert German dominance in world affairs. The centrist government, put on the defensive by these attacks, has increasingly adopted more nationalist rhetoric, and last month cancelled a long-planned exhibition at the National Museum on "Hitler's Tainted Legacy," calling it "too biased."

Much of the academic debate turns on interpretations of the Speer Era (1947-81). After Hitler's death from cancer in 1947, Armaments Minister Albert Speer took power with the backing of intelligence chief Wilhelm Canaris in a brief but bloody coup against the Nazi old guard. He then negotiated an armistice signed an armistice, and the battle lines of the deadlocked armies became the boundaries of the new world order, leaving Germany in control of Europe from the Pyrenees to the Urals.

To the Revisionists, Speer and Canaris are heroes – pragmatic moderates who curbed the Regime's ugliest aspects while preserving its vast territorial gains and consolidating its power. "Although Leader Hitler's dream of a civilizing German empire in the East was somewhat skewed by his unfortunate adherence to the American pseudo-science of eugenics, it was still a noble vision," Metzger says. "Leader Speer purged this vision of its dross and made it the foundation of our modern world."

For the liberals, that is precisely the problem. "After the coup, Speer could have restored democracy," says Vinogradov. "He could have withdrawn from the conquered lands. He could have made reparations to Hitler's victims and confronted the nation's guilt. Instead he chose to assume Hitler's mantle, the semi-divine aura of the 'Leader,' exalting power above the law. Centuries of crime and tyranny flowed from that fatal choice. Yes, he closed the death-camps – but prosecuted no one for these atrocities. He accelerated the land-theft of the settlements, and drafted millions into forced labor to make up for the loss of native Germans to the colonies. Why pretend this was somehow noble or glorious? We should simply tell the truth about it."

Vinogradov is himself a product of the forced labor policy. When the Soviet state collapsed after Stalin's retreat to the Urals, European Russia was savagely reduced, and its territory parceled out to other Reich protectorates. Asian Russia degenerated into decades of anarchy and warlordism, and is now under the dominion of the Falun Gong regime in China. Moscow was razed to the ground in 1944 and never rebuilt; its carefully preserved ruins are still a popular attraction for German tourists. Vinogradov's ancestors, native Muscovites, were shipped to Germany to work in the fields.

The Revisionists say the "scab-picking" over the past is irrelevant in the modern world. "What's done is done," says Metzger. "The Romans have already conquered Carthage. Britain has already built its imperial wealth on slavery and colonial rule. The Americans have already slaughtered the Indians and chained the slaves. We can't unring the bell. Nor should we want to. What matters are the long-term benefits to civilization we have accrued from those who came before us, whatever their mistakes or misdeeds might have been. Which of these benefits would you give up to rectify some ancient historical wrong?"

Metzger, tipped by many as the likely replacement for Vinogradov when he retires as head of the Farben history faculty next year, can't resist a slight personal dig at his venerable rival.

"One wonders if Herr Professor Vinogradov would enjoy the same kind of prosperity – and freedom to criticize – he possesses today if the Communist evil had not been destroyed, at great sacrifice, by German power," Metzger says. "While one sincerely regrets the injuries to the professor's forbears, I think that, on balance, we can say that the liberation of the East from Stalinist tyranny was a boon for all humanity."

Vinogradov shrugs off these "shallow" arguments. "The point of historical research is not to dispossess the present, but to disillusion it: to strip away self-serving myth and fatal ignorance, in order to see more clearly how we got here, and what it really cost, and how these costs shape – and distort – our responses to reality. Otherwise, we are blind – easy prey for the abusers of power and their murderous deceptions." .

Crossposted at Empire Burlesque

This is an expanded version of the column that appeared in the Feb. 22 edition of The Moscow Times.

Great alt-history-what-if stuff, thanks.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Feb 24th, 2006 at 05:18:26 AM EST
At first I thought you were just going to give a historic recap on events that could come turn to pass, but I was pleasantly plot-twisted at finding out you created an alternative history as well.

What's that famous book about Hitler winning the Second World War, set somewhere in the nineties?

