Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Lions Will Fight Bears: Britain In WWIII

I still check on the alternate history forum for interesting stories even though I'm still self-banned (and intend to stay that way). Most recently I checked out the section dedicated to finished timelines (content only, no reader comments like in the main forums) and found the scenario Lions Will Fight Bears: Britain In WWIII. The gist of it is that the hard-liner coup against Mikhail Gorbachev happens in 1988 rather than 1991 and rather than causing the Soviet Union to collapse as it did in our history, it imposes an unstable regime that soon goes completely paranoid and launches an attack on NATO thinking that NATO is going to attack them. Although the conflict only lasts a month or so and no nuclear weapons are used, it's still a pretty ugly situation, especially if you're a West German or a Dane.

I don't know the author, but he (when I was there the forum was very male-dominated) seems to know quite a lot about British politics and his focus is on the British, although obviously there's plenty about the US and Soviet Union too. And there's a lot of stuff in here I haven't read in the WWIII fiction I'm familiar with like The Third World War, Red Army, or Red Storm Rising.

*Something I'd never read before in WWIII fiction but should have been more obvious based on what happened with the COVID lockdowns is how disruptive war preparations would be to the societies in question even before the shooting starts. The author devotes several chapters to the problems the "transition to war" process causes the British public, problems that escalate into armed confrontations between cranky British civilians and American soldiers and even rioting due to transportation restrictions, business and school closures, etc.

*It was my understanding the British had lists of people to intern in the event of WWIII, which I assumed were people like British Communists who would be security risks. However, just who is on this list and why becomes a major issue.

*Also a 1988 WWIII is in the middle of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Not only did the Soviets support various factions of the IRA (which is, unbeknownst to enthusiastic Americans of Irish background in Boston, a Communist organization), but part of their pre-war destabilizing plan involves encouraging them to attack British and Loyalist forces more aggressively. This includes, among other things, killing future UK Prime Minister John Major. Between that, the stuff I referenced above, and the fact that most of the British military is fighting the Soviets, Northern Ireland collapses into civil war. And it gets ugly--Nationalist and Loyalist paramilitary groups routinely commit crimes against civilians from rival communities and it escalates into open ethnic cleansing, with the understrength British Army unable to do much to stop it. Prominent republican Gerry Adams ends up being tortured to death by Loyalist paramilitaries, for example.

*The scenario also includes Soviet attacks on the United States itself even though the war stays conventional--Soviet bombers operating from occupied parts of Scandinavia and even the Soviet mainland and Soviet naval forces are able to strike New England, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Hawaii. Soviet and Cuban forces raid the Florida Keys and even Florida itself. Usually in WWIII fiction the war doesn't come to the American homeland until the nukes start going off (think the film The Day After, in which there's fighting in Europe that soon leads to strategic nuclear use, or the novel Alas Babylon where the fighting starts in the Middle East). However, given the ranges of Soviet aircraft, the fact Soviet submarines and long-range aircraft would be equipped with cruise missiles, etc. that makes a lot of sense.

(In one of the "SDI Punk" blog posts, author Ken Prescott makes the point that cruise missiles made virtually every US Navy ship a potential threat to the Soviet homeland and thus the Soviets would need to hunt down all ships, not just the carriers and submarines carrying nuclear missiles. There's really no reason the Soviets couldn't do the same. And given the US's open society, it'd be a lot easier to infiltrate spies, commandoes, etc. in the fashion of the television series The Americans than the reverse.)

*And then there's the fun the KGB and other secret-police organizations get up to in occupied areas. Americans generally don't have to live with the concern that they'll be targeted on an individual level by an occupying army, but I imagine that was a very real concern for Europeans on the frontlines of the Cold War. It would be very easy for Soviet agents in open societies like West Germany, Sweden, Norway, etc. to assemble lists of people to arrest or kill in the event of Soviet occupation--local businessmen, politicians, clergy, retired soldiers, etc.

(The third of S.M. Stirling's Draka novels features American soldiers deploying into fallback positions in the Appalachians right before the balloon goes up. It's made explicit they've been erased from military records to forestall exactly that.)

In particular, American General John Shalikashvili--born in Poland and viewed by the Communist Poles as a traitor and son of a traitor despite becoming a U.S. citizen as a child--finds this out the hard way. And at a macro level there's the Nightmare Fuel of what the East Germans soldiers do in occupied West Germany, which they intend to absorb into a united Communist Germany. We're talking mass killings of captured military officers, removing books from libraries, civilians and captured enlisted men put to forced labor, etc.

*Speaking of him, since this is written well after the end of the Cold War and is intended to be faux history rather than an action thriller, we see a lot of real-life personalities. At the political level there's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and Vice-President George H.W. Bush, but there's also the British Michael Jackson (who prevented escalation between NATO and Russian forces in Kosovo in 1999 in real history), American Wesley Clark (who gave the orders in that situation), Colin Powell, and the victor of the Persian Gulf War Norman Schwarzkopf whom I remember being the great hero when I was a little kid.

The main problem I have with the scenario is that it's incredibly, incredibly detailed. We're talking beyond Clancy level in terms of descriptions of military movements, technology, etc. Although this reflects well on the author--he clearly knows his stuff--it's very dense and kind of a slog to read. Even though this sort of thing is ordinarily something I enjoy reading, I was skimming a lot. It took me three-odd days to finish reading the whole scenario.

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