The Battle of Stalingrad. The Battle of Britain. The Battle of Berlin.
These were major battles that turned the tide of the war into the favour of the Allies and eventually saw the Axis defeated in 1945. But what if these (and several other) battles went the other way?
Whether it was the Nazis marching through Russia, the UK not being able to fend off attacks whilst the majority of Europe was under the control of the Axis or even Italy not changing sides, the world would not have been the same. The philosophies of Hitler and the Nazis would have endangered countless people- with entire nations (and even continents) potentially wiped out. In ‘A Man in the High Castle‘ and ‘Fatherland’, some of these ideas are illustrated, as both the novels show what the world would have been like under the Axis regime. In retrospect, whilst this seems like a mere possibility, such a situation could indeed have become a reality.
The major question is how did Hitler lose the war? Many factors come into play, but there are two that stand out: attacking the Soviet Union and declaring war on the USA. These were the two largest nations that had not partaken in the first few years of the war, but due to instigation from the Axis, they joined the Allies. The Soviet Union, led by Josef Stalin, was difficult to defeat. One reason for this was the severity of the winter for those who were not accustomed (or prepared) for it. There have been several attempted invasions of Russia over history that have failed due to the climate of Russia, which has even earned its own title: the ‘Russian Winter’. A general in the German Army, Eduard Wagner, reported in November 1941:
In some parts of the vast battlefield, temperatures recorded at -40°C led the Soviets to recruit those in the East from Siberia, whilst Nazi Germany was struggling with limited resources and unusable machinery. Eventually, the USSR advanced on the Eastern Front and became decisive in the demise of the Nazis. For the Nazis to win the war, they would have likely had to create a peace deal with the Soviets- or hope other nations would have joined the battlefront against the USSR.
The Axis waging war on the Americans was also an equally instrumental part of the war. The USA was (and still is) one of the biggest countries in the global economy, with countless resources at their disposal and a large population contributing to the war effort. A few days after the attack on Pearl Harbour (during which the US declared war on the Japanese Empire), Nazi Germany declared war on the Americans. Hitler deemed this a necessary strategy, as he believed the USA was provoking Germany- despite the USA declaring itself as neutral before the attack. The US entered on two fronts: the Asia-Pacific front and Western Europe. It altered the war due to the additional manpower and extra technology it provided. How Germany could have rectified this situation, we shall explore further on.
One part of the world stage that can be studied is Germany. It can be imagined that had Hitler won the war, it would have been for the harmony of the nation and government, but the truth is quite different. Robert Harris’ ‘Fatherland’, written and set in 1964, shows the underlying issues that were within the Nazi party. The protagonists, German Detective Xavier March and an American journalist, Charlotte Maguire, are investigating what seems to be a scandal involving senior Nazi officials- note: this is all happening before the arrival of the President of the United States, Joseph F. Kennedy. The scandal involves those associated with the Final Solution- the plan to kill all Jews. Those who were involved with the scandal are being murdered. The protagonists are on a journey to search for indications of a cover-up, as evidence of the missing Jews was hidden from the world to prevent pandemonium, and also for proof that concentration camps were real. The narrative is a masterpiece that has captivated many across the globe, despite it describing how the world could have turned into a place void of enjoyment. From Detective Xavier March’s discontent regarding the Nazi Party and the way they ran the country to the gloomy atmosphere that is created, we can see everything was not as simple as we may have expected under Hitler’s rule. We see this conflict from the very beginning in a conversation between March and his son, Pili, who is talking about his involvement in the Hitler Youth when March sees the swastika and “felt the weight of it”, only for the following line to narrate:
‘I’m proud of you,’ he lied.
Seeing dislike from the protagonist towards the Nazis reflects that it was likely it was not just him who felt unhappy. Throughout the book, this is suggested by some of the other characters we meet. At times, it is shown through a tense setting – once, at a railway station, where we are told of uniformed personnel being everywhere and posters everywhere saying, “Be vigilant all times!” and “Terrorist alert!”. Hence, despite the war having ended almost 20 years before, the state still feels nervous that there are imposters everywhere. The USSR, in the book, is split accordingly: to the West of the Ural Mountains is part of the German Reich and to the East are the rebels. Hitler had once said that:
A permanent war on the eastern front will help form a sound race of men, and will prevent us from relapsing into the softness of a Europe thrown back upon itself.
March criticises that the German people had ‘gone soft’’ since they had foreigners as servants doing their chores. Realistically, Germany could have been like this; we know that the Axis had labour camps, so they could have implemented this into their daily life through slaves or servants and become accustomed to this. As for Germany, if they had won the war, there would have been national pride in the short-term, but the cracks would have soon started to appear.
Several nations can be looked at to see how they would have been affected by Hitler winning, but one that is quite interesting is the USA. The US is geographically distant from mainland Europe (where the Nazis have a stronghold), meaning that the Axis defeating the USA would have been challenging. In the book ‘A Man in The High Castle’, set in 1962, a deal has been created such that all parties are sufficiently satisfied and peace can be made. The United States splits into different sections: the buffer state of the Rocky Mountains, which is a neutral zone free from the German Reich and Japanese Empire, the area west to it, which is under the control of the Japanese where San Francisco is the capital city and, finally, to the east of the neutral territory are two opposing states, with the northern part being controlled by the Nazis while the southern part operates on a racist puppy regime that colludes with the Nazis. Like the proposed Nazi Germany state, it is not one without stress. The main backdrop of the story is an author residing in the buffer state who has written a version of history that ‘seems’ to be completely different from the one that the world is living in. It is banned, but many of the characters we come across have read it- including those who support the Axis regime. This book talks about a world where the Allies won and has also brought unwanted interest from Axis officials. They even attempt to send someone to kill the author, who is known to live in a well-protected place. However, like ‘Fatherland’, it is not the novel itself that piques the most interest, but the way people react to the Axis, as well as the illustration of another world in which the Allies won the war.
