Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Guest Post: Napoleon Insulted

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

Prelude:
"A quarrel arose between a Georgian servant named Sadegh Gorji and the valet Khodadad-e Esfahani. They raised their voices to such a pitch that the shah became angry and ordered both to be executed. Sadeq Khan-e Shaghaghi, a prominent emir, interceded on their behalf, but was not listened to. The shah, however, ordered their execution to be postponed until Saturday, as this happened to be the evening of Friday (the Islamic holy day), and ordered them back to their duties in the royal pavilion, unfettered and unchained, awaiting their execution the next day. From experience, however, they knew that the King would keep to what he had ordered, and, having no hope, they turned to boldness. When the shah was sleeping, they were joined by the valet Abbas-e Mazandarani, who was in the plot with them, and the three invaded the royal pavilion and with dagger and knife murdered the shah " ~ Hasan-e Fasa'i's' Farsnama-ye Naseri

In 1807, Emperor of France Napoleon Bonaparte sought an alliance in the East with a strong military partner for his coming war with Tsar Alexander I. In retrospect, that risky endeavour was to prove an even more disasterous choice for L'Empereur than conquering Russia.

The potential French ally was Persia. Eunuch monarch Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar had comprehensively defeated the Russians time and time again in both Georgia and northern Persia. However, he had begun to fear their resurgence under Alexander the Blessed, who had something of a Messiah Complex. In fact, Alexander was already planning for a Persian Expedition once he defeated the French Empire. Armed with modern guns and artillery, the Russians were an ever-present threat. Turning to the Ottoman Turks for an alliance threatened not only his domination of the Shia World but his security in the Near East.

Qajar's lasting ambition was to add Azerbaijan and the Caucasus region to his dominion. At sixty-five, having ruled for thirteen glorious years, he was beginning to hear the whispers of immortality. Of course, he had no biological successor, so his vision of future history was solely about his own personal legacy. Consequently, he entertained the French offer because of the opportunity to destroy the Russian state once and for all. On this basis, he invited Napoleon to his palace in Tehran.

Driven by expedience rather than friendship, Napoleon certainly wanted the Persians to open another front on Russia's southern borders, namely the Caucasus region. Forced to travel incognito, Napoleon arrived in late May, already nearly a month after what could have been arranged in a more midway event, such as Finckstein Palace. Napoleon was in a bad enough mood, and miscommunications of protocol only made things worse. The Shah, who had a notoriously short fuse, took great offence at the implied suggestion that he would be a junior partner in the conquest of Tsarist Russia. As a man that had executed servants merely for raising their voices, the punishment was swift and brutal. Repeating the mistreatment he himself had suffered at Astarabad, Qajar had his guards castrate Napoleon and cast him out of Persia.

The Shad was transformed from unreliable negotiating partner to sworn enemy. Napoleon forgot all about conquering Russia and made it his destiny to conquer Persia and be crowned emperor in the palace in Tehran. But the Shah's armies were an even more formidable force than he had reckoned with. The Franco-Persian War would last for years and result in the deaths of both arrogant men. A lasting consequence of that conflict would be that Ottoman Turkey and Tsarist Russia put aside their differences over the Danubian Principalities. This was a significant development because the Russo-Turkish Alliance would have profound long-term consequences for the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Author's Note:

In reality, the Shah was assassinated in 1797 on his way to combat the Russians in Georgia for a third campaign. Ten years later, his successor Fath Ali Shah of Qajar Persia formed a Franco-Persian alliance with the French Empire of Napoleon I against Russia and Great Britain between 1807 and 1809.

Provine's Addendum:

Napoleon was distracted by the Peninsular War in the west and the War of the Fifth Coalition in the east, but by 1810, he was in proper position to begin his invasion of the Middle East. A tenuous alliance with the Ottoman Empire guaranteed his passage with a tremendous invasion of some 400,000 soldiers. Just as in his campaign in the Middle East over a decade before, however, the military action fell apart with an impossibly long supply line and British interference. The British Navy harassed French shipping in the Mediterranean while diplomats turned the Ottomans against Napoleon. Napoleon refused to retreat despite attacks from all sides that devastated Persia until both the shah and the emperor were killed.

