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The Man in the High Castle Universe: How the Axis Won WW2

Exactly what the hell went so wrong to create the High Castle dystopia? Second World War historian Paul K. DiCostanzo examines the possibilities.

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The United States Minus Franklin D. Roosevelt & Its Role in How the Axis won WW2

FDR was a critical figure that prevented the steps necessary for how the Axis won WW2 in The Man in the High Castle UniverseUS National Archives

FDR was a critical figure that thwarted the Axis winning WW2

One clear cut explanation for the differences between the High Castle universe and the one we know today is the fate of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In both the original novel and Amazon series, it is made clear that FDR was assassinated in 1933. This tragedy occurred during first year of FDR’s first administration by Italian anarchist Giuseppe Zangara.

The absence of FDR would have created horrific implications to the High Castle timeline, both in how and when the war was fought – as well as managing the nightmarish Great Depression.

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The Great Depression & Preparation for Global War

In this fictional scenario, one must figure how the American President managed the Great Depression historically, as well as FDR’s personal operating belief that Nazi Germany posed an imminent exstitential threat to US interests.

FDR’s revelation occurred years prior to most of the American public and many politicians, and the stalwart isolationist lobby of the 1930’s and early 1940’s.

In the High Castle Universe, it appears clear that his Vice President successor John “Cactus Jack” Garner was not up to the task.

In The Man in the High Castle Universe, John "Cactus Jack:" Garner would succeed the dead FDR, a man who would unwittingly contribute to how the Axis won WW2US National Archives

As man who once said the job of Vice President wasn’t worth a warm bucket of piss, do you think he was up to the job?

It is reasonable to extrapolate that the isolationism that was common in the 30’s and early 40’s was more prolonged and heavier in the High Castle timeline. So much so that by the time the US did become involved, the country stood extremely ill prepared, nay lost, against their seasoned and emboldened Axis enemy. 

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Yet whatever the lack of assertive foreign policy by the US with Germany and Japan, much of the country’s eventual fate would be rooted in how the US managed it’s Great Depression experience. 

American Life in the 1930’s – Managing the Great Depression

FDR’s management of the Great Depression fortified American industry and began to put many people back to work. As a result, the country was primed for the incremental wartime mobilization necessary when war broke out.

New Deal creations, for example, like the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and its other departmental contemporaries provided electricity and other vital national infrastructure to a wide swath of the US without which, wartime mobilization would have been far more difficult.

Perhaps even more critical is how the New Deal influenced the attitudes of many Americans, and how they viewed their democracy’s response to the crisis. 

American Attitudes toward Democracy in a Harder Depression in The Man in the High Castle Universe

FDR may not have solved the Great Depression but programs that came to be from his New Deal did help soothe ailing Americans at a loss for work. Lest one forgets, unemployment figures at the height of the Depression were near 33%. 

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There was also a national psychological factor to the New Deal, providing a necessary comfort and confidence for Americans that their nations government was churning 24/7 to improve the economic situation.

When you consider that European Facism, specifically Nazi Germany, was able to come to power had much to do with a desperate nation looking for a solution to their woes.

The Great Depression was crippling for Germany. Germans experienced mind boggling inflation and unemployment. Between crushing reparations payments for the First World War, and a complete economic derailment it was a historic disaster.

Moreover, the democratic government of Weimar Germany was inept and ineffective causing many to lose faith in democracy’s capability to address the needs of the nation. It was an opening for the belief that a single strong leader was necessary to handle Germany’s future.

This was the opening that allowed Hitler’s successful journey to power. If such an outcome occurred in a western nation as advanced as Germany, America was no less vulnerable. 

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There is no doubt that had FDR not been able to implement the New Deal and ease some American pain, similar attitudes may have had far more widespread support. Attitudes leading perhaps to the American people arriving at similar conclusions to those in Europe.

When considering how the Axis won WW2 in The Man in the High Castle universe, American feelings towards its government would have been instrumental to Axis success. In so far as Americans developing a more tolerant attitude toward Axis occupation of the United States. 

