Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Guest Post: Gore Acts on Terrorist Threats

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History based on Robbie Taylor's AH scenario terrorist attacks with input from Allen W. McDonnell.

July 19, 2001

Heads of the Transportation Department, national security agencies, and CEOs of major airlines gathered at the White House for a crisis meeting called by President Al Gore and his Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke.

The consensus was agreement upon emergency upgrades to airline security including the banning of knives and boxcutters and the reinforcement of cockpit doors. Of course, all of these infrastructure changes would take several months to roll out; so, in the short-term, Gore was entirely dependent upon his intelligence apparatus to prevent terrorist threats.

The top leaders of the al-Qaeda terrorist group had been sending a message of global threat from the USS Cole to the bombings at the embassies in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Spain, and Turkey. Caught out by Gore's initiative, they were forced to bring forward their dastardly plans to crash airline jets into several buildings in New York City and Washington. Not fully prepared, several Saudi Arabians were taken into custody prior to boarding intracontinental flights in Boston, Newark, and Washington, D.C. The F.B.I. had been closely tracking them since Gore had received a briefing entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike In U.S."

The nation never knew how close to tragedy it came, and this had a serious downside. Covert success created a "chicken-and-egg-style" problem because Gore lacked the political capital required to go into Afghanistan and capture Bin Laden and his cohorts. For justification purposes, he only had the recorded confessions of the terrorists, and Americans were confused by his complicated explanation of the link between Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. However, on the positive side, Fore was armed with the necessary Special Forces capability that had been developed as a result of the Operation Eagleclaw fiasco in 1979. As a result, the Battle of Tora Bora would not be a repeat of the ill-fated Tehran mission.

With the isolated exception of strong backing from the belligerent Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, the United States' unilateral action in Afghanistan provoked widespread anger across the Middle East. Even Holbrooke's conciliatory efforts to negotiate a two-state solution to the continuing Israeli-Palestinian standoff came to naught. Fury in the Arab streets over this diplomatic failure ripped open many wounds that President Bush had carefully avoided during the Gulf War by persuading the Israelis to stand aside despite SCUD missile attacks from Iraq. Domestic pressure upon Gore would build as he faced a backlash of public opinion for "his" "days of chaos" as airports slowly adjusted to heightened security. This was an aggravation as the NASDAQ began an epic crash with unemployment rising and the overall economy stalled. The truth was Gore had inherited unresolved problems from Clinton's Boom years.

The leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Massoud, provided much-needed operational assistance prior to his assassination by al-Qaeda operatives. News of his bloody murder was relayed to a surprised-looking Gore while he was televised reading a book, The Pet Goat, to students at a Sarasota school. After the inevitable political satire in the tabloids, the subsequent capture of Bin Laden on foreign soil would provoke bitter controversy around the world with the American hyperpower standing accused of imperial overreach. To assuage world opinion, the terrorist mastermind was handed over to the World Court to face justice in the Netherlands. This trial would dominate television channels throughout 2004 as Gore battled for re-election against the foreign policy hardman John McCain, Senator from Arizona.

Hawkish republicans labelled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction as an unresolved threat to the safety of the country. Rumours spread that Vice President Joe Lieberman had been engaged in secret diplomacy with Saddam to slowly loosen up some of the restrictions on the Kurds and Shias and even bring them into the Iraqi government. To win in the fall, Gore had to defend himself against the harsh accusation that his decision-making as Commander-in-Chief was sound but he lacked the authority and presidential leadership necessary to forcibly direct a worldwide war on terror and defeat jihadism.

Author's Note:

In reality, Bush White House Officials argued that the Administrator did not mention a specific time or place and that the threat was similar to the variety of different terrorist threats U.S. intelligence monitors frequently.

