Thursday, 14 February 2013
The Second World War
Anderson's fiction is full of history though usually further back than WWII. However, some Time Patrolmen visit London in 1944 and another reflects on how easy it would be for a time traveler to delete that war from the timeline by preventing the conception of Adolf Hitler. (Stephen Fry wrote a novel about this but, as usually happens, I disagreed with his logic of time travel.)
The first thing to say is that words, whether historical or fictional or both historical and fictional, are abstractions and simplifications from a concrete and complex reality. "Concrete" does not mean "solid." Reality as experienced comprises solids, liquids, gasses, energy and mental states. These last, even if grounded in mass-energy and organism-environment interactions, have distinct properties and can be imagined, even if not experienced, as existing separately.
"Redness," a single property abstracted from many objects, is an abstraction whereas an object, comprising a totality of properties, is concrete. The "concrete" object might be a particle whose properties do not include that directly perceived tangibility and impenetrability that we call solidity. Also, objects of experience include mirages, holograms and imaginings and thus are a broader category than material objects.
To verbalize any aspect of reality is to abstract some of its properties as against others and is thus also to simplify but we know this and should not be misled, especially not by basing our understanding of the War on reading a single book which, in any case, necessarily quotes from many others. Anderson's fictional accounts of wars convey something of their horror and complexity. His characters sometimes die horribly while also continuing to have different perspectives on conflict.
According to this new book by Gluckstein, there were effectively two Second World Wars. Politicians and generals fought to maintain the social status quo (Churchill wanted a thousand year Empire!) and afterwards to redivide the world among the newly dominant powers (no longer including Britain after all) whereas many people on the ground, for example in the resistance movements, fought for a better world, in fact achieving for example an end to colonialism and a British National Health Service (with Churchill out of office). European Communist Party members schizophrenically fought both Wars, expressing the aspirations of their people while serving the cynical power politics of Stalin's foreign policy.
Combining Anderson and Gluckstein, I envisage a group of time travelers doing more than merely preventing Hitler. Let us imagine:
an early defeat of the pre-Nazi Freikorps by their political opponents;
continued social transformation in Germany;
fewer hostile military interventions destroying the already small industrial base of the new Russian Republic;
German support for that Republic;
preservation of democracy combined with social transformation in Russia;
no Naziism, Second World War, holocaust, nuclear weapons, Middle Eastern conflicts, local dictatorships strategically supported by contending superpowers or Russian bureaucracy destroying democracy to re-industrialize but bankrupting itself with the arms race;
no subsequent War on Terror;
thus, a peaceful twentieth century (after the Great War).
But, having failed to achieve global peace in the twentieth century, let us build it in the twenty first!