I'm Zach Foster and I'm blessed to be a man of many hats. This is the one room where you can look into all the different windows of my mind. Read on if you're ready to think outside the box! "Call it a character flaw -- when under attack, I counter attack. Always." --Richard Marcinko, Rogue Warrior
I’ve been a fan of Harry Turtledove’s writing
ever since I picked up a copy of Great
War: American Front back in 2009. Turtledove has the ability to weave the
stories of numerous ordinary people together to make one large patchwork fabric
of an impressive, epic tale. Such is the
case with his 2015 novel, Joe Steele.
Steele is based on a short story of the same name
written in 2003, and expanded in 2014 to be a long, standalone novel. In this novel, the man who would become
Stalin is an American, a Democrat congressman from California rather than a
Georgian-born Communist Party bureaucrat in Russia. Born and raised among farm laborers in
Fresno, Joe Steele is a dedicated socialist and is militantly pro-labor.
The story follows the Sullivan Brothers, reporters both, over a twenty year period. One will unwillingly become a propagandist for the regime while the other is deported to a labor camp and must later fight on the front lines to atone for his political crimes. Our story begins at the height of the Great Depression.
When the nominating process at the 1932 Democratic
National Convention comes to complete gridlock between Franklin D. Roosevelt
and Joe Steele, no one knows who will challenge Herbert Hoover for the
Presidency. The sudden death of FDR in a
house fire leaves Joe Steele the uncontested nominee and the eventual landslide
victor over Hoover.
President Steele immediately begins a series of
economic reforms under the first Four Year Plan—an allusion to Stalin’s Five
Year Plan but tailored to the President’s term in office—with makes FDR’s New
Deal look like a children’s game. The
federal government begins confiscating property under eminent domain for
large-scale collective farming. The
Supreme Court justices who rule the new policies unconstitutional suddenly find
themselves in front of a military tribunal for a show trial, and promptly
sentenced to death by firing squad. Joe
Steele then moves on to purge the military establishment and key political
opposition (as well as purging loyal followers who pose a future potential
threat to the regime).
J. Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover also plays a prominent role in
the novel. Joe Steele’s second term is
when the Government Bureau of Investigation—an alternate-history play on the
FBI but resembling Stalin’s NKVD and later KGB—sets up a system of labor camps
in North Dakota, Colorado, and New Mexico where political prisoners work
themselves to death for “political reform.”
These are an obvious take on the true-history Gulag concentration camps
in the Soviet Union.
This novel shows America slogging through the
Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War much the way it did in
true-history, but with the frightening tones of an endless Executive
dictatorship, one-party rule, and a police state. It’s frightening to watch Norman Rockwell’s
America descend into a totalitarian state.
While certain true-history events are changed—for instance, a ‘Japanese
War’ kicking off the Cold War instead of the Korean War, or Albert Einstein
refusing to design an atom bomb for Joe Steele—much of the novel is grounded in
For starters, Turtledove proves his expertise in
the field of U.S. history by using real case law from the Civil War that allows
the federal government to try civilians by military tribunal rather than by
jury trial. And while Americans may sleep
well today believing themselves safe from labor camps, current federal documents
tell a different story.
President Obama signed a series of Executive
Orders that essentially allow the federal government to create an America
similar to the version in Joe Steele.
Free speech is nothing but a privilege as long as Executive Order 10995
remains in effect, allowing the government to seize and control all
communication media. Natural resources
and utility companies aren’t safe from seizure while Order 10997 gives the
government carte blanche over all
electrical power, gas petroleum, fuels, and minerals.
A maximum security FEMA camp in Wyoming
Collective farms are made possible by Order
10999, giving the government authority to take over all farms and food
sources. Order 11004 gives the Housing
and Finance Authority the power to relocate communities, build new housing, and
transit large populations.
Even worse, labor camps are also made possible
by President Obama’s Executive Orders.
Order 11002 allows the Postmaster General to watch the entire population
by operating a national registration of all
persons. Order 11000 allows the
government to mobilize civilians into work brigades under government
supervision in times of war or peace.
After reading what the federal government currently has the power to do, does Joe Steele still look like pure
fiction? This novel is highly recommended
to any students of American and Soviet history, as well as anyone who values
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Joe Steele cover art courtesy of Turtledove Wiki. J. Edgar Hoover picture courtesy of The Guardian. FEMA camp image courtesy of Popular Mechanics. These images used according to Fair Use.