on 6 July 2009
What if the Germans had resisted Occupation after WW2?
Harry Turtledove's single-volume books are generally better than his massive multi-volume sets. Ruled Britannia, The Guns of the South and In the Presence of Mine Enemies are all excellent reads, although the last one has rather more verbiage than is actually required. The same cannot be said for his massive endless series; the Darkness, Great War and even WorldWar often bogged down into repetitiveness and were just plain boring. They highlight a major flaw in Turtledove's work; he uses real history as a guide to alternate history. ITPOME has a Soviet-style crisis for the Third Reich, GW has a Hitler-alternate and a mirror image of the Barbarossa Campaign in America (totally unrealistic). With that in mind, I was not particularly hopeful of The Man With The Iron Heart and only bought a copy because it was being sold for £1.50 at Oxfam.
It's Iraq. In Germany, 1945.
(If that puts you off, don't bother to read any further.)
The OTL Nazi Werewolves never amounted to very much; indeed, their only major success was the death of a pro-Allied Mayor in an occupied German city. (Paratroopers, not sleeper teams) In ATL, SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich survives and organises a resistance movement in Germany, which launches an insurgency campaign within weeks of the Fall of Berlin. Instead of a reasonably peaceful occupation, the Allies find themselves fighting an invisible foe, while back home a woman called Mrs Diana McGuire, the mother of a soldier killed after the end of hostilities - and a thinly veiled image of Cindy Sheehan - starts a major campaign to bring the soldiers home from Iraq...sorry, I meant Germany. Easy mistake to make...
Or at least it is in Turtledove's universe.
(Oh, and she cheats on her husband as well. I don't know if Turtledove was making a point...)
The problem is that the world of 1945 is very different from the world of 2003. Germany was occupied by four powers (not two, as in Iraq) and one of the powers (the USSR) had little compunction about using the most unpleasant methods to get information. The US (and British and French) soldiers weren't the soldiers of 2003; the Germans had started the war, the Germans were striking from ambush - they weren't going to waste time arguing about morality and the Geneva Convention. It isn't very likely that the public opinion in ANY of the Allies would hesitate over using extreme measures to get information, let alone reprisals and other brutality. The strikes against Britain and France (they knock down the Eiffel Tower) won't scare politicians out of Germany, but fuel a demand for revenge, even if it is indiscriminate revenge.
And there are plenty of people in Germany who know very well that they were defeated. If the insurgency just made the lives of the ordinary Germans worse - and it would, just because of the problems with food supplies - why would they support it? What about all the German officers from the Wemerchet who wouldn't want to go through a Nazi Government again? What about all the horrible things the Russians did in their Zone? The West could just point out that if they withdrew, the Russians might decide to move in and take West Germany as well. What happens when the supplies run out...?
I'm not sure what was going through Turtledove's mind when he was writing. I don't think, somehow, that it was concerned with realism. Iraq is (would have been) a far different case than Germany, a war fought with different attitudes and tactics, in a very different field. I doubt that the Allies would act as portrayed by Turtledove; insurgencies rarely work without strong outside support and none of the powers that might support one side of the insurgency has a good motive for doing so. The US fought it out in Vietnam, under far worse conditions, for much longer than Turtledove portrayed - I'm not spoiling much to tell you that the book ends with an American withdrawal and the Nazis slipping back into power - and was never really defeated in the field. If the book was intended to portray Nazism and Islamic Fundamentalism as two sides of the same coin, it succeeds...but only barely. Germany might have had thousands of experienced soldiers, but it doesn't have the tradition of suicide bombers or knee-jerk respect for religious authority.
Overall, an unconvincing book. If it's intended as a take on the War on Terror, Tom Kratman does a much better job of it.
Two out of Five.
on 7 February 2012
Being a long-time fan of Harry Turtledove and a bit of a student of the immediate post-war world I looked forward to this. However, though it is a very readable tale and similar in style to all his books - lots of parallel low level stories some of which are significant in the world of the story - it is an unlikely tale to say the least. If you can read it and accept it as being about some other similar but different universe then it's OK but if you're likely to get hung up on the improbabilities of the tale forget it.
The author does appear to have a world-view which consists of Americans and 'the-rest' and sees Europe as a far more homogeneous entity than it is, let alone as it was more than 70 years ago. In particular his view of Germany and Germans doesn't match any recognizable version of that country that I know of. Germans, particularly the more fanatically fascists such as the Hitler Youth and SS, were suicidally brave but seldom, if ever simply suicidal. It is difficult to identify where his numerous suicide bombers would have come from - some perhaps, but not a steady stream for 2 years.
