Thursday, June 30, 2011

June 30, 1908 – Tunguska Impact Alters the World

In an event unable to be understood at the time, a pinpoint black hole struck the Earth near the Stony Tunguska River in Siberia, Russia. The impact itself was significant with a shockwave estimated at 5.0 on the Richter scale that knocked trees flat in an 800 square mile spread, blew people off their feet, and destroyed windows for hundreds of miles. The aftershock, however, was far more important. As the black hole bore through the Earth, it shed the event-horizon shell of cosmic matter and evaporated with the energy from friction and pressure of the Earth's core. The shockwaves continued through the molten core and mantle like an isolated earthquake, meeting on the opposite side of the world near the Strait of Magellan. There, the edge of the Antarctic Plate buckled with the South American Plate, causing a massive upheaval that would turn the Drake Passage into an enormous mountain range connecting the Andes and the Antarctic Peninsula.

Newspapers and scientists would consider the event purely tectonic until the Leonid Kulik expedition in 1921 determined the mysterious explosion happened only hours before the upheaval. His mineralogy team excavated radioactive material not uncommon to Siberia that would later be tested again in 2007 and found to coincide with isotopes from space such as cesium as well as heavy polonium and magnetic nickel.

At the time, however, the world's attention was turned to the new landmass that had suddenly cut off the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (what would later be termed as the “exit wound” of the black hole, though it was really only backlash from the collision). As ocean currents adjusted, climatological alterations began such as the increase of rainforest to the south of the Amazon and the widening of the Kalahari Desert. Sea life suffered greatly as migration routes were cut off, causing the extinction of several whale species, already over-hunted. Most notable to the time was that the most-used passage to the Pacific had been cut off. Since its discovery by Balboa, the Pacific had struck Europe as a new, calmer ocean for exploration and colonization. The Pacific had been especially instrumental to the Americans, who used it as the main route connecting them to the quickly populated West Coast even after the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. A faster route was currently under construction through a canal in Panama, but at the time of the Upheaval, it was still years from completion. The long-sought Northwest Passage had only recently been completed by Roald Amundsen from 1903 to 1906 and could be crossed only at the warmest points of summer by reinforced icebreaker ships.

Effectively, the Pacific had become cut off from the East. Shipping could still flow through the Indian Ocean, but the journey from New York to San Francisco by steamer had increased from weeks to months. Calling the times “desperate,” US President Theodore Roosevelt began his campaign for his unprecedented third term and vowed not to leave office until his canal was completed (which occurred years before schedule in 1911). The rest of the world looked with shock and envy at America controlling the only access to the eastern Pacific, and soon multiple European-backed companies began plans to dig canals through Honduras, Costa Rica, and, especially, Nicaragua. Only the Nicaraguan Canal would see completion in 1923, after changing hands twice.

Other plans, however, determined that overland routes would be suitable. On February 12, 1908, the New York to Paris Race began, traveling by motor car and partially by steamer west from Times Square to the French capital. A month after the Upheaval, the American team arrived victorious in their Thompson Flyer. Savvy newspapermen used the event as an example of the efficiency of overland travel. The Germans (whose team arrived second), took notice of the feat and began work with the ABC Powers (Argentina, Brazil, and Chile) to complete a rail and motorway that would bring goods from Buenos Aires to Santiago. German imperial attention turned to South America, bringing commerce and tourism, so much so that commentators doubted the Kaiser had even noticed the short-lived Austrian occupation of Serbia.

Gradually, the world would become accustomed to its new scar of what came to be known as the Drake Mountains, but the idea that an object from space could bring such devastation to a planet continues to unnerve the human spirit.

In reality, the mysterious Tunguska blast was most likely an air burst of a meteoroid. It produced an explosion that would not be rivaled by man until atomic weapon tests of the 1950s. Other hypotheses about the explosion have labeled it the activity of antimatter, aliens, Nikola Tesla, or, famously in 1973, University of Texas physicists Albert Jackson and Michael Ryan suggesting the idea of a small black hole (though it would not have left the telltale minerals found in later expeditions).

More info on Tunguska at Matt's Today in History blog.

Friday, June 24, 2011

June 24, 1812 – Napoleon Reorganizes his Grande Armée

On the night before his army number more than half a million men crossed the Neman River in the Second Polish War, Napoleon suddenly came down with wind and cramps from his chicken marengo that kept him from sleeping. While battling his discomfort, he read from one of his favorite classics, The Art of War by the Chinese ancient Sun Tzu. He paused between bouts of painful attacks and contemplated the army he had camped around him. Rather than Sun Tzu's model force of fast, elite troops, Napoleon had assembled the largest army known to man. He had hoped the army would strike fear into Czar Alexander and his generals, forcing them to bend to his will, but the “Little General” in him at last decided victories could not be won with simple weight. After all, many of the battles he had won to bring him here had been against much larger armies.

In the morning, Napoleon ordered the movement of his troops across the river as was planned, but he himself worked with his secretaries and generals in whittling down the necessary army. Of his 554,000 men (300,000 of whom were French and Dutch, 100,000 Lithuanians and Poles, and the rest a mishmash from around Europe), he determined a main fighting force of about 200,000. The other troops suddenly seemed unnecessary, but Napoleon refused to let a man go to waste. He put the local Poles and Lithuanians as well as some Croats and Austrians into skirmishing parties while the rest he dedicated to building a massive supply line capable of supporting his army, though he had always planned to live off the land as Sun Tzu recommended.

Napoleon's new army moved with incredible speed across the Russian Empire despite its poor roads. The Russian army under Field Marshall Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly initially attempted to stop the smaller French force but was defeated. The Field Marshall kept his army from being crushed and fell back to a strategy of scorched earth, but the system of retreat did not stop Napoleon. When the French took St. Petersburg, the Czar and his court was forced to flee, and the disgraced de Tolly was replaced by Prince Mikhail Kutuzov. Napoleon moved toward Moscow, but Kutuzov met him with the bulk of the Russian forces at Borodino. There, in the largest single-day fight of the Napoleonic Wars, more than 250,000 men and 1,2000 cannon fought allout. Napoleon won a close victory, and the Russian army returned to retreat.

