The 1980s were a tense time in the United Kingdom. There was the bombing campaign by the Provisional IRA that almost succeeded in assassinating Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister who brought neoliberalism to the shores of Great Britain. There are two other things from that period that linger in the memory: the miners’ strikes and the burgeoning gay rights movement.
Those last two are more connected than you might think. To make a long story short, one of the reasons that the gay rights movement in the country got as big as it did was due to a campaign by London-based gay and lesbian activists to support the miners, who were being targeted by the Thatcher government. This became Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, which raised money for those on strike. The National Union of Mineworkers reciprocated by using its clout in the Labour Party to bring about support for gay rights.
This struggle is dramatized in the 2014 film Pride, directed by Matthew Warchus. It’s a film that starts among the gay community of London, revolving around a number of activists who take the bold move of finding solidarity with those who are unlike them. One of its central characters is Mark Ashton (played by Ben Schnetzer), the firebrand of our set of characters who brings with him a fuming rage against societal injustice. He is the sort of activist that brings about real change, one who is willing to get his hands dirty and speak truth to power.
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Roy Gjertson studied art in Minnesota and Los Angeles before serving as a B-24 radio operating and gunner during World War II. After the war, he resumed his career as an illustrator for aviation companies in California.
Gjertson is best known for the work he did for General Dynamics in San Diego. During his two decades there, he drew everything from commercial airliners to futuristic space shuttles for the company’s advertisements and proposals.
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Veterans were a strong public presence in the Weimar Republic. A total of 1.4 million disabled veterans came back from the war, and the republic provided them with occupational training, free medical care and pensions. For the severely disabled, particular jobs were granted special protection.
Still, the republic was ill-rewarded for the care it offered, above all because expectations kept rising as the economic situation kept worsening and there was only a certain amount of money that could be devoted to this cause. Veterans normally didn’t support the republic.
By 1919, veterans were represented by seven different organizations, of which the Reichsbund der Kriegsbeschädigten und ehemaligen Kriegsteilnehmer (National Association of Disabled Soldiers and Veterans) was the most numerous with its 600,000 members and ties with the Social Democrats.
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The very conceit of a German victory in World War II is in and of itself a cliché in our online alternate-history communities. However, mainstream published authors have an annoying tendency (speaking as someone with approaching ten years in the online community) to not realize that fact. It feels like every few years, some mainstream author comes out with a new take on the subject that non-genre critics will fawn over briefly and at which those in my circles will roll their eyes in disdain. I think this is a manifestation of a problem that for many writers, alternate history is but one literary toy to play with rather than a dedicated genre to be explored in its own right. As a result of this, many dilettantes in the genre have little idea of the conventions thereof.
In that light, I was quite satisfied to know that C.J. Sansom had at least dipped his toes in the genre and the subject matter before writing Dominion. In his afterword, he says that he came to the conclusion that Operation Sea Lion was absolutely impossible on his own when doing research for his book. Likewise, he explicitly praises Robert Harris’ Fatherland, which is widely lauded as an alternate-history classic by the community.
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One of the most speculated matters in the history of the Weimar Republic is whether it would have weathered the hard crises of the Great Depression, and so resist the rise of the Nazis, if all forces had been more united. Disunity — both true and perceived — was indeed a characteristic of the Weimar Republic.
The most apparent disunity was the one in the parliament itself. Throughout the republican history, the Reichstag was made up of many small political forces which seem to have a hard time getting along. There were a few bigger parties, of course, most notably the Social Democrats and the Zentrum, but none of these ever won the absolute majority of the parliament. The republic had to rely on coalitions governments which were unstable at best, leading to frequent crises and reorganization of the Reichstag.
This disunity and instability ill-suited German people, whose culture had been prompted to an authoritarian, decisive, military efficiency. The people saw the endless parliamentary discussions as weakness rather than democratic discussion by Germans who, slowly, lost faith in the ability of the republic to solve its citizens’ problems.
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Babylon Berlin is said to be the best drama series to ever come out of Germany. I disagree. My vote goes to Deutschland 83 (review here), in which border guard Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) is recruited by East German intelligence and thrust into the middle of a nuclear standoff.
The series wasn’t hugely popular in Germany, but it found enough viewers abroad to warrant a sequel. Deutschland 86 takes place three years later. Martin has been exiled to Angola. His aunt, Lenora (Maria Schrader), who is also a spy, is working on an operation in South Africa. Naturally they run into each other again.
The ten episodes masterfully weave together the events of the time in a compelling narrative: the slow collapse of apartheid in South Africa, the civil war in Angola, Muammar Gaddafi’s support for international terrorism, the La Belle disco bombing in Berlin — all against the backdrop of the American-Soviet Cold War.
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George W. Bush once told John Kerry, “You forgot Poland!” when the Democrat listed the few countries that supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
We history buffs can use a similar reminder that Poland is, in fact, not lost. World War II in Europe began when German tanks stormed across Poland’s border after a flagrant false-flag at Gleiwitz (or Gliwice). The Red Army came not long afterward. Auschwitz, the most infamous of the Nazi death factories, is remembered by many, but we sometimes forget it was built in the Polish town of Oświęcim.
When the Poles feature in (alternate) history, they are often reduced to victims of German and Soviet armies. This does them a disservice: the Polish fought, and fought hard. There was the Warsaw Uprising and the Polish forces under Władysław Anders that fought in Italy.
The movie Hurricane, released as Mission of Honor in the United States, is about some of those Polish warriors, specifically those who served as foreign pilots in the Battle of Britain. These were men who had escaped Poland, often served in the French Army of the Air, and then made their way to the UK after the Fall of France. At a time when Poland as a country could not do much, her sons were doing everything they could to defeat her enemies abroad.
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It is sometimes said that just like World War I was the war to end all wars, the Treaty of Versailles was the peace to end all peace.
Often described as punitive to Germany, which was cast as the villain and the loser of Europe, the treaty failed to create the basis for solid peace and ended up laying down the groundwork for precisely what all nations didn’t what to ever happen again.
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Two rounds of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) between the Soviet Union and the United States had managed to reduce tensions in the Cold War. But the talks did not cover tactical nuclear weapons delivered by midrange ballistic missiles, a loophole the Soviets exploited to deploy SS-20 mobile launch platforms in Central Europe.
When, in December 1979, the Soviet Union also invaded Afghanistan, the West felt it had to respond.
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Under the Bright Saharan Sky is Lyssa Medana’s sequel to her fantastic debut novel, Out of the London Mist. We return to the characters of that novel as they go on a new adventure. I finished my review of Out of the London Mist with a wish that these characters would make the Saharan expedition mentioned in the book. To my great pleasure, they do just that in Under the Bright Saharan Sky.
Think of this book as a cross between Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, with a dash of steampunk fantasy. A third or so of the book is traveling through Europe en route to the Sahara (with a good bit set in Cairo), and you get a feel of all these different cities. It resembles something of a fantastic Baedeker.
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