More Nazi Germany alternative history from John. The occasion for his speculations this time is a sober historical analysis of the political fecklessness that brought Hitler to the Chancellorship of Germany in 1933. In short, the responsible adults in Germany felt that a dictatorship was a good idea, and they picked Hitler to keep the chair warm while they dickered about who it should be.
A moment of clarity on the part of any of the senior political figures involved gives us an excellent departure point for alternative history. The twentieth century was going to be a bad one in almost any conceivable history, but there were at least some better alternatives that might have been possible.
Hitler's Thirty Days to Power: January 1933
by Henry Ashby Turner, Jr.
272 pages, $25.00
There are any number of theories explaining why the Nazi regime was inevitable. Cultural or economic determinism seem to serve about as well for this purpose. Some historians have detected a peculiar flaw in German culture that made the country peculiarly susceptible to antisemitic fascism. (Daniel Goldhagen argued for a form of this interpretation in his "Hitler's Willing Executioners.") A widely-accepted view is that Hitler was a creature of German big business who just got a little out of hand once he got into office, though in fact support for this thesis is thin in the record. What these explanations have in common is the search for a cause worthy of the effect. Nazi Germany was, of course, a Big Thing, and so it seems reasonable that it should have a big cause.
This book by Henry Ashby Turner, Jr., a Stille' professor of history at Yale most noted for his study of the role of big business in the advent of the Nazi regime, takes a wholly different approach. This is a day-by-day, indeed sometimes an hour-by-hour, account of the actions of the leaders of Germany during the weeks leading up to Hitler's appointment as chancellor on January 30, 1933. By examining the negotiations that led to the fateful swearing-in ceremony in President Paul von Hindenburg's office, Turner purports to show that the advent of the Nazis to power was in fact largely a matter of dumb luck.
Turner does not deny the role of large, impersonal forces in the establishment of the Nazi regime. Certainly the economic depression of the 1930s and German cultural predilections made Nazi Germany possible. Turner's point is that they did not make it inevitable, or even particularly likely. Unusually for a serious historian, but with more than enough justification in this case, he gives us a long speculation on what in fact was the most probable outcome at the time. We are thus treated to an examination of ten or twenty years of German history that never happened, but that would have happened had it not been for the folly and incompetence of three or four German politicians. As Turner points out, the twentieth century without Hitler would have been a very different time. Still, one may wonder whether it would have been quite as different as he suggests.
Since the beginning of the Depression three years before November, 1932, the Nazis had seemed like the wave of the future. They were a negligible sect at the time of Hitler's release from Landsberg prison in 1925, where he had been sentenced after attempting a farcical coup. When the brief prosperity of the Weimar period ended, however, the Nazi party changed the political map of Germany. They absorbed many of the adherents of the smaller right-wing parties, making themselves the chief vehicle for protest votes. The established parties, the Communists, the Social Democrats and the Catholic Center, seemed helpless to cope, or even to match the Nazis in innovative campaign technique.
The acme of Nazi voting success came in the July parliamentary elections, when their percentage of the vote reached the high thirty percent range. This made them the largest party in the federal Reichstag, though far short of a majority. The chancellor at that time, Heinrich Bruening, was a respected, fatally stubborn member of the minority Catholic Center. He was also a presidential appointee, since he could not count on majority legislative support. Under the Weimar constitution, it was possible for a chancellor to conduct a government with just the backing of the president's emergency powers, provided the Reichstag did not actually return a vote of no-confidence against him. Eventually, however, his policies of fiscal austerity caused his fall from office. After Bruening, no chancellor was able to count even on the toleration of a parliamentary majority. Thus, by the summer of 1932, Germany had already ceased to be a functioning parliamentary democracy. Law was increasingly made by President Hindenberg's emergency decrees. A more explicit form of dictatorship seemed not just reasonable, but inevitable.
Then there was a pause. Nazi electoral success in early '30s did not depend, as many people charged at the time, on subsidies by bankers and industrialists eager to set up a dictatorship friendly to capitalism. The Nazis did have some wealthy sympathizers, notably the great industrialist, Fritz Thyssen. Still, to a surprising degree they were a shoestring operation, supported by generous membership contributions and the time and labor of their members (many of whom, after all, were not otherwise employed at the time). The problem with this kind of organization, of course, is that it is a kind of pyramid scheme. As long as the membership keeps growing, more money comes in to fund the drive for new members. When growth falters, however, the whole structure is in danger of collapse. That is very much what happened to the Nazi party when its share of the popular vote dropped by over 10% in the next round of elections in November.
Why did this happen? The simplest answer may be that their natural share of the electorate was about a third. There have been many profiles of the "Nazi voter." This creature was more likely to be Protestant than Catholic, more likely rural than urban, more likely to run a farm or small business than to work in a factory. The Nazi electorate was even disproportionately female. In any event, the percentage of the population likely to find Hitler and his organization attractive was large but limited. Their ability to attract protest votes outside their natural constituencies diminished after they became the largest parliamentary party. The Nazis then, as far as the public was concerned, had become part of the establishment, and so had to take part of the blame for the continuing dysfunction of the government and the economy.
