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September 29

By 1916, Yuan Shikai was the chief architect of the New Army that was created in the terminal phase of the Qing Dynasty. Although considered to be a friend of the reformers who sought to establish a constitutional monarchy, he supported the Dowager Empress in her last, unhappily successful effort to stifle reform in the final years of the dynasty.

A New Chinese Dynasty in 1916monarchy, he supported the Dowager Empress in her last, unhappily successful effort to stifle reform in the final years of the dynasty. He was involuntarily retired at the time of her death in 1908. At the time of the Revolution of 1911, however, he was recalled to Peking to save the dynasty. To the surprise of the last Qing officials, however, he supported the insurgents.

The end of the imperial system in 1911 seemed at first to have been accomplished without any major national calamity. At any rate, there were no peasant uprisings or civil war.

A new story by John ReillyThe revolution was sparked by the revolt of a major army garrison; others soon followed suit. The provinces, led by local assemblies, essentially seceded from the central government. The leader of China's modernizing forces, Dr. Sun Yatsen, was briefly made provisional president by a national parliament. However, when the last emperor finally abdicated in 1912 under pressure by Yuan Shikai, Sun deferred to Yuan. Yuan, after all, did have greater governmental experience. He also had the army, at least in North China.

On becoming provisional president, Yuan quickly suppressed the national parliament and the assemblies. The government of the country at the local level was returned to the magistrates. During 1915, he took steps toward establishing a new dynasty. His bid for the throne was mildly favored by the British, but strongly opposed by the Japanese. The attempt to secure Japanese acquiescence was at least one factor in his agreement to most of Japan's very harsh "21 Demands," which severely impinged on Chinese sovereignty. In any case, there were other reasons for staying on the good side of the Japanese at that time. The British were wholly preoccupied by the First World War, so their Japanese allies at least temporarily had a free hand in East Asia. (Besides their Chinese initiatives, the Japanese used the opportunity to pick up Germany's colonial possessions in the region.)

Despite the unfavorable diplomatic situation, Yuan declared himself emperor at the beginning of 1916. It did not work. He could not get foreign support, military or financial, though investors had hitherto regarded him as a good credit risk. He was opposed by his own generals for a variety of reasons, and he had forfeited the support of the nation's reformers. He abandoned the monarchical experiment in March. He died in June, reportedly of natural causes.

Yuan was probably not the man to found a new dynasty in any case. His career had been made in the crepuscular world of the late Qing. One of the benefits of dynastic change is that it allows for a fresh start in policies and personnel; Yuan offered neither. Let us assume, however, that a more attractive personality had attempted a similar enterprise. Is there any plausible set of historical circumstances under which the New Dynasty could have been established in 1916?

Yuan's most pressing handicap was probably that the advent of the First World War left him to face the Japanese alone. While there is a good argument to be made that a war like the First World War was almost inevitable, there is no particular reason why the war had to start at the time and in the way it did. Worse marksmanship in Sarajevo in 1914 could easily have delayed the start of the World War by a year or more. Even had it started in 1914, a cease-fire might have been declared when the armies deadlocked in the West. For that matter, the war would have been over by 1915 had the Schlieffen Plan worked. A quick defeat for Britain, before it had invested heavily in men and emotions, would not have done the British Empire any immediate harm. Rather the opposite, in fact. One suspects that, like the Russians after their string of defeats in the Balkans and the Far East in the early years of the century, the British would have determined not to lose further ground anywhere in the world. This would have predisposed the British to oppose Japanese policy in China simply for the sake of opposing.

In any case, this was the direction in which British policy had long been evolving. By 1914, British were already dubious about their alliance with Japan and they scrapped it as soon as they decently could after the War. A unified China that needed the protection of the Royal Navy against Japan would not have endangered British interests at Hong Kong and Shanghai, but it would have been a formidable barrier to further Japanese expansion.

Rectifying the international situation, however, solves only the proximate problem. The deeper difficulty that a new dynasty would have faced would have been a crisis of legitimacy. Chinese dynasties made perfect sense in terms of Confucian ideology; they had been the only imaginable form of national government for upwards of two millennia. The Qing had indeed been overthrown in part because they were Manchurian foreigners. However, the movement against them had been informed, not simply by Han nationalism, but by a critique of the Confucian heritage itself.

Throughout Chinese history, successful brigands and ambitious generals had become acceptable as the founders of dynasties by signaling their intention to follow traditional precedents of government and morality. There was almost an established drill to go through, down to the wording of key proclamations. After a period of interdynastic chaos, even a personally horrible candidate who honored the forms could nevertheless get the support of the local gentry and magistrates. They did not have to like a would-be dynastic founder; they simply needed to be assured that government would again become predictable and comprehensible.

It was precisely this cultural consensus that reformers in China had spent the prior 50 years destroying. Though no democrat, Yuan Shikai still falls into this class. His modernized national army, and his use of it as the primary instrument of government, was as un-Confucian as the democratic assemblies favored by Sun Yatsen. There were plenty of tradition-minded people in China still in 1916, even among the literate elites. However, they were not for the most part the people who managed new enterprises or who understood modern administrative techniques. Yuan could not have created a dynasty on the traditional model without bringing the country back to 1800.

On the other hand, even if a traditional monarchy was not possible, it does not follow that no monarchy would have been possible. The 20th century has not lacked for monarchies that justified themselves by simultaneous appeals to tradition and the project of modernization. There was a gaggle of them in the Balkans between the First and Second World Wars, kings of shaky new states who make themselves dictators when parliamentary government stopped working. In practice, these regimes were not much different from the party dictatorships elsewhere in Europe.

The most successful example was not in Europe, but in the Middle East. There, the new Pahlavi Dynasty of Persia (which it taught the world to call "Iran") attempted a program of national modernization comparable to, but milder than, the reconstruction of Turkey undertaken by Kemal Ataturk and his successors. To be a Pahlavi Shah was not quite the same thing as being a Shah in prior Persian history had been. The Pahlavi Shahs had new bases of social support and a novel relationship with the outside world. Still, some of the ancient terminology of government lent a bit of credibility to the letterheads of the new regime. We should remember that it actually lasted quite a long time for a government of ruthless modernizers, until the late 1970s. It is conceivable that a competent candidate could have established an analogous government in China, and so might have become "emperor" in a similarly qualified sense.

So how would a new dynasty have affected Chinese history for the first half of the 20th century? Such speculation may require less imagination than might at first appear. The reality of the New Dynasty would be that, while in some respects traditional in form, the government would actually have been a moderately conservative military dictatorship. We don't have to speculate about what such a regime would have looked like: the Nationalist government provides the model. There would have been two major differences, however.

First, the New Dynasty would have had a far greater measure of legitimacy than the Nationalists ever achieved, even during the brief period before the Japanese invasion when they governed almost the whole country. Legitimacy and hypocrisy are often inversely related. The Nationalist government pretended to be running a republic; it delivered less than it promised. The New Dynasty, on the other hand, would have been pretending to be a Confucian monarchy. All it would have needed to do is govern the country better than did the Qing in the 19th century. This would not have been a tall order.

The biggest advantage, however, would be that a dynasty established around 1916 might have succeeded in preventing the warlord era entirely. This does not require a great leap of faith. After all, before 1916, even Yuan Shikai had shown some ability to put uppity provincial commanders in their place.

There are a few things that we might reasonably assume about our hypothetical New Dynasty. As we have seen, it would probably have had British support. Partly for that reason, it would have had more credibility with international investors than did the Republic. If it also had just enough features of a parliamentary democracy to garner some support among the business class and intellectuals, then it seems likely that a formal monarchy would have been better able to control potential warlords than was the Republic. Deleting the warlord era would not only have spared the country the damage and disorder of that period, it would also have probably spared China Communism.

Chinese Communism as an insurgent movement was able to gain a foothold only because of the breakdown of national authority in the 1920s. It was because the central government was in eclipse that the Communists were able to establish bases in south-central China, and then to escape to Yennan when those bases were attacked. There would still, of course, have been a Communist Party in some form, but the New Dynasty government would not have needed to make common cause with it, as the Nationalists did early in this period. (For a while, foreign observers tended to think of the Nationalist Party as a Communist front.)

If China had not fallen into disunity, one suspects that the Communist Party would have been more urban and less rural than in fact it was. After all, in this scenario the countryside would have been better policed. In all likelihood, its history would have paralleled that of the Japanese Communist Party; frequently suppressed, never destroyed, important primarily as an aggravating factor during episodes of civil unrest.

Would the New Dynasty have performed much better against the Japanese in the `30s and `40s than the Nationalists did? One of the axioms of world history is that military dictatorships have incompetent militaries. They use their armies as police, and cops are not soldiers. Still, it is hard to imagine that the New Dynasty army could have done worse than the Nationalists did. In any case, assuming that a revived Chinese Empire would have been a long-term client of Britain, the Japanese would have had to think twice before making provocative actions south of Manchuria.

The effect of a more coherent China, on the other hand, might have been to sharpen Japan's strategy toward it. The Japanese war against China was a meandering series of campaigns, often without discernible strategic purpose. A Chinese government that actually governed the country would have made a far more valuable target. Japan might have confined their Chinese operations to a single blitzkrieg campaign to compel China to neutrality for the great offensive of 1941, and it might have worked.

And as for the second half of the century? We will assume that the Japanese still lost the war. Despite the havoc the war caused on the Asian mainland, it was always a naval war, and there is no way Japan could have won it without forcing the United States to a negotiated peace in the first few months. Would China then have proceeded more or less directly to full modernization, on the model of Japan? Conceivably, but my own suspicion is that the second fifty years would have been surprisingly like the history of the People's Republic.

The New Dynasty would no doubt have been greatly energized by being among the victors in the war. This would be particularly the case if, as this scenario suggests, the country had been less damaged by the conflict. Doubtless there would have been a decade or so of very rapid growth, and the beginning of real prosperity in some regions. The problem is that a regime of this type does not, in the long run, benefit from improving conditions. As the history of the Pahlavi regime in Iran illustrates, the effect of modernization in an authoritarian context can often be to manufacture an opposition that would not otherwise have existed. At the beginning of such regimes, people are often grateful for the establishment of basic civil order. Later, when economic conditions improve, they are content to look after their private lives. Finally, there will be a self-assured middle class that asks the regime, "What have you done for us lately?" By that point, the chief benefit that the regime could bestow would be to abolish itself. Such situations lead to trouble.

The chronology could have been similar to that which happened in the real world: great disorder in the 1960s, the restoration of social peace in the 1970s, followed by relaxation in the 1980s. The jettisoning of the New Dynasty would probably have been the price of the restoration of order. As happened after the overthrow of the last Shah of Iran, the successor regime would probably have been more "conservative" in some ways. The conservatism, however, would have been of the "social conservative" type. Confucian tradition would have been quite as capable as Shia Islam of generating a critique of modernity. This sort of consideration never troubled the People's Republic much, but then the Communist regime is explicitly dedicated to uprooting Confucianism. The New Dynasty, in contrast, would have been based in part on a show of respect for tradition. In other words, the regime would have had to preserve the standards by which it would eventually be judged and found wanting.

