Thursday, July 26, 2018

Guest Post: July 26th, 1967 - Detroit Uprising spirals out of control

On this day in alternate history, US President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the city of Detroit to be in a state of insurrection. The precipitating action for the 12th Street riot was a police raid on an after-hours bar called the Blind Pig. Two GIs had been celebrating their return from Vietnam on the city's near West Side when members Detroit Police Department made a series of arrests that triggered a bout of full-scale looting.
For the millions of American listeners it was of course profoundly shocking to hear the President, speaking about conflict and body count alongside Secretary of Defence McNamara, describing his plans to recapture an America city as if it were a strategic target in the Vietnam conflict. And although radical elements of the 12th Street riot genuinely sought to carve out a rebel black state, the motivations in the White House were of course politically motivated by the Democrats' re-election attempts for the following year. This desperate plea for calm was intended to abate the outrage of the silent majority of voters that believed the Democrats had lost control of the country. However, one of the unintended consequences that made matters even worse was that insurance companies used the insurrection clause to release themselves from obligation to pay out homeless African-Americans who had seen their properties destroyed.

Two years earlier, the Motor City had bid with confidence and hope for the hosting of the 1968 Olympic Games but the subsequent decline of the automobile industry and loss of state revenue due to white flight to the suburbs was now causing huge problems for the local economy. Perceptions were deceiving, and Detroit was far from the model city described by Mayor Jerome Cavanaugh in his upbeat message to the Olympic Committee, indeed readily apparent from the student protest at Detroit's Northern high school in 1966. And with America about to enter the next Presidential campaign cycle, even in the deadly seriousness of the situation in Detroit, bipartisan forces of blame apportionment could be felt rising close to the surface of political discourse.

Most noticeably, the media had repeatedly used racially charged stereotypes in their biased reporting and the key figures of President Johnson, Governor George Romney and Mayor Jerome Cavanaugh communicated status used very different terms for "critical" and "out of control." Despite this nuance all three authorities would privately agree that it was the US Congress that had stalled the urgently needed legislation that might have adequately addressed the concerns of the twenty-two million African Americans living in the continental United States. Martin Luther King, who had marched with Cavanugh, would famously describe the riot "as the language of the unheard" yet even so the agreement of these public figures would not form the basis of national consensus.

But tragically Johnson had thrown fuel on the fire because Vietnam-style atrocities would be committed by rogue troops in the United States Army's 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. So before the end of the "long, hot summer" of that year President Johnson would be forced to resign on health grounds and his VP Hubert H. Humphrey sworn in. With figures as diverse as Robert Kennedy, Richard Nixon and George Wallace set to enter the Presidential contest, the "Happy Warrior" would have less than a year to stop America from sliding into a second civil war as her cities began to burn one after another. Ultimately, he would fail in this impossible task, the National Convention in Chicago would demonstrate that the Democrats could not even control their own affairs and Lyndon B. Johnson would die from a heart attack in January 1972. Recognisable law and order would finally return five years later under the iron grip of President William C. Westmoreland.

Wikipedia Note: in reality it exploded into one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in American history, lasting five days and surpassing the violence and property destruction of Detroit's 1943 race riot 24 years earlier. Meanwhile, President Johnson appointed the commission on July 28, 1967, while rioting was still underway in Detroit, Michigan. Mounting civil unrest since 1965 had spawned riots in the black and Latino neighbourhoods of major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles (Watts riots of 1965), Chicago (Division Street Riots of 1966 [the first Puerto Rican riot in US History]), and Newark (1967 Newark riots). In his remarks upon signing the order establishing the Commission, Johnson asked for answers to three basic questions about the riots: "What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again and again?"

Thursday, June 21, 2018

May 8, 1902 - Mount Pelée Eruption Spells the End of Europe


The towering volcano on the north end of the island of Martinique, which itself rests midway in the Lesser Antilles chain of islands east of the Caribbean Sea, gave increasingly terrifying signs of eruption weeks before it at last blew. Cracks in the crust around the mountain vented sulfurous gas as early as mid-April, and soon entire clouds began to pop up from the summit on a daily basis. The ground warped with rivers growing and changing course while ash began to rain down on nearby villages. Locals fled to Saint-Pierre, where city authorities struggled to maintain control and at last ordered that no one leave the city due to the danger of the lands outside. A few ships refused the order and fled, braving rough seas while radio telegrams demanded they return to the safety of the harbor. These few would be the only survivors from the explosive eruption on May 8.

A terrible earthquake followed the eruption of Mount Pelée devastating towns and causing smaller volcanic eruptions on several other islands through the Lesser Antilles. Tsunamis swept over the shores of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and northern South America. As the other islands came back to their feet, several ships ventured to see what had happened to Martinique. They discovered a wasteland with all life wiped out by heat, ash, and lava.

International relief rushed to help the devastated region. Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, dispatched Navy ships and authorized the Postal Service to collect donations while Congress voted for $200,000 in aid with hearings to follow for more money. Soon other countries joined, sending all the humanitarian help they could. As surveyors studied the damage on Martinique, they noted that their measurements were different with each passing day. Eventually newspapers revealed to the world that the island was continuing to grow, and it did so for months to come.

By the end of 1902, most nations had turned their attention away from the recovering Caribbean, now facing their own problems. Cool temperatures and crop failures reminded historians of the famous 1816 “Year Without Summer” following the eruption of Mount Tambora. The worst of the damage was felt on the Atlantic coast of North America and especially in northern Europe, where frosts set in so early that they wiped out what meager harvests had been expected. Soon international aid in mass shipments of grain was being sent to Great Britain, Germany, and Scandinavia.

After a tough year for farmers in 1902, 1903 was even worse. Fruit trees refused to blossom, and vegetable gardens did little more than sprout. Meat prices initially fell the shortage of hay meant that stock had to be slaughtered, but soon all types of food became scarce. The bitter winter of 1903-1904 was so miserable that Iceland, the Faroe Isles, and northern Norway became depopulated with refugees swarming into more southerly cities already suffering shortages. Theft and riots became commonplace.

