Thursday, September 24, 2020

Guest Post: American engineer Tom Dolan Dies in Car Crash

This post originally appeared at Today in Alternate History with input from Allen W. McDonnell. 

 In 1958, a young American engineer named Thomas Dolan was tragically killed in an automobile accident travelling to work at Vought Astronautics Division near Dallas. His vehicle turned over on the highway and caught fire. Dolan's charred body was barely recognizable and his priceless research papers reduced to ashes.

The incalculable loss to scientific research was that Dolan had recently conceived the experimental concept of a Lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) through which a smaller lunar lander might independently descend to the surface of the Moon. In all probability, he was wasting his time with this brilliant idea because of the mule-headed stubbornness of the development team director, Wernher von Braun. Even when he was proven totally wrong on judgement calls such as the four-inch flight, von Braun relied on emotional appeals to plead for more time, money or one last chance.

Even to his closest colleagues, it was clear that von Braun exercised an unhealthy control over the direction of the space program. His obsession with rocketry maintained a single-minded focus on the anachronistic concept of direct ascent via a single launch vehicle. A third lunar-landing alternative was Earth Orbit Rendezvous (EOR) to assemble, and possibly fuel, components of a translunar vehicle in low Earth orbit. By order of magnitude, LOR was costly, EOR was expensive, and Direct Ascent was mind bogglingly insanely expensive in comparison.

Due to these cost considerations, EOR was developed using piloted reusable first stages to save money. Still, NASA relied upon von Braun's advanced skills in political manipulation. He fueled the fears of politicians in Washington that the Soviets would win the race to the Moon. The NASA budget rose to an incredible 1.5 percent of total federal funding. Much of the new money was taken from defense, and plans to send military advisors to Vietnam quietly scrapped.

America fulfilled President Kennedy's pledge to land a Man on the Moon before the end of the sixties. For the piloted first stage developed for EOR the E-1 engine was selected for development and demonstrated its reliability for decades in reusable piloted stages. The Aerospike version first used in 1968 for the first manned lunar mission was designed to be efficient at a broad range of altitudes unlike earlier models that were optimized for efficiency at sea level altitude.

With the benefit of hindsight, it was obvious that the right choice had been made for the long-term strategy of space flight. This was because direct ascent was grossly expensive with very limited usefulness once the basic moon landing series was completed. LOR was less expensive if the only goal was a limited number of moon landings for political effect. However, EOR with reusable piloted first stage although initially more expensive to develop, was a future-proof technology for later programs. As a result, by the time that Von Braun died in summer 1977, the future of space platforms was clear. The journey from space stations to permanent bases on the Moon and other planets in the Solar System was well underway.

Author's Note:

In reality, Dolan proposed the first fully developed concept of Lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) but NASA officials initially considered the associated risks unacceptable. The Gemini missions proved them wrong, paving the way for his idea to be put into practice. For the NOVA and later Saturn V first stage, NASA selected the Rocketdyne F-1 rather than the E-1 model because of von Braun's desire for Direct Ascent.

 

Provine's Addendum:

As the Cold War ground on after the successful American lunar landing, space again became a major player as the Reagan administration was swept into office in 1980. Many blamed the Democratic party for the expansion of communism over southeast Asia with revolutions in Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia following that in Vietnam. Central Asia seemed to be following, too, with the Soviet invasion in 1979. Reagan promised regaining the upper-hand, literally, in 1983 with a Strategic Defense Initiative including an orbital grid of anti-missile weapons. While labs across the country worked on R&D projects, budget-minded administrators sought more efficient means of launch. Ironically the spending escalated to the construction of a magnetic coilgun, which proved to be a good investment as the cost for individual payloads dwindled to a few hundred dollars per kilogram.

While the government budgets swelled, the Cold War ended in the '90s with the collapse of the Soviet Union and widening US-China relations. The Coilgun, built on the equatorial Jarvis Island isolated both for defense as well as Cold War secrecy, turned to civilian use. Communication satellites presented opportunities for hundreds of new cable television stations and satellite-linked telephones became the norm worldwide. With low start-up costs, numerous companies launched in the early 2000s with hopes of gold-mining on the Moon or founding the first permanent Martian city.

Friday, September 18, 2020

1118 – Songs prop up Liao Dynasty

In 1115, Song diplomats met with their counterparts in service of the Jurchen warlord Wanyan Aguda disguised as horse-traders. The Jurchen lived to the northeast of the realm of the Liao, a Khitan dynasty who had long been the rivals of the Songs in the south. The first Song emperor, Taizong, had attempted to invade the Liao to recapture the lost Sixteen Prefectures that once served as the northern frontier of imperial Chinese lands. Taizong’s invasion reached modern Beijing in 976, where he laid siege. The Liao managed to dig an extensive tunnel underneath the Song siege, reinforcing the city and ultimately drive the Song away. After more than a decade of warfare, the two finally brokered peace with the Song paying an annual tribute of more than three tons of silver and 200,000 bolts of silk. The proud Song describe the protection money as “gifts” rather than protection money to barbaric northerners.

