“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the Communist States of America, and to the Glorious Leader for which it stands. One nation, no god, with common ownership for all.”
- Pledge of Allegiance, 1938
Hearts of Iron IV is ostensibly a historical strategy game. Yet with so many moving parts and so many combinations of AI decisions available it’s highly likely that the game would come out with an alternate-history result if left to its own devices. Due to such an issue, developers Paradox Interactive introduced a “realism” button that forces the AI to make decisions closer to the historical reality. When that button is unchecked, however, things can get pretty interesting.
I have written a series with this set of games before, trying to stop the Second World War before it happens in Hearts of Iron III. I failed. As I finished up my review for Paradox’s new title I regained the itch for an in-game experiment. This time I wouldn’t try to stop the war from happening as France, I’d attempt to co-opt it as America. The United States, the sleeping giant of world history, woke up in December 1941 when bombed by Imperial Japan at Pearl Harbour. I plan to wake it up a whole lot earlier and twist history so far on its head that it’ll get motion sickness.
I’m going to turn the United States of America into a 1930s communist superpower.
Hearts of Iron IV allows for such dramatic changes to history and even welcomes them with tangential events and news clippings. One of America’s National Focus projects even allows it to align with the Soviets and take on the world together. Having already won the war with communist France in 1941 while playing the game for review, this new challenge was too good to miss. So, with a hammer and sickle in each hand and the Internationale playing in the background, I moved to change world history forever.
The year is 1936 and America is crawling its way out of the Great Depression slowly but surely. European concerns and the rumblings of a certain Herr Hitler are far away compared to the worries of the everyday American. Free trade flourishes in a country that otherwise keeps up a position of enforced isolation on the world stage. Having involved themselves in one European war and rejected entry into the world-policing League of Nations, the USA isn't ready to ride into another foreign conflict.
Franklin D. Roosevelt is three years into his first term as president and his economic New Deals are dragging the damaged economy of the United States up from the abyss. Businesses begin to thrive again and unemployment figures begin to finally plateau and drop. My first act as new omnipresent puppet master of the USA is to instigate a build-up of the armed forces, offering those without jobs an outlet. The country’s extensive civilian factories and industry is turned to the building of military facilities across the banks of the Great Lakes.
America at the start of Hearts of Iron IV is in many ways a sleeping giant (like its historical counterpart), packed to the brim with industrial potential but reluctant to move anywhere near militarisation. She is equipped with a competent (if not exceptional) army and a collection of modern fleets scattered across its coasts. Control of the oceanic zones in the Atlantic and Pacific will be crucial to my success, so I immediately move to bolster my forces.
Equipping your units with the latest technology is always a pressing concern, as it serves as a vector through which your divisions can be trained to higher levels of veterancy. With that in mind I set my (painfully few) military factories to arming my units and building up my air force. So far removed from the rest of the world’s worries (if Mexico keeps up its neutrality), having a mobile air force and navy will be key to striking first in any conflict.
February 1937 comes and goes and a new figure makes himself known to the world stage. Earl Browder, a skilled politician, working class hero and ardent communist, strides into the inner circles of government. Officially an advisor to the president on matters economic and industrial, there are whispers that Browder has his own agenda - one sponsored by Moscow.
It doesn’t take long for demonstrations to appear on the streets of major cities in the U.S. The populace, still weary from the Great Depression, have begun to see communism as the perfect way out of trouble. In a dramatic mirroring of Germany’s swing to the right, the US begins to swing to the left. Unrestrained by his weakening president, Earl Browder tours the country, giving grand speeches on the promise of a communist utopia.
As the political system begins to become further and further mired in turmoil, the rearmament of the United States Navy is going well. The country is producing no less than ten new destroyers a year, along with eight submarines and a brand new carrier. At the start of play the US has an extra research slot and hefty bonuses to naval production over other factions. I’ve put both to good use and am manufacturing a 1943-class carrier a full six years before its time. The United States Air Force is being molded into one entirely based on carriers - a lot of our future operations will be at sea. The US Army moves slowly and surely towards modernisation. I place one Dwight D. Eisenhower in charge of the divisions scattered across the country and order them to “exercise” - essentially train their veterancy at the cost of supplies.
It’s late 1937 and Communist demonstrations are now widespread across the USA. The Marco Polo Bridge Incident has sparked war between Imperial Japan and Republican China. Seeing the Republic of China fall to its knees so quickly under Japanese aggression has spurred the US people into action - democracy obviously pales in comparison to a swing left or right. A message is brought to an increasingly worried Roosevelt that the people will rise up if he tries to clamp down on their demonstrations. Rubbing his forehead in frustration, the president can already see the collapse of the fledgling US democratic system in motion.
The US Navy, under my tutelage, is now the second largest in the world behind Great Britain’s enormous fleets. The former masters of the Americas could evolve to be potential rivals on the world stage, so I make it my goal to keep pace with them. The US submarine fleets, however, are far and away the most advanced and numerous on the planet, with more than 140 vessels ready for operation. The Air Force has been upgraded to modernity, while the Army is slowly gaining experience under the watchful eye of Field Marshall Eisenhower. Mexico, watching with a wary eye from across the border, begins to station more and more troops near Texas.
Suddenly, like a spark catching an oil cloth, the people rise up as one in December 1937. They demand a referendum, with Earl Browder at their head. The Army, Navy and Air Force have all been infiltrated by the ideals of communism and stand aside, unwilling to help Roosevelt keep his people in check. With the enigmatic Browder stood at his doorstep, the president of the former United States of America resigns from office. Browder takes his place as the new General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the United States. Joe Stalin telephones from Moscow to congratulate his new ally across the Pacific and promises a new age of prosperity for the American people. The Stars and Stripes are hauled down, replaced by a new flag representing the people - the hammer and sickle, surmounted on a field of blazing yellow stars representing the 50 states.
The Communist States of America has been born on the eve of the world’s greatest conflict. What role will it have to play?