There would, no doubt, have been vast differences from the China of today had an imperial regime of some sort been reestablished after the Qing. Still, the upshot could have been that, after about 1975, China would again have been a republic of sorts. Like India, it would have been a vast country with greatly varying levels of development. Because of a lack of local tradition, it would probably not have been a very democratic republic. Still, it would no doubt have been friendly to private economic initiative, carried out in the context of overall government planning.

There is a fashion in certain history departments to encourage speculation about alternative histories as a way of demonstrating the contingency and unpredictability of history. Fair enough, but I myself have doubts about how much contingency and predictability history actually manifests. No doubt it is true, as the chaos theorists tell us, that the flapping of a butterfly's wings at Peking can cause tornadoes in Kansas a month later. From this, many students of alternative history surmise that similarly tiny changes in the events of the past could create a whole different world farther down the line. The reality is that, while a butterfly may cause tornadoes, it cannot cause an ice age, or prevent winter from turning into spring. There are principles of conservation in history, whereby many different routes can lead to a similar destination. One of the uses of alternative history is to discern what was really inevitable.



October 10

In 1918, on this day Germany won World War I. As a preliminary matter, we should note that the actual outcome of the First World War was a near thing, a far nearer thing than was the outcome of World War II after 1941.

If Germany Had Won World War IWhile it is true that the United States entered the war on the allied side in 1917, thus providing vast new potential sources of men and material, it is also true that Germany had knocked Russia out of the war at about the same time. This gave the Germans access to the resources of Eastern Europe and freed their troops for deployment to the West. The German Spring Offensive of 1918 actually succeeded in rupturing the Allied line at a point where the Allies had no significant reserves. (At about this time, British Prime Minister Lloyd George was heard to remark, "We are going to lose this war". He began to create a record which would shift the blame to others.) The British Summer Offensive of the same year similarly breached the German lines, but did a much better job of exploiting the breakthrough than the Germans had done a few months earlier. General Ludendorff panicked and demanded that the government seek an armistice. The German army did succeed in containing the Allied breakthrough, but meanwhile the German diplomats had opened tentative armistice discussions with the United States. Given U.S. President Wilson's penchant for diplomacy by press-release, the discussions could not be broken off even though the German military situation was no longer critical. While the Germans were not militarily defeated, or even economically desperate, the government and general public saw no prospect of winning. Presented with the possibility of negotiating a settlement, their willingness to continue the conflict simply dissolved.

A story by John ReillyThe Germans were defeated by exhaustion. This could as easily have happened to the Allies. When you read the diaries and reports of the French and British on the Western Front from early 1918, the writers seem to be perfectly lucid and in full command of their faculties. What the Americans noted when they started to arrive at about that time was that everyone at the front was not only dirty and malnourished, but half asleep. In addition to their other deleterious effects, the terrible trench warfare battles of that conflict were remarkably exhausting, and the capacity of the Allies to rotate out survivors diminished with the passage of time. Even with American assistance, France and Britain were societies that were slowly falling apart from lack of ordinary maintenance. Both faced food shortages from the diversion of farmers into the army and from attacks on oceanborne supplies. Had the Germans been able to exploit their breakthrough in the spring, or if the German Empire had held together long enough for Ludendorff's planned autumn offensive to take place, its quite likely that either the French or British would have sued for peace. Had one or the other even raised the question of an armistice, the same process of internal political collapse which destroyed Germany would have overtaken both of them.

Although today it is reasonably clear that Germany fought the war with the general aim of transforming itself from a merely continental power to a true world power, the fact is that at no point did the German government know just what its peace terms would be if it won. It might have annexed Belgium and part of the industrial regions of northern France, though bringing hostile, non-German populations into the Empire might not have seemed such a good idea if the occasion actually arose. More likely, or more rationally, the Germans would have contented themselves with demilitarizing these areas. From the British, they would probably have demanded nothing but more African colonies and the unrestricted right to expand the German High Seas Fleet. In Eastern Europe, they would be more likely to have established friendly satellite countries in areas formerly belonging to the defunct empires than to have directly annexed much territory. It seems to me that the Austrian and Ottoman Empires were just as likely to have fallen apart even if the Central Powers had won. The Hungarians were practically independent before the war, after all, and the chaos caused by the eclipse of Russia would have created opportunities for them which they could exploit only without the restraint of Vienna. As for the Ottoman Empire, most of it had already fallen to British invasion or native revolt. No one would have seen much benefit in putting it back together again, not even the Turks.

Communist agitation was an important factor in the dissolution of Imperial Germany, and it would probably have been important to the collapse of France and Britain, too. One can imagine Soviets being established in Glasglow and the north of England, a new Commune in Paris. This could even have happened in New York, dominated as it was by immigrant groups who were either highly radicalized or anti-British. It is unlikely that any of these rebellions would have succeeded in establishing durable Communist regimes in the West, however. The Soviets established in Germany and Eastern Europe after the war did not last, even though the central government had dissolved. In putting down such uprisings, France might have experienced a bout of military dictatorship, not unlike the Franco era in Spain, and Britain might have become a republic. Still, although the public life of these countries would have been polarized and degraded, they would probably have remained capitalist democracies. The U.S., one suspects, would have reacted to the surrender or forced withdrawal of its European expeditionary force by beginning to adopt the attitude toward German-dominated Europe which it did later in the century toward the victorious Soviet Union. Britain, possibly with its empire in premature dissolution, would have been forced to seek a strong Atlantic alliance. As for the Soviet Union in this scenario, it is hard to imagine the Germans putting up with its existence after it had served its purpose. Doubtless some surviving Romanov could have been put on the throne of a much- diminished Russia. If no Romanov was available, Germany has never lacked for princelings willing to be sent abroad to govern improvised countries.

This leaves us with the most interesting question: what would have happened to Germany itself? Before the war, the German constitution was working less and less well. Reich chancellors were not responsible to parliament but to the Kaiser. The system could work only when the Kaiser was himself a competent executive, or when he had the sense to appoint and support a chancellor who was. The reign of Wilhelm II showed that neither of these conditions need be the case. In the twenty years preceding the war, national policy was made more and more by the army and the bureaucracy. It is unlikely that this degree of drift could have continued after a victorious war. Two things would have happened which in fact happened in the real world: the monarchy would have lost prestige to the military, and electoral politics would have fallen more and more under the influence of populist veterans groups.

We should remember that to win a great war can be almost as disruptive for a combatant country as to lose it. There was a prolonged political crisis, indeed the whiff of revolution, in victorious Britain in the 1920s. Something similar seems to be happening in the United States today after the Cold War. While it is, of course, unlikely that the Kaiser would have been overthrown, it is highly probable that there would have been some constitutional crisis which would have drastically altered the relationship between the branches of government. It would have been in the military's interest to push for more democracy in the Reich government, since the people would have been conspicuously pro-military. The social and political roles of the old aristocracy would have declined, since the war would have brought forward so many men of humble origin. Again, this is very much what happened in real history. If Germany had won and the Allies lost, the emphasis in these developments would certainly have been different, but not the fundamental trends.

All the bad and strange things which happened in Germany in the 1920s are conventionally blamed on the harsh terms of the Versailles treaty. We forget, however, that the practical effect of these terms was really very limited. The diplomatic disabilities on Germany were eliminated by the Locarno Pact of 1925. The great Weimar inflation, which was engineered by the government to defeat French attempts to extract reparations, was ended in 1923. The reparations themselves, of course, were a humiliating drain on the German budget, but a system of financing with international loans was arranged which worked satisfactorily until the world financial system broke down in the early 1930s. Even arms development was continued through clandestine projects with the Soviet Union. It is also false to assert that German culture was driven to insanity by a pervasive sense of defeat. The 1920s were the age of the Lost Generation in America and the Bright Young Things in Britain. A reader ignorant of the history of the 20th century who was given samples from this literature that did not contain actual references to the war could reasonably conclude that he was reading the literature of defeated peoples. There was indeed insanity in culture in the 1920s, but the insanity pervaded the whole West.

Weimar culture would have happened even if there had been no Weimar Republic. We know this, since all the major themes of the Weimar period, the new art and revolutionary politics and sexual liberation, all began before the war. This was a major argument of the remarkable book, RITES OF SPRING, by the Canadian scholar, Modris Ekstein. There would still have been Bauhaus architecture and surrealist cinema and depressing war novels if the Kaiser had issued a victory proclamation in late 1918 rather than an instrument of abdication. There would even have been a DECLINE OF THE WEST by Oswald Spengler in 1918. He began working on it years before the war. The book was, in fact, written in part to explain the significance of a German victory. These things were simply extensions of the trends that had dominated German culture for a generation. They grew logically out of Nietzsche and Wagner and Freud. A different outcome in the First World War would probably have made the political right less suspicious of modernity, for the simple reason that left wing politics would not have been anywhere nearly as fashionable among artists as such politics were in defeat.

I would go so far as to say this: something very like the Nazi Party would still have come to power in Germany, even if that country had won the First World War. I realize that this assertion runs counter to the historiography of most of this century, but the conclusion is inescapable. Politics is a part of culture, and the Nazis represented a kind of politics which was integral with Weimar culture. Salvador Dali once said, perhaps ironically, that he approved of the Nazi Party because they represented the surrealists come to power. The connection is deep, as with the Nazi affinity for the modernist post-rationalism of the philosopher Heidigger, and also superficial, in the styles the party promoted. The Nuremberg Rallies, for instance, were masterpieces of Art Deco stagecraft, particularly Albert Speer's "cathedral of ice" effect, created with the use of searchlights. As a young hopeful in Vienna, Hitler once passed up the chance to work as a theatrical set designer because he was too shy to go to the interview. But whether he knew it or not, that is what he became. People with no fascist inclinations at all love to watch film footage produced by the Nazis, for the simple reason that it is very good cinema: it comes from the same artistic culture which gave us METROPOLIS and THE BLUE ANGEL. The Weimar Republic and the Third Reich formed a historical unit, one whose advent was not dependent on the accident of who won the First World War.

The Nazi Party was other things besides a right wing populist group with a penchant for snazzy uniforms. It was a millenarian movement. The term "Third Reich," "Drittes Reich," is an old term for the Millennium. The Party's core began as a sort of occult lodge, like the Thule Society of Munich to which so many of its important early members belonged. It promoted a racist theory of history not unlike that of the Theosophist, H.P. Blavatsky, whose movement also used the swastika as an emblem. The little-read ideological guidebook of the party, Alfred Rosenberg's MYTH OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, begins its study of history in Atlantis. Like the Theosophists, they looked for a new "root race" of men to appear in the future, perhaps with some artificial help. When Hitler spoke of the Master Race, it is not entirely clear that he was thinking of contemporary Germans.

This is not to say that the Nazi Party was a conspiracy of evil magicians. A good, non- conspiratorial account of this disconcerting matter may be found in James Webb's THE OCCULT ESTABLISHMENT. I have two simple points to make here. The first is that the leadership had some very odd notions that, at least to some degree, explain the unique things they said and did. The other is that these ideas were not unique to them, that they were spreading among the German elites. General Von Moltke, the chief of the General Staff at the beginning of the war, was an Anthroposophist. (This group drew the peculiar ire of the SS, since Himmler believed that its leader, Rudolf Steiner, hypnotized the general so as to make him mismanage the invasion of France.) The Nazi Party was immensely popular on university campuses. The intellectual climate of early 20th century Germany was extraordinarily friendly to mysticism of all types, including in politics. The Nazi leadership were just particularly nasty people whose worldview bore a family resemblance to that of Herman Hesse and C.G. Jung. The same would probably have been true of anyone who ruled Germany in the 1930s.

