Are we all monsters?

I’ve just read this over at the BBC. It’s a small article about normal people being part of something monstrous. And a couple of days ago, I finished reading Turtledove’s Blood & Iron, which is an alternative history featuring the rise of fascism and socialism in a divided America. And, since the post that has crept into my head spoils (heavily) for said book, I’ll put it below the fold.

So. The BBC article is about a guy who knows that his grandfather was in the SS, but doesn’t know anything more about his actions during the war except that he died before it’s end. The ending paragraphs are:

Looking at these photographs it’s impossible to avoid what one always hopes wasn’t true about the Third Reich – these men are not monsters. No matter what sort of gangsters, charlatans and psychopaths they may have been following, the vast majority of the German people, even the vast majority of the Waffen SS were normal people.

In fact, my grandfather liked football and swimming, he seems to have been more normal than I am. And his two last letters home speak of a loving family man desperate for the war to end so he could return to his pregnant wife and young daughter.

And that, I suppose, is why I find this microscopic story of an insignificant part of the Third Reich so fascinating. If it shows that my grandfather can not only stand aside while bad things happen but actively take part, then it could happen to any of us. It’s a lesson that’s been taught again and again, but in this anniversary year it’s worth hearing again.

And that is a large part of the theme of Blood & Iron. It’s taken some of the characters that I grew to like in the Great War series and has made them nasty. Not immediatly, and not detailing every step either, but showing you how. For example, Jefferson Plinkard went from being a happily married, not-as-bigoted-as-the-norm steel worker in the Great War to being a violent, rascist, rapist thug in Blood & Iron. And you could see how.

Kimball: as a Confederate submarine skipper, you could understand (if not sympathise with) his decision to sink the Eriksson after the CSA surrender. But you then see him join the Freedom Party (ie, the equivalent of the Nazi Party) with the intention of guiding it, only to become another uniformed thug, ignoring the rule of law, battering opponents, all that good old fashioned stuff. Oh, and he attempts rape and murder too. Charming.

Fetherston is far too believable as the Hitler equivlent. But you knew from halfway through the last series that he wasn’t going to end well. Still not a nice thing to see.

The book has shown the descent of good men (and women) into the madness of what happened in Germany (& Russia) between the wars. And these are normal people, and their actions are almost undersa=tandable. Which scares the bejeepers out of me.

Luckily it’s not all bad.

Chester Martin ended the Great War as a decorated veteran, ticking all the boxes of a good guy. Since then he’s changed, though not as completely as his Confederate equivalents. He’s been rioting, beating cops, joining socialists, all that bad stuff, but he’s also been correcting things. Which isn’t happening Down South.

Tom Colleton came back from the war and has no problem telling his sister (big in the Freedom Party) that she’s out of her mind.

Anyway. I’ll stop rambling now. Still got two more of the American Empire books to read before I see how it all ends. And I’m sure that people will start acting much, much worse before too long.

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