Britain helped negotiate the peace along the Danube with Russia that would last for decades. The Ottomans attempted to rebuild their influence, but their empire declined with rebellion in the Balkans. Russia and Britain competed for dominance in Persia as the region rebuilt (advancing what would be our TL's Great Game by two decades). Russia could not compete at sea, so upon the invention of rail travel, Tsars Nicholas I and Alexander II invested heavily in railroad construction to link the empire together by allowing serfs to earn their liberation. Russia became a major player in the Far East, expanding into its Alaskan territory and defeating Japanese incursion into Asia in 1905.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Guest Post: Fall of the House of Britain

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

April 10, 1918:

The abdication of King George V and the dissolution of the Royal Family was the unexpected consequence of seventeen years of missteps by the British State.

Queen Victoria had been the last of the House of Hannover. Upon her death, her son by Prince Albert became the first of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Edward VII. When he died in 1910, George V assumed the throne, one of several of the late Queen's grandsons who were the monarchs of Europe (Britain, Russia, and Germany) during the Great War. The extended family would receive much of the condemnation from a public victimized by such bloodshed, as British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey famously declared, "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." And as events were to turn out, all three of the royal cousins lost their thrones before the end of the decade, and the outdated Class System was doomed too.

The German Army High Command took the fateful decision to name their biplane bomber fleet "Gothas" hoping that the name would add an element of terror to English citizens in their homes below. On May 25, 1917, a fleet of twenty-one Gothas each carrying thirteen bombs raided the south-east coast. "The whole street seemed to explode, with smoke and flames everywhere," one eyewitness reported. "Worst of all were the screams of the wounded." The death toll was 95 along with 260 wounded, far higher than from any German Zeppelin airship raid. Following the devastation, anything German became anathema, even the "Hannovers."

With the country in uproar, George V immediately decided to change the surname name of the royal family. This decision was lampooned in the popular press with the cartoon "Made in Germany" and had the unintended affect of emphasizing the royal family's close association with its German origins. However, in a twist of fate, it was the very next day that White Forces led by the English Ace of Spies Sidney Reilly rescued the Romanovs from imprisonment in Yekaterinburg. A British warship carried the family to the safety of Novo-Arkhangelsk, the capital of Russian America which the Tsars had almost sold to the United States forty years earlier.

The Soviet government issued a decree of peace, a decision that had been long in the making. In retaliation, Britain and France recognized the Tsar's Government-in-Exile. However, the Soviets then published a number of secret treaties struck by the Entente Powers. Most shocking of all the fact that it was actually the German Imperial Government that had secretly transported Lenin into Russia. Tragically, his train had derailed leading to his death, and the revolution had been led by Leon Trotsky, who had overthrown Kerensky's Provisional Government.

By this stage revolutionary forces were also starting to rise up in Britain, France, and Germany. A final anti-Royalist setback was to push matters over the edge. The United States government viewed the recognition of the Tsar as a contravention of the Monroe Doctrine. Due to the German policy of unrestricted warfare, President Woodrow Wilson declared war in order to protest American shipping but refused to ally the United States with the Entente Powers. There would be no shot in the arm of American troops on the Western Front.

However, the British Empire would be saved by the brilliant Australian and Canadian Generals Monash and Currie. During the Battle of the Somme, they had begun to develop the ingenious military tactic of creeping barrage in which the artillery barrage moved slowly in front of the advancing troops. This would lead to German capitulation in early 1919 and the end of the senseless slaughter, which was largely blamed on the royal houses of Europe.

Often to be seem in the uniform of the armed forces but contributing nothing, Westminster democracy simply could not survive with the Royal Family as the Head of State. A Labour government would be elected in London during the early peace-time months. Already there was talk of the British Empire being transformed into a Commonwealth of Nations. Meanwhile, George V and his family would be guests of their cousins in Novo-Arkhangelsk. Ironically, the Kaiser who was the most directly responsible, was living more more comfortably in exile in the Netherlands. However, he would soon be extradited to the nascent German Republic to face a trial leading to his hanging in early 1920.

Author's Note
In reality, the surnames were changed to Windsor, and Russia did sell Alaska under the Seward Purchase.

