In the next major update to Heart of Iron IV by Paradox Studios there will be major changes the focus tree for Germany. This is due in part because the first two major expansions added focus trees for Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. The trees for those nations by and large are far more interesting and flexible than the base game’s trees for the US, UK, Germany, Japan, Italy, Soviet Union and France with only France’s having any alternative paths. They are changing how Germany’s industralization branch works and adding focuses that let you build up more fortifications in Germany itself and the Atlantic Wall. But the biggest change they’ve announced is a different path for Germany. You can, instead of the Remilitarization of the Rhineland, opt to launch a military coup against Hitler and the Nazi Party. This starts a civil war between the Wehrmacht and the Nazi Party with Field Marshal August von Mackensen as the leader of the coup. After the war you have two options, either restore Kaiser Wilhelm II to the throne or install Crown Prince Wilhelm as Kaiser and allow elections to take place. If you opt for the former you can either seek revenge against the French and British or focus on the looming war against the Soviet Union but the way to get the old Entente’s support is to acknowledge British naval supremacy. In the latter option you build an alliance of European states to stand against Communism but also usurp France as the dominant continental power. Hearts of Iron IV already has an issue of sanitizing the Second World War. The Axis war goals are merely for land or to impose fascism on their neighbors, the Nuremberg Laws, Kristallnacht and the Holocaust is deafeningly absent. Japan’s seizure of Nanking is merely noted as the fall of the de jure capital of Nationalist China, no mention of the approximately 300,000 massacred in the month after the fall of the city. Italy inevitably conquers Ethiopia and annexes the nation but there is no mention of the poison gas they used against Ethiopian soldiers or the thousands of Ethiopians slaughtered during the Yekatit 12 massacres. In the aftermath of Operation Barbarossa as Germany occupies the western regions of the USSR you see and hear no evidence of the Einsatzgruppen, Babi Yar, Rumbula, the Lwów Pogroms, the Severity and Commissar Orders or any evidence that 7.4 million Soviet citizens were killed by direct, intentional acts of violence by German and Axis forces. The war presented in Hearts of Iron IV is a clean war. You move little models of soldiers, tanks and trucks around on the map and they shoot at each other but they never die, they disappear if completely destroyed. And politically the war is a land grab. Germany wants Danzig, Japan wants China, Italy wants Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union wants Finland, Yugoslavia wants Bulgaria, Hungary wants Romania. It is just another European war over some land.
Opposing Hitler is so far the major change for Europe in an expansion that is nominally focused on China and Japan. The man who becomes your leader if you decided to go against the Nazis is Field Marshal August von Mackensen; who when he died in 1945 had lived in the Kingdom of Prussia, North German Confederation, German Empire, Weimar Germany, Nazi Germany and Allied Occupied Germany. The designers seem to delight in the Death’s Head Hussar busby they depict him wearing. But Mackensen is a strange hero to rally around. He was an unreconstructed monarchist, Helmuth von Moltke found him “a lovable character”, he impressed Kaiser Wilhelm II, hated Catholics and Austrians, spread the “stab-in-the-back” scapegoating myth, was anticommunist and virulently antisemitic. He believed the Jews were the cause of Bolshevism, thought Germany was a Protestant nation, never mind that 33% of the German population was Catholic, and from all appearances was one of the Prussian generals that recklessly drove Germany into the disaster of the First World War and then blamed their own people and soldiers for not being willing to starve and die needlessly to preserve their own honor. He supported the various right-wing militants running around Weimar Germany and openly supported the murder of Matthias Erzberger, the Minister of Finance, signatory of the Compiègne Armistice (thus being blamed for the harsh terms of the armistice despite being ordered to do so by Hindenburg the de facto head of state at that time) and he supported the Versailles Treaty as he saw no other alternative. In the alternate history to be depicted in this game Mackensen makes sense as the leader of military coup against the Nazis but it would be a mistake to think he a messiah-hero.
Opposing Hitler starts a civil war and should you win, Hitler commits suicide in Berlin it seems and the Nazis will scorch the earth of the major cities you retake. Then you can execute the Nazi generals and politicians or just imprison them and set about rebuilding Germany under the monarchy. The big decision is between the old Kaiser Wilhelm II or his son, Wilhelm III. If you opt to go with Wilhelm II you restore the old Kaiserreich in all its fundamental dysfunction (which as far as I know is not represented in game). I say it is dysfunctional because the Imperial German government was designed by Bismarck for the sole benefit of Bismarck. It required Bismarck or his equal to be in the position of Chancellor; as soon as he was gone it started falling apart. Both can lead to you being the bulwark against the Soviets in Europe but under the old Kaiser you can also try to settle the score against Britain and France, because it is always a good idea to try the same move that went so well last time. I do get it in some ways: Hearts of Iron IV is a war game; the whole reason you’re here is to fight wars. There is another path with the old Kaiser, if you accede to British naval dominance then you can seek a detente with Britain with the understanding that you will fight against the Soviets (and France as if Britain agrees to ally you then France goes communist for dramatic purposes). You get to be ruled by a doddering blowhard with a silly hat and I suppose exalt in revolutionary conservatism where women stay in the kitchen, equality is a dirty word and only the right ethnic identity is tolerated. But you do get pickelhauben.
