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

WW2 historian Paul K. DiCostanzo answers the major question nobody knows about The Man in the High Castle universe: How did the Axis win WW2?

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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 the first year of FDR’s first administration by Italian anarchist Giuseppe Zangara.

FDR’s absence 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 factor in both how the American President managed the Great Depression historically, as well as FDR’s personal belief that Nazi Germany posed an imminent exstitential threat to US interests.

FDR’s revelation about the dangers of the Third Reich occurred years prior to most of the American public, countless contemporary politicians, and the stalwart isolationist lobby in the 1930’s and early 1940’s.

In the High Castle Universe, it appears clear that FDR’s Vice Presidential 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 common in the 30’s and early 40’s in America was prolonged and deeper set in the High Castle timeline. So much so that by the time the US did become involved, isolationist influence left the country extremely ill prepared to fight, nay lost, against their seasoned and emboldened Axis foes. 

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Yet whatever the lack of assertive foreign policy by the US towards 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 help fortify American industry, and as well as beginning to put many people back to work. As a result, the country was better set for the incremental wartime mobilization required when war eventually came to America.

New Deal creations, for example, like the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) provided electricity to much of the American southeast. TVA, as well as its other New Deal departmental contemporaries, constructed vital national infrastructure to a wide swath of the US without which, wartime mobilization would have been clearly more difficult. In addition to creating the jobs necessary to complete the task. 

Perhaps more critical is how the New Deal influenced the attitudes of many Americans regarding their democracy’s response to the crisis. 

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

FDR did not solve the Great Depression, the Second World War did. However programs that spawned from the New Deal did help soothe ailing Americans at a loss for work. Lest one forget, 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, in its providing a necessary comfort and confidence for Americans, generating faith by how their nations government was churning 24/7 to improve the economic quagmire.

When you consider that European Facism, specifically Nazi Germany, rose to power partially as a desperate response by people groping for any solution to their woes – FDR’s actions take on greater substance.

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 recipe for disaster.

Moreover, the democratic government of Weimar Germany was inept and ineffective; thus causing many Germans to lose faith in democracy, or its capability to adequately address the needs of the nation. The Weimar Republic’s failure provided an opening for the belief that a single strong leader was necessary to handle Germany’s future. This was the opening that propelled Hitler’s eventual meteoric rise to power.

If such an outcome occurred in a western nation as advanced as Germany, American Exceptionalism was no exception, nor 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 in the United States. 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 the eventual Axis occupation of the United States. 

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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 is 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. United States Lend-Lease historically was an indespensible factor toward Allied victory. It’s potential absence in the High Castle universe may have proven vital to how the Axis won WW2 in its story.

The Historic Realities of Lacking US Military Preparedness Prior to Pearl Harbor

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.

Additionally, in light of the defeat of France in June 1940, Congress passed the Selective Service Act – the first US peacetime draft in the nation’s history – in September 1940. Selective Service initially requiring a service time of 12 months for qualifying draftees, later underwent expanding its service requirement to 30 months in uniform.

Selective Service was successfull in authorizing the expansion of the US armed forces to 1.4 million. However, that figure was but a small fraction compared to the 14 million Americans in uniform by 1945, necessary to fight and win a global conflict on multiple fronts. 

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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 defeating the Axis, only reaching its zenith through American industrial power. In its absence, it would have added greatly to how the Axis won WW2 in the High Castle universe. 

Potential US Consequences for Lacking Strategic Vision

Any absence of foresight by US leadership, thus resulting in loss of exigency for even minor war preparation measures would leave the US extremely vulnerable to Axis aggression longterm. Even despite the traditional oceanic barriers protecting North America from external aggressors. 

Without Roosevelt at the helm, it is difficult to envisage another American President taking the required steps to prepare the US for war, having the political skills to do so, or recognizing the need to strongly bolster their invaluable Allies by producing war materials in that titanic struggle.

One must conclude that in the High Castle Universe, in a timeline where the Axis was successful in invading both the eastern and western seaboard of North America, 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.”

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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 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 series of major historical counter-factuals, only a small number of events occurring differently may have lead to an entirely disastrous outcome. Thus lending greatly to how the Axis won WW2 in fiction.

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!

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

Also follow Paul on Quartz

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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 K. DiCostanzo is Co-Host for the A.D. History Podcast. The show explores the history of the last 2000 years in an unprecedented fashion; with each episode covering a 10 year period beginning in 1AD, until reaching the present day. Ultimately finding the forgotten as well as overlooked threads of history, and weaving a tapestry of true world history. 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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