Picks and Pans Review: 1945
updated 07/24/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 07/24/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT
There's a certain kind of adolescent dweeb who gets a rush from playing war games with names like Afrika Korps and Stalingrad—youths who rush home after school to manipulate mountains of cardboard representing the 13th Panzer Division and the 101st Airborne.
Happily most of them grow up to be harmless software designers. But occasionally one of them grows up to be Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Such a man is Newt Gingrich, coauthor (with historian William R. Forstchen) of the new thriller 1945, the latest initiative in his apparently implacable drive to win the coveted Weirdest Grown Man in North America award. Gingrich's novel, now stripped of the semi-steamy passages that gave it a big blast of prepublicity, still reveals a very unhealthy fascination with the Third Reich. The horrendously written book (" 'So. Did you like Heidelberg?' Hitler asked") proceeds from the hackneyed What if Germany Had Won? premise that has been the subject of countless novels, movies and comic books.
In this 382-page version, Germany refuses to go to war with the United States in 1941 and instead concentrates on defeating the Russians. Meanwhile, the Americans crush Japan. Now, in 1945, the victorious Germans are ready to launch a commando raid to steal American plans for the A-bomb and take over the world. All that stands in their way is James Mannheim Martel, an American naval intelligence officer with a German mother and a cousin who just happens to be a German intelligence officer.
With the sex stuff gone, what folks really ought to be steamed up about is Gingrich's crackpot historical revisionism, in which he portrays Germany as a pretty neat country that just happened to get bushwhacked when the Nazis seized power. For the record, the Nazis did not seize power; they got elected by Germans. Nevertheless, in the course of his juvenile book, Gingrich takes many occasions to praise the Nazis for their valor, ingenuity and efficiency.
"The Nazis may be crazy, but they sure can throw a parade," notes Martel at one point. Yeah, so can the Klan.
1945 is also the first novel in living memory in which a Speaker of the House uses a fictional Nazi, Otto Skorzeny, as a mouthpiece to campaign against U.S. gun control laws. The Nazis, it will be recalled, were not big on gun control. (Baen, $24)