A century later, the Jurchen rebelled against their Liao oppressors. Aguda established a new dynasty, the Jin, and looked to conquer the Liao utterly. As the region fell into war, the Liao struggled to meet the ferocity of the Jurchen, many of whom sought vengeance for humiliations of their families and women. Seeking to further break the Liao, the Song and Jurchen considered joining forces. After years of debate, however, the Song court under Huizong looked back on the previous defeat of the great Taizong. The Song were excellent organizers and manufacturers, but they did not seem to have the warrior’s lust for battle. Ultimately they refused the Jin offer and instead renegotiated with the Liao to send men and materiel for the war while ending their tribute.

The north continued as a warzone for decades, and the Song proved to be masterful in profiteering. The Songs had long been dedicated to producing, following the wisdom of Confucius on working hard and investing profits. During their reign, the population of China had doubled twice while rebuilding from the losses under the Tang dynasty. Much of the growth was thanks to expansion of high-yield rice crops and improved infrastructure. The Songs innovated as well, introducing woodblock printing, paper money backed by national banks, and gunpowder. Young men from across the empire took civil service examinations to test their worth under Confucian ideals, helping to create a powerful class of bureaucrats who sought to maximize the glory of the empire. Artists and merchants formed guilds while business drove expansion in manufacturing and mining.

Following the extensive war in the north, the nearly exhausted Liao drove many of the Jurchen westward, which caused a decades-long reorganization of the nomadic peoples living there. The Song finally had their own vengeance, retaking the Sixteen Prefectures by purchasing the land and encouraging the Liao to move northwest themselves with their new investment. Growing Mongol forces a century later struggled with the Jurchen and Liao, never quite organizing into empire themselves as the Song skillfully bribed competing tribes to work against each other.

The Song, meanwhile, became increasingly imperialistic. Invigorated by neo-Confucianism that blended universalist ideals of Buddhism, Song merchants reached farther than ever for new markets that could benefit from the products created at home while coffers swelled with profits in doing so. Confucian rationalism also borrowed from Daoism to understand the laws of nature, greatly expanding Chinese science in anatomy, physics, and chemistry. Iron smelting led to interest in hot coal-fires, which soon transitioned into steam-driven engines. Adapting paddle-wheel ships already created for naval engagements, Chinese merchants soon sailed even faster than the wind. It would still be centuries before steam-driven land vehicles followed the seaborne ones, but in time Chinese railroads would stretch to markets across continents.

China’s major rival for trade during its rapid growth was the Abbasid Caliphate, which from its capital Baghdad controlled routes leading to Europe and Africa as well as already having many inroads with Indian ports. Looking to avoid costly trade wars like the disputes that had risen in India and Indonesia where their spheres of influence overlapped, Chinese exploratory fleets of enormous ships some four hundred feet long headed eastward with hopes of sailing around the world to reach these western markets. Instead, they instead two new continents running nearly from pole to pole. Direct trade with Europe was stalled by nearly a century, but the Chinese did establish relations with the Inca and Aztec empires as well as founding new provinces around valuable mining centers.

By the twentieth century, China was the unquestioned master of the Pacific, although its position of world superpower could be challenged by the Ottomans whose empire reached from the Chinese frontier to the Atlantic and readily adapted Chinese technology. Although often antagonists, the two empires also work together, such as the express rail link from Casablanca to Kaifeng. Squabbling nations of Europe, meanwhile, manage their own corner of the northern Atlantic.

 

--

In reality, the Song made an alliance with the Jin to mutually attack the Liao and divide up their lands. Observing the Song struggle militarily in their invasion, the Jin broke the alliance in 1125 and marched southward. They conquered the capital and northern regions held by the Song, ending the Northern Song dynasty. The remaining Song reestablished their capital in the south and continued to rule until conquest by the Mongols founded the Yuan Dynasty.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Guest Post: Manila Devastated by the Eruption of Mount Pinatubo

This post originally appeared on Today in Alternate History.

By 1880, the strategically located port of Manila was the western hub of Spain's trans-Pacific trade. These rich benefits covered the high expense of maintaining the Spanish colony of the Philippines long after the independence of the viceroyalty of New Spain. This economic calculation changed overnight with the September 3, 1891, eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Luzon Volcanic Arc. After the catastrophe of this natural disaster, the islands were quietly abandoned to their fate, becoming a backwater by the outbreak of the war with the United States in 1898. Under the Treaty of Paris, they nominally entered US possession with the loss of the last remnants of the Spanish Empire.

Spared the volcanic eruption, the Philippines could well have become the prime American holding in Asia. Instead, America focused her attention elsewhere on the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico. In one of the last acts of Herbert Hoover's regime, the Philippine islands were granted independence by the US Congress in the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act. At the time, the US was looking inwards in isolation, mired in the Great Depression and the resulting social unrest. One of the casualties of the era was Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur who was fired for his mishandling of the Bonus Army Protestors.

