Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Guest Post: Death of the Modern Methuselah

This post first appeared on Today In Alternate History.


On 29 June, 1934, the world-famous centenarian Zaro Aga died in Istanbul Province, Turkey. Aged 170 years, 133 days the so-called "Giant Kurd" was the longest-living person in recorded history and considered the "Eighth Wonder of the World."

A global celebrity who had recently toured America, his dead body was immediately sent back to the United States. This examination was for verification by leading scientists with expertise in the ageing process. Various tests (including X-Rays) by these gerontologists were conducted, which identified little apart form the presence of an unusually large heart. However, in addition to the authentication of his birth certificate, his claims to have met Napoleon were independently validated. His age was then certified by the American actuary and gerontology researcher Walter Bowerman in a report published in 1939.

Convinced of Aga's incredible age, Bowerman then travelled to southwest China to investigate the claims that a herbalist and martial arts specialist called Li Ching-Yuen had lived to 252 years old. This was corroborated after he inspected Chinese government records that included letters of congratulations for his 150th and 200th birthdays and interviewing his neighbours, who asserted that their grandfathers knew him when they were boys and that he at that time was a grown man.

The science of gerontology rapidly advanced after Bowerman returned to the United States on the eve of World War II. The tentative conclusion validated Continuity Theory. This theory proposed that adaptive strategies enabled Zaro Aga and Li Ching-Yuen to continue the same energetic behaviours beyond the normal limitations of old age.

By the time that Bowerman died in November 1974, widespread testing of these adaptive strategies had been vigorously conducted for over 25 years. There was no evidence that extended longevity was inherited. Instead, gerontologists concluded that lifespans of beyond 150 were dependent upon a complex series of additional factors that included birth geography, physiology as well as exercise, behavior , and diet.

Unable to reproduce the phenomena in the laboratory, Methuselah Communities were established in Kurdistan and southwest China in an attempt to recreate exactly the same sets of breeding conditions. At the time of writing, it is widely predicted that these long-lived human beings will crew the space colonization ships of the future. But until scientists can "bottle" the so-called Aga-Ching-Yuen factor, such a scheme could only augment the life-span of the first generation crew members.

Author's Note:

In reality, Bowerman validated the claim of Delina Filkins to be 113 and advocated that actuarial tables have an upper cutoff of between 115 and 120 years. He concluded that Aga was around 97, not 157. He never travelled to China. Meanwhile, Li Ching-Yuen claims are considered to be a myth by gerontologists and Aga himself refused to believe them.

Provine's Addendum:

 Coming at the problem of aging from another, environmental, angle, scientists Tel Aviv University used experimental hyperbaric treatments with high-oxygen environments that extended telomeres (the edges of DNA that shorten over time, believed to be a major component of aging) as well as improving brain function. This contributed to the hopes of using long-lived humans aboard spacecraft, where the environment was already artificially created and controlled. Even without issues of Relativity with interstellar craft reaching planets in distant solar systems, it seemed that someday it would be commonplace for an old astronaut to return to Earth to meet his great-great-great-great-grandchildren.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Guest Post: Old Snapping Turtle joins the Battle of New York

This post first appeared on Today In Alternate History.

July 13, 1863

Lincoln's reward to General George Meade for losing the Battle of Gettysburg and then presenting him with an unwelcome Confederate peace offer was to dispatch "Old Snapping Turtle" to New York City to restore order.

Meade was the victim of bluffer's luck but for Dixie, the Army of Northern Virginia's bold thrust into Maryland and Pennsylvania had been a tactical masterstroke by Robert E. Lee. And yet the real hero of the hour was not Lee but his chief advisor, General James Longstreet, who had stepped into the gap left by Stonewall Jackson's death after Chancellorsville. Longstreet had observantly noticed that the Confederate shells were exploding behind Union lines. This was due to faulty timing in the detonators, but he had adjusted for this malfunction by re-targeting the shells slightly in front of the lines. After a huge battery that lasted an hour and consumed the entire stock of Confederate ammunition, sappers were sent in to destroy what remained of a low stone wall that was protecting Federal troops. Thanks to the vigilance of Longstreet, the central assault known to history as Pickett's Charge carried the victory even if the two days of attacks on the flanks had been hugely costly.