Though still the largest party in the Reichstag, they no longer looked like the inevitable party of the future, and members who had already devoted a great deal of time and money to the Nazi cause began to drift away. Nazi stormtroopers took to the streets, not to intimidate their opponents, but to beg donations from passersby. Farsighted observers began to surmise that the window of opportunity for the Nazis had closed, since by the end of 1932 the German economy was plainly beginning to recover. All that the leaders of Germany had to do was exercise a little prudence and common sense for another six months. By then the political crisis occasioned by the Depression would have been solved.
Unfortunately, neither prudence nor common sense were conspicuous features of Franz von Papen, President Hindenberg's next appointee after the dismissal of Bruening. Whatever else the November elections may have proven, they left the Reichstag more fractured than ever. Papen was another member of the Center Party, but unlike Bruening could not count on their support, since he had accepted the chancellorship without the party's permission. He did little to any purpose during his few weeks in office, though he did succeed in alienating labor by various decrees. He toyed with schemes for a temporary dictatorship. Since these would probably not have worked but would have required the cooperation the president, their chief effect would have been to deprive the Weimar Republic of what little legitimacy it still possessed. His chief accomplishment, one that would prove fatal for Germany and the world, was in gaining the lasting trust and affection of President Hindenberg and his son, Oskar. Without a functioning Reichstag, Hindenberg was in effect the government of Germany. That fact, and the fact that the old man was likely to take any advice that Papen gave him, were the decisive elements in the events of January, 1933.
The chancellor during this period was Kurt von Schleicher, a career officer and longtime minister of defense who retained that portfolio even while chancellor. For years, he had been regarded as the power behind the throne of German politics. He had arranged for the appointment and dismissal of both Bruening and Papen. He was largely responsible for long-term foreign policy and strategic planning, areas where he met with some success. Despite the ministerial instability of the Weimar era, the Republic had succeeded in freeing itself from most of the onerous conditions imposed by the Allies at the end of the First World War. These things were achieved in no small measure because of the continuity in policy engineered by Schleicher and his colleagues. However, as Turner remarks, Schleicher seems to have "risen to the level of his incompetence" by actually becoming chancellor himself.
Schleicher lacked the sycophantic skills of Papen, so necessary to staying on the right side of Hindenberg. He deluded himself into believing that he did not need them, since he had an elaborate scheme for gaining the acquiescence, if not quite the active support, of a majority of the Reichstag. His plan had too many moving parts. It involved splitting off the moderate wing of the Nazi Party under Gregor Strasser and getting at least some labor support from the Catholic trade unions. When these things failed to materialize, all he could suggest to the displeased Hindenberg was that Reichstag should be dissolved and no new elections scheduled, despite the constitutional requirement for elections within 60 days. As Turner also remarks, a better general would have prepared a more plausible line of retreat.
This explains why Schleicher was kicked out, but how did Hitler get in? Turner's answer is that the proximate cause of the advent of Adolf Hitler to the chancellorship was the spite of Franz von Papen. Papen was humiliated by the way his old friend Schleicher had engineered his removal from office. Papen, and Hindenberg, would have preferred another Papen chancellorship when it became clear that Schleicher could not muster the parliamentary support he had promised. However, even Papen had to acknowledge that such a step would simply have returned the political state of the country to what it had been in November, when Papen's attempts to rule in opposition to the Reichstag had provoked threats of civil war. Very well then, Papen made it his business to find someone else to replace Schleicher, someone Papen could be sure of controlling. He hit upon what seemed the obvious solution, the hapless ideologue Hitler.
Probably no one else could have prevailed on Hindenberg to appoint Hitler chancellor. As leader of the largest parliamentary party since July, he had of course been the obvious candidate to be asked to form a conventional majority government. Despite the notorious dislike that Hindenberg had taken to Hitler, the president had in fact offered him just this opportunity in the fall of 1932. Hitler declined. Part of the reason was practical. The Nazis were, was we have seen, far from having a majority themselves, and the closest thing to a parliamentary ally they could claim was the absurd Alfred Hugenberg's German-National Party, which tended to get smaller in each election as the Nazis ate them alive. The deeper reason, however, was that Hitler did not want to be beholden to any parliamentary coalition. Perhaps he would not really have been happy even with a majority Nazi Reichstag. What he wanted was to be a presidential chancellor, like Bruening and Papen and Schleicher. This would permit him to act quickly and radically, without reference even to what his own party thought. Though it seemed irrational, he held out for these terms from the disastrous parliamentary elections of November through the disintegration of the Schleicher government in January. Papen saw to it that Hitler got just those terms. In return, Papen got the meaningless post of deputy chancellor in the new cabinet and the appointment of various make-weight aristocrats to other ministerial posts. Hitler's cabinet, of course, never actually functioned.
Turner spends several pages assigning praise and blame to the non-Nazis who contrived to bring Hitler to power. The most guilty, in his estimation, was President von Hindenberg himself. Turner finds no basis for the widespread belief that the mind of the octogenarian president was fading in early 1933. Rather, Turner asserts that Hindenberg had as much vanity as integrity. He favored ministers who would flatter him and shield him from all criticism. He routinely dispensed with his presidential chancellors when they needed his authority to take unpopular measures. Maybe his job was too much for a man of his age, but he had sought and won reelection in 1932. It was no one's fault he was president but his own.
