One thing historical fiction (and sometimes, fiction) can do pretty well is to show the present in an entirely different light, thereby changing our perspective. “The Man with the Iron Heart ” by Harry Turtledove does it pretty well, mirroring some major events in our time.
Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich (#2 man in SS) is a man brilliant enough to see in ‘43 that the tide of war is changing against Nazi Germany. He is also brave (even foolhardy) enough to approach his superior, Heinrich Himmler, with his ideas for post-defeat Germany.
After V-E day, the partisans in occupied Germany start showing their hand. Before the Allies realise that they are facing more than a few scattered fanatics and get their act together, they have lost many men, including Generals and Marshalls, Paris and London are marked by the revenge of the “German Freedom Front”, and now famous Nuremburg trials are forever doomed. While Heydrich directs his movement he planned for 2 years, his enemies have to fight more against the crack developing in their alliance than his “fanatics”.
And they are not exactly helped by the situation back home. While Russians employ their “both eyes and nose for an eye” policy, a housewife in US, Diana McGraw, grieved by the death of her son after “so-called” V-E day, starts a movement to bring soldiers from Germany back. Before long, the Republicans have seen a political platform to get them back to power, and the few officers who are fighting in Germany to stop the countdown to WW-III are finding their jobs even harder.
Most of the characters in the story are pretty common. These include a housewife from Indiana, who sees the movement she started pushing her to national fame, a reporter who suddenly finds himself at the start of a huge news cycle are on the domestic front, while a private, and a couple of men from CIC and NKVD are fighting the asymmetrical war in the occupied Germany.
But, (in a very interesting similarity to “Inglorius Basterds”, I would say) it is the title character, Reinhard Haydrich, who looms over most of the narrative, by his actions and his presence. A brilliant strategist, he may not be the man with a great imagination (totalitarian regimes frown on that quality in officers), but he is quick to understand the importance of any new development, and to use it to his advantage. He quickly adapts to the “new idea” Japanese came up with (Kamikaze pilots), or uses Diana McGraw’s movement to make Nazi survivors into “German Freedom Front”.
Sometimes you feel that the similarities with the current situation in Iraq are not just hinted, but typed in headline font. But it is also interesting, and sometimes scary, to read how quickly the walls between the allies go up even before the war is officially over, or how the efforts of a few officers fall fart short of success, for almost no fault of their own. Also, while the home front in US quickly dissolves in a political storm, it is quite interesting to see that once you see past the political and media attention, both sides have equally valid points.
But above all that, while I love the historical fiction which “predicts” the future, I have a special place in my heart for historical fiction which predicts future literary classics.
Quote of the Day:
Sergent Benton: If I do me a crappy job, I get my sorry ass blown up. If I do me a great job, they make me stick around – so I can get my sorry ass blown up. Ought to be a name for something like that.
Capt. Weissberg: Yeah, it’s a heller, all right. One of these days, I will bet there will.