Victory at Borodino might have been a Pyrrhic one but for Napoleon's well built supply lines. The forty thousand casualties of the Russians could be replaced, and, though it would require longer to return to maximum strength, so could Napoleon's losses of 30,000. The march to Moscow continued. City governor Count Fyodor Rostopchin suggested that the city be set to torch, but Czar Alexander capitulated rather than seeing another capital fall violently. He met with Napoleon the Poklonnaya Hill and surrendered while Napoleon granted him continued control of the Russian Empire, sans the numerous lands such as Poland and the Ukraine that would be granted their freedom (at least, freedom from Russia, as they would be granted governments friendly to Napoleon's Continental System).

Napoleon spent the next years solidifying his command in Europe, putting down Cossack uprisings, quelling Spain, and pacifying the English, whose economy continued to crumble while rebels stirred from the French-backed Irish. He later turned back to expansion, taking Constantinople and conquering the Ottoman Empire. This sparked another war with England in which Napoleon would take the Mediterranean (and, most importantly, Egypt) and incite India to rebellion. Napoleon would die of stomach cancer shortly after Britain's surrender of Egypt in 1823, and his son Napoleon II would prove unable to carry on his father's work.

The French Empire would crumble, but the impact of Napoleonic conquest would be felt for centuries. In what had been efficiency, Napoleon had organized people-groups into states, leading to senses of Nationalism and the unifications of Germany and Italy. Smaller groups such as Serbs, Lithuanians, Poles, Basque, and so on, received new levels of self-government. Most notably, Napoleon would free the serfs of Russia, organizing them and creating a new environment of independence that would make the Russian kingdom a leader in the Second Industrial Revolution and a model of capitalism and progress through the twentieth century.

In reality, Napoleon kept his enormous army, which became bogged down with an indecisive flanking battle at Polotsk that stopped him from his march on St. Petersburg. He moved on Moscow, which he took, but found the city in flames. Surrounded by scorched earth and Russian skirmishers and drained of supplies because of his unintentionally long marches, Napoleon turned back to France, leaving much of his Grande Armée to fend for itself. Roughly 400,000 troops would die or become captured, leaving less than a quarter surviving to return to Paris. The loss would cripple his empire and lead to his first downfall in 1814.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 22, 1941 – Hitler Calls off Invasion of Soviet Union

Upon the receipt of confirmed espionage of the military preparedness of the Soviet Union, German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler gave the last-minute order scrubbing his intended invasion. Knowledge of Stalin's military buildup was well known, but the exact numbers were suddenly daunting. As seen by Hitler then and later calculated upon declassified documents by state historian Mikhail Meltyukhov in his work, Stalin's Gift, Russians outnumbered the Germans and their allies 1.4-to-1 in infantry and artillery, 2.6-to-1 in aircraft, and stunningly more than 3.8-to-1 in tanks. Hitler had surprise on his side as Stalin, despite the advice of several spies who had given him the exact date of invasion, believed Hitler would hold longer than two years to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and wait until he finished war with Britain. Hitler had already postponed the intended Operation Barbarossa several weeks from its initial deadline in May due to logistical problems, and now he knew certainly he was too late.

Germany and the Soviet Union seemed doomed to fight each other, however. Stalin addressed military academy graduates with, “War with Germany is inevitable,” just weeks before the intended invasion. Both nations were diametrically opposed with policies in Hitler's fascism and Stalin's communism. Both were hopeful for expansion as Hitler called for “elbow room” and Stalin worked to rebuild the Russian Empire, such as dominating Finland in the 1939-40 Winter War. Because Stalin understood Hitler's need for oil to fuel his power would bring him to Baku, the Soviet leader began programs to expand the Russian military by leaps. From '39 to '41, he more than doubled the size of the army and especially built aircraft, which increased from 7,700 to 18,700.

As Hitler and his staff reviewed the numbers, he knew that Germany would be unable to maintain the blitzkrieg he had used successfully against Poland and France without control of the air and against numerically superior tanks, with Russian heavy tanks even arguably superior to Panzers one-on-one. Finally Hitler realized that the Russians were simply too powerful by weight and determined that he would need new kinds of weapons to fight, redoubling his already heavy investment in research and development for rockets, atomic bombs, and more. He let continue the lie that his massing troops on the border with the Soviet Union was keeping them away from attacks by Britain and eventually recalled them for Operation Sea Lion, which had been postponed indefinitely since September, 1940.

Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought Britain's near-ally America into the war fully that December. With American resources turned toward the Pacific, Hitler's invasion of Britain began, which quickly turned into a quagmire of resistance and sabotage of nearly every public work. Although Hitler held Western Europe for several years, the Allied counter-attack through Africa enabled Britain to be liberated by the D-Day landing at Devon, June 6, 1944.

In early 1945, with Hitler reeling despite some Soviet support Stalin made good on his original strategy of waiting. Called the “Icebreaker” theory by exiled historian Viktor Suvorov, Russia swept in as liberators across Europe, meeting with American and British allies as they took Berlin and continued toward the Western Front, spreading as far as France and Italy. Churchill and Roosevelt encouraged Russia to relinquish their control of Europe as soon as order could be maintained, but Stalin decided to stay. As war with Japan ended with the new A-bomb, political stakes were raised with the Americans holding a powerful card, but Russia practically fresh for a fight.

