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Comment: Alt History

Why did it happen here?
James Talbot

Picture a world without the Second World War, without Hitler and Nazism.

Is our world a better place? Red flags flying on every home and capitalists dragged out and shot in the streets to the cheers of the populace? Indeed, this could have been the future; because however futile Germany’s attack on Russia may have been, it served one useful, but inadvertent purpose. Think about how easily Europe, excepting Britain, fell to the German army. Without World War II, Stalin would have been able to spread his influence unopposed through the rest of Europe. We would most likely all be living in communism, and with this additional support, it is even possible that Russia could have ousted the US in the cold war.

Does everything happen for a reason?
Film, Fiction and Drama have all, in recent years, become outlets for such metaphysical questioning. Examples stemming right from Kevin Brownlow’s 1966 film ‘It happened here’ to modern examples like ‘Back to the future’ and ‘Signs.’

Brownlow’s piece is perhaps the earliest example of the alternate history genre, and considers what could have happened to Britain if we had lost the Second World War. It shows how most people would have wanted simply to get back to living as they once did and find themselves adapting to the new way of life readily, as the only alternative. The British Partisans, have become a paranoid group concerned only with their own survival and quite willing to mow down innocent civilians whose only crime was to be concerned with their own survival.

At the time, it tackled such a controversial issue that it was shunned by exhibitorsand hidden from public view, until, many years later, it was finally shown to a more receiving audience on TV. The modern climate has become such that many topics such as this are now being tackled with much greater frequency than before and with greater success. (witness Stephen Baxter's rewriting of UK history of the last two thousand years. See his' Coalescence'.)

Going back to the original question, no movie in my opinion tackles this better than the M Night Shaylaman movie: ‘Signs’. Everything in this movie happens for a reason. Mel Gibson’s character loses his faith when his wife is killed in a tragic accident. However, he has a flashback of her ramblings in death that help save them. Similarly, the young boy’s Asthma is what saves him from inhaling the alien’s poison gas. Even the little girls odd obsession with leaving glasses of water around the house ends up being used as a weapon against the lone invader. The list of interesting similarities in this film goes on and on.
So does everything indeed happen for a good reason? Quite possibly, but I could discuss coincidence and the alteration of time for much longer than this small article will allow. For now, just be sure you think before you condemn history.
I’ll leave you with an interesting thought though- only two letters separate our word for history and story. Is there reason behind this? Well, one is simply true fiction.
© James Talbot - December 2003
James is a first year student at Portsmouth University


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