Great stuff.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Fri Feb 24th, 2006 at 07:11:16 AM EST
Well, there's Robert Harris' "Fatherland". And of course there is Philip K. Dick's "The Man in the High Castle", and a multitude of others I should think.

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.
by Alexander G Rubio (alexander.rubio@gmail.com) on Fri Feb 24th, 2006 at 07:34:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Would be nice to meet-up Friday evening in Amsterdam if it's possible ... please drop a comment.

My diary @BooMan ::  
AP Visit to A'dam plus Poetry Reading ¶ Dutch Meetup (NL)

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by Oui (Oui) on Fri Feb 24th, 2006 at 08:22:39 AM EST

Change Germany for Spain, Empire for Franco era...and the new republic of W. for democracy and you have the history of the present spanish revisionists....there are not that many ... yet.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Feb 24th, 2006 at 09:26:27 AM EST
Nice story.  I especially liked your last paragraph.
Vinogradov shrugs off these "shallow" arguments. "The point of historical research is not to dispossess the present, but to disillusion it: to strip away self-serving myth and fatal ignorance, in order to see more clearly how we got here, and what it really cost, and how these costs shape - and distort - our responses to reality. Otherwise, we are blind - easy prey for the abusers of power and their murderous deceptions." .

by Keone Michaels on Fri Feb 24th, 2006 at 12:57:14 PM EST
Nice. However, I'd say that Germany was pretty much doomed to lose the war as of the end of 1941 (in hindsight of course, defeat only became obvious to people at the time with Stalingrad). Once it had to face getting bled white for an extended period of time in the East and the overwhelming economic superiority of the US, defeat was just a matter of time.
by MarekNYC on Fri Feb 24th, 2006 at 02:13:39 PM EST
Have you ever played the board game "Axis and Allies"? Me and my friends spent far too many nights drinking and playing that during our school years.

It actually realistically drives the point home after a while, that if you play the Axis powers, you have to go for the jugular. If you try to play defensively, the Allies will simply out-manufacture you. The longer a game dragged on (and we had games that lasted almost 24 hours), the greater the probability the Allies would prevail in the end.

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Alexander G Rubio (alexander.rubio@gmail.com) on Fri Feb 24th, 2006 at 03:21:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I had the Pacific version of that game.  The Empire of Japan has it even tougher...either you win at the beginning, or you will lose, no matter how dumb the American and British players are.
by Rick in TX on Sat Feb 25th, 2006 at 06:01:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But gandhi cleverly avoids the pitfalls of the course of the war by simply stating that Germany won, without indicating where the contrafactual event(s) took place.

Thanks gandhi, it was a good read.

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by A swedish kind of death on Sat Feb 25th, 2006 at 11:26:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't you think that had Hitler not ordered the siege of Stalingrad in 1942, and let his troops advance instead to Baku, Nazi Germany would have had much better chances at standing up in the war economy competition?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Feb 25th, 2006 at 01:34:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That seems to be one of the common places where The Big Mistake by Der Fuhrer seems likely. There were others - like the Battle of Britain, which was only won by a whisker. A few extra days of heavy pressure in the early autumn of 1940 could potentially have led to a British wipe-out. Crafting an invasion after that would have been a different level of problem, but with air support gone it wouldn't have been totally implausible.

There's a recent book about Canaris which suggests that he was more active in a kind of high-level internal resistance than was previously suspected. The ideas are still controversial, but the suggestion is that he fed Hitler false information at various points to influence decision making, having realised that after 1941 there was nothing more to play for.

I like counterfactual history a lot. Although with a date of 2148 I'd guess the reality is more likely to involve people poking pointy sticks at each other, or some form of ultra-technology that hasn't been invented yet. (And since the last few years seem to have taken place in Bizarro Universe already, possibly both.)