War-weary President Truman decided to leave the Russians in Europe, establishing doctrine that would work just to keep the Soviets from expanding further. This, too, would prove a blunder of waiting as the Russians would use captured German scientists, now pampered celebrities outside Moscow, to surpass the atomic bomb with an H-bomb and rocketry capable of intercontinental delivery by the 1950s. An Iron Curtain fell from East France to North Italy and across the Soviet Balkans that looked to expand through the Middle East, Africa, even Latin America, and absorb Chinese Communism into the Soviet-led World Community. Any opposition to the world superpower had to be covert, such as escapes across the Swiss border and arming of Afghan guerillas, as no nation could stand against Stalin's legacy until it eventually collapsed into corruption and civil war.

In reality, Operation Barbarossa proceeded. With army strengths of more than seven million, Hitler and Stalin fought bitterly over Eastern Europe for months until the Germans were finally stopped and held by sheer numbers. Eventually, the tide would favor the Russians, who would come to take much of Eastern Europe under their influence after World War II and hold it until the wave of independence movements in 1989.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June 21, 1916 – Battle of Carrizal Sparks Second Mexican-American War

The chaotic Mexican Revolution finally began war with the United States after an altercation at the town of Carrizal in the northern state of Chihuahua, Mexico. About one hundred troopers from the US 10th Cavalry attacked some 150 Mexican Federal soldiers, leading to a Mexican victory even though they had taken two-thirds casualties. Two American cavalry officers and fourteen troopers were killed while twenty-three more were captured. In a move that is surrounded by controversy to this day, many of the prisoners were killed. News of the mass execution struck deeply in the American conscious, pushed the deeper by Hearst newspapers, which called for war.

While there had been routine troubles with American outlaws and Mexican banditos on either side using the border to their advantage since before the first Mexican War (1846-1848), the Mexican Revolution began a whole new environment of turmoil between the nations. In 1910, Francisco Madero overthrew the dictator Porfirio Díaz, who had held onto power as president since 1884 and twice before. Díaz had worked to free Mexico of American influence while furthering Mexico on pseudo-liberal lines with a theme of "Order followed by Progress." Decades after Díaz suspended the non-consecutive presidencies rule that he himself had implemented, Madero finally spoke up that he would run in the 1910 election. Díaz imprisoned him, but Madero escaped and published “Plan de San Luis Potosí” calling for no re-elections, which made him into a revolutionary craved by the Mexican people.

Unfortunately, the goal of the revolution was unclear. Numerous movements began from agrarianists, socialists, anarchists, and more. Madero remained focused on simple election reform; after his ragtag army of peasants and Indians defeated the Federal forces, he insisted on an election in 1911, which he handily won. His goals did not match the calls for social reform, so, by 1913, Madero had lost the public approval needed to stave off a coup by General Victoriano Huerta, Felix Díaz (nephew of Porfirio), and US Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson, creating a stable Mexico under military rule to combat the numerous armies forming under commanders such as moderate socialist Venustiano Carranza, populist Emiliano Zapata, and militaristic democrat Francisco “Pancho” Villa. When Huerta fled Mexico City, Carranza came to power and was backed by US President Woodrow Wilson.

Villa, meanwhile, formed up his army in the north and fought on. He believed wholly in the Plan de San Luis and distrusted Carranza, who sent General Álvaro Obregón to put down Villa. On April 13, 1915, Villa was badly defeated at the Battle of Celaya, losing in a headlong assault that ended with 4,000 men dead and 6,000 captured. Blaming an American arms dealer for bad ammunition, Villa raided Columbus, NM, stealing from an army depot and destroying much of the town before his cavalry was driven off by American infantry. The American public, which had taken Villa as a romantic hero despite numerous border raids already, turned against him and agreed with Wilson’s encouraging Carranza as the basis for a stable government for Mexico. Unwilling to risk war but needing to control public outrage, Wilson dispatched Brigadier General John J. Pershing with a force of some 10,000 into Mexico to catch Villa. Early in the Punitive Expedition, Pershing gained intelligence that Villa was in Carrizal, and he sent cavalry under Captain Charles Trumbull Boyd to investigate. Boyd ordered an attack even though the soldiers in Carrizal were Federal Mexican, and the battle was quickly lost.

The following execution of prisoners is believed to have been the action of soldiers who had lost their commander, General Felix Gomez. In chaos or under questionable orders, twelve of the Americans were killed. Conspiracy theories suggest that Villa was behind the slayings, using double-agents or simple bribes to bring about the deaths. Word returned to Pershing, who sent it on to Washington with a request for leniency on orders to respect Mexican sovereignty and move freely. Congress, egged on by a suddenly bloodthirsty America, approved despite Wilson’s call for peace. Although he would work effectively to mobilize America, Wilson’s attempts at diplomacy would be used against him in the 1916 election with the slogan “He kept us out of war” as many believed that a swifter, wider military action could have spared much of the destruction on and across the border. At the beginning of his two-term presidency in 1917, Charles Evans Hughes directed Pershing to move on Mexico City quickly, seize control, and work with local leaders to establish occupation zones.

The Second Mexican War would be short, but bloody, and also thrust America into war with Germany, Mexico’s ally by 1917. Longer and even bloodier would be the occupation of Mexico, which would easily prove as problematic as that of the Philippines. While the middle region of Mexico would come to order fairly swiftly, the north would continue to fight under the image of Pancho Villa (who would be killed in battle in 1919) and the south was barely less than a warzone under "The Attila of the South" Zapata. The result would be the splitting of Mexico into Mexico, an independent state of South Mexico (nicknamed Oaxaca), and territory in Baja and Chihuahua that would come under American sovereignty. Today, Mexico is a thriving nation in open trade with the United States and Canada, while Oaxaca works to recover from its Cold War communist dictatorship.


In reality, the captured American soldiers were traded diplomatically. The ABC Powers (Argentina, Brazil, and Chile) aided in diplomacy that would maintain peace between the United States and Mexico as both sides were truly reluctant for war.