As the 1900s continued, it was obvious the problems were getting worse. The line of ruined crops marched steadily southward across France. In Britain, the Thames, which had not frozen since 1814, now froze for weeks at a time. Scientists reviewing shipping data suggested the cause: the Gulf Stream, discovered centuries before by Ponce de Leon and charted by Benjamin Franklin as a current of warm water moving clockwise in the northern Atlantic, had weakened. Due to geological shifting in the Lesser Antilles, seawater no longer flowed so readily into the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico to be warmed before turning northward and affecting the climates of northern Atlantic regions.

International aid groups gave up on the idea of propping up northern Europe with shipments of food and instead began a new effort: mass emigration. While many in France and Germany relocated southward in their own countries, tens of millions of people required evacuation from Great Britain and Scandinavia. Proud Britons removed themselves to warmer lands of their empire, pouring into Australia and western Canada as frontiersmen in addition to swelling the colonial cities in Africa and Asia. Denmark and the Union of Norway and Sweden had no such colonies, save for a few islands in the Caribbean. Initially, many of the Scandinavians turned to relatives who had already moved to the United States, but the Americans became inundated and closed off their quotas to new refugees. Germany, whose holdings in Africa and the South Pacific had already absorbed millions from their own country, concerted an effort to bring in as many further refugees as they could.

The twentieth century would be remembered by historians as a major shift in world dynamics with terrible loss of life and social disruption. Yet humanity would also see major leaps forward in technology, such as the discovery of malaria treatments by Sir Alexander Fleming working at St. Mary’s Hospital following its move to New Delhi, as well as social reform with world efforts toward equal rights, whether natives pushed off their lands or displaced Swedish laborers.


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In reality, Mount Pelée did not largely affect ocean currents. It did grow a volcanic spire called “Pelée’s Tower” that increased as much as fifty feet a day until it collapsed after five months from a height of over 300 feet.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Guest Post: "Ultimate Stalinist Project" by Allen W. McDonnell

This article appeared on Today In Alternate History

In 1949, when the first rumors of very deep diving NATO submarines patrolling the Sea of Marmara were reported by the KGB the General Secretary himself, Joseph Stalin, ordered a new secret project. Soviet submarines were vulnerable when they tried to sneak through the Sea of Marmara, which lies between the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits that lead out of the Black Sea and into the Mediterranean Sea. During the Great Patriotic War, which the West insisted on calling World War II, the Nazi U-Boot fleet had mastered entry and exit into the Mediterranean Sea through the Strait of Gibraltar. This had been done because the deep current flowed out of the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic while the surface current had flowed the opposite direction. By carefully controlling their depth, a U-Boot could silently glide without using engine power from one body of water to the other.

In the case of the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, the dense bottom Mediterranean Sea waters operated the same way they did through Gibraltar; however, the deep channel leading from the Bosporus between the Sea of Marmara and Black Sea did not extend all the way. Instead it extended about half way from the coastline of Turkey into the Black Sea across the continental shelf, then it took a 90 degree turn to the north-northeast and grew shallower until ending abruptly a great distance from the deep waters of the Black Sea. This meant a Soviet submarine hugging the bottom to stay silent and rift with the current was at considerable risk of collision with the sharp bend in the course of the canyon. Even if they successfully managed to negotiate the turn , they would have to use some power maneuver to do so safely giving away their location to any listening NATO sonar personnel. Even worse, because the canyon swallowed at the turn and kept doing so, they would be forced up into the mixed water layer well short of the deep Black Sea basin and again be forced to use engine power to maneuver.

Therefore Stalin concluded the only solution was to extend the channel from the point of the turn to continue in the same direction all the way to the edge of the continental shelf, deep enough for his submarines to maintain a bottom hugging depth in the strong current flow all the way to the deep Black Sea basin. There existed a 70 meter depth sill, a high spot, in the Dardanelles passage and even worse near the beginning of the Bosporus there was an even shallower 40 meter sill. However , neither was blocking the USSR submarines, when skillfully operated, from sneaking through the passages themselves hugging the bottom. This was a risky maneuver particularly in the Bosporus because it had several sharp curves as it passed from the Sea of Marmara to the underwater canyon in the Black Sea continental shelf. Even so the best submarine handlers had managed to prove it was possible right up to the sharp turn in the canyon already mentioned. Therefore the initial goal of the mega project was to create a passage from the sharp bend in the canyon to the nearest edge of the continental shelf and the deep Black Sea basin.

To carry out the project without being too obvious to NATO observers, a half a dozen Soviet fishing trawlers were fitted with modified drag nets. The new 'nets' were designed so that the ship could deploy them, dragging over the sea floor with thousands of tiny scoops that would loosed and drag soil and rocks, even moderate size boulders. Each night the trawlers would head out, and, once the ship had completed its passage across the continental shelf, large debris like boulders and rocks as small as a baked potato would simply tumble over the edge into the deeper basin. After they had passed several miles into the deep basin , the trawler would slow to steerage speed. This would cause the 'net' to change angle from nearly horizontal to nearly vertical and the water flow over the small 'scoops' would wash them free of the muck and small particles they had dragged along in their shallow paddle shapes. The trawler would then pull in its 'net' and go to a nearby soviet port where it would pretend to unload its catch of fish. The next evening, it would go back to sea deploying its 'net' at the bend in the underwater canyon and repeat the process. With six ships conducting the work and the vagaries of the navigational skills of day to day life at sea, the drag path was not exactly a precise location. In fact, the trawlers paths were mostly overlapping but in a swath the better part of a kilometer wide. As a result each passage by all six ships in a night took a month to start carving a new channel just a meter deep.