Am I saying then that German defeat in the First World War made no difference? Hardly. If the war had not been lost, the establishment would have been much less discredited, and there would have been less room for the ignorant eccentrics who led the Nazi Party. Certainly people with no qualifications for higher command, such as Goering, would not have been put in charge of the Luftwaffe, nor would the Foreign Ministry have been given over to so empty-headed a man as Von Ribbentrop. As for the fate of Hitler himself, who can say?

The big difference would have been that Germany would been immensely stronger and more competent by the late 1930s than it was in the history we know. That another war would have been brewed by then we may be sure. Hitler was only secondarily interested in revenge for the First World War; his primary goal had always been geopolitical expansion into Eastern Europe and western Asia. This would have given Germany the Lebensraum to become a world power. His ideas on the subject were perfectly coherent, and not original with him: they were almost truisms. There is no reason to think that the heirs of a German victory in 1918 (or 1919, or 1920) would have been less likely to pursue these objectives.

These alternative German leaders would doubtless have been reacting in part to some new coalition aligned against them. Its obvious constituents would have been Britain, the United States and Russia, assuming Britain and Russia had a sufficient degree of independence to pursue such a policy. One suspects that if the Germans pursued a policy of aggressive colonial expansion in the 1920s and 30s, they might have succeeded in alienating the Japanese, who could have provided a fourth to the coalition. Germany for its part would begun the war with complete control of continental Europe and probably effective control of north Africa and the Near East. It would also have started with a real navy, so that Britain's position could have quickly become untenable. The coalition's chances in such a war would not have been hopeless, but they would been desperate.

It is commonly said of the First World War that it was pure waste, that it was an accident, that it accomplished nothing. The analysis I have just presented, on the contrary, suggests that the "war to end all war" may have been the most important war of the modern era after all.



July 20

In 1944, Lieutenant Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler by placing a bomb in the conference room at the East Prussia command center where Hitler was holding a meeting. The bomb went off and von Stauffenberg telephoned to his confederates in Berlin that Hitler had been killed.

If the July 20 Plot Had SucceededThe conspirators had planned to stage a coup, using elements of the skeletal Home Army in Germany, perhaps supported by some of the generals on the Western Front. However, the would-be putschists in Berlin dithered for several hours, trying to get confirmation that Hitler was really dead. They did not seize the government ministries, or the telephone exchanges, or even the radio stations. When Goebbels was able to confirm that Hitler was alive and convince the army units in Berlin of this fact, the coup collapsed in short order. Apparently, all that saved Hitler's life was the absent-minded placement by his adjutant of the bomb from one side of a wooden table support to the other. Suppose the bomb had not been moved, and Hitler had been killed?

A new story by John ReillyThe conspirators had some foggy notion that they might be able to surrender to the Allies in the west, or at least negotiate a withdrawal to Germany's western border, while continuing to fight defensive battles in the east. Certainly they had gone much further in sounding out the western commanders about their attitude to a coup, though in some ways the most forceful member of the anti-Hitler network involved in the assassination attempt was Major General Henning von Tresckow of Army Group Center on the Eastern Front. (They had also attempted covert negotiations with both the Anglo-Americans and the Russians. They managed to talk to unofficial representatives of both sides, but without results.)

Objectively speaking, something like this might have been possible. The military position of Germany in July 1944 was grim. At the beginning of the month, the Russians had crossed the pre-war eastern border of Poland. Hitler was having that conference in East Prussia because the Russians were only about 60 klicks from the province. In the west, the Anglo-Americans were breaking out of Normandy, and Paris would fall in August. Still, the Germans were far from beaten. Armaments production, for instance, peaked in July. In the months before Germany finally surrendered, they would stabilize the situation more than once, and even conduct some notable offensives. In other words, they still had something to bargain with, and both sides knew it.

The problem with this analysis is that Germany still had a lot to bargain with after the British summer offensive in 1918, too, yet their army and government collapsed as soon as it became known their diplomats were treating for an armistice. No one wants to be the last soldier killed in a war, especially a soldier on the side that is clearly losing. The provisional government (the uninspiring General Ludwig Beck was to lead it) would have been unlikely to be able to control the situation. The Germans armies in the west would probably have simply melted away, rather than wait for an armistice. The government would not have been able to gain control in the homeland: Nazi Germany was a party state, one where the official civil service could do nothing without party cooperation. It would be possible to overcome the party only with the army, but the Home Army was barely sufficient to occupy Berlin. Whatever the Germany armies did in the east, most of them would have been unlikely to follow orders from Beck's government in Berlin. Many more of the eastern units were SS after all, and even the regular army types were often committed Nazis. One suspects that they would have diverted whatever forces they could in order to take Berlin and reestablish a Nazi government. That government would then have tried to recoup matters in the west.

Actually, I doubt that the conspirators would have been able to establish even an ephemeral government. It is much more likely that, if it had been proven that Hitler was dead, the SS units available in Germany would have taken Berlin. Himmler was actually in contact with the conspirators, though with Hitler's knowledge and explicit approval. Though there is no evidence he was a participant, still his behavior throughout the whole affair was oddly passive. Goering was Hitler's designated successor, of course. In earlier versions of the plot, Goering and Himmler were supposed to be assassinated, too. It is easier to image Goering attempting to negotiate a peace than any other major Nazi. In 1939, remember, he had tried to avert war so he could have peace in which to give himself up to his private dissipations. However, by 1944 these had sufficiently debilitated him that it is doubtful he could have made the succession stick.

My guess is that the end result of von Stauffenberg's bomb would have been to bring Himmler to power. (This was a possibility of which the conspirators were aware, and which apparently stayed their hand at earlier points in the war.) It is not impossible to imagine Himmler negotiating peace with either east or west. Of course, it is also not impossible to imagine him using nerve gas on the eastern front. For that matter, it is not impossible to imagine him making human sacrifices to Odin under the Brandenberg Gate. Perhaps the oddest fact about the very odd history of Nazi Germany is that Hitler was a moderate Nazi. Far more than Goebbels or Roehm, say, he was content to let civil society be, so long as his primary goals of expansion in the east and the extermination of the Jews were carried forward. Himmler, in contrast, may have been the most radical Nazi of them all. The regime he might have created would not have lasted long, but it would have been uniquely extreme.



October 1

In 2010, John Reilly wrote ~ the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 was one of the great dramas of the 1930s. I use the word "drama" advisedly, since the debate and propaganda campaigns about the war became the substance of much of the political and intellectual life of the West during the years the war was fought.

If the Loyalists Had Won the Spanish Civil War.....In the progressive literature of the period, the war was a morality tale of good defending itself against evil, of fascism against democracy, of the Enlightenment against Catholic obscurantism. The war became a counter in the political struggle between the international communist movement and the more loosely organized cause of fascism. In the publishing industry and the better magazines, the Loyalists won the propaganda argument, but on the ground the Nationalists won. In this note, I would like to suggest some ways that history, and particularly the course of the Second World War, might have been different if the Loyalists had won.

A new post by John ReillyA full description of the origins and course of the war is unnecessary here. The questions involved are also still controversial. Suffice it to say that, after a decade of seesaw election results, a Popular Front government finally came to power in Spain, but with a very narrow majority. The Front sought to be inclusive of the Left, from Anarchists to Social Democrats. The Front, however, was more and more controlled by the Communists. In any event, having achieved a narrow victory, the government undertook a radical land redistribution. Elements of the Front, particularly the Anarchists, began some spontaneous redistribution of their own, and the government did not attempt to protect life and property. Clerics and Church property were particularly subject to assault. These events caused the Spanish African Army under General Francisco Franco to stage a revolt. The rebels became the Nationalists. The legitimate government refused to yield, however, and the conflict became an elaborate civil war. The Nationalists received aid from the Italian Fascists and the Nazis, including some troops and airmen. The Loyalists received material aid from Soviet Russia, but on ruinous financial terms. They were also assisted by volunteer legions from many countries. The resources of the two sides were not terribly unequal. However, the Nationalists had most of the experienced officers. Also, the Communists in the Popular Front carried on a small-scale version of the purges then occurring in the Soviet Union, directed against the other Leftist parties. This degraded the fighting capacities of the Loyalist armies, which were organized along political lines. The Loyalists were overwhelmed a few months before the Second World War started. Generalissimo Franco surprised everybody by remaining neutral in that conflict.

A Loyalist victory is not hard to imagine. Franco was a competent rather than a brilliant general. The accident of a military genius on the other side might have altered the outcome of the war. So might have more generous support from the Soviet Union. The Communists might have deferred their own political agenda until after the war was over. Neither side had any difficulty obtaining arms they could pay for; France, which had a Popular Front government too in the 1930s, might have offered arms on credit. Alternatively, an effective League of Nations embargo would have redounded to the Loyalists' benefit, since they controlled most of the country's manufacturing capacity. So, let us assume that by the end of spring, 1939, the Nationalists are forced to finally surrender, and Franco goes into exile in Argentina.

One thing that I think would have been inevitable is that the Soviet Union would, in effect, have a colony in the Western Mediterranean. The front-and-purge policy the Communists used against their rivals in the Loyalist camp was not very different from the one they used in Czechoslovakia just after the Second World War (except, perhaps, that it was much bloodier). Stalin was at all times of two minds about what he wanted to happen in Spain. While he wanted to humiliate the Italians and the Germans, he also had doubts about whether another Communist state so far from his borders was a good idea. He knew that such a state would be difficult for him to control, and that it would offer an alternative focus of loyalty for Communist parties around the world. The Soviet Union's subsequent problems with Yugoslavia and China show that these fears were well founded. However, it would have taken years for a rift to develop. The Spanish Communist Party was devotedly pro-Soviet. The new state would have needed Soviet material support. With the growing threat of a Fascist war, a near-term split with Moscow would not have been in the cards. Spain would become for the USSR something like what Cuba became in the 1960s and Nicaragua in the 1980s.

The French would not have been pleased by this turn of events. French governments have traditionally alined themselves with whatever regime ruled Russia in order to counterbalance the powers of Middle Europe. They would have found this harder to do, however, if the Russians acquired a base adjoining French territory. The advantage to a Russian alliance, after all, is that Russians are too far away to be a menace themselves. There was no way the French could have thrown their support to Germany. It would have been politically impossible, and it would have been strategic suicide. However, the proximity of Soviet Spain would have made France much more reluctant to engage in any major war, anywhere. It is not just that Spain could eventually become a military threat. The Communist Party in France would have been so emboldened by their southern colleagues' success that would have started looking for revolutionary opportunities. A lost war, or even a stalemated war, would do just nicely. Knowing this, the French government would have been much less likely to declare war on Germany in 1939 after the invasion of Poland. Indeed, it might not have been possible to do so, since the Hitler-Stalin Pact was in effect, and the French Left would have made quite a fuss about entering the war, even if they hoped to benefit from the outcome.

