Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Fall of Freedom

Not long before this blog post, Amazon loaded the final season of its adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s dieselpunk classic The Man in the High Castle. The novella, unlike the series, takes place almost exclusively on the West Coast of America, which is occupied by the Japanese Empire. A brief amount of time of the novella is spent in the Neutral Zone, which stretched from Mexico, through the Rocky Mountains, through parts of the Midwest and up to Canada.

The Man in the High Castle isn’t the only example of counterfactual history. Other writers have speculated less on occupied America and more on how Japan might have won the war. For example, Peter G. Tsouras edited Rising Sun Victorious, which is a collection of terrifying scenarios describing how Japan could have won the war. 

Certainly, these alternative histories are interesting. However, I believe that they all miss something much more important and pressing for the affairs of our time. What we need to be studying is not so much how Japan might have won the war or what occupied America would be like. What's needed is understanding how Japan slipped into totalitarianism.

Emperor Taisho


Many in the West are not aware that Japan had once been a democratic nation during the early part of the 20th century. Known as the Taisho Democracy this period ran from 1912-1926. With the death of Emperor Menji in 1912 his son Yoshihito took the throne and took on the Imperial name of Taisho. According to the Web Site facinghistory.org,

The young Taisho emperor was born in 1879 and at an early age contracted cerebral meningitis. The ill effects of the disease, including physical weakness and episodes of mental instability, plagued him throughout his reign. Because of his sickness there was a shift in the structure of political power from the old oligarchic advisors under Meiji to the members of the Diet of Japan—the elected representative officials increasingly gaining influence and power. By 1919 Emperor Taisho’s illness prevented him from performing any official duties altogether. By 1921 Hirohito, his first son, was named ses-ho, or prince regent of Japan. From this point forward, Emperor Taisho no longer appeared in public.

Despite the lack of political stability, modernization efforts during Taisho continued. A greater openness and desire for representative democracy took hold. Literary societies, mass-audience magazines, and new publications flourished. University cities like Tokyo witnessed a burgeoning culture of European-style caf├ęs, with young people donning Western clothing. A thriving music, film, and theater culture grew, with some calling this period “Japan’s roaring '20s.”

For these reasons, the Taisho era has also been called Taisho democracy as Japan enjoyed a climate of political liberalism unforeseen after decades of Meiji authoritarianism.

So what went wrong? How did a military government succeed at replacing the democratically elected government of Japan in 1926? Recently NHK, the official Japanese government television station, broadcasted a documentary titled The Fall of Freedom. This extraordinary documentary chronicles the events that led to the fall of the Taisho Democracy in 1926. This is a must-see documentary for everyone.


More than ever with the rise of anti-democratic forces reappearing in the US and Europe we need to do what dieselpunks do best. We need to look to the past to understand the present and to build a better future.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

1917

With Armistice Day (Veterans Day here in the States) upon us, I felt like I needed to write a post about World War 1. Not long ago I saw a trailer for a new movie scheduled to be released later this year about the Great War. That movie is 1917.

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61433857
1917 stars George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, with Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s directed by Sam Mendes and co-written by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns. The film is based in part on an account told to Mendes by his paternal grandfather, Alfred Mendes,

According to Wikipedia,

At the height of the First World War during Spring 1917 in northern France, two young British soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), are given a seemingly impossible mission to deliver a message which will warn of an ambush during one of the skirmishes soon after the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line during Operation Alberich. The two recruits race against time, crossing enemy territory to deliver the warning and keep a British battalion of 1,600 men, which includes Blake's own brother, from walking into a deadly trap. The pair must give their all to accomplish their mission by surviving the war to end all wars.

The movie 1917 is scheduled to be released on December 25th, 2019.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Jazz Age Halloween

I love Halloween. So I knew as it approached that I had to write about it. But I just wasn’t sure what. Then it hit me. I decided to write about Halloween of the Jazz Age.

According to History.com,

In the early 20th century, Irish and Scottish communities revived the Old World traditions of souling and guising in the United States. By the 1920s, however, pranks had become the Halloween activity of choice for rowdy young people.