Meanwhile, the security situation in the Pacific was fast deteriorating. Chiang Kai-shek was sufficiently alarmed that he hired MacArthur as a consulting adviser to help re-organize the Chinese Nationalist Army. Ten years after Philippine independence, the forces of the Empire of Japan used the islands as a low-profile staging point for the invasion of French Indochina. The sparsely populated islands briefly became under Japanese control.

The much-admired five star General Dwight D. Eisenhower would mastermind a famous victory over Japan, working closely with the US Navy to drive through the Central Pacific. In the wake of World War Two, he would be elected President and guide Puerto Rico and Guam (incorporated into Hawaii due to its small population) towards statehood within the Union. In contrast, these positive developments would be overshadowed by the very poor management of the occupation of Japan, leading to a diplomatic coldness between the two and the push toward conservatism in the 1960s restoring earlier Japanese cultural aspects over American ideals like overt advertising and public displays of affection.

Nevertheless, the Pacific Rim slowly began to emerge as a key region in the global economy. There would even be a slow paced resurgence on the Philippine islands. Growth and expansion would eventually lead to the development of a small Christian republic on Luzon by the turn of the twenty-first century. Despite centuries of Catholic legacy, Protestantism would increasingly dominate by the millennium.

Wikipedia Note:

In reality, the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines' Luzon Volcanic Arc was the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, behind only the 1912 eruption of Novarupta in Alaska. Today, Manila, alongside Mexico City and Madrid are considered the world's original set of Global Cities due to Manila's commercial networks being the first to traverse the Pacific Ocean.

 Provine's Addendum:

The precedent of religious separatism in the Republic of Luzon led to a "balkanization" of the region during the turbulent era of decolonization. Indonesia's many islands divided into modernist Islamic West Indonesia, traditional Islamic Java, Protestant Eastern Indonesia, Hindu Bali, and the twin Catholic nations of Flores and East Timor, which would later unify. Nearby Papua New Guinea divided into the Protestant south and Catholic north, nearly along the lines of the old British/German colonies. Many historians traced back the focus on religions for political division to the American efforts to study local culture in Vietnam after such struggles with the occupation of Japan, which prompted the CIA to pull support from Ngo Dinh Diem after he refused the plan for the smaller, more stable South Vietnam that remains today.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Guest Post: The Fat Boy Drops Early

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.
 

"We - the President of the United States, the President of the National Government of the Republic of China, and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, representing the hundreds of millions of our countrymen, have conferred and agree that Japan shall be given an opportunity to end this war. We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction." ~ OTL Potsdam Declaration

June 15, 1945 - Nationalist China is saved by Fat Boy

In early 1945, the progress of the Manhattan Project was rapidly accelerated by the strategic choice of Uranium Implosion over easier but inefficient impact detonation. This bold decision was taken despite many leading scientists expressing deep concern that the design was far too theoretical to implement.

The benefits soon became clear. Less than a fortnight after the fall of Berlin, one atomic weapons was ready for immediate deployment and enough uranium was available to rapidly build four more. This compressed timing of the deployment schedule was highly significant because the tentative plan had always been for the Soviets to declare war on Japan within three months of victory in Europe. With the Red Army occupying Eastern Europe, the Western Allies suddenly had an opportunity for victory on their own exclusive terms. Such an outcome would transform the post-war landscape, having profound affects not only for Japan, but for Mao Zedong's Communists also.

The detonation of the world's first atomic bomb would be a supreme expression of American authority. Although many other Allied nations might profit from an earlier victory over Japan, the main beneficiary would of course be US hegemony. In the long-term, history would draw a straight line from Admiral Perry's arrival in Tokyo Bay through Theodore Roosevelt's mediation of the Russo-Japanese War and onto VJ Day. Despite this contemporary perspective, explosive experts from the United Kingdom had played a major part in the breakthrough. As a result of this decisive contribution, the UK would gain a third part of the arsenal and become the second atomic weapon-state.

The detonation of the "Fat Boy" device over the Japanese city of Hiroshima was insufficient to force the Supreme War Council to capitulate. However, the subsequent threat of further bombs - and critically the assurance that the Emperor could rule as a figurehead under Allied Occupation - was enough to swing Foreign Minister Togo into the peace camp. Despite the rising threat of insurrection, Japan would issue a declaration of unconditional surrender before the end of June.

There would be a very high price to be paid for victory. For example, Manchuria had been an independent nation prior to 1931. The Japanese Kwantung Army was undefeated in the field and many Japanese colonists in Manchuria had suddenly become stateless citizens. Moreover, it was improbable that the Soviets would fully accept this status quo even though the UN Security Council was stacked with capitalist victor powers. Once Eastern Europe was under control, the Soviets began to clandestinely support liberation movements across the Far East in a determined attempt to undo American influence. The inevitable consequence was a huge commitment to post-war Asia.

