Thought on “Drive to the East”, Book 2 of “Settling Accounts”

One of the big problems with Turtledove’s WWII works — outside of “Worldwar” — is that he most often can’t really conceive of how things could have turned out differently, reusing the same events and themes throughout.

The Confederate States of America already closely mirrored that of Nazi Germany, including adopting the idea of tanks — called “barrels” in this series — and the Blitzkrieg to get the jump on the North. They also enact their own Holocaust on the black natives, building the camps and starting to build the mechanisms of mass extermination. Jake Featherston has essentially the same background as Hitler, and comes to power in similar ways. The Freedom Party is pretty much the same as the Nazis. But, at least at the beginning, there were some interesting differences that might lead to some different results. However, in this book the similarities continue to a degree that hurts the work, as Turtledove gives the Confederates their own Stalingrad in the drive to Pittsburgh, that fails and causes the Confederates to lose an entire army that they couldn’t afford to lose.

The big problem here is that none of this actually makes sense given the world that Turtledove has created. For one thing, there was more reason for Germany to want to occupy Stalingrad, as they were, if I recall correctly, supposed to drive straight through it and cut off the Soviet forces from rescuing the valuable oil producing regions of the Caucasus region, which were also being attacked in that campaign. In fact, that dual goal is at least partly responsible for the failure at Stalingrad. Additionally, Stalin poured more forces into Stalingrad than he might have otherwise because he didn’t want the city that bore his name to fall to the Germans, a goal that the Yankees didn’t share. So the life and death fight over Pittsburgh doesn’t make sense, as the Confederate goals would be satisfied just as well by destroying it — as was suggested — and the Yankees had limited reason to think that protecting it that strongly would be worth the massive manpower that it is implied it would take.

But the worst part of it is that it is out of character for Featherston to insist that they hold the line that strongly. He has no reason to insist that it be taken and not merely destroyed, and had always shown that he had concern for the lives of the common soldiers (which is something Hitler lacked). He hadn’t pushed for such strong stands before and, more importantly, isn’t as insistent ever again, even in last stands that were of more critical importance to the Confederacy … a fact that is lampshaded when a character on the Yankee side wishes that he’d make another stand instead of allowing retreat. All told, then, this really looks like things being arranged for no other reason than to give Featherston a Stalingrad and thus turn the war around … and there ought to have been better ways to do that than this transparent attempt at replicating Stalingrad.

The book was an interesting read, but this one event soured me a bit on the book … and the series as a whole.

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