Monday, June 20, 2011

June 20, 451 – Attila’s Victory at the Catalaunian Plains

One of the greatest victories in the career of the great conqueror Attila the Hun came as he swept the allied Roman-Visigoth force from the field and assured his conquest of Gaul. As very little of the Hunnic culture included portraiture, it is difficult to know what Attila looked like, but he was recorded by the Roman historian Priscus, attendee to the Hun court in 448 as an attaché to the Byzantine ambassador. Priscus described Attila as, “Short of stature, with a broad chest and a large head; his eyes were small, his beard thin and sprinkled with grey; and he had a flat nose and tanned skin, showing evidence of his origin.”

The origin of the Huns themselves remains a mystery. The prevailing hypothesis has the nomadic people as descendants from the Xiongnu, tribes who had lived north of China and migrated westward. Over the course of the fourth century, the Huns came to the Volga River (having apparently taken up the practice of head-binding) and began building an empire that would control a swath of Europe from the Rus to the Atlantic. The horsemen had been beaten back from an invasion of Armenia by the Sassanid Empire who then turned north and west. Over several decades, the Huns under the brother-kings Blenda and Attila exploited the exhaustion of Roman troops while the Sassanids approached from the east and the Vandals seized Africa to establish the Danube as a tentative border with the Byzantine Empire. Blenda died after the Huns turned back from their invasion of the Balkans (even to the gates of Constantinople), loaded down with some 1450 pounds of gold in tribute. As the sole ruler of the Huns and with vast wealth at his command, Attila ravaged the Byzantines again before conquering westward.

He allied himself with Emperor Valentinian III of the Western Empire and began a crossing of Gaul toward the Visigothic kingdom Toulouse. His alliance with Rome fell apart as Valentinian’s sister Honoria, who had an arranged betrothal to a senator, attempted to escape it by asking for political aid from Attila. As proof of her turmoil, she sent along the engagement ring, which Attila took as a proposal. He agreed to this imaginary proposal and asked for a dowry of half the Western Empire. Valentinian tried unsuccessfully to convince Attila of the illegitimacy of the proposal, and the Hun continued westward into Rome, now as an enemy. Aetius, Roman general and former friend to Attila, formed up the troops of a new Visigothic and Roman force, blocked Attila’s path, and caught the army at the Plains of Catalaunian.

While skirmishes erupted between the various Hunnic vassals and Roman allies, the main forces arrived at the field. Inspired by augurs, Attila turned his soldiers back quickly and seized the ridge at the top of the plain. The Romans had attempted to beat them, and their forces became disorganized. The Visigoths hurried to flank, but their king Theodoric was fell from his horse and was trampled. With the Visigoths slowed, the Huns pressed the attack on the Sangiban allies in the center, who broke and became confused with the Visigoths. Seeing their allies crumble under the onslaught of Hunnic horse archers, Aetius ordered the Romans to retreat.

Reining his victorious troops, Attila would push through the little Roman defense left in Gaul and conquered the Visigoths, whose tribal chiefs fought each other over the throne as much as the Huns. Seeking to defend Italy against invasion, Aetius convinced Valentinian to honor his sister’s “proposal.” In 452, Attila won his bride along with Gaul and northern Hispania and with the Visigoth lands between the two. With an affirmed alliance between the Huns and Romans, Attila went on to press the Franks into vassals and then turned eastward to collect tribute the Byzantine emperor Marcian had stopped. Early in 453, Attila suffered fatal bleeding from the nose and throat, which was taken as witchcraft (or simply assassination by poison) conducted by Marcian.

The Huns would be unified with the death of Attila in seeking vengeance on Constantinople, which would not fall for two generations. Using Gothic vassals as bulk soldiers and driving the Danes from mainland Europe, the Hunnic Empire stretched from the Atlantic to the Caspian and the Mediterranean to the North Sea for nearly three centuries. It fell to an uprising sparked by the Frankish noble Charlemagne, who would build a powerful empire in its western half while a new breed of horsemen, the Magyar, conquered the east. Meanwhile, the Muslims of Africa would cross the Mediterranean and conquer as far north as the Alps, eventually to become the uncontested major world religion after the fall of Rome.


In reality, the Romans took the left side of the ridge, and they halted the Huns from taking the strategic center. As the Hunnish augurs predicted, the Huns would face a great loss, but one of the enemies would be killed; Attila hoped it would be Aetius. Attila fell back to lick his wounds, refitting his troops for a campaign against Marcian that would never happen due to his death (which may or may not have been natural causes) while at a feast for his latest marriage to a Gothic princess. His soldiers rode in circles around his funeral tent, chanting, “Who can rate this as death, when none believes it calls for vengeance?” Attila’s sons would turn to infighting, and the Hunnish Empire would collapse a year later with a Gothic confederation.

Friday, June 17, 2011

June 17, 1579 – Drake Founds New Albion

After pillaging the once-untouchable Pacific towns and sea lanes of the Spanish, Francis Drake and his fleet led by the Golden Hind continued northward. They had captured cargoes estimated at some 37,000 ducats (~$57,000,000), but they had also cut off their escape. To return to England, the fleet would have to slip by numerous Spanish colonies and ships either rounding the Cape of Magellan or through the South Seas, and then return via friendly Portuguese ports. Instead, Drake decided to continue northward and explore where even the Spanish had not yet reached. Far into uncharted territory, he came upon a bay that reminded his crews of home.

Francis Petty, one of Drake’s gentlemen-at-arms, wrote, “Our General called this country Nova Albion, and that for two causes; the one in respect of the white banks and cliffs, which lie towards the sea, and the other, because it might have some affinity with our country in name, which sometime was so called. There is no part of earth here to be taken up, wherein there is not some probable show of gold or silver.” Petty’s prophecy of gold would come true as bad weather forced Drake and his expedition out of their bay and through the Golden Gate into what would become known as Saint George’s Bay. Facing mutinous sailors who did not wish to continue north, Drake decided to conquer their foul spirits by taking some of them with him on expeditions up various rivers to chart the area. In early July, they would find gold flakes and even pebble-sized nuggets simply sitting in the riverbed.