Provine's Addendum:

Commentators in the 2004 election said that it was likely Gore's actions in fall of 2003 that tipped the vote against his reelection. Coming out of a bitter economic plunge with the popping of the Digital Bubble, Gore focused much of his attention on reviewing overly earnest investments. As subprime mortgages began to increase, Gore's policies worked to slow down their potentially skyrocketing. Business leaders howled at government red tape slowing an already struggling economy with potential jobs lost in construction, although some economists suggested it may have prevented over-investment in assets that would prove toxic, perhaps even sparking a Second Great Depression when the bills became due.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Guest Post: March 3, 1976 - Board Of Estimate Rejects Donald Trump's Plan to Rebuild the Commodore Hotel

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Allen W. McDonnell and Brian Hartman.


March 3, 1976 - Board Of Estimate rejects plan to rebuild the Commodore Hotel

Budding young real estate developer Donald J. Trump failed to convince New York City's Board of Estimate to approve his innovative plan to rebuild the 1919 Beaux Arts brick-and-stone-detailed Warren-and-Wetmore-designed Commodore Hotel.

Their key objection was primarily financial: Trump had made an audacious request for a forty-year tax abatement. Due to the projected creation of 1,500 construction jobs, the proposal was strongly backed by the head of the Economic Development Administration, Alfred E. Eisenpreis, who hailed it as "a very exciting hope for the City." However, the stumbling block was the near-bankrupt city forgoing $4 million a year in real estate taxes in exchange for a share in the profits plus payments beginning at $250,000 a year and rising, in stages, to 4.2 million after 50 years. The City Council President Paul O'Dwyer had ominously warned that the Board needed to "look very carefully" at what the city would get in exchange for its tax forgiveness. Trump had sensed an opportunity in the city's financial crisis, but his proposal was simply politically unacceptable to the voters in their current mood.

The city's appeals for a bail-out from the state legislature in Albany, and then personally to President Ford, had been flatly rejected. The bankrupt owners of the Commodore Hotel had unpaid back taxes going back to 1970. With occupancy rates of 49 percent, the hotel closed shortly after the decision was made. Alternative schemes to convert the building into apartments, or even demolish it, were then taken under serious consideration. Whatever the solution, the Trump Organization was out of the project due to the withdrawal of its principal partner, the Hyatt Hotel Group.

Trump had not lost hope in his dream of upscaling his father, Fred's, business success in Queens and Brooklyn to Manhattan. Not discouraged by this failure, he relocated to Camden and started an even bigger project. Still only 29 years old, he attempted to use his influence to cause a revitalization of the city by replacing the lost industrial wealth with a new world financial center. In this endeavor, he was greatly assisted by the entrepreneurial talents of his wife and business partner, Ivana. However, when the diminutive Abraham Beame left the mayoral office, his successor Ed Koch was far less receptive to his charms, and the bold plan was only partially successful.

The popular and affable Koch glowed in the celebration of the Statue of Liberty's 100th anniversary celebration , but his re-election year of 1989 was a very difficult one for New Yorkers. Unable to win a historic fourth-term, he was driven from office with the city beset by racial tension. He would be replaced by the Manhattan Borough President, former marine David Dinkins, who became the first African-American to become Mayor of New York. His progressive views would strongly clash with Trump's over the notorious Central Park Five case.

Now based in New Jersey, the Trump Organization enjoyed greater success with the barrel-chested Governor Chris Christie. After Christie won the Presidency in 2012, Trump would finally build an International Hotel in Washington D.C., which he would open with Ivana. As he approached his seventieth birthday, his daughter Ivanka prepared to take the reins of the Trump Organization.

Author's Note:

In reality, after the city government granted a tax abatement for the renovation, Trump and Hyatt completely remodelled the hotel from June 1978 to September 1980, spending $100 million and removing almost all of the Commodore's original decorations.

Provine's Addendum:

The Trump Organization found not just gold mine but a string of gold mines in America's Rust Belt. Improvements in technology such as fax machines made office work traditionally only seen in key centers available anywhere with a telephone line, so Trump built an empire through towns that had been traditionally industrial but now suffered high unemployment and low real estate values. After buying up entire blocks, often with huge local and state government incentives, the organization would use connections to set up clerical services, phone answering banks, and telemarketing.