Many political analysts confidently predicted that Chiang Kai-shek's National Regime was doomed anyway. These unresolved concerns for the future would overshadow the peace settlement even though Britain, France, and the Netherlands would quickly move to reoccupy the territories in their Asian Empires. Of course, because the French and Dutch were not yet nuclear powers, they did not have the chance to threaten guerrilla armies with the atomic bomb. By the time that France had the capability to do so, the war in Indochina was already lost.

Author's Note:

In reality, the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation would set the stage for the Chinese Civil War and the triumph of Mao Zedong. President Truman would be accused of "losing China." In this scenario, we imagine the possibility of a region-wide Vietnam scenario.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Guest Post: Day of Infamy

This post originally appeared on Today in Alternate History.

"Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan". ~ FDR's OTL "Day of Infamy" Speech 

December 7, 1941 - On this fateful day, the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, was destroyed by an atomic discharge.

This terrifying weapon was developed by the Empire of Japan as a result of technology espionage arising from a chance meeting six years earlier in Nazi Germany. The founding father of modern physics research in Japan, Dr Yoshio Noshina, had travelled to the Max Planck Institute in Munich. It was there that he met a Jewish researcher called Lise Meitner, an Austrian-Swedish physicist praised by Albert Einstein as the "German Marie Curie". Needing to escape Nazi harassment, Noshina convinced Meitner to return with him to Japan to continue her work.

Whether Meitner later developed misgivings is unclear; however, in the medium-term, her work convinced the Japanese leadership to throw national resources at weaponizing the project. This huge programme included the mining of uranium in eastern China as well as the close cooperation of the Armed Services (not easy as much inter-service rivalry had plagued Japan for many years). By the outbreak of war in Europe, Noshina's team had overcome the major technical obstacles and were rapidly in the process of developing the world's first atomic weapon.

The expansion of the Co-Prosperity Sphere had been challenged by what the Japanese saw as a series of unnecessary provocations from President Roosevelt. Although they fully understood that America was expanding and desired greater influence, they believed that it was still possible to expel Western interest from the entire region. Their leadership realized that due to the industrial might of the United States, it was unrealistic to expect that the Japan could ever prevail in a long drawn-out conflict. What they needed then was a knock-out blow that would force the Americans to withdraw from Asia Pacific before overwhelming resources could be brought to bear.

But they had misunderstood the Western mindset because FDR was even more aggressive as a result of the atomic discharge. He was encouraged by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's words - "What kind of people do they think we are? Is it possible they do not realize that we shall never cease to persevere against them until they have been taught a lesson which they and the world will never forget?" From their bellicose reaction to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, it was abundantly clear that Britain and America were more than willing to fight on no matter what, despite the imbalance in technology. The next phase of the war was even more frightening, with biological weapons being deployed by Japan in the form of a deadly virus sent over the American West Coast in air balloons.

Despite their many victories and occasional high moments, the Axis Powers never had the overwhelming capability to occupy the vastness of North America. With American and exiled British forces subdued but undefeated, the War dragged on for almost a decade. Finally, a long-running stalemate on the Eastern front led to a Soviet-Nazi armistice. This slowdown of military action triggered a general uneasy peace settlement that left Western Europe in German hands, and the Japanese preeminent in Asia Pacific. But the rivalry continued unabated as the Great Powers continued to develop even more terrifying weapons that would allow them to resume, and then win, a continuation war in the near future.

Author's Note:

In reality, the attack was a surprise military strike with conventional weapons by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service. Disputes about the status of the Japanese Atomic Bomb Development project remain unresolved to this day.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Guest Post: Roswell UFO Recovered

This post first appeared on Today In Alternate History.

"It was not anything from this Earth, that I'm quite sure of... I was familiar with just about all materials used in aircraft and/or air travel. This was nothing like that...It could not have been." ~ RAAF Major Jesse Marcel

 July 8th, 1947 - Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF) public information officer Walter Haut issued a press release stating that personnel from the field's 509th Operations Group had recovered a "flying disc," which had crashed on a ranch near Roswell.

As reported by a foreman called William Brazel, the debris was spread over a wide area on the J.B. Foster ranch. A thorough investigation by the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) determined that the "flying disc" was an unmanned probe of extraterrestrial hardware. Although the individual components were vastly superior to human technology, the fundamental sub-system design was recognizable. The two notable exceptions were the "intelligent" exterior metal that looked like aluminum foil but had the startling ability to return to its original shape and also the anti-gravity sub-system.

But from a political perspective, the bigger concern was the crash site - being so close to the location of the atomic bomb program. Non-aligned members states of the United Nations claimed that American doomsday technology had irresponsibly drawn the interest of extraterrestrial threats to the human race. With the Cold War getting fully underway, there was even a cynical suggestion that the USAAF had intentionally shot down the probe. By international agreement, a UN team selected members from six countries (US, USSR, UK, Republic of China, South Africa, Iran, and Brazil) that represented all continents apart from Australia to meet in Roswell and inspect the probe. The team subsequently reported that based on the available information, the crash was due to malfunction rather than malicious intent.