Upon their return to the bay, Drake began construction of a fort to guard the area and solidify the English claim. The local natives were very amiable; French lawyer and historian Jules Verne wrote, citing Drake’s logs, “They appeared to be greatly astonished, and showed us great respect, thinking we were gods, and they received us with a great deal of reverence.” The Indians gave the Englishmen gifts of feathers and tobacco and always set aside their weapons before approaching. Their women stayed at a distance and scratched themselves to the point of bleeding, which Drake eventually learned was a method of sacrifice. With aid from the Indians, Drake completed Fort Elizabeth and staffed it with some of his most trusted advisors, including Petty.

Drake returned to England amid much aplomb in 1580. While the war with Spain had lulled into peace, his feat of circumnavigating the world gained him a knighthood. He became Mayor of Plymouth as well as a Member of Parliament and used his positions to begin the Albion Company, to which Elizabeth would grant a charter for a colony on the western coast of America. A well funded expedition left in 1584, shortly before the national attention would be shifted toward the Spanish Armada. The war would destroy Sir Walter Raleigh’s attempts at creating an English colony in North America on the eastern coast, which would later be settled by Puritans and planters as well as French, Dutch, Swedes, and Scottish.

England’s real hold on the Americas would turn to west. The West Indies and eastern seaboard remained important economic points for triangular trade in the Atlantic, but thousands of settlers would cross the Pacific for Albion, where gold seemed impossibly plentiful. England (and then Britain in 1707) explored the vast ocean, setting up important trading posts through Oceania and soon colonizing Hawai’i. Albion’s population soared as gold-mining served as a base to numerous industries such as logging, fur trading, and agriculture.

In 1776, the culturally diverse Eastern American Colonies rebelled, and a small movement arose in Albion for independence as well, but fears of Spanish incursion determined that the Albionians would remain British. The remoteness of Albion, however, gave the region its own sense, distinguishing their society from Britons, Americans, or Canadians. Albion eventually clarified its frontier into borders stretching from Spanish Baja in the south to Canadian Yukon and Russian Alaska in the north. When the Mexican-American War handed the bulk of Mexico’s northern territory to the land-hungry Americans, war to maintain independence from Manifest Destiny became inevitable. The Utah War involving Mormon settlers and the American Federal Government spilled over into Albion, and Albionian troops marched in support of Governor Brigham Young. Fears of going to war with Britain eventually brought the war to a diplomatic end with an independent Deseret dividing much of the border between Albion and the United States.

By maintaining neutrality in the American Civil War, Albion would return to good relations with the United States, who began to expand southward into the Caribbean in war with Spain. Albion, meanwhile, gained dominion status and began its own expansion across the Pacific, soon running afoul of the Japanese Empire, who would serve as their major nemesis in World War II.


In reality, Francis Drake explored the Pacific Coast of North America, possibly as far north as Canada, but did not settle. Gold was not discovered there until 1848, when James Marshall spotted it near Sutter’s Mill. The resulting gold rush would make California into one of the most important centers of the United States of America.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 14, 1926 – Brazil Remains in the League of Nations

During his famous “Fourteen Points” speech in 1918, ten months before the Great War would reach its armistice, United States President Woodrow Wilson concluded with his fourteenth point about the terms needed for a peaceful and stable Europe: “A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.” While the combined session of Congress applauded, genuine reception was cold. Many Americans felt that they had been needlessly involved in Europe’s war despite the submarine warfare and that “return to normalcy” was preferred to making the United States an international figure. During the next year, Wilson began to realize the difficulties of his envisioned League of Nations and decided to refine its character before its institution during the Paris Peace Conference in January of 1919.

The idea of a League of Nations was not new. It could be traced back to ancient ideals in Greek city-state confederations, Enlightenment writings of nations that openly welcome and talk with foreigners, and more overtly in the Concert of Europe opposing Napoleon. Formally, the international community began to come together with the Inter-Parliamentary Union in 1889 with a voluntary parliament collecting delegates from dozens of countries by the Great War. With millions dead across Europe, activism for peace amid the horrors of modern weapon technology grew powerful, and Wilson took advice from South African Prime Minister Jan Christiaan Smuts’ The League of Nations: A Practical Suggestion to institute a central point for world diplomacy.

However, as the reluctance for admission to a voluntary League became obvious, Wilson determined that volunteerism, while idealistic, would not be enough. For a League of Nations to ensure that this was “the war to end all wars,” nations needed to be encouraged, though not quite forced, into the league as a stern father would encourage a son into education. Warfare as diplomacy would be outlawed and treaties allowable only overtly to fellow member nations in the league. Rather than disarmament, the armies of the nations would be at the disposal of the league to punish violations. Nations might never come to such an agreement on their own volition, but the aftermath of the Great War was the precise timing for strong institution.

Thusly emboldened, the League of Nations met in Council on January 16, 1920, with its first General Assembly meeting five days later with the closing of the Paris Peace Conference. The United States notably did not join the league with its Senate refusing to ratify the Treaty of Versailles and President Wilson and his Democrats losing power. The nations of the world pointed out the stipulation that no new treaties could be made with America, and so the United States technically continued at war well into the Harding administration until combined economic and political pressures made the US join in 1923, shortly after Harding’s death. Coolidge called the action Harding’s “dying wish” and commented on the League’s advances in labor, health, and technology, furthering rights to refugees, non-white races, and women, and working internationally to abolish trade in slaves and drugs. After several unsuccessful bids blocked primarily by the French, Esperanto was taken as one of the four official languages of the League (added to Spanish, which had joined the original French and English). The “artificial language” would soon become one of the world’s major trade languages and commonly spoken by millions.