If nothing else, however, the USSR was persistent. Once the plan was devised and the orders were given the process would continue until the orders changed, or the funding ran out completely. Over time the dredging 'nets' were improved. It was fortunate for the project that the bedrock in this portion of the continental shelf was friable shale and not granite or basalt. This meant the 'nets' were able to gouge and scrape the shale away small layer by small layer. Eventually, nearly five years after the plan was enacted Comrade General Secretary Stalin died. Whispered rumor was he had been poisoned, but his successors were not about to permit a full autopsy with published results to take place. The scraping and dredging had gone on month after month gradually creating a wide shallow passage 47 meters deep by the time the successor cancelled the project. Turkey and Greece had joined NATO two years earlier, and the Turks were grumbling about Soviet fishermen working so close to the Bosporus passage. Rather than have their secret discovered, the new General Secretary declared the Red Navy would have to live with the dredged channel the way it was instead of the way they wished it could be. Starting in December 1954 when the dredging was cancelled, the Soviet submarines started practicing using the artificial channel. Previously use had been forbidden as there was concern a sub might become disabled and interrupt the ability of the trawlers to proceed dredging. The new nuclear submarine in design at the time would be 12 meters from the top of the sail to the bottom of the hull, but the periscopes and snorkels would add two or three meters of additional height on top of that. Hugging the bottom of the channel it was hoped the water flowing to the deep basin of the Black Sea would be strong enough to pull them along silent as a hole in the ocean, as the American navy liked to boast about their own silent running techniques. The concern was the passage was so wide that the water flow might be too weak, but a new diesel submarine (NATO designated WHISKEY class) successfully pulled off the 'silent passage' within a week of the dredging being halted.

Whatever else people might say about General Secretary Stalin, he never thought small and when he decided to have something done he put resources into doing it. Often for projects that meant much slave labor working itself to death but in the case of the "Stalin Channel" as the Red Navy called this project few gulag slaves had been involved because the work had been simple dredging, once the 'nets' were built. Certainly they had been involved in building the first six 'nets' and in the replacements as those wore out quickly, but compared to a project like the White Canal the effort was trivial in terms of labor.

As the Stalin Channel had been gradually carved out after the first few months a little of the water from the Bosporus canyon started using the new channel instead of continuing down the canyon around the bend and gradually being forced up as it shallowed. By the time dredging was called to a halt, nearly all of the flow down the natural canyon had begun traveling down the new Stalin Channel because despite its shallow depth it was very broad and offered less resistance to the dense bottom water than the up slope after the bend in the natural pathway. When the Mediterranean Sea bottom water had followed the chain of natural connections all the way from the Aegean Sea through the Dardanelles, Sea of Marmara and land bound portion of the Bosporus Strait that heavy warm bottom water had stayed almost unchanged from its condition when leaving the Mediterranean Sea. Where it had struck the bend in the natural canyon of the Bosporus it had considerable inertia and a score of miles of entrained flow following it. this had given it the energy to climb the gradual slope up the last portion of the natural canyon until it was on the continental shelf itself, which has a gradual slope down to the edge of the continental plate where the drop off into the deeps takes place. As a consequence this warm dense very salty water had been forced up into turbulent contact with the brackish surface waters of the Black Sea which were only about half as salty as the bottom waters were. the resulting blended water had then fanned out over the continental shelf flowing down slope into the deep basin where over the eons since the passage opened it had displaced the fresh lake water which had originally filled the basin with the mixed water. The Mediterranean Sea bottom water at the sharp turn in the canyon still had a salinity of 35 parts per thousand (ppt) while the brackish surface waters ranged from 12 to 17 ppt. The mixture created by the turbulent flow of the deep waters swirling into the brackish waters had averaged out to 22 ppt and that concentration of water had filled the deep basin of the Black Sea over the millennia after the passage opened. In the modern era, that deep basin water was turbulently mixed with river water from the Don, Danube and others which flowed into the Black Sea and which had originally formed the fresh water lake in that basin. the resulting mixture of that river water and the 22 ppt bottom water where the rivers poured in the fresh water averaged out to 12 ppt to 17 ppt brackish surface water. It was literally halfway between the fresh water from the rivers and the deep salt water from the Mediterranean Sea in its total salt content. This was a very unusual situation because normally when a river enters a large body of salt water the lighter fresh water spreads out in a thinner and thinner layer. Once a crucial thickness threshold is passed the thin fresh water layer gets mixed with the salt water beneath through wind driven wave action, and the quantity of salt water is so vast compared to the rivers flowing in the salt content quickly averages out. Because the Black Sea basin had started out completely fresh water and the flow rate of the rivers entering it was so enormous in the modern era, even thousands of years after the passages opened it still had a much lower salinity on average than the world ocean, and this created a vast surface pool of brackish water.

Now for the first time thanks to the Stalin Channel dredged across the continental shelf the dense very salty Mediterranean Sea bottom water had a passage way to the deep Black Sea basin. The total quantity of bottom water flowing into the Black Sea had not changed, the Dardanelles and Bosporus sills were still in place at 70 and 40 meters respectively which restricted how much water could pass eastward on the bottom. However, now instead of being premixed with the brackish surface waters and having its salinity lowered to 22 ppt before it reached the deep basin the 35 ppt water had a free passage to cross the continental shelf and drop off into the abyss. The heavy high salinity water was reaching the edge of the continental shelf and dropping straight down the steep slope without having mixed with the brackish water first. Because if its density it went all the way to the bottom which forced the 22 ppt water which had occupied those depths up. On the surface where the 22 ppt waters mixed with the fresh river waters nothing obvious was changed. However 22 ppt water was no longer forming from all of the in flowing 35 ppt bottom water, about 90% of the in flowing water was falling into the abyss unchanged just as it had been during the passage all the way from the Mediterranean Sea and only 10% was mixing to form 22 ppt water on the continental shelf depth.