This project initially grew famous in financial sectors, but Trump came to a status as a living legend through the burgeoning internet. Always eager to seize on a new opportunity, Trump was one of the first popular bloggers, first adapting parts of his book Art of the Deal and then writing on nearly every topic that became newsworthy. Some of his legion of followers loudly suggested he should run for president, but Trump joked, "Why would I take the pay cut?"

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Guest Post: President Agnew

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Eric Lipps, Brian Hartman, Allen W. McDonnell, and Jeff Provine.

August 23, 1972 - Spiro T. Agnew Accepts the Republican Nomination

Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland (known affectionately to his friends as "Ted") accepted the Republican nomination for the forthcoming 47th quadrennial presidential election. His running mate was Congressman Pete McCloskey of California, who had recently run in the Republican primaries on an anti-Vietnam War platform despite (or because of ) being a former US Marine serving in Korea and awarded the Navy Cross and the Silver Star.

The following morning's headlines read "Let us Continue," although these scornful words did not form part of Agnew's acceptance speech. Far from being the makings of an urban myth, it was a sarcastic reference to Lyndon Baines Johnson, whose ascent to the Oval Office had enabled him to avoid prosecution for his shady business dealings. Likewise, Agnew would strenuously deny alleged bribery and kickbacks dating from his time as governor of Maryland. Agnew's speech went further by giving a rambling defense, leading to the most memorable assurance that, "I am not a crook. The President of the United States is not a crook."

Agnew's ascent differed greatly from the 36th President and was potentially was even murkier. Events behind this political cataclysm traced back to the immediate exposure of the break-in to the Democrat Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel Complex by members of CREEP, the notorious "Campaign to Re-elect the President" para-political body. In the face of extensive evidence of presidential misconduct, there was a bitter power struggle in the White House led by Chief of Staff General Alexander Haig who infamously declared, "I am in charge." Amidst this government crisis, Richard M. Nixon died from an aortic aneurysm before the end of the primary season, bequeathing Agnew both the presidency and the nomination. 'Ted' selected McCloskey for his running mate but chose not to appoint him Vice President for the remainder of his later predecessor's term. This would prove a weak choice. Rather than stirring the "pity vote," Agnew's predecessor's death in effect left Agnew holding the bag for Nixon's misdeeds. Later, some would argue Nixon had been the luckier one.

Agnew would disastrously lose the general election to the equally hopeless but fundamentally honest George McGovern and then face justice with no prospect of a pardon. Agnew of course contested criminal charges of extortion, tax fraud, bribery and conspiracy; on the same day, he was formally charged with accepting bribes totaling more than $100,000 whilst holding office since 1962 as Baltimore County Executive, Governor of Maryland, and Vice President. Although the prison sentence was suspended, ex-President Agnew would be fined $10,000 and would live out the remainder of his life as a political pariah, shunned even by Republican conservatives who had once looked to him to speak for them.

Author's Note:

In reality, several major revelations and egregious presidential actions obstructing the investigation later in 1973 prompted the House to commence an impeachment process against Nixon. He resigned from office under Section 1 of the 25th Amendment on August 9, 1974.

Provine's Addendum:

The McGovern presidency would work to realign federal programs with LBJ's earlier Great Society policy, a similar switch of opinion that occurs with the changeover of the White House and, indeed, had been seen in the more conservative direction when Nixon was elected in 1968. Many felt that the federal welfare programs and government-supported healthcare came at the right time as stagflation and a recession hit hard in 1973-1975. McGovern ran in 1976 on how he helped heal the economy, but the financial turmoil and widespread patriotism for the nation's bicentennial drove a great deal of force behind the conservative Republican who had come to power during the GOP chaos: former California governor Ronal Reagan. Reagan blamed "welfare queens" for draining the nation's economy and argued to reinstate American world authority after the humbling Vietnam War, planks in a platform that won him the 1976 election.

