Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Guest Post: President Pershing

This post appeared on Today in Alternate History in an original post and a follow-up.

July 15, 1948 - Passing of President John J. Pershing

It was a sad day when twentieth-ninth President of the United States John Joseph Pershing passed away in Washington, D.C. He was eighty-seven years old and had been treated at at the Walter Reed General Hospital for coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure for the past four years.

An incomparable general in the United States Army, Pershing led the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) to victory over Germany in World War I, 1917-18. Famously, he rejected British and French demands that American forces be integrated with their armies, and insisted that the AEF would operate as a single unit under his command. Upon his triumphant return to the States, he won the presidency in 1920 with his own strong-minded view on the the enforcement of the peace settlement.

Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and Orlando had all shared the understanding that Woodrow Wilson's hare-brained peace proposals had no domestic backing whatsoever. Going over his head, they met with Senator David Cabot Lodge to negotiate an alternative and permanent settlement that was eventually ratified after the election of President Pershing. The general's nomination had been sealed in a smoke filled room by Republican grandees from New England, Middle Atlantic states and the big new industrial cities of the Midwest. Their financial and commercials interest was finding some alternate way for the US to get the war debts owed to it paid and by avoiding an expensive naval arms race with UK and Japan that would send contracts westward to California, who had left the Republican fold with Roosevelt in 1912 and Wilson in 1916.

Warren Harding might have been the man chosen by the king-makers had it not been for revelations of his philandering. In any case, the war hero Pershing was ideally suited to oversee the implementation of the US offer: four US divisions based on the Rhine as a security guarantee in return for a payment plan from France and UK which saw Germany paying reparations directly to the US. Germany itself was moved eastwards, losing the entire Rhineland to France but retaining Danzig and East Prussia, gaining the Sudetenland and Austria with its capital moved to Vienna with a Hapsburg Kaiser. The shake-up caused riots in Berlin, but, with Pershing at the helm, the US was not going to back down. Pershing himself
announced, "I wouldn't decline to serve," despite vowing not to campaign for himself. All the Republican leaders needed was his confirmation of breaking with Wilson, which Pershing gave, and the election was a landslide.

At the state funeral on 17-18th July, 1948, dignitaries and soldiers sweltered in the summer heat of Washington D.C., queuing patiently to pay their final respects to the twentieth-ninth president. He would be remembered for his firm hand in command, views on race, and foreign policies.

The mourner's sombre mood suited the funereal demeanour of America's most famous dough-boy. In many ways a sad figure, three of his siblings had died during childhood and then in a terrible echo of this family tragedy his wife and three daughters perished in a fire. At a personal level he never recovered from this disaster and as the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces he demonstrated a terrifying disregard for life. His blood-thirsty ruthless caused unnecessarily high fatalities, both in terms of the full frontal assaults he himself had harshly criticized and then fighting on after the signing of the armistice at a cost of 3,500 casualties. He also exposed U.S. troops to danger by taking the honour of recapturing Sedan and even sent an unsolicited letter to the Allied Supreme War Council, demanding that the Germans not be given an armistice and that instead, the Allies should push on and obtain an unconditional surrender. Nevertheless, many who served under him still respected him professionally as a soldier. His status as a war hero assured his victory in the thirty-fourth quadrennial presidential election.

 Because of his strictness and rigidity, Pershing was unpopular with the West Point cadets, who took to calling him "[racial slur] Jack" because of his service with the tenth Cavalry Regiment, a now-famous segregated African-American unit and one of the original "Buffalo Soldier" regiments. During the course of his tour at the Academy, this epithet softened to "Black Jack," although the intent remained hostile. While earlier a champion of the African-American soldier (he created the Harlem Hell-fighters), he did not champion their full participation on the battlefield in the World War, understanding widespread racial attitudes among white Americans generally as well as Wilson's reactionary views on race and his political debts he owed to southern Democratic law makers.

The election saw Pershing criticized by both segregationists for going too far and integrationists for not going far enough. Nevertheless once in office, Pershing did make a number of important changes that improved conditions for African-Americans in the military, changes that would be reflected in other Federal institutions. Those who complained or interfered were dismissed or reassigned. There was some irony in the manner that Pershing overruled the armed forces leadership because TR had to use presidential authority to promote him through three ranks and appoint him Brigadier General.

In his foreign policy, Pershing was not alone in his opposition to an armistice; Ferdinand Foch famously predicted "This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years." Pershing worked as president to prove Foch and his own fears wrong. He chose to enforce the Versailles agreement with the steel of the four US divisions based on the Rhine. Over qualms, German debt was transferred to the US directly through forgiveness of France and UK's payments, making reparations ultimately more lenient as Germany reshaped more easterly with principle possessions in Danzig, East Prussia, the Sudetenland, and Austria. The former imperial nation now served as the German capital in Vienna with a Hapsburg Kaiser outnumbered by northerly German.

Europe of 1948 was unrecognisable to what it was thirty years before at the end of the World War. With more passive German politicians in Vienna, demands for the return of the Rhineland routinely came from especially radical extremists in the Reichstag such as Adolf Hitler, but U.S. troops remaining in situ throughout Pershing's two-terms in office made it an impossibility until the war debt was repaid. Ultimately pieces of the Rhineland would be liberated from France by plebiscite, with another following to rejoin Germany.

A second Sino-Japanese War broke out shortly after Pershing left office, with many of his last actions being to prepare the Army for service in the Philippines if necessary. Economic sanctions were imposed, most importantly restrictions on the American oil that supported the island nation. A desperate Japan quickly emerged on the horizon as a new threat to regional security in the Pacific. Fortunately, though, this tension was dissolved when oil was discovered in Manchuria.

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