It might take eons from a human perspective, but the 35 ppt Mediterranean Sea water would eventually displace all that 22 ppt water sitting in the bottom of the Black Sea in the modern era. When that process was complete the basin waters would gradually rise up the slope of the Continental Shelf until they met the 10% of the bottom water flowing in and still mixing with the brackish surface waters to form the 22 pt water. When that event took place in that far distant (from a human perspective) point in time the in flowing river waters would no longer be mixing with 22 ppt partially diluted water, instead they would be mixing directly with 35 ppt Mediterranean Sea water itself. The brackish nature of the surface waters of the Black Sea would be shifted from 17 ppt much closer to 30 ppt, nearly the same as the 34 ppt world average. This would make it easy for many species of aquatic plants and fish which did not do well in the modern Black Sea to thrive in response to the altered environmental conditions. Ultimately it would also change the distribution of flow in and out of the basin through its multiple steps into the Mediterranean Sea. In the modern era about 1/3rd of the water exchange was bottom water flowing in and 2/3rds was brackish water flowing out. Once the water had moderated to approach world sea averages the depth of the brackish layer would first decline and then cease, becoming just a case of excess surface water exiting to join the Mediterranean Sea. By that time the in flow of bottom water would balance the outflow of surface water rather than exceeding it.

In the modern era, however, for the USSR the channel was a large boon as it made it possible to sneak a number of submarines from other operating areas into the Black Sea without detection and for them that was all that mattered. For their distant descendants enjoying the altered Black Sea it was unlikely they would realize how or why those changed conditions had come about, even if they were curious enough to ask. 


Provine's note:  Western intelligence made note of the change in fishermen's attitudes with Greek and Turkish fishermen in the Mediterranean excited by boosted catches while the Black Sea fishermen began to suffer worse and worse hauls, although theories about a Soviet channel were dismissed for decades.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Guest Post: St. Aphilas the Great

This post first appeared on Changing the Times

What if Christianity was introduced in Aksum earlier? muses Tom Bornholdt

Mani had said that there were four great powers: Rome, Persia, China and Aksum. Unhappy with being excommunicated for his unusual theology (Jesus was neither fully divine but the incarnation of a created Logos with a human soul), St. Lucian of Antioch had decided to leave Antioch. In the year 285, he arrived at the port of Adulis, which was part of the Kingdom of Aksum, and began to preach. The next year, he moved to the capital city of Aksum, where he proceeded to build a substantia1 congregation despite narrowly avoiding being murdered on two occasions. In the year 301, he achieved his greatest success when he converted St. Aphilas the Great, the King of Aksum. Aphilas was zealous in his new faith and early next year made it the official religion of Aksum.
Aphilas became distressed when he learned about the persecution of Christians that the Roman Emperor Diocletian was conducting. In the spring of 303, he decided to do something about it. He had increased the size of his army because he planned to expand his nation's dominion, starting with a campaign against the Himyarites that was already underway. He would use his army to save the Egyptian Christians from Roman persecution.

