What if V-E Day didn't end World War II in Europe? What if, instead, the Allies had to face a potent, even fanatical, postwar Nazi resistance? Such a movement, based in the fabled Alpine Redoubt, was in fact a real threat, ultimately neutralized by Germany's flagging resources and squabbling officials. But had SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich, the notorious Man with the Iron Heart, not been assassinated in 1942, fate might have taken a different turn. We might likely have seen a German guerrilla war launched against the conquerors, presaging by more than half a century the protracted conflict with an unrelenting enemy that now engulfs the United States and its allies in Iraq. How might today's clash of troops versus terrorists have played out in 1945?
In this imagined world, Nazi forces resort to unconventional warfare, using the quick and dirty tactics of terrorism-booby traps, time bombs, mortar and rocket strikes in the night, assassinations, even kamikaze-style suicide attacks-to overturn what seemed to be a decisive Allied victory. In November 1945, a truck bomb blows up the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, where high-ranking Nazi officials are about to stand trial for war crimes. None of the accused are there when the bomb goes off, but their judges, all of them present and accounted for, are annihilated. Worse acts of terrorism follow all over Europe.
Suddenly the Allies-especially the United States-must battle an invisible enemy and sacrifice countless lives in a long, seemingly pointless, unwinnable conflict. On the home front, patriotism corrodes, political fortunes are made and lost in the face of an antiwar backlash, and a once-proud country wonders how the righteous fight for freedom overseas has collapsed into a hopeless quagmire. At once a novel of thrilling military suspense, intriguing alternate history, and profound insight into contemporary affairs, The Man with the Iron Heart is a tour de force by a storyteller of exceptional imaginative power.
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July 21, 2008
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Excerpt from The Man with the Iron Heart by Harry Turtledove
Lichtenau was a little town--not much more than a village--a few miles south and west of Nuremberg. Charlie Pytlak walked down what was left of the main street, a BAR cradled in his arms. He had the safety off and a round chambered. He knew the Nazis had surrendered the day before, but some damnfool diehards might not have got the word--or might not care. The only thing worse than getting it during the war was getting it afterwards.
He admired the shattered shops and houses and what had probably been a church. The bright spring sun cast his shadow ahead of him. "Wow," he said with profound unoriginality, "we liberated the living shit out of this place, didn't we?"
"Bet your ass, Sarge," said Dom Lombardo. He'd liberated a German submachine gun--a machine pistol, the krauts called it. He kicked a broken brick out of the way. "Got any butts on you?"
"Sure thing." Pytlak gave him a Chesterfield, then stuck another one in his own mouth. He flicked a flame from his Zippo to light both cigarettes; his unshaven cheeks hollowed as he sucked in smoke. He blew it out in a long stream. "Dunno why they make me feel good, but they do."
"Yeah, me, too," Lombardo agreed. "Couldn't hardly fight a war without cigarettes and coffee."
"I sure wouldn't want to try," Pytlak said. "I--"
He broke off. Half a dozen German soldiers came around a corner. A couple of them wore helmets instead of Jerry field caps--a sign they'd likely fought to the end. One of the bastards in ragged, tattered field-gray still carried a rifle. Maybe he just hadn't thought to drop it. Or maybe . . .
"Hold it right there, assholes!" Pytlak barked. His automatic rifle and Dom's Schmeisser swung to cover the enemy soldiers.
The Germans froze. Most of them raised their hands. The guy with the Mauser slowly and carefully set it down in the rubble-strewn street. He straightened and reached for the sky, too. May 1945 was way too late to die.
One of the krauts jerked his chin toward the Chesterfields Charlie and Dom were smoking. He wasn't dumb enough to lower a hand to point. "Zigarette, bitte?" he asked plaintively. His buddies nodded, their eyes lighting up. The past couple of years, they must have been smoking hay and horseshit, except for what they could take from POWs.
"I can't give 'em any, Sarge," Lombardo said. "I had to bum this one offa you."
"Fuck. I don't wanna waste my smokes on these shitheads. A week ago, they'd've tried to waste me." Pytlak looked the Germans over. They were pretty pathetic. A couple of them couldn't have been more than seventeen; a couple of the others were nearer fifty than forty. The last two . . . The last two had been through the mill and then some. One of them wore an Iron Cross First Class on his left breast pocket. But they were whipped, too. You could see it in their eyes.
Charlie flicked the BAR's safety on. He leaned the weapon against a wall and dug in his pocket for more cigarettes. As he started toward the Germans, Dom said, "I'll cover you."