Friday, January 21, 2005


It must be a sign of the times that the Imperator Orbis can make a speech proclaiming his commitment to freedom and opposition to tyranny - with a straight face.

I've long enjoyed the alternate-history works of Harry Turtledove, even though he sometimes took shortcuts and easy roads by making things in his alt-timelines unfold almost exactly as they have in real history ("second-order counterfactuals"). How Few Remain and his Great War series - in which the Confederacy won its independence, and faced the Union again on the opposing sides of the Great War in 1914 - largely avoided this pitfall of alt-history. Until, that is, Turtledove introduced the character of Confederate artilley sergeant Jake Featherston in a clear analogy to a certain Austrian-born corporal with a handlebar mustache. The post-war series, American Empire, unfolds very much like our timeline, with Featherston coming to power on a racist, revanchist platform and starting a war against the USA in 1941.

But here's the reason I mentioned this in the first place: Featherston's party aren't the National Socialists, but the incongruously named "Freedom Party." Instead of "Heil Hitler!" they salute each other "Freedom!"

And I just can't help but think of Jake Featherston and the Freedom Party when I hear that word defiled and desecrated by the current Emperor, when what he is doing - and intends to continue doing - is the exact opposite of freedom in just about every way. I'm not accusing Bush the Lesser of being a Nazi (though he may be a fascist); it's just a word-association that rings all sorts of eerie bells.

But by far the worst thing is that there was no political alternative to the American Empire this past election; Kerry wasn't a voice, but an echo. And that's another parallel to Turtledove's alt-universe. Once the Great War starts, there are no "good guys," only power, interest and carnage. However horribly depressing that may seem, at least Turtledove is honest about it and pulls no punches. At first I was taken aback by this seeming nihilism. But on second glance, I suspect the actual history of the XX century was just as grim. It's just that we've all lied to ourselves so well, we actually believe this arguably the darkest age of humanity was really about something good in the end.

Now I'm the farthest thing from a nihilist. I actually believe in liberty and redemption. But this ain't it. Not even close.

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