The test of the League of Nations came as famously libertarian Costa Rica decided to shed the restrictions and codes, announcing on December 24, 1924, that it would withdraw. The question of secession raised, but the Latin American state would be allowed to leave, though it would be severed from new treaties the nations within the league. Theorists noted that Costa Rica would thusly be open to imperialization by any country wishing to do so, and the United States was quick to speak up with its old Monroe Doctrine protecting the Western Hemisphere from interference. Costa Rica left the League, and in June of 1925, Brazil announced that it would do the same. Having been a founding member, the stakes were higher, and political pressure settled on the South American nation. When Italy spoke up about its opportunities for expansion and numerous trade partners giving up renewing treaties, Brazil determined to stay, deciding that the Soviet Union and remnants of Germany would not be suitable trade partners.

Germany soon joined the League, and its Fuhrer Hitler eagerly began building influence. However, the majority of the League moved to block him and other Fascists. Using the same militaristic speed that had solved the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay, Italy was punished for its invasion of Ethiopia using illegal tactics (such as chemical warfare and water poisoning) by a naval blockade that would ultimately bring down Mussolini’s government. The Spanish Civil War became a divisive matter that finally led Hitler, who had chafed in the League since 1933, to leave and propose his own “Axis” of nations. While Germany, Japan, and a few others left, the Soviet Union joined as an antagonist, Stalin having held out for years. The call for aid from China in the Second Sino-Japanese War would prompt a war almost as massive as the Great War as the League descended upon Japan and its German allies with the Soviet Union taking the brunt of the fighting.

Victory in the Axis War proved the League to be solid. It governed much of the decolonization period with plebiscites it had perfected in the Balkans and Middle East. Still, outside of the walls of the Palace of Nations in Geneva, countries work covertly and economically to one-up or hinder one another in what has been termed “Cold Warfare.” Costa Rica, after its government being overthrown repeatedly by different factions, rejoined in desperate need of aid in 1960.


In reality, the League of Nations ultimately proved impotent. The United States rode the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression without ever seeking membership. While the League made great strides promoting international health, the unnoticed sanctions on Italy for its Abyssinian invasion showed that it had very little real power. As World War II erupted, the League would disintegrate, ultimately to be replaced with the United Nations in 1945.

Monday, June 13, 2011

June 13, 1981 – Queen Elizabeth II Killed in Accident

In what some describe as a “misguided teenage prank gone terribly wrong” and others “the greatest tragedy of our time”, Queen Elizabeth II of England died in a fall from her horse due to a starting pistol being fired by Marcus Sarjeant.

Elizabeth had been queen since the death of her father, George VI, in 1952. Her reign would see a time of major changes as Britain adapted to the new world order after World War II. The Empire had shifted into the Commonwealth of Nations over the course of the past decades, and Elizabeth acted as head of only a portion of the lands once under Britain and queen of seven countries (six in 1972 when Ceylon became republican Sri Lanka). In the Fifties, Britain worked to rebuild after the war, leading to the Swinging Sixties when England underwent a Renaissance exporting fashion and music and Britain overall returned to economic prowess.

The Seventies brought difficulty back to Britain. While foreign policies had been successful in peaceably breaking down the Empire into independent nations in the Commonwealth after the Churchill prime ministership, Britain had distanced itself from its allies in America by the Suez Canal crisis and opting out of the Vietnam War. Britain was becoming more isolationist, and its own problems were more than enough. Stagflation, energy crises, and union strikes began to cripple the British economy. Meanwhile, the Troubles continued to terrorize citizens as the IRA used bombing attacks not only in Northern Ireland, but on the mainland of England as well. The Labour government faltered under these pressures, bringing in a Conservative government with Margaret Thatcher as the first female prime minister.

During this time, Marcus Sarjeant grew up normally in Kent and attended Astor Secondary School in Dover, an accomplished Scout member and local patrol leader before joining the Air Training Corps at twelve. Marcus was an exceptional marksman, and he began training in the Royal Marines as well as the Army but seemed unable to fit into the discipline required of the armed services. Not even the police or fire department took him, and instead Marcus worked at a zoo, arts centre, and with children at a youth centre before ultimately being unemployed. In late 1980, he joined the Anti Royalist Movement and attempted to gain a gun license, but was unable to do more than take up a gun club and hold onto his father’s Webley revolver (which had no ammunition).

Looking for more in life, Marcus became inspired by the assassination of John Lennon (December 8, 1980) and the assassination attempts on Ronald Reagan (March 30, 1981) and Pope John Paul II (May 13, 1981). The fame seemed to explode around the attackers, and Marcus wanted it, noting to a friend, “I would like to be the first to take a pot shot at the Queen.” He wrote about becoming the most famous teenager in the world, but he did not seem to want to hurt Queen Elizabeth, only gain the fame, so he armed himself with a starting pistol and blanks. Marcus even sent a letter to Buckingham Palace (which arrived three days too late), warning, “Your Majesty. Don't go to the Trooping the Colour ceremony because there is an assassin set up to kill you, waiting just outside the palace.” He also sent letters and photos to magazines, which he hoped would expedite the growth of his fame once it began.

During the Trooping of Colour, Marcus became another face in the crowds until the Queen passed, when he fired six shots in her direction. The Queen’s horse, Burmese, became startled and reared, throwing the Queen, who would die in the fall. Marcus was seized out of the shocked crowd and apprehended by police while the Sovereign’s Escort closed up around the fallen Queen. Sarjeant would be found innocent of regicide as the actual death had been accidental, but he would be found guilty of “firing with intent to alarm the queen" under the Treason Act of 1842. Many called for his execution, but the seventeen-year-old would be given a life sentence, outraging many Royalists and beginning the feeling of harsh conservatism that would come to dominate the United Kingdom under the time of Thatcher. Marcus Sarjeant gained his fame only as hatred, and he would disappear into the prison system.

