Saturday, July 31, 2010

July 31, 1919 – Weimar Constitution Reexamined

After the fall of the German Emperor in the Great War, the revolution in Germany led to a greatly progressive document for its new constitution in the city of Weimar. It called for sweeping checks and proportional representative government, ideas evolved during the strong years of Germany before the war.

However, throughout the nation, there were a growing number of “political parties”, a democratic ideal that had not yet affected Germany. Historical reflection on parties from the first republic of neighboring France showed a time of strife that would follow as extremists fought for their own mad notions. They needed strong leadership initially to avoid this, or else they might end up with a bloody revolution, a Reign of Terror, or even fall to a Napoleonic tyrant of their own.

Just before final approval, the National Assembly voted to take a final review in committee of this problem of extremism. After much discussion, they decided to postpone truly proportional representative government until the finances of the country were balanced and the war reparations paid. Until then, Germany would have tiered elections aimed toward moderate, unified leadership. To hold back single-handed power from another kaiser, Article 48 (giving the president power to "take all necessary steps" in the case that "public order and security are seriously disturbed or endangered") was more carefully defined and limited to true moments of panic or war.

The new constitution was ratified and came into affect in August of 1919. When elections came around, it was seen that the radicals on both the left and the right were taking wild stands. Fortunately, the follow-up elections allowed for control over different angles and solid centrists to take command. Many former low-level leaders before the war were returned to office, and they set about to restore the strength of Germany despite the odds.

Initial problems broke out as violence challenged the strength of the new republic. The communist Red Guards and the right-wing Freikorps both instigated attacks on each other as well as civilians. Rather than simply arresting whomever they could to try to bottle up a torrent, the German government set about on a program of “Rationalization” where disagreeing parties were drawn together to discuss their differences. While that served as the cover, many times the plan was used to pit the extremists against each other, such as the Freikorps paramilitary being used to bring down an attempted communist coup in Bavaria. Whenever possible, the government would then arrest leaders and exile them, sending many to Soviet Russia or increasingly conservative Italy.

With balance vaguely achieved (though the process was continual... a young artist named Adolph Hitler was arrested in Bavaria a number of times and exiled to Austria in 1923, for example), the government focused on its economic policies. Hyperinflation was controlled by freezing prices and continually discussing reparation treaties with other countries, gradually talking down the amount rather than paying fully as international tempers cooled.

In the 1920s, elections would broaden as the Goldene Zwanziger was in swing. Few were interested in extremism while the country grew prosperous. As the markets crashed and the Great Depression set in, however, the political climate changed. Still, with even its short tradition of leadership, the dark age only strengthened the German peoples' faith in its government. A gradual system of social nets began to grow, mirroring the public works projects put up in the United States by their president FDR.

The world economy would gradually pick itself back into place in the 1940s, helped a good deal by the international demands for food, steel, and cloth in the Italian campaigns in Africa (to which many German right-wing expatriates would go, alleviating unemployment) and the Pacific War. Fought by the Japanese against the Americans, British, and French, the financial and material needs of their countries would give Germany a boost back into solvency. In fact, the war would even prove the shortcomings of the League of Nations, which would be strengthened by the Treaty of Kyoto in 1944.

When the Soviet Wars of the 1950s broke out, Germany found itself on the front lines after the conquest of Poland. The armies of Stalin and later Khrushchev, began marching west and south, conquering and even entering the Mediterranean. Joining with former enemies France, England, and the United States, Germans fought for their nationhood, holding out for long years against sieges and bombings by Soviet forces. With the defeat of Soviet Russia and the fall of communism in 1971, Germany and the Allies set to rebuilding the world.

In reality, the Weimar Constitution was academically brilliant, but did not have the practicality for the real world. Hyperinflation would cripple Germany, which would be fought over by extremists each thinking they had the best idea. Through propaganda and chutzpa, the once tiny National Socialist party would gain power under Hitler, strengthening Germany but forever changing the history of the world.

Friday, July 30, 2010

July 30, 1975 – Jimmy Hoffa Meets Mafia Heads

James Hoffa, once president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, had been through dire straights in the past ten years. He had been born to the working class and risen to fight for labor rights. After being fired as a teenager trying to unionize his fellow grocery workers to fight for fair wages and job security, he joined Local 299 of the Teamsters in Detroit, MI, and rose to the presidency in 1957.

In 1964, his luck changed. He was convicted of attempted bribery of a grand juror and, later, fraud. Gaining a commuted sentence from President Richard Nixon, Hoffa was free on the condition that he not participate in union business until 1980. Resistance in several spheres held back his ability to appeal, and so Hoffa settled to rebuilding his career writing autobiographies and planning his comeback starting again at Local 299.

In 1975, he met at a diner with Anthony Giacolone of Detroit and Anthony Provenzano of New Jersey, both Mafia bosses who had connections with the unions. Provenzano had served as vice-president for the IBT during Hoffa's second term. While the topics discussed remain a mystery, it is believed that Hoffa had a major plan to bring down the Republican Party as vengeance for the betrayal Hoffa felt being kept from union work despite having endorsed Nixon.

Through underground networks, and more openly after 1980, Hoffa began building a massive political machine. Though Reagan would handily win his reelection against Mondale in 1984 (despite the latter carrying Michigan and New Jersey), his Vice-President Bush would narrowly lose out to Michael Dukakis in 1988. Many commentators would say Hoffa's push gave Dukakis the few extra million votes he needed. Hoffa would die of a heart attack the next year at age 76.

The next sixteen years would be a golden age for the Democratic Party. Through two terms of Dukakis (often credited with presiding over the fall of Soviet Russia), a term of Bill Clinton of Arkansas (who would choose not to run in 2000 following tarnished public opinion), and four years of Al Gore of Tennessee, many progressive Democratic policies would become realities: a nation-wide ban on capital punishment, National Health Insurance, guaranteed housing, an increase of human welfare, and environmental protection.

In 2001, terrorism struck New York City, and President Gore would find himself at the head of a vindictive populace. Pouring resources into international policing and covert operations with the aid of NATO and the UN, Gore would declare a “War on Terrorism.” When Afghanistan repeatedly refused to cooperate in search of Osama Bin Laden, an invasion begins. While the Taliban are quickly knocked out of power, the war grinds to a halt with constant insurgency.

War weariness and a growing national debt would beset the American populace, and the Democratic era would in in 2004 with the election of President John McCain, a Vietnam war hero.

In reality, Giacolone and Provenzano did not meet with Hoffa. In the following investigations, they both denied even making appointments and had sound alibis. What really happened to Jimmy Hoffa remains a mystery to this day.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

July 29, 1848 – Irish Rebellion Gains Momentum into Revolution

1848 was a year of revolt all around Europe. France's King Louis-Philippe had fallen to the Second Republic, Germans overthrew many of their local lords, and even the stalwart Austrians gained a constitution to balance the power of an absolute monarch. In Ireland, times were especially hard. The Potato Blight, beginning in 1845, had caused famine to last for years. The British government did very little to aid them, and now was the time for them to aid themselves.

Under the Union Act of 1800, Ireland had been joined with Britain into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Since its passing by Parliament, there had been men working against it in Ireland known as the Repeal Association. The political movement remained marginal before stepping up to fame as the Young Ireland movement in 1839. Along with new powers granted to the Catholics in the 1832, the movement gained force all over the country. A splinter group, the Irish Confederation, began the push for all-out independence and a wholly Irish parliament.

After the success of the French revolution in February, the Irish began to make their moves. While leader William Smith O'Brien hoped for a bloodless revolution, the government was more fearful and suspended habeas corpus on July 22. O'Brien and his followers decided to act to oppose this force of politics. Battles erupted around County Tipperary, culminating on July 29 in the village of Ballingarry.

O'Brien and other Young Irelanders had fortified The Commons and awaited the approach of police and military troops. A group of 46 under Sub-Inspector Trant had been spotted, and the rebels pursued them into a two-story farmhouse where the police set up defense and took the family hostage. O'Brien approached the house and explained to the police that if they were to surrender their arms, they would be allowed to return home as fellow Irishmen. After a long moment of thought, Trant surrendered.

A few hours later, a band of one hundred more police under Sub-Inspector Cox appeared, being met by the surrendering police as well as a crowd of hundreds of pike-wielding, jubilant rebels. In shock, these police surrendered, too. All through the night, word spread of the victory, and O'Brien worked to harangue his people to never give up the fight for independence.

On July 30, the British army approached the fortified Young Irelanders. The commanders were slow to assault such a massive, poorly armed but publicly acclaimed band, but at last the battle ensued. Tactically, the battle became a draw, and the army retreated for the night. O'Brien, however, called the battle a great victory and spread word of the success of the revolution in more-than-literal terms. All over Ireland through August, revolts would begin, and the British landowners and Loyalists would be chased from the island. On August 23, O'Brien and his followers of men, women, and children would take Dublin and call for elections to an Irish Parliament. O'Brien was named Prime Minister, a position he would hold for fifteen years until his death in 1864.