Reagan would win again in 1980 after staring down the USSR's consideration of military involvement in Afghanistan. During his famed speech in 1979, Reagan warned the Soviet Union's General Secretary, "Mr. Brezhnev, don't cross this line." The double-meaning of a political border and Reagan's seeming willingness to step in delighted Americans, especially after the USSR decided to only support the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan by proxy. With expansion questioned, the USSR focused on strengthening its union and revitalizing its economy by reconnecting with China through huge trans-Asian transit construction. Meanwhile, another economic recession would doom the Republicans' 1984 bid, instead ushering Democrat Walter Mondale into the White House.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Guest Post: February 27, 1993 - President Bush Visits Ground Zero

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History inspired by a This Day post with input from Allen W. McDonnell, Brian Hartman, Robbie Taylor, Thomas Wm. Hamilton and Charles K. Alexander II.

Leading Republican politicians George H.W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani met under tragic circumstances one day after a suicide bomber in a Ryder van exploded a deadly incendiary device in the parking garage under the North Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC).

The terrorists had worked under tight constraints, understanding that they could not employ the same techniques as the truck bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut ten years earlier. This target was far more massive, but frustration at Bush's victory in the 1992 election pushed the terrorists to strike with all ferocity available. Only a shipping container packed with high explosives and rammed into the building could bring down the two principle towers of the WTC complex. Instead, due to their precise timing, the detonation occurred at peak crowding when employees were just arriving for work. Consequently, the 1,336 lb (606 kg) urea nitrate-hydrogen gas-enhanced device killed hundreds of Americans and left thousands more injured. In a knee-jerk attempt to "close the stable door after the horse has bolted" military checkpoints were set up in New York City for the first time. This catastrophe occurred just 37 days short of the WTC's thirty-year anniversary.

The timing was also fateful for the two prominent men centre stage. Both Republicans had won narrow victories at the polls but were at the opposite ends of the electoral cycle. Bush had just started his second term (the fourth consecutive office of the Republican presidency), whereas Giuliani would seek re-election in the fall.

The present conversation became dominated by terrorist extremism and blundering intelligence failures. Only two days after the explosion, a rebuffed search warrant at the Branch Davidian ranch in Texas turned into a gun battle ending in the Waco massacre. Undaunted, Bush, a former CIA Director, and Giuliani, a feisty prosecutor who had put the Mafia behind bars, believed they were the men of the hour. Instead, it would be General Colin Powell who stepped up to the plate at this terrible moment in the history of the Republic. Meanwhile, hawks privately hoped that this was the day that America threw peace out the window and embraced its new role of sole imperialistic superpower.

A breakthrough occurred in early March when FBI investigators traced the yellow Ford Econoline used in the bombing to a Jersey City rental outlet. This was only possible because the feed from security cameras was stored at the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) headquarters located miles away. Agents attempted to peacefully arrest Mohammad Salameh as he retrieved his $400 deposit, but the capture turned to disaster with a running gun battle that killed innocent bystanders. Citing this as a similar missed opportunity to seize David Koresh when he was jogging alone in Waco, libertarian elements of the public began to sharply criticize the Federal response.

The reaction to this criticism was predictable; Giuliani's decisions were certainly heavy-handed in law and order. His over-zealousness led to claims of police brutality and fuelling racial fears. He arrogantly considered himself a combination of "Untouchable" Eliot Ness and his own predecessor La Guardia. But one of his fiercest critics was ex-marine David Dinkins, a likely Democrat candidate in the forthcoming mayoral election given that Ed Koch had lost in 1989, accused of vote tampering. Pledging racial healing, and famously referred to New York City's demographic diversity as "not a melting pot, but a gorgeous mosaic," Dinkins was seeking to become the first African American to hold the office.

Surely without the Waco Massacre, American anger might well have been channelled towards massive retaliation overseas. Instead, it was vented at the incompetence of security agencies who were blamed for their uncoordinated handling of terrorist threats. Under pressure, President Bush hurriedly passed a Patriot Act and appointed the hugely popular and competent four-star General Colin Powell, outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the new Cabinet position of Secretary of National Security. Vastly experienced, he was due to retire from the US Army in September after a thirty-five-year military career overseeing twenty-eight crises, including the invasion of Panama in 1989 and Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf War against Iraq in 1990-1991. He had also served as Ronald Reagan's National Security Advisor from 1987-9. It would take almost eighteen months to integrate this vast security apparatus requiring the kind of tactical response that had long been his hallmark. His vast inter-agency oversight role would encompass both the CIA and the FBI giving him a degree of power unprecedented even under J. Edgar Hoover. In a masterful repetition of his famous Gulf War press conference, Powell pledged, "Our strategy in going after this terrorist threat is very simple. First, we are going to cut it off, and then we are going to kill it."

