Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The United States of America as a Dictatorship?

Ruby reviews American Values by Jim Williams

American Values - an alternative history of the United States

Alternative histories are a tempting canvas for historical fiction writers. The “What if?” question might be, for example, a different outcome to a major battle or war, the survival of a key figure who died relatively young or the early demise of a stabilising character. Sometimes the novel places another perspective on a famous historical event that is shrouded in some mystery, offering an explanation where conspiracy theories hold sway. 

American Values by Jim Williams uses both of these devices and places the reader in a 1963 which has already seen three decades of Presidential rule by a charismatic individual who has turned democracy into a dictatorship, founded upon his nationalistic American Values policy. The figurehead, “Big A”, is a despicably familiar character who rose to power during a time of American crisis, survived attempts to depose him and built a formidable police state around his personality cult. But no one lives forever and the natural end of his reign is approaching. 

“Big A” is not, however, the main figure in American Values so much as a key component explaining the context of how America could have become an authoritarian country ravaged by decades of large-scale wars fought on foreign soils. The Old Man is expected to depart soon and the life or death race for succession is on. Harry Bennet, a foreign correspondent, is the main character in this historical thriller and we see through his eyes how thirty years of “Big A” has resulted in a society where no one trusts anyone, colleagues, friends and family are encouraged to denounce each other, and multiple security forces compete for primacy. (The characters fronting these forces will be familiar to the reader.)

Harry starts out with good intentions but becomes tangled in the General State Police web when he falls in love with Maria, whose racial ancestry might not stand up to American Values’ scrutiny. Harry’s first favour for the regime results in a bullet in the brain for a government operative and Harry is left holding the smoking gun. He and Maria go on the run and begin to discover too much about American Values.

Some might say that a country like the United States could never become an authoritarian society; that institutionalized racial persecution would not be tolerated by the free-thinking populace; that the USA would never send all of its young men abroad to defend and secure the nation’s interests and conquer the enemy. But the country has arguably never had a dominant charismatic leader in a time of crisis. Lenin and Stalin’s impact upon the USSR was profound and their legacy endured long after the characters departed. As for the key actor in 1930s Germany…what if? 

Jim Williams takes dark aspects of human nature from other parts of history and transplants them into the fertile soil of American Values. The result is a gripping and harrowing tale from which no one emerges covered in glory, but at least some survive.

American Values by Jim Williams is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook.

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