In September, while the Royal Family retired to Balmoral in Scotland, Prince Albert would come to Ireland with a massive force of British troops. He suggested an armistice, to which O'Brien agreed, and the two would begin to mastermind a fair treaty that would grant Ireland its own parliament, but still keep the emerald isle as part of the British Empire. Seeing the forces willing to fight to maintain conquest, O'Brien agreed. The Act of Irish Parliament passed narrowly in 1849, with many Loyalists crying out against it. With renewed Irish loyalty, however, the empire would blossom.

Loyalists and English would gradually leave Ireland while the Catholic Irish stayed and worked to improve their country with O'Brien's reforms over the rest of the nineteenth century. Industry, especially manufacturing, grew with economic incentives from the Irish Parliament and a workforce of millions (many scholars predict these men may have emigrated to America). The Irish would be instrumental troops in World War I as well as the counter-invasion of the Continent against Hitler's soldiers in 1941, leading to the downfall of Germany in early 1944.

Moreover, the Irish Parliament would give Britain a model for treatment of its colonies and creating productive home-rule. Fending off the Communist incursions of the 1950s and '60s, the British Empire would continue to dominate the world along with its ally and former colony, the United States of America. With the fall of their competitor the Soviet Union in 1992, Britain would lead the world into its next millennium as an empire upon which the sun would never set.

Ireland, meanwhile, would be a land of marginal success. Its industrial heyday was long over, with crime and unemployment rampant, though the 1990s would cause a renewed surge of economics in technology as the Silicon Isle of Europe.

In reality, someone (thought to be a policeman, though it is not known who) shot at O'Brien at the Ballingarry farmhouse. A gun battle would begin lasting hours, which the vindictive rebels would win. When Cox and his men appeared, the bloodthirsty rebels would spring upon them and slaughter dozens despite their begs of mercy.

As the army arrived the next day, there seemed no more want of battle, and the Irish would give up their weapons. O'Brien and other leaders would be arrested and sentenced to hanging, drawing, and quartering as traitors. Petitions with upwards of 80,000 signatures would appear against them, and HM's government would commute the sentences to exile in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania).

Ireland would not gain independence until 1927, still under the crown, and its republic would not appear until 1949.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

July 28, 1932 – Bonus Army Counterattacks

The Great Depression had ground on for years. While President Herbert Hoover had enacted breadlines and other minor alleviations for the out-of-work populace, the country as a whole continued to suffer unemployment and lack of cash. The people themselves began to call for direct aid, and none more vigorously than the veterans of the World War. In 1924, Congress had voted a bonus for each soldier in recognition of their service, giving one dollar for every day of domestic time ($1.25 for each day abroad) to a maximum of $500 ($625 abroad). The bonuses were paid via certificates and a trust fund, giving percentages until full payment was achieved in 1945.

By the troubled year of 1932, one-third of the payments had been made, and now Congress hoped to aid out-of-work veterans by advancing the payment to full. Hoover and his Republican allies were opposed to the idea, saying that it would strain the budget of the Federal government and take away funds needed for other relief programs. Veterans, however, pressed their representatives for the payment, and the House passed the Patman Bonus Bill to accelerate the giving of the money.

In June of 1932, the bill went before the Senate, and veterans marched on Washington to show their support for it. Seventeen thousand veterans came to the capital, bringing their families with them to total nearly 43,000 people. Most of them lived in Hooverville camps outside Washington proper, the biggest one being across the Anacostia River. Rather than disease-ridden slums, the camps were well organized with streets, clean water, sanitation facilities, and even parades. Despite the public support, the Senate blocked the bill, and now the “Bonus Army,” as they called themselves, began to protest in earnest for the funds that were rightfully theirs.

By July 28, the government had taken their fill. Protesters had marched on the White House, leading to a scuffle that resulted in police brutalizing several of them. Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the removal of all protesters from government property on grounds of trespassing. Police tried to clear a camp, but the veterans resisted. Shots were fired, and two veterans were left dead.

When he heard of the violence, Hoover decided to clear the district before things turned worse. He called General Douglas MacArthur from Fort Howard in Maryland with infantry and tanks from Fort Myer, Virginia, commanded by Major George S. Patton. The Bonus Army was in the midst of a march when the army arrived and took the appearance of the troops as a show of support. Instead, the cavalry and infantry charged, bayonets affixed.

Washingtonians who had come out to watch were horrified, crying “Shame!” at the army, but the soldiers took little notice. The veterans were chased back to the Anacostia Flats on the other side of the river, and Hoover ordered the troops to stop. MacArthur, however, ignored the President and took it upon himself to clean out the “communists.” Gas attacks, fire, and violent soldiers chased the veterans and their families out of the camp.

Before midnight, however, the veterans began to regroup. Making sure their families were safe in Maryland where the Federal troops did not have jurisdiction, they collected weapons and covertly marched back into Washington. As the army and police were busy breaking down the camp, the veterans organized their mob into ranks on the Washington Mall. Just as locals began to become suspicious of the nighttime activity, they charged into the Capitol and seized the building. Securing all exits, they advised the clerks, officials, and congressmen working late that they were not hostages and were free to go at any time.

MacArthur returned to Washington and began an assault up the main steps with his infantry. With shotguns, hunting rifles, and sheer moxie, the veterans held the doors and finally forced back the infantry, injuring many. As MacArthur began to call for artillery to blast open the Capitol, Hoover stopped him and removed him from command for disobeying orders. The infamous general would never serve with the United States Armed Forces again.

Major Patton offered to force entry with his tanks, but Hoover declined. Instead, a day-long standoff began as Washington police and Federal soldiers circled the building, but could not get close. Government workers, however, were allowed in, and the Senate was finally called to order. The block on the Bonus Bill was lifted, and the veterans collected their money and left peacefully. As soon as they were outside, they allowed themselves to be arrested.

National outrage over the incident poured into Washington. Some called for execution of the rebellious soldiers as traitors, but most were angry with the president and army for being so callous toward the veterans. Hoover would save face by shifting blame, dismissing Attorney General Mitchell and turning his whole campaign into the “cleansing” of the federal government. While his budget suffered greatly from the two-billion-dollar shortfall, he refused to go over-budget more than absolutely necessary. Touting thriftiness and earning wherever possible, as well as gaining a great deal of support from veterans, Hoover would narrowly win the 1932 election over New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt.

Hoover's next term would be four more years of struggle for the country. Prohibition would be overturned by Congress in 1933, but the economic issues would not be solvable by mere tenacity. Relief efforts struggled to keep up with unemployment. In the elections of 1934, people had had enough, and Democrats were voted into power in Congress. The Great Depression did nothing but worsen.

In 1936, FDR came into office overwhelmingly, and he brought his New Deal into full swing. Ignoring budget constraints, FDR started enormous works projects to employ as many of the unemployed as possible. The changes were radical, which was just as well since radical groups became increasingly powerful over the country. By 1940, people said that the US was all but socialist in name with resources in food, oil, electricity, public water, and health insurance all regulated by the government.

While the populace was suspicious of such control in the Land of the Free, World War II would solidify FDR's political maneuvers. Through the second half of the twentieth century, so much of the basics of American life would be guaranteed that LBJ's New Society would create a welfare state of nearly one-half government employees (or, as many social critics would call them, “government slaves”).

In 2002, President Albert Gore would even expand American human rights to guarantee Internet service.

In reality, the veterans did not regroup and counterattack. The Bonus Army maintained a presence in Washington, but they did not trifle with protests against Hoover again. The incidents would haunt Hoover and doom him in the 1932 election. FDR and his New Deal programs would alleviate much of the poverty of the Great Depression, though it would balance against capitalism and private innovation that Americans have always taken as a part of the national spirit.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

July 27, 1694 – William III Dismisses Idea of a “Bank of England”

William, Prince of Orange and the new King of England after the Glorious Revolution ousted James II, ran a government in desperate need of money. Elections in 1690 had weakened his Whig supporters, and the Tories were happy with his domestic policies but not his continuation in the Nine Years' War with France. With his preference for the minority Whig Junto, William was able to direct the country, but it was difficult to enact taxes from a resistant Parliament.

In order to get around the ancient laws of Parliament controlling English taxation, William and his Whigs turned to an idea that made his native Netherlands famous and powerful: banking. Plans were put forth to enact a Royal Charter for a Bank of England, much to suspicion of Parliament. William had been very generous to the people, who had been very generous to him with their invitation for his invasion to rout James II, encouraging legislation such as the Bill of Rights and the Act of Toleration.

However, the Tories spoke out against his idea of a bank, seeing it as a potential downfall of the balance between Parliament and King. If the King could borrow money from another source, the powers of Parliament would slip. After much politicking and even threat of turning back to the Jacobites who still clamored for William's blood, it finally fell to a body of Tories to stop the bank by agreeing to raise funds for the war with France. Thus, on July 27, William publicly dismissed the potential charter.

Maintaining the tradition of government mints and treasuries, England and its allies would be victorious against France by 1697. After the war, the Dutch continued their place as the bankers of Europe, guaranteeing economic and military strength for the small country. After decades of marginal peace, Europe would again be torn asunder in the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). While Britain would be the greatest winner of the war, the Dutch would secure their economic mastery of the world for a century until manufacturing outpaced banking in capitalism.