For his initiatives to "rally 'round the flag," Powell would enjoy a level of public trust that Giuliani could only dream about, but Powell had to get up to speed much more quickly than he did for Operation Desert Storm. In his first notable action in the early days of his tenure, he successfully prevented an assassination attempt upon Bush during a visit to Kuwait to honour his victory in the Persian Gulf War against Iraq. Powell would prove to be highly effective over the course of Bush's second term: terrorist organizations and training camps would be uncovered and shut down while numerous terrorists would be arrested, including Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the World Trade Center Bombing as well as the attacks on the Shiite shrine in Mashhad, Iran, and Philippine Airlines Flight 434. The latter led to Yousef's arrest in 1995, the same year a homegrown plot to attack the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was foiled by watchful security.

With the sense of America's invulnerability returning, the economy rebounded and then exploded with the introduction of the World Wide Web. The GOP triumphed in the mid-terms and America headed towards the 53rd quadrennial presidential election with a renewed sense of hope. By a huge margin in opinion polls, Secretary Powell would be the most popular Republican candidate, leading a historic attempt to secure a fifth consecutive term of office for the GOP. In his way would be a determined field of potential Democrat candidates including David Dinkins, Jerry Brown, Al Gore, and even the recently divorced Hillary Clinton. There also came a wild card on the ballot in a Ross Perot and Bernie Sanders independent ticket, endorsed by Jesse Jackson, to oppose Powell's national security state and the new world economic order.

Author's Note:

In reality, the Towers did not collapse because the truck bomb was underpowered for the terrorists' goals, which would be sadly realized eight years later with airplane attacks.

Provine's Addendum:

The Dot Com Bubble bursting in spring of 2000 was the death knell for the Republicans' long hold on the Executive Branch. President Powell's efforts to shore up the economy would not have the timeline to make major improvements, and the Gore-Dinkins ticket won handily in the election that fall. While many felt that it would be a new era rolling back many of the Bush and Powell security requirements, such as the mountain of paperwork to rent a truck, only a few minor changes actually took place. The bureaucracy was well entrenched, and not even cries from the National Rifle Association were able to end more than a handful of surveillance actions on gun-buyers. Courts would test whether gun owners were having their Second Amendment rights violated by "checkups" with local officials, but as the ownership itself wasn't in question so much as perceived mental clarity, most of the laws remained intact. Numerous groups would start as self-proclaimed militias for further protection, giving the FBI, ATF, and other agencies clear cells to watch as the average Americans continued with rigorous inspections through metal detectors, background checks, and loyalty oaths.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Guest Post: Reciprocity Treaty Expires

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

December 9, 1887 - 

On this fateful day, the defunct Reciprocity Treaty between the United States of America and the Hawaiian Kingdom expired.

The end of negotiations denied the U.S. government obtaining exclusive use of Pearl Harbor and the right to maintain a repair and coaling station for ships. In a larger sense, it marked a failure to establish de facto colonial overlordship over the archipelago of Pacific islands. In time, this set-back would refocus American policymakers on the Caribbean, especially the island of Cuba.

The ostensibly "free trade" agreement was a trojan horse that had been signed and ratified a dozen years earlier. Within a short space of time, Americans controlled the Hawaiian economy, even bringing Japanese migrants over to work in their sugarcane fields. Thanks to pro-annexationalist missionaries, Americans were soon to gain control of its government. With the growing influence of the Annexation Party, King David Kalākaua abandoned his dream of a Polynesian confederation (despite optimistic diplomacy with Sāmoa) and travelled to Tokyo to propose a union with the Japanese Empire in 1881. The deal was sealed by an arranged marriage between his five-year-old niece Princess Ka'iulani and 13-year-old Prince Yamashina Sadamaro.

