UC Santa Barbara > History Department > Prof. Marcuse > Courses > Hist 133b Homepage > Hist 133b Book Essays Index page > Student essay

"The Third Reich and
Allohistorical Normalization"

Book Essay on:
Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, The World Hitler Never Made
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 524 pages.
UCSB: D 757.R69 2005

by Joe Cole
March 19, 2007

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course Germany, 1900-1945
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2007

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
Plagiarism Warning
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About Joe Cole

I am History / Film Studies double major, a third year senior. In addition to other areas of work, I am currently working on a screenplay that takes place during the period of Nazi Germany. I enjoy history as a topic, and 20 th century history is my favorite. I have previously taken History 4C, History 17C, and History 133C, as well as read many works of alternate history, which is why this topic interested me in the first place.

Abstract (back to top)

Gavriel D. Rosenfeld’s The World Hitler Never Made, published in 2005, seeks to increase scholarly recognition of Alternate History as a legitimate field of study. Rosenfeld discusses “allohistory”, which is simply a synonym for alternate history, as it applies to the Third Reich. Although he talks about different themes within this sub-genre, such as alternate Hitlers and Holocausts, the majority of the book is spent discussing works in which the Nazis win World War II, which are the majority of allohistorical works produced on the Third Reich. Rosenfeld discusses the three countries that have produced the most works: Great Britain, America and Germany. He shows how over time, a process called normalization has affected works from their respective countries. Normalization is basically a perception that a period in time isn’t that different from any other. As the period in this case is the Third Reich, recognizably one of the most evil periods in history, it has resisted normalization to a large extent. This essay deals with the differing degrees of normalization represented in the works from Great Britain, America and Germany. Also I draw attention to the different times that normalization started to go into effect in the respective countries, and the reasons behind these normalizing accounts.

Essay (back to top)

The Third Reich and Allohistorical Normalization

Modern alternate history, as a sub-genre of science fiction, started in earnest roughly in the mid-20 th century. Since then, it has grown increasingly mainstream, as many recent works have become bestsellers. The World Hitler Never Made by Gavriel Rosenfeld explores many different works of fiction and finds several different big themes, such as alternate Hitlers and differing Holocausts but the majority of the book is devoted to the “dominant theme of all the alternate histories on the Third Reich…the Nazis [winning] World War II.” (Rosenfeld p.29) For the purposes of this paper, only the latter theme will be discussed. Rosenfeld discusses allohistorical (a synonym for alternate history) works from the three countries that have produced the most: Great Britain, America, and Germany. Although Rosenfeld divides the postwar alternate history into many different phases, there are roughly two main phases, the era of moralism, lasting from the end of the war to the mid-1960s, and the era of normalization, lasting from the mid-60’s to the present. (Rosenfeld 23) In different countries, the era of moralism is characterized by works that validate the decisions made by America to enter into the war and Great Britain to remain in the war, the “Intervention Myth” and “Finest Hour Myth” respectively, while contemporary German works focused on recognizing the status quo as preferable. Rosenfeld admits that normalization is tricky to define, but he pins down that first a historical legacy must be “abnormal,” and that normalization is a “process by which that particular historical legacy becomes viewed like any other.” (Rosenfeld 16) The era of normalization is characterized by works that challenge part or all of these different myths and beliefs that defend the status quo, e.g. the Allies winning the war and the Nazis losing may not have produced the best outcome. Over time, normalization has produced increasingly normalized views of Nazism, and subsequently more divisive reactions, but the interesting thing to note is that the era of normalization starts at different times in Great Britain, America and Germany, based in large part on their respective moral as well as physical proximity to Nazism and World War II itself.

