NEUROPA: THE NEW ORDER
The year is 1964, the place
is Berlin, the mastodontic Metropolis of the National
Socialist empire. The
celebration of Adolf Hitler's 75th birthday is approaching,
as well as an apeacement summit conference with the American
president, Joseph Kennedy. In the east, in the distant Ural,
the war against the Soviet
guerilla has raged for over 20 years.
Xavier March is an
experienced murder investigator in Kripo, Kriminalpolizei,
the criminal investigation division of SS. Although a
veteran and a skilled homicide investigator, he has a rather
unstable position. He is not exactly a dissident, but throughout the
years, March's dossier has grown thicker and thicker. He has been
declared "asocial", i.e. he
ignores to participate in the social activities of the Nazi
A cold, misty morning in April, March is
called to the shores of Lake Havel in central Berlin. A body has
been washed ashore: a pale, fat, old man in swimming-trunks. March
is puzzled by the mysterious corpse: Who is he? What is the cause of
homicide, a suicide, an accident?
It turns out the victim was an
important man during the war —
Nazi top brass. March does not get far in his inquiries, though:
Gestapo, the secret state police, takes charge of the
investigation and Kripo is cut off. Every wise man in Germany would
back off, but March is not a wise man: he is a stubborn man. He
continues the investigation on his own and finds a most unexpected ally in the
American correspondent Charlotte Maguire. Charlie, as she
calls herself, is a cocky and independant women; quite a shock for
March, accustomed to the submissive women of the Nazi system.
The situation soon gets serious: it turns
out that several
high-ranking officials might be involved.
Reinhard Heydrich —
Himmler's successor as Reichführer-SS
and potentially also Hitler's successor as Führer
the future —
interferes, although not in person. He is represented by Odilo
Globocnik, "Globus", a dreaded SS henchman, infamous
for his brutality; to make things worse, Globus
hates March passionately. March becomes the tool of Arthur
Nebe, the chief of Kripo; an expendable pawn in a power game between
Kripo and Gestapo. What initially seemed to be just another murder
investigation turns out to be the prelude of a nightmare symphony...
Robert Harris is a skilled
British journalist and author. He has
made his homework well: the novel has an impressive accuracy when it
comes to detail. Overall, Fatherland is a very good
approximation of what Neuropa, the "New
Europe", could have looked like. There is a profound sense of
realism throughout the whole book; all high-ranking officials and
Nazi henchmen in the novel existed in reality, for instance. The
critical year when our history started to change is 1942; that is
way e.g. Reinhard Heydrich is still alive.
There are of course many well-educated
guesses in the novel, since Hitler had
very vague ideas about the future:
- As depicted in the novel,
Berlin would be turned into a monstrous Nazi Metropolis,
bristling with inspid war monuments. Even during his very last days,
Hitler studied outlines and models of the future Berlin, Germania.
This is one of the few things we know for sure.
- The Netherlands, Flemish Belgium,
Denmark, Sweden and Norway would have been
incorporated in the Third Reich, with or without their approval;
these ethnicities were considered to be of "Nordic
race". Both Hitler and Himmler were determined to
realise this project; Harris is more vague about the issue in the novel. France
would have become a satellite state; Italy, Spain
and Great Britain would probably have become more or less
independant vasall states.
- Poland, European
Russia and perhaps also Germany's East European allies would
colonised by "Aryan" settlers. All major Russian cities
would be destroyed and the entire Russian and Polish populations
would be turned into illiterate slaves. In fact, the Nazis almost
completed the colonisation of Poland, the Generalguvernement,
when the war still was raging in the east. The
"colonies" would probably have resembled the British and French colonies in Africa
and Asia during
the 19th century; a feudalesque, crypto-Medieval society. Hitler
was quite frank: "Here, in the east, is our experimental
field." Harris rather depicts an industrial project with
exploited guest workers.
- Harris makes a big deal of the
Nazi European Union in the novel. In reality, there were only
some loose plans about a monetary union. The Reichsmark would, of course,
have dominated the union completely, had it been realised.
(This fact has been abused by less educated politicians in EU debates. The
Pan-European idea is in fact much older than that.)