This so-called "High Water Mark of the Confederacy" disguised the truth of their dire predicament. Lee's peace offer letter itself was something of a bluff, much as the invasion of the border states had really been a glorified raid. There was no realistic prospect of a strike upon Washington City. Some optimists might have hoped that Gettysburg would prove to be another Saratoga in which the glorious patriot victory had encouraged French intervention into the revolutionary war, but the real military situation was hopeless. General Pemberton and his army were in the final phases of starvation at Vicksburg. Within the next few days, the city fell, and then Port Hudson followed, giving the Federals control of the vitally important Mississippi River and cutting the Confederacy in half. Lee's campaign in Pennsylvania had been a desperate attempt to relieve pressure on the Union campaign in the West. This was unsuccessful, but Lee did put Lincoln under intense pressure in the East.

The enraged Lincoln would change commanders once again, turning to the ruthless General Ulysses S. Grant with orders to irreversibly destroy Dixie and eliminate any potential for a "Lost Cause" legacy. Grant entertained a wicked plan to burn Richmond to the ground before the November election, but he lacked forces to enact that retribution. There was an even bigger immediate problem of riots opposing the draft in the North. Lincoln had intended to send units of the Army of the Potomac to quell the draft riots in New York City, but these men were now either dead or in Confederate prisoner of war camps.

Meade arrived during violent disturbances in Lower Manhattan by working-class white men who feared loss of earnings to free black people. Also, they did not share the desire to die for the cause Lincoln and Grant felt they should. Unable to restore order, the riots would quickly spread to other Northern cities, and Grant's limited forces would be dispatched to keep the peace.

The Confederacy would collapse in the spring of 1865, but by then Lincoln had been voted out of office because his war-time strategies had failed. His successor George McClellan would win the war; however, the fruits of his victory would be bitter. The balance of political forces in US Congress prevented the Union from imposing the kind of long-term reconstruction program that the discredited Lincoln hoped would change the south forever. Worse still, the racial violence in the Northern cities had even prevented him from following through on the Emancipation Proclamation. Unsuccessful on the battlefield, he had quite simply failed to hold the Union together as he had promised. As a result, his legacy was deeply tarnished, and he would be considered in the lower ranks of presidents, only slightly above his hapless predecessor James Buchanan.

Author's Note:

In reality, Lincoln diverted several regiments of militia and volunteer troops after the Battle of Gettysburg to control the city. But the situation only improved when assistant provost-marshal-general Robert Nugent received word from his superior officer, Colonel James Barnet Fry, to postpone the draft. As this news appeared in newspapers, some rioters stayed home. But some of the militias began to return and used harsh measures against the remaining mobs.

Provine's Addendum:

The "Black Question" became one of the biggest political issues of the 1870s. Slavery was ended long before the war, which left many African Americans still enslaved without knowing they had been freed until June of 1865. With bitter oppression in the South, no welcome in the north, and only a few organizations offering transport to Liberia, the freedmen looked west to start their own homes.. "Exodusters" left the South by the hundreds of thousands, establishing all-Black communities in Kansas and the Nebraska Territory. Even the Unassigned Lands of central Indian Territory, which had at one time was expected to become reservations of displaced Native American tribes, became opened by act of Congress from leaders fearful there might not be land available to whites looking to settle. By the twentieth century, a bloc of Black-led states in the West were a political force on the national level.

With a severe labor shortage in the South, it became a magnet for immigrants as well as opportunity-seeking Northerners. Its economy recovered far more quickly than it would have with severe devastation as Lincoln and Grant had proposed, and the influx of carpetbaggers led to much-needed investment. Times led to strange bedfellows, such as George Meade and James Longstreet, once opponents at Gettysburg, becoming allies in the proposition for the coastal railway connecting New Orleans and Monterrey, Mexico. 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

April 14, 1868 - First Locomotive in Ethiopia

In 1866, Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia (known in English as “Theodore II”) handed a letter to the British Consul, Captain Charles Duncan Cameron. It was an appeal to Queen Victoria, a “fellow Christian Monarch,” requesting skilled workers to aid in modernization of his empire, a culture that had existed for millennia and traced its rulers’ lineage back to King Solomon of Israel. Tewodros had reunified warring local princes into a coherent nation, but he faced constant rebellion largely in part to his own chaotic ruthlessness, which had only grown since the death of his wife in 1858. In a particularly bad mood the day he dispatched Cameron with the letter, he forced Cameron to take a vow to deliver it to the queen herself.

