Thursday, April 14, 2016

Story of a Different World War II

Guest post by Joseph T. Major.

When I was in high school, I read Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War (1971), and later on its sequel, War and Remembrance (1978).  These feature the experiences of Victor “Pug” Henry of the U.S. Navy, an officer who deals personally with many of the leading actors in the Second World War, sometimes very closely on both sides. (As when he gets leave from his post as Naval Attaché at the US Embassy in Berlin, travels to Britain, takes part as an observer on a RAF bombing raid over Berlin, and then returns to see the effects.)

But Wouk had a predecessor.  For those who know Upton Sinclair through his connection with Robert Heinlein, where Sinclair was accused of planning to flood California with an army of Okie immigrants, come to get on his socialist gravy train, it will be surprising to learn that nine years later, he was a proud voice speaking for America, honored with a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, a novel of patriotic American participation in the war against Germany. In 1940, Sinclair began a series of very large and complicated novels about the current war, featuring a rich young man who participated in all the great events of the war, was a personal friend of all the Western leaders, trusted by all, and in on every great event.  He published ten in ten years, beginning with World’s End (1940) and including the Pulitzer Prize winning Dragon’s Teeth (1942).  (And a final one in 1953, The Return of Lanny Budd.)

I wanted to do an alternate history in that manner.  At the same time I had to be more realistic.  It seems to stretch credibility that Pug Henry could go from Berlin to London, take part in a bombing raid, and return to Berlin; or that Lanny Budd could help out in the Dunkirk evacuation, arrange to stay behind, and make connections with his German friends.

Another long-standing annoyance of mine is how the hero has no extended family.  He (or nowadays, more likely she) may have children, but that’s about it.  Now my wife and I found the Greek family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), with the heroine having two siblings and some twenty-seven first cousins, to be quite credible; that’s a southern family.  And this was an advantage for the plot, because I could have a variety of people doing a variety of things.

The principal character has his own problems.  I had a man who was rich and accepted in British society, because I thought the best place to be informed about everything going on was in intelligence.  But that was only half the story; I made him unsure about his standing, half-American (thus bringing in the large American family), and to cap it off, shell-shocked (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) by having seen a massacre.  So he was a bridge, in two societies and not quite of either.  So he needed another half, who was also a bridge, a Jewish reporter who had the perfect way to report from Berlin without being found out; her mother was a German Jew, but her father was an Irish sergeant.

That part about intelligence had a good Point of Departure. In early 1941 a German agent was sent to Britain and then America with a harum-scarum list of things to find out, including a rather large number of questions about Pearl Harbor.  Nothing significant there, but when the agent was told that the Japanese naval attaché had been to Taranto, to see the result of the British attack on the Italian naval base there, someone should have put two and two together . . .

Which starts the changes rolling.

No Hint of War, which deals with the aftereffects of Pearl Harbor, some of which are quite different, is now out from  The first one, Bitter Weeds, is available there, too.

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Joseph T. Major learned to read at the age of two and a half and is reported to have stopped to sleep occasionally, if you can believe rumors. Check out his new book No Hint of War.

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