Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A review of “The World Hitler Never Made”

I finished The World Hitler Never Made by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld. It is a history of the genre of alternative histories of World War Two since the 1930’s. It was a pretty good read. I enjoyed that it gave an overview of a large swath of story-lines from the 1930’s on.
Rosenfeld’s book covered four major types of alternative histories; they are 1. What would have happened if the Nazis had won world war two 2. What would have happened if Hitler had never been born? 3. What would have happened if Hitler had lived and stood trial, and 4. What if the Holocaust was either completed or never happened? Rosenfeld analysis of these four areas leads him to conclude that the way Nazism is portrayed in alternative histories has changed from one of moralizing the allied cause and demonizing the Nazis and Hitler from the 30’s to 60’s to one that normalizes them in fiction from the late 60’s to present. He views this change as being caused by general disenchantment/concentration on the Cold War and a stripping away of American innocence caused by the Vietnam War.
I learned a few interesting things in this book; for example, in Pat Buchanan’s book A Republic, Not an Empire he argues that the United States should not have entered World War Two, because the USSR and Nazi Germany would have exhausted himself. He also relativizes the Holocaust, basically saying Stalin killed many more people than Hitler, so the Holocaust wasn’t enough of a reason to step in. He also points out that we didn’t enter World War Two to stop the Holocaust.
Though I think we were justified in fighting the Nazis, I do think Buchanan brings up an interesting question that is brought up a few times in this books, basically was the Soviet Union any better of an ally than the Nazis would have been? And on a much broader scale this book brought home to me that the Soviet Union was a very nasty entity. I knew this of course, but by the time I was involved in understanding ideas of nation in any way the USSR was breathing its last gasps of breath. I was always more worried about a mutual nuclear exchange (I remember doing nuclear drills at my school in Brussels) than by an invasion by the Soviets.
Another thing that this book made me think about was the larger debate between "the Great Man theory" and "Structuralism." The Great Men camp argues that individuals can shape and form history in a real big way, the Structuralist argue that overarching forces, not individuals, shape history; if a Hitler hadn’t arose someone else would have. I, kind of surprising myself, fall to the Great Man end of things. To be honest this conclusion is mostly based on earlier contemplations of this issue in "The Foundation" series by Isaac Azmov. On top of that is an overall naïve belief that one person can change things (for better or worse).

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