The first step in his campaign was to invade the Kingdom of Kush, which was between Aksum and Egypt. Kush had once been a minor power. It had fought the legions of the Roman Republic on more than one occasion, but it had been in decline for nearly two centuries. Aphilas found it easy to defeat the Kushite Army and captured its capital of Meroë in September. The bulk of his army remained there for six weeks to rest while bringing up supplies and reinforcements. Aphilas was pleased to find that there is a sizable Christian population in Kush. As he was getting ready to resume his march north, he told them that he intended to rescue the Christians in Egypt, which earned their support. There were pagan Kushites that were unhappy with the Romans as well. A few years ago, Diocletian had invited the Nobatae to invade the northern part of their country because he thought the Nobatae would make a good buffer between Egypt and Kush. Because of this, Aphilas feels comfortable leaving behind a relative small garrison to occupy Meroë.
As they advanced north, the Aksumite army encountered the Nobatae and defeated them in a series of relatively minor engagements. The Nobatae eventually warned the Romans. In January, a small Aksumite advance force reached the Egyptian border, where it was quickly defeated by the I Maximiana Legion. This easy victory made the Romans underestimate both the quantity and quality of the Aksumite army. Three weeks later the Aksumite main force overwhelmed and annihilated a small Roman army at Syene. Aphilas then spends only nine days resting his army at Syene before continuing north. He captures the prestigious city of Thebes after a relatively brief siege. Meanwhile the Aksumite navy has captured the Roman port on the Red Sea at Berenice.
The Egyptian Christians viewed St. Aphilas as someone sent by God to rescue them in their hour of tribulation. Up until this point, Egyptian Christianity was increasingly accentuating monasticism but there was now a sudden turn towards militarism as many Christians volunteered to fight for King Aphilas. However, it wasn't only Christians who were pleased by this development. For one thing, Diocletian had persecuted Manicheans as well as Christians. A short distance downriver from Thebes was the small city of Coptos, which had revolted against Roman rule in 292. This revolt ended only after a lengthy siege of Coptos, which resulted in its almost total destruction. Then in 297, Domitius Domitianus tried to exploit Egyptian anger over Diocletian's recent tax edicts in an unsuccessful attempt to usurp Diocletian. This discontent began to reemerge.
Aphilas soon continued his march north, and in July he engaged another Roman army. This one was stronger than the one he destroyed at the border but it is still badly outnumbered. The Roman general was more cautious this time. He was defeated but avoids annihilation. He retreated into the fortified provincial capital of Ptolemais Hermiou. A siege began, which lasts until the city is captured by the Aksumites on December 17. While the siege was going on, the bulk of the Aksumite army was unable to advance any further. However, the Aksumites scouts reported that there was no significant Roman presence left in Upper Egypt. Aphilas sent small parties of cavalry raiding as far north as the large city of Oxyrhyncus. However, he gave officers leading these raids orders not to harm Christians but rather to spread the word that the persecution was over. They were to kill any Romans they found persecuting Christians. These raids caused the revolt to spread. Meanwhile, the Aksumite navy had continued to dominate the Red Sea and captured the important port of Myos Hormos. This effectively cut Rome's trade with India.
While this was going on, Diocletian was campaigning against the Capri near the Danube. While he was receiving reports of the Aksumite incursion, he initially hoped it was only a large raid and regarded the Capri as being the greater threat. In the late summer, his opinion changed, and he began to see the Aksumite invasion as posing a grave threat to the empire. However, the emperor's health had been deteriorating badly, which interfered with his ability to make key decisions. As a result, he put his Caesar Galerius in charge of the Egyptian campaign.
In December, General Constantine, the son of the Caesar Constantius Chlorus arrived in Egypt to take command. He brought substantial reinforcements with him, and Galerius was pressuring him to defeat the Aksumites as quickly as possible. For not the first time, Constantine had the feeling that Galerius was hoping he would fail and die. By this time, the rebellion has spread into parts of Lower Egypt with the rebels being disproportionately Christian. Constantine had been becoming increasingly sympathetic to Christianity and had opposed their persecution. Before leaving for Egypt, he had recommended to Galerius that stopping the persecution might makes things easier but this recommendation was ignored. Constantine initially concentrated on quelling the rebellion in Lower Egypt. As he did so, his attitude towards Christians became less favorable as he started to see how they could pose a threat to the Roman Empire. He is quite severe with the rebels.
While it was besieging Ptolemais Hermiou, the Aksumite army began to experience some problems with the Nobatae attacking its supply caravans. Immediately after the capital fell , Aphilas decided to rush a piece of his army south to counter that. He then let the bulk of his army rest there for nearly a month before continuing upriver. It was only when he entered Lower Egypt and approached Oxyrhyncus that he encountered Constantine, resulting in a battle on February 24. Once again, the Aksumite army possessed a numerical advantage, though not an overwhelming one. It proved to be a lengthy battle of attrition which, was something that Constantine could ill afford. However, late in the day, the best of his cavalry was finally able to defeat the Aksumites, but they were able to make a reasonably orderly retreat as night fell. Constantine was not very satisfied with his victory. What his scouts reported next morning indicated that the enemy was retreating but not broken. He reluctantly decided not to pursue and instead turned his attention back to quelling the Christian rebels in Lower Egypt.
Prior to this battle Aphilas was beginning to feel that liberating all of Egypt was going to be relatively easy. Afterwards he pulled back to Hermopolis to ponder his next move. While this was going on, Diocletian had been very seriously considering resigning as emperor and going into retirement due to his poor medical condition. Galerius had been strongly encouraging him to do that. Diocletian was willing to let Galerius make most decisions but unwilling to step down while Egypt remains in grave danger. Because of this, Galerius was deeply upset when he learned that Constantine did not pursue the Aksumites after his victory at Oxyrhyncus and demanded that he immediately advance into Upper Egypt. Constantine carried out these orders even though he had a significant fraction of his army tied down at Memphis fighting rebels.
After the capture of Syene, St. Aphilas began forming military units with Egyptian Christians. After a while, the Aksumites assigned to train them found that more than a third of these soldiers were fanatically brave being all too willing to suffer martyrdom on the battlefield. They were also intensely loyal to Aphilas. These Christians were separated from the others and were given more intensive training and better quality weapons and shields. The small fraction of these that were cavalry had seen some action but the infantry had only been used for garrison duty. When he returned to Hermopolis, Aphilas decided to move the elite Christian Egyptian infantry to Antinopolis which was very near Hermopolis but on the opposite bank of the Nile.
Constantine's strategy was to split his forces with the one piece on west bank of the Nile and the other on the east. Each piece was roughly equal in terms of cavalry but the portion on the east bank was much stronger in infantry. On May 2, Constantine made a diversionary attack on the west bank trying to convince Aphilas that Hermapolis was his objective. He was largely successful in this, so Aphilas' forces were concentrated on the west bank. The following morning Constantine's forces on the east bank started marching hard towards Antinopolis. They engaged the Aksumite forces north of the city, and this time it was the Romans who had the numerical advantage. However, the Roman infantry were fatigued from their hard march and were therefore unable to quickly rout the enemy as Constantine had hoped. They did have some success at least grinding down the Axumites pushing them back towards the city.
Meanwhile, King Aphalis was ferried across the Nile escorted by his personal guard. Upon arriving at Antinopolis, he found the elite Christian Egyptian infantry had not yet been committed but was being held in reserve. His senior Aksumite officers were worried that their troops were on the verge of breaking. They advised the king to quickly pull them back inside the city.