(Article Continues Below...)

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A Woefully Unprepared US Military

In The Man in the High Castle universe, American production in WW2 was likely lacking, contributing to how the Axis won WW2US National Archives

Massive American industrial production in WW2

With a missing FDR, chances are it would have led to greater militarily ill preparedness. Due to the subtle and gradual political machinations by FDR in 1939, the US managed to quietly begin its necessary preparation for the looming war.

There are a number of measures that may not have come to pass in FDR’s absence. Undoubtedly one such example may have been lapsing on legislation such as the Two-Ocean Navy Act in 1940, designed to increase the size of US Naval forces by 75%. This act of Congress ensured that, by its completion, the US would be the foremost maritime power in the world, surpassing even the Royal Navy. 

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Just as important was providing the British Empire material support through the Destroyers for Bases Agreement in 1940, revising the Neutrality Acts of the 1930’s, and ultimately the cornerstone Lend-Lease Act.

Lend-Lease is the all important legislation that extended indefinite credit to supply the UK and eventually the Soviet Union in their fight against Nazi Germany and Japan.

Prior to full military mobilization in 1941-42, the US possessed a minuscule Army of little more than 100,000 members in 1939. The entirety of which was outfitted with antiquated equipment of First World War vintage.

Furthermore in 1939, the US was several years away from creating the vaunted United States Army Airforce (USAAF) that helped bring Nazi Germany and Japan to their knees. Allied air power was instrumental in the defeat of the Axis, and could only reach its zenith by American industrial power.

Any lack of foresight on the part of US leadership that resulted in lack of even preliminary preparation would have left the US extremely vulnerable to Axis aggression in the longterm, despite the traditional oceanic barriers.

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Without Roosevelt at the helm, it is difficult to envisage an American President that would have taken the required steps to prepare the US for war, or serve as a power to strongly bolster their invaluable Allies in that titanic struggle.

One must conclude in the High Castle Universe where the Axis was successful in invading the eastern and western seaboard of the United States, none of these steps were adequately taken.

In the High Castle timeline, the atomic bombing of Washington D.C. on 11 December, 1945 lead to the collapse of the US Government, and complete victory in the summer of 1947. In short, “Goodnight Vienna.”

The Man in the High Castle Universe and the Nightmare of How the Axis won WW2

By any fair measure, the idea of how the Axis won WW2 in The Man in the High Castle universe is a nightmare. The Man in the High Castle as a celebrated piece of alternate history and science fiction is both entertaining, and meant as a cautionary tale.

Today many think the Allies winning the Second World War was a fait accompli, however it was not. Though the entire High Castle universe is based on a major historical counter-factual, only a small number of events occurring differently may have lead to an entirely disastrous outcome, lending greatly to how the Axis won WW2 in fiction.

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The Man in the High Castle universe and other similar fictions helps reaffirm the appreciation for the accomplishments of our near ancestors effort for prosecuting the war. As well as their tremendous sacrifice required to prevent such a devastating world order.  

Do you have a question about The Man in the High Castle, or WW2 in general? E-mail Paul at the WW2 Brain Bucket Reader Q&A – the monthly column that answers all your WW2 related questions.

Want to learn more about alternate history of WW2? Listen to Paul K. DiCostanzo’s D-Day interview on KFAB 1110 with Gary Sadlemyer about if D-Day failed!

Write to Paul K. DiCostanzo at pdicostanzo@tgnreview.com

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Paul K. DiCostanzo is the Managing Editor for TGNR. He is a noted public speaker, an emerging historian of the Second World War, a vocal advocate for Crohn’s Disease/Ulcerative Colitis, and is a highly regarded interviewer. Paul is author of the reader submitted Q&A column: WW2 Brain Bucket. The Brain Bucket answers readers questions on all things regarding the Second World War. Paul has served as Managing Editor for TGNR since March 2015. Prior to TGNR, Paul has a background in American National Security and American Foreign Policy.

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