Thursday, December 28, 2017

December Guest Post: Smuts Enters Constantinople

This post originally appeared on Today in Alternate History

December 9, 1917

On this day in alternate history, the First Empire Army led by future British Prime Minister, Field Marshall Jan Smuts, captured Constantinople.

Back in May, Prime Minister David Lloyd George had sought a commander of a "dashing type" in order to inflict a crushing defeat of Ottoman Turkey and boost Allied morale. Unfortunately the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, which had once numbered a mighty three hundred thousand men, had been drained of resources for the struggle in Flanders. Before Smuts would agree to be George's hero, Smuts demanded, and was given, reinforcements from Australian Corps, Canadian Corps, NZ Division, Indians, and the new tanks to drive a campaign that General Haig, commander of the Western Front, didn't believe in.

Nevertheless, this decision to ensure a victory "of the Easterners" had still managed to enrage the other involved parties in Europe. Ultimately, the reluctant French were bought off with the promise of a French flag in Beirut and Alexandretta. However, General Haig, who was on particularly bad terms with Lloyd-George, had created a very great deal of dissent amongst the Tory back-benchers in the House of Commands. Later in the year, the situation in France would indeed deteriorate, although the arrival of American Forces would eventually overcome this set-back. Smuts, meanwhile, used his new resources to capture the heart, and then the whole of the eastern Ottoman Empire.

Of more lasting consequence was the effect on the plan to offer a Jewish Homeland. This endeavour was already imperiled by contradictory promises of sovereignty to various Arab Princes. Moving ever more centre stage, Smuts then recommended a relocation to copper-rich Northern Rhodesia, a proposal that was accepted with less resistance given that the indigenous people had even less say that the population of Palestine. To seal the deal, it was accompanied by a British guarantee of minority rights for religious Jews in an Arab Palestine.

By now an Imperial Statesman of the highest order, Smuts and his colleague Louis Botha were war heroes that had both played a key role in the victorious British Army during the Great War. Smuts would soon succeed Botha as Prime Minister of South Africa upon the death of the latter in 1919. Twenty years later, Smuts was invited to re-join the Imperial War Cabinet, and, in Westminster, he was talked about in private as a potential substitute for Winston Churchill should the old lion perish during war-time. The irony of this was of course that Churchill, despite being on good terms with Smuts, had conceived the earlier Dardanelles operation that had failed to capture Constantinople. Nevertheless, this contingency was put by Sir John Colville, Churchill's private secretary, to Queen Mary and then to George VI, both of whom warmed to the idea.

This contingency proved necessary when Winston Churchill suffered a fatal heart attack while staying at the White House as a result of the sinking of the Repulse and the Princes of Wales almost twenty-four years to the day that Smuts had entered Constantinople. Smuts would then lead the Empire to victory, but, by the end of the war, he confronted a new form of nationalism that would threaten his legacy both in South Africa and also in the Zionist Homeland he had helped to create.

Author's Note: In reality Smuts refused refused the command (late May) unless promised resources for a decisive victory, and he agreed with Robertson that Western Front commitments did not justify a serious attempt to capture Jerusalem. Allenby was appointed instead, and he did capture Jerusalem on this day OTL.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

1918 – German Occupation of former United States

The 1896 invention of the heat-killed cholera vaccine by German bacteriologist Wilhelm Kolle greatly improved those created by Catalan and Russian scientists in years before. It could be manufactured on a massive scale, outpacing the growth of any potential catastrophe if cholera spread into a local water system. When Kolle announced his development, the German Empire won worldwide acclaim, including adoration from Japanese saved during an epidemic in 1902.

Kolle continued his work, later written in the famous Experimental Bacteriology, to make a discovery that warped his mind with power: he could create his own strains of cholera resistant to other vaccines. If one of his strains were released, he alone would have the cure. At a top secret meeting with Kaiser Wilhelm II, it was agreed that such technology would be kept quiet and that it could be used to conquer the world.

After controlled tests in German colonies like the Samoan Islands and Kamerun, Wilhelm determined it was time to put the operation into its fullest potential on the most obvious target: the United States of America. The States had grown into a world power through its industrial development, although few in Europe took the young nation as seriously as other Old World empires. Millions of Germans had immigrated to America in search of work and better lives since the seventeenth century, giving Germany a strong cultural base of power already. A controlled plague would wipe out the others, leaving mineral wealth and even a large deal of the industrial core of the country intact.

German agents introduced the man-made cholera into key water systems in American major cities, beginning with the largest, New York City. Previous cholera epidemics had been contained through quarantines, but health officials were baffled as cholera continued to spread upriver to drinking supplies throughout the country. Like other countries, Germany quickly responded with medical aid, although the German Empire soon vastly outpaced the others in resources being sent to America. Most of these resources were dedicated to Pennsylvania, Ohio, the Midwest, and other areas where German nationals had settled.

The survival rates of the German immigrants as compared to those of other Americans grew suspicious. Anti-German sentiment rose, even sparking riots in Texas, but the American government was too dependent on German support to follow the outcry. Instead, American troops loyal to Germany helped suppress those fighting against the tightening grasp of the Kaiser. When increasingly advantageous treaties were granted to Germany, outright rebellion broke out in independently minded portions of the nation, particularly in the South. Militias formed to drive out “the Hessians” recalled Washington fighting German mercenaries during the American Revolution. Unfortunately, these militia camps soon found themselves devastated by cholera, and support vanished.

