We all know about history and the subjunctive mood, and how the former has no latter. Fine.
However, we’d be well-advised not to think that, because things happen, they’re bound to happen. Different scenarios are often possible – and always enjoyable – to imagine.
The Second World War, for example, could have easily taken a different course.
It would have required just a few events going the other way. Such as Britain seeking peace with Germany in early July, 1940, just after the Nazis overran France but before they started those air raids on British cities.
Should that have happened, the Duke of Windsor would have again become Edward VIII, and Britain would probably still have her Empire, albeit in a truncated shape. The Nazis, on the other hand, would have attacked the Soviet Union without having to use a great chunk of their armed forces to cover their rear.
Considering how thoroughly they routed the Red Army in 1941 even with that handicap, it’s not hard to imagine Stalin suing for peace in the autumn of that year. Hitler, on the other hand, would have had no reason to press his advantage all the way to Moscow: he could have contented himself with downgrading Stalin’s military capability to a level where it would present no threat.
The Third Reich could then establish its eastern border along the Dnieper, guaranteeing a steady supply of natural resources and more Lebensraum than Germany would ever need. The war would have ended in December, 1941, and by now Europe would have had 78 years of peace.
What would have happened during this time? Hitler would have been ousted in the 1960s, when he became too old and feeble to micromanage all of Europe. Shortly thereafter he would have died under suspicious circumstances: totalitarian dictators seldom die under any other.
Economically, the Third Reich would have begun to suffer by then. Although the grinder of the Holocaust would have run out of material long ago, the memory of it would have been too vivid for the rapidly globalising economy, led by the US, Britain and Japan, to be overly hospitable to Germany.
Hitler’s successors would have then declared that the Third Reich was thenceforth a democracy. In fact, it wasn’t even the Third Reich any longer. It was now a German Federation, with all its constituent republics, from the Ukraine and Poland in the east to France and Iberia in the west, exercising almost as much autonomy as the US states.
The National Socialist Workers’ Party would have been renamed the International Socialist Businessmen’s Party, with its livery changed accordingly.
Germany would still enjoy some control, but she’d certainly loosen the reins. The Gauleiters, who until then would have possessed dictatorial powers in the constituent republics of the German Federation, would remain in place in an overseeing capacity only.
To reflect that, they’d now be called not Gauleiters, but Commissioners. They’d only interfere if a constituent republic refused to adhere to the strict fiscal discipline demanded by the German economy and national character, or else if the nationalist sentiments in places like Hungary became too strong.
Germany would have issued an apology to all her European satraps, now called partners, for the worst excesses of Nazism. To prove that such crimes could never be committed again, Germany would adopt a pan-German constitution demanding that both the metropolis and its partners held regular elections, with the small proviso that every party involved had to accept Germany’s leadership (Führung) and renounce secession.
Between 1965, the year of Hitler’s death, and 1992, the German Federation would have been accepted as an equal partner in the family of nations. It would feature prominently at all summit meetings of world leaders, those whose countries were as democratic as Germany would now have been seen to become.
Tight control over her European partners would no longer have been necessary, and the German government, working hand in hand with its biggest and most willing partner, France, would have decided to recall its Commissioners from the outer reaches of the Federation.
They’d all be put together at a single location in a major European city – say, for the sake of argument, Brussels. The Commission thus formed would still exercise control, but it would now be subtler and less hands-on.
At that point, to reflect the seemingly greater autonomy of the partner nations, the German government would have felt that the reichsmark, the single currency of the Federation, would have to change its name for something less overtly German. It would henceforth have been called the euromark, or the euro for short.
The Federation itself would have outlived its purpose. After all, a federation implies the existence of a metropolis at its core. Germany would have naturally acted in that capacity, but it was felt that the old name might stoke up local patriotism.
The name would have been thus changed for the European Union of Equal Partners, or the EU, as it would have become commonly known.
In line with that development, the Commission would have decreed that the medieval expression ‘all roads lead to Rome’ would henceforth read ‘all roads lead to Brussels’.
You see how interesting the ‘What if…’ version of history could be? Fantasy can sometimes elucidate reality – to a point where we’d no longer know where one ends and the other begins.