Thus, one result of a Loyalist victory could have been that Hitler would not, at the outset, have had to fight a war on two fronts. If the French did not declare war, the British could not have, either. Where would they have put their army? In his pre-war alliance negotiations with Mussolini, Hitler seemed to be contemplating a general war for 1942 or 1943. He would have been able to pick a fight in the West at his leisure, probably much better prepared than he was in 1939. In this war, the desperate French might have accepted an alliance with Soviet Spain, provided Stalin relented. Certainly Spain would have been a reasonable base for the French to retreat to, after losing Paris. Even if Soviet Spain had chosen Franco's policy and attempted neutrality, it is unlikely that Hitler would have accepted it. He could not have. His goal in World War II was the conquest of Russia, something he could not have accomplished with a Soviet ally in his rear. The conquest of Spain could have been part of his initial western campaign, or it might have waited a year or two, but it would have been inevitable.

A Nazi campaign would have had several things working against it. For one thing, the supply lines were long enough to create formidable logistical problems, never the strong suit of the Nazi military. Assuming the English were still in the war, Hitler, like Napoleon, would have found just how accessible Spain is from the sea. On the other hand, the Spanish Soviet government would have been unlikely to be very popular by this time, assuming it had continued with the process of Stalinization. If the Germans concluded their campaign by taking Gibraltar, whose British base was (and is) a long-standing affront to Spanish pride, the Germans could have been accepted as liberators. The loss of Gibraltar could have cost the British effective control of the Mediterranean. The resupplying, not just of Egypt, but of India and Australia, would have become immensely more difficult.

In sum, then, a Loyalist victory in the Spanish Civil War could have lost the Allies the Second World War. I, for one, find this conclusion paradoxical.

Any other ideas? [If you liked this piece, you might also be interested in taking a look at a revew of The Last Crusade, a history of the Spanish Civil War from a Carlist perspective.]



October 12

The year 1957, is not chosen at random. That is the year contemplated by "Dropshot", the U.S. plan for a third world war, which governed strategic thinking for the 1950s. Originally created in 1949, the plan was eventually released under the Freedom of Information Act. It was published, with commentary, in 1978 by Anthony Cave Brown in a book entitled "Dropshot".

Part One of "Dropshot", World War III in 1957The war described by that book is the starting point for this article, though my discussion departs from it in many particulars. I would like to consider three topics:

(1) How could such a war could have started?
(2) What would the course of the war have been?
(3) What would postwar history have been like?

A new story by John ReillyA preliminary matter that must be dealt with is the role of nuclear weapons. The writers of Dropshot in 1949 did not think that nuclear weapons would be decisive. Their use would have been optional except in retaliation. Though atomic bombs are devastating if you can transport them someplace where they can do damage, the only means then available was the bomber. This made delivery highly problematical, especially between continents. The writers did note that their assessment would be obsolete if these weapons could be married to rockets capable of flying between North America and Eurasia. As it happened, the era of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) did not really begin until the early 1960s. As late as the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the Soviets were estimated to have only about 50 ICBMs, none in hardened silos. (The Pentagon expressed confidence to President Kennedy that the U.S. could destroy them before they could be launched. Kennedy was not enthusiastic about putting this confidence to the test).

Thus, while Dropshot did anticipate that the U.S. would be able to make successful nuclear strikes at a few Soviet industrial facilities, it judged that these would not be enough to determine the course of the war. Dropshot forecast that the Soviets would be able to drop no more than two atomic bombs on the United States, and that only if they were lucky. It now appears that those "duck and cover" instructional films that were shown in schools starting in the 1950s were less irrational than later opinion has assumed. If you were affected by one of these strikes at all, you were likely to be some distance from ground zero, where precautions against blast and fallout would make perfect sense. We should also note that the relative immunity to atomic attack enjoyed by the United States would not have applied to the European members of NATO. Even in Europe, however, Dropshot did not believe that atomic weapons would be decisive, or even necessarily used at all.

With these points settled, we may begin the discussion proper:

(1) How could such a war could have started? It could not have started by accident. The hair-trigger nuclear response procedures which characterized the later stages of the Cold War simply did not exist during the period in question. There was no need for them, since it would have taken hours for a nuclear-armed bomber to reach its target. Indeed, the leaders of the U.S. and the Soviet Union would have been less constrained than were the leaders of the major European powers in August 1914. The intricate mass mobilization plans devised by France and Germany in preparation for the First World War could not really be controlled once they were started. They were intimately tied to strategic plans of offense and defense which required major battles to occur within days of the start of mobilization. A war in 1957 between the United States and the Soviet Union would have started very differently. The mobilization of whole continents is necessarily a leisurely affair. The plans the newly mobilized armies would have been called on to execute would have been calculated in terms of months or years. Therefore, though accidental skirmishes between East and West might have occurred in Europe or the Mediterranean in the 1950s, an actual war would probably have to have been deliberate.

Since the Dropshot war is defensive, at least in its opening stages, we must imagine a situation in which the Soviets launch a general offensive to occupy Western Europe (and various other places, as we will see below.) This would have required a Soviet leadership that believed a decisive victory for communism was achievable by military means, and a U.S. leadership that was either threatening or indecisive or both. The first requirement would have been met by the survival of Stalin into a vigorous old age. Though Stalin died in 1953, he would have only 78 years old in 1957, hardly old enough to get a driver's license in Georgia. The Stalin whom Solzhenitsyn described in his novel, "The First Circle," planned to fight and win a decisive third world war. Let us then imagine the old tyrant succumbing to delusions of omnipotence because of his overwhelming victory in the Second World War, yet frightened by events he sees happening on the other side of the world.

There is a good argument to made that the United States took as little hurt from the Cold War as it did because the president during the 1950s was that logistics expert, Dwight David Eisenhower. Throughout his presidency, experts from the Pentagon would come to him with estimates of the terrifying strength of the Soviet Union and proposals for huge increases in conventional forces which would be necessary to counter it. Eisenhower, who had been a five star general, knew just how seriously to take assessments of this type. Using his own good judgment to gauge just what the Soviets could or would do, he starved the U.S. military during the 1950s to let give the consumer economy room to breath. It was a risk, but history shows that he was right to take it. (His successor, John Kennedy, lacking this self-assurance, tended to act on the assumption that the most pessimistic assessment was the correct one, which was part of the reason for the Vietnam War.) Eisenhower knew that the Soviets were a real threat, one that had to be contained. In this he was right: the attempts by revisionist historians to ascribe the Cold War to American paranoia are tendentious. He was also right in believing that containment, as distinguished from rollback, could be achieved by feint and threat. He could make threats effectively because he was a known quantity to the Soviet leadership. They knew he was a cautious commander, that he would not start a fight if he did not have to, that he was not easily deceived. Even when they lied to him, they lied within limits understood by both sides.

Let us picture an alternative president. Suppose that Eisenhower is out on the golf links in September of 1956, taking a short break from his not-very-grueling campaign for almost certain reelection, when he has a fatal heart attack. His running mate, Vice President Richard Nixon, was even then a man of ambiguous reputation. Nixon assumes the top spot on the Republican ticket, and he has few if any differences with his boss's sober military and foreign policies. However, people quickly form the impression that he is too young and too opportunistic to be president yet. They therefore turn, with a sigh of resignation, to the Democratic presidential contender, Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson, of course, had many gifts. He was intelligent, well-informed, and articulate to a degree rare among American politicians. Stevenson was a genuine intellectual. Unfortunately, he was also a windbag in the great tradition of William Jennings Bryan and a sentimental internationalist in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson. Sentiment and kindness are not the same thing, so foreign affairs conducted by sentimental statesmen are often envenomed to an unusual degree.

Stevenson's foreign policy is itself a good illustration. John Kenneth Galbraith, who helped write Stevenson's speeches in the early 1950s, has remarked that part of his job consisted of toning down the virtual declarations of war against the Soviet Union that Stevenson usually inserted in his first drafts. Doubtless some of this rhetoric was intended merely to counter the impression that the Democratic Party was soft on Communism. However, it cannot be denied that Stevenson felt the policy of Cold War containment was immoral because it did not go far enough. He did not favor an attack on the Soviet Union, but he did want it pressured from all directions with physical and moral force. This was what Ronald Reagan actually did in the 1980s, with considerable success. However, Reagan and his advisers knew that the Soviet Union had exhausted the growth capacity of a command economy, that the system was strong but brittle. In the 1950s, by contrast, the Soviet Union was growing and confident. Stevenson would not have been deterred by this well-known fact; he had the sort of mind that regarded mere practicality as rather tawdry. His idealism would have been costly. Even a symbolic threat to the Soviet Empire, as it then was, would have brought results quite different from those of thirty years later.

If the parties to the Cold War had wanted a military showdown, they would have had several perfectly suitable occasions in 1956, notably the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian Uprising. Had Stalin still been alive at that time, it is conceivable that he would have started to deal with the peoples of Eastern Europe as he had begun to deal with the peoples of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Certainly some Eastern Europeans believed that Stalin was planning massive movements of populations and the vigorous purging of pre-World War II society. If this happened, an outraged Stevenson Administration might then have announced its intention to send a standby expeditionary force to Western Europe to support any future popular uprisings in Eastern Europe. Less suspicious rulers than Stalin would have been moved to preemptive action in such an event. He would not have been reassured by the interminable flow of moralistic rhetoric that President Stevenson could have been relived upon to produce. There would have been too much of it to read, much less analyze. Stalin could easily have decided that he could no longer wait for his creatures in Western Europe to take power through force or fraud. Hoping for a decisive victory before the U.S. expeditionary force could arrive, he sends his armies across the north German plain to take the ports on the English Channel.