The investigation restored good faith between nations while the extraterrestrial threat continued to focus minds and, to a surprising degree, create a new unity of purpose. The internationalization of the Roswell UFO Incident proved to be a significant step forward in human development. Mankind had orientated itself towards the opportunities and threats in outer space. Even though the USA, followed by USSR, were the first space-faring nations that landed men on the lunar surface it was decided to divide the moon into international zones. This arrangement was undertaken in a similar fashion that was later adopted for the Antarctica territory.

The two decades between Roswell and Apollo 11 were insufficient to fully take advantage of the technologies present in the craft. However, the emergence of microchips and anti-gravity technology would continue to be developed under the auspices of the United Nations. By the third decade of the twenty-first century, there were increasingly loud calls for a truly international space program that could exploit the Roswell technologies and take mankind forward more quickly. Cynics have suggested that a second alien crash is the breakthrough needed to force such a change.

Author's Note:

In reality, Roswell has been described as "the world's most famous, most exhaustively investigated, and most thoroughly debunked UFO claim."

 

Provine's Addendum:

Confirmation of an advanced alien civilization, although little more could be learned about it, made a radical impact on human culture. The adapted technology alone presented a world straight out of Jules Verne. Anti-gravity devices provided for flying cars, which experienced rough takeoffs in the 1970s with the Ford Flier models before the efforts of the DeLorean Motor Company showed how effective travel without roads could be. Flying cars were commonplace by the 1990s with microchip-driven safety features, while long-distance travel took place in luxurious airliners that arched into low orbit for fast intercontinental travel. Cold-fusion reactors emulating the UFO's power system generated clean energy that became the world's leading power source after the Oil Crisis of the 1970s left the petroleum industry as a shadow of its former self.

Beyond technology, many humans were shaken on a spiritual level. While churches re-envisioned their perception of Earth being a unique creation, New Age cults were built around the largely indecipherable symbols from the UFO. Fears of a coming alien assault through the 1950s directed the West and Communists to organize territorial disputes as old empires unwound, ending with the division of North and South China and the controlled de-colonization of French Indochina. The Iron Curtain would eventually rust out, leading to experiments with capitalism zones in Eastern Europe and Asia.

For a time, humanity became captivated with space. Travel with the alien anti-gravity technology was easy enough, and the U.S. and Soviet Union competed briefly with improved craft while captured German rocket scientists gave the Russians an early lead on flight control before the Americans' ion-drives dominated with speed. Expensive military outposts were established in orbit and on the Moon while expeditions send manned missions to Mars and three Jovian moons. As the observatories failed to return any further evidence of alien incursion and crop circles were revealed as hoaxes, however, budgets were cut thin to maintaining a few token research stations. Without any real economic incentive to colonize, space remained a novelty. Some have suggested renewed nuclear tests on the moon to attempt attracting another alien observation probe, but no one in leadership seems genuinely interested.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Guest Post: Tunguska UFO

This article originally appeared on Today In Alternate History.

On June 30, 1908, on this fateful day in alternate history, an alien spaceship crashed into the Tunguska River in the hills northwest of Lake Baikal. The extraterrestrial occupants were rescued and carried to safety by Evenki natives and Russian settlers.

The Russian Court was subsequently offered a single gift to repay the debt of gratitude. The aliens made a helpful suggestion based upon an observation of a point of interest made during their approach to Earth. Their sensors had taken remote measurements of a narrow strait of water separating two land-masses. This Bering Strait offered a rich opportunity for construction. Not only could human beings use this land crossing, but it would also provide an additional benefit of blocking the cold Pacific current from entering the Arctic. Over a few decades, this would warm the Russian north coast, bringing a new fertility that might accelerate the development of agriculture.

It was highly ironic then that the Alaskan territory across the Straits had been Russian America until the Seward Purchase which had occurred some forty years earlier. Had the Russians kept the land north of the Yukon River, then they would have gained the full benefits of a uniquely strategic territory. Of course such a windfall might well have triggered military aggression from the expansionist German Empire, so perhaps this Russian/American benefit sharing was just as well after all. As a consequence of the Seward Purchase , the Russians were obliged to negotiate with the United States. This was a fresh round of negotiations occurring only two years after President Theodore Roosevelt had played such a key role in settling the Russo-Japanese dispute in the Far East.

Serving in the final year of his second term, the show-boating "Bull Moose" was characteristically taken by the prospect of further bolstering his historic legacy. As a consequence of his impending departure from office, he was in the heady mood to agree to the land crossing. But he also proposed the building of two canals that would permit navigation. TR used the bully pit of the Presidency to demand that Congress finance the American Arctic shipping canal so the Great White Fleet could protect the Northwest Passage north of Canada and develop America's own shortcut from Europe to Asia in competition with the Russian Siberian coast route.

