In Search of America: Transatlantic Essays, 1951-1990

By Marcus Cunliffe | Go to book overview

20
America's Imaginary Wars

This is a revised version of an essay, first printed in a Belgian collection, on a topic that has interested me for years. There are comments on counterfactual history, a related aspect, in my essay, "What If?" American Heritage ( December 1982): 16-23; and see the bibliographic essay for further titles.

Under the head of IMAGINARY WARS, the catalogues of antiquarian booksellers used to list all kinds of publications from preposterous to plausible, complacent to grim, linked by one common element. They all dealt with fictitious or hypothetical wars, usually set in their own near future. "This literature of imaginary wars is immense, as we can discover from I. F. Clarke valuable survey, Voices Prophesying War ( 1966). His first example, dating back to 1763, is a patriotic English fantasy, The Reign of George VI, 1900-1925, about a twentieth- century warrior king who would emerge victorious over the rest of Europe. Clarke's closing chapter discusses Orwell's 1984 and various pieces of science fiction relating to global or even cosmic conflicts. Many more have been produced since his book came out.

However, I. F. Clarke regards the effective modern phase of the genre as starting in 1871 with The Battle of Dorking. Reminiscences of a Volunteer. Originally printed in Blackwood's Magazine, it purported to look back half a century from the England of the 1920s to the disasters brought about by a German cross-channel invasion. The Battle of Dorking, cheaply reprinted as a paperback pamphlet, became a best-seller; and it was imitated by scores of writers in Britain, France and other countries. The Battle of Dorking was the work

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