(2) What would the course of the war have been? The Dropshot study is not a belligerent document. It seems to be one of those common bureaucratic plans which deliberately present a scenario so hair-raising that its intended readers will be dissuaded from ever trying it in real life. It does, of course, wildly overestimate anything the Soviet could or would do. In addition to the main thrust across northwestern Europe, it contemplates simultaneous Soviet offensives into the Middle East and Japan. (For reasons wholly obscure, it directs that Hokkaido, the northernmost and least populous of the main Japanese islands, be abandoned.) Its assessment of the early course of the war in Europe, however, was certainly realistic in 1949, and might still have held true in 1957. The gist of the forecast was two months of unrelieved disaster. While the planners hoped to stop the offensive somewhere in Germany, their sober assessment was that it would have been difficult even to hold Britain. Readers of Norman Schwartzkopf's memoir, "It Doesn't Take A Hero," will recall his description of the state of the U.S. Army in the 1950s. At least that part of it stationed in the United States was a hollow force of badly trained conscripts. Its equipment was ill-maintained and its senior officer corps consisted disproportionately of World War II veterans who would not otherwise have had jobs. This was the Army that was sent to fight in Vietnam, with what results we know. While doubtless the emergency of a world war would have quickly brought improvements, the opening phases of the war would have had to be fought with what the U.S. had on hand. What it had was not all that good. In some ways, an actual world war fought in 1957 would have been fought under even worse conditions than those envisioned in 1949. When Dropshot was being developed, the fate of China was still in doubt. The maps that come with the plan show China with a Communist north and a Nationalist south. The study discusses the country mostly in terms of natural resources and as a bridge to French Indochina. In reality, by 1957 China was a united ally of the Soviet Union. It had a significant military, as proven by the Korean War. As we know now, Chairman Mao tended to needle the Soviet leadership for being too accommodating to the West. By some accounts, he even proposed an offensive war against the West to Nikita Khruschev, offering tens of millions of soldiers and even the union of China with the USSR. Of course, China had (and has) little striking power beyond its own borders, and the Soviet Union could not have come near to supplying the Chinese Red Army with the equipment for offensive capabilities. Still, the Sino-Soviet alliance in a World War would have been a formidable opponent. It is perfectly plausible that some Chinese armies would have fought not just around China's perimeter, but in France and Germany. The worst case scenario for such a war is available, not in Dropshot, but in a 1955 novel by C.M. Kornbluth, entitled "Not This August". We hear about the war mostly in retrospect, since in the first few pages the president of the United States surrenders to the Communist alliance in a radio address. The bulk of the book is a description of the Soviet occupation, as it affects a single small town. The war lasted for three years, and it was not so different from the Dropshot war. Nuclear weapons were not a decisive factor. The Soviets take all of Europe and, using its resources and Chinese manpower, contrive to defeat the American fleet, make a landing in Central America and work their way north. The U.S. surrenders when the American front in Texas collapses. It might seem a bit premature to surrender with the enemy only on the southern border, but the author paints a good picture of a society that has already been bled white. All available manpower and industrial capacity have been diverted to the war, and still it is not enough. Dropshot contemplates a comparable degree of mobilization. Thirty million people of both sexes would have been needed to win the war the plan laid out. It would not have been an economically invigorating war, as the Second World War was for the United States. Wars are only invigorating if the economy has a lot of unused potential which would go to waste if not used for military production. This was the case with the American economy in 1940, but not in 1957. Rather, it would have been like the Second World War was for Great Britain, with every warm body either in the service or doing something to support the war effort, and with civilian production at destitution levels. During and after the Second World War, a number of laws were passed giving the president standby authority to nationalize or otherwise commandeer most of the industrial plant of the U.S. in the event of a national emergency. Universal conscription was, in principle, already in place. In the course of the war against the Communist alliance, the U.S. would itself have become a command-economy state.



October 8

The year 1957, is not chosen at random. That is the year contemplated by "Dropshot", the U.S. plan for a third world war, which governed strategic thinking for the 1950s. [continues from Part 1] In actuality, or course, even if the Soviets got to Antwerp, they would be most unlikely to have arrived in Amarillo three years later. Rather than the immediate loss of Western Europe, we must imagine Central Europe becoming a debatable region.
Continues from Part 1

Part Two of "Dropshot", World War III in 1957After absorbing the initial offensive, Dropshot calls for NATO to hold the line while the resources of the United States were mobilized. Realistically, this could have taken at least a year. During that time, it would have been extremely difficult to keep NATO together. One of the points which "Not This August" emphasizes as a factor in the defeat of the United States is the role of the Communist underground. The state of the evidence suggests that such a concern may be more than simple McCarthyite paranoia. The part played by Communists and communist sympathizers in the politics and culture of the U.S. in the 1930s and 1940s is still insufficiently appreciated. If I had to name a single book to support this point, I would suggest the last of Upton Sinclair's "Lanny Budd" novels, entitled "A World to Win". Published in 1946, it describes sympathetically the adventures of a wealthy American Communist as he moves about the world during and just before the war, helping to organize the fight against Fascism. The author, who made no secret of his own leftist sympathies, describes the pro-Soviet cells which exist everywhere in the U.S., in Hollywood and Washington and the arts. This, of course, was all edifying progressive fiction, but it seems to have been fictionalized rather than fantastic.

A new article by John Reilly The pro-Soviet streak in America politics did real harm during the Molotov-Ribbentrop pack, when it actively impeded U.S. attempts to prepare for World War II. It continued to do harm throughout the Cold War era, up to and including the "Nuclear Freeze" movement of the 1980s, which nearly succeeded in depriving American negotiators of the bargaining power they needed to get the Soviets to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. While this force in American politics would have been as active as possible during a U.S.-Soviet war, they might not have counted for that much, considering the high degree of national unity there would have been. In any event, they would have worked through front groups as much as possible. This would not have been the case in Europe. The powerful Communist Parties in France and Italy were openly and proudly pro-Soviet, indeed pro-Stalin. They could and would have organized work stoppages and mutinies. The peace movements they would have supported would have been particularly persuasive with hostile and at least temporarily triumphant armies only a few hundred miles away. Even if they could not have forced their countries to surrender, they could have made all but the most perfunctory participation in the war impossible.

Still, these political difficulties would have been no more insurmountable than those that had to be overcome to win the Second World War. Assuming, therefore, that NATO holds together while it rearms and regroups, the second phase of the war could begin. Dropshot contemplated an offense that would ultimately result in the occupation of the Soviet Union. Again, however, it did nothing to suggest that anyone would enjoy trying this in real life. The plan considered the various ways that the Soviet Union might have been invaded, and finds all but one of them either impractical, like a drive north from the Middle East, or useless, like an invasion of the Soviet Far East. The only way to do it is the hard way, back eastward across the north German plain and into Poland. Securing the Balkans would be necessary simply to secure this endeavor.

Having defeated the Soviet armies in Eastern Europe, the rest of the war would have resembled the German campaign of 1941, but without Hitler's mental problems. I can summarize the final stage of the war no better than by quoting Dropshot itself:

"22. In the event of war with the USSR, we should endeavor by successful military and other operations to create conditions which would permit satisfactory accomplishment of U.S. objectives without a predetermined requirement for unconditional surrender. War aims supplemental to our peacetime aims should include:

"a. Eliminating Soviet Russian domination in areas outside the borders of any Russian state allowed to exist after the war.

"b. Destroying the structure of relationships by which the leaders of the All-Union Communist Party have been able to exert moral and disciplinary authority over individual citizens, or groups of citizens, in countries not under Communist control.

"c. Assuring that any regime or regimes which may exist on traditional Russian territory in the aftermath of a war:

(1) Do not have sufficient military power to wage a war.

(2) Impose nothing resembling the present Iron Curtain over contacts with the outside world.

"d. In addition, if any Bolshevik Regime is left in any part of the Soviet Union, ensuring that it does not control enough of the military-industrial potential of the Soviet Union to enable it to wage war on comparable terms with any other regime or regimes which may exist on traditional Russian territory.

"e. Seeking to create postwar conditions which will:

(1) Prevent the development of power relationships dangerous to the security of the United States and international peace.

(2) Be conducive to the development of an effective world organization based on the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

(3) Permit the earliest practicable discontinuance within the United States of wartime controls".

This passage is not without relevance to the state of the world in 1995. Let us imagine, however, that all this has been achieved, but the year is only 1960. (3) What would postwar history have been like?

The burden of Arnold Toynbee's great multivolumed work, "A Study of History," is that our civilization has broken down and that it is now (during the 20th century) in a "time of troubles," like the Hellenistic period in the ancient West and the Era of Contending States in China. Such periods are characterized by "world wars". In the course of them, one great power delivers a "knockout blow" to its main rival, and sooner or later goes on to establish a universal state, like the Roman Empire. The war Dropshot envisioned would have been such a blow. Actually, Toynbee thought that a third world war would probably be started by the United States and won by the Russians, "because they have a more serious attitude toward life". Be that as it may, since we are working with the U.S. war plan, let us consider what the result of a Western victory would have been.

The world of 1960 after Dropshot would have been poorer than the real world of that time. Africa and the great arc of Eurasia around Russia would have collapsed into ethnic squabbling as the reach and attention of the great powers were withdrawn. On the whole, the non-communist countries of East Asia might have been invigorated, as they were by the Korean and Vietnam Wars. However, there would have been no comparable world demand for consumer goods for these countries to exploit. They could well have experienced a war boom, followed by prolonged depressions, as their home markets slowly recovered.

China, we assume, would have been part of the losing alliance. Dropshot did not devote a great deal of attention to it. If the plan had actually been implemented, it is unlikely that country would have been the scene of major U.S. operations. However, with China's attention diverted toward supporting the Soviet war effort, it is conceivable that the U.S. might have backed a Nationalist reinvasion of southern China. It is debatable whether this would have found wide support. The Communist regime did not begin to mismanage the country significantly until the Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s, a program which presumably would have been postponed in the event of a war. However, what with the stresses of a lost war and such resentment against the regime as had already been generated, it is possible that China would have fallen apart, much as it had during the warlord era of the 1920s, and as it may again in the later 1990s when Deng Xiao Peng dies.

The biggest differences between a post-Dropshot world and the actual world of 1960 would have been in Russia, Europe and the United States. Russia and Eastern Europe in the late 1950s were still recovering from the effects of World War II, and the last thing they needed was another war. In some ways, perhaps, the Dropshot war would been less damaging than the Second World War, since it was supposed to be faster and would not have been directed against civilians. The plan called for a war of tanks, fought for the most part on the plains of northern Europe. It would still have been a catastrophe, but one that would not have returned the region to 1945 levels.

Russia in 1960 might have been better able to make the transition to a market economy than it was in the 1990s, for the simple reason there was a substantial portion of the population who were already adults during the last period when free enterprise had been allowed to operate, during Lenin's "New Economic Policy" of the 1920s. It might, for instance, have been fairly simple to recreate peasant agriculture. On the other hand, Russian industry in the 1950s was even more strictly military than it was in the final stages of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Since the military occupation of Russia in 1960 would have been largely concerned with closing down the country's military potential, this would have meant closing down all but a small fraction of the country's industry. The country would have become, at least for a while, a country of peasants and priests. This prospect might warm the heart of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, but the reality might not have been sustainable.

In Western Europe, the 1950s boom would gave been cancelled. Even assuming the Dropshot war did less damage than the Second World War, still it would have been the third major war in the region in fifty years. Maybe that would have been too much. People can only be expected to rebuild so many times before they begin to despair about the future. It is hard to imagine the normal market mechanisms of savings and investment operating at all in such environment. What fool would invest money in a society that seemed to explode every 20 years? Who would even want to keep money? People would try to turn their savings into tangible assets as quickly as possible. The cloud of despondency would ultimately lift, of course, but would be greatly impeded by the factor we will consider below.

Even in America, collectivism would have triumphed. As several historians have pointed out, what we call socialism is simply the institutionalization in peacetime of the command economy measures devised by Britain and Germany to fight the First World War. These institutions would have been greatly strengthened throughout the West, but especially in the United States, by the experience of two world wars so close in occurrence. We should remember that enlightened opinion in the U.S. of the 1950s was that command economies really were superior in most was to market economies. It was universally assumed that pro-market policies could never cure underdevelopment in the Third World. Certainly the literature of the era is filled with ominous observations that the Soviet Economy was growing much faster than the U.S. economy during the same period. If the highly regimented American economy envisioned by Dropshot had actually succeeded in winning the Third World War, this attitude might have become a fixed assumption of American culture, as it did in so many other countries during the same period. Private enterprise would doubtless have continued to constitute a major share of economic activity, but it would have been so tightly regimented as to be virtually a creature of the state. And there would have been no example, anywhere on Earth, of an important country that did things differently.