Choosing Wilhlem III allows you to install a constitutional monarchy where the legislature is the real power in the nation. This allows you to join the ranks of the democratic nations of Britain, France, the Commonwealth and the United States. Seems good on the face of it but upon further examination it is not what it seems. Yes, Germany becomes a democratic power despite having a Kaiser as head of state. But there is no built in path to reconciliation; no united front is possible. A democratic Germany does not work with Britain, France or the United States to combat Fascism in Italy and Japan and Communism in Russia. Instead it seeks to build its own alliance in Central Europe; uniting the minor powers of Benelux, Scandinavia, the Baltics and the Balkans to push back against Soviet aggression. One could argue that this is to create a challenge and give the player primacy in the faction. Maybe I am too Whiggish but I read that whole branch as a rejection of any reconciliation between a liberal Germany and the other democratic powers. The world they posit in this game is the gap between Germany and Britain, France and the United States is unbridgeable; that even a Germany under a democratic government cannot find common ground with the West. Made even worse by the fact that the only path to rapprochement is through authoritarian realpolitik (I guess Paradoxians are Kissinger fans).
The Second World War is the greatest mass death humanity has inflicted upon itself. Only the Mongol Conquests come close and they happened over a century and a half. Out of an estimated 2.3 billion humans alive in 1940; three precent of them, 60 million, were dead by 1945 as a result of the war. None of that is ever mentioned in Hearts of Iron IV except in the number of soldiers you and your allies lose, killed, captured, wounded and missing (which are accurate numbers) and the number of enemy soldiers killed, captured, wounded and missing (which are shown as estimates to you). I suppose if you want to earn some extra credit you could write down the total populations of the various states around the world and then after the war is over compare the numbers. But there is no indication at the end of the war of what the cost was nor the atrocities committed. If your troops move into southern Bavaria and take the territory northwest of Munich there is no popup report of the Dachau Concentration Camp. To not grapple with or even acknowledge the millions who were murdered during the Second World War is a gross abdication. They have a system in game of news reports, the world knew what was going on and who was doing them. It affected military operations on both sides. The Germans diverted resources from prosecuting the war to their genocides. American troops rushed to Buchenwald to prevent the evacuation of the prisoners held their by the SS. American Paratroopers and Filipino Guerrillas coordinated to liberate over 2000 Allied civilians and POWs from the Los Baños internment camp in the Philippines. This would be unpopular with the Hearts of Iron IV community (as 24% of all games played are as Germany as of May 2017) but they could add a penalty to Germany under the Nazis. I would argue for an escalating malus; where war support is capped at a level that prevents going beyond Partial Mobilization and eventually there should be a ticking cost of Political Power, decreasing Stability and Consumer Goods factories the longer the war goes on. It would roughly model the fact that the Germans prioritized their genocides over winning the war. And make it so the only way to remove that penalty is not be Fascist (Here is the game designer’s response to a question about whether or not they will address the Holocaust). This game sells itself on modeling as close as possible the wars that were fought between 1936-1945. Ignoring the atrocities is not some expediency for the sake of gameplay. At best it’s just anxiety and fear, at worst it betrays a sympathy for the murderers.
Germany today still wrestles with what it did during the war and all nations involved in the war should. What happened was a catastrophe unequalled and the largest mass murder in human history. My grandfather fought in the war and I would guess that most adults alive today knew someone who fought in the war but that number is only going to shrink. And we saw denialism, excuses and exculpations start as soon as the guns stopped firing. There are dangerously prominent people who deny that the Holocaust happened. The Prime Ministers of Japan still go to a shrine honoring war criminals to the justified rage of their neighbors (and Americans should also be offended; these are the men whose actions lead to the deaths of 160,000 Americans). The Clean Wehrmacht myth was supported by the West starting in the 1950s to help smooth over German rearmament against the Soviets. The Cold War caused NATO to excuse, ignore and deny the crimes committed by their former enemies to make them palatable friends against their former allies. But we should not be afraid to point out that decisions made half a century ago were wrong.
A few months ago in the United States of America, one of the four powers that ensured an Allied victory, we had Nazis and fellow travelers march, in conscious emulation of the SS and SA torchlight parades, in a college town shouting “Jew will not replace us” “White lives matter” and “Blood and Soil”. It culminated in the murder of an American, Heather D. Heyer, who was protesting against them by a Nazi in a car ramming into the crowd. Then the President of the United States said both sides were to blame and called the ideological allies of the murderer “fine people”. It is just a silly little grand strategy war game but by minimizing what happened it furthers the erasure of what cannot be forgotten if humanity is to survive. The Clean War it presents now and will continue to present is gross negligence at best. If you cannot even acknowledge what happened in the Second World War what business do you have in even trying to tell that story?