When the Archduke of Austria was killed by a terrorist in 1914, the Kaiser was so busy with plans for America that he barely commented on the unfortunate. Instead, he continued to exert control over the New World. The cholera epidemic spread to Mexico, whose own government was already in turmoil, and the people gladly joined as a new province in the German Empire in exchange for the near-mystical cure from Kolle’s vaccine.

After years of horrific death from coast to coast, the German empire began rebuilding what became known as “New Prussia.” Other empires were still fearful to venture into the area for their own colonization; Britain maintained a tight quarantine along the border with Canada. German supporters such as the Ottoman Empire, which was granted swaths of land in depopulated Florida, and Japan, which had retained close allies with Germany after its own epidemic. Austria tried its own hand at colonizing Baja California, although its own resources were limited after a short and brutal war with Russia ending much of Austria’s sway over the Balkans.

Formerly large cities in the United States became ghost towns renamed by their new rulers, from Nagaseattle in the northwest to New Hamborg that had once been New Orleans to New Potsdam, formerly New York. The most obvious was the change from Washington, D.C., to New Berlin, but the propaganda that flowed out of the new capital dripped with awe for the German “saviors” of the few that remained. There were many Americans who beat the cholera epidemic with their own immune systems, but those who attempted to stand up to German imperialism were rounded up and shipped to the “American Reservation” in what had once been New Mexico, watched over by tribal Native American forces.

In reality, this map was a Life Magazine production in response to a German propaganda leaflet.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

1918 – British Reconquest of America

The Third Plague began in Yunnan province in China in 1855, but it would be most remembered for its devastation of the United States in the first part of the twentieth century. Bubonic plague had ravaged Europe in the Black Death, and once again it wiped out millions, now in North America. The plague spread through nearly every human population on Earth, but as it arrived in San Francisco in 1900, a new strain developed that proved far more virulent.

The plague began with the familiar bubonic plague carried by fleas, which attached themselves to rats that stowed away on trans-Pacific vessels. These rats escaped into San Francisco harbor, soon spreading to humans. Somewhere among them, the plague became pneumonic. Now each infected victim became a new source with a cough or sneeze flinging fluid into the air. Before health officials could act, terrified Californians fled aboard trains, which only spread the disease further.

Later attempts at quarantine proved impossible as the disease had already spread so far and there was simply too much ground to cover as the bubonic plague made its way through mammal populations. Rural areas were particularly prone to bites from insects, but the bubonic strain was mild compared to the more deadly virulent pneumonic that wiped out urban centers. Uninformed victims never realized the difference between two, so sick people were transported to hospitals that otherwise may have avoided the effects.

Within a generation, the United States of America had fallen into disarray. The strong flow of immigration into the Land of Opportunity reversed until the navies of the world began a blockade to keep further Americans from escaping to spread the disease across the ocean. American leaders refused to travel, putting an end to national government. Soon deterioration of the railroads and telegraph further isolated communities. Local leaders became warlords to keep out neighboring populations, and towns that had depended upon trade to supply their industry soon vanished.

Eventually contained, the pneumonic strain wiped itself out. The continent was suddenly a blank canvas, ready for repainting. Armed with vaccines for the bubonic strain, the British Empire determined that it would reestablish order over what had become known as the “Wild West.” Japan, which had served in alliance with British fleets to contain the West Coast, signed a treaty for its own lands with a capital of New Yokohama built near the ruins of old San Francisco. The British built their own cities using scrap from the hollowed-out previous settlements, which largely had been burned to kill any remaining plague-bearing rats. Many were established with reverence toward the old, such as New Liverpool mirroring New Orleans or London-on-the-Potomac where representational American Parliament served in the same halls senators had in Washington, D.C. Other cities remained ruined for decades more, like the area once called Chicago being nicknamed “Dryrottingham.”

The former Canada, also devastated by the plague, was reorganized into a province of the new Dominion of North America, while Mexico continued as its own nation, though a protectorate under the Anglo-Japanese treaty. Many local warlords, some employing whole armies of gunslingers, fought against British reconquest, resulting in a massive prison district established in what had been west Texas, borrowing Federal forces from Mexico to serve as police.


In reality, this map was a WWI German propaganda leaflet, hoping to inspire distrust among the newcomer nation to the Allies. The pneumonic strain of the Third Plague pandemic stayed largely in Asia, where it did kill millions.

Monday, October 30, 2017

What if Washington Fought for the British?

"In his new book, Brent Harris imagines an alternate American revolution. In a change of fate, George Washington fights for the British while wrestling with his loyalties as he watches his countrymen struggle under the yoke of war...

"Washington’s nemesis, Benedict Arnold, seizes power and will stop at nothing to restore his family’s honor by driving the British out of the colonies. The fate of America is altered as these two titans clash on and off the battlefield."

Harris is a 2017 Sidewise Award Nominee for his short story, "Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon," in the anthology Tales from Alternate Earths.