As fallout from the Seven Years' War, the American colonists rebelled against England due to rising taxes and lack of self-government. Already in dire economic straits due to empty coffers from the Seven Years' War, King George III had very little money for mercenaries and so dispatched only what he could of his armies. The war ground on until 1781 when English soldiers began to desert en mass from lack of pay. In 1782, the Dutch granted the fledgling United States with a loan of five million guilders, enough to solve many of the Americans' financial problems. Britain, however, was bankrupt.

Heavy taxation to solve the problem resulted in a much angered populace, and, in 1787, revolution would break out. Dethroning the king, Parliament would become the highest law of the land, though many new additions to the Bill of Rights would keep the country from the darker days of Cromwell's reign. The new republican government would soon restore relations with the United States and quickly recognize the French Republic when it came along in 1792 after beginning its own revolution in '89. Alliances among these republics as well as the wealthy Dutch would build up until France fell back under dictatorial rule with Napoleon's crowning of himself.

Faced with new military requirements, the British Republic would bring up the idea of a national bank it had left behind over a century before. The Bank of Britain secured financing for the lengthy Napoleonic Wars and served to aid the exiled Dutch bankers when their lands fell. When Napoleon was finally defeated, the republics found themselves again at odds with the rest of Europe. Britain wished France a return to its republic while the rest of Europe established Louis XVII.

Instead of igniting another war over Europe, Britain turned to expand its republican ideals into the rest of its empire. The wealthy Netherlands, too, continued its empire by maintaining the Belgians despite a rebellion in 1830 and expanding into Africa and the Pacific. Economies worldwide would spread like wildfire, but the growing sense of nationalism would also spread.

In the eruption of the World War, much of the world leaders' forces would be stuck in trenches in Europe, but a competition began provoking colonial rebellion as Germany successfully organized revolt in Ireland. Soon empires based on hollow republican ideals would fall as natives rose up with their own notions of self-rule. India, the Congo, Egypt, Arabia, Syria, Tanzania and many other countries would spring up independent over the coming years. Even after the war was over, De-Colonization would continue through the 1920s and '30s, creating over two hundred countries over the globe. The resulting economic downturn would cause a Great Depression like the world had never seen, giving way to a rise of strong Fascist governments ruling these new countries. Not only would former colonies would gain fascist governments, but also European nations like the Nazis of Germany, the Blackshirts of Italy, and the British Union.

As with all strong governments, they would eventually clash. The German invasion of France in 1941 would give way to a series of campaigns that would carve up the world into factions battling one another over four continents. In the end in 1962, the United States would assume supremacy with its Hydrogen Bomb, and a new world empire would begin under the popular Grand Marshall Kennedy, sadly murdered a year later, but succeeded by LBJ, who would rule the world for the next decade.

In reality, William III granted a charter to the Bank of England, which would grant him a loan of 1.2 million pounds. The next year, he would dissolve Parliament (which would realize many of the fears of the Tories), and the new elections would restore the Whigs to power. He would win his war, and the Bank of England would cause much of the world's economy to shift to London, part of the groundwork of the British Empire for centuries to come.

Monday, July 26, 2010

July 26, 1861 – Frémont named General-in-Chief of Union Army

The American Civil War had raged for several months, and the northern nation needed a commander for its armies. General Winfield Scott was capable, but far too old to keep command over what he understood would be a years-long war. Irvin McDowell's defeat at Bull Run showed that he was incapable. Many believed George McClellan, commander of the Department of Ohio, would be given the command, but his plans about an invasion of Virginia from the west and a campaign along the Ohio River were the source of much derision. Not even the political squawking of his acquaintance Salmon P. Chase could push him for general.

Instead, President Lincoln named commander of the Department of the West, John C. Frémont, to be his commander. Frémont had been a noted explorer through the 1840s and California's first senator, not to mention being the Republicans' first candidate for the presidency. Despite being a Southerner from Atlanta, Frémont remained staunchly loyal to his country. He seemed impetuous, and there had been controversy about what may have been mutiny of his mounted rifles in the Mexican-American War, but Frémont vowed to end the war as soon as possible.

General Frémont would piece together his Union Army for a fast invasion of Virginia. Instead of waiting for spring, Frémont set out in September of 1861. He would prove ruthless against the rebels, as many of his policies in Missouri had shown. Warnings came from General Henry Wagner Halleck (Frémont's replacement in the west) of the mess the general left behind, but these were ignored as simple backroom military gossip.

Frémont's campaign would be an initial success out of his impetuousness. General Joseph E. Johnston, commander of the Southern Army of the Potomac, would fall back, drawing Frémont deeper into Southern territory, where his armies would wreak havoc. Newspapers from both the North and, especially, the South decried the horrors of war. Finally, only five miles from Richmond, at the Battle of Seven Pines (or of Fair Oaks to the Union) on November 30, 1861, Johnston would counterattack. The battle was bloody and inconclusive, except that Johnston had stopped the approach of Frémont.

Rather than beginning a siege for the winter, Frémont regrouped for another attack and assaulted the Richmond defenses. A more stalwart general may have waited, but Frémont meant to end the war and end slavery. Just as Confederate President Jefferson Davis pulled Johnston from command and replaced him with his adviser Robert E. Lee, Frémont threw his soldiers against the defensive works. It was a gamble that could have won the Civil War for the Union.

Instead, the attack proved to be a disaster. Dead piled up as Frémont's troops were unable to crack the defenses. Lee held the city with everything he could scrounge, and reinforcements poured in from all over Virginia in the Southern counterattack, most notably General Jackson and his Stonewall Brigade as well as the cavalry of JEB. Finally, on December 3, Frémont would die from wounds incurred the day before and the remnants of the Union forces would retreat to Fort Monroe, where they had landed months before.

Despite the terrible setback, Lincoln would refuse to allow the South to secede. The retired Winfield Scott's “Anaconda Plan” called for the conquest of the Mississippi, which would be initially a tactical success in 1862. But, the bloodthirsty General Ulysses S. Grant would prove the undoing of the United States as his losses during battles proved unacceptable. Numerous battles began to turn potential victories into defeats from shortages of men and materiel supplied. With logistics failing in both the western and eastern theaters, Union troops would fail to catch up with Lee's Army of the North before it took Harrisburg, PA. The Southern victory would cut off Maryland and Washington D.C. from the rest of the Union. The subsequent revolt in Maryland would cause another wave of secession, and European nations would begin to recognize diplomatically the Confederate States of America.

George McClellan would win narrowly the election of 1864, ousting Lincoln. While the war would drag on for another three years, eventually McClellan would organize the Treaty of Washington of 1868. Peace would settle over America for a time until border disputes in the coming decades again caused friction between the two nations.

In reality, McClellan, not Frémont, was named general-in-chief. Though McClellan is legendary in history for his “cowardice” on the battlefield (depending too much on lackluster intelligence from Pinkerton scouts and spies), it was his understanding of logistics that arguably won the war for the North. While tepid in battle, McClellan was able to use 1861-62 to organize his command, train troops, and provide for supply-lines. The Union was not ready for a long war, but McClellan's patience and distrust of fighting gave it the resources needed for victory.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

July 25, 1940 – Guisan Insults Hitler

As war raged in Europe all around them, Switzerland began to prepare for an expected Nazi invasion. In 1939, the Federal Assembly called for an election of a General, a rank that had been granted to only three men before. Henri Guisan was named to defend the country, a monumental task for some 430,000 troops against the untold millions of Germans and Italians. The odds only became worse as France fell in June of 1940, and the puppets of the Vichy government were set up to aid the Axis powers.

Guisan set about preparing his “Reduit” defense with Operationsbefehl Nr. 10. In the case of invasion, the soldiers would fall back to the Alps and conduct guerrilla combat and paramilitary resistance measures. On July 25, he addressed the Swiss Officer Corps in a speech bolstering the Swiss national spirit despite being surrounded on all sides. He mandated that surrender was impossible, and if the army ran out of bullets, they would resort to bayonets. Finally, he slipped an insult upon Hitler's character, saying the cowardly Fuhrer should never and would never test the Swiss.

Upon hearing word of the speech, Hitler's famous temper exploded. He ordered the immediate invasion of Switzerland under Operation Tannenbaum (a battle plan developed the day France fell). While continuing the Battle of Britain, Nazi armies marched into the Alps with the speed of the Blitz into the north of Switzerland. They tried a feint of infantry into the Jura region in an attempt to draw out the Swiss, but the defenders did not budge. Instead, they used small artillery to slow German attack. Without a straight fight, the Germans simply rolled into the cities and declared anschluss as they had in Austria. Vichy France and Italy would follow suit as per their alliances, divvying up the nation along its language-borders of German, French, and Italian.

The Swiss would prove an incurable pain in the sides of the Axis. Bombings, ambushes, and assassinations would take place nearly continuously. While some of the Swiss would give to Nazi dependency, the majority of the nation would remain secretly (or publicly, in the mountains) at war. The French would lose much of their mobile army in an attempt to quell their region around Lake Geneva; Italy suffered enormous economic setbacks as Swiss destroyed shipment capabilities for their coal supply, virtually shutting down Italian industry; and Germany would dedicate hundreds of thousands of troops in attempts to pacify the Alps.

