What If France Had Started World War II?

It is hard to imagine France starting World War II. Its entire military strategy, including the construction of the formidable Maginot Line, was premised on fighting a defensive war. The only people who ever envisaged 1930s France as the aggressor were Nazi propagandists, and I doubt even they believed what they wrote.

To make the scenario remotely plausible, we probably need to start by changing the outcome of World War I. A more lenient peace that would have allowed Germany to keep its gains in the west, including Alsace-Lorraine and maybe Belgium, could have given the world a revanchist France in the 1920s, which in turn could have given way to a Weimar-like France in the 1930s with the far left and far right vying for power. Either could be motivated to start a war.

But such a France would not be allied to Britain, and such a war would not involve the United States. The outcome would almost certainly be French defeat.

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Berlin

The Weimar Republic was born from revolution in 1919 and died in totalitarianism in 1933. But in this short period (Die Goldene Zwanziger, or Golden Twenties) it really shone, and today Weimar culture is considered one of the most influential periods for creativity — not just for Germany, but for all of humanity.

In all different aspects of life, Weimar culture was contradictory. Everything about it was extreme.

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Exodus

Exodus

They don’t make movies like Otto Preminger’s Exodus anymore. It’s one of those epic historical dramas with bombastic soundtracks that make me regret being born in a time when only Star Wars has such scores. (Listen here.)

It runs in the ballpark of three and a half hours, so it’s by no means an easy watch. Making it even less easy is the controversial subject matter: the founding of the modern state of Israel.

As a story, the film works magnificently. It earns its behemoth runtime. No scene is wasted, and the story naturally takes that time. It feels properly epic; about a people who have survived the unspeakable and their odyssey to find a new home.

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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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Dam the North Sea

To protect Northwestern Europe from rising sea levels, two scientists — one Dutch, one German — have proposed enclosing the North Sea.

In The Northern European Enclosure Dam for if Climate Change Mitigation Fails, Sjoerd Groeskamp and Joakim Kjellsson call for one dam closing the almost 500 kilometers (~300 miles) between Scotland and Norway, and another closing off the English Channel.

“See this as a warning,” Groeskamp, who works for the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research,” told The New York Times.

What we’re saying is: Here’s a plan, a plan we don’t want. But if we end up needing it, then it’s technically and financially feasible.

He and Kjellsson write that a Northern European Enclosure Dam (NEED) would be “one of the largest civil-engineering challenges ever faced.”

It’s not a new idea.

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From Up on Poppy Hill

From Up on Poppy Hill

Studio Ghibli is known for its whimsical fantasy movies, featuring fantastic creatures (literally) and colorful characters.

But the studio is also really good at producing calm, slice-of-life films featuring nothing other than regular human beings.

Kokuriko-zaka Kara (From Up on Poppy Hill) is such a movie, following the lives of high schoolers in 1968 Yokohama, Japan, who are trying to save their run-down and decrepit club house from demolition while dealing with personal problems in the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War.

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Drifting Dragons

Drifting Dragons

I chose to watch Netflix’s Drifting Dragons practically on a whim. It had airships, and it would allow me to partially fulfill my desire to get more into anime, given how much it has influenced my social circles. I watched the whole thing in a single night, about four hours or so.

In terms of the ‘punk aspect, it is on the boundary between steam and diesel. The series is set in a fantasy world separate from our own, but the technology is familiar: you have the helium zeppelin and the small helicopter that it dispatches to fight dragons.

Given that it’s in the very title of the show, I feel I must comment on the dragons. These are not the dragons of European fairytales, nor are they the dragons of Chinese myth; these are more Lovecraftian monsters than anything else, with a sort of otherworldly horror to their design that made my skin crawl. They’re not just inhuman; they almost feel as if they were not designed by humans.

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Perry Mason

Perry Mason

HBO has brought back the hard-boiler defense lawyer Perry Mason in a drama series starring Matthew Rhys, of The Americans fame, in the title role.

I never saw the long-running CBS drama series starring Raymond Burr (1957-66), but I did read most of Erle Stanley Gardner’s novels on which the characters and stories are based. Matthew Rhys’ Mason isn’t as smooth as the one from the novels, but this is a prequel. Set in 1932 Los Angeles, at the depth of the Great Depression, is tells the story of how Mason became a lawyer and took over the practice of his mentor, E.B. Jonathan (John Lithgow).

Like the novels, which typically feature a (female) client falsely accused of murder, the HBO series stars Gayle Rankin as Emily Dodson, who is charged with kidnapping and murdering her baby son by a district attorney played brilliantly by Stephen Root (whom dieselpunk fans may recognize as Hawthorne Abendsen from Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle).

Juliet Rylance and Chris Chalk complete the cast as Mason’s loyal secretary, Della Street, and ally, detective Paul Drake.

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