See the full article from The Desert Trail

Check out A Time of Need: A Dark Eagle Novel

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Guest Post: Catherine's Handmaiden

This TL first appeared at Today In Alternate History

Catherine of Aragon's bold leadership in the King's Great Matter during the years 1527-9 laid the groundwork for the continued existence of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, perhaps even the Catholic European Union itself that lasted into the third millennium.

Desperate for a male heir, King Henry VIII of England had set himself upon a destructive course of action that could well have torn up the British Isles. Although he had a freer hand in England, there were constraints in Ireland where his official role was Lord of Ireland, reigning only at the pleasure of the Pope. Fortuitously, the current Pope, Clement VII, had been a prisoner of Catherine's nephew, Emperor Charles V, since the Sack of Rome in May 1527. And before Henry could orchestrate the Irish Parliament to declare himself King of Ireland, Catherine received word that the Pope was about to appoint Charles V as Lord of Ireland.

Under the weight of this threat, Catherine was able to secretly negotiate an agreement under which she remained Queen and her lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, would become Queen's Concubine. The scheme lay on a biblical foundation with the apparently barren Rachel being granted a son by Jacob through her handmaiden:
"So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife; and Jacob went in to her" ~ Genesis 30:4
Spared from the pressure of giving birth in a toxic court atmosphere, Anne Boleyn eventually produced a male heir to whom the succession could be delicately steered with the official support of Rome, who had little choice under Catherine's nephew's watchful eye. Henry, wildly supportive of his Catholic benefactors, became a vehement papist, which strengthened his popularity in Ireland, which eventually named him king there as well. Henry's fanaticism is cited as one of many reasons backing the Scottish Rebellion of the late sixteenth century, however, and much of Henry IX's long reign was spent in the quelling of Protestantism among the Scots.

The United Britain served as a bastion of the Church in Europe, supplying troops and money in the Thirty Years War that tore apart Germany, and around the world, such as working to colonize North America to beat out attempted colonies by the Protestant Dutch and Swedes. As Spain and Austria declined, Britain stepped up to become a leader among the Catholic nations. Europe was again torn apart in the nineteenth century by nationalistic wars, and the Church responded as effectively as it had with the Counter-Reformation by forming a politico-economic international bond through the Catholic European Union. Generations brought new technologies that improved travel and communication, and the initially symbolic CEU gradually became a powerhouse of governance for banking, industry, and development.

One such development was the announcement by His Britannic Majesty's Government of a sixty-mile fixed rail link under the Irish sea between Dublin and Holyhead that would open before the middle of the twenty-first century. The project had been under discussion as far back as 1890, when railway engineer Luke Livingston Macassey had proposed "a rail link using either a tunnel, a submerged 'tubular bridge' or a 'solid causeway.'" It remained a formidable engineering challenge even in the present day, particularly because the widest crossing point had been selected. The alternatives were certainly shorter in distance; however, the routes from Mull of Kintyre to County Antrim or Fishguard and Rosslare were of less strategic transporation value. Only the Dublin-to-Holyhead route could link up into a mid-country connection, tying together the two islands' central rail system and thereby running through London straight into the Catholic European Union.

Development funds from the CEU had been obtained and because the overarching goal was to bring the British Isles ever closer together, the name Blessed Queen Catherine Tunnel was eventually selected, a metaphor of the principle of indissolubility of union, even if circumstances may seem extreme.


Author's Note: After being banished from court, Catherine of Aragon lived out the remainder of her life at Kimbolton Castle, and died there on 7 January 1536. English people held Catherine in high esteem, and her death set off tremendous mourning.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

261 BC - Ashoka Unmoved

"Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Ashoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star." - H.G. Wells

Upon the end of the Kalinga War, Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Dynasty of India went to survey his newly conquered domain. What he found was a horrifying sight:  his invading forces killed an estimated 100,000 people with another 150,000 carried away as slaves. The dead literally covered the ground between burned-out homes, and the Daya River ran red from the bloodshed. A woman approached Ashoka and said, "Your actions have taken from me my father, husband, and son. Now what will I have left to live for?"

Distraught, Ashoka looked out among the ashes, and there he saw a flower growing. Its bright face, looking up at the sun through the smoky sky, moved him. No matter the terrible destruction, he is said to have thought, a new and better world could grow up from it. Ashoka ordered the woman to become the flower's caretaker for the rest of her days. She would be executed if the flower perished for any reason.

This was one of many tales of violence in Ashoka's life. He had been born grandson of Chandragupta, the founder of the Mauryan dynasty who had united much of the empire Ashoka inherited. In the northeast, the empire butted up against that of Seleucus, one of the late Alexander the Great's generals. The two fought but eventually came to an alliance confirmed by marriage with Chandragupta giving 500 elephants while Seleucus gave his daughter as a bride. In the last years of his life, Chandragupta retired to become a monk, leaving the empire to Bindusara, Ashoka's father. Ashoka was hardly next in line for the throne with as many as ninety-nine half-siblings, but he would seize power for himself.

As a prince-general, Ashoka grew in prominence by crushing revolts and conquering in the southwest. When Ashoka's older brother Susima was pronounced the heir, Ashoka tricked him into falling into a pit filled with burning coals to eliminate him. Upon Bindursara's death, Ashoka killed every other claimant to the throne, except for his brother Vitashoka, who became a monk in the growing new religion based on the teachings of the Buddha. At the head of the empire, Ashoka became known as "Ashoka the Fierce" for his wars of conquest.