Provine's Addendum
As had been seen following the French Revolution of 1789 and the Revolutions of 1848, once the spirit had overturned one nation, momentum carried it throughout the rest of Europe. The Ottoman Empire, which had already seen a shift away from absolutism with the Young Turks revolution in 1908 and then a coup by the Committee of Union and Progress in 1913 to single-party control, became a model to avoid. It, along with the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, dissolved into numerous nation-states under dictation by the Allies.

Some nations, like Greece, shed their monarchies in rather quick legal actions, such as Constantine I being politely asked not to return to the throne after the death of Alexander. Other nations, first Italy and then Spain, fell into civil war. Even republics like France faced class violence with veterans seeking vengeance on wartime leaders they felt had ineptly led to the deaths of millions. The Scandinavian, Dutch, and Belgian monarchies lasted, though their constitutional roles were revisited and concessions made. Even large landholders gave up some of their wealth to prevent losing it all.

With all of the cries of brotherhood and equality, new issues soon arose around the concept of empire. Nation-states had been fashioned out of much of eastern Europe, but other states did not want to give up control of other nations under their power. Although having no royalty for decades, the French Republic still ruled vast territories in Africa and Asia and sought more, as seen in the Sykes-Picot Agreement dividing the Middle East into French and British spheres of influence rather than the promised Arab state. The Soviet Union had recognized Finnish independence, but, seeing the war the between the Whites and Reds, determined to become involved despite ongoing troubles with Poland. The death of Josef Stalin during one bungled altercation proved that it would be a long time before Europe, and the world, really saw peace.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Guest Post: Byzantine Express

The article first appeared on the Today in Alternate History blog. The scenario of a Byzantine Empire surviving until the Great War is fully explored in Alexander Rooksmoor's latest AH novel Byzantine Express.

 

5 August, 1914 - Byzantine Empire Joins the Great War

The clash of rival Empires known to alternate history as the Great War rapidly escalated when Byzantium opened hostilities on the Central Powers.

The imperial government in Constantinople recognized that its survival over the centuries had depended upon the lasting support of her long-time fighting partners, Serbia and Bulgaria. Set against German encroachment in the Balkans, she unexpectedly found herself allied with the British, French and Russians. These three rival Empires were "fair-weather friends", having their own competing interests and territorial ambitions in the near East. In fact, their only common interest was the ancient proverb "the enemy of my enemy is my friend".

Challenged by such a powerful array of forces, the Central Powers were eventually subdued, but Europe was shattered years by the unrelenting slaughter. In the bloody aftermath of popular uprisings and continuation wars fought, stateless minorities won their freedom and crowned heads were forced to abdicate. Riding this sea change was the nascent Byzantine Republic. She seemed incredibly fortunate to enjoy the unity of a Greek-speaking population spread across a strategic territory on world trade routes, Anatolia and the southern tip of the Balkans. In the early years of the 1920s she rapidly became a modern state at the forefront of efforts to rebuild a broken continent.

The discovery of huge oil reserves in the Levant changed everything. With the prospect of regional hegemony returning unexpectedly into sight, the victor powers quickly became deadly enemies. A group of right-wing officers known as the "Young Byzantines" seized power in Constantinople. Convinced that the former Imperium had fought on the wrong side of the Great War, they formed a Fascist State and quickly set about occupying large swathes of Arabia.

Of course, their encroachment into the Middle East was a cynical mirror image of the failed earlier German land-grab on the Byzantine's own door-step. With the Great Powers seemingly on the road to war for the second time in a generation, it appeared that the ephemeral vision of popular democracy that had first begun in Greece was a mirage. With the world's oil supplies firmly in the greedy hands of the Young Byzantines, W. B. Yeats bitterly noted that democracy was only a fleeting interlude between lasting eras of demagoguery.

Author's Note:

In reality, Byzantium was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in AD 1453.