The first works to be produced were during the war itself. Of the three countries, only Great Britain and America produced them, and the works were largely supportive of the Finest Hour Myth and the Intervention Myth. The Finest Hour Myth largely consists of the belief that Great Britain’s collective decision to resist the Nazis constituted, in the words of Winston Churchill, Great Britain’s “finest hour,” and in terms of the allohistorical works Rosenfeld discusses, presents the British as heroic and the Germans as demonic (Rosenfeld p. 31) These works would serve to encourage the British people. The British seemingly abruptly switched gears from peace to declaration of war, then from the near-complete disaster at Dunkirk, to the Battle of Britain, all within the space of one short year. The few allohistorical accounts from the war years serve to vilify the Nazis and portray a Nazi victory as “catastrophic”, focusing on unthinkable acts performed by Nazi tormenters, as seen in H.V Morton’s I, James Blunt, and to a lesser extent in Douglas Brown and Christopher Serpell’s Loss of Eden. (Rosenfeld p. 38-40) In America, the two main allohistorical works of were both published in 1940, and both pushed for intervention against the Nazis on the basis that they would eventually turn to America after finishing with the continent. Invasion by Willem Van Loon and Lightning in the Night by Fred Allhoff both characterized a Nazi attack and subsequent invasion of the US in which several cities would be razed and many atrocities committed. Rosenfeld writes “both rejected any prospect of America remaining neutral,” and the purpose of these works was to actually convince the American people towards intervening in European conflict. (Rosenfeld 99) The Intervention Myth, which emerged after the war, was that American intervention in World War II was necessary and justified, and these two works were early predecessors to those.

The two phases of the era of moralism, Dick, Man in High Castle, coverthe Cold War phase and the rediscovery phase, began in the immediate aftermath of the war. As the West turned to confront Communism, the cold war phase saw a small number of works, all of which “consistently depicted the Nazi era as…absolute evil” (Rosenfeld p. 24) Following this, the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 prompted the rediscovery phase. In the Cold War phase, British works like John Wall’s The Sound of His Horn (1952) placed a special emphasis on Nazi brutality, reaffirming the Finest Hour Myth. American works like the classic The Man in the High Castle (1962) by Phillip K. Dick showcased the “consequences of Nazi victory” with invasion and subjugation of the American people, supporting the idea of intervention. (Rosenfeld 106) Likewise, Eric Norden’s 1973 novella The Ultimate Solution “explicitly blamed isolation for America’s defeat.” (Rosenfeld 112) One of the first allohistorical works to be produced in Germany, Otto Basil’s Wenn das der Fuhrer wusste (If Only the Fuhrer Knew), wasn’t published until 1966. Like other books during the era of moralism with “[a portrayal of] nightmare scenarios, their success served to vindicate real historical developments.” (Rosenfeld 165) The main difference in moralism works of Germany were that they focused inward, on the German people, especially the seemingly ordinary, average citizen. (Rosenfeld 162)

The era of normalization started at different times for the three countries. By the mid 1960’s, normalization had already started in Great Britain, and would follow during the beginning of the next decade in America. Germany, on the other hand, would have to deal with reunification first. Rosenfeld talks about the different methods of normalization. The most important is organic normalization, which is inevitable as it is merely the passage of time and the maturity of new generations who had less personal contact with the event, in this case, World War II. (Rosenfeld 17) This is partially why the era of moralism doesn’t begin to crumble until the early 60’s, because there were very few who could detach themselves and view the war and Nazism with less personal feeling. There are also other methods of normalization. Prescriptive normalization is when a group attempts to aggressively speed up the normalization process through various means, such as relativising the event by “deliberately minimizing its’ unique dimensions through comparisons with other…historical occurrences.” Other methods include universalizing the event by explaining it part of a broader trend, or aestheticizing the event by “neutralizing its moral dimensions.” (Rosenfeld 17) Different authors at different times pursued different methods of normalization if they weren’t just simply affected by organic naturalization.

Normalization started much earlier in Great Britain than either America or Germany. The explanation for this is simple. Because Great Britain had been so close physically to the Nazi threat, bearing the brunt of the Nazis attacks in the early years of World War II, and after the war, still existed near the FRG, competing for economic power, they grew jaded quickly. Great Britain’s loss of empire and superpower status in the post-war world as well as having to be much closer to the new threat of the Soviet menace certainly contributed too. As such, the trend among allohistorical works in Great Britain started to de-heroize the British and de-demonize the Germans as early as 1964. (Rosenfeld 50) As well, for the first time distinctions were made between “good Germans” and “evil Nazis.” (Rosenfeld 51)

