What Might Have Been

I often wonder what the world would have been like had Hitler won the second world war. Many of us would not likely have been here, as the Nazis would have ethnically and politically “cleansed” much of the west. The holocaust would have been swept under the carpet for twenty or thirty years the way Stalin’s purges were, for it is the victor that writes history. China and Chang Kai-Shek’s government would have succumbed to Japanese atrocities, after much of South East Asia–Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam– already had fallen. India might have stood against them, except that some members of the Indian Independence party had already collaborated with them to throw off British rule. And Rommel’s defeat in Africa would never have happened. Any holdouts that might have been– given Nazi sympathizers among the conquered, including many of the world’s leading industrialists such as Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan–makes it unlikely that any single nation could maintain distance or independence from what was happening in Europe and North America and other parts of the world. Many German industrialists, some of them even Jewish, supported Hitler at first, because fascism is nothing if not the merging of government and corporation, and we would live in a world commanded by a ruling elite with terrifying powers of suppression and propaganda. Jews would have been wiped off the face of earth. And gypsies. And perhaps, if Hitler had his full way, any person of colour.

All of this sounds pretty hard to imagine. Surely sanity would have prevailed. Surely people would not take it. But they took it in Germany. They took it in Austria, and Italy, and a half dozen other European countries. Surely it is no great stretch to imagine that it could happen here.

When asked by the New York Times immediately after the second world war, Franklin Roosevelt’s Vice President Henry Wallace wrote an article that claimed that fascism could happen in America as surely as it had happened in Europe. “The American fascist,” he wrote, “would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With the fascist the problem is never how to present the truth to the public but how best to deceive the public into giving him more money and power.”

By those standards, even without Hitler winning the war, it seems that he has triumphed in America anyway. And if he had won the problem would have been far more acute. Homosexuals, such as myself, would not be free to come out of the closet, or expect to live very long if they did. Hitler was like many of the religionists he despised in this regard: he had no tolerance for us. Homosexuals found their way into internment camps with a pink triangle patch on their clothing (since adopted by the homosexual political movement as a symbol of sexual freedom.) In fact, the Nazi law banning homosexuality was one of the last to be repealed by the Germans after the war, not being de-codified off the law books until well into the sixties. I can’t imagine what art and music and literature would have been like, and not just because homosexuals would not be free to create. The modernist and post-modernist movement in art and literature would never have happened. Hitler had a hatred for it, and preferred German kitchz instead (very similar to the vapid paintings of German Fraus and mountain dogs from his own unremarkable artistic imagination.) With this kind of creativity suppressed, the world of innovative public art and literature may simply have just disappeared. The sciences too would have suffered. Advancements in biology, physics, chemistry, and medicine would have been stunted and distorted as the spirit of politics and propaganda and not the spirit of discovery governed the research, much as Russian biology suffered under Stalin and his science lackey Lysenko because genetics did not fit into the world view of a ruling communist.

Eventually, of course, these things might have righted themselves. Hitler would have died. Perhaps a less rabid faction of the Nazi party would have taken over, as happened when Stalin died in 53 and his successor Khrushchev took over and denounced his policies. The world may have once again become a safer, freer place to live.

I doubt this however. History has a long arc. Some of the battles we are fighting in the middle east were created not even by the second world war but by the first (specifically Iraq, when the British brutally colonized it for the sake of oil.) It might have taken us a long while to right ourselves from the horrors of the world conquered by the Nazis, just as it has taken us a long while to recover from their atrocities even when they lost. If you adopt this perspective, it is almost impossible not to be in awe of the men and women who fought against the Axis powers in order to defeat them, and give us the world we live in today instead of the nightmare world I am describing.

They fought for but a few short years. 52 million people died in that war. It remains, and shall for awhile I suspect, the single largest event in the history of mankind. And no matter how cynical one may be about the world we live in today, there is no doubt that our reality would be far worse had our soldiers not been able to defeat Hitler. Of course, many blameless Germans and Ukrainians and Austrians and Italians died in Hitler’s senseless war too, as much a victim of his insanity and megalomania as the rest of us. These too should be remembered. As for the other wars, I have no comment on them. It is for the second that I attend the services, and wear my poppy, and observe my silence. If ever there was a war that needed to be fought, it was that one.

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