What If . . .?

Some sharp but unanswerable questions about the outcome

Defenseless under the night

Our world in stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,

Ironic points of light

Flash out . . .

-- SEPTEMBER 1, 1939, by W.H. AUDEN

We know, of course, how this great story finally ended. That is told in a series of place names that have become part of the language: Bataan, Midway, Guadalcanal, Stalingrad, El Alamein, Anzio, Omaha Beach, Bastogne, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Hiroshima. In retrospect, it all seems to have a kind of inevitability, and yet there lingers over each battlefield a faint question. What if rains in Poland had mired the German tanks in mud?...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now

Subscribe
Subscribe

Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on TIME.com

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!