The U.S. reaction to the marriage proposal was strangely muted due to the recent assassination of President James Garfield, which meant that America way too busy to do anything about it at the time. Moreover, the timing of the Tokyo visit was opportune because it was a troubling period for Japan also. The new government had just recently put down several peasant and samurai rebellions, and the economy was not in the best shape with extreme inflation. After hundreds of years of the Sakoku ("locked country") policy, Japanese ports were forced open by American Admiral Perry in his 1853 display of Western prowess and demands of a treaty. Although Mutsuhito, the Emperor Meiji, and his government were concerned about the reactions of the Americans and British (who wanted a coaling station with a deep water harbour between Australia and Vancouver), their goal was to transform Japan from an isolationist, feudal state to an industrialized world power. Seemingly for this reason of shared interest, although imperial ambition was a motivating force also, he accepted the offer that one of the Japanese Imperial princes marry a Hawaiian princess.

Mutsuhito passed away in 1910, and by then Japan had undergone an extensive political, economic, and social revolution and emerged as one of the great powers on the world stage. Their economic influence and military prestige would become obvious in their defeat of a western nation in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. Further 'alliance' marriages had occurred with Korea, the Philippines, and even Sāmoa, a dynastic practice reluctantly welcomed in Japan but long tested in Europe. By this point, there was an international debate as to whether the Empire of Japan actually was a protector of other security-threatened Asian nations or a more fearsome predator. Within four short years, this question would be unambiguously answered. His successor Yoshihito, Emperor Taishō, would be emboldened to take an even more fateful decision to contest Anglo-American control Pacific, joining forces with the Central Powers in the Great War.

Author's Note:

In reality, the Japanese government, politely declined the offer. Kalākaua was the penultimate monarch and last King of Hawaiian.

Provine's Addendum:

While the mainland American response to Japan's new treaty with Hawaii had been minimal, the Americans on the Hawaiian Islands were panicked as they had anticipated the treaty to be renewed. The Bayonet Revolution by the Honolulu Rifles, a militia made up of members of the Committee of Safety for the Annexation Club, had all but seized control in July of 1887, and young Prince Sadamaro journeyed to Hawaii along with a contingent from the Japanese military to reaffirm the superiority of King David Kalākaua. The resulting crackdowns chased leaders such as Samuel Castle and Sanford B. Dole from the island. Other businesses like C. Brewer & Co. and the British Theo H. Davies & Co. cooperated to maintain their supply of sugarcane for export.

Prince Sadamaro felt his clear duty was the defense of this new ally, which in his mind would soon become a vassal-state to Japan. Following his formal introduction to Ka'iulani, Sadamaro went to Europe to complete his education, focusing on naval warfare and construction, until his graduation from France's Ecole Navale in 1890. For the next three years until his wedding to Ka'iulani, he served aboard various Japanese ships. After the wedding, he continued a role in the Japanese navy, even seeing active combat in both the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894 and the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.

Upon the announcement of war with the Entente Powers, Sadamaro was "visibly pained" although other military leaders celebrated the early victories seizing British and French ports in mainland Asia. Sadamaro commanded the eastern branch of the naval forces, securing islands such as Tahiti and conducting raids in the Solomon Islands. The bulk of the fighting was conducted against U.S. troops in the Philippines, where Filipino efforts toward independence had dragged on event after the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) left some 25,000 dead. Within time, the Pacific fleets of the Americans and the British coordinated to push back. Sadamaro continued a desperate defense with near-guerilla tactics until his death during the American invasion of Oahu. The U.S. occupied the islands for the remainder of the war, using it as a pipeline for the support of re-establishing control over the Philippines. While the war in Europe ended in 1918, war in the Pacific dragged on into 1922 when Emperor Taisho at last capitulated after devastating naval barrages of Tokyo and other ports.