The '60s, as we knew them, would also have been cancelled. Partly, of course, this would have been because the country would have been broke. Everyone would have had a job with a fixed salary, of course, but there would have been little money for cars or highways or private houses. America would have remained a country of immense, densely populated cities, most of which would have consisted of public housing. The biggest difference would have been the psychology of the younger generation. The young adults of the 1950s, who had been children during the Second World War, could not have conceived of allowing themselves the indiscipline and disrespect shown by the young adults of the actual 1960s. The "Silent Generation" of the 1950s knew from their earliest experiences that the world was a dangerous place and the only way to get through it was by cooperation and conformity. If Dropshot had occurred, their children, the babyboom children, would have been even more constrained in childhood and correspondingly more well-behaved in young adulthood. Doubtless there would still have been something of an increase in the percentage of the young in higher education in the 1960s, but the campuses would have been a sea of crewcuts and neat bobs, white shirts and sensible shoes. The popular music would not have been memorable.

The world after Dropshot would have had certain advantages, of course. Total world expenditures on the military would probably have been much smaller than was actually the case. The nuclear arms race would never have occurred. Indeed, the more alarming types of nuclear missile, those with multiple warheads, would never have been invented. It would have been a world much less cynical than the one which actually occurred. The three world wars would have provided a sense of closure which modern history has not yet achieved. This time, finally, all the great evils of the century would have been defeated. It would be unlikely to have resulted in Toynbee's universal state, at least not during the 20th century. The American people would probably have been as sick of the Adlai Stevenson Democrats after the Third World War as they were of the Roosevelt Democrats after the Second World War. The country would have kicked the victors out of office and sought to turn inward. America would not have been enthusiastic about further adventures for a long time to come.

The exhausted world I have described would doubtless have revived in a few decades. Nations would have broken out of the cultural constraints that the experience of universal conscription tend to impose on a generation. People would slowly realize that their highly regulated economies were not really keeping them safe but were really keeping them poor. There would be an episode of restructuring as technologies developed for the military were finally converted to consumer use, and old subsidized industries were allowed to die. All in all, the world of 1995 after Dropshot might have been similar to the one we see today. Still, it would have been reached at immensely greater cost, both economic and spiritual. We are not living in the best of all possible worlds, but it could easily have been worse.



August 29

In 1936, the 43rd President of the United States John Sidney McCain was born at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone, to naval officer John S. McCain, Jr. (1911-1981) and Roberta (Wright) McCain (b. 1912).

President John McCain
January 2001 to January 2009
The presidency of John McCain is likely to prove as great a favorite of popular historians as that of Theodore Roosevelt. Like Roosevelt, his presidency was prefaced by a heroic earlier life. Like Roosevelt, McCain was renowned, if not precisely for his wit, then for a reliably dramatic and articulate temper. Both presidents, throughout their careers, were keenly interested in administrative structures per se. However, while these presidents were unusually knowledgeable about foreign and military issues, the circumstances of McCain's administration gave him far greater opportunity to work in these areas; indeed, McCain has been called "Theodore Roosevelt with Woodrow Wilson's problems".

A new story by John ReillyContemporary political commentators have sometimes suggested McCain would not have received the Republican nomination in 2000, had it not been for the publication at a critical time in the primary election process of an old scandal involving his principal opponent. (The irony is that the information was Democratic opposition research intended for the general election but apparently leaked early to the press by accident.) Though no serious misbehavior was involved, the issue managed to depress his opponent's appeal in the early southern primaries. McCain's bid thus survived until the nominating process moved to the Midwest and Mountain states, where he enjoyed greater natural advantages. Still, the delegate vote at the Republican Convention that year was the closest in living memory. The nomination would have gone differently if a single state delegation had been on the other side. The general election, in contrast, was a popular vote and Electoral College landslide for the Republicans.

Several reasons have been adduced to explain this result. The candidates seemed to differ only in degree except on social issues; these were muted in the election. However, the Democratic nominee was generally regarded as a continuation of the prior Administration, which had fallen under an ethical cloud. In any case, the popular dissatisfaction with the Democrats did not extend to Congress; McCain's party actually lost control of the Senate by a single seat.

The McCain Administration was the first since that of Richard Nixon to focus from the outset primarily on foreign affairs. These president's early efforts did not invariably appear to improve matters. In his first meeting in Paris with the heads of the NATO countries, for instance, President McCain publicly engaged in a multilingual shouting match with President Jacques Chirac about who was more serious about controlling carbon emissions. Russian-American relations went from frosty to arctic after the first meeting between President McCain and President Vladimir Putin, when McCain made his notorious "evil ice dwarf" comment to reporters on the flight home.

On some critical issues, the Administration does not seem to have been very well served by the terrorism experts retained from the prior Administration. These officials pushed their own pet projects and gave advice that almost invariably turned out to be misdirections. In any case, though the Administration came into office with a raft of proposed reforms for health care, education, infrastructure, and so on, these were shelved until the second term by the events of September 11: even the small, temporary, stimulative tax reduction that the Congress had enacted to deal with a mild recession was revoked to help pay for the subsequent unplanned military expenditures.

The president was in Washington at the time of the attacks in 2001. He was widely criticized for foolhardiness in rejecting Secret Service advice to leave the city, but his extemporaneous address from the Oval Office that evening has been classed as model of modern rhetoric. His national security team quickly determined that the base for the attacks was in Afghanistan: the existing regime and the terrorist leadership it had been hosting had been removed by the end of the year. This by no means ended the war, since Islamist factions quickly regrouped across the Pakistani border and instituted a cult of the martyrdom of their former leaders. Nonetheless, the speed and the success of the invasion bought the president the prestige to go ahead six months later with a decapitating raid against the Baathist regime in Iraq. There followed a systematic peace-keeping and nation-building program on which the president was accused of lavishing more attention than on the government of the United States.

The president was also criticized for confining the legal justification for the Iraq invasion to the UN resolutions of 1990 and 1991. His public case for the war was a set of sophisticated variations on the theme that the Baathist regime had never complied with the terms of the ceasefire of 1991 and could not be trusted to do so after the UN restrictions were removed. The president coined a phrase, "field of peace," to describe what he was trying to "generate" in the Middle East. The concept was widely ridiculed, until the post-Iraq-invasion revelation by Libya of its enormous WMD programs and the new willingness of Iran to talk. These developments, and the fact that the nation-building strategy enabled the beginning of substantial troop reductions by the spring of 2004, silenced whatever criticism remained about the justification and conduct of the war.

Emboldened by the personal popularity which these successes accorded him, President McCain made one of the most daring moves in American political history: he ran for reelection as an independent. To some extent, this move was forced on him: the Republican Party had broken up. The president politely accepted the nomination of the convention with the greatest claim to institutional continuity, but he appeared on most ballots as the nominee of the "Rally for the Republic," essentially a privately organized network of publicists, financial backers, and key constituency groups. The disintegration of the parties at the national level was a foreseeable instance of the general trend toward "disintermediation" between producers and consumers in all areas of life. In 2004, his principal opponent in the general election was still a "Democrat," though the nature of that group had changed profoundly since 1992. Thereafter, the movement toward increasingly personalized politics seemed irresistible.

The Administration's predilection for comprehensive, systematic treatment of domestic issues had mixed results. The new strategy of replacing employer-provided health insurance with privately owned policies had the primary effect of imposing a paperwork burden on the population comparable to that imposed by the (unreformed) federal tax code. There might have been a political crisis, had not the legalization of pharmaceutical imports caused a temporary but noticeable decrease in costs.

President's McCain's chief domestic accomplishment was technical and procedural: the Tax Efficiency and Reform Act of 2005. This comprehensive tax-code reform lowered the top marginal individual tax rate to 28%, as well as abolishing the Alternative Minimum Tax; the reform paid for these features by abolishing almost all the deductions in the existing code. The reform was revenue neutral. Small federal budget surpluses had begun to reappear in 2004, the maintenance of which became the Administration's chief fiscal priority. The reform of the Social Security system disappeared as an issue during the McCain Administration: experience showed that the projected insolvency point for the system retreated by a year for every year the budget balanced or showed a surplus.

Other enthusiasms of President McCain proved less happy. His insistence on a complicated campaign-finance scheme alienated the ad hoc majority in Congress on which he relied for support. The measure was of doubtful constitutionality, and the Administration was probably saved an embarrassment when it failed.

The Administration was not so lucky with an immigration measure that, in effect, granted provisional legal status to everyone in the United States, and this without first ensuring that the federal government had physical control of the borders. The immigration enforcement agencies had to stand down at the borders (including airports) and internally; the chance of apprehending someone whom it might have been proper to detain under the new rules was too small to justify the expense of acting. The immigration bureaucracy was deluged with millions of applications in the space of a few weeks and soon ceased functioning at all. Visas to the United States became unobtainable. Meanwhile, television images showed a steady passage of persons crossing the borders, as well as the appearance of new, impromptu municipalities at the edges of cities and sometimes in public parks. For the most part, these settlements were not, as was incorrectly reported at the time, "colonies" of new immigrants, but associations of longterm undocumented persons who took advantage of the relaxed enforcement regime to move from cramped and often dangerous accommodations. There were notable outbreaks of civil disorder in several places.

The episode lasted a month. The emergency was ended when the president was prevailed upon to invoke the emergency power granted to him in the immigration bill to regulate immigration in extraordinary circumstances. No permanent harm was done, but the country was badly shaken. The president's speech of apology, in which he took responsibility for the bill and pledged to restore order, was almost unprecedented and highly effective.

One of the ironies of the McCain Administration was that a man so interested in bureaucratic order enhanced his reputation chiefly through his ability to handle unpredictable disasters. The submersion of New Orleans may not, perhaps, quite count as "unpredictable": few such events have ever been foretold with so much expert specificity so long beforehand. Nonetheless, the event occurred on McCain's watch, and he understood the importance of what was happening as soon as it was certain the hurricane would make landfall near the city. He ordered his disaster managers and, more important, the Secretary of Defense to the city to monitor events. Before the lower parts of the city were completely flooded, he had invoked questionable but legally colorable authority to use the federal military as rescue forces and police. Perhaps the most famous scene of his presidency occurred the next day when he visited the city, personally "fired" the mayor, and ordered the detention of the entire city police force. His later refusal to sign any reconstruction legislation that applied outside the highland areas of the city remains controversial.

President McCain is remembered for many other things, from his directive to NASA after the Columbia disaster to build an Earth-to-LEO manned spacecraft within a year to the creation of the League of Democracies. He is not always remembered with universal fondness. Nonetheless, his paradoxical presidency did not have the dispiriting effect that several other administrations of the past 50 years had had. His many opponents loved to hate him; his even more numerous admirers were frequently exasperated but never bored. A rare national consensus prevailed as he left office: the Republic had not been altogether badly served.



August 20

In 1890, President of the United States Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Providence, Rhode Island. His biography is one that might be expected of a failed Hitler.

