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Johnny Comes Marching Home, Hurrah!
The Great War: Breakthroughs
Harry Turtledove
The cheerful "isn't-it-great-to-be-a-soldier" song, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" derives from an older and rather darker tradition, songs with titles like "Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye" and "My Son John" -- bitter songs about young men who came home maimed. But it's the cheerful, cleaned-up versions like "...Marching Home" that those whose interests wars advance want us to remember because, if too many remember "Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye", the next war will be harder to start, or, at least, as Kate remarks, harder to man.

As Turtledove brings his alternate World War One to a close, we can already see the seeds of the next war being sown, both in the specific activities of characters in this book and by parallels to the real history of the world.

The treaties forced on the defeated Confederacy, intended to keep the CSA down and make sure it's bever again a threat and, as well, to humiliate it in return for all those years of humiliation that the USA has suffered will certainly bear the same bitter fruit that similar humiliating and devastating terms forced upon Germany bore.

Certainly the Red devils (metaphorically) of revolution and politics released during the war will not easily be exprcised so long as the lot of the Black man is not materially improved, and (as another reviewer has pointed out) the embittered artillery Sergeant who has already begun keeping a journal chronicling his struggles and his thoughts on what is wrong with the System will very likely be Important in what is to come...

Structurally, this book is pretty much the same as most of Turtledove's alternate history war novels -- the "Worldwar" books and the earlier ones in this series -- being recounted in a series of segments telling the actions and experiences of the members of a large cast of established characters (some entirely fictional, some alternates of real figures in history) whose viewpoints cover virtually all of the actions of the War and of the effects on those civilians who actually encounter its results {sort of like what John Brunner referred to as "Tracking With Closeups" in "Stand on Zanzibar"). The segments vary from quite short vignettes to near-short-story lengths and are not -- in my opinion -- necessarily all equally necessary to advance the story; there is a redundancy here and there that i could have done without.

Another problem with the narrative technique that Turtledove has chosen, in my opinion, is that it tends to make it difficult to see the characters as people rather than as labelled cardboard figures. Thus, one is less likely to be less interested in their problems and their fates than one is in the overall sweep of the narrative. (Though, to be fair, that might be to some extent the author's intent.)

A problem specific to this book is that, having moved his main character from the Birmingham Alabama area into battle, Turtledove doesn't go back there as much as he had been, and so we aren't seeing what conditions are evolvong there as more and more blacks are working in the mills and foundries, doing white man's work and drawing almost a white man's pay. Now that the whites are coming home, are those blacks going to go peacefully back to where they were before the War?

A sustaining enough read, but, as in the Real World, it's just a place to mark time for a while, since the end of the "War To End War" merely sets the stage for the Next World War.

Here's a frightening thought, given that in Turtledove's universe WW2 will be, to a major extent, fought between the CSA and the USA on the North American continent -- what if someone develops the atomic bomb?