In the last few books, the US/Confederate history closely parallels our actual history with Germany. The USA defeats the CSA in the "Great War" and imposes harsh conditions. The Depression ensues a decade later. Seething with resentment, the South rises under Jake Featherston, a Hitler-like Army sergeant. It launches a war against the USA while sending its Negroes to Auschwitz-like death camps.
It's far-fetched that this timeline would parallel our timeline so closely. Especially some 80 years after the divergence began--when you'd expect things to diverge more, not less.
But I didn't find the details--the demagogic leader and the death camps--far-fetched. I believe something like this could've happened in reality if we hadn't been vigilant.
War of words
A couple of Facebook friends disagreed with my assessment, leading to a debate. It began with this tweet of mine:
Reading Turtledove's "Southern Victory" series. The South wins the Civil War and eventually consigns blacks to death camps. Plausible?
I agree that the Nazi parallels are a little heavy-handed, but we're talking about two things. 1) The literary merits of the Nazi parallelism, and 2) the real-world possibility of the South's emulating the Nazi example. I'd say the second point is all too plausible.
If the South was an an elite oligarchy, I'd say that would make the death-camp scenario more likely, not less. I still haven't heard anything that makes the scenario implausible.
I haven't been paying enough attention to say the books treated the labor issue well, but they definitely did address it. Turtledove didn't just ignore the issue.
Featherston's role is key
And the genocidal massacre happened because a Hitler-like demagogue made it happen. Not because it's a natural outgrowth of the South's racist history.
So you're saying a Hitler-like demagogue couldn't make Southerners turn against blacks because, what, Southerners are more decent and rational than the Germans under Hitler were? Sorry, I'm not buying that the Germans were uniquely "bad" and the same thing couldn't happen here.
The South had a long history of brutal repression and bloody slave revolts. True, these things didn't go back to the Middle Ages, but they did go back a couple of centuries. I think that's long enough to embed a genocidal mania in the South's culture.
Besides, Euro-Americans had a history of demonizing brown-skinned people (Indians) as pagans and devil-worshippers going back to 1492. That's the same idea as the German demonization of Jews or the English demonization of the Irish. So there's no great difference between the two European-based cultures.
"No one suggested exterminating all slaves or shipping them back to Africa." Yes, because they were productive "property" at the time. And because a monstrous demagogue like Hitler or Jake Featherston hadn't come along. But once Hitler gave us a historical template, the idea became conceivable everywhere.
The South didn't have the "traditional German deference to authority"? But Al characterized the Southern culture as "an elite oligarchy, closer to a military/plantation owner dictatorship." That sounds like exactly the kind of culture that would defer to a small ruling class and finally to a single demagogue.
The Trail of Tears started in the American South. The genocidal actions continued in the American West. If these subcultures didn't have a traditional deference to authority, then this deference wasn't necessary to trigger a racial purge. In short, it happened here once so it could happen here again.
Hitler got the Holocaust idea from past genocides, including that of the American Indian. The Southerners in Turtledove's books would've had these examples to inspire them. Heck, some of them undoubtedly participated in the near-extermination of Indians. So putting blacks in rez-like concentration camps doesn't seem far-fetched to me at all.
Genocide there but not here?
So you are arguing that Germany had unique traits that made genocide possible there but not here? Even though we committed similar acts of genocide that gave Hitler his inspiration for the Holocaust? Sorry, I'm still not buying it.
Did Armenia, Cambodia, and Rwanda happen to have the same mix of cultural traits as Nazi Germany? Something the American South lacked even though it launched the Trail of Tears? That seems implausible if not impossible. So again, no sale.
Also, in the books the South ends slavery after another war with the US in 1881. And it's done in a very unsatisfying magic wand kind of way, mostly off camera.
--P. 202, Adolph Hitler by John Toland
So the South had enough of a genocidal culture to send Indians marching off through the snow to their probable deaths? But not to send them to concentration camps where only the guards knew what was really happening? The difference seems minor and inconsequential to me.
As you know, Americans attacked and killed Indians many times. It was a fundamental part of their worldview to eliminate the brown-skinned menace one way or another. It didn't require any deference to authority; Americans from all walks of life shared this goal.
Sending blacks to concentration camps similar to reservations is consistent with that. And again, only the South's leaders knew for sure what was happening. Which is consistent with the German model. The books do not require a genocidal rage on the part of every Southerner to work. They require only the Nazi-like command structure that Jake Featherston provided.
Besides, this is speculative fiction, so the case doesn't have to be airtight to be plausible. I think it's close enough to airtight that it hasn't bothered me. If we can give Star Trek and Doctor Who a pass, we can give this a pass too.
Like many critics, I've compared the American Holocaust to the Nazi Holocaust many times. I've also said this genocidal urge is still present in the American mindset. Invading Muslim countries, killing foreigners with drones, ignoring hunger and disease around the world, letting minorities suffer and die without government assistance, hoarding guns to protect us from "them"...all part of the same impulse.
Heck, we sent Japanese Americans to concentration camps in the same time frame as Featherston's purge. It's absolutely part of our DNA to "reduce the population," as Featherston put it, of troublesome minorities. All it would take is a Hitler-style demagogue to convert Bosque Redondo, Manzanar, or Guantanamo Bay into another Auschwitz.
P.S. I don't think I read the book in which the South ended slavery. I'm not claiming the whole series is 100% plausible, since I haven't read every book. But I am claiming the Nazi-style ending is plausible--plausible enough to enjoy the ride.
For more on alternate histories, see Saving Columbus in Infinity Ring and The Pirate Prince Carlomagno.