Hitler’s War: September 1938 — War is declared

Written by Harry Turtledove
Review by Edward James

Many people regard alternative history as neither legitimate history nor legitimate historical fiction. Yet the past has meaning only in the light of what might have been and I find ‘what if’ history both fascinating and provocative.

World War II very nearly started in the Munich Crisis of October 1938. Indeed it was much more likely to have started then than a year later, so what would a 1938 war have been like? Harry Turtledove realises that history is overdetermined: there are usually several reasons behind anything, so changing one factor seldom changes everything. The 1938 war unfolds much as the 1939 war did, but this time the French make a fighting retreat to Paris, Russia is in the war on the Allied side from the outset and is attacked by Japan while the Spanish Civil War is still unresolved.

The book takes us only to the Spring of 1939, so I presume there is a sequel in the offing. It is well-researched and believable, told at a fast pace (no phoney war here) in the voices of a dozen participants, each on a different front. It was spoilt for me by being written throughout in highly colloquial American, such as might have been used by an American infantryman, irrespective of the nationality of the protagonist. Turtledove sets himself a difficult task in telling the story through such a diverse set of narrators and it does not fully succeed. Also after a while one tank battle becomes very like another. Some maps would have been useful.