The Great Depression exacerbated the problem, with Halloween mischief often devolving into vandalism, physical assaults and sporadic acts of violence. One theory suggests that excessive pranks on Halloween led to the widespread adoption of an organized, community-based trick-or-treating tradition in the 1930s. This trend was abruptly curtailed, however, with the outbreak of World War II, when sugar rationing meant there were few treats to hand out. At the height of the postwar baby boom, trick-or-treating reclaimed its place among other Halloween customs. It quickly became standard practice for millions of children in America’s cities and newly built suburbs. No longer constrained by sugar rationing, candy companies capitalized on the lucrative ritual, launching national advertising campaigns specifically aimed at Halloween.

I would like to wish all my readers a happy and safe Halloween.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Star-Begotten by H.G. Wells

Yesterday while visiting my local crack dealer used book store I came across a novel by H.G. Wells that I had never heard of: Star-Begotten.


Star-Begotten was first published in 1937. As in The War of the Worlds, the villains in the story are Martians who are trying to survive their dying planet. Their MO, in this case, isn’t an in your face invasion. Instead, they're altering the genes of humans so as to create a new super race with the goal of achieving domination of the Earth.

I admit that I haven’t read the book yet. However, I can say that I find the year and subject of the book intriguing. One can’t help but suspect that Wells was inspired by the events in Nazi Germany in writing this novel.

I hope to publish a review of this book soon. Like so many of Wells’s work, it’s a small book so I don't expect it will take very long for me to read. It's length is what today we would call a novella rather than a novel.

Stay tuned for more.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Jazz Age and Baking

As 2020 approaches it seems that the Roaring Twenties are getting greater attention. The most recent was from a highly popular British television cooking competition series.

The Great British Baking Show (GBBS) is currently in its 10th season. GBBS, which is produced by Love Productions, began in the UK on BBC One and is now carried by Channel 4. In the US it was originally carried on PBS but is now exclusively on Netflix.



Episode 5 of the current season saw a tribute to the Jazz Age with the Roaring Twenties as a theme. Each dish created by the contestants had to have a tie-in with the 1920s. However, some media critics, and some viewers like myself, thought that they stretched the 1920s theme a little far. As the web site Eater.com wrote,

The baking tests: shortcrust pastry; custard; decoration with a 1920s theme???

The two most Jazz Age-themed challenges were the “Signature” where the contestants show off their favorite recipes and the “Showstopper” where they’re tasked with making something spectacular. In the Signature challenge, the contestants were tasked with making custard pies, which was popular in the 1920s. One of the contestants went with a decidedly Lovecraftian theme with something that (vaguely) resembled Cthulhu. In the Showstopper, they were tasked with baking cakes based on prohibition cocktails, which was a reference to prohibition in the US during the 1920s.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Pink and Greens Return


In 1924 the US Army authorized what would become a legendary military uniform. Known as the “pink and green” for its tan-pants with a light rose hugh (“pink”) and it’s olive-colored jacket (“green”) this uniform was Army standard until 1948. The pink and green uniform was completely phased out by 1958.

Now, as we approach the twenties of the 21st century the pink and greens are coming back.



On November 11, 2018, the U.S. Army announced it would adopt a new uniform patterned on the pink and greens although the Army brass insists on calling the new uniform “Army Green”. The plan is for the uniforms to be phased-in beginning in 2020 and to be completed by 2028. The blue Army uniform will return to being purely for ceremonial.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Tommy Gun Wizards

One of the most impressive people I know is my good friend John Pyka aka Big Daddy Cool. Not only is he a great stage magician and a fantastic singer he’s certainly an expert on comics. Earlier this month he posted on his Facebook page about a new dieselpunk comic book from Dark Horse comics: Tommy Gun Wizards.


The official Dark Horse web site describes Tommy Gun Wizards as “Mobsters, magic, and mayhem in the Prohibition era!” It goes on to say:

“Eliot Ness and his team of Untouchables work overtime taking on dangerous criminals that hide in the seedy underbelly of 1930s Chicago. Except in this world, Al Capone isn't dealing in alcohol, but in magic. With Lick, a drug that grants magical powers to anyone who ingests it, mobsters become wizards, ordinary men become monsters, and darker secrets than Ness can imagine lie at the heart of it all.”

Tommy Gun Wizard was created by Christian Ward and Sami Kivela. Sami Kivela is credited with the art while Christian Ward was responsible for the cover art.

The artwork is excellent and the storyline and characters are interesting. It’s a lot of fun and I highly recommend Tommy Gun Wizards.

Issue #1 of Tommy Gun Wizards was released August 28, 2019.