Despite the hangups in Switzerland and the failure of the Battle of Britain, Hitler continued his conquest of Europe with Operation Barbarossa invading the Soviet Union. While the Germans made great gains in 1941, the lack of available troops would cause the tide of war to turn against them. The Soviets would begin a counter-invasion, which would in turn speed the Allies' amphibious invasion of France in 1942 with Operation Sledgehammer. When Hitler was defeated in early 1944, Soviet domination of Eastern Europe would even include north of Switzerland as “occupation.”

Guisan refused to allow another invader to seize Swiss territory. The insurgency continued, and Stalin continually argued with Churchill and FDR, who demanded the pullout of Russians in Switzerland. Stalin did not blink, and war erupted as the Allies began to push Soviet troops eastward. Devastation again flowed over Europe, but the Swiss were soon liberated by British and American troops. Allies invited Swiss troops to continue, but Guisan and his soldiers refused. Their war was done, and they returned to rebuild their country and continue their tradition of independence on every level.

Meanwhile, the Soviet War would continue until 1946, when American A-bombs would destroy whatever was left of the Soviet infrastructure. Stalin would surrender, and Communism would fall.

In reality, Guisan did not bait Hitler with insult. His greatest scheme of defense was deterrence, showing that Switzerland would not be worth the devastation on his armies, and assuring Germany that the Swiss would not be a threat. Hitler would never invade Switzerland, sparing the Swiss of the carnage of the war, which would be seen so gravely on the Eastern Front.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

July 24, 1802 – Unnamed French Child Still-Born

Like many thousands of other children all through France in the troubling times before modern medicine, a child that was thought to have been called Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie did not survive his delivery. The parents of the mulatto child believed they would have called him Alexandre Dumas, Pere (Junior), after his father, the great French African soldier. Thomas-Alexandre Dumas was born a nobleman's son by a slave woman but found his freedom in France where slavery was abolished within the cities. He commanded 53,000 men in the Army of the Alps during the Revolutionary Wars and served under Napoleon Bonaparte, with whom he argued vehemently. The loss of his son bore heavily on Thomas-Alexandre, who himself died of stomach cancer while lobbying Napoleon's government for his pension.

Of course, as life goes on with so many deaths, life continued without little Alexandre. France would go on in the 19th century with its course of political advantage, science, and, of course, its noble history of literature. The French Novel, with such authors as Victor Hugo and Gustave Flaubert, stands as literature of the highest caliber, discussing republicanism, social commentary, and ultimately philosophical rejection of romanticism. Never would their pages be sullied by mindless adventure drivel, such as in the American and British prose, or expansive and fanciful looks toward a future that would never be.

In reality, Dumas did survive and grew up to be one of the greatest novelists in French history. He would legitimize the adventure romance with such stories as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. Dumas would also work as a patron of the arts, educating, funding, and encouraging writers such as his illegitimate son Alexandre Dumas, fils, and the failed playwright and lawyer drop-out, Jules Verne.

While Dumas could not have known, Verne would revolutionize science romance and stand as the Father of Science Fiction. Poe's earlier science romance stories were sporadic, and both H.G. Wells and Hugo Gernsback would both take great influence from the Frenchman's scientifically based stories. If not for Dumas' patronage, Verne very well could have returned to be a mediocre lawyer, and the world would miss out on the genre of science fiction, perhaps stunting the development of technology in our modern age.

Friday, July 23, 2010

July 23, 1897 – Tesla Renegotiates his Contract

Having immigrated to the United States in 1884 with little more than a letter of introduction in his pocket, Serbian Nikola Tesla would change the world with his inventive genius. He had worked in France with the Continental Edison Company, and now in America, he worked with Edison himself to improve the great American inventor's direct current generators. Tesla believed he was promised $50,000 if he could solve inefficiencies, which he did, but Edison assured him that the agreement was merely a joke, and the Serbian was paid $18 a week. Another argument over money would cause Tesla to quit and venture out on his own.

Tesla Electric Lighting & Manufacture allowed him to work on his own projects such as X-ray research, radio transmission, and inventing the “Tesla coil”, but money was difficult to come by. His major development was pushing his “alternating current” generator, which allowed for long-distance transmission of electricity far more efficiently than Edison's DC. Tesla joined forces with the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing company, providing his generators to their electrification program.

Competition between Westinghouse and Edison erupted in what is often called the “War of the Currents.” While AC was logically the superior technology, Edison would not give up his monopoly of having short-range power plants on every block. Each company launched enormous public relations and advertising campaigns, the most famous being Edison's display of the dangers of alternating current by electrocuting an elephant. Eventually, AC would win out, but the cost of the war would be disastrous. Edison had other companies to fall back on, but Westinghouse was ruined.

In 1897, Westinghouse met with Tesla to tell him of his company's financial problems. Tesla, who had always appreciated Westinghouse's faith in his ideas about alternating current and Niagara Falls, sat back in his chair to ponder how to offer help. His royalties on each kilowatt generated was costing Westinghouse a fortune, and he could give great aid to his friend if he were to waive them. Instead of tearing up his contract outright, Tesla offered a ten-year pause on payment. Westinghouse was delighted to take the deal.

The next decade were lean years for Tesla. He set up his laboratory at Colorado Springs, investigating the ionosphere and inventing his Teslascope. In 1900, he began a radio-transmission tower at Wardenclyffe to achieve trans-Atlantic contact, but his time and money was consumed in an ever-escalating legal battle with Guglielmo Marconi, the showman who had absconded many of Tesla's radio patents. By 1907, Tesla was nearly bankrupt, but Westinghouse came through with his promise of the return of Tesla's overdue patents. Armed with extra funds, Tesla was able to achieve legal victory with Marconi handing over patents and back-payment. Eventually the two would be rectified when they received a joint Nobel Prize in 1909. Marconi would take over Tesla's public operations, working out an agreement that would allow both to profit in the growing radio technology.

Tesla, meanwhile, would return to his well funded laboratories. As World War I approached, Tesla, Westinghouse, and Marconi would present new weapon ideas to the US Army. Radio-controlled torpedoes, RADAR, and a “peace ray” that used teleforce to destroy any incoming airplanes all came into development by America's introduction to the war in 1917. By the end of the war, the US Army was beginning experiments with ion-propelled electrically-based planes that would be the short-range jets of the 1930s. Long-range broadcast would allow the public air travel of the 1950s to surge, eclipsing trains worldwide with cigar-shaped flying ships.

In the 1920s, Tesla would turn his attention to field theory. After much work, on his 81st birthday, Tesla announced his “dynamic theory of gravity.” The theory would override much of the work of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which would prove to be a mathematical illusion more than hard physics. While the science was established early, it would not be until the 1960s that effectively engineered gravity-drives would propel American astronauts to the Moon and, in 1986, to Mars.

Tesla would die January 7, 1943, over a year after his Tesla ray would prove defensive capabilities in the Battle of Pearl Harbor by destroying the second and third waves of Japanese attackers. The world would mourn its greatest inventor.

In reality, Tesla simply offered to tear up his contract with Westinghouse. The scientific genius was not known for his business-savvy, and the exceptionally generous offer cost him millions. Westinghouse, being a businessman, did not talk Tesla out of his offer, which saved his company.

Tesla would struggle with money and lack of recognition through the rest of his life. Marconi dominated the radio industry while Tesla's Wardenclyffe Tower would fail from lack of funds and directions. It would not be until 1943 that the US Supreme Court finally awarded Tesla his patents (arguably as a way to avoid payment demanded by Marconi). The US Army and Navy would ignore his suggestions at weapon development, even though Tesla's newspaper editorials would correctly predict the length of the war and the failure of the League of Nations. Gradually, Tesla would descend into madness and die in severe debt and obscurity.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

July 22, 1587 – Roanoke Reestablished North

One hundred seventeen settlers returned to North America's Roanoke Island where a previous English settlement had been evacuated by invitation of Sir Francis Drake because its relief fleet was late with supplies. John White, who had been with Sir Walter Raleigh on expeditions to America before, led this second group of settlers. As the settlers prepared to land, White looked with an artist's eye at the dark mainland and remembered the native Croatoans. Ralph Lane, the commander of the previous settlement, had attacked them time and again, and White decided re-establishing relations would be too difficult.

Instead, White met with the band of Englishmen who had maintained the island over the past two years and asked about friendlier settling. They recommended north, with the Powhatans. White agreed, and the expedition moved northward to the Chesepiook Bay. Friendlier relations were established with the Powhatans, and a colony was set up on a picturesque river. Other colonists called for a nearby island as much more defensible, but White refused to live in a swamp.

His decision proved wise as Elizabethtown (also nicknamed “New Roanoke”) grew self-sufficient with farming while avoiding many mosquitoes and brackish tidal water. White returned to England, leaving behind 115 colonists, one his newborn granddaughter, Virginia Dare. He meant to sail again for America as soon as possible, but the Spanish Armada blocked his path as every seaworthy vessel was pressed into naval service. White hired smaller vessels to take him, but the captains made greedy and shortsighted attacks on Spanish ships, who overtook them in the battles and plundered the English cargoes. The empty-handed ships sailed back to England.