Aphilas rejected that advice. He addressed the Christian Egyptians. As he did, he showed them a Roman spear. He claimed that the Archangel Michael had visited him last night and gave him the spear, telling that it was what the Roman soldiers had used to stab Jesus while He was on the Cross. St. Aphilas told these soldiers that they would now become the spear that God would use to stab the Romans back. He was naming them the Holy Spear of God. He then ordered them to counterattack the Romans. This counterattack came at the moment when Aksumite resistance was starting to weaken. By this time, the day was getting hot, which was taking its toll on both the Romans and the Axumites. The Holy Spear of God entered the battle fresh and in their intense religious zeal seemed impervious to the heat. They fought with a ferocity that stunned the Romans and lifted the sagging morale of the Aksumites.
Meanwhile, some of the Aksumites on the west bank were slowly crossing the Nile, using the ample fleet of rafts and boats that Aphalis had at his disposal. The tide of the battle shifted and before long it was the Romans legionaries who broke. Unfortunately, most of the Roman infantry had the river behind them. Many of them ended up drowning, including General Constantine who had been at the forefront of the fighting. Lactantius discerned some poetic irony in that fact because Emperor Hadrian had founded Antinopolis to commemorate the tragic drowning of his lover, Antinous near there. Many believe that grief caused by the news of his son's death contributed to the death of Constantius a year later.
In a few hours, Aphalis had destroyed most of the Roman infantry on the east bank along with their charismatic leader. The Roman cavalry were able to avoid being trapped. There was also the smaller piece of Constantine's army on the west bank. However, these would not be able to stop King Aphalis who was soon advancing north again. On June 5, he captured Oxyrhyncus after a relatively brief siege. While that siege was going on he was able to rekindle the revolt in Lower Egypt. That soon included Alexandria which been previously spared. Galerius rushed additional legions to Egypt but by the end of September Aphalis had taken Memphis, won two major battles and was besieging Sais. In both of those battles, the Holy Spear of God played an important role in his victory but had also suffered heavy losses in the process. By this time the Christian revolt has spread into Palestine and Cyrenaica.
On October 4, the Romans tried to lift the Siege of Sais but were again soundly defeated. Once again the Holy Spear of God played a key role in the victory but again paid a heavy price. Aphalis was starting to believe he could win any open field battle by using them. The defeated Roman army then retreated to Alexandria. When Sais finally fell on November 30, the Aksumites controlled all of Egypt except for Alexandria. The Romans expected that Aphalis' next move would be to besiege Alexandria. Instead the kings splits his army. The smaller portion he kept in Egypt to keep the Roman pinned down inside Alexandria. Aphalis personally led the rest in an attack into Palestine, the Holy Land where Our Lord had lived and died then rose from the grave.
However, despite his religious fervor, Aphalis failed to plan this campaign very well. His army had serious logistical problems while crossing Sinai. As he approached Beersheba on February 12, 306, he engaged a large Roman army that Galerius was leading in person. Aphalis was convinced that he could prevail yet again by using the Holy Spear of God, but this time that elite unit which had been badly depleted by its losses in the earlier battles failed to deliver victory. Nevertheless it did temporarily check the Roman advance making it easier for the Aksumites to escape.
Galerius' impulsive nature impeded his pursuit. At times he thought he can toy with what he regarded as a doomed enemy and when they demonstrated they still have a bite he became furious. Though deeply discouraged by what happened, Aphilas managed to keep his army from disintegrating. Meanwhile Roman reinforcements arrived by sea at Alexandria. Diocletian believed that if the army at Alexandria attacked in concert with Galerius, they could obliterate the Aksumites in a pincer attack. However, Galerius believed he can accomplish that all by himself. He did not want to share the glory and so ordered the army at Alexandria to stand fast.
When his army reached Clysma, Aphalis made his stand. By this time, he hasdreceived reinforcements from the units he had left behind in Egypt. Previously he had become intoxicated with the Holy Spear of God but was reluctant to use the other Christian Egyptian units for much more than garrison duty. When Galerius attacked on March 9, these units were finally allowed to show that could fight. It was a grueling battle that started at dawn and went on for hours as the temperature steadily climbed. This was contrary to Galerius' expectations of an easy slaughter and before long his mounting frustration made him angry enough to issue some rash orders.
Aphalis waited until late in the battle to commit the Holy Spear of God using them to plug a dangerous gap that had emerged. Galerius finally gave up and withdrew. The next day he finally gave the order for the army at Alexandria to attack. When it did so it found only very weak opposition in front of it. It soon retook Sais which the Aksumites had abandoned. It then took Arsinoe, which had been abandoned as well, but when it approached Memphis on  April 5 it found that Aphalis had moved much of his army there. The Romans were quickly defeated and forced to make a hurried retreat to Arsinoe.
When Galerius learned of this, he believed that could now easily take Clysma but was proven wrong and suffered another costly defeat. One reason for this is that after defeating the Romans near Memphis, Aphalis had hurriedly moved back to Clysma with the bulk of his army anticipating that Galerius would again attack. Furthermore, after his defeat at Beersheba, he had decided to remove the Aksumite army in Himyar, which had been hunkered down in fortified positions since the beginning of the war with Rome. The Aksumite navy, which continued to dominate the Red Sea, transported this army directly to Clysma. Lastly, Aphalis had replenished the Holy Sword of God with qualified Christian replacements.
During the summer, Aphalis was content to defend a line that ran from Memphis to Clysma and enjoy the advantages of interior lines of communication. The Romans wore themselves out with their attacks. Meanwhile, the Christian revolt continued to spread. Aphalis built up his Christian Egyptian units and not just the Holy Spear of God. He made careful preparations for a fall offensive.
Meanwhile, the Romans had other worries. After several years of war, Diocletion had been able to impose a harsh peace on the Sassanid Emperor Narseh in 299. While the current emperor Hormizd was known to be troubled by some internal unrest, they still worried that he might see the Aksumite invasion as an opportunity too good resist. Ironically, another of the problems was Armenia, which the Romans had considered a reliable ally against the Sassanids. The problem was that King Tridates III of Armenia had converted to Christianity and made it his country's official religion around the same time that King Aphalis doing the same in Aksum. Diocletian and Galerius were worried that Aphilas' campaign would inspire Tridates into doing something similar.
So in July, Diocletian began negotiating with Aphalis, offering to let him keep Upper Egypt and to end the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. Galerius did not care for the terms, but he went along as he saw it as a way to get Diocletian to finally step down as Emperor. Aphilas had his own worries. In June, he learned from his son, Prince Wazeba that a cabal which included pagan priests and some prominent merchants had tried to seize power in the capital. The merchants were upset the war had dried up their lucrative trade with the Romans. So the Peace of Leontopolis was concluded August 26. Aphilas then moved south to Upper Egypt. When he was sure that the persecution had indeed ended in the Roman Empire, he returned to Axum and clamped down hard on his political enemies. He also tried to make the controversial theology of St. Lucian of Antioch the standard within his expanded empire.
Maximian, the Augustus of the West, had been shocked that Diocletian had agreed to let Aphilas keep Upper Egypt. It so upset him that when Diocletian discussed his plans for both of them to retire together in early November, Maximian initially refused to resign. In order to placate him, Diocletian agreed to make Maximian's son, Maxentius a Caesar after the joint resignation. Galerius was unhappy with this but did not want the joint resignation that would elevate him to Augustus put off any longer. When Constantius had died, he had persuaded Diocletian to appoint Severus as his replacement.


