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A Sneak Preview

by @ 7:15 am on August 1, 2006. Filed under Alternate History, Books, Harry Turtledove

I have yet to start reading Harry Turtledove’s Settling Accounts series, which deals with the continuing story of a world where the Confederacy won the Civil War. The third volume of that series, The Grapple, was released last week, and Professor Bainbridge has already read it. The book sounds interesting, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Bainbridge makes one point about the alternate universe that Turtledove has created over the past ten books that I agree with completely:

The timeline Turtledove constructed on the basis of a CSA victory is a much darker and nastier place, but it is a very plausible and convincing counterfactual. If the South was able to justify slavery and Jim Crow, it’s not hard to imagine a CSA that loses World War I churning up a Hitler-clone with plans for a black Holocaust. Lincoln was right: The CSA had to be beaten to preserve the last best hope.

There is frequently a desire among some to romanticize the Confederacy, but there is no doubt that the history of North America would have been far worse had the Union not been preserved.

5 Responses to “A Sneak Preview”

  1. Luther Hardy says:

    If you?re so enanmoured of Harry Turtledove?s ?dark view? of an alternative history following a posited Confederate victory, then you owe it to yourself to read the same author?s 1992 ?alternative history? novel entitled ?The Guns of the South?, that is once you finish counting the lanes in the Beltway and memorizing your area code.

    Moreover, if you have the intellectual ?heft? to manage it you should, just for fun, tot up the number of major figures in the Civil Rights Movement, both Black and White, who were (are) Southerners.

    Then, you should try counting the number of Black elected officials today in the former states of the Confederacy. Oh yes, don?t forget Doug Wilder.

    Then you might try toting up the aggregate GDP today of the states of the Confederacy. If you?ve actually read and understood Turtledove, don?t forget to include Maryland and Kentucky. Just for fun, throw in Missouri, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Now, compare the total economy to the economies of recognized nations states today.

    If the higher math hasn?t yet got to you, try counting the number of Americans Abe Lincoln killed in a war that began for no better reason than to satisfy his own vanity. I?ll save you the trouble: It was 623,000, give-or-take, with more than a million more wounded. That?s more than in all of America?s other wars combined ? about 250 times the number killed in Iraq.

    If you can manage to read an entire two volume work, read the memoirs of James Dunwoody Bullock, Confederate Commissioner in England, and favourite uncle of Theodore Roosevelt. Don?t skip the part where he was authorized by the Confederate government to offer to abolish slavery in return for British recognition and military support.

    Finally, if it won?t tax you too much to keep reading actual history rather than pot-boiling fiction masquerading as ?alternative? history, read Jay Winik?s 2001 work entitled ?April 1865?. Don?t skip the part about the plan to offer freedom to all slaves who joined the Army of Northern Virginia and for their families.

    Now that you?ve finished those exercises, and if your mind hasn?t been completely blown by the higher math and actual history, please move inside the Beltway. You?ll feel much more at home.

    Luther Hardy
    Comp. G, 9th VA Cavalry
    Army of Northern Virginia

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  3. Luther,

    I’ve read The Guns of The South. Good book. You will remember, of course, that the Civil War ended under far different circumstances in that book than it did in the universe that The Grapple takes place in.

    As far as the state of the Southern United States today, remember that this is happening in a world where the CSA lost the war. Surely, you don’t ask me to believe that history would’ve turned out exactly the same had something different happened ?

    Finally, we’re talking a work of fiction here. But, Turtledove’s biggest point throughout this series, from my perspective, has been that the worst thing that could’ve happened in North America would have been a world where two hostile nations — the USA and the CSA — faced each other across a 2,000 mile border. Maybe things wouldn’t have turned out the way he writes about them, but I don’t think such a world would be an entirely pleasant place to live.

  4. Luther Hardy says:

    Mr. Mataconis:

    The tone and tenor of your response to me is entirely diferent from those of your original posting, to which I responded. It was this tone and tenor, particularly its off-handedness, that got me so upset!

    I don’t ask you, or anyone else, to believe anything about the shape of a modern world following a Confederate victory. In my response to you, I set forth facts and left the belief to the reader. The facts I chose were intended to illustrate the following points:

    1. Racial hatred and animosity toward Africans was not nearly so virulent among Confederates, particularly in Virginia, as modern political correctness would have us believe. Indeed, I believe that the real and visceral animosity felt toward Blacks in the mid 20th Century was primarily the residue, not of slavery, but of the treatment we received during Reconstruction at the hands of our Northern bretheren. They were the utter enemy, and Reconstruction and its aftermmath had the real, albeit unintended, effect of turning Blacks into the allies of our utter enemy. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Blacks were used by the North during the post-war period and got the short end of the stick as a result.

    2. The great social issues, racial and otherwise, have been thought out and worked trough largely by Sutherners, Black and White. It is difficult indeed to imagine the Civil Rights Movement in retrospect without Southerners, starting of course with Martin Luther King. Indeed, this situation was presaged by the alternative view of a post-war world in “The Guns of the South”. Not to put too fine a point on it, but can anyone seriously imagine a Southern version of the Holocaust perpetrated by a society led by Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton, all of whom were born in the states of the Confederacy, and all of whom except Eisenhower were (are) the direct descendants of Confederate soldiers. In positing such an eventuality, even in a fictional “alternative history”, Turtledove is nothing short of insulting.

    Finally, I must agree with you that the world would have been most decidedly “worse off” than it has been, had there been, post 1865, two continuously warring nations in place of what has been the United States. That said, if the American Civil War were to start again today, I have no doubt as to which side I would take, and I would be just as decisive in the prosecution thereof as were my ancestors.

    Luther Hardy

  5. Wayne Nalbandian says:

    Some interesting points to be made on both sides and this is the kind of discussion that history and alternative history ought to generate. Luther, you make a good point in noting the southerners, white and black, who have spawned a century of progress in civil rights. A study of history will show that progress in civil rights has not consistently moved forward but has had lurches in both directions. Reconstruction in many cases brought effective government into parts of the south for the first time. The “Gone With the Wind” version of US history is no more accurate than the “Birth of a Nation” one. At the same time, let us not assume the north was progressive in this matter. Civil rights took a step backwards with the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, who was a vehement racist (he is president of the C.S.A at the start of the “Great War” series).

    An alternate world where the south wins the civil war can take a vast number of variations of which Turtledove’s timeline is perhaps a near worst case (albeit plausible). I have even read alternative histories in which the north wins but with a differing aftermath.

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