Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Earlier I had a post on the historical event of Oliver Cromwell being offered the English Crown. David Atwell has another take on the POD from Today in Alternate History.
Posted by This Day in Alternate History at 8:50 AM
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
From Today in Alternate History with addenda by Jeff Provine
Upon the resignation of the Duke of Grafton, His Britannic Majesty King George III invited Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford to form a Government. Having emerged triumphant from the Seven Years War with the traditional enemy France soundly beaten, the British Empire looked set for global supremacy. Appearances proved deceptive as a decade of crisis began under Lord North's watch.
His Tory Ministry was soon challenged by the Spanish seizure of the Falkland Islands on June 10. Many felt that a diplomatic solution would have been possible, but North determined to wield his might, and war with Spain soon began. While an overseas colonial war went toward British favor, upkeep of the Navy proved very costly to an empire who had become nearly bankrupt over the Seven Years War only a short time before.
As the cost was colonial, North determined to raise more funds from the wealthy American colonies as the military might was protecting them as well. Still enraged by the Boston Massacre that in March of 1770, the Americans soon determined to declare independence. The colony of Georgia, close to Spanish Florida, was apprehensive about losing British defense, but the other colonies "strong-armed" it into the Continental Congress.
North's unpopularity caused disastrous showing of the Tory Party in the 1773 election, and he was forced into an unlikely alliance with the Whigs. Their minority government, detested by the King, was vulnerable to a vote of no confidence. Now overly cautious and fighting two wars, North's Redcoats were unable to exercise maximum force in America, and, to the embarrassment of the British military, the patriots held on to New York City.
Within a year, Great Britain was forced to acquiesce to American independence. The patriots soon developed huge unity problems of their own as the unlikely coalition of forces had come together so briefly. For a short while the former colonies operated under a weakened Articles of Confederation but this broke apart within a handful of years as Georgia continually called for aid against supposed Spanish attack. South Carolina was the first to abandon the United States over perceived threats of its institution of slavery, and the once-Union soon broke into several pieces. Resulting wars over westward territory (Virginia and New York had charters with overlapping land grants) in the 1780s crippled the young countries, and military assistance from European nations proved a thin guise for a new wave of colonialism.
Posted by This Day in Alternate History at 9:44 AM
Monday, January 20, 2014
This summer marks the one hundred years since the beginning of World War I, a military action proclaimed to be the “War to End All Wars.” While it did not accomplish that, the war did change the world as anyone knew it: devastating a generation in Europe, promoting technology while questioning colonial ideals, and bringing the United States fully into the international arena. In Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!: A World Without World War I, author Richard Ned Lebow takes a step into the genre of alternate history and examines what the world might be like without a World War I.
Lebow comes from a solid background in political and historical analysis with an impressive resume. Having written dozens of books and over two hundred peer-reviewed articles, he is routinely called upon for interviews by news media in the US, Britain, France, Germany, and beyond. He serves as professor of International Political Theory in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London as well as James O. Freedman Presidential Professor Emeritus of Government at Dartmoth. In addition to his professional background, Lebow includes his own experiences as a person of Jewish heritage and an immigrant to the US and how different his life may have been without a World War I.
Lebow actually paints images of two worlds as he reviews counterfactuals following the Point of Departure from history at the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne. While some argue that World War I would have soon happened anyway with a different spark, Lebow shows that it may not be as simple as that. In Germany, the majority of the politicians and royals did not want war, German Chief of Staff Moltke alone pressed for action. It was not until the Kaiser felt honor-bound by the cowardly assassination that he committed himself and his country to fight.
In the first world, the “Best Plausible World,” Lebow looks at a world where one of a half-dozen things could have happened differently in an assassination that was practically a fluke. Europe remains calm, and the Archduke stabilizes the empire by extending voting franchises to minorities (much to the chagrin of the Hungarians). Russia comes into political relations with the crowns rather than Republican France, and a new balance of power takes shape in Europe. In that world, we see the center of business, arts, and science remaining in Europe. Lebow goes as far as to suppose what might happen to famous figures such as Adolph Hitler (a mail-order salesman), Richard Nixon (a televangelist), John F. Kennedy (the scandalous younger brother to the president, Joseph Kennedy, Jr.), Jazz musicians who seek out better lives in Europe, and Albert Einstein, who stays in Germany amid a circle of geniuses. Yet there are also downsides to this world. Technological development such as radar, penicillin, nuclear physics, and computers are stunted without the enormous support of total war, and race relations languish through extended Jim Crow.
