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The World Set Free

In certain political science (or political shit-posting) circles there is a term “accelerationism”, referring to a belief that the problems of society should not be ameliorated but rather exacerbated in order to cause the collapse of a preexisting social order so that something else may be built on its ashes. The justification for this is simple: anarchy is a blank slate upon which any enterprising political elite can realize their dreams should they put the proper work into it and persuade the right people.

One such form of accelerationism comes forth in the writings of the Argentine Marxist writer J. Posadas, who advocated for nuclear war, which would destroy the capitalist order and, among the ruins, provide a way to build Marx’ classless utopia.

Posadas also believed in the necessity of contacting aliens who, by virtue of their technological advancement, must be more advanced according to Marx’ dialectical theory, a notion which has him painted as a loon by certain political science (or political shit-posting) circles on the internet.

However, he was not the first writer to put forth a similar idea.

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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!

Everyday Fashions of the 1940s

Everyday Fashions of the Forties as Pictured in Sears Catalogs

If you have studied the pages of the volumes of previous decades in this series, you will find that this book is the least varied. That is because the 1940s were pretty fashion-stable. There were changes in the silhouette for both men and women during the period, but nothing like the dramatic shifts of 20s and 30s.

Nonetheless, if you are into World War II-era fashion, this is definitely a visual companion worth adding to your collection.

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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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’71

'71

If I had to describe ’71 in a single sentence, I’d say “Black Hawk Down in Northern Ireland”. It has the same inciting incident: a soldier is cut off from his unit in a foreign land and has to survive surrounded by enemies. But that is where the similarities end.

For one, it is made clear to our protagonist (Jack O’Connell), after he goes through boot camp, that he is not leaving the country. This soldier is British, and he is being sent to Belfast, a city engaged in low-scale civil war between Catholics and Protestants. In an attempt to placate a riot, he is lost in the chaos and has to navigate a complex world of sectarian tensions and conflicting paramilitaries.

Almost immediately, the movie slams you with the reality of the saying, as Orwell did, “Those who ‘abjure’ violence can do so only because others are committing violence on their behalf.” One generally thinks of the United Kingdom after World War II as a peaceful country; indeed, one book I’ve read about the subject is entitled The People’s Peace, by Kenneth O. Morgan (1990). But even on that windswept island, there was war: pubs in Guildford and Birmingham were bombed by the IRA, to give but two examples.

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Crossing the Isthmus: Alternative Canals of Central America

In 1521, Vasco Núñez de Balboa made the first Spanish sighting from the east of what would come to be known as the Pacific Ocean. The journey had been arduous through jungles and across mountains, and interrupted by attacks on locals to gather gold and pearls, but it came to an end with a celebrated connecting point to fill in another empty space on their globes.

Twenty years before, on Columbus’ third voyage, it had first become clear that there was a good deal of land unknown to Europeans still separating them from the coveted trade of the “South Sea” near India and China. Ferdinand Magellan would show that there was a long way around it by sailing south and that the world could be circumnavigated (at least, the few survivors of his crew would be able to do so). The Northwest Passage, the dream of many explorers, would prove out of the question due to the Arctic ice.

It would be an infuriating problem that would remain for the next 400 years: how to get quickly across the thin strip of land connecting North and South America while dividing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans?

The simple answer is: build a canal.

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