Also I can't avoid remarking on one language 'howler'. He seems to think that the German word 'Kugel' means a noodle but had an alternative meaning of a bullet (particularly as in 'in the back of the head'). Kugel means and always has meant ball (eg, Kugelschreiber - Ball point pen, Kannonenkugel - cannon ball) and like in English is a standard word for a bullet type projectile. Goodness knows where he got his idea from!
on 2 February 2016
As someone else has said, this is post-Iraq War Middle East set in Germany 1945. The utterly ruthless Nazi Heydrich survives the 1942 assassination attempt that actually got him, and sets up and runs the 'werewolf' resistance effort in the defeated fatherland. Unfortunately for plausibility, there are numerous problems with the alternate universe created.
The US was prepared to invade Japan in 1945 knowing that it would a suffer a minimum of 250,000 casualties and quite possibly a million. The idea that they would withdraw from Nazi Germany still fighting on, led by an architect of the Holocaust, after suffering a tiny fraction of those loses is laughable. One of their mothers doesn't like it? Sad, but tough, have his medal on the way out...
So it's a story with all the believability of a Dan Brown novel. What saves it from getting one star is that it's considerably better written, despite the odd clunky bit of 'predicting the known future', even if after some point I was skipping the US-based bits.
on 17 September 2008
Once again, Harry Turtledove succeeds in the impossible. I wouldn't have thought anyone capable of making every single character utterly unlikeable, but Mr Turtledove has succeeded admirably.
Actually, that's not quite accurate, Heydrich was quite likeable, so you can imagine my shock when I found myself rooting for the nazis halfway in. Quite a feat, especially since I really don't think it was his intention.
Unlike apparently almost all the other reviewers here, this is the first Turtledove book I've read in 15-20 years. I was looking for something fairly long and entertaining to listen to while taking care of the summer gardening, and was hooked by the nifty premise outlined in the sales copy. The idea is that instead of dying at the hands of Czech partisans in 1942, SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich is merely wounded and spends the remainder of the war building an intricate secret resistance network to be activated in the eventuality of Germany's defeat. Thus, when the Allies defeat Germany and occupy it, they are faced with a well-organized and effective resistance. (Readers will need to ignore the historical attitude of Hitler and his cronies, who would have viewed any such contingency plan at that stage as traitorous defeatism worthy of a bullet in the back of the head. And as most readers of this book are likely to know, the real post-hostility German resistance known as the "Werewolves" was minuscule, disorganized, and amounted to nothing.)
Here, in the two years following V-E Day, under Heydrich's leadership the insurgency employs virtually every terrorist tactic developed in the real world over the last sixty years. Borrowing tactics from '70s terrorists, the Lebanese civil war, the two Intifadas, al-Qaeda, Iraq War II, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and more, Heydrich's forces truck bomb, suicide bomb, remote detonate, poison, hijack, and chemwar the bejeezus out of the Americans, Russians, and to a lesser extent the Brits and French. The main characters are Heydrich, a pair of American intelligence officers, a pair of Soviet intelligence officers, an American reporter, and the Cindy Sheehanesque housewife from Indiana who spearheads a "Bring the Troops Home Now!" movement.
The deeper one gets into the story, the more evident it becomes that this is all a cute way of writing about the current American presence in Iraq. However, despite the 500+ pages, it manages to feel very thin. There's plenty of time spent on the American political scene, which does a decent job of presenting the two sides of the "Should We Stay or Should We Go?" argument. But there's almost no effort made to get into the German political scene or the issues of civil society building that accompany any occupation. Even worse, the inner workings of the insurgency are left almost entirely unexplored. You get the idea that the thousands of "fanatics" operate in cells, but how their communications or supply networks operate, and how they interact with the civilian population are left totally blank. You just have to accept this massively successful insurgency on faith.
The German people are ciphers, viewed through Allied eyes as little more than possible if not probable secret Nazis. Indeed, characters with depth do not appear to be one of Turtledove's strengths, as every character speaks in either speeches or cliches. Actually, writing generally doesn't appear to be one of Turtledove's strengths -- the prose is really poor, loaded with redundancies, reiterations, overexplanations, and such. By the midpoint I wished he's simply turned the concept over to someone else to develop and write for him. Particularly lame are the incredibly shallow attempts to portray the psychology of the Cindy Sheehan character. And yes, as the book gets near the end, it becomes clearer and clearer that the story is Tutledove's way of making his views on the contemporary occupation of Iraq known. Never mind that the situations bear absolutely no resemblance to each other beyond the superficial. So -- if you've never read anything by Turtledove, I'd skip this one, it's just not good entertainment value. If you have read Turtledove, you probably know his particular strengths and weaknesses and can decide accordingly.