Works like Giles Cooper’s The Other Man (1964) displayed mass collaboration on the part of the British after the event of an armistice with Germany in 1940. Because they collaborated with the Germans, their colonies deserted them and ally with America, which in turn engages in a technological and arms race with Germany, and both leave Britain far behind. While the work seems to validate the Finest Hour Myth, it does so very reluctantly, as Cooper points out that Great Britain has been stripped of her colonies either way, and is a minor player now on the world stage. Another work, Ewan Butler’s 1968 novel Without Apology , uses a slightly different tack. From the standpoint of an unapologetic former leader of the Third Reich’s puppet state in Great Britain, “ America is depicted in highly critical terms – as a self-righteous nation that failed to live up to its democratic principles and fight the Nazi evil.” (Rosenfeld 61) While validating the Finest Hour Myth, Butler still jabs against the American foreign policy of the time, which included their involvement in Vietnam and the Suez Canal. (Rosenfeld 61)

After 1968 further works followed, increasingly colored by the brush of normalization, none more so than Len Deighton’s 1978 novel SS-GB, “which went the furthest in narrowing the distance between the British and the Germans.” (Rosenfeld 65) Deighton portrayed both the Germans and British in his book as being merely human, neither monster nor hero, given to making bad decisions and following the path of least resistance. Further, Deighton relativised the Third Reich by proclaiming that “fascism could happen anywhere,…which further chipped away at the Finest Hour Myth.” (Rosenfeld 67) Predictably, although most of the allohistorical works did well critically, the common Britons expressed disbelief and outrage at the works of this period persisting in the belief of the Finest Hour Myth.

Normalization in America didn’t start until 1972, when many younger writers started to view Nazism “from a more detached perspective,” while older ones “reconsidered just how good the “good” war had been. (Rosenfeld 117) Normalization took longer to occur in America for a few reasons. The upheavals that inspired normalization in Great Britain, such as loss of empire and loss of superpower status, occurred immediately after the war, whereas the major upheavals that would inspire American normalization did not occur until right around this time. Events such as Watergate, the Civil Rights movement, and especially Vietnam and the Cold War were starting to become the defining aspects of more and more people who had grown up after World War Two. Also, just as Great Britain was closer to the Third Reich and Nazism and thus normalized faster, America was farther away and wasn’t as concerned with the goings-on of the European continent other than in relation to the actions of its Soviet rival.

Allohistorical works were starting to be used in critical ways. Brad Linaweaver’s 1982 novella Moon of Ice started to tear down the American Myth of Intervention by presenting the contemporary Nazi state as beset by problems. In this way, Nazism is still evil, but relativistic normalization and the continuation of the Cold War are starting to make Communism seem like the bigger threat. (Rosenfeld 125)

Other works sought to critique the present through allohistorical means. “A Class with Dr. Chang” (1975) by Ward Moore, and The Divide (1980) by William Overgard both supported the Myth of Intervention, but both questioned the integrity of the American people, the former by depicting hateful, fascist students in order to critique the supporters of the war in Vietnam, the latter by showing many Americans as willing collaborators to the atrocities committed by a triumphant Nazi state. (Rosenfeld 129) Overgard, like Cooper, Deighton and other British writers, did not believe that their fellow countrymen were so different from those in any other state the Nazis conquered. In the end, works of this phase of Normalization also differed from earlier works in that they did not blindly support the Myth of Intervention, and that they used allohistorical means to convey dissatisfaction with current events.

The fall of the Berlin WallHarris, Fatherland, coverchanged allohistorical accounts in all three countries. In Great Britain, the actions of Margaret Thatcher had largely restored confidence to the British people, but the end of her term and the end of the USSR produced the first works of allohistorical fiction since SS-GB. (Rosenfeld 75) The most definitive work of this age, the 1992 bestseller Fatherland by Robert Harris focused on a triumphant German state engaged in a Cold War with the US. His main character is a German, and his struggle to uncover hidden truths about the implementation of the Final Solution makes the reader “sympathetic” to his struggle, in which he ultimately seems to fail. (Rosenfeld 80) However, what Harris’s presentation is most notable for is its depiction of the Third Reich as a state showing signs of internal decay, thereby suggesting a comparison to the Soviet Union. Although Harris seemed to tacitly support the Finest Hour Myth, he still maintained that any totalitarian state would ultimately collapse under the weight of its’ own policies. (Rosenfeld 80)

In the US, Leo Rutman’s 1990 Clash of Eagles still supported the Myth of Intervention, but depicted the German rule of America as “vulnerable” to the American people themselves. (Rosenfeld 140) Later American works like 1945, written in 1995 by William Forstchen and Newt Gingrich and Pat Buchanan’s book, an aesthetic attempt at normalization, A Republic, Not an Empire (1999) were both notable more for their reception than their literary prowess. 1945 supported the American Myth of Intervention, but was savaged by critics for being poorly written. Gingrich in particular was singled out “for temporarily ignoring politics to make a profit in the publishing world.” (Rosenfeld 157) Republic did not support the Myth of Intervention, and was savaged for exactly this reason.