Finally, in 1590, White was able to return to America. The colonists were thin and desperately poor, having traded away many of their goods to the Indians to survive. Some had even suggested joining the native tribes, but their thin resources were enough to keep them from desperate measures. White resupplied them and set back for England for more. With time, work, and much funding from Raleigh, Elizabethtown eventually took a solid hold in North America. However, it would work only as something of a naval base for several years until, at Raleigh's recommendation, the colony began raising tobacco to supplant the Spanish monopoly. Soon, whole plantations sprang up, and money-seeking businessmen flooded into Virginia.

With a strong economic base, America became a magnet for entrepreneurs as well as those seeking better lives. Pilgrims would follow in 1620 farther north, and numerous settlers fleeing from the violence of the Civil War would find ample chance for improvement in colonizing. Eventually, in 1776, seventeen colonies would break away from the mother land and, in the War of 1812, manage to add Canada to their nation by conquest. The United States of America would continue to be a powerful and ever-growing force for centuries to come.

In reality, White would seek to continue the Roanoke settlement where it was. The Spanish Armada would halt the return of supply ships, and, when White did return, he would find the settlement mysteriously deserted. Many assume that the colonists had left to throw in their lot with the natives in hopes of survival without English supplies. White was unable to conduct a search due to a coming storm, and so the English colonization of North America was stunted by a generation.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

July 21, 1977 – Egypt Liberates Libya

Small skirmishes and shootouts between the Egyptian and Libyan armies would result in a rout that would become an invasion. Tensions had mounted between the two countries for months with attacks at one another's embassies, Gaddafi's order of the removal of all Egyptian nationals from his country by July 1, and finally the Libyan peoples' “March on Cairo” where thousands of civilians approached the Egyptian border to make known their stance against a possible Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

The march would lead to further difficulties when it reached the border, where Egyptian troops stopped the protesters. On July 20, Libyan artillery fired at the Egyptians, and a full-scale raid on the city of Sallum followed on July 21. The Libyans expected some fighting, then to disengage and return across the border. Instead, the Egyptians responded with a declaration of war and counter-invasion.

With superior arms, the Egyptians raced toward Tripoli on the coast roads after bypassing Ajdabiya. The Libyan army looked for methods of ambush, but Egyptian air superiority kept enemy tanks and infantry pinned. On July 24, armed forces rolled into Tripoli, and Gaddafi was nowhere to be found. The leader of the revolution had pulled out of the capital and hidden in bunkers deep in the desert.

Algeria and Palestine called for an armistice, but their cries went unheard. Instead, Egypt called for free elections and a new Libyan government. As a fallen leader, Gaddafi was not arrested, merely ignored, and he would eventually become an expatriate in Syria. The new election was backed by the United States; most international figures merely sat back to watch. The USSR was expected to speak out, but the Soviets were quiet as they had their own designs on invasions farther east and hoped not to muddy international waters.

Libya, now newly reopened, fell in line with Egyptian ideals and developed relations with the West. Farther in the east, Iran would arise in a revolution to become a religious republic (what many called socialist). Saddam Hussein's government, suspicious of Ba'ath revolutionaries spilling over from Iran, declared war on their neighbor, which received increasing aid from the USSR despite their own problems in Afghanistan. Western attention was drawn more heavily to Libya, and Iraq would fall to the theocratic Iranians.

A new “iron curtain” would drop across the Middle East. Both sides would grow increasingly fearful of the other, and war seemed imminent daily. Terrorist attacks rang through Saudi Arabia, hoping to edge the king out of power, but further backing from Egypt and the West would keep the balance. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the eastern states would face economic collapse and sought to bring in Kuwait as a liberation of Arab resources from Western hands.

The Gulf War began with an invasion of Kuwait from the north, and a massive United Nations force would counter-invade with Egyptian and Saudi troops leading the way. War seemed to spin out of control, and it seemed unfathomable to end without bringing down the Iraqi and Iranian governments, which was achieved in 1994 with the Fall of Tehran. Coalition forces would stay behind in the region for decades to come, redrawing national borders to create Kurdistan and establishing constitutions based on ideals of freedom. Terrorism and insurgency would follow continually and plague the elected governments for generations.

In reality, Egypt did not fully counterattack Libya, and both countries were quick to agree to armistice. Algerian president Houari Boumediène mediated peace with the help of Palestinian Yasser Arafat. Though peace was achieved, the rift between conservative and socially revolutionary Middle Eastern states would continue.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

July 20, 1934 – Socialist Uprising begins in Minneapolis

Minneapolis Teamsters were in their second strike of the summer. The Great Depression had hid the Midwest hard, and laborers were among the most struggling of Americans to make ends meet. In an effort to better their position, the teamsters organized themselves into a union. A constitution had been written, and drivers were organized into different locals, each representing a type of worker: milk, freight, ice-wagon, etc. The leadership of Daniel Tobbs created an efficient headquarters staffed by a women's auxiliary, and they had even allied themselves with the Communist Party to achieve political clout. The past winter, a strike of coal drivers had made great progress, and now seemed time to achieve workers' rights.

In May, the strike began. The teamsters shut down the city, allowing only farmers to transport their produce directly to grocers. Fighting almost immediately broke out with the unions and the Minneapolis police trading blows with clubs and pipes. After a week of carnage, negotiations began, and Governor Floyd Olson was ready with the mobilized (but not deployed) National Guard. The unions and their employers came to agreement, and workers returned to business by the end of the month.

However, it became apparent that they had missed a key point. Warehouse workers (who had allied themselves with the drivers) were meant to receive benefits as understood by the unions, but the employers refused to give them. The strike resumed on July 17.

The union leadership decided that, if battle were to escalate, they would be ready. Guns were stockpiled, but only clubs were allowed until otherwise provoked. On July 20, the provocation would come as fifty police officers escorted a single truck into the picketed market. Club-bearing teamsters made to block the truck's path, and then police opened fire with shotguns loaded with buckshot. Union workers charged forward to aid the injured, and the police continued to fire. Within minutes, teamsters from the rear of the picket came forward with their own weapons. The brawl turned to battle.

Minneapolis descended into a war zone. Olson deployed the National Guard, but the soldiers expected riot control rather than urban combat. After two days, the Guard fell back to take up siege of the city. All across the nation, in Hoovervilles and breadlines, people seemed to come alive to the sounds of gunfire. Longshoremen all along the West Coast rose up, shutting down ports. A strike of auto workers in Toledo that had been thought to have been settled ignited again and began a wildfire that would consume Ohio.

President Roosevelt watched as his country became engulfed it what appeared to be civil war. He pleaded for ceasefires over his weekly addresses, but the words fell on deaf ears. Finally he would call forth the Army and Marines to join faltering National Guard deployments (many of whom were beginning to side with the union workers). The action would cause a reaffirmation of faith in the Federal government among some and calls for a total separation among others. With the Convention of Minneapolis, the anarchy would become a revolution.

Violence would tear across the Midwest. Allied with them, but unable to hold such independence, were the Workers of the West, a mass in California and the Pacific Northwest that locked down the western part of the country. Riots shredded New York City during the Thirty Days' Fire, but neither the Federalists nor the Socialists could gain ground.

The war changed when Stalin offered aid to the rebel workers. Many happily took up Soviet arms, but many others became suspicious of foreign entanglement. Following ruptures in the Socialist leadership, desertion became rampant, and order was gradually restored. FDR began his extensive projects in the New Reconstruction, which would solve unemployment issues as many major cities in the Union needed to be rebuilt.

Europe fell into the Second World War, the United States was in no position to aid their allies. Without the hope of American arms, Britain fell before the month-long onslaught of the Blitz, and Germany turned against Russia in a bloodthirsty war that tore apart both countries. In 1944, Japan would conclude its India Campaign and launch new attacks on the south to secure oil, assaulting the American bases at Manila. The US, perhaps stronger than ever and sporting a ready government-based manufacturing system, was the sleeping giant awoken. Aid poured into the French, Norwegian, and British Resistances, and the Americans mobilized over a million troops. Stalin kept Hitler occupied by scorched earth, costing the lives of untold millions of Russians. Even as Hitler took Moscow in 1943, Stalin fought on with his loyal comrades against insurmountable assaults.

With the successful testing of the atomic bomb at Trinity Site in New Mexico, the United States would bring the war to an end in 1947 with a series of eighteen bombings in Germany and Japan. Stalin seemed hopeful to emulate the technology, but his nation was too destroyed to seek to match the capitalist West. Holding the bomb as the highest prize, President Truman kept the United States as the only superpower, rushing aid to allies to rebuild, but keeping military dominance to the US. Russia would struggle, but the death of Stalin in 1956 would lead to a new revolution (rumored to be backed by American funds).

The earth became nearly uniform in its American capitalism, and the latter half of the twentieth century would see untold growth. A feeling of paternalism would come over Americans, and investment would be the new colonialism. With the United Nations as something of a front, the US would assume control of every government by means of controled federated spending. Many would call the Pax Americana the greatest age of the earth, but others would disagree as the disenfranchised suffered low wages in sweatshops.

