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Seldom has a Prussian invasion been treated with so much whimsy. In 1916, amidst a national debate over American entry into World War I, Life Magazine weighed in with a warning about the potential price of staying out. The tone was light-hearted, but the argument was serious: If Germany triumphed on the continent, America was at risk.
Life Magazine, February 10, 1916.
The first thing that stands out on this map is that some of the invaders’ naming decisions are more creative than others. New Potsdam, New Berlin and New Hamborg appear alongside Ach Looey, Schlauterhaus, and Denverburg. The Great Lakes have been renamed after beers, which naturally raises the question of where Culmbacher went.
Bismarck, of course, is still Bismarck.
After presumably tense negotiations, Germany’s Ottoman allies have been left with Florida. Alongside Baghdad Corners and Constantinople Junction, Key West has become West Turkey. Japan, despite siding with Britain and the Allies, has nonetheless taken the opportunity to seize the West Coast, leading to the particularly inspired Nagaseattle. Sadly, no one seems to have bothered with Canada, which remains the land of Barbarians.
Inevitably, America’s geographic position meant that works like this one would remain more fun and fantastical than the equivalent invasion literature that emerged on the other side of the Atlantic. Yet the anxieties at play were similar to those that helped drive European powers to war in 1914. Particularly striking in this regard is the inclusion of an “American Reservation” spanning Arizona and New Mexico. At the outset of the 20th century, Europeans seem to have increasingly imagined military defeat at the hands of another great power in terms of their own treatment of conquered non-European peoples. Rather than simply the loss of wealth, territory, or prestige, they feared something closer to colonization and national destruction. For Americans, this presumably meant being relegated to the status of the Navajo.
The Fatherland, February 23, 1916.
Yet just as these fears could be marshaled in favor of war, they could also serve as arguments for isolationism. Following the appearance of Life’s 1916 cover, a pro-German newspaper called The Fatherland posted a rebuttal titled “New Map of the D.S.E.” or “Dependent States of England.” In this version, Great Britain is the power that exploits America’s ill-fated entry into the war. Chicago becomes Dryrottingham, Bismarck becomes Kitchener, and Washington becomes London on the Potomac. New York, in a desperate effort to find something that sounds even more like what the British would rename a city they just conquered in North America, becomes Duke of Yorktown.
If this particular map failed to keep America out of war in 1916, a similar effort failed three decades later. The possibilities of the genre came full circle with a 1939 front page from the Chicago Herald and Examiner titled “If We Enter a World War—and LOSE!” This entry offers a more familiar what-if-the-Nazis-won style dystopia. Even if the map tactfully avoids naming any of the countries involved, the lightning bolts on the wings of the planes bombing New York give a clear indication.
Fortunately, and I don’t think I’m giving too much away, America entered the war and WON! Germany ended up occupied and divided, while Americans moved on to imagining other apocalyptic scenarios. Perhaps this will change now with the much-discussed return of great-power competition. But so far we have yet to see any updated invasion maps featuring New Beijing, Xicago, or Shanghaiowa.
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