- As predicted in the novel, SS would
have become extremely powerful. Already by 1942-43, SS had
become a self-sufficient, supranational network; SS has often been
described as a state within the state. Whether the SS actually
would have become the true rulers of the Nazi empire is
uncertain, but they would definitely have been in charge of the
The cruel and baroque nature of
this gigantic colonisation project suggests a complete lack of inhibitions among
the Nazi coryphaei. Exactly how far they would have gone in the
realisation of their distorted fantasies is difficult to say. Who
knows? The horror scenario in Philip K Dick's The Man
in the High Castle may possibly be as plausible as the
moderate scenario in Fatherland.
Fatherland is much more
than a well
written uchronian depiction (i.e. alternative history scenario): it is also an excellent exposé of the
psychology of the Third Reich. Harris has probed the Nazi abyss,
really explored the distorted psychological mechanisms of this
nightmare empire. Personally, I think Fatherland is a
brilliant dystopian novel and of the same dignity
as Nineteen Eighty-four in some respects. Whether you find the
concept fascinating or not, Fatherland is an excellent thriller, full of
suspense and intrigue. Fatherland became a bestseller, and
for good reasons.
||Perhaps you have seen the
movie adaption with
Rutger Hauer and
Miranda Richardsson? If that is the case, don't judge the book by its movie.
Hauer and Richardson portrays March and Charlie
with bravura, but the script doesn't really do the novel
justice. The movie has its moments, but
all in all it's a quite mediocre craft.
Picture: Rutger Hauer and Miranda Richardson in Fatherland,
whole concept has been simplified, and the psychological depths
of the novel are basically lost. A brilliant novel has been
turned into a conventional thriller in an unconventional
the likewise mediocre adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale comes to
mind. Especially the sentimental — and hypocritical!
— Hollywood ending is annoying. As
always, I would recommend to read the novel first and then see
THE DYSTOPIAN DEPTH
The Third Reich could be
described as a real-life dystopia. It has inspired many a writer and filmmaker,
notably George Orwell when he wrote Nineteen
Eighty-four. Ironically, Ingsoc resembled both NSDAP
and SKUP (the Soviet communist party), and Thinkpol
both Gestapo and NKVD (later to become KGB).
Whichever shape a totalitarian society takes, the result is
always the same: power concentration through oppression. Even more
ironically, the structural core principle is the same in capitalist,
fascist and communist societies, although political radicals usually
claim to oppose capitalism. In the end, it is all about raw power
and material comfort.
It goes without saying that Fatherland
becomes a freightening
voyage into the darkest corners of human history. The Third Reich was basically founded on
Social-Darwinist principles: survival of the fittest. Problems were
always solved with threats and brute force. The Nazis never tried to
convert, persuade or even manipulate opponents: they simply executed
them them or imprisoned them in concentration camps. The Third Reich
was a never ending spiral of violence and death.
The German youth
was encouraged to be violent, cruel and fanatic — Hitler
even admitted it openly in speeches. The German people were
systematically trimmed to become merciless soldiers and brutal
colonialists, just like the British and French in the late 19th
century. Some experts have suggested that Hitler's quest for Lebensraum
was a German copy of the French and British colonisation of Africa
I am bound to agree. The Nazi raciology was only a means: the end
goal was German supremacy and a crypto-Medieval world order. Hitler even admitted himself that the
validity of the race concept was weak or non-exist.
Contrary to popular belief, the
Third Reich was anything but an effective society. A society based
on such primitive principles does not extract an elite, but the
exact opposite. With the exception of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels,
the leaders of the Nazi empire were intellectually poor men. Most of
the Nazi leaders were men who had failed in life;
quite a few of them were also old sluggards, drunkards, pederasts,
hustlers and criminals. Some of them were basically silly idiots in many
e.g. Himmler, Ribbentrop, Streicher and Ley,
although unfortunately in very influential positions.
Some experts have described the
Third Reich as an "organised anarchy", which indeed is a fitting
description. The rights and authorities of offices and institutions
were seldom clearly specified or demarcated: the greyzones were
vast. Furthermore, there were often at least two offices or
institutions working within the same field. For instance, there was
a multitude of secret police organisations in the Third Reich: the
three big players Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei), Sipo
(Sicherheitspolizei) and SD (Sicherheitsdienst),
as well as several small players.