September 11, 2001, a great rebellion would emerge throughout the Muslim world. Capitalism would fall to its knees in a third world war that would bring an end to American control and a rebirth of leftist and conservative radicals that would parcel up the devastated nations.

In reality, the leadership of the teamsters at the beginning of the July strike called for a new strategy of using no weapons. Unarmed, the union would face police, who would indeed attack them, calling up much sympathy from all over the nation. Communism was given something of a respectable face, but red scares and fear of foreigners would bring about the eventual suppression of socialist ideals for America.

Monday, July 19, 2010

July 19, 1545 – Mary Rose leads Counter-invasion of France

In early July 1545, in the midst of England's participation in the Italian Wars, France launched a massive fleet in the Seine with the aim to invade English soil with some 50,000 troops. They sailed up the Solent (the strait between the Isle of Wight and the mainland) unopposed while the fleet of 80 small English ships held in the defenses of Portsmouth Harbor. July 18, the English came out to engage at long range, but the two fleets did little damage to one another.

On the 19th, the wind was calm, and the French made to use it to their advantage. They moved to use their galleys against the immobile English, but a breeze came up that evening, and the agile English ships became able to maneuver. The enormous carrack Mary Rose lead the charge, closing her lower gun ports and using the wind to sweep her into the midst of the French. Sporting 24 anti-ship cannon, the Mary Rose served as a potent flagship, bringing down numerous French ships herself and making way for vicious attack by other English ships.

The French were caught with large ships in the narrow harbor and made for the wider Solent, but they were cut down even there. Hoping to regroup in the Channel, French Admiral Claude d'Annebault called for the retreat. Before he could escape, however, the English pushed forward, gunning down ships until the dark of night allowed the remnants of the French fleet to slip away. Their land invasion was halted as there seemed no chance to unload and supply the massive invasion force.

With a resounding victory and thousands of French bodies floating in the sea, Henry VIII seized his opportunity for an invasion himself. His Austrian allies had made peace with the French upon fearing uprisings in the Germanies, but Henry refused to give up liberation of Boulogne in France. Instead, he used his ships to ferry a new army onto the continent and began a drive like that of Edward III in the Hundred Years War. Fearing another return to unending violence, the French opted for peace. Henry, knowing that his own coffers were running bare, agreed, and the details of the Treaty of Ardres were achieved in 1546. The French faced another diplomatic humiliation, but worse was the demands for reparations. While the French economy suddenly fell under vicious taxation to repay, England soared.

Henry would not live to see the financial fallout of his treaty as he would die in 1547. His son, Edward VI, would use the money to fund an increase in his navy, though he, too, would not live to see what his actions would do after his short reign of six years. Eventually his half-sister Elizabeth would come to the throne, and England would settle back into wars with Catholicism. With their economic upper-hand, however, their fleets would confound the Spanish attempts at reaping further wealth from the New World. Rather, English settlement would advance, taking over many of the unfunded colonies begun and abandoned by the French.

The further decadence would promote civil war against the pompous Charles, but the king had ample funds to put down the revolt with mercenaries. Creating a much weaker Parliament filled with yes-men, the House of Stewart would rule powerfully over a massive and growing empire. Along with trade, however, came new technology and ideas, and the Enlightenment would cause rebellion against monarchs all over Europe. Many kings gave up their absolute power in favor of constitutions, and colonies throughout the world would claim independence, such as the United States, Haiti, and Ireland from Britain. With his empire falling apart around him, James V would try to hold to the rule of his ancestors, but his heavy-handed efforts only brought the collapse of his crown, and England became a Republic in 1802, just as France did thirteen years earlier and the Netherlands for centuries. Later, Sweden and Prussia would join them. This division in Europe would spark the huge Monarchs' War in 1810, and many of the other kings would lose their thrones under guerrilla warfare in Iberia and major battles in eastern Europe.

Dust settling and only backward Russia still standing with its czar, the republics of Europe returned to empire-building. Trade and industry drove the countries to unpredictable wealth, but also to competition that would bring about the World War at the beginning of the twentieth century. Out of the wreckage, the new political ideology of communism would begin, some championing as a golden age of social justice while others mourn as an arrival of slavery for entire populations.

In reality, the lower gun ports of the Mary Rose were left open, and the strong breeze that pushed her caused her to careen over. Water rushed into the ship, sinking it so quickly that only a few dozen of its 450 crew escaped with their lives. The Battle of the Solent would be indecisive, as would be the Italian Wars themselves, bringing nothing but a costly stalemate for both England and France.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

July 18, AD 64 – Fire Successfully Contained

As recorded by the Roman poet Tacitus, a fire broke out in the merchant district of the city of Rome, consumed a warehouse, and was defeated by brave workers dragging sand and water from the Tiber. Nero praised the men’s actions even though some of them were of the Christian cult, a band of Jews who had begun accepting Gentiles after worshiping the Son of a God. One of them, Paul of Tarsus, had been brought on an appeal to Caesar after being accused of treason, of which Nero would later find him innocent.

After the fire, Nero would continue his campaign to lower taxes on the poor, keep foreign diplomacy afloat (he had already maintained conquest of Britain after the rebellion of Boudicca as well as defeated Parthia in the east), and improve culture throughout the empire. Later, in 66, a revolt in Judaea would arise, and Nero would dispatch his great general Vespasian to put it down. Distrust of the Christians would mix with the fervor of the revolt, and a great divide would split the cult between the Gentiles and those who still held to the Jewish Law, the latter being removed from Rome and facing legal segregation. Gradually, the religion would blend with other Roman beliefs, such as had been done with the Egyptian Isis and the Persian Mithras.

In 65, a conspiracy by the statesman Piso to overthrow Nero and return the Republic was discovered and destroyed. The senators complained that they had lost all power despite Nero’s promise in 54 to return their influence to levels under the Republic. Nero liked the power in his own hands and refused to give up any of it, using his sway to launch his massive construction projects. While Italia and the provinces struggled economically, taxes were never levied enough to cause rebellion. The successful end of the Jewish rebellion and looking of Jerusalem and their temple in AD 70 was enough to alleviate many of Nero’s empty coffers.

As Nero grew older, he began to slow down his pace and draw more to distraction with his own arts. Meanwhile, Nero’s son Antonius grew in military strength under the tutelage of the Governor Agricola of Britain during his conquest of Caledonia. Antonius would spearhead the conquest of Hibernia before returning to Rome after the death of Nero. More concerned with expansion than rule, Antonius would finally begin the return of Roman government back to the Senate, so long as it maintained funds for his expeditions into Germania. After the bloody conquest of the Germans, Rome would grow stagnant and corrupt, eventually falling in the north to the predatory Vikings of the 900s and the south to renewed Arab and Parthian attack.

In reality, the fire raged for five and a half days, destroying nearly half the city. The emperor Nero did much to aid the victims, but nothing could squelch their smoldering discontent (there were even rumors of singing while his city burned, though Tacitus recorded him being in Antium at the time). To redirect public ill sentiment, Nero blamed the grown Christian population of the city. Several Christians even admitted to the conspiracy (though this was proven to be under torture). Christians were thusly thrown to dogs, crucified, and even dipped in oil and burned alive as streetlights, beginning centuries of persecution throughout the empire. Despite the torment, Christianity would survive and even thrive to the Edict of Milan 250 years later when tolerance was declared by the Emperor Constantine.

Meanwhile, Nero used the newly cleared space in Rome to build his Domus Aurea, a palace for which he paid by levying tribute from every province of the empire. It would be another dark badge on the bad emperor’s toga. Later taxation policies on the provinces would cause Governor Vindex of Gallia Lugdunensis to rebel, the first link in a chain that would bring about the rise of Galba, who would declare himself emperor and drive Nero to suicide.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

July 17, 1976 – Young Filmmaker Dies of Heart Attack

George Lucas, best known for his directing triumph in the film American Graffiti, died after complications from a stress-induced heart attack. He had been working on his new project, a "space opera" film that was something of a Flash Gordon adaptation with dogfights and samurai. After his previous science fiction film THX 1138 won the National Student Film Festival, he championed his new project, serving as writer, director, and producer in many sittings, consistently fighting with Fox Studios to keep funding secure. While the film would never be completed after his death, he had imagined it as something world-changing.

Lucas had just returned to San Francisco from reviewing his film company Lucasfilm’s special effects unit (“Industrial Light and Magic”) that had spent half of its budget and only completed three shots, none of them to his standards. Depression and stress struck the director hard, and he arranged to assume control of the special effects himself before returning home to San Francisco. Upon arrival, he complained of chest pains. His wife drove him to Marin General Hospital, where he would pass away.

The death of the young is always a tragedy, but life and Hollywood go on. None can say what his special effects were to do, but our own effects continued impressively with 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, groundbreaking in its own right. Puppetry, miniatures, costumes, and camera tricks always have been and always will be a great facet of fantasy film.