Similar to ‘Fatherland’, there is tension throughout- sometimes even among those on the same side. For example, the Nazis planned to launch a surprise attack on the Japanese Empire- evidently to have sole control of the world. And in America (where the main plot is set), a few Nazis made a failed attempt to kill certain top Japanese officials in a building. Realistically, the Axis would have split into factions, as the greed of the Nazis could have likely overwhelmed the more conservative nature of the Japanese (as depicted in the novel).
One of those in the building targeted was Nobusuke Togami, a high-ranking trade official who shot and killed the German agents and wore a heavy conscience. Togami undergoes a spiritual cleansing where he views a world where the Japanese aren’t superior to others- he is disturbed, but also pays heed to this. Many characters show reverence to the I Ching, a religious text, where they make decisions based on the information inferred, thus, it was important for Togami to see this vision: the path that he was taking may not be the right one. It also represents the issue of splitting America into three different regions. It may seem that everyone is pleased, but there will be a conflict of beliefs, even between those on the same side. Nazi Germany was portrayed as greedy and cunning, while Imperial Japan was seemingly the opposite and others would be happier without this oppression from the Allies.
If Hitler had won the war, certain groups of people would be in grave danger. At the forefront of this list are Jewish people; Hitler’s hatred for the Jews was made apparent before the war commenced. In January 1939, Hitler said that if Jews “should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war”, it is a victory for them. He blamed them for the loss of the first World War, the reason the nation went into a recession and made the public turn on them. We know that Jews were subject to harsh conditions in concentration camps and that multitudes died; it is well-documented that roughly 6 million perished in the Holocaust. The number of Jewish victims would have been much higher, had the Axis won. If you escape the punishment of the Germans, you would have to be looking over your shoulder all the time, in fear of your secret being revealed that you are Jewish. In both ‘Fatherland’ and ‘The Man in the High Castle’, this issue is discussed. In ‘The Man in the High Castle’, one of the characters, Frank Frink, has a dangerous secret- he is a Jew residing in Axis territory after having changed his surname from Fink to Frink. His identity is eventually revealed, and he is arrested and his basic right to ask for an attorney is confiscated:
“There was no list of attorneys, after all”
He was later to be released, surprisingly, when he believed he was “heading for Germany, for extermination”. At this point, the Axis aren’t hiding their intentions for the people they don’t like. ‘Fatherland’, on the other hand, is slightly different in its treatment of Jews. It is secretive. As mentioned before, those involved with the Final Solution are being killed, so that any evidence of this systematic killing of Jews disappears. Some people are ignorant of what has occurred, though the ones that do know are hesitant to speak out against it. This is shown via the protagonists- they are cautious and attempt to leave any clues in their investigation of proof of the Final Solution. Xavier March also realises that a Jewish family used to reside in his current apartment and investigates what has happened to them, only for higher officials to find out about this and attempt to silence him. We can see that the Jewish population in both books are grossly mistreated- whether they suddenly disappear or are killed. A life under Hitler would be one which was and would have continued to have been unbearable.
We see glimpses of how other races would’ve been treated too. There are “black slaves” in ‘The Man in The High Castle’– anyone who is of African descent is subject to slavery. Even worse is the treatment to those who lived anywhere across Africa- Frink says the following when reflecting on what the Nazis have done:
“And then he thought about Africa, and the Nazi experiment there. And his blood stopped in his veins, hesitated, at last went on.”
“Christ … he thought. Africa. For the ghosts of dead tribes. Wiped out to make a land of — what? Who knew?”
He is too frightened to even think about what the Axis had done to a whole continent just because of their skin colour, beliefs and traditions.
There are numerous other places, peoples and cultures that would have seen changes worth mentioning, but the one person that can’t be forgotten in all of this is Hitler. A man that can convince a group of people (and eventually, a nation) that he is their rightful leader to make their nation greater is one that is either great or to be feared. Hitler had a small group of officers that he trusted- the most notable being Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler, who aided Hitler with the push to make the German Empire global. So, what if Hitler had won the war? What would he be like?
In both books mentioned above, Hitler is a much-changed man. In ‘The Man In The High Castle’, Hitler had syphilis and this meant that he had to stand down from his position as Chancellor of Germany. In ‘Fatherland’, Hitler is still alive by 1964, but it is not the Hitler that we know from our history books. He rarely is seen in public and when he does speak to the public, his speeches are calmer- unlike the aggressive ones before and during the war. His declining health is a factor in this. We know from records that Hitler suffered from tremors, an irregular heartbeat and took several medications as the war went on. So, whether Hitler could have still been the leader of Germany after all of this is debatable. If the Axis won WW2, the demise of the Fuhrer post-war would harm morale and lead to great debate as to who should lead the nation.
There are a lot of ‘if’s and ‘what-might-have-beens’ and very few certainties, but the world would’ve been a much grimmer place if the battles on and off the battlefield were won by the Axis. The Allied forces most likely would have seen submitting to Hitler as the wrong decision and the world would be at war once again. Those who fought and gave up their lives to ensure that the world would be much safer for future generations prevented the Axis from completely changing our world into one clouded with uncertainty and tyranny.