How to Turn the Cold War Hot

Most World War III fiction wasn’t written as alternate history. During the Cold War, many authors and filmmakers imagined how East and West might end up in a (nuclear) war. Because the two sides never did, these stories have become counterfactual.

A Third World War was seldom portrayed as the outcome of outright American or Soviet aggression. More often, the war happened as a result of miscalculation, escalation of a proxy conflict or the Soviets feeling the West left them with no alternative. These were cautionary tales and reflected the fear, widespread at the time, that global thermonuclear war might occur, and kill billions, without either side wanting it.

Video games are an exception. Typically made in Europe or North America, they are more likely to make the Soviets simple villains and give the player the power to unleash nuclear catastrophe just for the heck of it.

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What If World War II Never Happened?

After two series in which World War II ended worse than it did — one in which the war never ended and another in which the Axis won — let’s try a more optimistic scenario: a world in which World War II never happened.

Here we’ll take our cues from the Indiana Jones movies, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) and the art of Marcos Ceia and Stefan Prohaczka.

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The Soviet Union in Space

For a while, the Soviet Union was ahead in the Space Race. It launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space in 1961. Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space two years later.

These early victories spurred the United States into action. President John F. Kennedy set a goal of putting an American on the Moon before 1970. NASA, created by his predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, received massive funding. The Apollo program succeeded while the Soviet space program languished. Following the 1969 Moon landing, both sides returned their attention to Earth.

What if they hadn’t? What if the American program had failed and the Soviet Union had continued its exploration of — and expansion into — space?

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Cold War on Steroids

Thought the 1950s couldn’t get any scarier? Think again. Imagine communists ruling all over Europe, the Soviet Union stretching from Finland in the northwest to Port Arthur in the southeast, Britain under the sway of “Big Brother”, America ruled by President-for-Life Douglas MacArthur, and East and West vying for influence in Africa and the Middle East.

This atompunk world is on its way to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and, in Britain, could culminate in the events of Chris Mullin’s A Very British Coup (1982), in which civil servants, spies and business leaders conspire to bring down a left-wing government (our review of the 1988 television adaptation here).

Other inspirations include Alan Moore’s and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier (2007) and the Command & Conquer: Red Alert video games.

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How to Change World War II

Alternate World War II histories typically either kill Hitler, to end the war quickly or avoid it altogether, or correct one of his many strategic mistakes (invade Russia in winter, needlessly declare war on the United States), to enable an Axis victory.

There were many more inflection points, however, any one of which could have steered history in another direction. If you want to change World War II, here are 22 ways to do it.

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Countries That Almost Existed

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand proposed dividing up Belgium between France, Germany and the Netherlands. Heinrich Himmler fantasized about crowning himself regent of an independent Burgundy. The Allies in World War II had multiple plans for Balkan federation. Iraq and Libya both pushed plans for Arab unification.

The only things these schemes have in common is that nothing came of them. Belgium still exists. Burgundy doesn’t. The Balkans and the Arab world are even more divided.

What if history had taken a different turn? Here is a look at the countries that almost existed.

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What if the Axis Won World War II?

We previously imagined a world in which the Axis powers signed a peace treaty with America and World War II is still being fought as a prolonged Cold War. But what if Germany and Japan had pressed ahead and invaded the United States?

This next installment is heavily inspired by Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962) and the Amazon drama series that is based on it (2015-present, our review here). Other inspirations are William Overgard’s The Divide (1980), Harry Turtledove’s In the Presence of Mine Enemies (2003) and Guy Saville’s The Afrika Reich (2011).

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What If Germany Had Won the First World War?

Many a what-if has been written about a German victory in World War II. Alternate histories of a German victory in World War I are less popular, but they exist. Indeed, people started thinking about the consequences of a German victory during the war itself and feared it might give way to a German empire spanning nearly the whole of Europe.

Here is a look at some of the maps that were produced to show the consequences of a German victory in what was at the time called simply “the Great War”.

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