Papen's guilt, and that of the other people around the president, is perhaps mitigated by the fact that the chancellorship of the Weimar Republic had long since ceased to be an altogether serious job. Parliamentary and, later, presidential chancellors routinely replaced each other after a few months. There seemed little reason to believe that a Hitler government would prove to be any more durable. Papen hoped to replace Hitler in short order. (For that matter, the Communists looked forward to a Nazi regime as "capitalism's last throw," which might be followed by a revolutionary situation.) Turner reviews the scant media attention given to Hitler's appointment at the time. Hardly anyone seemed to realize that Hitler was not a normal politician, and that his government would not be a normal government.
Nevertheless, informed people knew that the Weimar constitutional system could no longer be made to work. Some kind of authoritarian regime was widely expected, one that might retain the form of the Republic but that would in fact be a modified dictatorship. To some extent, this was just what Hitler did. He ruled on the strength of an "enabling act," passed in March by a Reichstag denuded of its recalcitrant members. There never was such a thing as a "Nazi Constitution." Hitler was not the person that the German establishment wanted to take these steps: people like Papen simply wanted him to keep the chancellor's seat warm for the real dictator, once they had selected him. Folly of this magnitude is rare in any land or age.
This brings us to the might-have-beens. Turner sometimes seems to suggest that it was the world's tragedy that Schleicher did not aspire to become military dictator himself. Turner is sure that Schleicher or someone like him could have done this, parlaying an initial appointment as presidential chancellor into a durable post-democratic regime. According to Turner, nothing like the Second World War would then have occurred, either in Europe or the Pacific. (Turner takes care to point out that Japanese expansionism in the '30s and '40s was predicated on the preoccupation of the European colonial powers with their own security troubles, the chief of which was Nazi Germany.) Had there been no Nazis, Turner believes, a revanchist Germany would have fought a war to recover the corridor to East Prussia from Poland, perhaps with the cooperation of the Soviet Union. Aside from that, however, he does not think that the other elements of the Nazi agenda would have occurred. The annexation of Austria, the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, and above all the extermination of the Jews were Nazi preoccupations. No other German government would have conceived of such things, much less attempted them.
Eventually, of course, the military regime would have ended, perhaps as the Franco regime did in Spain, without much fuss. With eastern Europe unconquered by the Soviet Union, there would have been no occasion for the Cold War. For that matter, atomic weapons would have gone uninvented, since the Manhattan Project was specifically conceived to stop Hitler. All in all, Turner suggests, we have been living in far from the best of all possible worlds, since what actually happened was far from what was most likely to have happened.
Maybe, but if we are speculating on this level, then let us speculate further. Perhaps the total sum of human misery in the world could have been greatly reduced if a few meetings in January of 1933 had gone less well, or if certain politicians had achieved their adolescent dream and gotten into art school. On the other hand, perhaps there is a law of the conservation of catastrophe in human history. Perhaps if there had been no Nazi regime, the Communist assessment of Germany's future might have been correct. A Soviet Germany would proven just as disruptive for Europe as the Nazi one was. Even the war against Russia might have occurred in such a case, since the USSR and Red Germany would have been in immediate competition for leadership of the world communist movement.
More plausible than a Communist revolution in Germany, however, would have been the civil war that many had come to fear by the end of 1932. In addition to the Nazis, the Communists and the Social Democrats all had substantial fighting forces, more than enough to give Germany's small post-Versailles army something to worry about. (For that matter, the army would have found a formidable foe even in the Prussian police.) Despite an improving economy, the Weimar party system still might not have been salvageable. Schleicher was not anxious to become military dictator, perhaps, because he knew that establishing such a regime would have been more easily said than done. Hitler could do it because he had a substantial party behind him. Schleicher, in contrast, could have relied on nothing but the state's institutional authority. It is easy to imagine Germany unraveling rather like Spain did a few years later. The Nazis might then have succeeded in fighting their way to power, as Nazis like Ernst Roehm had intended all along.
For that matter, one wonders whether a rightist dictatorship in Germany would have been as prudent as Turner suggests. The historian Fritz Fischer, remember, started a famous "battle of the historians" in the 1960s by arguing, plausibly, that Imperial Germany had entertained hegemonic ambitions comparable to those of the Nazi regime. Even without a Blitzkrieg into France, a German invasion of Poland could still have set off a general European war in stages, in something like the scenario H.G. Wells describes in his 1933 novel, "Things to Come." There were many landmines strewn across Europe in those years. Maybe not only Hitler could have set them off.
All of this is simply to suggest that some kind of Second World War was fairly likely even without the Nazis. The First World War had ended in a truce, a pause for a breath that could not be held forever. Nevertheless, one does not doubt that Turner's basic intuition is correct. The Nazis were not a normal political phenomenon, and the war they waged did not have normal goals. The Holocaust did not have to happen, and even the conventional features of a second round of world war need not have been so widespread or so devastating as what happened in fact. Taken in this way, Turner's excursion into alternate history holds a valuable insight for statesmen. Even if you can't be blamed for preventing the bad from happening, you can be blamed for failing to prevent he worst.
This is exactly the kind of story everyone loves. Nazis. Magic. Glimpses of an alternative future that might have been. But there are hints of something more. A secret Jew who was prominent in Nazi Germany. A stage magician and entertainer who seemed to make uncannily accurate predictions, at least some of the time. An finally, the character behind all of these things was first murdered, and then surreptitiously dropped from history. Makes you go "hmm..."