The Crazy Life and Times of President H.P. LovecraftLovecraft has suffered from more than his share of posthumous Freudian analysis, but it is true that his family history (father dying while Lovecraft was young, over- protective mother) is similar to Hitler's. Both their childhoods were prologues to some some similar life-long characteristics. Lovecraft, like Hitler, was a marginal artist. He was a better writer than Hitler was a painter, though that is not saying much. Both were very briefly married, Hitler for just a few hours, Lovecraft for a few months. Both were interested in the occult to some degree. Certainly both Nazism and Lovecraft's fiction owe a great deal to Theosophy. (Lovecraft claimed to be a sceptic. Hitler was affected by ideas of this type, though he was not a believer to the extent that Himmler and Hess were.) Both were racist Social Darwinists of the sort who viewed history as primarily determined by racial factors. Both were hypochondriacs who repeatedly forecast their early deaths. Lovecraft, whose neurasthenia kept him out of the First World War, turned out to be right. In person, both were rather shy and formal, not hard to like. Hitler loved dogs, Lovecraft loved cats.

Imagine an alternative history in which Lovecraft's ideas did not remain the stuff of pulp fiction. Suppose his father had lived, or he had been orphaned, or his family finances changed so that he had to go to work early in life. He becomes, let us say, a journalist in Boston or New York. He might then have fought in the First World War and returned with a distinguished record. He becomes a nationally syndicated columnist, famous for his warnings against the threat of immigrants, Communists, and unbridled finance capitalism, particularly as associated with the Jews. Like many practical people, life experience could have changed his reading about the occult from entertainment to belief. (It happens. Look at W.B. Yeats. For that matter, look at Hitler.) In the social catastrophe of the Great Depression, he would have had a unique opportunity to implement his ideas for revolutionary reform.

"If I am mad, it is mercy! May the gods pity the man who in his callousness can remain sane to the hideous end!" ~ HPLLovecraft in politics would not have been a "conservative" in any serious sense of the word, though he would certainly have had little use for socialism or democracy. Sinclair Lewis, in his 1935 novel "It Can't Happen Here," tried to give some notion of what an American fascism might be like. It would be more puritanical than its European counterparts, he suggested. It would be less a case of a party imposing a political orthodoxy on the whole country than of radical right groups, such as the Klan, being empowered by the government to act at the local level. When Lewis thought of fascism, however, he seems to have been thinking of Italy. There was no particular place in his fascist America, as there was in Germany and would certainly have been in Lovecraft's America, for a national eugenics program. For that matter, Lewis did not understand, at least in 1935, how central anti-Semitism was to Nazism. If, as some writers have suggested, Hitler's Jewish policy was a necessary feature of his model of history (See Paul Wistrich's Hitler's Apocalypse), then one would expect similar notions to occur to Lovecraft, whose intellectual frame of reference was not so different from those of the leading Nazis.

America did not lack for proto-fascists in the 1930s, but they were regional personalities with little hope of forming an important national movement. Huey Long of Louisiana was very smart, of course, but he was, well, too "colorful" to be much appreciated outside his home state. Father Coughlin, the Radio Priest, would not himself have been a serious candidate for political office. His movement was too closely linked with Rome, at least in the public mind, to be anything but a faction in a larger right-wing coalition.

Lovecraft, or someone like him, might have been able to form such a coalition. A Northerner, nominally Protestant, he could have preached economic populism for the South and Midwest and anti-Communism for the Catholic Northeast. His background was such that he would have been more likely to have entered politics as a Republican than as a Democrat. In his native New England, the Democrats were the party of the hated immigrants. Of course, he might have taken the posture of a man above politics before the Depression. Like Perot in 1992 or Powell today, he could have had his pick of the nomination of either party. In terms of party platform, there was not much to choose between Roosevelt and Hoover in 1932. Roosevelt's chief qualification was that he was not Hoover. Lovecraft, who was in real life of a somewhat philosophical cast of mind, would have been not just a new face, but a man with a plan.

Any government elected in 1932 would have had to do much the same sort of thing on taking office that Roosevelt did. It was necessary to immediately reconstruct the banking system, to distribute disaster relief to the unemployed, and to try to cajole the country's businessmen into maintaining employment and making some investments. The Roosevelt Administration did this minimum, supplemented a little later with "make-work" projects, from new roads to the vaguely Stalinist murals you can still find in some older Post Offices. Some of these initiatives helped. Some, such as the government's price-fixing schemes, were catastrophes. In any event, though the economy improved in the 1930s, punctuated by various declines, the Depression was not finally ended until the United States began to mobilize for the Second World War. In this the US was in sharpest contrast to Nazi Germany. Hitler came to office about the same time Roosevelt did, and the economy was humming again within two years. The reason for this was simple enough: Hitler took office with the intention of fighting several major wars in about five to ten years, so rearmament began immediately. President Lovecraft, one suspects, would have done likewise.

Lovecraft's America would not have lacked for plausible enemies. There were, after all, the ubiquitous Communists, who would probably have favored Lovecraft's candidacy, as the German Communists favored Hitler's. (The idea was that Hitler's regime would soon collapse, thus leading to a red revolution.) Naturally, all the domestic ones would have to be arrested, and a military buildup begun in preparation for a final showdown with the USSR. The more immediate enemy, however, would have been the Yellow Peril, as manifest in Imperial Japan. It has always been difficult to explain to Americans why it was necessary to worry about threats from Europe. Arming against a possible war with Japan, in contrast, has always been an easy idea to sell. Actually, in the context of early Depression America, any kind of remilitarization program would have been easy to sell, since it would have been the one thing the government could have done to decrease unemployment quickly. (Young men not needed for the factories, of course, could have been drafted.)

Indeed, such a policy would have been self-sustaining, since possible enemies would have multiplied. The Roosevelt government was economically nationalist in terms of tariff policy, but it was content to let the international market economy continue to exist. It did not, at least to my knowledge, impose foreign exchange restrictions, or make it nearly impossible for foreigners to own property in America. Fascist governments, however, generally did do things like this. Such measures would have been serious blows to England and the Netherlands, whose people have always invested heavily in America. England would soon have perceived more than a financial threat, since an invasion of Canada would certainly have suggested itself to Lovecraft's government, both for strategic reasons and as an exercise. An Anglo-American naval war might have been the prelude to the western half of the Second World War.

That there would be a Second World War is hard to doubt, but the alliances would have been different. Britain, bereft of its overseas assets and a large part of its fleet (assuming the US won), could have had a revolution in the 1930s. If it was to the right, then the country would have been neutral in the event of a Nazi invasion of France. Fascist Britain might also have maintained its alliance with Japan through the 1930s, which would have meant the US could still have faced a two-ocean war when the fight with Japan started. Indeed, the US might have been faced with a Anglo-German alliance in the west. This would have made attacks on the continental United States plausible, particularly from the air. On the other hand, if Britain's revolution was to the left, then the British Empire would have disintegrated catastrophically. Red Britain might then have supported France in 1940, or whenever the German invasion came, but would probably have lacked the naval and air strength to resist invasion itself. Without Britain as a conduit, it is unlikely America would have become involved in Europe in the 1940s.

In the Pacific, hostilities might have begun as they did in the real world, but would have ended differently. For instance, since the United State would not have been cooperating with Great Britain on secret projects, and since America would not have been an attractive haven for refugee scientists, the atomic bomb would not have been invented. Despite what the revisionists say, an appalling invasion of Japan would almost certainly have been necessary. Lovecraft's government might then have been less interested in reforming the country than in depopulating it. Australia, one suspects, would have been annexed as Canada was annexed. The US might even have joined in the German war against the Soviet Union. (If the Nazis came to power in Germany, such an invasion would been inevitable). US aid would probably have taken the form of strategic bombing. It would also have been possible that the US would have gotten involved in a land war in China to finally defeat the Communists there.

Let us assume that Lovecraft dies about the time Roosevelt did, eight years later than Lovecraft did in fact. The world would then have been divided into two great spheres of influence, much as it was after the Second World War. However, they would have been far more evenly matched, since Europe would not have been laid in ruins by the Anglo- American and Russian invasions that occurred in the real world. The two empires would have had some ideological affinities, since both would have ruled by mystically-minded Aryan chauvinists. Some of their leaders would at least consider a union between the two empires. In contrast, popular opinion would have it, as did Hitler himself, that the great war between the eastern and western hemispheres would occur in the next generation. What a time for President Lovecraft to die! The only consolation would have been that the nation was be led by his brilliant young Vice President, L. Ron Hubbard.

But that's another story.



September 23

In 2010, John Reilly wrote ~ Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) has a biography one might expect of a failed Hitler.

The Life and Times of President H.P. LovecraftLovecraft has suffered from more than his share of posthumous Freudian analysis, but it is true that his family history (father dying while Lovecraft was young, over- protective mother) is similar to Hitler's. Both their childhoods' were prologues to some some similar life-long characteristics. Lovecraft, like Hitler, was a marginal artist. He was a better writer than Hitler was a painter, though that is not saying much. Both were very briefly married, Hitler for just a few hours, Lovecraft for a few months. Both were interested in the occult to some degree. Certainly both Nazism and Lovecraft's fiction owe a great deal to Theosophy. (Lovecraft claimed to be a sceptic. Hitler was affected by ideas of this type, though he was not a believer to the extent that Himmler and Hess were.) Both were racist Social Darwinists of the sort who viewed history as primarily determined by racial factors. Both were hypochondriacs who repeatedly forecast their early deaths. Lovecraft, whose neurasthenia kept him out of the First World War, turned out to be right. In person, both were rather shy and formal, not hard to like. Hitler loved dogs, Lovecraft loved cats.

A new story by John ReillyImagine an alternative history in which Lovecraft's ideas did not remain the stuff of pulp fiction. Suppose his father had lived, or he had been orphaned, or his family finances changed so that he had to go to work early in life. He becomes, let us say, a journalist in Boston or New York. He might then have fought in the First World War and returned with a distinguished record. He becomes a nationally syndicated columnist, famous for his warnings against the threat of immigrants, Communists, and unbridled finance capitalism, particularly as associated with the Jews. Like many practical people, life experience could have changed his reading about the occult from entertainment to belief. (It happens. Look at W.B. Yeats. For that matter, look at Hitler.) In the social catastrophe of the Great Depression, he would have had a unique opportunity to implement his ideas for revolutionary reform.

Lovecraft in politics would not have been a "conservative" in any serious sense of the word, though he would certainly have had little use for socialism or democracy. Sinclair Lewis, in his 1935 novel "It Can't Happen Here," tried to give some notion of what an American fascism might be like. It would be more puritanical than its European counterparts, he suggested. It would be less a case of a party imposing a political orthodoxy on the whole country than of radical right groups, such as the Klan, being empowered by the government to act at the local level. When Lewis thought of fascism, however, he seems to have been thinking of Italy. There was no particular place in his fascist America, as there was in Germany and would certainly have been in Lovecraft's America, for a national eugenics program. For that matter, Lewis did not understand, at least in 1935, how central anti-Semitism was to Nazism. If, as some writers have suggested, Hitler's Jewish policy was a necessary feature of his model of history (See Paul Wistrich's Hitler's Apocalypse), then one would expect similar notions to occur to Lovecraft, whose intellectual frame of reference was not so different from those of the leading Nazis.

America did not lack for proto-fascists in the 1930s, but they were regional personalities with little hope of forming an important national movement. Huey Long of Louisiana was very smart, of course, but he was, well, too "colorful" to be much appreciated outside his home state. Father Coughlin, the Radio Priest, would not himself have been a serious candidate for political office. His movement was too closely linked with Rome, at least in the public mind, to be anything but a faction in a larger right-wing coalition.