Author's Note: in reality Lucian of Antioch remained at Antioch. He was executed in 312 as one of the victims of persecution Maximinus II. Christianity was introduced into Aksum around 320.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Guest Post: Sigurd the Stout seizes the High Kingship of Ireland

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History

23 April, 1014

On this day in alternate history, a Norse-Irish alliance defeated the forces of the High King of Ireland. Brian Boru of Munster and over ten thousand men were slaughtered in the bloody battle at Clontarf, near Dublin, on the east coast of Ireland.

The rival Irish Kingdoms had been locked in conflict for centuries. However, at the earlier Battle of Tara, Boru had emerged as a strong national leader that checked the growth of Viking power on the island. By the turn of the century, his principal enemy was Máel Mórda mac Murchada, the King of Leinster, whom he fought at the Battle of Glenmama. Unable to rally troops to his side from Ulster or the province of Connacht, Máel Mórda had to find allies outside of Ireland:  the Vikings. This desperation sowed the seeds of Boru's defeat.

The reasons for the victory were numerous: the mailed armour of the Vikings and of course the stubborn refusal of Boru, a devout Christian, to spill blood on Good Friday. Despite the immediacy of the threat from the men of Leinster and Dublin, Boru was actually praying in his tent when Brodir of Mann found and killed him. With
Máel Mórda promising alliance, the Vikings now held the upperhand over all Ireland.

It would have been a hotly disputed victory for Boru's Viking nemesis Sigtrygg Silkbeard, King of Dublin, because Sigtrygg had promised the high kingship to both of his principal allies, Brodir, who commanded the Viking fleet, and also Sigurd "the Stout" Hlodvirsson, the Earl of Orkney. Fortunately for Sigtrygg, Brodir was killed at the climax of the battle by Ulf the Quarrelsome, so this gifted the High Kingship to Sigurd.

More significantly the power of Munster had been broken and the Viking settlements at Limerick, Cork, and Dublin had been secured. This was the outcome that Boru's predecessors, the Ui Neills, had fought hard to resist. As a result of Clontarf, the Vikings would play an increasingly major role in Irish history for over the following century and a half right up until 1169 with the invasion of the Normans, who had recently conquered England.

Addendum by Eric Oppen: With Norse leadership hopefully overcoming their tendency to infighting, the Irish might be able to keep more of their independence. And with a Norse aristocracy that's culturally closer to the Normans, Ireland would not seem quite so alien and impossible to understand.

Jeff Provine's Note: In reality Brian Boru was killed at Clontarf, as were his heir Murchad and Murchad's son, Toirdelbach. While the battle secured Irish authority over the island and severely weakened Viking power, an entire would-be dynasty over Ireland was wiped out. Mael Schnaill returned to the High Kingship, which would soon fall again to squabbles and constant upheaval. In 1169, the Normans from England invaded, breaking Irish kingship. It would be the first of many English waves of conquest over the Ireland, which would not win its independence until 1922.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Guest Post by Charles K. Alexander I: Yakov Sverdlov Named General Secretary of the Russian Communist Party

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History

OTL, Bolshevik Party day-to-day leader Yakov Sverdlov died on March 16, 1919, most likely of influenza, but in this alternative, Sverdlov instead recovers his health and is appointed the General Secretary of the Russian Communist Party three years later, in place of Joseph Stalin.
For the Information of Organizations and Members of the RKP. April 3, 1922
Pravda, 4 April 1922.
The Central Committee elected by the XI congress of the RKP has confirmed a secretariat of the TsK RKP consisting of: Comrade Sverdlov (general secretary), Comrade Sokolnikov and Comrade Kuibyshev.
The secretariat of the TsK has established the following schedule of reception hours at the TsK, daily from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m.: Monday-Sokolnikov and Kuibyshev, Tuesday-Sverdlov and Sokolnikov, Wednesday-Kuibyshev and Sokolnikov, Thursday-Kuibyshev, Friday-Sverdlov and Sokolnikov , Saturday-Sverdlov and Kuibyshev.
Address TsK: Vozdvizhenka, 5.
Secretary of the TsK RKP, Sverdlov.
Sverdlov's efforts were crucial in the slow but steady expansion of the Bolshevik Party during the Russian Civil War, and especially so in forestalling the deepening divisions of the party at it's Tenth Party Congress in March 1921. The velvet glove to Lenin's iron fist, Sverdlov was able to help Lenin win the debate over the Trade Union question that had dominated internal party discussions for months, and the near universal regard for his fairness in party matters meant that a proposal to ban party factions except during pre-Congress discussion periods was never brought forth at the Congress. In 1922, Sverdlov is appointed general secretary of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party along with two economists, Grigori Sokolnikov and Valerian Kuybyshe, both of whom had also served as political commissars in the Red Armies of the Civil War. The appointment coincided with the general deterioration of Lenin's health and was followed by a series of strokes suffered by the Bolshevik leader. While insuring, sometimes ruthlessly, that Lenin got as much rest as possible, at times even bullying Lenin in tandem with his wife, Krupdskaya, Sverdlov also made sure that all factions within the party maintained some level of contact with their acknowledged master. In his final testament to the party, read at the Twelfth Party Congress in April 1923 and published widely thereafter, Lenin drew brutally honest sketches of the strengths and weaknesses of the various leaders of the party, highlighting, for example, the sharpness both of Trotsky's mind and his tongue, and recommended that Sverdlov serve as first among equals within the leadership of the party. He also specifically enjoined the party to resist the bureaucratism of the party and the state, and humorously directed the party to not "make too much" of his name after his death, and instead make sure that he received a "swift and proper" burial.

Over the next several years, Sverdlov is able to defuse factional struggles within the party and slowly open up the political life of the country. Trotsky is shifted out of the army and his theoretical and organizational strengths redirected toward the smart and systematic rebuilding and expansion of Soviet manufacturing, and the largely peaceful and gradual collectivization of agriculture. After the failure of the German Revolution of 1923, Zinoviev is removed as leader of the Comintern but retained his post as Party Leader in Petrograd, as Kamenev was in Moscow. Stalin moves from one administrative role to another, with mixed results, and is eventually dropped from the Politburo when he accepts a position as a professor and administrator at Moscow State University, where he becomes notorious for the petty political infighting apparently endemic to academia the world over, and a steady succession of pretty undergraduate interns and personal secretaries.