Following the war, Japan was stripped of many of its Pacific colonies, including Taiwan, which were made into independent republics with strong Western military presences. Hawaiian Queen Lili'uokalani had died during the occupation, leaving Princess Ka'iulani as the heir but refused a coronation. Ka'iulani, widowed and childless, died soon after her abdication of several ailments, which commentators at the time said all stemmed from a broken heart. To this day, the US maintains its naval base in Hilo Bay on the Big Island.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Guest Post: Texas Congressman Johnson Lost in the Pacific

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

June 9, 1942

On this sad day for the Lone Star State, Lieutenant Commander Lyndon Baines Johnson, a serving Congressman from Texas's 10th district covering Austin and the surrounding hill country, was tragically killed on duty in the Pacific. His body was never recovered.

Johnson had been serving in the Navy Reserves but, tired of inspecting shipyards in his home state, had opted for a non-hazardous overseas mission to report on conditions of the Southwest Pacific. However, he had pushed his luck too far by volunteering to observe an airstrike over New Guinea; there, his aircraft had been tragically shot down. A brilliant man, he had his own feelings of inadequacy believing his peers in Washington considered him illiterate, rude, crude, laughing at him behind his back. On the Hill it was rumored that these reasons cost him his life aged thirty-three.

His death was also a great political loss for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had found Johnson to be a welcome ally and conduit for information, particularly about issues concerning internal politics in Texas and the machinations of Vice President John Nance Garner and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn. About a month after Johnson's death, Roosevelt told all Congressmen who were on active duty to either stay in the service or Congress. It was too late to save Johnson, but Rayburn's political future was bright. He would end a fine career by serving as Vice President during the first year of John F. Kennedy's time in the Oval Office. Detractors argued that Kennedy had cynically chosen the ageing Texan only to win Southern votes in the disputed 1960 election.

Author's Note:

In reality, Johnson survived the attack, and General MacArthur recommended he get a Silver Star. Johnson reported that the conditions in the Southwest Pacific were deplorable and unacceptable. He recommended that the theater needed to be prioritized with more funding immediately. Johnson told Congress that morale there was low and that America's planes were inferior to Japan's. Congress responded by making Johnson the chairman of the Naval Affairs Congressional Committee. After Roosevelt's announcement to protect active political figures, Johnson was among the half that stayed in Congress. Before fully retiring from the Navy, Johnson was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 1949.

Provine's Addendum:

The election of 1960 had been won by JFK by just over one hundred thousand votes. Kennedy had chosen wisely in making a long-serving Texan his running mate as the South was hotly contested as the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum. Though Kennedy/Rayburn collected most of the region's votes, Independent Harry F. Byrd had won 15 electoral votes in Alabama, Mississippi, and a faithless elector in Oklahoma. The conservatism in the South had alienated voters from Senator Stuart Symington, the candidate from Missouri who refused to speak to segregated crowds.

Times changed a great deal by 1964, and Democratic leaders tapped Symington to be the new VP for Kennedy's second term. The office had sat empty for three years, and though some political leaders called for an amendment to clarify the constitutional process to fill vacancies, the public saw no real need. There was concern that Symington wasn't "Southern enough," but leaders decided to focus on a more liberal agenda. Republicans reacted by chasing the conservative vote, securing the South for Barry Goldwater in 1964's election but ultimately losing overall to Kennedy and Symington, who focused on keeping Midwestern voters Democratic while encouraging the drive for African American votes. Symington, who had shown increased productivity in his integrated workforce of the Emerson Electric Company during World War II, brought new respect to the VP office and made headlines for fighting for the firing of FBI head J. Edgar Hoover over clear racial prejudices.

JFK's two terms would be the first of many Kennedy presidencies, including his younger brothers Robert and Ted in the '70s and '80s and son JFK, Jr., in the new millennium.

Monday, July 31, 2023

Guest Post: First Citizen Charles Carroll

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Allen W. McDonnell.

September 19, 1737

First Citizen of the American Colonies Charles Carroll of Carrollton was born on this day in Annapolis, Maryland, British America.