This was a most deliberate
strategy, originating from the mad Führer himself: divide
and rule. Consequently, there were constant power struggles, even
during the final stages of the war. Although very rare, there were examples of how intelligence organisations betrayed agents from
competing organisations to the enemy!
The consequence of this ever-present and brutal competition was that
the Nazi leaders were surrounded by fawners and yes-men, bristling
with vanity and ambition, prepared to defame and betray. The
power struggles in the novel are by no means exaggerations; they
were often triggered by simple envy and desire for vengeance. The losers
in such vendettas often ended their days in front units in Russia,
suicide commandos in Yugoslavia or concentration camps in Poland.
Furthermore, there existed no such
thing as a Nazi ideology. Before the take-over, the NSDAP party
programme was partially ignored, partially opportunistically
interpreted; after the take-over it was abandonded. Nazi
ideology basically equalled Hitler's whims. Generally speaking, Nazi
officials had very few guidelines. They feared to go against
Hitler's will, but they seldom knew what it was. Thus, they had to guess, and
the confusion was sometimes monumental.
Something which is emphasised in
the novel, and for good reasons, is the power of the SS, Schutzstaffeln.
The Third Reich is,
debatedly, the only true police state that has ever existed: in
many respects, the SS were the real rulers of the Third Reich.
Every single police organisation was integrated in Allgemeine-SS;
Waffen-SS enlisted more than one million soliders,
among them many foreigners only loyal to SS; in order to be
independant of the state, SS owned more than 500 companies —
SS almost had monopoly on some products; SS even offered patronage
through Fördente Mitglieder, basically a masonic
lodge. In some respects, SS actually resembles all-powerful mega-corporations in
The terror in Hitler's
Third Reich was not as random and paranoid as in Stalin's
Soviet Union, though. An obedient, "pedigree" boot-licker lacking
initiative and ambition could live a quite comfortable life. In
fact, the common man, "Schmidt", seems to have enjoyed life in the Third Reich. The
"enemies of the state" were treated more mercilessly in the Third Reich than in the Soviet Union,
though. Perhaps the annihilation camps would have been shut
down after the war, but not the dreaded forced labour camps. In a
way, these sadistic institutions represented the very nature of
National Socialism: ruthlessness, brutality and horror.
comfortable life or not, the
subjects of this monstrous political experiment, the German
citizens, had to endure the strange ideas and whims of the
Führer. They could not escape. The
Third Reich was a truly totalitarian society: the Nazis
controlled all societal and social functions. All clubs,
organisations, associations and communities —
however trivial —
Hitler admitted openly in a
speech, that once a boy or girl had joined a youth organisation
"they would never be free again". For instance,
it was compulsory for a boy to join Pimpf when
he was 10-14 years old and Hitlerjugend when he was
14-18 years old, followed by labour service and military
service. As an adult, he was expected to join one or more Nazi organisations of a political,
military or professional nature. The strictly
Picture: Nazi propaganda poster, frankly stating that "all 10 year
olds [must come] to us".
lives of the Party members in Nineteen Eighty-four is
actually not that far from reality.
The German citizen
was expected to be obedient and accomodating. Creativity and
only encouraged within certain fields, mainly military and
industrial. Other individual initiatives were usually surpressed. The
Nazi party, NSDAP, was organised like a military organistaion:
obedience and exactitude were concidered more valuable than
creativity and finess. Hitler didn't tolerate even the slightest
fractions within the party. Art and culture were completely
institutionalised: every book, play, movie, radio program,
television program (yes, they had TV in the Third Reich), music
tune, statue and painting were filtered through various
propaganda institutions. Needless
to say, the quality of the German culture was extremely
poor during the Nazi reign.
also reasonable to say that the educational system of the Third
Reich was among the poorest in Europe. The German youth lived in ignorance.
They had been successfully indoctrinated and transformed into
obedient tools of the regime. One can only speculate which horrors
the Nazi future would have held. One day, youth would have equalled
Hitlerjugend for everyone; everyone would have been raised in the
spirit of Social-Darwinism. Civilisation as we know it would perhaps
have come to an end.