He was also famous for his rage, routinely having even ministers executed for offenses like "not being loyal enough." He built a torture-palace called Ashoka's Hell that, on the exterior, was covered in beautiful architecture and gardens. On the inside, prisoners had their mouths pried open by irons and boiling copper was poured down their throats. The chambers were modeled on depictions of Hell from Buddhism, which Ashoka had taken as his state religion after an ongoing feud with the Hindu Brahmin. This hell was led by Girika, whose cruelty was only matched by his loyalty to Ashoka; Girika had executed his own parents for balking when his position as executioner was announced. Girika even agreed that anyone who entered the palace would never leave alive, including himself.

In the ninth year of his reign, Ashoka targeted the peaceful neighboring country of Kalinga. It was a wealthy nation, built up by the strong middle class of artisans and seafarers trading with the lands to the southeast. The people participated in their government through a democratic parliament that supported a popular monarch. The noble people had driven away the army of Chandragupta generations before, so Ashoka determined to conquer without mercy.

With the fleet from Kalinga now at his command, Ashoka dispatched generals to continue his conquests to the east. Ashoka himself marched south to complete conquests of India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Throughout his empire, Ashoka built great pillars and made inscriptions upon boulders with his new view of dharma: build a better world, no matter the cost. He also supported his own branch of monks, sent as missionary-ambassadors to the courts of Ptolemy II Philadelphus in Egypt and Antiochus II Theos in Asia Minor. As far away as Athens, people began to recite analogies of cutting down a grove of trees to build a house. A legend of Ashoka himself states that he ordered his ministers to gather the heads of all kinds of animals, including a human; the ministers were then dispatched to the market to sell them. The minister with the dead human head was unable to sell it, nor was he even able to give it away for free. Ashoka replied, "If I make to bow a head so disgusting that none on earth would take it, what harm is there?"

Ashoka's power grew as he moved into the chaotic vacuum in the northwest when the Seleucid Empire declined. Beating down both the Parni and the Greco-Bactrians, Ashoka dominated central Asia. Controlling trade routes put Ashoka in communication with the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, many of whose famous Terracotta Army feature warriors in Indian dress. Ashoka greatly impressed the Chinese emperor by not only having his armies with elephants in the west but with ships arriving in the east through the Yellow Sea.

After thirty-six years of rule, Ashoka died and was cremated, with legends saying that his body burned continuously for a week upon the funeral pyre. His tightly wound system of government continued the expansive Mauryan Empire for centuries more, but it eventually fell under the blade of the Scythian hordes and the satellite colonies became empires in their own right, such as those that conquered America from the west.

Yet Ashoka did leave his lasting imprint: even the Scythians ascribed to his philosophy of hard-fisted Buddhism, as do many nations worldwide.


In reality, it is said that great regret came upon Ashoka as he viewed the devastation his armies had wrought upon Kalinga and the ongoing suffering of the survivors. The experience humbled him, and he took Buddhism as a personal belief toward a gentler life. His reign lasted another thirty years, during which peace was found over all India. His towering Edicts called for good deeds and respect for all creatures.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Super Space Animals

What if the premise of the Fantastic Four comic book was reality?

On July 22, 1951, the Soviet Union launched two dogs, Tsygan ("Gypsy") and Dezik ("Deodorant") into space on R-1 IIIA-1. The two would be the first higher organisms to survive and be recovered from a space mission. Mission failures had plagued previous launches, but the mysterious disasters were nothing compared to the mystery of what exactly happened to these creatures once past Earth's protective atmosphere.

Both the Soviet Union and the United States were expanding upon captured German rocket technology from World War II. The common goal was to put a man into space, but no one knew what the strain of launch, floating in microgravity, and especially such exposure to cosmic radiation would do to a living creature. Missions gradually became more and more ambitious toward that goal.

The White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico first sought answers with fruit flies launched aboard a V-2 rocket on February 20, 1947. The fruit flies were recovered from a capsule that parachuted safely back to Earth. Scientists noted that the fruit flies not only survived, but continued to thrive, living years past their typical lifespan of forty to fifty days. Subsequent V-2 experiments sent up plants such as moss and other small creatures. Missions to launch a higher organisms into space followed, and the rhesus monkey Albert II, took off in June 1949 but died upon impact after his 83-mile fall due to parachute failure. Similar difficulties plagued launches carrying mice. The mice that did survive their return to Earth confounded scientists as their skin was suddenly impervious to needles and scalpels needed for invasive examination.

The Soviet Union began its own experiments, and the successful mission with Gypsy and Deodorant was lauded before being quickly covered up. According to declassified documents, the dogs were found not only to exhibit the same toughness as creatures before, but they also seemed to have uncanny new senses of detection bordering on precognition as well as telepathic empathy, often "hypnotizing" their trainers into giving them the entire supply of treats at once. Gypsy was dispatched to the Institute for Brain Research at Leningrad State University, which had been studying the paranormal since the 1920s, while Deodorant was launched again that June alongside another dog, Lisa, to see what effects repeated launch may have. Neither dog survived that mission.

Russian dog-launches continued, culminating in the November 1957 mission to make Laika the first animal to orbit the Earth. Laika spent a week in orbit. Official documents stated that she died peacefully after only hours aboard the craft as there were no means to bring her safely back to Earth. Rumors stated that Laika was, in fact, returned to Earth, and that the Soviets were quick to contain her deep in Siberia.

The United States government had no knowledge of the strange happenings with the Russian space dogs and worked to catch up with its own experiments through space monkeys. In December 1958, Jupiter IRBM AM-13 carried a squirrel monkey into space, but the rocket was destroyed upon reentry. A successful mission in 1959 carried another squirrel monkey, Miss Baker, and a rhesus monkey, Able. While Able died a few days after the mission for reasons documented as "reaction to anesthesia," Miss Baker lived on and began to exhibit fantastic powers of telekinesis, eating fruit by lifting it into her mouth without making her fingers sticky.

US media fanfare drew excitement as well as great public fear of what cosmic rays were doing to creatures in space. Many called for an immediate end to the goal of sending humans into space. Curiosity proved more powerful than concern, and the Soviet Union and United States both proliferated the creatures launched. In August 1960, Sputnik 5 carried two dogs, a gray rabbit, 40 mice, 2 rats, and 15 flasks of fruit flies and plants. The dogs were later bred successfully, and, in 1961, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gifted Caroline Kennedy a puppy able to climb walls and sleep on the ceiling.

January 31, 1961, NASA launched Project Mercury's MR-2 carrying a chimpanzee dubbed "No. 65." The mission was to test the ability to operate a craft in space, and the chimp had been trained at the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center to flip levers to avoid a mild shock and to receive a reward in banana pellets. Despite a seal failure aboard the ship, the chimp arrived back to Earth safely. He was triumphantly renamed "Ham" and became a media darling like Miss Baker before. When Ham greeted his trainer one morning by saying "hello," there was an attempted media blackout. Consistent investigation eventually revealed the truth: Ham had not only developed speech but was also regularly tested to have an IQ of 180.

Moral and ethical questions arose in a frenzy. Religious figures denounced this "evolution" as wicked, while other leaders suggested that Ham be granted full citizenship. Ham began writing routine editorials for several world newspapers as he mastered more and more languages, arguing for environmentalism and investment in technology. During Ham's interview by Walter Cronkite, one of the most-watched events in television history, Cronkite asked Ham what might happen if a human was launched into the cosmic rays of space. Ham replied simply, "Superman."

Unsure of what they might create, both the Soviet Union and United States scrubbed their planned manned missions. Rumors circulated that cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was launched secretly in April 1961 and vanished from the capsule, which many conspiracy cosmologists believed to be some sort of apotheosis while others imagined Gagarin became so powerful that he destroyed the craft and died falling to Earth. Although there were numerous volunteers for a manned mission, the various space programs of nations worldwide called it the "new H-bomb." A new era of the Cold War began with each side watching the other, threatening to create a superhuman for defense, yet afraid of what it might actually bring.


In reality, cosmic rays delivering superpowers remains fictional. Fantastic Four #1 did, however, reverse the dire sales of Marvel Comics upon its publication in November, 1961, released several months after both Russian and American men had been launched into space. It ushered in a new era of superheroes facing dramatic woes.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Five Canals

 In 1699, the Company of Scotland stumbled through its first colony in a blind stroke of luck. It had seemed to be a doomed expedition as financiers in Europe continued to pull out of their stock, leaving Scotland alone to support the venture with some 25 to 50% of all capital in the country invested toward its success. Many were suspicious about the plague-infested swamplands the Spanish had avoided for centuries, but the patriotic hope of establishing a foothold in the New World for Scotland.

It may very well have died out if not for a sailor who had started his own business on the side: raising Malaysian jumping spiders for fights over which his comrades could gamble. He had learned the trade of keeping male spiders in matchboxes while in the East Indies, and the small space needed for battle was far more efficient at sea than gambling on chickens or dogs. With little entertainment to be found, the sailor's captain begrudgingly allowed him a box in which he kept nests of females in drawers to breed champions. Upon the arrival in Central America, however, the sailor's spiders escaped and quickly became an invasive species as they feasted on their natural prey, the mosquito. Soon the silky nests of spiders were everywhere as they demolished the local mosquito population.

Surprisingly free of many of the deadly tropical diseases, the Scottish settlement at New Edinburgh flourished over the eighteenth century. Plantations drew in wealth, repaying their lenders at home, and encouraging new projects for the industrious Scots, including a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Thanks to the invention of the steam engine by fellow Scot James Watt, dreams of canal-building became a reality in the nineteenth century with huge earth-movers carving through the mountains and straightening the Rio Membrillo in 1874, just five years after the Suez Canal connected the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean.

It would be the first of a series of canals as other countries rushed to catch up with the lead established by the British. The governments of the United States and Nicaragua joined in 1884 to build across the southern end of the latter country, using the large Lake Nicaragua as a natural midpoint to minimize the amount of land to be dug. Canal-builders from France refused to rest on their laurels of the Suez and contracted with Mexico to dig through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Both were massive undertakings, but readily accomplished with the digging technology of the time.

Two more canals were added in the twentieth century. The huge ships of the modern navies dwarfed the narrow channels of the Darien Canal. An effort between the Allies created a new, larger canal across the middle of Panama, using a colossal system of locks to raise ships 85 feet upward to an artificial lake. As the Cold War grew and leftist movements overthrew several Latin American countries, a Soviet-led mission carved its own canal extending southward from the Gulf of Urbana.

With so much international attention as the crossroads of world travel, Central America remains to this day a key sector of global wealth and industry.


Source for image and canal information:  Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Dept. of Global Studies & Geography , Hofstra University, New York.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Guest Post from Chris Oakley: "Is Moscow Burning?" Pt 6

Summary: In the first five parts of this series, we reviewed the course of Allied and Axis rocket development in the Second World War from the first Nazi V-weapons attacks on Moscow in 1941 to the use of ground-to-ground and air-to- air rockets in the great Allied campaigns of 1944. In this final chapter of the series, we’ll look back at how rocket attacks hastened the ultimate collapse of the Third Reich. Check out Part 1 on Changing the Times


By the time the first Anglo-American advance troops marched into Paris in August of 1944, only the most diehard Nazi fanatics still held out any hope of a German victory on the Western Front. Not only was the Third Reich hopelessly behind the Allies in both quantity and quality of military technology, but Allied rocket strikes were wiping out an ever-growing portion of the German transportation network in Western Europe. This meant neither supplies nor manpower could reach the German lines in time to make any significant difference in the course of the campaign to liberate France, Belgium, and the Low Countries.

The situation was even more dire for Germany on the Eastern Front; Soviet rocket crews were raining destruction on the beleaguered German armies with such lethal frequency and precision that it seemed like the Wehrmacht might be wiped out to the last man before the first snows of winter fell. To add insult to injury, German cities in the East were in range of Soviet long-distance rockets for the first time, and Stalin had given the go-ahead for the Red Army to subject them to the same type of vicious bombardment German V-1 and V-2 units had previously unleashed on Soviet cities and towns.

While it would take until January of 1945 for Red Army rocket crews to get within striking distance of Berlin, the Red Air Force was carrying out rocket attacks on the German capital as early as November of 1944. In pre-dawn raids launched from bases in eastern Poland, Soviet Il-2 bombers struck often and hard at Berlin’s infrastructure, helping to turn much of the once-elegant city into a hellish wasteland as they fired rocket after rocket into roads, bridges, and tram stations. Berlin’s famed Tiergarten zoo was one of the most notable casualties of these attacks, having been pounded into rubble during an Il-2 attack in early December; it’s thought that 90 percent of the zoo’s animals died in the raid.

Joseph Goebbels’ first response to the Red Air Force rocket strikes on Berlin was to turn them into fodder for his propaganda machine. Though it was crystal clear to any impartial observer that Germany had lost the war, Goebbels continued to exhort his radio listeners to keep fighting the Red Army at all costs. He gave no thought to the thousands of civilians in the German capital who’d been killed or injured by the rocket bombings, or the tens of thousands of refugees trying desperately to reach safety in the west before the next wave of rockets exploded in Berlin’s streets. He only cared about enforcing political conformity and maintaining the total obedience to Hitler that had been the hallmark of Nazi ideology since the F├╝hrer first rose to power in 1933. Not even the destruction of the city’s largest hospital by Soviet rockets in mid-February of 1945 could persuade Goebbels or Hitler to change their suicidal course. Indeed, Goebbels went so far as to threaten to shoot anyone in his ministry who gave the vaguest hint of supporting a negotiated peace with the Allies.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Guest Post: Dutch-Japanese War of 1905 by Allen McDonnell

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

The Japanese being a proud people with an industrialized country had always resented being considered second-class powers by the various European nations. They shared this insulting loss of face in common with the new country of the United States of North America for a few decades, but after the Spanish-American war of 1898-1899, there was a decided shift in the level of respect Europeans gave to their North American rivals on the world political stage.
In back rooms, the Japanese leaders discussed the issue endlessly. In 1904, when relations with Russia became strained over the issue of the Korean Peninsula, there were several prominent Japanese who advocated going to war with Russia. This would prove Japan was equal to the European Powers in its industrial war-making capacity. However, in late 1904, Czar Nicholas II defused tensions when he ordered his negotiator to accept the Japanese terms and ensure that Port Arthur would remain the excellent Pacific Navy port it had become without risking open war so far from the power-centers of the Russian Empire.

Despite the resolution of the "Korean Question," the idea that a war with a European Power would make Japan a recognized equal among the industrial nations of the world took firm hold in the Japanese circles of power, both in the Imperial Palace and the military leadership. That being the case, it is relatively easy for a Japanese ship to demand access to a Dutch port of call in Batavia, Java. The next day, while many of the crew are exploring the city on shore leave, the ship mysteriously explodes, reminiscent of the loss of the USS Maine in Havana, Cuba, a few years earlier. Japan immediately demands that the Netherlands either turn over one of their heavy cruisers or pay for the replacement cost of the lost Japanese naval ship. When the Dutch refuse, war is declared.

The war is actually nearly a year long as the Japanese Army and Marines land and take control of Java and Sumatra, then expand to Borneo, Sulawesi and the Molucca islands, hitherto all under direct large-scale Dutch imperial control. From there, they spread out to take over all the independent islands in the Indonesian islands. They are very careful not to stray from Dutch Borneo into British Borneo on that island, also respecting Portuguese Timor and both the British and German claims in East Papua New Guinea island but taking the western half for themselves.

The loss of the spice trade from Indonesia is a serious financial and status blow to the Netherlands when they finally are forced to concede the losses to Japan in the Treaty of Washington, signed in 1906. The attempts by the Dutch to form alliances with the UK, Portugal, and Germany to retake their empire were forestalled by the scrupulous adherence to the agreed-upon territorial limits between Holland and those powers being observed by the Japanese.

Unlike the Dutch, who were very far away from the East Indies and never a large population, the Japanese have a great deal of manpower and are within easy sailing distance. The fact that oil had been discovered in Dutch Sumatra in 1885, coupled with the fact that the Japanese wish to convert their navy to oil-fired boilers in place of the smokier coal-fired boilers many of their ships still use, sets off a major colonization and oil development program by Japan in 1907. Unlike the Dutch, who were never willing to emigrate in large numbers to the tropical East Indies, the Japanese are able to send workers and colonists as quickly as housing can be constructed and rice paddies built out of the wild forests of Sumatra. Additional resources in Java are less influenced by colonization because the island already has a large population, but the development of Borneo is even more extensive than that of Sumatra as the native population is even less technologically equipped than the Sumatrans and resistance to the colonization movement is easily squelched by the Japanese military presence on every island large enough to support a Japanese colonist settlement.

Drawing on their population of over 40 million Japanese, the government encourages hundreds of thousands of their citizens to relocate each year and expand their families when they do so. In addition to the mineral and spice-rich territories so desired by the Dutch settlers before the Japanese takeover the lower population islands are especially sought after by the Japanese as easily dominated colonial areas where Japanese culture easily suppresses the low population natives. Of the islands in the East Indies partly or fully under Japanese control by 1907 three, New Guinea, Borneo and Sumatra, are each substantially larger than the main Japanese home island of Honshu. Sumatra alone is nearly twice the size of Honshu, and, while Japan only controls half of New Guinea and two thirds of Borneo, the islands are so large that the territories are each more than twice the size of Honshu in area. Learning to raise their traditional rice in the tropical wet and dry climate of Indonesia is not an issue. The preexisting population already knows what techniques to use to successfully grow rice as well as a large number of other crops as well as the oil palms and various spices they had been growing for export purposes.

The East Indies all together have a population rivaling that of the four Japanese Home Islands in 1900, but the population density is a fraction of what the Japanese are used too. Being able to spread out into low density tropical jungle and develop large farms the Japanese undergo a classical baby boom in their population. The Japanese government's official policy is a version that used when they annexed the island of Hokkaido and its native Ainu population. The only language permitted to be used in Japanese islands is Japanese; the only culture allowed to exist is Japanese culture. All written records in other languages must be translated and the original documents in other languages archived or destroyed. The intention is that Japan will have a homogenous culture in every bit of territory under its jurisdiction where everyone will worship the Emperor and only those long established religions of Japan will be accepted.

The practice of discouraging Islam while encouraging Shinto, and to a lessor extent Buddhism, causes some lashing out by the Muslim population of Java where that faith is centered. For many of the others there is the Dutch Reformed Christian Church and dozens, perhaps even hundreds of small native religions that exist in the small isolated villages scattered among the hundreds of small islands of the East Indies. Shinto easily displaces the earlier native practices on the small islands, the Japanese colonial administration sets forth on a policy to colonize every island with at least 1,000 Japanese. Many of the small islands have well under that number of native inhabitants, and in quite a few cases the natives are forced to migrate to Java, the most densely settled of the islands.

Because of its relatively high population density and the predominance of the Muslim and Christian faiths on the island, Java is unofficially seen as the dumping ground for natives displaced from any of the other islands. While the Japanese have thousands of administrators and military living on Java, because of the difficulty in assimilating it, the decision was made very early to colonize the other islands first.

Everything is operating as a well designed machine by the time World War I breaks out in 1914. Japan seizes the opportunity to declare war on Germany and occupy the northern half of East New Guinea along with the islands of the Bismarck Archipelago, Micronesia, the North Marianas and a long list of other Pacific islands that had been part of the German Empire. Once again, they are scrupulously careful not to cross the border between German northeast Papua New Guinea and the British southeast territory of the same island. They are also careful to seize the German Samoa without straying into the American portion of the islands. The Japanese take the excuse of the war to round up thousands of mixed race and native people from the German territory it now holds and relocate them to Java opening up more 'vacant land' for development by ethnic Japanese.

The territorial acquisitions that come out of the Dutch Japanese war and World War I stretch the Japanese to the limit, and they conclude it will take them at least fifty years to completely homogenize these territories into the Japanese Empire. Having the East Indies oil supply along with the vast mineral resources gained permits them to be fully industrialized without needing imports of scrap iron or oil from the USA. They have no incentive for further expansion. The Japanese are generally a forward-looking people who believe in long term plans that take decades to completely fulfill.

Occasional acts of rebellion by Indonesian natives, especially on Java, lead to severe reprisals. The isolation from western media leaves these acts almost unnoticed on the world stage and the Japanese press have no desire to record these events. Rounding up and relocating natives who refuse to adopt Japanese culture becomes a regular feature of the Japanese Empire, in some cases natives from as far away as the Kurile Islands in the north Pacific make up these "resettled" people forced to relocate to Java. As a result passers-by could hear arguments in a dozen languages on Batavia where the relocated people are dumped to live or die based on their personal abilities. Batavia becomes a much less friendly version of the New York City immigrant mix where people on a street or block speak one language and practice one culture and the people on the next block over can be wildly different in custom. Unlike New York, these immigrants are not volunteers all seeking to live in harmony; they are forced to be here against their will and competing with each other to survive in a cruel world where the only crimes seriously punished are those against the Japanese. On those rare occasions when actual riots break out the Japanese military show no mercy in shooting down the rioters in the streets and leaving the wounded to bleed to death if their fellow Javanese do not help them.

Friday, March 24, 2017

March 25, 1791 – Jefferson Confirms Isaacks’s Purification of Seawater

While touring the United States in 1790, President George Washington was presented with a bottle of desalinated seawater by inventor Jacob Isaacks while in Rhode Island. Isaacks offered two signed certificates of leaders in the local Jewish community noting that the water in the bottle had, in fact, originally been drawn from the briny water of the Atlantic and purified through by Isaacks’s own means.

The Newport Herald pronounced that Washington tasted the water and “was pleased to express himself satisfied.” Isaacks stated that he had a secret mixture that acted as a catalyst, purifying water along with a set of machinery, and the system would be available to the United States government for a price. The method would certainly be a boon to the US Navy as ships needed to put into port often to take on fresh water, though that time could be stretched through grog: water mixed with rum for an alcohol content to slow down the things growing in it.

Washington handed the matter off to his scientifically-minded Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, who was fascinated by the possibilities. Jefferson brought Dr. Isaacks to Philadelphia together with a panel of distinguished scholars, including President of the American Philosophical Society David Rittenhouse and two academic chemists, Dr. Wistar and Dr. Hutchinson. Through four days and a collective twenty hours of experimentation, Jefferson and his fellow scientists determined that Isaacks’s methods did, in fact, make seawater potable. Water collected three miles off the coast of Delaware was mixed with Isaacks’s solution (revealed to be largely hydrofluoric acid, a substance isolated by Swedish chemist and used by glass etchers for decades before). It was then pushed through a filter of bone char by means of a hand pump, producing drinkable and remarkably clear water.

While Isaacks largely came across the discovery by means of alchemy, further chemical research in the nineteenth century proved its chemical path, first from the mixture and then the bone char filter:

HF + NaCl → NaF + HCl
(net decrease in specific energy of ~180 kJ mol−1)

CaCO3 + HCl → H2O + CaCl2
(net decrease in specific energy of ~100 kJ mol−1)

Even though the exact science had not yet been revealed, Isaacks was named a national hero through Jefferson’s recommendation to Congress. Isaacks was presented with the Magellanic Premium from the American Philosophical Society as well as a post in the US Revenue Cutter Service, later moved to the US Navy after it was established permanently in 1794. Crews noted that, once generated, Isaacks water even stayed fresh longer than traditionally-gathered water from land, which proved to be from the calcium chloride by-product, now used as a food additive.

Jefferson, meanwhile, became infatuated with the possibilities of naval expansion. His chief clerk’s father, Henry Remsen, was a New York merchant who painted grand pictures of what American ships could do at sea. Jefferson encouraged the Senate to implement ideas as the Navy grew during his time as vice president, and as president, he used the Barbary Wars as reason to swell the navy’s ranks. In 1804, along with the overland Corps of Discovery Exploration led by Lewis and Clark, Jefferson launched the USS Discovery, which was to explore the Pacific, ideally to make contact with Lewis and Clark on the far side of an expected Northwest Passage. While the Discovery only found increasingly impassable icy waters, it also strengthened America’s claims to the western shores of North America, which would lead to squabbles with the British in later generations until the western border of Canada was ultimately drawn at the Continental Divide until 54°40’ N latitude.

Isaacks’s technique was a closely guarded secret for many years until its ultimate re-creation by Britain as part of efforts to keep ships at sea against Napoleon. Under Jefferson’s guidance, President James Madison kept the US from being mixed up in a costly European war. Instead, Madison continued pushing expeditions in the Pacific to find what Jefferson called “unpeopled lands” to civilize. Meanwhile, the government-endorsed sealers, largely New Englanders, pressed farther south than Captain Cook’s discoveries of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, revealing a long peninsula leading to the ice-covered continent of Antarctica.

Although claimed by America, the continent proved difficult to colonize. The few whaling ports that were established to harvest the plentiful animal populations were seasonal and largely deserted after overhunting nearly wiped out several species of seals and penguins. Gradually over the nineteenth century, improvements in artificial lighting and insulated construction made greenhouses possible. It would not be until the Buckminster Fuller domes of the 1960s that Antarctica gained a permanent population.


In reality, Isaack’s mixture, whatever it actually was, did not work. Jefferson presented an official report that November, Exhibit 6 in Vol. 3 of the Annals of Congress, that it was the machines used to do a distillation process, which had already been experimented for over a century and put into use aboard ships for decades. While costly, heat-driven distilling is proven as the most efficient method for making seawater potable.

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