Book review: Joe Steele by Harry Turtledove

I’d like to publish the following guest review by my favorite collaborator, Pet Leopard, as a warning of things to come after the nomination of Donald Trump on January 20th. God help America.

“Joe Steele” by Harry Turtledove
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication Date: 12/01/2015
ISBN-13: 9780451472199
Book supplied by Reviewer

Guest Review by Pet Leopard

Well, according to a popular old saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same. Harry Turtledove’s thought provoking masterpiece, “Joe Steele”, is a testament to the truth of that line of reasoning.

As a child of the early 1960’s, I have lived through both Kennedy assassinations, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the Gulf War, the attacks on the World Trade Center, and a horrible decade-long period of warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although Mr. Turtledove references an alternate history that’s set well before the earliest of those events had taken place, there are many parallels that resonate very closely.

The premise of the book assumes that the F.D.R. presidency had never taken place. Instead, a California congressman named Joe Steele is elected as the democratic representative to cut short the Herbert Hoover presidency to one term. The failings of the Hoover presidency are accurate items of annotated history. However, the speculation begins with how an outsider with limited administrative political experience would go about solving those problems.

Without giving away any spoilers, I can honestly state that President Steele’s methods and techniques are shockingly radical, to say the least. Some may find his judicial mandates and means to accomplish his ends as downright barbaric. However, considering the time period that the nation was trying to survive through, maybe it’s not so hard to understand such extreme tactics.

Three world dictators were threatening our country’s existence. Misjudgments and errors that were made by well-meaning, yet seriously short-sighted politicians in Europe, had strained the tides of political neutrality to a point where such was no longer possible. To add to that whole mess in Europe, our military forces were blindsided by the tragic attack on Pearl Harbor.

Now assume that you were President of our country and you knew what you were up against; literally being attacked from all sides. What would you do? Would you know who to trust to get the job done? How would you handle those who you have doubts about? And what if those who you did doubt were members of the press–those who had the power to sway large numbers of citizens in an opposing direction?

While most politicians would not resort to such obvious forms of subjugation, history would tell you that most presidents, beginning with Abraham Lincoln, have taken it upon themselves to invoke their special executive privileges as Commander In Chief. To put it mildly, in all cases, some toes have been stepped on and many innocent people had to die. However, history would tell you that the world would not have been better off if our former presidents had not risked being labeled ‘the bad guy’ for the duration of a military attack, and went ahead with what needed to be done.

Once again, I am not in favor of any of the extreme bloodshed and the countless American lives lost under his regime. However, within the parameters of that altered history, it could not be argued that most of what Joe Steele accomplished had made a positive impact in history and protected the American way of life.

It’s hard to bridge the gap between the means and the ends. Political experience, for better or for worse, would reveal that destination matters more than the bumpy road taken to get there. So, in our time period, in which we are faced with new terrorist attacks every week, we should ask ourselves the question as to what our leadership could do differently to stop such tyranny.

To conclude, I do not agree with the path that Joe Steele had chosen to follow, but I do respect his results. So, we need to ask ourselves, what kind of government do we need to resolve the problems of our broken world? The thing that I admire most about “Joe Steele” is that the right questions are being asked. So, perhaps the first step to solve the problem is to evaluate our options and just consider how extreme we want our resolutions to come across. Moderations can only take place if all alternatives are considered. “Joe Steele” goes there and the novel asks the right questions. That is why the concept of this novel is so apropos to our time period.

Maybe, in time, since we can now ask the right questions, we can finally ascertain the answers that we need to hear and get beyond our problems as a nation.