 

Provine's Pondering

As noted on Today in Alternate History, the timeline follows from a hypothetical, "what if the Ottoman Turks had never headed west?" Alexander Rooksmoor goes into deep reflection on potential changes in his Tablets of Lead blog post. In summary of the fascinating counter-factual analysis, the call for aid to crusaders from Western Europe allowed the Ottomans to recover their lands (rather than those lands being set up as Crusader States). Presumably, the big change was the Fourth Crusade where, as one History professor summed, "drunken Normans stormed Constantinople." Returned to power with a strong eastern buffer, the Byzantines withstand any incursions by Seljuk Turks. The later Ottomans (if Osman I isn't butterflied away from being born) would be one of several diverse states throughout the Muslim world farther southeast.

While digesting all this, multiple other points-of-departure may bubble up. One potential point-of-departure for such a TL could be even farther back with the incursion of the Seljuk Turks that began the call for Crusades. If the Battle of Manzikert of 1071 had been a rousing Byzantine victory rather than many of their mercenaries joining the Seljuk side, Byzantium could have maintained Anatolia and perhaps had to battle Mongols on their eastern frontier.

The extensive history of the Turkish people has plenty of PODs, including if they had never been converted to Islam and instead remained worshipers of Tengri. The Turks originated in northeastern Asia and migrated southwestward, where they came into the Muslim world via missionaries in Central Asia. Mercenaries and more formal armies made up much of the Seljuk push westward, moving into the territory conquered. If culture wars (and more literal wars) had broken out between the Turks and the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, that would had discouraged further migration.

On the Byzantine side, more alternatives come to mind. Perhaps if the Byzantines and Sasanids had not fought in the seventh century, conducting the final "Roman-Persian" war, there would not have been so much back-and-forth destabilizing the area. Or, what if the Plague of Justinian hadn't ravaged the Mediterranean economy and Justinian's conquests had time to affirm Byzantine rule and recoop wartime investments?

Monday, March 15, 2021

Guest Post: Oumuamua Intercepted 0.22 AU from Earth

This article was developed by Allen W. McDonnell, Steve Payne, Eric Oppen and John Braungart, first appearing on Today in Alternate History

19 Oct 2017: The experimental probe USS Arthur Trudeau intercepted an interstellar object 33 million km from Earth (about 85 times as far away as the Moon) as it was already heading away from the Sun. First identified by astronomers at the Haleakala Observatory, this mysterious object had been assigned the descriptive name "Oumuamua", the Hawaiian term for "Scout".

A consortium of space-faring nations had worked around the clock to develop the unmanned probe in record time. The result, the USS Arthur Trudeau, was powered by gravitic propulsion technologies that had been reversed engineered from the Roswell UFO seventy years earlier. The architect of that ground-breaking project was in charge of Army Research and Development, Lt. General Arthur Trudeau. As the functional head of the Foreign Technology Desk, he had been put in charge of working with private industry to reverse-engineer equipment of foreign origin that had been captured by the American forces.

A thorough investigation of the 1947 Roswell UFO 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 which looked like aluminum foil but had the startling ability to return to its original shape. After years of not understanding heads nor tails of the engines other than that they should be ones, researchers unraveled the anti-gravity sub-system. The recognizability of similarities in designs with primitive human technology overcame the No Copying Allowed theory proposed by science fiction author John W. Campbell, Jr. He had argued that it would be simply impossible to understand futuristic technology, even of human origins, writing,
"The proposition involving the science-fiction hero who captures an enemy device, brings it home, copies it and puts it into production is being abandoned in modern stories. But the actual difficulty of such a problem is always interesting and worthy of consideration. Only recently has Earth's own technology reached the point where such copying is not possible; today it is definitely impossible in a large field of devices."

Campbell was only partly wrong, because 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 understanding of subatomic particles gradually brought anti-gravity technology into human understanding, which continued to develop 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 deep space program that could exploit the Roswell Technologies and take mankind forward more quickly. Cynics had long suggested that a second alien crash was the breakthrough needed to force such a change.

Without the enhanced acceleration of gravitic engines, it would never have been possible to have intercepted an object moving at such velocity before it left the Solar System forever. Capturing Oumuamua was a lucky break because even more secrets were revealed than from the New Mexico Crash. Alternate history would repeat itself--once again, the technology of extraterrestrial origin was recognizable to human development and yet sufficiently advanced to permit reverse engineering.