Once agreed to between USA/Russia, the causeway would be built on top of the dam. But European governments soon began to fear that the Bering Crossing would move the epicentre of the world to Asia. Tensions were still rising at the point when Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. In a final act of benign intervention, the aliens helped to smooth over this gathering crisis before they departed for their home planet in July 1914.

Author's Note:

In reality, this is an fictionalized ASB account of the Tunguska Event although OTL the crossing actually was proposed by the Soviet Union in 1956.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Guest Post: Russian Hawaii

This article first appeared on Today In Alternate History.

July 19, 1817 - Schäffer establishes the short-lived Russian Kauai protectorate

"[To the USS Boston, I am] prepared to make an immediate attack upon this town, at 4 o'clock P.M. to-morrow, (Saturday) in the event of the demands now forwarded by me to the King of these Islands not being complied with by that time" ~ Captain Lord George Paulet on-board the HMS Carysfort.

A power struggle between two chieftains, Kamehameha and Kaumuai'i, was cynically exploited by a rogue and ambitious German surgeon called Georg Anton Schäffer. He led a mixed group of Russians and Aleuts, sent by the Russian-American Company (RAC) to expedite the return of the cargo of the wrecked ship Bering or, failing that, obtain compensation if the cargo had been stolen or destroyed. There were strict boundaries to his mission as well as other obstacles caused by the local ascension crisis that was going on when he arrived. Fortunately, Schäffer was fully aware of the two main threats to the success of his mission - that the locals had superior armed forces and the United States had significant interest in the islands. As a direct consequence of these factors, there was absolutely no realistic prospect that he could really distinguish himself by seizing the whole of Hawaii for the RAC.

Luckily, manipulation was
Schäffer's stock in trade. To strengthen his hand, imperial aid was obtained by greatly exaggerating the commercial opportunity to the Russian Court. When it was subsequently discovered that the cargo had been seized by Kaumualii, he deftly negotiated the transfer of a share of the local whaling rights and sandalwood trade to the RAC in exchange for firearms to defeat Kamehameha. But when Kaumualii mysteriously died and the company gradually expanded operations, it became increasingly clear that Schäffer had pulled off quite an impressive feat. His quixotic plot had actually managed to establish a de facto Russian protectorate over the island of Kauai.

The RAC fleet comprised just nine ships and the remainder were the small warships engaged in the routine circumnavigation trips conducted to provide sailing experience. Despite their pathetic lack of sailing power, it was a sufficient naval footprint to establish a small Russian port on Kauai. Further Russian investment in the Far East would follow , but the protectorate continued to remain acutely vulnerable due to its remote location and distance from the Russian Empire.

Tension also arose with the British Empire over the North Sandwich Islands where Captain Cook had perished. The threat of British occupation was becoming increasingly inevitable and, to avoid this eventuality, the Russian Kauai protectorate was seized by the United States. This wanton act of aggression brought the Americans into the Crimean War despite the conflicts of interest with the British. The military action was succeeded by a further conflict in the late nineteenth century as the USA forced the Russian Empire out of the Pacific and then off the North American continent.

The Russian Premier Count Witte despaired that "[the] insane [Tsarist] regime was a tangle of cowardice, blindness, craftiness, and stupidity." The rotten Russian Empire finally collapsed in 1905 after disastrously losing a conflict with the Japanese. A new republic arose that allied itself with Anglo-France. The consequences of seemingly minor regional conflicts had been learnt the hard way by all three Great Powers, and they wisely avoided entanglement in the Austro-Serbian War of 1914.

Author's Note from Wikipedia:

In reality, mounting resistance of Native Hawaiians and American traders forced Schäffer to admit defeat and leave Hawaii before his triumphant reports from Kauai reached the Russian court. The Hawaiian spectacular, as it was called by contemporary Russians, became a significant financial blunder for the company.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Guest Post: Zheng He Rescues Byzantium

This article first appeared at Today in Alternate History.

"The voyages of the great Chinese fleet were missions of exploration and commerce. They were not enterprises of conquest. No yearning for domination obliged Zheng to scorn or condemn what he found. What was not admirable was at least worthy of curiosity. And from trip to trip, the imperial library in Beijing continued growing until it held four thousand books that collected the wisdom of the world. At the time, the king of Portugal had six books." ~ Eduardo Galeano

In 1433, after an epic journey around the Cape of Good Hope and through the Strait of Gibraltar, the huge expeditionary fleet of Admiral Zheng He finally reached the continental boundary between Europe and Asia. Safe passage through the Mediterranean Sea was guaranteed by the Venetian Navy on the basis of a long-standing peaceful invitation to the Chinese Emperor made centuries before by Marco Polo. Exhausted by the Ottoman onslaught that had led to the military disaster at the Siege of Thessalonica, Venice did not have much choice.

