Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sobel Wiki: Survivor's guilt

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the New Day era, a period of North American history running from 1949 to 1963. The New Day was basically a continuation of the political debate of the 1930s over whether the Confederation of North America should form a military alliance with Great Britain or continue its traditional isolationism. The issue dominated the 1938 Grand Council elections, and the result was a narrow victory for the isolationist People's Coalition. When the Global War broke out in Europe and the Middle East in 1939, Governor-General Bruce Hogg declared North American neutrality. Although Hogg eventually agreed to a program of covert military assistance to the British that kept the British Isles from being conquered by the Germans, the C.N.A. never became a combatant nation.

Hogg's policy had two consequences. First, his political opponents had argued, and continued to argue, that the war would never have happened if the C.N.A. had been allied with the British, since Britain's enemies would have behaved more circumspectly if they knew they would face the might of North America in the event of a war. Therefore, Hogg himself bore a share of the blame for the coming of war.

Second, by remaining neutral, the C.N.A. avoided the devastation that visited the rest of the world's nations. In the midst of death, destruction, famine, and disease, the C.N.A. was safe and prosperous. The result was a case of survivor's guilt on a national scale, combined with a sharp partisan divide over responsibility for the tragedy.

Richard Mason of the opposition Liberal Party proposed a massive foreign aid program in March 1949, which became known as the Mason Doctrine, which he conceived of as a national act of contrition for the C.N.A.'s failure to prevent the war. Although the ruling People's Coalition agreed on the need for a global reconstruction program, they rejected the idea that the C.N.A. needed to atone for its neutrality. The Coalitionists were fighting against the national mood, though, and in 1953 Mason led the Liberals to victory in the Grand Council. After touring a still-devastated world later that year, Mason tearfully told his fellow North Americans that "we must lead the world to a new day," and thus was the age of Mason given its name.

The C.N.A. remained deeply divided between supporters and opponents of the New Day, and it is clear that alt-Sobel, the Australian business historian who is the nominal author of For Want of a Nail, was an opponent. alt-Sobel paints a highly unflattering picture of both Mason and his supporters, and his description of the Mason Doctrine program seems more of a mean-spirited satire than an objective description.

Our own Sobel, the American business historian who was the actual author of Nail, went to considerable lengths to show that his in-world counterpart was deeply biased. However, he was not above using Nail to satirize aspects of contemporary American society, and there is a distinct note of hippy-bashing in his description of the New Day. It would be an interesting exercise to write a companion to Nail told from the viewpoint of a New Day supporter. Maybe someday, I will.

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