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So I binged out on “The Man in the High Castle” over the break December 1, 2015

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, awesomeness, foolishness, fun, history, silliness, Society, Uncategorized.

Did anyone else watch “The Man in the High Castle” on Amazon?  What did you think?

I was very impressed.  The first two pilot episodes had production values that were up and down, but the fully funded episodes (3-10) were vast improvements.  It was, to me, a most convincing alternate reality.  If you’re not up on the series, it is an internet TV-like production of Phillip Dick’s 1962 novel of the same time, which hypothesizes a world where the Japanese and Nazis somehow emerged not just victorious in WWII, but in possession of the entire land mass of the United States, save for a lawless but Nazi-dominated “neutral zone.” Japanese and Nazi relations have deteriorated since they completed their joint victory in the late 40s, and they now exist in a tense state of Cold War, with the Nazi’s having a tremendous technological advantage on nearly all fronts (including sole possession of nuclear weapons, which is frankly stupid, but whatever).

The real drama in the series is not so much the tensions between Nazi and the Imperial Japanese but the horrible life Americans lead under these conditions. The point of departure for the series was Roosevelt’s assassination in early 1933, which allowed the isolationist elements in the US to keep the US from preparing for war until much later than in our time line. When war finally was forced on the US, we were unprepared and lost in the Pacific after a protracted struggle and during a Nazi invasion of Virginia in the 1947 time frame. The US finally surrendered after Washington, DC was nuked by the Nazis (a fitting end, I might add).  Life under Nazi rule is unbelievably awful, with all but the fittest and healthiest (and whitest, and non-Jews) being consigned to endlessly operating death camps.  There are hints of horrible slaughters and a greatly reduced US population.  The US is also greatly impoverished, having never really emerged from the Depression.

Incredibly, the Japanese, even the incredibly fanatical and ruthless Kempetai, come off as comparatively reasonable and “humane” in their rule, in comparison to the nightmarish evil efficiency of the Nazis (who have also conquered most of Africa, killing hundreds of millions, all of Europe, etc.  South America exists as kind of free but under Nazi domination.  Japan holds most of Asia.  Russia has been fully conquered).  While there are no black or even brown people in Nazi-occupied America, there remain many in a much more polyglot “Japanese Pacific States.”

The main background is that Hitler is old and very sick.  He is expected to die shortly.  Hitler prefers peace with Japan, while all his underlings want to fry San Francisco (the Japanese administrative capital in the US) in nuclear fire and take over the entire US for themselves.  Everyone is waiting for the shoe to drop once Hitler dies.  But the series finale hints that Hitler may not be as sick as he pretends (for some reason, neither Fascist Italy nor Franco’s Spain is ever mentioned, probably due to lack of creativity on the part of the writers).

With this background, the plot centers around films that somehow show history as it unfolded in the world we know, with the Allies victorious and Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan crushed.  These films exist among resistance forces in the US and are attributed to the eponymous “Man in the High Castle.”  The Nazis and Japanese are terrified of these alt-reality (our reality) films and want them confiscated at all costs, fearing they may inspire more resistance or even for that correct history to somehow play out. Again, there is a hint at the end of the series (ep. 10) that the films are not what they appear to be, and the man in the high castle may have a most surprising identity.

I really enjoyed the series. I thought many of the performances top-notch.  I still cannot get over the idea of Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith, the head of the US Nazi police state.  It is such a shock to hear Obergruppenfuhrer…….Smith?!?  I thought the performances of the main American leads -the heroes, to date – to be so understated as to be almost bland. Now, they could be trying to emulate the reality of life under a brutal occupation – the same kind of very closed down, unemotional, hyper-guarded behavior one can still witness today among older people in former communist-bloc countries.  However, in a dramatic series, they often came off as a bit cold and distant.

There are a thousand small details that make this series work, dramatically.  I haven’t the time to even begin to go into them, but I’ll say even though the history proposed is asinine* beyond belief, if you can suspend your disbelief just a bit at the get-go, the series sucks you in and keeps you hooked with cliffhangers at the end of every episode.  It is made for binge watching.