Any anti-British sentiment quickly invoked the same spirit of vengeance that haunted many in the mourning of the Queen. When IRA members in prison attempted a hunger strike to regain status as political prisoners, they were force-fed, and the IRA became the target of an immense military crackdown. In 1982, Britain came upon an international war when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, and the UK counter-invaded to remove dictator Leopoldo Galtieri. Many commentators believed that Galtieri’s government would have fallen apart on its own, but the government of Britain refused to take any assault.

As the occupation of Argentina dragged on and surviving Galtieri and, especially, anti-British cells carried out attacks, unemployment and taxes continued to climb in the recession of the 1980s. When the 1984 Miner’s Strike began, the military force turned on Britons themselves, arresting strikers en masse and encouraging scabs. Bombings not just by the desperate IRA increased amid the oppressive government, such as the nearly successful attempt on Thatcher’s life at the Grand Hotel in Brighton on October 12, 1984. Blaming the attacks on increasing leftist adversaries, the Conservative Government outlawed several smaller parties and instituted social control schemes not seen since the desperate days of the War. More controversial were the secret actions, such as the disappearance of Michael Heseltine in 1990.

The darker days lightened as the Nineties saw economic recovery and the social control lessened, though the Conservative Government continues in power with opponents disappearing seemingly before they can rise. Meanwhile, the Royal Family disintegrated amid scandal with separations and divorces as well as the death of Queen Diana while in Paris in 1997. Bright hope shines around William, Prince of Wales, who is never seen without his Conservative bodyguard.


In reality, Queen Elizabeth’s horse did not buck, and her able horsemanship brought Burmese under control. Marcus Sarjeant was sentenced to five years imprisonment but was released in 1984, when he changed his identity to live a new life.

Friday, June 10, 2011

June 10, 1840 – Queen Victoria Assassinated

In what is commonly called the greatest tragedy of the nineteenth century, Queen Victoria of England was assassinated by eighteen-year-old Edward Oxford. She was only twenty-one years old, newly married, and was four months pregnant (a revelation that came out scandalously during Oxford’s trial). News of the death of the beloved queen set England into a time of mourning as it had never seen, and it created a new environment of politics as the crown shifted to her uncle, Ernest Augustus I of Hanover.

Victoria was born May 24, 1819, and was fifth in line for the throne. However, a series of bad luck producing heirs gradually brought her closer in the line of succession until she was told at age eleven that she would succeed her uncle, William IV, whose daughters had died in infancy. The morose young girl replied, “If I am to be queen, then I shall be good.” Upon the death of William IV, eighteen-year-old Victoria became queen. Her mother, with whom both William and Victoria had strained relations, was to act as regent in the case that Victoria was still a minor, but William declared on his seventy-first birthday, “"I trust to God that my life may be spared for nine months longer…” rather than place the affairs of the crown someone he saw as “incompetent” and “surrounded by evil advisers.”

The king made good on the hope, dying on June 20, 1837, a month after Victoria had come of age. She became very popular with her subjects and especially with the Whigs in Parliament under Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, who guided the impressionable Victoria in her early days. In 1839, political upheaval tossed aside the Whigs as the Radicals and Tories led to Melbourne’s downfall. That October, Victoria gained a new influence as she proposed to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, whom her uncle, the King of Belgium, hoped she would marry. The two had fallen deeply in love, and their short time together is often portrayed as the subject of numerous tragedies both on stage and film; notably, 2009’s The Young Victoria won seven Oscars.

On a visit to her mother (famously not in St. James Palace) while riding in her carriage with Prince Albert, Edward Oxford fired two shots from a pistol, killing Victoria with one and wounding Albert with another. Oxford was quickly seized by the crowd that had gathered to see the Queen and nearly killed before Her Majesty’s guard managed to drag him away. He would be convicted and executed for high treason in July of 1840 with many calling to renew the punishment of being drawn and quartered, which hadn’t been done in England since 1681. Although the government would have no part in such punishment, Oxford’s heart would be stolen in an unsolved crime.

The widower Albert went back to Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and returning from Germany was Victoria’s sixty-nine-year-old uncle Ernest Augustus, who would be crowned King Ernest I of Great Britain. Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, had participated in the Napoleonic Wars, but numerous scandals had made him into something of an unwanted dog in British politics. In 1810, his valet Joseph Sellis had apparently attempted to murder him for cuckoldry, and, in 1813, he had dabbled in elections in the House of Commons, which was very frowned upon for a peer. After the war, he earned the wrath of Wellington by pushing against the Catholic Relief Act in 1829 and general disgust by being one of the few to vote against the Reform Act of 1832. He had even been considered part of a supposed conspiracy by the anti-Catholic group the Orange Lodges to put Ernest on the throne instead of Victoria, whom they took as a young girl unfit for the crown.

Instead, upon the death of William IV, Ernest took the title of King of Hanover as Salic Law would not allow female Victoria to inherit. William IV had never even visited Hanover, but Ernest took interest in the small German kingdom. He seemed chased from England by Wellington, who said, "Go before you are pelted out," and Victoria, who had asked him to give up his apartments in St. James Palace, which he refused as he planned to visit England regularly. He disliked Albert (a feeling held very mutual) and denied him precedence, citing the decades-old establishment of order at the Congress of Vienna. Away from Britain, he had faced a crisis as the locals of Hanover preferred the viceroy, Ernest’s brother, the Duke of Cambridge. Ernest sought to reform the kingdom in his own image, dissolving the parliament, voiding the constitution, and demanding new oaths of allegiance, which seven professors of Göttingen University, including the Brothers Grimm, refused. Professors were exiled and protests put down until the political system came to gradual stability in 1840 with new parliamentary deputies, just in time for Ernest to be summoned to Britain as king.