Oumuamua was an alien lightsail, an ultra-thin object deflecting charged particles radiated by the Sun as a plasma wind to achieve excess acceleration. Over the next few decades, the application of Oumuamua mass-density technologies would enable an even bigger leap-frog in deep space. In a second application, Oumuamua technology acted as a braking mechanism to decelerate starships from relativistic speed.

Unfortunately, external markings on Oumuamua were obscured by years of damage from space debris; however, linguistic experts surmised that Oumuamua did not originate from the Roswell aliens. More disappointingly, Earth scientists were unable to determine whether the lightsail was detached from a larger vessel as many surmised. Certainly there was no evidence of communication technology, and therefore it was maddeningly unclear whether this was a reconnaissance mission being undertaken.

The two events, seventy years apart, gave the space program a tremendous impetus. Even more than that, the calculation that alien contact was inevitable drove scientists to further develop space technology to ensure that humanity was prepared for such a historic first meeting.

Author's Note:

In reality, astronomers concluded that Oumuamua is most likely a natural object. A small number of astronomers suggested that Oumuamua could be a product of alien technology, but evidence in support of this hypothesis is weak. Roswell has been described as "the world's most famous, most exhaustively investigated, and most thoroughly debunked UFO claim".

Provine's Addendum:

While many humans looked toward the stars for the next great moves of civilization, others were more focused on setting our own house in order before reaching out. Applications of the Roswell Technologies had transformed the Earth with green-energy reactors and no-emission vehicles lifted by anti-gravity fitted with memory-metals that had reduced crash fatalities to nearly zero. Weather satellites broke up hurricanes and shifted rain to drought-stricken areas. Hunger and natural disasters (other than geological ones) looked soon to be things of the past.

Calls for extending humanity's reach continued and were increasingly heard as AI automation took over most traditional jobs in industry and agriculture. Skeptics pointed out that colonies on the moon and Mars were largely research stations and political stunts rather than being grand metropolises of the future, though these would likely serve as the first signs of big things to come as many compared them with Jamestown in North America.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Guest Post: Trial of European War Criminals set for Geneva

 This article was collaboratively developed by Allen W. McDonnell, Robbie Taylor, Steve Payne, and Jeff Provine and first appeared on Today in Alternate History with revisiting "Guisan Insults Hitler."


4 Feb, 1945 - At the Yalta Conference, Geneva was chosen as the best possible location for the forthcoming trial of the Nazi leadership.

The proposal was made by the battling Swiss General Henri Guisan. He had been elected by the Federal Assembly to defend the country against Nazi invaders after he slipped an insult upon Hitler's character, saying the cowardly Fuhrer should never and would never test the Swiss.

The Bavarian city of Nuremberg had been considered first choice, but Morgenthau's Plan for the total denazification of Germany was out of favour. Instead, international cooperation had become far more pressingly important. Consequently, Roosevelt and Stalin readily agreed with the proposal. FDR died a few months later, and Henry Wallace was the new president when details of the trial were being finalised. Circumstances had dramatically changed since Yalta because the north of Switzerland was being occupied by the Red Army.

Nevertheless, there were many good reasons for choosing the second-most populous city in Switzerland (after Z├╝rich). With Hitler in Allied custody, there was a very real possibility that the commando Otto Scorzeny would launch a daring rescue Operation Eiche-style mission. This ruled out Nuremberg for security reasons. Having defeated the Nazis with Allied assistance, the Swiss were fiercely proud of their neutrality, and they had lots of well-trained security in place to secure the Nazi leadership. Should Scorzeny make such an attempt, they might even catch him as he tried to suborn the security men, who would likely shoot him rather than accept whatever bribe he offered.

By fully recognizing the human suffering of the USSR during Hitler's trial, the active participation of Soviets relieved tensions in the Grand Alliance. President Wallace was even able to convince the Soviets to withdraw from Switzerland as well as neighboring Austria. Both Wallace and Stalin fully understood the military reality: North Switzerland was not a viable Soviet satellite. This was because the mountainous terrain would be as tough on the Soviets as it was on the German invaders. Most likely, they would never hold it and lose anything they tried to do so.