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Feb 25th, 2006 at 01:49:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It would have helped but it wouldn't have changed the basic equation - running out of military age able bodied men for the Wehrmacht and inability to come close to matching the US industrial juggernaut. The US on its own was capable of greater output than Germany, including occupied Europe - and both Britain and the USSR were also quite significant producers of military materiel. In terms of manpower Germany (including Austria and the Sudetenland) had roughly 80 million people - men, women, children, elderly. By the end of the war 2.3 million German soldiers had died in action, another half million of non combat causes, 2 million MIA, 1.7 million crippled. That does not include POW's or those out of action at any given moment due to non-crippling injuries.  It is actually pretty stunning to think that a major factor in both WWI and WWII was running out of people due to the massive casualties.
by MarekNYC on Sat Feb 25th, 2006 at 02:22:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
These numbers are interconnected, not independent.

Both German war production and the battlefield machinery itself could have been ran on a higher gear and with more efficiency had there been more fuel awailable, and the latter would also have meant less deaths for the own soldiers - and more damage to the (bombed) British and Soviet production sites. What's more, the blunder of besieging Stalingrad alone cost a fourth of the German WWII losses - going for Baku wouldn't have had that high a toll.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Feb 27th, 2006 at 04:48:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I wait for the next chapter...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Sat Feb 25th, 2006 at 12:24:32 PM EST
An interesting plot turn :D I was just into creating several slides about the previous German chancellors and noticed your blog diary :) Good job!

Be careful! Is it classified?
by darin (dkaloyanov[at]gmail.com) on Sat Feb 25th, 2006 at 01:28:58 PM EST
How about a more difficult, but perhaps just as interesting, project: the world after a victory by the Soviets/Chinese in the Cold War, in the early days of the fifties?  I highly doubt a global communist society would last that long, and would leave nearly as deletrious an effect (if not more so) than the Nazi victory you describe.
by Rick in TX on Sat Feb 25th, 2006 at 06:06:59 PM EST
Red America would be a formidable challenger to Stalin and his heirs in the last half of the 20th century. Consider how relatively weak countries, like Yugoslavia and Albania, were able to break away from Moscow's dominance and mount an ideological challenge and the history of the relationship between the Soviet Union and China.

I have often thought that the very last thing the Soviet Politburo would have wanted was a Communist America, particularly one which had been created by local Communists not at the point of Soviet bayonets. It would have been very well placed to replace the Soviets as the dominant influence in global communism.

Perhaps Moscow would have had to take up capitalism to compete.  

by Gary J on Sat Feb 25th, 2006 at 08:38:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Gus Hall Memorial Lecture, Harvard Peoples University, 4th July 2006

Welcoming remarks by the Governor of the Massachusetts American Socialist Republic.

Comrades, today we welcome our Dear Leader, the beacon of hope to the struggling masses, Comrade President and First Secretary of the Communist Party of the United Socialist States of America George Bush. (20 minutes of stormy applause and chants of USSA follows before Comrade Governor Romney can continue his remarks).

We are now embarking on the celebration of the 50th anniversary of our liberation from the yoke of the capitalist oppressors. Yes it is 50 years to the day when the tyrant John Nance Garner surrendered Marxton (what was then called Washington after the vicious slave master and land hungry imperialist who founded a country fit only for racist capitalists). Victory to the Peoples Liberation Army. The foundation of our current prosperity.

Some people were deluded that capitalism could be saved from its own contradictions. When President elect Franklin Roosevelt, another puppet of the economic Royalists, was assassinated they had a replacement to hand. John Nance Garner, a product of the segregated South, who imposed cruel public expenditure cuts to honour the gods of sound finance and orthodox capitalist economics. A man who had no wish to indulge in even the ineffective gestures of Herbert Hoover.

No wonder the starving masses rose in revolt and under the leadership of the party embarked on the long war for a Socialist America. However much Garner struggled - imposing martial law and abandoning the tradition of rigged elections between two capitalist tools which they used to call democracy, he was unable to defeat the people in arms.

But I have spoken too long, our great leader can explain the vision of the new America far better than I could. Comrades I give you George Bush, the friend of the proletariat and scourge of the bloated plutocrats in Moscow.

by Gary J on Sat Feb 25th, 2006 at 09:17:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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