Erik Jan Hanussen:
Hitler's Jewish Clairvoyant
By Mel Gordon
Feral House, 2001
273 Pages, $24.95
The subject of this biography is scarcely obscure. He was a major figure in the European magic-show circuit in the 1920s, and the subject of sensational accounts in the American pulp magazines of the 1930s. Tales of his mysterious relationship to Hitler, capped by his brutal assassination in March of 1933, reached a more respectable audience as war approached. Articles about him appeared in the better magazines, and he figured in several novels. A contract was actually signed to do a major Hollywood biopic about him. Then silence about Erik Jan Hanussen descended quite suddenly, in September of 1942. There were no more major treatments in print, and the plans for a movie were shelved. Much later, interest in Hanussen revived in Europe. Some minor films were even made about him. Nonetheless, he dropped out of the popular memory of the English-speaking world.
This biography may help to end that anomaly. The author is Mel Gordon, a professor of theater at the University of California at Berkeley. He has written on the culture of the Weimar period before, in "Voluptuous Panic." Readers who have fond memories of Otto Friedrich's "Before the Deluge" are in for too much fun.
"Erik Jan Hanussen: Hitler's Jewish Clairvoyant" is sprinkled with small, apt photos and graphics from the Weimar era, as well as from the last years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where Hanussen was born and raised. There are also short articles by Hanussen and his contemporaries, in translation, about stage-show magic and psychic phenomena. Most of all, though, there is the improbable tale of Hanussen himself, the secret Jew whose life is a cautionary tale about what happens to boys who run away to join the circus.
The subject of all this mystification was born Herschmann-Chaim Steinschneider on June 2, 1889, less than two months after Hitler and not so far away, in the cell of a police precinct in Vienna. (Why there? It's a long story.) His parents were marginal theater-people. Herschmann (usually "Hermann" or, later, "Harry") left home at an early age, to seek his own career in small-town theaters and circuses. The term for such a person is "Jenischmann," the Middle European equivalent of "carney."
Harry's talents extended beyond the carnival. As a young man, he worked in Vienna as a songwriter and tabloid journalist; the latter activity seems to have involved some polite extortion of prominent people who did not want their private lives exposed. Still, he was essentially an entertainer, a function he continued to perform in the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First World War.
It was because of the more upscale audiences that he encountered during the war that he adopted the stage-name "Erik Jan Hanussen." He took that identity with varying levels of seriousness, sometimes billing himself as "Hanussen-Steinschneider." On the other hand, there was a time when he claimed to be a Danish aristocrat. Usually he was content to be thought of as an ordinary Dane, though he spoke no Danish. He managed to diddle his Nazi admirers for a while with the story that he was a Danish orphan who had been raised by Bohemian Jews. In any case, the Hanussen name is how history knows him.
Even before the war, Hanussen had begun to specialize in mind reading, hypnotism and fortune telling. He was good at these things, in the several ways of it. One of the merits of this book is the explanations it gives, some of them provided by Hanussen himself, about how mind-reading acts work. This involved such things as information discretely gathered from the audience before the performance, or verbal and body-language codes used between the psychic and his aides. Some of the art is no more than the skilful playing of the game of "20 Questions." However, especially when the psychic was using an audience member to lead him to a hidden object, it also involved "muscle reading." This is essentially a hands-on form of the anxiety-detection that polygraphs do. Supposedly, it can be done without physical contact, simply by closely observing the subject. The effect would look like telepathy. If the technique works as described, it would be rather like the wiles of the Bene Gesserit in Frank Herbert's "Dune."
On the other hand, though Hanussen was, for the most part, clearly just a stage magician doing stage-magician tricks, there were times when he himself thought there was more to it. There are gray areas in the work of a magician that require intuition, and at these he was unusually convincing. He described strangers and their history with an accuracy that was hard to account for. He was also good with the future, at least if you look at his prophecies selectively. His accurate predictions of public things, like the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler and the timing of World War II, might have been no more than keen political insight. On the other hand, there is a great treasury of anecdotes about correct forecasts of events in the lives of private persons, from auto accidents to murders, that he should not have been able to foresee and that he, probably, could not have caused himself.
Hanussen's career was not confined to the stage. Among his other pursuits, he had a lively and well-publicized practice as a "psychic detective." He seems to have been no worse than the police at finding lost people and things, even those that he had not stolen himself. In one famous case, he nabbed the culprit at the Austrian central bank who had been stealing freshly printed money. This secured him the public gratitude of respectable officials, who ever after attested to his uncanny gifts. Hanussen, in fact, managed to collect a long list of testimonials from businessmen, politicians and psychologists. The last group tested his psychic abilities repeatedly. Their conclusions were often along the lines of yes, he does cheat, but maybe not all the time.
All of this stood him in good stead during his prolonged trial in the Czechoslovakian town of Leitmeritz, were local officials charged him with fraud in such a way that they would have had to disprove the reality of psychic phenomena in order to win a conviction. Hanussen gained so much credit from his acquittal in what was called "the last witchcraft trial in Europe" that one wonders just why the prosecutor chose to pursue the case.