In reality, George Lucas survived his hypertension and vowed to reduce his workload, perhaps even never to direct again. He would still guide his special effects team at ILM, eventually growing it so massive and technologically advanced that it would split into different companies, each changing the sensation of viewing a film. Skywalker Sound and THX would serve as incredible new sources for digital sound editing and production. ILM itself would revolutionize special effects by using computer graphics for such landmarks as the Genesis Sequence in Star Trek II, the Stained-Glass Man in Young Sherlock Holmes, and the fully computer generated character of the Pseudopod in The Abyss. A portion of ILM, Pixar, would be itself responsible for bringing respectability to using full computer animation with such films as Toy Story and Up.

Of course, Lucas was also responsible for the creation of two of the greatest film franchises in history: Indiana Jones with Steven Spielberg and Star Wars, which very nearly killed him.

Friday, July 16, 2010

July 16, 1969 – Apollo 11 Rocket Explodes after Launch

The Space Race held as the hottest direct contest between the USA and the USSR in the Cold War. After Russia had won the first two legs with the first artificial satellite Sputnik in 1957 and the first man in space Yuri Gagarin in 1961, America had finally gotten ahead with their 1968 flyby of the Moon. Russian leadership had begun to doubt their Luna program with its unmanned probes, but the political climate changed completely as tragedy struck over Florida.

Just after launch, the Apollo 11 exploded, instantly killing its crew of Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. While none can be certain of the cause of the disaster, many theories have arisen after much of the wreckage was salvaged. Most agree that it was a hydrogen “hiccup”, a less dense bubble that caused imbalance in the rocket, jarring it viciously and tearing the craft apart until the explosives fell out of control.

While the United States mourned, the Soviets threw their resources into making up lost time. Automated docking of capsules had already been successful in 1968, and the manned Soyuz 4 and 5 missions had tested successfully the human elements involved. The Soviets planned to launch its cosmonaut to the surface of the Moon by September. Bad luck and mechanical problems slowed the launch until mid-October.

Meanwhile, the United States refused to sit idly. While many began to call for an end to the apparently suicidal space program and memories of Apollo 1’s fire still in the public mind, NASA had already secured its funding for the year and needed a success to guarantee that the program would not be shelved altogether. Apollo 12 would be their final chance. Hearing word of the Russian attempt, astronauts Charles Conrad, Jr, Richard Gordon, Jr, and Alan Bean would be put ahead of their November launch schedule to match the Russian deadline.

The rockets launched within hours of one another, and scientists on both ends worked frantically to streamline the process of travel in action, but mission clocks were ticking without much room to spare. On October 16, 1969, Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov touched down on the surface of the Moon. Only an hour later, Conrad and Bean would follow. Despite the potential dangers, NASA had adjusted the flight path to put them down near Leonov’s capsule.

Conrad would venture out of the American module and be followed out fifteen minutes later by Bean, after which Leonov would greet them having “walked” (bounced in the low gravity) from his half-mile distant capsule. His decision had been applauded and rejected by Russian mission control, but the effect was incredible upon public sentiment. The image of a cosmonaut and an astronaut shaking hands on the surface of the moon would be recorded by probe cameras and transmitted to televisions and newspapers the world over.

President Nixon (who also made mention of the success of President Kennedy’s promise to arrive on the moon before the end of the decade) would capitalize on the image and, in 1971, meet with Nikolai Podgorny of the Soviet Union in Moscow. The historic meeting would bring new balance to the Cold War, and gradually disarmament would begin. Without the terrors of foreign powers and even the invasion of Czechoslovakia recalled, the Russian people would have enough of their Stalinist past and recreate their government with the 1977 Constitution returning much of the power into the hands of people. While still economically planned, democracy grew in Russia. Meanwhile, trade with the USSR began to seduce the US into greater socialism, such as Carter’s reversal of Nixon’s privatized health insurance into a public, universal system.

Now something as half-breeds of one another, the two head of the world continue to dance around one another for power. Technology has torn down walls (much like the fall of Berlin’s wall in 1989), while the growth of populations in developing countries such as China and India look to change the world balance altogether.

In reality, Apollo 11 launched successfully and achieved orbit 12 minutes after takeoff. Neil Armstrong would be the first human to walk the moon’s surface, and their mission would plant an American flag, showing America’s success. Beaten, the Soviet space program would turn to orbital habitation and soon install Salyut 1, the first space station in 1971. The USSR would eventually fall in 1992, while the USA would continue with capitalism into the turbulent economic decades of 2000 and 2010.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

July 15, 1799 – Strange Stone at Fort Julien, Egypt, Ignored

While Napoleon’s troops in the Egyptian Campaign strengthened defenses at Fort Julien, a stronghold just a few miles northeast of Rashid (also known as Rosetta), Lt. Pierre-François Bouchard came across a dark-colored stone that had strange, almost linguistic, markings on it. He made to report it, but other responsibilities arose, and the stone had been used in construction of new walls by the time he remembered. Bouchard thought nothing of it, merely noting a passage of the possibilities it could have been in his journal. Perhaps some kind of ancient story or even a pharaoh’s decree? No one would ever know, just as no one would ever confidently decipher the puzzling pictorial language of the ancient Egyptians.

To this day, Egypt remains a perplexing, though not terribly noticeable, land. Its pyramids and statues are shocking and impressive, but little genuinely scholarly work has been completed. Far more interest has been in more understandable regions, such as Greek constructions in Turkey across the Mediterranean Sea. Roman constructions in western North Africa also bring more tourists, usually making a stop in Alexandria for a quick glimpse at pyramids before moving on to Israel.

After more than a century of colonial dominance by the British, today Arabs dwell in the land not unlike their Egyptian half-ancestors must have thousands of years ago, though overpopulation has diminished the once potent cropland. Some entrepreneurs seek to glean tourist dollars away from the other parts of the Mediterranean, but the plan has rarely been realized outside of the odd tour of cyclopean constructs.

In reality, Bouchard quickly notified his commander, who notified his, and the knowledge of the stone passed gradually up to Napoleon’s new Institut d’Egypte. The significance of the same text in three written languages (one easily read Greek) was instantly understood, though it was not until 1822 that Jean-François Champollion deciphered the complex writing. Now armed with the ability to translate, Egyptologists over the past two hundred years have continuously been in Egypt, unraveling secret after secret about ancient life and literature. Any more mystifying, and it may be discouraging, but, thanks to the Rosetta Stone, we hold a great arsenal in unwrapping the past and millions tour Egypt every year, a tremendous boon to its economy and fairly open Muslim society.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July 14, 1789 – Storm at the Bastille Leads to Calm in France

For two days since the dismissal of Jacques Necker, the Third Estate had been on the warpath through Paris. Soldiers (many of whom were foreign) had been organized in Versailles by the king, which only increased stresses with peasants fearful of a mercenary force enslaving the people in their own land. After the Gardes Françaises infantry had sided with the rebellious populace, the nobility did not know whether to trust the rest of the soldiers. They left Paris to boil in its own juices, which would only allow leaders to rise to the top.

Rioters became organized, and the people began to plunder stores of food, guns, and ammunition. Some 30,000 muskets were seized the Hotel des Invalides, and more than 600 rebels now headed for the Bastille, a large medieval fortress used as a prison, often known for its duties as a political prison. At the time, there were only seven inmates, and it was scheduled to be shut down as overly costly in the tough economic times. Mainly, it was used as storage for gunpowder.

Eighty-two invalides (wounded veteran soldiers) served as the garrison, and they had been reinforced by 32 Swiss. Attackers arrived at mid-morning, calling for surrender. Negotiations began, but the crowd rioted after hours of waiting and began to storm the fortress. When the gunfire began, the already mad mob turned madder in a seemingly unending onslaught. Mutinous soldiers and deserters joined in the fight on the side of the populace, adding skill to the weight of the attack, only lengthening the ordeal. Governor de Launay, commander of the Bastille, began to suspect complete massacre and then to contemplate surrender to spare the lives of his men as well as the poorly armed people they cut down.

In late afternoon, the order finally went out to the Royal Army on the Champs de Mars to intervene. Soldiers formed ranks and marched against the rioting people, and the bloodbath was ended. Seeing that troops were still willing to carry out commands, the king called for order in the streets, and the soldiers at Versailles were put to organize curfew and end the rioting.

On the morning of July 15, the air in Paris was clear. People returned to their homes, taking the Bastille as a symbol of the fastidiousness of the royal order. The king set about clearing the National Assembly and forcing the Estates General into solving the country's dire financial situation. He threatened to remove the protection of his soldiers from estates in the countryside of uncooperative nobles, which would allow the Third Estate to loot as they pleased. Gradually, the country came back to order.

Through the next few decades of peace, Europe would grow and spread their colonial powers. The United States of America would have a second war with Britain over border disputes, and the mother country would take back its wayward colonies in a brutal war. Though the experiment of republicanism had failed, new ideals would cause of the 1848 revolutions, which weakened the stranglehold of absolute monarchists but could not defeat it. As technology flourished, the people became more educated and desirous of justice, leading to the great upheaval of the Workers' Rising in 1899 that would cause an end to nearly every kingdom and empire in Europe. The resulting new social order would have its share of birth-pains, but fair socialism would finally spread throughout the world.