To prevent the navy bottle-necking the Bosporus, the Admiral was forced to send ahead some smaller Fuchuan warships to complete the journey to Byzantium. Zheng He had spent three decades commanding seven expeditions through Indonesia, India, Arabia, and the east coast of Africa. Nevertheless his voyage to Byzantium, at the climax of his career, would be truly historic. This was largely because of good timing - his arrival was warmly welcomed by John VIII Palaiologos. Facing an existential crisis, the Byzantine Emperor was desperately in need of aid from any source in order to continue a losing fight against the resurgent Ottomans. The Chinese were potential saviors, even though their influence would lead to yet another major religion, Buddhism, becoming a part of the already complicated Byzantine social dynamic.

Zheng He was himself born of a Muslim family, and his voyage was one of exploration rather than conquest, but even so his arrival was hugely consequential. With a military alliance affirmed, Zheng He's fleet, featuring numerous ships larger and more heavily armed than any Europe or the Middle East had ever seen, made short work of the Ottoman fleet that had dominated the Bosporus. Suddenly cut off from supply, sultan Murad II's tremendous advance through the Balkans came to a halt. In a series of battles behind enemy lines that would have impressed Hannibal himself, Murad held onto his position until his death in a decisive defeat at the hands of an army of the Serbian-Hungarian alliance. Murad's son Ahmed was placed on the throne, followed by Alaeddin, and ultimately Mehmed II as a series of early deaths plagued the household. Mehmed would cut his leadership teeth battling the Timurid Empire in the east, expanding the Ottoman Empire far into the Middle East as he gained the epithet "Conqueror."

In addition to tipping the balance in the favor of Byzantium, Zheng He brought with him applied science and technology that would transform the fortunes of the vulnerable Byzantine Empire at its weakest moment. Most significant of all the fortifications of the capital city would be dramatically improved by the time of the succession to Constantine XI in 1448. The Ottomans had missed their chance and decided never to return in another siege attempt. Instead, their conquests stretched from Persia all the way down the eastern coast of Africa to the Great Zimbabwe.

The wealth and power of Zheng He's fleet would have a massive effect on Byzantium, which would become the industrial center of the world by the dawn of the eighteenth century. Steam-driven ships brought in textiles and other raw materials, then exported manufactured goods back to ports as far away as China and the Americas. The Byzantine Empire dominated the region, serving as a perfect balance between Christian and Muslim influences with a booming multi-faith population.

Author's note: In reality Zheng He died in 1433 in Calicut, India. By then, China's expeditions had started to go out of fashion with the emperor as policies turned back toward isolationist Confucian ideals. Soon the size of ships was legally restricted to prevent reckless gambling on oversea ventures.

Provine's coda:
With the Balkan states coming into their own, Byzantium found itself in a new world.The city, now a shadow of its former empire that once spread across the Mediterranean world, was precariously balanced between Orthodox Christians to the west, Catholic Christians in the north, and Muslims to the east. Papal influence in the region waned since the promised rescue by the Holy Roman Empire was delivered instead by non-Christian Zheng He. Fortunately, the Byzantine emperors knew something everyone could believe in: money.

Word soon spread about the development in Germany of a printing press that could produce 3,600 pages in the same day a scribe could write 40, which the inventor Guttenberg planned to use to sell mass-produced Bibles. Religious implications aside, the Byzantines were far undermanned and an increase in production like that was much needed. The city was already a center of engineering: even hundreds of years before, ambassadors were greeted by mechanical birds singing artificial songs and a throne that could rise thirty feet in the air on hydraulic pumps. If engineers could make machines to sing, why not to do practical things? Encouraged by an imperial bounty, designers from all over the world, including the Chinese on the lengthy route around Africa, flooded the city with machines that could automatically spin, weave, and sew textiles into completed garments. The same happened with pottery, furniture, paper, practically anything that could be manufactured. Factories powered by pneumatic and hydraulic engines lined the landscape, and Byzantium earned a new nickname as "the World's Factory" as raw materials flowed in and goods flowed out.

Other nations hurried to catch up, such as the popes working to modernize Rome, the states of Germany building an iron-based trade network, and the Ottomans rebuilding the Pharaoh's Canal to shorten the travel time by boat to the Far East. China, too, felt the effects of closer east-west relations. Rather than following Confucian ideals toward closing off the nation, new models of Confucian thought drove the emperor to expand Chinese influence into "untamed" regions that they felt could benefit from their teaching. In an impressive feat of international agreement build a railway linking Byzantium with Beijing.

While the proximity meant potential for wealth, Byzantium long knew the significance of industrial espionage. A millennium before, Nestorian monks had smuggled silkworms in hollowed-out walking staffs and ended China's monopoly on silk production. The Byzantines greedily guarded their industrial secrets and built up a city guard that kept a careful eye on anyone who knew even parts of how machines worked. Witch hunts routinely broke out, leading to executions of engineers, such as that of famed designer Leonardo da Vinci when he refused to give up the codes embedded in his sketchbooks.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

458 - Biological Warfare Counters the Huna


The expansive Gupta Empire ruled for hundreds of years over northern India, stretching from the mouth of the Ganges River in the Bay of Bengal to the Indus River pouring into the Arabian Sea. Successive generations of rulers such as Chandragupta and Samudragupta added substantial territory to their influence as well as securing important trade routes that funded the flourishing empire. In the middle fifth century, however, invasion from the north seemed it would break apart imperial rule.