Other adventures include his work as a film producer, usually with himself playing Dr. Caligari-like roles. One long diversion, however, was a stint as an impresario. In that capacity, he was the long-time nemesis of the Zionist strongman, Sigmund Breitbart. Determined to show that anyone could do the feats of strength and invulnerability that Breitbart displayed on stage, Hanussen designed and promoted a Strong Woman act. The performer, "Marta Fara," bit through chains, lay down on a bed of nails and survived being run over by a wagon. The act played well in Europe, and even in America, though unscrupulous Yankees fleeced Hanussen there. The problem was that the premise of the act was wrong; "Marta Fara" suffered broken ribs and lost teeth. Three women played the role at various times, all departing to nurse their injuries and accuse Hanussen of tyranny and abuse.
Though he had had some experience of Berlin as young performer, it was only in the late Weimar period that Hanussen made the city the focus of his work. He appeared on stage, he did psychic consulting, he mixed with the wealthy and gullible. From about 1930, he became a fixture of Berlin life. Hanussen ran a considerable publishing business, specializing in newspapers and magazines that dealt with scandals and astrology. These were not partisan publications. Hanussen himself seems to have had no politics. However, in 1932, he began predicting that Hitler would soon become chancellor and that a rightwing dictatorship would ensue.
The amount of contact that Hanussen had with Hitler is a matter of dispute, as is the timing of any meetings they may have had. Hanussen, typically, bragged about his Nazi contacts; he almost certainly exaggerated them. Gordon cautiously says that we can be fairly sure that Hanussen and Hitler met more than once in 1932. This would be quite enough to make Hanussen an interesting figure, but I should point out that other accounts are willing to credit a very strong connection. According to John Toland in his biography, "Adolf Hitler," Hitler and Hanussen first met as early as 1926, at the home of a wealthy socialite:
"…Hanussen's first words were: 'If you are serious about entering politics, Herr Hitler, why don't you learn how to speak?' A master of body language, Hanussen explained that Hitler was not taking advantage of movement to emphasize his words. In the next few years, so Müllern-Schönhausen claimed, they continued to meet briefly and Hanussen not only taught him the tricks of elocution but also advised him on the selection of his associates."
As with so much about Hanussen, that's a good story that would be even better if we knew it were true. There are better stories yet, however. Consider this poem, which Toland says that Hanussen presented to Hitler on New Year's day, 1933, and which he assures us was "publicized and ridiculed":The way to the goal is still blocked,
The right helpers have not yet gathered,
But in three days—from three countries,
Through the bank everything will change!
And then on the day before the end of the month,
You stand at your goal and a turning point!
No eagle could carry you on your path,
The termites had to gnaw your way!
To the ground falls what was rotten and withered.
It already creaks in the beams!
This poem correctly forecasts Hitler's accession to the chancellorship on January 30. The phrase "through the bank" is a literal translation of "Durch die Bank," but the phrase also means "completely, across the board." In any case, Hitler had already received an invitation for negotiations at the home of a prominent banker about the possibility of forming a government. It is not at all unlikely that Hanussen knew that. The interesting thing is that the Hitler chancellorship was not a done deal until late January. As Henry Ashby Turner emphasizes in Hitler's Thirty Days to Power, there was no sentiment in the German establishment for a Nazi government. Even on the Right, the consensus was that the influence of the Nazis had already peaked. However, at the beginning of 1933, there was a particularly intractable cabinet crisis. All the serious candidates cancelled each other out. Hitler was chosen by President Hindenburg's advisor, Franz von Papen, as part of a petty scheme that was supposed to bring Papen himself to power. (Actually back to power: Papen had led a brief and unsuccessful government in 1932.) All of this was purely hypothetical at the beginning of 1933, however, so Hanussen surely deserves credit for foresight, if not necessarily clairvoyance.
This brings us to an incident that could not have been foreseen by ordinary political analysis. On the evening of February 26, the day before the Reichstag Fire, Hanussen held a memorable séance at his Palace of the Occult. Gordon gives this account:
"Hanussen asked her what she saw. Maria closed her eyes. She saw red. The master Clairvoyant wanted to know more. Could the red be flames? Maria straightened up. Yes, the red shapes could be flames. Flames from a great house…The Dane filled in the girl's prophetic image. 'There are fires. I see a Great House is being consumed by flames."
Noting that Hanussen's papers had for months been forecasting "the destruction" of the Reichstag in connection with parliamentary elections, Gordon waxes incredulous. While not dismissing the possibility that Hanussen may have really foreseen the fire, he prefers two other possibilities: either Hanussen had learned from his Nazi contacts that arson was planned, or he set the fire himself. We are told that there was some evidence linking Hanussen to the fire, but it has been destroyed. At least one of those who might have been in the know committed murder-suicide in public. This happened under a chandelier, as Hanussen had predicted many years before. That was a conspiracy with style.
The Reichstag Fire was certainly convenient for the new Nazi government. It permitted the declaration of a state of emergency from which the country never really emerged until 1945. Still, Gordon ought to have pointed out that most historians today are persuaded that the fire really was set by a single arsonist, the young Dutchman and former Communist, Maurinus van der Lubbe. The story that the Nazis set the fire themselves was the Communist Party line all over the world; it was being promulgated before the details of the incident were known.