Cameron received different suggestions from the British Foreign Office, telling him to leave the letter with them and perform an investigation of the east African slave trade. Due to his oath, however, Cameron was forced to honor the request and appealed until he was returned to London. After some weeks, Victoria received the letter. Although the Foreign Office had concerns about investing resources in an unstable leader, especially one so near the valuable cotton regions of the Nile, the manufacturers of Britain saw it as an opportunity to gain a foothold in an area that was largely outside of European control outside of the new French port at Djibouti.

Cameron arrived in Ethiopia with a contingent of engineers and surveyors. Ethiopia was found to have a rich supply of coal, creating not only a local resource for fuel but also eagerness to purchase British-made engines. The first locomotive arrived in 1868 to much fanfare, as ordered by Tewodros, as it trekked on newly built rails from the Gulf of Aden. As transport became available, the area became wealthy through exports of cash crops such as coffee and worked to install more local factories.

In 1873, Tewodros died from illness likely brought by increased interaction with travelers, though many historians speculate the illness could have been helped along by poisoning. His son Alemayehu was placed on the throne at only twelve years old. Rivalries began as to who would serve as regent, and ultimately Araya Selassie Yohannes won out with his distinctions as general. Through Yohannes, Ethiopia expanded its borders and won a war against Egypt, itself attempting to build a modernized empire in the region. Yohannes also established the balance of Ethiopia’s many religions, working to create a largely secular government with a strong judicial system, as well as campaigning against the cultural stigma of manufacturing as opposed to agriculture.

Alemayehu came of age in 1879, and his reign would be one of consistent growth as well as growing pains. The Mahdist War in Sudan raged for nearly a decade and could have gone much longer if not for the Ethiopian industrial base and troop-transport capabilities. By the end, Egypt was a British de facto protectorate, Ethiopia controlled the south, and an Italian colony ran through the north connecting Libya and Eritrea. The Italo-Ethiopian War of 1896 shocked Europe as a sweeping Ethiopian victory drove the Italian forces back to the Libyan Desert. Ethiopia again expanded its borders to control Eritrea, and international balking led to threats by Alemayehu that he might take Italian Somaliland as well. It mirrored the Russo-Japanese War a few years later as a show of a rapidly industrialized nation defeating European ambitions.

In World War I, Ethiopia joined longtime allies Britain and France against the Ottoman Empire. Following the war, they continued as a regional power, working alongside Ibn Saud during the defeat of the traditionalist Ikhwan. This caused upheaval among the Muslim parts of the Ethiopian Empire, a rebellion in the eastern part of the nation that nearly became a civil war. Both Mussolini and Hitler offered European interference, but both were refused due to the history with Italian colonialism and Hitler’s anti-Semitism. Largely sitting out the Second World War to sort out internal affairs, Ethiopia returned as a major regional power and contributing to decolonization efforts. Through the latter twentieth century, it became a world influencer with its many industrial sectors along the Suez Canal trade route.



In reality, the British Foreign Office did not deliver Tewodros’s letter. In London, it was filed as “Pending” for a year before being rerouted to India, which it was supposedly filed “Not Even Pending.” Tewodros felt betrayed by Cameron’s return without skilled workers and imprisoned him along with several missionaries. During the 1868 Expedition to Abyssinia, the British force stormed his capital, and Tewodros committed suicide. The first railway in Ethiopia was not completed until 1897, running from Addis Ababa to Djibouti.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Guest Post: Presidents Dewey and Bricker

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History, a variant of Allen Mc.Donnell's Japan First scenario.

"We need not be afraid of the future, for the future will be in our own hands" - OTL Thomas E. Dewey

By mid-June 1945, the thirty-third US President Thomas E. Dewey had served in the long shadow of his late predecessor FDR for six underwhelming and frustrating months.