In 1927, as soon as Chiang Kai-shek turns on the Chinese working class and peasantry, the CCP withdraws from the Kuomintang and launches an uprising against Chiang with the full support of Moscow and the Comintern. Backed by the small but strategically placed urban working class and a significant portion of Chiang's military - much of the officer corps had been trained by Soviet military specialists, and besides recruiting many of the soldiers, CCP cadre had been in charge of the army's political education - the CCP makes the crucial decision to back peasant uprisings in the countryside instead of trying to tamp them down. The showdown with Chiang, the hollow rump of the KMT. and the landlords and bourgeoisie of South China is short, bloody and followed by a CCP-led Northern Expedition that ultimately unites the nation. European and Japanese military intervention is checked by Soviet troop mobilizations on China's borders on the one hand and American diplomacy, generously acknowledged and compensated, on the other. After ten long years in the international wilderness, the Soviet leadership and party membership is buoyed by the world's second successful proletarian revolution, and the Soviet populace excited by their country's central role in midwifing that revolution and in forcing the imperialist powers to back down. This first crack in the Imperialist System is also welcomed with excitement across the colonial and semi-colonial world.

With the confidence it imbibed from the successful Chinese Revolution, the Soviet Communist Party in 1928 takes the important step of lifting the Civil War ban on non-Communist parties loyal to the Soviet state, allowing Left Menshevikks, Left Socialist Revolutionaries and assorted anarchists and even left nationalists to openly organize and contest elections to the Soviets or any other organs of state power, local, regional or national. On maintaining the ban on anti-Soviet parties, James P. Cannon, a representative of the American Communist Party attending the 6th World Congress of the Comintern in Moscow in the Summer of 1928, is quoted in the press to the effect that "just as parties committed to the restoration of the American colonies to the British Crown would not have been permitted in the first decades of the United States of America, so parties advocating the restoration of either czarism or capitalism could not be allowed in the still young Soviet Union."

When Hitler is offered the post of Chancellor of Germany in 1933 the German working class, Social Democratic and Communist, rises up and prevents the Nazis from taking state power. The Nazis and other far right elements, along with a significant portion of the German bourgeoisie, are driven out of Germany after a short but sharp civil war that turns into the world's third successful proletarian revolution, the first in a heavily industrialized country. The Communist Party, maintaining its political independence but supporting working class unity in the civil war, comes to the fore as the reformist left splinters, but the deep social democratic roots in the working class result in the quick development of a multi-party, revolutionary and proletarian democratic state. While German industrialists decide to spend their hopefully brief exiles in Paris, London or Zürich, the hardcore reactionaries, fascists and Nazis are concentrated in the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, Poland and, especially, Austria. The Czechs largely succeed in disarming them, the Poles let them conduct terrorist attacks across the border and are tempted to allow them to launch a campaign into East Prussia, but their awful strategic position, caught between Red Russia to the east and the new Red Germany to the west, forces them to keep the leash on the German rightist exiles.

Austria is the most destabilized neighbor of revolutionary Germany, as the exiled Nazis want to take state power to secure a solid base for their campaign to win back Germany. The Conservative Party and Austro-Fascists can find only one solution that will prevent the Nazis from dragging a much-reduced Austria into another war in Germany, while still keeping a lid on "Red Vienna" and the Austrian Social Democracy's military arm, and give the bourgeoisie, petite bourgeoisie and countryside a unifying and legitimately Austrian pole around which to rally. Otto von Habsburg is invited to return to Austria as a constitutional monarch, and while the dickering over whether he would return as an Archduke or an Emperor nearly derailed the deal, he is able to unite enough of the country - social democratic left to nationalist right, farmers, workers and aristocrats - to militarily suppress the Nazis, all without provoking either a revolutionary uprising in their rear or Red German intervention. Otto thereby proves that even in a new age of revolution, the Habsburgs still have the knack for coming out on top.

Using lessons learned from the Chinese Revolution and its aftermath, and with its Communist Party playing the goad, proletarian revolution also succeeds in Spain in the mid- to late-1930's. The Spanish Left, while still deeply divided between revolutionary Communists, reformist Socialists and both revolutionary and reformist Anarcho-Syndicalists, unites in declaring proletarian political independence from the liberal and establishment backers of the bourgeois Republic and defeat the center-right lash-up of Spanish Republicans and their Catholic, nationalist, fascist and monarchist critics. The military is undercut by the left's support for independence for Spain's African colonies, the countryside is lost to the right with the left's backing of the expropriation of the land by Spain's desperate peasants, and where France's Popular Front dithers, the Soviet Union, Germany and China provide the revolutionaries with more aid than Mussolini's fascist Italy and Britain's Tories can muster for the Republic and its counter-revolutionary attack dogs. As international volunteers from the left and right join their respective Spanish allies on the frontlines, the final act of Germany's civil war is played out on the Spanish plain, with hundreds of Nazis and more than a thousand other German rightists losing their lives in support of Spanish reaction.

Twenty years after the October Revolution, with a capitalist world still deep in the throes of the Great Depression, there exists a Soviet Union with a rapidly expanding economy and a steadily broadening political sphere, a stabilizing revolutionary Germany with a somewhat chaotic but vibrant proletarian "Council Communist" republic, a Spain flying the Red and Black flag at the end of its Civil War, and a reunified China industrializing with the help of Soviet and German experts, re-writing the rules of its relationships with the imperialist powers that had carved it up, inspiring colonial and semi-colonial peoples everywhere, and arming itself in case the European powers and America decide to back Imperial Japan in a play to roll back the revolutionary tide and grab China's resources, thereby - just as an afterthought, of course - distracting resource-poor Japan from their own Asian and Pacific colonies and territories.

All this because the nearly forgotten Yakov Sverdlov survived the flu (or was it typhus, TB or an anti-Bolshevik attack?) in March 1919 and remained in charge of the day-to-day operations of the Bolshevik Party long enough for the Civil War to end, the revolution to get some breathing room, and the bureaucracy and its creature, Stalin, to be strangled in its crib and kept from seizing and corrupting the Party, the Revolution, the Soviet Union, the international Communist movement and ultimately, the very idea of revolutionary change.

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