Taking note of old accounts of Lubbe's distracted demeanor at trial, Gordon plays with the hypothesis that Lubbe may have been suffering from post-hypnotic suggestion. Maybe Hanussen, in collaboration with the Nazis, had hypnotized the young man, either to set the fire, or to take the blame for it. Again, that's a good story. It's probably too good a story, even for Hanussen-Steinschneider.
Hanussen's assassination was "over determined," as historians say of an event that has so many sufficient causes that it is hard to pick just one. He had no lack of professional and personal enemies. He eventually made peace with Breitbart, but Berlin was also full of jealous husbands. In later years, he had acquired political enemies on the Left. At first they disliked him because they believed that magic was reactionary; his later association with the Nazis outraged them. They were chief among the ill wishers who made sure that information about Hanussen's Jewish background found its way into Nazi dossiers. Hanussen's lethal error, however, seems to have been lending money to senior members of the SA.
Here is the version of Hanussen's end that Gordon tells. A squad of SA picked up Hanussen from his apartment on the evening of March 24. They demanded all documentation related to the debts owed by important Nazis. Then he was taken away, interrogated for several hours, and released. Returning home, he made panicked calls to friends and family. He was arrested again early the next morning.
Hanussen's body was found two weeks later, beaten and shot and partially eaten by vermin. His enterprises quickly evaporated, including the astrology sheets. Indeed, the next year the government banned fortune telling and most aspects of the commercial occult. It is reasonably certain that the Nazis did this, not because they did not take such things seriously, but because they took them very seriously indeed. The horoscope for Hitler that had appeared in Hanussen's publications was banned; later astrologers during the Nazi era fudged the hour of birth in order to suggest a less catastrophic end.
Then, of course, there is the wizard's final prophecy. Gordon supplies the text of a note that Hanussen is supposed to have written on that final evening, to an alienated show-business partner. It appeared in the May 1942 issue of "Redbook Magazine":"Let's be friends again at the end…I always thought that business about the Jews was just an election trick of theirs. It wasn't. Read carefully what my colleague Daniel has to say on the subject, in Chapters 11 and 12. Count the days, but only after they have destroyed a hundred temples in a single day—that's the time to start counting. The first date you get will mark the fall of the man who wants to become ruler of the world by brute force. And the second date will mark the day on which will occur the triumphal entry of the victors. This is my farewell to you."
The passage he was probably thinking of has been the hope of the persecuted for over 2000 years:"From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the horrible abomination is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is the man who has patience and perseverance until one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days."
Daniel 12: 11, 12.
The date that leaps to mind from the letter is November 9, 1938, known to history as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. Since the date of publication of the letter is fairly late, 1942, it may well be that Hanussen did not write it, and that the real author was thinking of Kristallnacht, too. In 1942, that meant a comforting prophecy of a fairly short war. On the other hand, maybe Hanussen did write the letter, and, not altogether unreasonably, applied to Hitler the familiar prophecy of the downfall of the Man of Sin. Readers may entertain themselves by working out their own interpretation. Hanussen's shade can still keep people guessing, even after all these years.
I used to make a habit of spending my monthly book budget on Amazon through John's affiliate links. I suspect John never truly made a lot of money this way, but he was an early adopter, so the field was less crowded back then. He made a couple bucks in commissions in the second week of trying it. That is more than I have made in years through Amazon affiliate links.
I can be awfully slow in the uptake. I have gone through life making light of the ethical perils to be found at the intersection of marketing and journalism. I have done a little of both, mostly in connection with business-to-business publishing, and I never saw what all the huffing and puffing was about. On the other hand, for that kind of work, I rarely had much discretion about what to promote. That is not the case with my website, however. Recently, I find that I have created the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Two weeks ago, I joined the Amazon.com Associates Program. It works like this. Webmasters put icons on their sites for Amazon products; surfers click through to the Amazon site. If a sale results, the webmaster gets a small commission. Simple enough, and obviously it speaks to my condition. I have all these book reviews on my site; why not link to them?
If you want to link to particular books, rather than to classes of books, setting up the links is labor intensive. So, I had occasion to look at every review on my website, going back several years. I was struck by the fact that they tend to be by obscure authors. Few of the books had ever enjoyed large sales. The reviews were generally favorable (otherwise I would not have bothered with the books), but they usually had something disparaging to say. A couple are outright pans. I don't regret the criticisms, but I reflected that they could reduce the number of clicks to Amazon.
If you write reviews and you want commissions, then obviously the thing to do is review books by well-known authors and praise them to the skies. If nothing else, that will get you into the search engines quickly enough, and fans will link to you. The reviews then become what in effect are low-graphic ads.
It could even be that the long reviews I favor would aid sales. One of the rules of direct mail is that the package should have at least three pages of text for the customer to read. Apparently, if people can be persuaded to invest the time to read that much material, they are much more likely to go the extra step and buy the product.
In reality, there is little danger the commissions from the Associates relationship will do much to direct my choice of review material, or anybody else's, I suspect. Over a seven-day reporting period, with dozens of link buttons on my site, commissions came to just $2.45. That's American money, of course, but only a tiny little soul could ever change hands for such sums. As a practical matter, the clicks to Amazon serve chiefly to indicate what items people like best. (There is a persistent and disturbing predilecton among visitors to my site for the review of Anno Dracula.)