To mark this important forward step in progress, the leaders of the Grand Alliance agreed to locate the new United Nations Headquarters in Geneva next to the old League of Nation offices. The city that became synonymous with compassion in the midst of warfare, the general rules for civilized behavior from the Geneva Declarations, became the standard by which the world entered the next century together. Guisan was the guest of honour, and by the time that Hitler was executed, there was every reason to believe that Wallace's promise of the "century of the common man" had just begun.

Author's Note:

In reality, the trials were to commence on 20 November 1945, in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Guest Post: February 15, 1898 - Cuban Rebels Arrested while Attacking Ships in Havana Harbor

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History.
 

In 1898, U.S. Naval forces were dispatched to Havana Harbor in order to protect U.S. interests during the Cuban War of Independence. In the opinion of many dovish politicians, this ill-advised and preemptive move by the hawkish Assistant Navy Secretary Theodore Roosevelt was a thinly disguised forward deployment in anticipation of a war with the crumbling Spanish Empire.

The chauvinistic desire to build an American empire by acquiring Spanish territories was an extension of Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine. The growing sense that war-mongers and yellow journalists were agitating for conquest was soon highlighted by the arrests of subversives in Havana Harbor on February 15. Ultimately, political pressure from doves prevailed and the Sampson Board of Inquiry placed the blame on the actions of Cuban rebels. Roosevelt was disgusted by this whitewash and left office soon afterwards.

A Spanish-American war had been averted, but, of course, matters did not rest there. Spain was losing control of the island because she was hopelessly incapable of keeping her far-flung empire together. Despite not having a history of selling-up, the near-bankrupt Spanish government decided to cash in her chips. This occurred right after the next crisis in Morocco , which brought the expanding German Empire into Spain's orbit. One direct consequence of this engagement was the purchase of the Philippine Islands by Berlin. A nascent Great Power, Germany, like the U.S.A., was rapidly playing catch-up in the scramble for overseas territories.

Named after Phillip II of Spain, and dominated by Catholics, the Philippine Islands at least had some religious affinity with their new German overlords. The Kaiser quickly lost interest in Tsingtao and sent the East Asia Squadron of the German Imperial Navy to Manila. Sixteen years of rapid development then followed as Wilhem basked in the summer of his long-desired "Place in the Sun."

The First World War brought unexpected changes to the balance of power. This opened the door to the troubling development of the Japanese conquest of the Philippines on the eve of the U.S. entry into the war. The architects of the Treaty of Versailles would reluctantly create a Japanese Mandate, although the rising civilian disorder under German rule would only intensify under Shinto over-lordship. This acquisition unsettled Western powers for numerous reasons: the precedent of Christians being ruled by non-Christians as well as the strategic position of the Imperial Japanese Navy in the sea-lanes. Immediately after the armistice, the ever-belligerent Theodore Roosevelt called for a U.S.-led international force to expel the Japanese invaders. But the Great Powers were simply exhausted, America was heading towards isolationism, and the broadsheet newspapers mocked "Roosevelt Riders" for its unwanted adventurism.

Oppression on the Philippines was brutal. It was a clear sign of future intent because Tokyo was eyeing nearby strategic resources of oil and rubber under European control. The British and French, who were absorbing other mandated territories, still believed that they could maintain control of their Far Eastern Empires, but the unstoppable rise of Hitler would lead to much more pressing security issues for them much nearer to home. Although the abdicated Kaiser would never forgive the Japanese, Hitler could not care less about the Far East.

With Japanese forces directly threatening U.S. interests in China, there was growing pressure to move the U.S. Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor in an echo of 1898. However, much like the last months of Buchanan's presidency eighty years earlier, the timing was all wrong for such a change of direction. Having lifted America out of the Great Depression, the former Maryland governor Albert Ritchie was in the final months of his second presidential term. An isolationist America headed to the polls in 1940 with the so-called Japanese Question unresolved. But at some point, the American military would have to confront the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere while the British and Dutch Empires and their allies could still provide a platform for a near-future war in the Pacific.