Could Hitler have won the war?
societies have always been completely focused on war, or at least military efforts,
and The Third Reich was no exception. The German army
was better trained and better equipped than any Allied army. During both the
French and Soviet campaigns, Germany was quantitatively inferior regarding
infantry, artillery, tanks and airplanes and still successful, at least
initially successful in the latter case. Having this in mind, there were ways the Third Reich could have won the war:
Battle of Britain: The British participation was essential
for the outcome of the war —
without the British Islands, the invasion in Normandie
would probably have been impossible. The Third Reich had to
station as many as 40 divisions in France throughout the war,
which could not be deployed in Russia.
The British were determined to defend their islands at all costs
— they even considered to use poison gas — and they had the
best Allied army during the whole war, considering size and
Nevertheless, there were actually several ways the Third Recih
could have neutralised or even defeated their opponent:
A) A whimsical decision by Hitler prevented the capture of
300,000 of the best British soldiers in Dunkerque. B) RAF
could have been defeated if Luftwaffe had continued to
bomb airfields and radar installations instead of cities and
industries. C) Even without air supremacy, an invasion
could have been implemented: mine fields and submarines could
have kept the British navy away. D) If the German navy had
concetrated all their resources and efforts on submarines, the Battle
of the Atlantic could have been won; Great Britain would
have been starved to death. This was actually what worried Winston
Churchill the most.
attempts to conquer Moskow, including adjunctive
industrial centras, and the oil fields of Baku were too
slow and too shattered —
much thanks to Hitler's interference in strategic
decisions, actually. Had these offensives been successful, the
capacity of the Red Army would have been fatally weakened. Note that Hitler
only wanted to occupy European Russia. The fundamental principle
of the military strategy was to A) injure the Soviet Union
mortally in one swift stroke and then B) let it bleed to death
in drawn-out guerilla wars. Hitler even seemed cheerful about the
prospect of a never-ending war.
Furthermore, the Third
Reich failed to use their potential allies. Imperial Japan
was never even asked to join, although they had the best
infantry troops in the world. There were a few attempts to
persuade Turkey to join, but they were only half-hearted —
fortunately, since Turkey
had a large army strategically positioned close to the oil
fields in Baku. Finally, the Third Reich could actually have
organised large Russian armies! At first, the German troops were
looked upon as liberators, and propaganda minister Joseph
Goebbels agitated for temporary co-operation; luckily,
Hitler refused to listen.
Ultra: The Allies gained an enormous advantage when they
managed to crack the German code machine Enigma. The
Allies were prepared to keep it secret at all costs. Although
Churchill knew in advance Coventry would be terror-bombed, the
city was never evacuated: it would have exposed Operation Ultra.
It was indeed an important asset. Sometimes, the Allied
intelligence knew Hitler's order before the German generals did.
This became crucial especially during the Battle of the
Atlantic and the Invasion of Normandie. The Germans kept the
Enigma system throughout the whole war; had it been replaced,
the outcome of the war could have been different.
Overlord: There are many examples of failed amphibian
operations throughout history; it goes without saying that it is
easier to defend than attack shores. In fact, D-Day could
very well have ended in tragedy. Had it not been for Hitler's
whimsical strategy, the German forces in France could have
thrown the invasion army back into the sea quite easily. Thanks
to Operation Ultra mentioned above, the Allied supreme command
knew Hitler's strategy.
The Third Reich had a lead in military
technology, a fact Hitler fortunately failed to exploit. However fantastic it may
sound, the German army could theoretically have implemented Operation Desert
Storm already in the 1940s; the modern American army is
actually half a century old. The Germans used fully functional radar-directed artillery,
jet fighters, jet bombers, radar planes and remote missiles in combat and had fully
operational prototypes of helicopters, aircraft carriers, stealthlike bombers and even "television bombs",
i.e. missiles directed
with camera! Furthermore, the German nuclear weapon project actually started before the
American. Picture this nightmare scenario: Hitler with nuclear missiles!
all, we should be thankful the war ended the way it did. We tend to
forget that we were on the verge of going back to the Middle Ages.
Decades of Soviet and American terror followed, but the alternative
would no doubt have been a hundred times worse.