Skandagupta, who came to the throne as the lesser son of Kumaragupta after a forceful seizure of power in about 455, sought to defend his lands from the Huna, also known as Alchon Huns or White Huns, whose migratory conquests marched south from Central Asia. The Huna had gained political recognition by the Sassanid Empire to the west, guarding each other’s flanks while the Sassanids fought Byzantines in the Middle East and the Huna sought to expand. Skandagupta used the heavy cavalry, supported by war elephants and infantry, that had brought together the Gupta Empire to drive away the Huna incursion. It was obvious, however, that Skandagupta’s victory would only be temporary as the Huna were a quickly growing power.

Pondering the issue, Skandagupta looked out over his empire, which was often presented as the most advanced in the world. Analytical texts such as Kama Sutra had studied aspects of the human experience that many considered beyond understanding, Jainist mathematicians had defined principles of infinity, and creators had synthesized the logic of warfare into the game that the world would come to know as chess. No problem should be beyond their collective minds, so Skandagupta put out an edict that whoever discovered the best solution would be given a great reward. Numerous designs for innovative weapons and techniques flooded the palace at Pataliputra. Skandagupta’s choice was one that had been a part of human strategy for centuries: biological warfare.

The strength of the Huna rested in their herds, particularly their warhorses. Gathering sick horses from outbreaks in corners of the empire of diseases such as equine influenza and glanders, the imperial guard smuggled them into the northwest to be sold, allowed to be stolen, or simply let go to blend in with the Huna’s own. One strategy even had horses the guise of an Ashvamedha sacrifice in which soldiers would protect a horse as it wandered freely through the empire for one year, proving the stability of the imperial rule. Proving to be much less expensive than keeping up a large army to deter Huna invasion, Skandagupta and his descendants repeatedly introduced waves of plagues among the horsemen, devastating their herds and base of their economy.

In generations to come, however, the Guptas felt the consequences of the plagues as they often spread back into the empire from the west. Horse populations dropped, and the empire found itself with a dire shortage of beasts of burden. Attempts were made to expand the use of elephants and even camels, but elephants took a long time to propagate and camels did not do well in more humid climates. In about 500, Skandagupta’s great-grandson Budhagupta followed his ancestor’s example to appeal for ideas to resolve the burden issue.

By then, the Gupta Empire had grown by leaps in its science. Aryabhata had summarized Indian knowledge of mathematics and astronomy into one great work and clarified the place-value system that implied the existence of a “zero.” While he supported a geocentric model of the universe, he did show the Earth was round and rotated on an axis with the moon using reflected sunlight. Art and architecture had thrived with the imperial households increasingly supporting Buddhism with new temples. Numerous scholars focused their attention on contagions to better understand how to protect local horse herds. After reviewing complex schemes for mass canal systems and improved designs for carts, Budhagupta approved an engine that mimicked the power of a horse by steam from a boiler. Steadily steam engines came into use with iron soon replacing early brass models.

While the first steam engines were used to pull carts, soon the devices were being used in stationary form at mills. Religious objection to using forests for fuel were met with increased mining of the empire’s extensive coal resources. Demand for iron drove Gupta conquests southward into the kingdoms of the Vakatakas, beginning a new era of expansion for the empire. As the economic middle classes grew throughout the caste system, the newly rich patronized engineers and scholars, especially when their discoveries in chemistry or physics could make money. Varahamihira furthered geometry and trigonometry and define reflection and refraction in optics, leading to the development of lenses that soon allowed for telescopy, microscopy, and photography.

The Gupta Empire lasted approximately three hundred years before its satellite provinces in Southeast Asia broke into smaller states and revolution changed the imperial structure for more representation. By then, the technology and culture of India had spread widely, and, even in a different political form, northern India remained the scientific and economic center of the world. Indian steamships circumnavigated Africa to Europe and reached as far as Japan and New Zealand, establishing colonies for trade all along their paths. Buddhism, the imperially supported religion above others, spread along with the economic wealth, creating a complex mixture of versions of related religions throughout the world. Buddhism grew further under the Indian-influenced Song dynasty in China, where scholar-bureaucrats continued the Guptan practice of encouraging technological development and launched expeditions to map the western hemisphere.


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In reality, the Huna continued generational invasions of northern India going as far as Eran midway through the subcontinent. Conquerors such as Toramana and Mihirakula were seen as bitterly cruel, especially as Mihirakula’s beliefs in Shiva drove him to destroy temples and any recorded knowledge. Eventually the Guptas and their allies defeated the Huna, but by then the trade routes had been wrecked and the empire had been worn down.

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