Just recently, I sat down and started watching “The Man In The High Castle”, a series based on the book by Philip K Dick and an incredibly powerful story based around the concept of “what if”. What if the German army had won the Second World War? What if they had won and entered into an uneasy agreement with the Japanese? I have to admit that watching the series has really made me sit and think about that incredibly powerful question.
Our history could so easily have changed in an instant if just one thing had gone differently back at the end of the Second World War, and if I’m honest it boggles the mind to even think about. But at the same time it’s a very interesting question – what if Adolf Hitler had survived? What if the atomic bomb had never been dropped on Hiroshima? I was discussing this very same thing with a friend the other week who turned to me and said “I’m actually terrified thinking about all of this because it could have happened. But what sort of person even makes a programme about that sort of thing?” It took me a moment to think about that – but then I realised that it takes someone who is unafraid to completely think outside of the box to create such a scenario in their minds and bring it to the mainstream. Phillip K Dick did it with his original book in 1962 and just recently Amazon have brought the idea to the small screen. And it’s been done phenomenally.
Alternate history is something that many who study history will find themselves thinking about at some point or another. And that “what if” is always a very open ended question. What if Anne Boleyn had never married Henry VIII? What if Cesare Borgia hadn’t been killed in Viana? What if Giuliano de’Medici hadn’t been murdered in the Pazzi Conspiracy of 1478? What if James, Duke of Monmouth, had ousted his uncle from the throne of England and not lost his head? Each question can lead you down the path to different scenarios, all of which could lead to a different outcome for the history that we all know.
It’s a particularly useful question for historical fiction, and if I’m perfectly honest I’d love to sit down one day and write an alternate history novel. Whether or not I’d be able to write anything worth reading is another matter, however.
The Man In The High Castle has certainly made me think about things like this in a different way. And whilst it may feel like my brain is melting sometimes with all the alternative scenarios running around and around in my head, it’s nice that a television drama has been able to make me think such things. It’s very rare these days that a television show awakens the mind in such a way – and I would certainly recommend this show to absolutely anyone whether they are interested in the history of the Second World War or not.
Because sometimes, I feel, it’s important to think about what could have been rather than what was.