Robbie Taylor's Addendum:

After Germany's entrance into the Boer War, and German-puppet Spain's North African possessions attacking eastward, the African continent became as embroiled as Europe in the great conflict, devastating a land that had already been sucked dry of resources by Europeans. It is considered that if the Axis powers had not had so much control over Africa due to the German/Spanish alliance dating back to the Spanish-American affair, the outcome of the Second World War would have been much more tilted to the Allied side... 

Provine's Addendum:

The United States would be jolted out of isolationism in 1959 when Japan-Peru relations reached a new level of trade agreements giving Japan, rather than the U.S., preferential treatment. Shocked cries protested violation of the Monroe Doctrine, which was already under fire from Atlantic-facing South American countries courting German diplomacy. Efforts to secure "everything north of the Panama Canal" would lead to extensive U.S. investment in Central America and the Caribbean and a much freer flow of immigration, causing an abrupt about-face with American support for the Castro government in Cuba.

Author's Note:

In reality, the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine contributed to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. This led to the transfer of sovereignty for the Philippine Islands to the United States, which set the stage for war with Japan.

Friday, January 29, 2021

1312 - Abu Bakr II Discovers Western Continent

After ascending the throne of the Mali Empire, Abu Bakr II became Mansa Qu, but his aspirations did not lie in ruling the land. Instead, he looked westward, fixated on the idea of finding the far edge of the ocean and a new land beyond it. The circumference of the earth had long been calculated by Greeks, which illustrated just how little of the globe was known within the far reaches from the Canary Islands to China. There were legends of land in the “ocean of fogs” as the far Atlantic had been nicknamed, such as an expedition from Cordoba by Khashkhash before 1000 AD and another from Lisbon recorded by Idrisi’s Nuzhatal Mushtaq that described people with red complexions and straight hair using canoes as transport.

Abu Bakr II organized a flotilla of two hundred boats and outfitted it with enough supplies for literal years of travel. It sailed west from the coast of Africa, disappearing over the horizon. After many months of anticipation, only one boat returned. During the inquest to discover what happened, the captain of the surviving ship explained that their supplies had indeed lasted, which was the fear of the king. The fleet came upon a strong current within the ocean, driving them like a river. The current pulled boats into an enormous whirlpool from which there was no return. This surviving ship was fortunate to be the furthest east and received warnings from the others enough to sail counter to the current and escape.

Though he faced the literal forces of nature, Abu Bakr II was not deterred. He assembled a new flotilla, this one with two thousand boats that he would command himself. Appointing a trustworthy steward who would become Mansa Musa, the king-turned-admiral set his affairs in order and set off himself. Rather than following the same path as the previous fleet, the new expedition took a note from the voyage recorded by Idrisi to sail south first to avoid strong waves, ill-smelling water, and shallows in the fog. This took the fleet away from the prevailing winds to doldrums, leading to disquiet among the crew, but when they came upon a new set of winds to the south, morale was restored.

The winds took the fleet west and then south until they indeed made landfall. They discovered a forested countryside that later expeditions overland that had great deserts and savannah to the west, much like Mali had to the north. Finding a good port, Abu Bakr II established a city and traded with the locals, who were much like the legends had described. Sending ships back to Africa for more supplies and open invitations for settlers to be awarded with their own farms, Abu Bakr stayed in his new land to organize more explorations up and down the coast. In the north, they found dense jungle and an impossibly wide river; in the south, more grasslands that the Mali emperors adopted as huge herding grounds.

Over the coming two centuries, Mali would become the center of a trade network that stretched from the Aztec Empire to India with trade partners that reached as far as China. While enjoying the great boons of wealth and knowledge of seafaring, Mali along with these partners did suffer the brunt of transatlantic exchange, especially disease. The Black Plague gutted the regions via fleas on ship-borne rats. Recovery brought West Africa back to the forefront of world power, though it soon faced rivals in Europe who worked to colonize the northern continent not yet explored by Mali.

 

--

In reality, the second fleet of Abu Bakr II sailed west and never returned. Theories suggest that both fleets ran into storms, perhaps hurricanes, that destroyed them. Others state that the Africans did reach South America. One of the goals of the third voyage of Christopher Columbus aimed to investigate King John II of Portugal’s claims that West African ships traded with a continent southwest of Africa.

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