Ernest’s decade-long reign would serve as the last of the British monarchs. He was staunchly conservative and royalist, even disapproving of many of Prime Minister Robert Peel’s modest reforms. When the Potato Blight struck Ireland, he was dubbed “The Famine King” and was blamed for the lack of aid, even opposing the repeal of the Corn Laws. Peel’s government hung onto power despite its unpopularity by royal “hot air”, to quote cartoons in The Times, and when revolutions broke out in 1848 in other countries, it struck Britain by focusing on the Crown. Although Ernest had instituted a number of benefits upon the people such as funding for the opera and hospitals, he was seen as an aged relic from another time and many presumed he was part of Victoria’s assassination since her mother lived in a rented house rather than the palace. Ernest’s son George, next in line for the throne, was blind after illnesses in 1828 and ’33 and viewed to be even more militantly royalist than his father. When Ernest set about putting down workers’ uprisings with cavalry and exiling professors, Parliament moved to privatize the Royal Family in 1849. Ernest departed to Hanover, where he sought to build an army and retake Britain by force, but he died in 1851 before his invasion could be put into motion.

Hanover, too, would soon be lost when Prussia deposed George V after winning the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 during the campaign of uniting Germany under the Prussian Kaiser. The powerful royalist government would soon become the mortal enemy of the British Republic, fighting a number of wars between 1871 and 1945.


In reality, Edward Oxford missed his shots. He was acquitted on grounds of insanity and taken to Bethlem Royal Hospital before ultimately being exiled to Australia. Queen Victoria went on to rule until 1901, during which time Britain undertook major reforms and expanded into the British Empire, governing one-quarter of the Earth’s people. She had nine children, all married into the royal houses of Europe and infamously carrying hemophilia.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

June 4, 1989 – Soldiers Join Tiananmen Square Protest

The site at Tiananmen Square has been crucial to political change in China since its establishment as the foundation for the Tiananmen Gate by the Ming Dynasty. The gate was rebuilt with an added square after damage during the violent shift from Ming to Qing, and it served as the landmark near where European troops camped in the invasion of 1860 that forced the opening of China. When the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 besieged many of the compounds in Beijing, the square was again used to organize European troops who had fought putting down the uprising.

Just as it had been representative of changes in China for hundreds of years, the shift to Communism also showed its impact. Leader Mao Zedong demolished the gate in 1950 and pushed the expansion of the square in 1958, which in ten months of construction become the largest place of public gathering in the world, capable of holding up to 500,000 people. Around the square, the Ten Great Buildings were built, creating a center for museums, hotels, the hall for the National People’s Congress, a rail station, and the Workers’ Stadium. In 1976, shortly after the Mao’s death, his body was embalmed to be placed in a mausoleum, which was built over where the Gate had stood decades before.

Once again, the square would be crucial to the alteration of China as young people gathered there in 1989 and protested government control. Through the past twenty years of communism, liberalizing agents had suggested methods of loosening government and encouraging democracy and free enterprise. While there had been some successful policies, many had been suppressed forcefully. The greatest had been in 1987, when Hu Yaobang, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China for five years and member of the NPC since 1954, was ousted for encouraging too much liberalization. He died two years later, and a group gathered in Tiananmen Square in his memory. The commemoration became a demand for recognition for his ideals in freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and some 50,000 students marched to the square to attend the funeral while delivering a petition to the premier, Li Peng.

Li was not moved by the display, and the protestors decided to stay until the call for reform was understood. Their numbers swelled over 100,000, and the government worked toward dispelling the protestors with editorials and leaflets. Riots broke out in various places, but the protest at the square remained peaceful. Rather than fight back overtly, the protestors began hunger strikes and directed their voice against policies and never the Party. On May 20, with the crowd still unmoved, Li declared martial law. Rather than quelling the protest, the declaration seemed to solidify it, and much of the city joined in with the protest. It seemed as if the students were emulating the successes of revolutions past such as the Young Turks and China’s own May Fourth Movement of 1919.

Finally, as the philosophy of the protestors went further from free media toward democracy, the CPC leaders agreed to clear the square. Soldiers from the 27th and 38th Armies were brought to Beijing. Word spread about the movement of troops, and Beijing became a city on edge. On June 3, the commander of the 27th (a relative of the Chinese President Yang Shangkun) fell ill, and the 38th was brought up into the lead. In the early hours of June 4, the troops moved into Beijing, which was bristling with barricades and rioters. When they reached the outskirts, however, an unknown figure nicknamed “Tank Man” for hopping on top of one of the tanks while in motion waved a banner and proclaimed, “The military has come to join us!”

The unfounded rumor spread quickly through the city, and local elements of the People’s Liberation Army who supported the protest hurried to join in. Overwhelmed by support, the 38th was escorted to the square as if on parade. There, the troops disbanded and did in fact join the protest. The 27th followed behind shortly thereafter, and soldiers began to refuse orders for live fire to clear the streets.

With the army divided and protests increasing throughout China, the CPC broke into factionalism. Hard communists demanded display of force while others wanted to see the liberalization through. Inevitably, the chaos broke into violence, but the Tiananmen Revolution would see victory with its numbers, passion for the cause, and military allies. It would be many more months before the renewed Chinese government assembled for a nation of mixed socialism and widespread free enterprise. China would grow to become the fourth largest world economy over the next decades, and attempts to track billions of dollars worth of money that disappeared during the uprising would ultimately be given up as the price of change.


In reality, the 27th Army entered Beijing first, and tear gas and live fire was used to clear rioters, who fought with Molotov cocktails and improvised weapons. The protestors in the square left voluntarily but were still pursued by violent soldiers. Though the protest would be put down, the demand for freedom continued, as seen by the famous stand of the Tank Man halting at column of tanks from leaving the square on June 5.

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