In Germany, the definitive essay “Wenn Hitler gewonnen hatte?” (“If Hitler Had Won?”) by Alexander Demandt was published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War Two. It used all three forms of normalization to push forward its ideas. (Rosenfeld 177) Demandt’s essay was notable for several reasons. He sought to normalize the Nazi regime by pointing out hypothetical potential long term benefits, and also compared it to other fascist states, which had toned down after a period of time. (Rosenfeld 178) Demandt was disappointed that democracy and reform came to Germany as a mandate of the Allies, rather than internally. (Rosenfeld 179) Also, like Buchanan, he glossed over several issues, like the Holocaust.

As politics shift in the world, the trend of normalization will continue to accelerate. Great Britain, which started the process the earliest, may well take normalization to new heights as they fall farther behind the new emerging economic superpowers such as China and their former colony of India, and also in relation to their status as a member state of the EU. Rosenfeld seems to believe the Finest Hour Myth could persist indefinitely, but normalization should see it attain the same status attributed to early events in the founding of America, like the Boston Tea Party, which become legendary in and of themselves, and do not necessarily have any personal meaning to contemporaries other than as such. The US has of late been involved in the Iraqi War. Although the actual conflict itself doesn’t affect the lives of Americans quite like our past conflict with the Third Reich in World War, the war’s unpopularity both internationally and domestically surely points towards future allohistorical negative portrayals of intervention in World War Two. In the future, works that criticize current US policy will most likely receive increasingly positive reviews. As Germany approaches the 20 th anniversary of reunification, the trend of normalization will probably point towards an increased appreciation for the aftermath of the war, possibly even viewing the Third Reich as a distasteful but necessary step on the path towards their current position.

Indeed, in any of these three countries, a new phase of normalization could start at any time as writers use allohistorical means to critique either the present or the past, or an entirely new era may occur as alternate history reaches new audiences. At some point in the future, the Third Reich may reach a point of complete normalization, viewed like any other state from the course of history, especially in regard to future evils and wars beside which Nazism may pale.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 3/27/07)

Book Reviews

  1. Smith, Helmut Walser. “Methods/Theory.” The American Historical Review Vol. 111, No. 4 (October 2006)
    URL: http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ahr/111.4/br_3.html
  2. Andrew Stuart Bergerson. "Review of Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, The World Hitler Never Made: Alternate History and the Memory of Nazism," H-German, H-Net Reviews, February, 2006.
    URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=266131153238732.
  3. McDonald, Randy. [REVIEW] Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, The World Hitler Never Made (2005)
    URL: http://rfmcdpei.livejournal.com/908605.html
  4. Selected excerpts of reviews of The World Hitler Never Made on the Cambridge University Press website.
    URL: http://www.cambridge.org/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521847063

Similar books / articles

  1. Osborne, Richard. If Hitler Had Won (The Plans He Made, the Plans He Carried Out, the Plans He Hoped to Achieve) ( Indianapolis, IN: Riebel-Roque September 2004)
  2. Alexander, Bevin. How Hitler Could Have Won World War II: The Fatal Errors That Led to Nazi Defeat (Three Rivers Press paperback reprint December 2001)
  3. Winthrop-Young, Geoffery. “Introduction: On the Increasingly Inevitable Recycling of the Third Reich.” The Journal of Popular Culture Vol. 39, No. 5. Blackwell Publishing 2006

Relevant links

  1. Soc.history.what-if http://groups.google.ca/group/soc.history.what-if/topics
    URL: http://groups.google.ca/group/soc.history.what-if/browse_thread/thread/56c5a3934557ee7c/378fed4e71f89778#378fed4e71f89778
    Soc.history.what-if is an online historical discussion group. Randy McDonald (see reviews) posted his review on the forum and users posted comments about the review and about Rosenfeld’s book.
  2. http://www.johnreilly.info/althis.htm
    A website devoted to alternate histories, great links to other such websites and reviews of alternate history works.
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternate_history
    Other wikipedia links are useful here as well, but this is perhaps the keystone of the arch.

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 3/20/07; last updated: 3/27/07
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