Lebow also explores the “Worst Plausible World” where Germany falls to military authoritarianism nonetheless as democracy crumbles. Atomic weapons become part of an ever-escalating arms race. Propaganda and information-control are understood day-to-day affairs. The United States and Japan routine butt heads in the Pacific. When the war finally does come, without the lessons of our own World Wars I and II, the all-out nuclear blasts obliterate Europe.
The thought-experiments in Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! serve purposes on multiple levels. At its core, Alternate History has always been an intriguing chance to ponder “what it?” Through Lebow’s work, we may see further through analysis that we can apply to our own world and judge our own trends in culture, and science, and political leadership.
Posted by This Day in Alternate History at 11:47 AM
Thursday, January 9, 2014
From Today in Alternate History with addenda.
7th January, 1789 - The Single Term Presidency takes Shape
On this day America's first presidential election was held under the newly formed United States Constitution (it was actually the ninth "presidential" election of the newly declared independent people of the Americas). Voters cast ballots to choose state electors; only white men who owned property were allowed to vote. As expected, George Washington won the election and was sworn into office on April 30, 1789.
The old Articles of Confederation had proven inadequate for the peacetime American states, which needed to be bound together by a stronger federal force. The old legislative body, built on ideals of independence wary of too much central power, had eight presidents primarily as signatories and no power to tax. One of the presidents, John Hancock, never even entered New York City (the nation's capital at the time) during his term of office. each president served a one-year term.
The Philadelphia Convention ushered in changes with Washington as Presiding Officer, much loved for his success in the Revolutionary War. "The Man who unites all hearts" had been called the "Father of his Country" long before the United States even existed.There were some who wished Washington to be crowned King; when Benjamin Franklin bequeathed his crab-tree walking stick he noted, "If it were a sceptre, he has merited it and would become it." Washington, however, had been doing his own thinking at Philadelphia and, not for the first time, came up with a unique solution that reflected his "lead from the front" style of unified strong-willed command. By agreeing to take an elected executive office, he knowingly created a precedent that would define the distant future of the Republic, and he wanted to ensure a balance of power by promoting a one-term limit of office into Article II of the Constitution.
Washington's term was largely transitory with only quiet problems until the end as the Whiskey Rebellion began fighting against tax on brews often used for extra cash for farmers. Washington wrote that he considered staying on as Vice-President, but feared that doing so would weaken the position of the next president, John Adams. Instead, Adams took advice from the increasing political strength of Alexander Hamilton, who encouraged a strong military response. The Rebellion was crushed, but the Federalist Party was soon seen as villains, prompting the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1796. Jefferson would turn away from Washington's warnings of giving wide berth to issues in Europe, granting loans to Republican France in what became known as the Francophile Affair, undoing many of the ideals from the Jay Treaty with Great Britain in 1792. The Democratic-Republicans maintained power with the election of Aaron Burr in 1800 at the expense of the Jeffersonian faction. The more moderate George Clinton was next in 1804. Jeffersonians came back in 1808 with James Madison, riding the wishes of warhawks and expansionists with eyes on Canada.
If Washington had prevented the rise of an Imperial Presidency, he had of course been mindful of the role of Commander-in-Chief. This matter became a pressing issue during the War of 1812 when there was some disagreement about whether President Madison should be permitted to seek a second term to maintain order in the military for a war that had turned against the US. In the event, he did not and the precedent remained firmly in place. The unifying DeWitt Clinton answered the challenge in 1816, bringing into the fold remains of the Federalist Party.
Wars in the nineteenth century remained thankfully short, but America's participation in the First World War nearly caused a collapse. During the 1940s, the country was effectively ruled by George Marshall as a Ludendorff-style Quartermaster General. His transition to General Eisenhower was seamless, but real problems began to emerge after the Fall of Havana in 1959. As the Cold War dragged on, the military-industrial complex came to run the country in all but name, with General Curtis Le May ruling as figurehead to a shadowy dictatorship for the United States with seemingly infinite money and influence to fix elections.