Having asked voters "Dewey or Don't We?", it seemed like the inglorious focus of his administration had been to help America lick her wounds. This was inevitable and indeed part of the Democrats' electoral calculations. Prior to his well-earned but brief retirement, FDR had delivered a hard-fought triumph over Japan. The victory was distinctly American with limited assistance from Commonwealth and Dutch Colonial forces. But the seeds were bitter: 230,000 Americans dead, 1.5 million wounded and an occupation force of 700,000 stationed on Honshu and the five smaller Japanese islands. These staggering human costs, combined with the exclusive commitments of the Japan First strategy, were arguments that stood against a continuation of war with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Where FDR had needed Pearl Harbor to bring isolationist American opinion around to war, four years later, Dewey had exactly the same problem. He also had the further complications that his armed forces were committed to the Pacific and the nation was exhausted by war.

Although a similar victory had not been declared in Europe, the undefeated remaining members of the Axis powers shared many of the same legacy issues. Churchill had avoided the Carthaginian peace favoured by members of his Tory Caucus, but instead had only achieved the honour of an unofficial ceasefire which existed between Great Britain and the Third Reich. Even this stalemate was largely because German resources were over-extended on the Eastern Front where a rump Soviet state continued in Siberia. The Nazi's rebuilding efforts would take years if not decades to come to fruition. Although some hawks, including Dewey himself, preferred a continuation war before the remaining Axis powers became too powerful, potential allies were so weak as to require America to grind down the Germans and Italians as they had the Japanese.

The Trinity Test of the new atomic bomb was still a month into the future. But it was hard to imagine how this weapon could be used unless America was a full belligerent. Certainly, the Dewey Administration could not directly gift the Soviets or British an atomic bomb under lend-lease. Only two foreseeable resolutions were possible: America coming to the aid of Great Britain during an Operation Sealion-style amphibious invasion or an Axis attempt to sabotage the Manhattan Project.

There was a decidedly hollow ring to the American victory if it was to be followed by a German attempt at world domination. Dewey had no intention of being viewed by history as the undertaker to follow FDR's victor. Where FDR had decided to deploy the US Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbour, Dewey chose to deploy two atomic bombs in the British Isles under American command. The weapons themselves were secretly delivered in parts and assembled on the Firth of Clyde in West Scotland.

Dewey flew to London in early August for a fateful meeting in Downing Street with Winston Churchill. Churchill's thinly disguised British Empire First attitude had scarcely changed in four years, but the problem was the defeat of the remaining Axis powers requiring a rollback in the Soviet Union. Ironically Dewey got the provocation both men were looking for. The Germans, who were fully aware of the shipments across the Atlantic, intercepted and shot his plane down, and he never even made it to London. As a result, incoming President John W. Bricker inherited an even more dangerous situation than his ill-fated running mate in the 1944 election. What was even worse was that Dewey had not even taken Bricker into his full confidence with his dangerous plans for the future.

Author's Note: In reality, Europe First was the grand strategy agreed by the Western Allies. FDR won a fourth consecutive presidential election but died shortly into his new term. In the TL we imagine on the same timing, although arguably he could have died earlier from more stress or later as a result of resting out of office.  

Provine's Addendum:

While atomic weapons helped bring an end to the war in Europe, Bricker saw their deployment as American assistance with great cost as seen in the death of Dewey. Echoing his negative opinion of the New Deal, Bricker said that "War overseas has depleted our resources, recklessly spent our money, and undermined the very spiritual foundations of our government." Bricker spent his time in office focusing on dismantling federal power in favor of local government, ending the Japanese occupation as quickly as possible, and ensuring that the new United Nations was a humanitarian and diplomatic forum rather than a governing body that might supersede the U.S. Constitution. Many called Bricker's actions backward movements, but a failed assassination attempt in 1947 won him enough favor to ensure a second term in 1948.

Hero of the Pacific War Douglas MacArthur handily won the 1952 presidential election, having been courted by both parties. MacArthur had been Supreme Commander during the occupation of Japan as well as overseeing the UN's Evacuation of Korea as the country fell to communism. Much of MacArthur's time in office was spent saber-rattling with threats of atomic warfare in any overt communist invasion of America or American Allies. His domestic policies, while harsh toward communism, were surprisingly liberal with avid support of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (in speeches, MacArthur cited his own work with the constitution for occupied Japan, which outlawed racism and enfranchised women). As Russian advances in space technology became clear with Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human in space, MacArthur's campaigns for private enterprise in scientific development rather than federally funded research fell out of favor. The 1960s would see a return of increasing federal power, which had been waning since the days of FDR.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Guest Post: Napoleon Insulted

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

"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?

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