* * *
In any case, I now have more insight into how people sell their credibility like space on a bill board. This was the second sin of the Arthur Andersen accounting partnership. (The first was that they declined to red-flag the fact that the Enron corporation was, in effect, balancing its books by shorting its own stock.) The moral hazard was that the people who were supposed to be selling advice about stocks to clients were in cahoots with the people who were supposed to be doing objective assessments of the companies in question. This did not conduce to either sound advice or reliable audits. The really interesting thing is that the advisors knew perfectly well that the information on which they based their recommendations was cooked; they demanded themselves that it be cooked. Nonetheless, like superstitious astrologers, they still believed other advisors' assessments, no matter how tainted they knew their own advice to be.
Speaking of superstitious astrologers, readers of my recent review of Erik Jan Hanussen may remember that he did a stint as a journalist-extortioner. The principle was simple: follow some rich and respectable subject into low-life Vienna, write up an expose' of his adventures for publication in the extortioner's tabloid, and then present the subject with a bill for killing the story. Late Habsburg Vienna probably did not invent this practice. Certainly it was not the last place where the institution flourished.
In advanced countries today, we rightly deplore occasions when the journalists of less settled lands are harassed by their governments, or assassinated in private vendettas. Still, we must remember the fact that some journalists are treated like criminals because they are. There seems to be a stage in the evolution of the news business when it lends itself to money-making schemes. Perhaps this has something to do with the inability of the courts to enforce libel laws, so the rich turn to violent self-help. The press deserves the benefit of the doubt, of course. And sometimes, the press is an argument against free speech.
* * *
As for myself, I will continue to put those Amazon buttons up. Danny Yee, whose site is a gold mine of book reviews on all subjects, used to circulate them with little disclaimers to the effect that he had no interest in the books' success. Even he has stopped doing that, however.
Besides, bribery does not necessarily buy approbation. As Max Bialystok told the New York Times theater editor on the opening night of Springtime for Hitler: "Here's $100. Enjoy the play."
In the 1950s, there really wasn't any reason to be terrified of nuclear weapons. The Soviets had them, but they didn't have very many, and it took a long time for a bomber to fly across the Arctic Circle. The strategic planners and civil defense authorities of the day reacted accordingly. With that settled, they could turn to the far more interesting question of, what would happen if Soviet tanks came pouring through the Fulda Gap.
Dropshot was a plan for war written in 1949, drawing on all the practical experience gained during the Second World War. While it was written in 1949, it seems perfectly adapted to the actual President in 1957, Dwight D. Eisenhower. John recasts Eisenhower as a crafty Machiavellian political genius who was far better at playing the Great Game with the Soviets than Kennedy or Johnson. You would have wanted someone sober and experienced at the helm when World War III came.
As such, John decides to have some fun by killing off Eisenhower and having the American people elect Adlai Stevenson over Richard Nixon. When then Soviets do invade, there is a far more excitable Commander in Chief.
Dropshot imagines the worst. The Soviets take Central Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Japan. You can find its like commonly represented in popular fiction, from Kornbluth's Not this August to Red Dawn. However, unlike most of those stories, Dropshot manages to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and it plans for the eventual NATO counter-attack and occupation of Soviet Russia.
The successful conclusion of World War III with an American victory would have meant that the End of History arrived thirty years earlier than it actually did. It also would have enshrined the command economy known as War Socialism into the American psyche. The Sixties would have been cancelled for the duration of the emergency.
Part of the fun of alternative history is trying to figure out what would be the same, and what would be different if some major event or decision went another way. John imagined that we would have ultimately ended up in a similar place once the command economies and sober publics of a post-WWIII era lost their strictures with time, but that the world would ultimately have been worse off for a having fought another war of global reach, even if it were the more limited kind of war Dropshot envisioned.
We might never have enjoyed all the electronic marvels that came out of Silicon Valley, side benefits of the race to build ICBMs. The post-WWII economic growth in America, Western Europe, and East Asia would likely have never happened either. Japan and Korea would still be largely agricultural economies, rather than the advanced technological powerhouses we see today. Growth and progress would still have happened eventually, but the societies that experienced them would be less able to benefit, because demographic transition and cultural change had already occurred decades earlier. The world we live in has some not so nice features, but it far from the worst imaginable world.
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." The 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 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.
Part II of World War III in 1957
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. After 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.
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.
Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly
Shoulder press 1 RM
- 8 strict toes to bar
- 8 dumbbell thrusters [25#]
- 14 walking lunges single count [25#]
John read these things so you wouldn't have to. However, I think his reviews were often more interesting than the actual book.
The Continuing Drama of Those Left Behind
by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1996
$12.99, 450 pages
A Domestic Apocalypse
This is the second installment in the "Left Behind" series. These novels are set in the Last Days and deal, as the name suggests, with those "left behind" by the pre-tribulation rapture of the saints. Apocalyptic novels based on similar assumptions have been proliferating in recent years (the earliest ones, according to Paul Boyer, appeared in the 1930s), and for their intended readership terms like "pre-tribulation rapture" require no explanation. However, for this review a few words of explanation might be in order.