A delegate to the Continental Congress and Congress of the Confederation, Carroll was the wealthiest and most formally educated of the political body, most of whom held theological views influenced more by Deism than classic Biblical theology. For these reasons, and being an openly practising Catholic, naturally Carroll was involved in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence to balance the "Puritan firebrands of the Protestant colonies." Their hostility was born of severe religious persecution that made them very suspicious of the allegiance of Catholics to the power of the Pope. Whether or not a majority of the colonials genuinely saw the Pope in the same retrograde anti-libertarian light as King George III, there certainly was a palpable sense that anti-Catholicism had helped fuel the American Revolution. Carroll had much work to do to overcome those prejudices, such as
many Colonial Americans fearing that the Pope would order an invasion from Quebec to impose Catholicism on them.

Consequently, Carroll's active participation was a bold decision that was vindicated by the history of the Republic. His faith-based perspective led to the proposed modifications to Jefferson's early drafts that prevented the alienation of French Canadiens and suppressed anti-Catholic urges. By changing a few words to ensure the Declaration was an accurate expression of the Catholic mind (most significantly, changing "creator" to "Christian God") and drawing upon the political doctrines of Cardinal Bellarmine, Carroll dramatically reversed the course of the 1777 offensive. British soldiers soon had uprisings in Quebec stamp out as well as attempting to make headway into New York.

Like with many of the colonial grievances, the causal factors traced back to the French and Indian War. After taking control of Quebec, the British had taken extraordinary measures to protect religious liberty in the Quebec Act so that Catholics in Canada could simply swear loyalty to King George III. However, this favoritism had gone too far by extending the territory of Quebec to the Ohio River, where Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia colonists had organized the Ohio Company. The Continental Congress had labelled this an "Intolerable Act" but had shown restraint in denouncing Catholicism.

As the Revolutionary War dragged on, one of the significant factors driving events was the pressing need to keep Catholic allies onboard. With this consideration firmly in mind, Washington had forbidden the usual Guy Fawkes celebrations on Nov. 5, 1775, of burning the pope in effigy to avoid insulting the Continental Army's Catholic allies. This far-sighted decision ensured that liberty came to Quebec. Nearly a century later, Quebec's first Irish governor, Thomas D'Arcy McGee, would formally acknowledge the significance of Carroll's role as First Citizen in bringing the territory into the Union, famously declaring, "Vive le Québec libre!"

Author's Note:

In reality, Carroll was only a signatory of the Declaration (also the longest surviving, dying 56 years after its signing). Despite being one of Maryland's most famous sons, Carroll was technically not allowed to hold office in the state due to his religion. Only three of the 13 colonies allowed Catholics to vote. Thomas McGee succeeded in helping achieve the Canadian Confederation in 1867, but he was assassinated by the Fenian Brotherhood, which considered McGee guilty of Shoneenism (a pejorative term for snobs and Anglophiles).

Provine's Addendum:

Historians frequently debate whether Quebec's declaration of independence from Britain to join the growing United States ended the revolutionary war more quickly or caused it to be prolonged due to the resulting panic in London. Many feared the demands of independence might continue to be contagious, especially after the swift evacuation of the Loyalists in Canada, who were outnumbered by the French-speaking colonists nearly ten-to-one. Having lost everything north of the Gulf of Mexico, the British Empire could potentially lose colonies in the Caribbean if the war spread. Attempts at campaigns in the Carolinas proved expensive and stagnant, so London finally chose to bring an end to the war.

The young United States found that the Articles of Confederation were insufficient, and the resulting Constitutional Convention became the field of thought for political theory. Following Carroll's lead, the representatives from Quebec refused any document that did not assure basic freedoms of religion, firmly establishing a formal separation of church and state. Others added to the push for freedoms, establishing the article of Fundamental Rights that included speech, press, petition, peaceful assembly, self-defense, and more. Future amendments would install other rights or clarify political process, such as the official end of slavery with the Ninth Amendment in 1831.

With Quebec and later the Republic of Vermont soon annexed to the original United States, there became a strong tradition of growth. Much of the expansion went into westward territories, such as the Louisiana Territory purchased in 1803. This led to conflict along the border with the Empire of Spain, which later prompted American support in the Mexican War of Independence. There were efforts to bring Mexico and even Haiti into the United States, but these would fizzle under fears of white American voices losing their overwhelming majority in Congress.

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