When you read the historical accounts of HItler’s stunning military triumphs of 1939-1940, when you watch the old newsreel clips and look at the maps showing Nazi Germany’s rapid conquests, it is easy for your attention to be riveted solely on this aspect of the war. The shock, even from today’s perspective, is such that you can’t even conceive of a greater threat than military defeat and disaster.
Churchill, however, did see this greater threat, and he articulated it in his speech to the House of Commons on June 18, after France had asked for an armistice with Germany. He conjures two starkly different futures — first, victory:
If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.
But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.
Churchill saw what could be — and this was before the death camps came into being. In hindsight, we can also clearly see that if Hitler had won the war, we would be living in a different world* — i.e., Churchill’s second image.
Can you imagine your society transformed, the Aryan race the rulers, all other lesser races servants and slaves, and Jews exterminated? Can you imagine this: that this condition is not just a tyranny imposed by brute force, but belief inculcated in people’s minds? Belief in Nazi ideology was one of Hitler’s most important efforts in Germany during the years of 1933 to 1939. Can you imagine an immense occupying army and bureaucracy sworn to his service, not a country’s? Tens of thousands of people forced to work as slaves in labor camps? A division of the government dedicated to the efficient identification, classification, collection, killing, and disposal of civilians?
One minor fact that staggers my mind is that when the gas chambers and crematoria were conceived and the plans drawn up, the designs were patented. Does this make you afraid of how minds can be deformed? Can you imagine?
And, regarding “perverted science,” let us consider what else Hitler’s scientists had in the works: nuclear fission and missiles.
Yes, we would be living in a different world — the Nazi system and ideology still alive and operating, immensely powerful, carrying out its vision, and extended over Europe and America.
Imagining that world is what Philip K. Dick attempts to do, in The Man in the High Castle, which I will discuss next.
[*I have borrowed this phrase from Michael McMenamin, in his review of John Lukacs’ Five Days in London.]