Some video trailers and excerpts below.  The last one in particularly chilling:

Must watch this one:

*- Regarding this alternate reality, I have long believed -and I believe it can be quite proved – that Germany lost WWII on July 22, 1941.  Nothing the United States or Britain did was necessary to change that fact.  Our material aid certainly helped hasten the ultimate victory, and we played a huge part in terms of military arms, of course, but the very, very best Nazi Germany could have done once they invaded the Soviet Union was to maybe, if absolutely everything wen their way, was to fight to a draw, a draw that would have bled all of Europe white achieving.  Materially, the Soviet Union had greater economic resources than those of Germany.  Not much greater, but enough to keep them in the war, and almost certainly win it (after a brutal 8-9 year slog) even without Western aid.  This alt-history is very sketchy on the details, it is a very long walk from Roosevelt killed in 1933 to the US occupied by Germany and Japan.  They don’t tell us how Britain (with her own massive resources, nearly equal to those of Germany) fell, or how Germany could possibly have the manpower (and Navy!) to implement an invasion of the US, or conquer Russia in 1941.  As it was, Barbarossa as fought – even with the mistakes like the diversion to Kiev in September 1941 – generally went about as well as it possibly could have for the Germans.  Even had they conquered Moscow, the Soviets would have still rolled them up once General Winter set in (unless you start hypothesizing really unlikely things like the Japanese invading Siberia in 1941 in support of the Germans, something, given their experience in 1939, they were most hesitant to do) due to the Nazis’ greatly extended lines of communication and extreme thinness of their forces relative to the front they were defending.  From there, the Nazis could probably continue to make advances on a partial front in ’42 and ’43 as per our history, but even if they advanced to the magical Arkhangelsk/Astrakhan line, they’d have been damned hard put defending that 2000 mile long front for as long into the future as Stalin cared to fight – which was pretty danged long.  Even if Stalin negotiated a peace treaty, the drain on Nazi manpower to subjugate conquered portions of the Soviet Union and maintain large forces for the inevitable Soviet counterstroke would have been enormous.  No way they would have enough manpower for an invasion of the US, let alone the fact that they had virtually no navy to speak of.  I could go on, but you get the point.

This series hypothesizes that the Germans/Japanese succeeded because a huge number of Americans became very willing collaborators and soldiers in the Axis forces.  Yes, some of this would happen, it always does, but I strongly doubt there would really be an “Obergruppenfuhrer Smith” in any kind of realistic reality.  The Nazi’s never trusted their conquered subjects enough to give them that kind of authority, and they looked on Americans as a largely sub-Aryan mongrel race, anyway.  I find the idea that most Americans would become quite willing Nazis, to the extent of having no compunction at all regarding the mass-slaughter of those judged to be less than imperfect, difficult to take, but, then again, this nation has very happily seen the murder of 60 million odd unborn children over the past 44 years and most people are, at most, only slightly put off by that. Only a relative minority find it as horrifying as it indeed is.

So maybe there are a lot more would-be Nazis among us than we realize.  The vast majority of them call themselves progressives, just as the Nazis presented their ideology as a new order and a very progressive, “scientific” way of life.


1. richardmalcolm1564 - December 1, 2015

Hello Tantum,

As a longtime fan of Dick’s book, and an admirer of the Amazon series, I’m glad to see you stumbled into it, too (I binge-watched the whole season this weekend). I thought that Ridley Scott and Frank Spotnitz did an astounding job of “world-building” – you really believe that this world could exist, and that it makes sense on its own terms. The writing and direction is generally of a high level.

I did want to clarify just a couple things about the series:

1) The series plays the point of departure down obscurely – exactly how the Allies lost is never really made clear. Philip K. Dick does not provide much more information (probably wisely), but he does allow the book to drop more hints: the timeline ruptures when Roosevelt is assassinated in 1934. FDR is succeeded by a series of weak, pacifist presidents, who refuse to rearm or aid the Allies (no Lend-Lease to mechanize the Red Army!). Even in this scenario it’s hard to see how Germany, let alone Japan(!) could take over the continental U.S. proper, save for a complete collapse in civil authority in the U.S….but it’s important to understand that it is not just the 40’s, but also the 30’s, that were very different in the timeline of THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE.