Lovecraft, or someone like him, might have been able to form such a coalition. A Northerner, nominally Protestant, he could have preached economic populism for the South and Midwest and anti-Communism for the Catholic Northeast. His background was such that he would have been more likely to have entered politics as a Republican than as a Democrat. In his native New England, the Democrats were the party of the hated immigrants. Of course, he might have taken the posture of a man above politics before the Depression. Like Perot in 1992 or Powell today, he could have had his pick of the nomination of either party. In terms of party platform, there was not much to choose between Roosevelt and Hoover in 1932. Roosevelt's chief qualification was that he was not Hoover. Lovecraft, who was in real life of a somewhat philosophical cast of mind, would have been not just a new face, but a man with a plan.

Any government elected in 1932 would have had to do much the same sort of thing on taking office that Roosevelt did. It was necessary to immediately reconstruct the banking system, to distribute disaster relief to the unemployed, and to try to cajole the country's businessmen into maintaining employment and making some investments. The Roosevelt Administration did this minimum, supplemented a little later with "make-work" projects, from new roads to the vaguely Stalinist murals you can still find in some older Post Offices. Some of these initiatives helped. Some, such as the government's price-fixing schemes, were catastrophes. In any event, though the economy improved in the 1930s, punctuated by various declines, the Depression was not finally ended until the United States began to mobilize for the Second World War. In this the US was in sharpest contrast to Nazi Germany. Hitler came to office about the same time Roosevelt did, and the economy was humming again within two years. The reason for this was simple enough: Hitler took office with the intention of fighting several major wars in about five to ten years, so rearmament began immediately. President Lovecraft, one suspects, would have done likewise.

Lovecraft's America would not have lacked for plausible enemies. There were, after all, the ubiquitous Communists, who would probably have favored Lovecraft's candidacy, as the German Communists favored Hitler's. (The idea was that Hitler's regime would soon collapse, thus leading to a red revolution.) Naturally, all the domestic ones would have to be arrested, and a military buildup begun in preparation for a final showdown with the USSR. The more immediate enemy, however, would have been the Yellow Peril, as manifest in Imperial Japan. It has always been difficult to explain to Americans why it was necessary to worry about threats from Europe. Arming against a possible war with Japan, in contrast, has always been an easy idea to sell. Actually, in the context of early Depression America, any kind of remilitarization program would have been easy to sell, since it would have been the one thing the government could have done to decrease unemployment quickly. (Young men not needed for the factories, of course, could have been drafted.)

Indeed, such a policy would have been self-sustaining, since possible enemies would have multiplied. The Roosevelt government was economically nationalist in terms of tariff policy, but it was content to let the international market economy continue to exist. It did not, at least to my knowledge, impose foreign exchange restrictions, or make it nearly impossible for foreigners to own property in America. Fascist governments, however, generally did do things like this. Such measures would have been serious blows to England and the Netherlands, whose people have always invested heavily in America. England would soon have perceived more than a financial threat, since an invasion of Canada would certainly have suggested itself to Lovecraft's government, both for strategic reasons and as an exercise. An Anglo-American naval war might have been the prelude to the western half of the Second World War.

That there would be a Second World War is hard to doubt, but the alliances would have been different. Britain, bereft of its overseas assets and a large part of its fleet (assuming the US won), could have had a revolution in the 1930s. If it was to the right, then the country would have been neutral in the event of a Nazi invasion of France. Fascist Britain might also have maintained its alliance with Japan through the 1930s, which would have meant the US could still have faced a two-ocean war when the fight with Japan started. Indeed, the US might have been faced with a Anglo-German alliance in the west. This would have made attacks on the continental United States plausible, particularly from the air. On the other hand, if Britain's revolution was to the left, then the British Empire would have disintegrated catastrophically. Red Britain might then have supported France in 1940, or whenever the German invasion came, but would probably have lacked the naval and air strength to resist invasion itself. Without Britain as a conduit, it is unlikely America would have become involved in Europe in the 1940s.

In the Pacific, hostilities might have begun as they did in the real world, but would have ended differently. For instance, since the United State would not have been cooperating with Great Britain on secret projects, and since America would not have been an attractive haven for refugee scientists, the atomic bomb would not have been invented. Despite what the revisionists say, an appalling invasion of Japan would almost certainly have been necessary. Lovecraft's government might then have been less interested in reforming the country than in depopulating it. Australia, one suspects, would have been annexed as Canada was annexed. The US might even have joined in the German war against the Soviet Union. (If the Nazis came to power in Germany, such an invasion would been inevitable). US aid would probably have taken the form of strategic bombing. It would also have been possible that the US would have gotten involved in a land war in China to finally defeat the Communists there.

Let us assume that Lovecraft dies about the time Roosevelt did, eight years later than Lovecraft did in fact. The world would then have been divided into two great spheres of influence, much as it was after the Second World War. However, they would have been far more evenly matched, since Europe would not have been laid in ruins by the Anglo- American and Russian invasions that occurred in the real world. The two empires would have had some ideological affinities, since both would have ruled by mystically-minded Aryan chauvinists. Some of their leaders would at least consider a union between the two empires. In contrast, popular opinion would have it, as did Hitler himself, that the great war between the eastern and western hemispheres would occur in the next generation. What a time for President Lovecraft to die! The only consolation would have been that the nation was be led by his brilliant young Vice President, L. Ron Hubbard.

But that's another story.



November 26

In 1963, from the Obituaries of The New York Times, November 26: on this day Argentine police officials confirmed that the remains of Clive Staples Lewis were among those found in the ashes of a bungalow on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. The building burned to the ground on November 22, just as Mr. Lewis, a long-time international fugitive, was about to be apprehended by agents of the CIA and MI5.

The Wickedest Man in the WorldAllegations of his involvement with this week's tragic events in Dallas are continuing to stir worldwide controversy. Mr. Lewis is believed to have committed suicide by self-immolation. The exact number of his companions and the cause of their deaths are still under investigation.

With the death of Mr. Lewis, the hunt for the major war criminals of the Second World War can be said to be over.

A new story by John ReillyC.S. Lewis was born on November 29, 1898, to an ordinary professional-class household of Belfast in the north of Ireland. His father, Albert, was a successful police prosecutor. His mother, born Flora Hamilton, died while he and his only sibling, an older brother named Warren, were still young. (Warren Lewis, a career army officer, died of liver disease in 1936.) According to C.S. Lewis's own memoirs, he endured a singularly unhappy childhood in the British public (i.e., private) schools of the period. He was the object of repeated beatings by other boys, and his academic performance was marginal. The young Lewis took refuge in bizarre fantasies involving animals, and also began a fascination with the occult that would greatly affect his later career.

Lewis served as a junior officer in the British Army in the First World War, during which he was wounded. Like many other figures who would later become important on the Right, Lewis wrote positively of his military service. He remarked of his time in the trenches that "this is what Homer wrote of," though he dismissed the war as a whole as merely an occasion "to meet the great goddess Nonsense". It is certainly true that Lewis benefited from the experience. Although before the war Lewis had repeatedly failed to pass the admission test for Oxford, the requirement was waived for veterans and Lewis was able to attend.

Lewis's time at Oxford is the most shadowy of his life. Although his only major works during the 1920s were two semi-pornographic verse novels published under a pseudonym, he is acknowledged to have developed a fetching style that could have won him a conventional academic career. However, rumors of sado-masochistic relations with students and faculty soon put a question mark by his hopes for university advancement. Additionally, his active involvement with ritual magic during this period seems to have occasioned a conspicuous decline in his mental equilibrium.

Writing long afterward, Lewis reports, in all seriousness, that he attended a ceremony in which a participant was literally dragged down to Hell. For whatever reason, Lewis clearly became increasingly paranoid about the powers he believed he had invoked. "You must picture me," he wrote, "alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet". Some final crisis occurred in 1929 which left Lewis unable to function. He was dismissed from Oxford, and later spent some months in Belbury Mental Hospital, during which he wrote an account of his conversion to Typhonianism entitled "The Pilgrim's Regress" (1933).

After his release from the hospital, Lewis used his contacts in the occult underground to meet Oswald Mosley, soon joining what came to be called Mosley's "Inner Ring.". Lewis was instrumental in organizing the publicity strategy for Mosley's British Union of Fascists. Indeed, Lewis regarded this period as the happiest of his life. As he put it, he wrote successful propaganda "with his tongue in his cheek and the printer's devil by the door, and no one able to call him a nonentity ever again". Lewis is also believed to have been the real author of Mosley's "Allegory of Love" (1936), a provocative book that applied Georges Sorel's ideas about the manipulation of political myth to a "revolution of elites" in a parliamentary democracy.

Although active in the peace movement throughout the later 1930s, Lewis volunteered for military service when Great Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939. Nonetheless, Lewis was interned in Blackmoor Prison with Mosley and other prominent Fascists in the early days of the war. Mosley and many of his colleagues were killed in the assault on the prison by German Special Forces during the invasion, leaving Lewis the highest-ranking British Fascist to survive. Lewis was Minister of Education (1940-43) and Home Secretary (1941-43) in the quisling government of Lloyd George. In the period of direct German rule under the Protectorate, he served as Deputy Director of the Nordic Institute for the Civilization of England (1943-44).

During the occupation, Lewis was chiefly responsible for the cultural policy of the new order, a position for which he insisted that plenary police powers were necessary. Among his most notorious policies were the persecution of all manifestations of historical religious orthodoxy, and his use of the Anglican Church to promote a neo-pagan cult of his own devising. Lewis's voice became well-known to short-wave radio listeners during the war years through his weekly talks on this "British Christianity". Lewis is best remembered in England, however, for his treatment of intellectuals believed to be hostile to the regime, many of whom at been interned in the month just after the invasion. His orders regarding the faculty of Magdalen College, "Beat them, bite them, throw them into pits with snakes and never let them see the sun again!," secured his death sentence in absentia during the War Crimes trials at Portsmouth in 1946. A selected anthology of the directives issuing from his office during the war, published as "The Screwtape Memoranda," became one of the chief primary sources for understanding the workings of totalitarian bureaucracies.

Lewis was not in London on "Prince Caspian's Day," so called for the famous codeword that triggered the British uprising. It was later learned that, moved by some intuition when communications were cut, Lewis fled secretly to the Republic of Ireland to await events. Remaining in Ireland after the liberation of Britain and the Continent, Lewis wrote an enormous thesis describing the Neo-Nazi empire which he believed was the inevitable future of western civilization. Privately published as Imperium in 1948 under the pseudonym "Ulick Varange," the book has functioned ever since as the "bible" of postwar international fascism.

In the 15 years between the publication of "Imperium" and his apparent death on November 22, Lewis is believed to have been a major figure in the international fascist underground, and particularly in the mysterious "Odessa" organization. Though staunchly opposed to Communism, Odessa's tactical opposition to American influence in Europe has led it to cooperate with the Eastern Block security services. Lewis was known to have been operating in Latin America for some time, and American security officials had been hinting that an arrest could be imminent. None would confirm the rumors that Odessa cells operating in the western hemisphere had threatening retaliation if Lewis were taken.

"What can we say?" said the FBI's Assistant Director of Western Hemisphere Affairs, L. H. Oswald. "He was the wickedest man in the world".



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