Washington was of course not to blame, he had after all, repeatedly spoken out against entanglement in overseas conflicts. Nor could he be reasonably expected to anticipate doomsday weapons being sighted just ninety miles off the coast of Florida. Conspiracy theorists and political analysts suggest the weapons were allowed to stay as an eternal threat from a foreign power the US really had no need to fear, but these are whispers rarely published in the US without the author disappearing.
Posted by This Day in Alternate History at 7:37 AM
Friday, January 3, 2014
The RMS Titanic was built to be the largest passenger ship in the world, an Olympic-class vessel 1,000 tons bigger than her sister ship, which was half-again as big as the previous largest ship. The White Star Line had been outpaced in 1907 by Cunard, whose Lusitania and Mauretania had become the fastest transoceanic passenger ships. With German lines already beginning to challenge their market share, Chairman Bruce J. Ismay met with financier JP Morgan, and a trio of new ships would make White Star the largest and most luxurious way to travel in the world. The Olympic launched in 1911, but it was the Titanic whose maiden voyage would be the most anticipated with guests such as the Astors, the Strauses of Macy’s, Margaret Brown, and even her own architect Thomas Andrews. JP Morgan himself was supposed to board, but he canceled shortly before, possibly in relation to the coal strike that postponed many transatlantic crossings.
The strike ended just days before the Titanic left Southampton. Captain Edward John Smith, White Star’s most senior captain, commanded. As stops were made in Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown, Ireland, passengers as well as additional crew were taken on before making the long journey across the Atlantic. Guests enjoyed conveniences modeled on the Ritz Hotel with artistic flare in every fashionable style. The ship offered a library, a telephone system, a pool, gymnasium, and several kinds of baths with nearly as many First Class passengers as Third.
Due to a warm winter breaking up the ice shelves of Greenland, ships had already begun spreading word of ice in the north Atlantic. Despite the warnings, Captain Smith ran the Titanic at near her top speed, not necessarily attempting to break the records set by Cunard for crossing but to assure his passengers arrived in a fit and timely manner. He followed the advisories and relied on his lookouts to keep an eye out for any potential hazards.
The men in the crow’s nest were without binoculars due to an equipment error, but those would have been useless on the night the iceberg appeared. It was a moonless, extremely calm night, causing the glassy water to reflect starlight and create mirages in the cold air that obscured the horizon. Just before midnight on April 14, lookout Frederick Fleet rested his weary eyes before taking another look into the sea and spotting an iceberg floating immediately before the ship. He called to the bridge, “Iceberg right ahead!”
First Officer William Murdoch ordered the engines reversed full astern and the ship to turn, but it was too late to maneuver around the floating block of ice. The Titanic slammed head-on into the berg, causing all of the passengers and cargo to lurch forward. Damage to the bow was substantial enough that the first watertight compartment ruptured, causing icy seawater to flow inside. Fortunately, Titanic had been designed to have as many as four of its special compartments flood without hazard. Multitudinous injuries were reported throughout the ship, but, almost miraculously, no one was killed.
Captain Smith was roused from his quarters and directed the ship’s doctors in caring for the most injured. Emergency flares lit up the sky while wireless calls beckoned for help from nearby ships. Lifeboats were prepared to launch in the case of an evacuation, and it was noted that there was only enough room for half of the people aboard the ship. As the Titanic refused to sink, however, worries were abated. About 4 o’clock that morning, the RMS Carpathian arrived to give aid, and the Mount Temple and SS Californian arrived after dawn, when it was deemed safe to traverse the ice fields. Titanic was eventually deemed seaworthy and continued its journey to New York at much slower speeds. Thomas Andrews was given a special toast from the captain’s table and later commendations from a number of boards and charities.
Inquiry into the accident prompted a great deal of approval for Andrews’ designs. Naysayers who again warned of too few lifeboats were mocked in several editorials saying, “What’s the point of a lifeboat if the ship never sinks?” Others brought up the issue of the Californian switching off its wireless receiver, but investigators finally sided with Captain Stanley Lord’s decision not to risk another ship at night in the ice.