In reality, the order for intervention was never given, and the soldiers at the Champs de Mars did nothing as the Bastille was taken by revolutionaries. Governor de Launay would be executed along with several of his guards, and the Storming of the Bastille would serve as a great rally for the Third Estate, forcing the king to recognize the National Assembly and dismiss his soldiers. While the Revolution would eventually lead to the rise of Napoleon as an emperor, for the time, the French people had freed themselves.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July 13, 1793 – Marat Survives Assassination Attempt

Jean-Paul Marat served as a fiery radical behind the French Revolution using newspaper journalism, public speaking, and essays to spread his ideas for the defense of the downtrodden Third Estate. In the past month, he had been one of the three most powerful men in France (along with Danton and Robespierre) as the Girodin political club disintegrated under Jacobin pressure. Change was coming to the Revolution, and Marat's sense of prophecy looked toward better days.

Marat also suffered from a skin disease that caused itching, blistering, and a great deal of discomfort. He would spend most of the time in his bath, his head wrapped in a vinegar-soaked bandana to ease his pain. Meanwhile, a desk had been set over his tub to allow him to write while he soaked.

On the night of July 13, a twenty-four-year-old girl would come to the house of Marat, saying she had knowledge of a Girondist uprising. She had come before and been turned away, but now Marat agreed to see her. The girl was Charlotte Corday, a Girondin sympathizer who held Marat as a powerful enemy to the Republic because of his endorsement of violence. For example, she considered Marat responsible for the September Massacres in which mobs slaughtered priests and prisoners out of the panic involved in the Duke of Brunswick's invasion of Verdun. Corday aimed to save the Republic by assassinating Marat, killing “one man to save one hundred thousand.”

After a fifteen minute discussion of the supposed uprising, Corday pulled an eight-inch knife and leaped at Marat. Marat's wife Simonne, having not trusted the girl, leaped at the same moment, subduing her and saving her husband's life. Corday would later be guillotined on grounds of attempted murder.

Marat would go on as a leader of the Jacobins and the Revolution, often knocking heads with his ally Robespierre. While George Danton would rise to higher standing as a more moderating force, the two would target one another enough that each seemed to cancel out the other's radicalism. Though both Robespierre and Marat would call for purges against counterrevolutionaries (what some whispered as a “reign of terror”), much more import was placed on fending off the invasions of the European powers seeking to end the Republic, which had so far become a stalemate. The war finally reversed in 1794 with overwhelming French victories. Politics calmed as fears did, and the Gironists returned to power, though not completely overthrowing the Jacobins.

In 1795 (Year III), a convention amended the constitution, Jacobins managing to keep the Gironists from tossing it out altogether. Maintaining universal suffrage for males, the new constitution at least improved the political flow. Directors (the executive office) often leaned toward corruption, but the biting words of Marat's journalism kept politicians in order for fear of the people. Gradually, the problems in France were becoming solved. In 1799, a young general named Napoleon Bonaparte swept elections because of popular wording about his victories from Marat's writing. Marat would die the next year, and the growing fame of Napoleon would leave him all but forgotten. Under the Corsican's leadership, France would be put into financial and judicial order and even come to peace with Britain at the Treaty of Amiens. While some suspected Napoleon and his reforms as ambitions toward something of an emperor, politicians such as “The Incorruptible” Robespierre kept him in check (such as preventing the return of slavery in the French colonies).

Britain would declare war again in May of 1803, and Napoleon would return to the field as a general, leaving the nation much to itself. While many called for the war to be colonial (such as in the proud French colony of Haiti, made up of freed slaves), Napoleon built a European empire for France by defeating the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Coalitions in the field. While Napoleon hoped to invade their ally Russia to enforce his Continental Blockade, the French people would refuse to allow further enemies. Instead, Napoleon built up his massive Grande Armée and began the invasion of Britain by means of a massive earthen-work isthmus across the English Channel. While under nearly continuous bombardment, 400,000 soldiers plus volunteer workers emptied load after load of soil and rock into the sea. The monumental action terrified England enough to call an end to the war, removing troops from Spain and finally giving France its guarantee of a republic.

Fearful that Napoleon would use his fame to overthrow their government, Robespierre and others suggested many schemes including assassination, but finally the military genius was sent into pseudo-exile on expeditions in the colonies, branching out from his bases in the Sahara and Ivory Coast. Though able to conquer enormous tracks of Africa, Napoleon would succumb to yellow fever in 1821, and France's colonial empire would stall. Gradually over the nineteenth century, France would begrudgingly sponsor the puppet republics it had established in Germany, Italy, and Austria to become self-governing as Nationalism grew in public spirit.

France's success, along with that of its longtime ally the United States of America, in the Great Experiment of republicanism would give much credence to the idea. As economic fallout of the Industrial Revolution gave birth to new ideas of socialism and communism, political philosophy would shift again, leading to the Revolutionary Wars in the 1940s. The government of France would be seen as corrupt with a lost vision, and Europe would once again turn upon it as the Commune reformed just as the philosopher Marx had proposed.

In reality, Corday's knife met its target, and Marat would die in minutes. She was guillotined on July 17 on grounds of murder and treason. The fear of counterrevolutionaries would grow as more kingdoms of Europe invaded, giving way to Robespierre's Reign of Terror and, ultimately, Napoleon becoming emperor and wiping away the republic.

Monday, July 12, 2010

July 12, 1804 – Alexander Hamilton Survives Duel

On July 11, General Alexander Hamilton (former Secretary of the Treasury) and Colonel Aaron Burr (current Vice-President) met for a duel to settle their long-standing and ever-growing hatred for one another. Hamilton was leader of the Federalist Party and mastermind of politics and had recently given support to the opposing Morgan Lewis specifically to make Burr lose his bid for Governor of New York. Burr had been dropped from Jefferson's ticket in the 1804 election and had planned to secure more local political action, but now he only had rage against Hamilton.

In the duel (which took place secretly on the Heights of Weehawken across the Hudson River from Manhattan as dueling was illegal), Hamilton shot to miss, wasting his powder to show courage but not malice in taking an aimed shot. Burr, however, shot and wounded Hamilton, nearly fatally. While Hamilton healed from a shattered rib (the bullet had struck along the side of his torso), Burr would flee for South Carolina to avoid charges of attempted murder. Though Burr would fulfill his year as Vice-President, his career in politics was over. His only further political actions would be rumored treasonous as he began illegal settlements in Mexican Texas, perhaps in hope of starting a war. While the actions were decried at the time, American expansionism in the West would eventually prove Burr a man ahead of his time.

Hamilton continued working to wrest power from the “dangerous” Democratic-Republicans he feared would turn the United States into a mob of rabble. Jefferson won his second term in 1804, and his protege and Father of the Constitution James Madison would take the election of 1808. In 1812, the political climate would changed. Europe was embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars, which threatened to drag in the US as well with English as well as French naval ships plundering American vessels and “impressing” sailors into service.

War Hawks called for a campaign against Britain and even an invasion of Canada in the spirit of expansionism (which many thought would be easily done with local support; Jefferson said it was a “mere matter of marching”). President Madison set an ultimatum that both France and Britain recognize their neutrality or face war. France sent communications (eventually proven misleading) that they would, and Congress very nearly declared war on Britain but for the political finagling of Hamilton. Without his war and the growing political discontent, Madison would lose the 1812 election to DeWitt Clinton of New York, the first Federalist president in twelve years.

Clinton called for a strengthening of America's infrastructure, building roads that would lead to and aid in the later Indian Wars. As a member of the Erie Canal Commission, which others would see through with his assistance. Further, and perhaps most importantly, Clinton set to solve the problems of international quarrels by improving the navy of the United States beyond Jefferson's pocket-boat defense. Now a force to be reckoned with, Britain and France would recognize American neutrality, and after the defeat of Napoleon, a war-beleaguered Britain would sign the Treaty of Ghent with America, solving the issues that could have started a war only two years before.

The Federalist Party would continue to challenge the Democratic-Republicans, though both would agree on the Monroe Bill (named after Senator Monroe of Virginia) that the US would not abide European interference in the Western Hemisphere. As the Spanish Empire collapsed to the south, Americans welcomed the growing Republicanism and used its fleet to dissuade Europe from further colonization. America itself would assure dominance with the Mexican War in 1846, but be true to Monroe's word in 1861 by aiding Mexico in overcoming the French and Spanish invasion by Maximilian (which also relieved growing tension on the question of slavery, later to be solved by the 1867 Emancipation Proclamation, promising ample government compensation to any owner willing to free his slaves).

Pushing West and now south, American expansionism turned to annexing turbulent Latin American nations in the latter half of the nineteenth century. While accusations of “empire” were made and perhaps deserved, America grew powerful in the Western Hemisphere and increasingly Hispanic in background, creating a vivid diversity that would supply ample raw materials and labor for an Industrial Age. As the Cold War raged with the Soviet Union in the next century, America would see many of its states and territories fighting for their own independence fueled by Communist insurgents, igniting a Civil War over the question of states' rights.

In reality, Hamilton would die of his wounds, which were tremendous as Burr's shot has ricocheted within the man's torso. Without a strong leader, the Federalist Party would fall behind the Democratic-Republicans, eventually leading to the Era of Good Feelings, an age downplaying partisanship under President Monroe where the Federalists would all but cease to exist.

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