The Impossible Partition of India

Map of the partition of India from Life magazine, August 18, 1947
Map of the partition of India from Life magazine, August 18, 1947

Seventy years ago this week British India was split in two, creating the nations of India and Pakistan, which have been at each other’s throats since.

The partition was carried out a little-known British civil servant, Cyril Radcliffe. A lawyer by training, Radcliffe was given the impossible task of dividing the subcontinent into Hindu- and Muslim-majority states. Read more

The Octopus in Political Cartoons

Octopuses are a popular trope in political art. They came in vogue in the 1870s, when Frederick W. Rose depicted Russia as a giant octopus lording over Eastern Europe. The sea monster was quickly given to Germany when it posed a bigger threat to peace in Europe. During the early Cold War, it was Russia’s turn again. The octopus was the perfect metaphor for spreading communism.

Here is a selection of the best and worst tentacled sea creatures. Read more

Atlantropa: The German Plan to Drain the Mediterranean

Map of proposed dams in the Strait of Gibraltar. From Herman Soergel, Lowering the Mediterranean, Irrigating the Sahara. Panropa Project (1929)
Map of proposed dams in the Strait of Gibraltar. From Herman Soergel, Lowering the Mediterranean, Irrigating the Sahara. Panropa Project (1929)

Discerning viewers of Amazon’s alternate-history drama The Man in the High Castle may have noticed when one of the characters made a passing reference to a German plan to drain the Mediterranean.

It sounds like just the sort of thing a megalomanic Third Reich would do, but they actually didn’t. The Nazis weren’t interested in the plan, but it was real. Read more

What If Germany and Japan Had Won World War II?

Map of the German and Japanese Empires seen in Amazon's The Man in the High Castle (2016)
Map of the German and Japanese Empires seen in Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle (2016)

What would the map look like if the Axis powers had won the Second World War? The new season of The Man in the High Castle, which premiered on Amazon last week, gives us one possible answer.

Based on the 1963 alternate-history novel by Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle takes place in a world where Nazi Germany controls much of the Atlantic world and Imperial Japan has conquered the Pacific. Read more

Niemals Oder-Neisse: The Border Germany Refused to Accept for 45 Years

1980 Christian Democratic Union poster about "the open German question"
1980 Christian Democratic Union poster about “the open German question” (ACDP)

After World War II, the Allied powers ceded the German lands east of the Order and Lusatian Neisse rivers to Poland — creating a border dispute that would last all through the Cold War. Read more

Robert Sherwood’s Union of the English-Speaking Peoples

Map of a proposed English-Speaking Union, published in Life magazine, October 7, 1940
Map of a proposed English-Speaking Union, published in Life magazine, October 7, 1940

For British conservatives of a certain persuasion, the idea of uniting their country with its former white dominions plus America has long had a special appeal.

Outside Britain, not so much. Few Americans, Australians or Canadians, much less the Irish and South Africans, have ever relished the prospect of an English-speaking union.

One exception was Robert E. Sherwood, an American playwright who would write speeches for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Second World War. Read more

How Finland’s Defeat in 1940 Could Have Changed the Cold War

Alternate Cold War map
Alternate Cold War map (Kuusinen)

At a glance, this doesn’t look too different from your average Cold War map. Take a closer look, though, and you will notice some oddities. Half of Austria seems to be missing. East Germany is much bigger than it should be. Greece isn’t in NATO, but Sweden is.

What happened here? Read more