2) “Life under Nazi rule is unbelievably awful.” Actually, one of the most important themes in both book and series is that life actually *isn’t* so bad – for those not killed already. Nazi-ruled America is something of a backwater but a reasonably peaceful and livable one. Most Americans adapt surprisingly well to Nazi rule, and the well-kept middle class lawns of Smith’s neighborhood festooned with swastikas are a little unnerving. Most accept the euthanizing of the crippled and infirm by the Nazi-run state with a shrug. It seems harsh and controlling to us, but there’s an important lesson here in how readily human beings, even Americans, can adapt to the banality of evil.

3) Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith, played powerfully by Rufus Sewell, doesn’t actually run the Nazi protectorate in America, but rather just the SS organization here, or at least a major part of it. Given the supersized role of the SS in Nazi Germany, of course, that gives him likely outsized power in the government as well, but he’s not chief of state per se – just an American counterpart of, say, Heydrich.

4) Japanese rule of the Pacific States is actually even milder in the book; it seems to be made crueler by the series showrunners to create more drama for the relevant character arcs.

Ultimately, Philip K Dick’s book, like so much of his work, was an exploration of the nature of reality and our perception of it. What is real? What is the relationship of these different timelines to each other? I think the series has done a remarkable job of setting up that same exploration, and what it says about human nature. I hope it gets renewed for the two more seasons it will take to adapt the book to the screen.

2. richardmalcolm1564 - December 1, 2015

P.S. “Regarding this alternate reality, I have long believed -and I believe it can be quite proved – that Germany lost WWII on July 22, 1941.”

I think the Germans had a shot at victory – or at least a stalemate – though it was a rather marginal one, requiring optimal German decision-making and maximized armament (something not really undertaken until early 1943). Take away Lend-Lease and it become a good deal tougher for the Soviets, at any rate. Shifting all German activity in the Mediterranean to Russia would have helped as well.

But I would certainly agree that the argument applies with full force to Japan, which lost the war the moment the first bomb fell on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. If Germany-Soviet Union was a bit of an economic and demographic mismatch, Japan-America was an absurd proposition, one which Japan never had a chance to win. The American economy at full capacity was something like ten times the size of Japan; its population twice as large, and its access to critical natural resources vastly better, its leadership and adaptability of doctrine considerably superior in most areas. And that doesn’t even count the British Empire and China, also co-belligerents. Rarely has history seen such a national act of suicide by war as that undertaken by Tojo’s government in 1941.

Tantumblogo - December 2, 2015

Really good comment. Thanks. Watch out for my Nazi-hatred. It runs strong and deep. Almost as deep as my commie-hatred. So it may be coloring my perceptions a bit.

If the SU gets ZERO allied aid (how that occurs, I know not)……I still think it comes down to an endless slogging match along an enormous front. At least so long as Stalin and Molotov lived. Maybe a negotiated peace, but I’m skeptical of that. What I don’t see is how Germany ever has the resources to stage an invasion of the US, but…..I’ll say this for the Amazon program, it so sucked me in, and so quickly, that I was able to suspend disbelief from the get go and get into the series. And once in it, I found it a lot of fun.

So do you think AH is the man in the high castle, actually using the movies to stay in power and manipulate events?

Tantumblogo - December 2, 2015

And thanks for the replies! I enjoy discussing this with you.

richardmalcolm1564 - December 2, 2015

“If the SU gets ZERO allied aid (how that occurs, I know not)……I still think it comes down to an endless slogging match along an enormous front.”

A stalemate is real possibility at that point.

The Soviets retain a manpower and resource edge, obviously. They were on a steep learning curve however, especially after Stalin’s purge of the officer corps. All I can say for certain is that they wouldn’t be in Berlin in 1945.

The fact that nails me every time: The United States alone provided 427,000 trucks and over 13,000 armored vehicles. Basically, the U.S. made the Soviet Army mobile. It made its logistics credible. Take that away, and the war looks considerably different in the East.