The eschatological system which the novels presuppose has been increasingly influential in evangelical circles since the end of the Civil War. As the 20th century ends, it may be the most popular Christian eschatological system of any description. To put the matter briefly, pre-tribulationists hold that the saints, meaning all people who have been saved, will be miraculously removed (raptured) from the world in the years leading up to the disastrous events that precede the Second Coming of Christ. These disasters will for the most part occur in a period called the "tribulation," which is most commonly expected to last seven years. During that time, the world will be ruled by Antichrist, who will persecute the new crop of saints that rises up in the wake of the rapture. He will also first make peace with the Jews, and then seek to destroy them. After his overthrow at the Second Coming, the world will be ruled directly by Christ for a thousand years, in the "millennium" properly so-called.
Having been told this, you know pretty much what the structure of the series is like, and indeed what the structure of all the books in the genre is like. The rapture itself occurred in the first volume, "Left Behind." This book, "Tribulation Force," is set in the period when the tribulation proper begins, the trigger being the treaty that Antichrist signs with Israel. This installment concludes with nuclear weapons being used to suppress a revolt against the Antichrist's world government. While events of this nature might have a certain intrinsic interest (at least the first time you read about them), the material must be sufficiently familiar to most of its readers as to raise the question of what exactly the point of such exercises may be. The answer seems to be two-fold. First, in many cases, apocalyptic novels are fundamentally pastoral tracts that deal with everyday issues. (Of the co-authors of this book, Tim LaHaye is a pastor; Jerry B. Jenkins specializes in religious fiction). Second, though apocalyptic novels generally project the prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel into the contemporary world, to a large extent this seems to be merely a matter of form. The appeal of the stories may really depend on their resonance with 20th century history.
The "force" of the title is a little group of new Christians who gather to study bible prophecy in the short period before all religions but that of the Antichrist's newly-created world cult are outlawed. Many of these persons were not aware that they were not Christians before the rapture occurred, of course. Their leader is a formerly luke-warm pastor in the suburbs of Chicago. He had just been going through the motions before the beginning of the end of the world got his attention. His flock seems to consist primarily of professional people with technical educations (which may or may not tell you something about the book's intended readership). Though naturally concerned with biblical prophecy, the pastor spends most of his time dealing with the sort of problems that pastors in the suburbs of Chicago deal with even when the world isn't ending. Much of the book is in dialogue, and at least a third of the dialogue concerns the difficulties young Christian singles face while dating. Curiously, the authors wholly ignore the implications of 1 Cor. 7:29 for family formation at the end of the age.
Counseling aside, this is still an apocalyptic novel, and such interest as it has must rest in its portrayal of the contemporary eschatological imagination. The Antichrist in this story is a rather bureaucratic fellow. He parleys his job as General Secretary of the United Nations into the position of world potentate, as you might expect, and then sets about building a world capital on the site of ancient Babylon. To me, at least, this seems like the kind of concrete-and-kickback project the UN likes anyway, so it is hard to see what makes him peculiarly diabolic. Far scarier is his ditzy executive secretary, who uses the immense power of her outer-office to play practical jokes on people. This is one of those protestant evangelical scenarios in which the incumbent pope is among those raptured, only to be replaced by either Antichrist or one of his minions. In this case it is the later, a liberal American cardinal who takes the reignal name of Peter. There is in fact an old tradition that the last pope will be called Peter II. However, in a book where "Pontifex Maximus" is rendered as "greatest pope" and cardinals are addressed as "your Excellency" (rather than "your Eminence"), this detail is less likely to be due to thorough research than to dumb luck.
A natural implication of novels like this is that the armed militias may be onto something. In the story, the country really is turned over to the New World Order, and the militias' stockpiling of weapons against that event turns out to have been prescient. Not, of course, that it does them much good. The revolt in which they conspire with the much-reduced American president to overthrow Antichrist results in the nuking of several American cities. "Tribulation Force" is hardly a call to arms. Indeed, the force of Tribulation saints with which the book is concerned never does anything more militant than build bombshelters on the sly. Additionally, the Antichrist here does not appear to benefit from the support of an elaborate infrastructure of institutional treason of the sort posited by true conspiracy buffs. His power lies in his personality rather than his connections with the Illuminati.
One sometimes gets the impression from books of this genre is that their preoccupation with Israel and the Jews is an arbitrary fifth wheel. In this book, the Antichrist is moved to make a treaty with Israel because he wants the rights to the agronomical discoveries of an Israeli botanist. The secret formula can make the world's deserts bloom, or something, but this motive does not seem to be very integral to the story. Similarly, though the Temple is being rebuilt in Jerusalem as all this is going on and there is a great proliferation of rabbinical characters, all these things seem to be happening in a universe other than the one that contains the suburbs of Chicago, despite the fact the main characters visit Israel so that everything cane be explained to them.
Apocalyptic novels have more in common with secular dystopias than is generally realized. So far, at least, the "Left Behind" series is really about the rise of a totalitarian government and its effects on the lives of ordinary people. It is not a great leap of speculation to suggest that Antichrist novels have flourished in the 20th century because the period's history has made nightmarishly intrusive governments easy to imagine. In the century of Hitler and Stalin and Mao, the anticipation of Big Brother and Antichrist makes a certain sour common sense.
Uploaded August 8, 1997. Reprinted in the Journal of Millennial Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1998. For more information, please click here:
Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly