Anglo-Dutch Union

The year is 2039. Princess Catharina-Amalia, heir to the Dutch throne, has married Prince George of Wales, nine years her junior, creating a personal union between the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Two ambitious prime ministers propose to go further: unifying the kingdoms on the North Sea, thus making it possible for Britain to reenter the European Union by the backdoor.

It may seem far-fetched, but it almost happened before — thrice.

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Red Storm Rising

Red Storm Rising

Red Storm Rising (1986) is a classic of the World War III genre. Tom Clancy’s second book, coming on the heels of the enormously successful The Hunt for Red October (1984), depicts a NATO-Warsaw Pact war in the mid-1980s fought entirely with conventional weapons. (Although the risk of nuclear escalation is present.)

The book opens with Azerbaijani terrorists destroying the main Soviet oil refinery at Nizhnevartovsk. The Politburo, split between a war-wary general secretary and a warmongering defense chief, decides to seize the oil fields of the Persian Gulf to avoid economic collapse. Fearing that the West would intervene in such an attack, the Soviet leaders determine to eliminate NATO first.

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Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman 1984

I was looking forward to Wonder Woman 1984. The last movie was amazing. Gal Gadot is perfect for the role. And this one would be set in the 1980s!

Sadly, it disappoints on all fronts.

Unlike 2017’s Wonder Woman, the plot of this movie is discombobulated. The main villain, played by Pedro Pascal of The Mandalorian fame, is a cartoonish version of Donald Trump. His sidekick, played by Kristen Wiig, is even more predictable.

There is a detour to Egypt that is almost entirely irrelevant to the plot. As is the opening act on Woman Woman’s home island, Themyscira. Action scenes go on for too long. Wonder Woman attains not one, but two new powers. Dialogue is often puerile. Gadot is given little to work with.

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How the CIA Waged Cultural Cold War on Communism

Fear of communist infiltration in the United States preceded the Cold War. So-called “popular fronts” — anti-fascist and anti-imperialist — were active in the 1930s and attracted various well-meaning progressives. As Hugh Wilford puts it in The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (2008), everyone from the “Jewish fur-worker dismayed by the rise of anti-Semitism in Hitler’s Germany” to the “student inspired by the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War” to the “African American protesting Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia.” Support for the Soviet Union was usually far down their list of priorities, but Soviet influence, and Soviet money, nevertheless played a role.

After the Second World War, Moscow played up its efforts to spread communism abroad. It focused primarily on Europe (France and Italy had large Communist parties) and the Third World.

In the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency was created amid the Red Scare and tasked with countering Soviet subversion.

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Happy Holidays!

Santa Claus Christmas poster

The team of Never Was wishes you and your family happy holidays!

It’s an usual Christmas for many of us. The coronavirus makes big family gatherings unwise. In some countries they’re not even allowed.

Please do follow the recommendations of health-care professionals where you live and remember there is light at the end of the tunnel: vaccines should become widely available in the new year. We will have Christmas again.

In the meantime, we’re switching from two to three new weekly blog posts to give you a little something extra to read. And don’t forget: we have our own message-board community, the Never Was Lounge, which is a great way to connect with fellow fans of alternate history, retro-futurism and science fiction!

Palast der Republik

The Humboldt Forum, Germany’s answer to the British Museum and the Louvre of Paris, reopened this month in the rebuilt Berlin Palace after almost two years of controversy and debate.

The Forum combines the collections of the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and the Museum of Asian Art, with many pieces acquired (or stolen) during the colonial era.

Palast der Republik Berlin Germany
The Palast der Republik at night in August 1976 (Bundesarchiv)

The building is a reconstruction of the Hohenzollern residence that was torn down by East German authorities in 1950 to make way for the Palast der Republik, which was itself torn down post-reunification. Both demolitions were controversial — and both, I think, were a mistake. (Although renovating the asbestos-filled Palast might have been more expensive than knocking it down and building something new.)

The Palast was designed by architect Heinz Graffunder and the Building Academy of the German Democratic Republic in the modernist style and opened in 1976. In addition to the unicameral, and toothless, parliament of communist East Germany, it contained two large auditoria, art galleries, a bowling alley, restaurants and a theater.

Let’s take a tour.

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The Times of Scrooge McDuck: The Cowboy Captain of the Cutty Sark

The Cowboy Captain of the Cutty Sark

The second of the in-between, or “B”, chapters in Keno Don Rosa’s The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, The Cowboy Captain of the Cutty Sark (1998) takes place immediately after young Scrooge’s first American adventure in The Buckaroo of the Badlands (1992, annotations here).

Having left the employ of the Scottish-born Montana cattle baron Murdo MacKenzie, Scrooge is shipping two Texas longhorns aboard the famous Cutty Sark to the Dutch East Indies, where he will witness the eruption of Krakatoa.

The plot came easy to Rosa. Having decided he wanted Scrooge near Krakatoa in 1883, he discovered that the greatest sport on Java, the main island in what is now Indonesia, at the time was the annual Madura Island bull race, or karapan sapi. The Cutty Sark really did make a voyage to Australia for wool in 1883. There is no record she made a side trip to Batavia (now Jakarta) that year, but, writes Rosa in Volume 8 of Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: The Don Rosa Library (2017), “prove that it didn’t happen, I dare ya’!”

Less easy was drawing the Cutty Sark, with its tens of thousands of square feet of sail and its ten miles of lines, in every other panel…

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