That can’t explain an Axis occupied *America*, of course, let alone an Axis occupied Britain! I think that both Dick and the Amazon showrunners were wise to leave the exact point of departure and how the Axis victory unfolded somewhat obscure – and not just because guys like you and me would be picking it to death.

richardmalcolm1564 - December 2, 2015

“So do you think AH is the man in the high castle, actually using the movies to stay in power and manipulate events?”

I don’t know if I should answer this question, if you have not read the book. Clearly, this is left out there as broadly implied in the final episode by Spotnitz and his writers, isn’t it? Hitler’s got a whole collection of these reels, he seems to know a lot, and he lives in, well, a castle high on a mountain top.

Now, that particular scene was *not* in the book, and it’s one more place where Spotnitz has diverged from it. Perhaps he has an even more radical departure in mind. But I would only caution against leaping to the conclusion that Episode 10 seems to be driving you toward.

richardmalcolm1564 - December 2, 2015

One last note: “What I don’t see is how Germany ever has the resources to stage an invasion of the US.”

In our timeline, it certainly didn’t – not even close. If you know anything about Operation Sealion, you know that it didn’t even have the resources to conquer Britain!

And Japan was in even *less* of a position to invade North America. We know now that the IJN did not even have the logistics or air assets to conquer Oahu, let alone the American West Coast.

So obviously you need a much more radical (and much earlier) point of departure to make these things remotely possible. I suppose killing FDR in ’34 would be a step in that direction…but I think the only way the Axis gets into North America is with a serious collapse in the United States, eliminating nearly all of its power to resist. As I say, the show and the book are best off leaving the details of all that obscure.

3. richardmalcolm1564 - December 1, 2015

P.S. I’m having some difficulty getting my comments to post here – am I doing something wrong? Is everything going to moderation now?

Tantumblogo - December 2, 2015

No, it’s just the spam filter. However, when you post a comment and it doesn’t go through, maddening as that is (and I very much appreciate your kind patience), the best thing to do is to wait a bit and then leave another brief comment telling me one is blocked. I try to fish out valid comments from spam every day but sometimes I get busy or forget. That’s what happened here. Your comments are all valid, though I disagree a bit regarding life in the German-occupied US. I think Joe Blake was blackmailed into serving the SS all along, at least in the Amazon version, and that kind of involuntary “recruitment” occurs regularly. After Smith found out Blake was not a dedicated Nazi and wavering towards the resistance, his use of coercion became more direct, but something tells me it was there all along. Folks in that alt-reality, then, would be living in a world where everything could be shattered if someone got sick, or if they attracted the attention (deserved or not) of the SS, or if they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, etc. That’s a chilling environment in which to live, and even though the Nazi-US appeared materially advanced over the Japanese and “neutral” areas, I found it more oppressive than the Japanese system. At least there, every single black, brown, yellow, Jewish, or mentally handicapped person hasn’t been killed or driven off.

I find it funny that Americans in the Pacific states call the Japanese “pawns.” Pretty apropos given the reality they faced.

4. FiliusPastori - December 1, 2015

Ah, but comrade, the Francoists and Fascists were really nazis too, you see? No need to separate them out…

Tantumblogo - December 1, 2015

Yeah it’s a fairly large plot hole. Did the Nazis just roll up Italy and Spain, too? In the book, they apparently did, and have even drained the Mediterranean to make more “farmland.” Quite a project, that!

The lack of historical understanding is one of the key ways by which the revolution advances. They’ve convinced billions the Nazis were extreme right-wingers and there was no difference between Mussolini and Hitler and Franco, et. al.

5. MFG - December 1, 2015

The speed at which the militant homosexuals have rolled over American culture and institutions in the past 2 years show how easily it is today for a foreign power (even ISIS) to do the same politically and militarily. If the people are softer than we imagine, it could happen.

6. richardmalcolm1564 - December 2, 2015

P.S. Stepping aside from the historical stuff, I will single out one moment that punched me in the gut: the memorial service for Frank’s sister, niece and nephew. They hold it in an old church converted by the Japanese into some kind of quasi-Shinto shrine. It was bad enough hearing that bibles were banned, but to see a church (even a Protestant one) converted over to pagan purposes…that can get your dander up.

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