Weather would continue to be blamed for many of the worst maritime tragedies as that fall hundreds of ships would sink in a vicious typhoon in the Pacific, including the Kiche Maru from Japan, which lost over one thousand lives. Most agencies put their efforts into attempting to communicate weather-patterns. Communication failed in the case of the RMS Empress of Ireland, which collided with a cargo vessel on the Saint Lawrence River that led to another loss of over one thousand lives as the ship sank so fast. In most cases, lifeboats were the least of anyone’s concerns.
The peacetime losses were soon eclipsed by the World War. In 1914, Britain established a blockade of Germany, and Germany attempted the same, creating warzones in the North Sea and Atlantic. Thousands perished aboard ships like the Principe Umberto, the Gallia, and the Queen Mary as modern warfare such as the U-boat and mines struck. Ships found themselves woefully unprepared to face sinking, and even emergency refits and additional lifeboats jammed onto the sides of ships were deemed untrustworthy. When U-Boat U-20 sank the RMS Lusitania, once the pride of the Cunard fleet that had been requisitioned into the Navy, thousands perished with only a handful of survivors. International outrage overlooked the Lusitania’s munitions supply, and the German press called the sinking dishonorable even in a war where British ships painted over their names and flew false flags. At last the German command ordered an end to unrestricted submarine warfare, instead following stricter Prize Law rules.
Even with calmer seas, the War dragged on. The infamous Zimmermann Telegram soured American opinions of Germany, but the public did not see fit to join a war unless it directly affected their own rights. After another bitter winter in 1919, Germany finally capitulated and signed a crippling Treaty of Versailles, while Americans watched from the sidelines, maintaining its neutrality in the Eastern Hemisphere, as it would for decades to come.
In reality, the Titanic attempted to maneuver around the iceberg, which struck along the starboard side in a gash that filled five of the safety compartments. It became the most famous maritime disaster, having more than 1,500 lives lost in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, many of them due to the lack of preparation in training and lifeboats.
Thursday, January 2, 2014
From Today in Alternate History
Lord Palmerston declared war on the United States six weeks after the tragic loss of the RMS Trent. The French Government followed suit only hours later.
The casus belli was the sinking of the British mail packet en route from Cuba to France. On-board were two Confederate diplomats, James Mason and John Slidell, envoys bound for Great Britain and France to press the Confederacy's case for diplomatic recognition and financial support for the Confederacy in the name of King Cotton.
The Federal Government considered Mason and Slidell to be contraband dispatching the screw frigate USS San Jacinto to frustrate the mission. While the San Jacinto raided the Trent, mysterious circumstances caused the RMS Trent to sink on November 8th with all hands lost.
Union Captain Charles Wilkes strenuously denied that the tragedy was the result of combat engagement, an incredulous explanation that fell on deaf ears in Richmond, London, and Paris. The United States government attempted to agree damages, but public opinion was too strong to ignore.
Over a century later as submersible technology was able to find the wreckage of the Trent, it was discovered that the disaster had been caused by a boiler room fire which sunk her within a matter of hours.
Addendum by Jeff Provine: The two European powers were already in North America dealing with the issues of the new Mexican government refusing to pay debts of the old. An Intervention had been agreed upon that October 31 with the Treaty of London, of which Spain also a party. Spain had already seized Veracruz by the time of the declaration of war on the United States, with troops from Britain and France following in the spring. The supply lines were already in place to support the South, who began the war with victories against the US.
The Treaty of London quickly fell apart as Spain and Britain refused to be part of France's anticipated conquest of Mexico. Nevertheless, the strength of the British fleet made it impossible for the United States to maintain its blockade strategy as outlined by General Winfield Scott's "Anaconda Plan" and supplies from France enabled the Confederacy to strike northward with naval assistance up the Potomac. With the fall of Washington, DC, in 1863, the United States itself had given up on the war as too costly and removed Lincoln from the presidency from its new capital, New York City, while other members of Congress holed up in Philadelphia wished to fight on.
The Confederacy consolidated its position and soon joined France in its expedition to Mexico as the French requested aid in 1865 when the war turned to the favor of the Mexican Republicans. Under the combined military of France and the Confederacy, Mexico became subjugated, beginning decades of Confederate imperialistic interest in Latin America. The smaller United States rebuilt itself on industrial might and pushed its attention westward to settlement. Peace between the two American nations would always be tenuous.
Posted by This Day in Alternate History at 8:09 AM