Monday, December 10, 2018

Guest Post: Two-Term President George H.W. Bush (#39)

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

"General [Richard Rohmer], nobody knows this, but by the end of 1941, just before December 7th that year, I was planning to come to Canada to join the Royal Canadian Air Force" ~ Rohmer's 2004 memoir Generally Speaking
November 30, 2018 - On this day George Herbert Walker Bush died aged ninety-four. A scion of a wealthy family of primarily English and German descent, his life was forever changed by his rash decision to join Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan.

Like many of his excitable contemporaries at the exclusive Andover Prep School, he dreamt of flying Mustangs over Normandy. Even though the conflict was then in its third year, the United States was still a non-belligerent power. In fact, the Neutrality Acts actually prevented Americans from the swearing the oath of loyalty to the King of England and this was a prerequisite for joining the RCAF. Potentially, the nine thousand Americans who did so risked the loss of their US citizenship.

Of course this was a relatively minor concern for the future given the current circumstances. This was because the inside of a Canadian aircraft was one of the most dangerous places to be in the present day; only 25 percent of crews would survive their tour of duty. Bush also had to falsify his age as he was still only seventeen. But the Canadians were training up crews within six months, and the temptation was far too great to deny. Events were to move now at a pace, and six months later by the time he reached eighteen, America had joined the Allies Powers , and he was old enough to use his active flight service to request a transfer into the US Navy (USN). At this desperate stage, Japan has just sunk two carriers at Coral Sea and Midway in May and June including loss of very many pilots in combat even from surviving carriers, and the USN was desperate for pilots. Bush was eagerly taken into service without too many questions being asked.

He resumed his university studies after the war, becoming a successful businessman in west Texas and a millionaire in the oil business before he age of forty. A third career, this time in politics, followed. He was elected to the House of Representatives from Texas's 7th district. During this period, he formed a close working relationship with fellow GOP Congressman Gerry Ford. After an unsuccessful Senate run, President Richard Nixon appointed him as Ambassador to the United Nations. Then in 1973, Bush became the Chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Positioned at such a nexus in the GOP during the immediate aftermath of Watergate, Bush was a natural choice for Vice President to his friend Gerry Ford. Fatefully, he convinced Ford not to pardon Nixon, and together they won election in 1976.

With the assassination of the Shah of Iran January 15, 1979, and the declaration of the Islamic Republic in April, the Kurdish region of northern Iran revolted with aid from the USSR.
The resulting turmoil in the Iran allowed Iraq to conduct a surprise invasion that was successful in grabbing hundreds of square miles of Iranian territory along their southern border. The suicidal fanatic Islamic Republic threw its military into the war on both fronts using human wave attacks to try to create pathways through minefields deployed by Iraq and the Kurdish forces aided by the USSR.

Iranian F-14 fighter/bombers attacked targets in Iraq leading to retaliatory strikes by the Iraqi air force, also supplied by the USSR, deep into Iran destroying petroleum refineries and pipelines used to transport their crude to the ports for export to the world market. As a result , world oil prices reached record highs, but with swift action by President Ford and VP Bush American drilling reached all new record levels and the Alaskan Pipeline, finished in 1977, rapidly increased its flow rates to help offset lost imports to the USA.

The boom in drilling across the nation off set the recession caused by the higher prices despite all predictions to the contrary by the Democratic party in the 1980 election cycle. Federal subsidies reversing the fuel tax on diesel for trucking and rail and replacing it with a $0.30/gallon federal grant artificially lowered transportation costs back down to where they had been in 1972 before the first OPEC crisis further stimulating the economy.

In addition, the US Government in 1980 made it a requirement that all future federal vehicle purchases after 1982 would be flex fuel Stirling engine vehicles. These engines were the ultimate in fuel flexibility. They could burn methanol, ethanol, propane, butane or any petrochemical liquid fuel that would flow at room temperature. With tank heaters installed, they would even burn grease, melted asphalt or old cooking oil. They also did not need leaded fuel to maintain a proper balance for an internal gasoline compression engines so they allowed for a great reduction in lead being released into the air of dense cities like Los Angeles and New York City. 

As a companion to the Stirling 'revolution' in vehicle engines encouraged by the government, there were also subsidies for pilot production of kerogen extracted from the Green River formation in Colorado and the bitumen sands in Utah much like the Canadian pilot project to do the same in Alberta with their Athabasca bitumen sands. Unlike internal combustion engines, the steam engines with suitable burners and fuel pumps installed could directly consume the recovered Kerogen and Bitumen after it was mixed with an emulsifier and distilled water without the need of it going through a petroleum refinery. This allowed the US Navy to quickly and easily modify all of its older heavy oil burning ships to burn abundant American fuel instead of imported oil and further reduced the world oil demand putting a cap on the world oil price despite the three way war taking place in Iran.

Due to term limits, Ford was ineligible to run for the White House again in the 1980 election having already served over six years. Ironically, the outcry about his compromised patriotism was muted only by his role in putting away the legacy of Nixon. The familiar face of Bush discouraged Ronald Reagan from running in the primaries, and Bush easily defeated Walter Mondale in the fall.
During his eight years as President George H.W. Bush constantly sought rapprochement and balance with the USSR. The President did not believe the Cold War could be won but felt it could easily be lost if a hot war were to result leading to an exchange of nuclear weapons between the USA and USSR. In the long run, this balance between appeasement and confrontation was a very difficult act, but the USSR was focused to a large extent on the Kurdish S.S.R. and defending it from the Iranian regime while encouraging oil exploitation which benefited the entire Warsaw Pact organization by holding their internal fuel prices at a manageable level.

As a result, by the time he left office in 1989, the 39th President left his successor, Democratic President Gary Hart, a world that was stable and relatively at peace. While the Cold War continued apace, the reforms of General Secretary Gorbachev had allowed back room deals to contain military spending by both the USSR/Warsaw Pact and USA/NATO alliances at sustainable levels.

The Iranian civil war concluded in 1988 more as a case of exhaustion by Iraq and Iran having spent the lives of their military aged populations profligately to move the border between them no more than a few miles either direction repeatedly. Historian regarded the Gulf War as much like World War I in that it destroyed an entire generation while accomplishing very little for the benefit of the nations themselves. The Kurdish S.S.R. remained secure as an ally of the USSR and its own version of the Iron Curtain had been built on its frontier with Islamic Republican Iran which considered the USSR the Great Satan of the modern world. Turkish and Iraqi Kurds were welcome to emigrate to the K.S.S.R. but few came, though they did receive some covert aid across the borders.

In March 1989 when Iraq invaded Kuwait and seized its oil fields, the USSR staunchly vetoed every attempt in the UN to place sanctions against them for the invasion. In return, Iraq agreed to send all of the oil extracted in its Kurdish regions to the USSR using the Kuwaiti reserves to maintain its world exports.

The USA and UK vigorously protested in the UN but neither nation was willing to start a war without the backing of the UN to evict Iraq. After a few months when world oil supplies resumed their normal patterns of flow from the Kuwaiti fields world prices dropped back into the $35/bbl-$45/bbl range where they had stabilized in 1984 as American import demand had been reduced by the increased flow from Alaska and decreased demand from the exploitation of the Colorado and Utah alternative fuels for the military. By 1985 the US Military and Warsaw Pact military combined were actually the worlds largest consumer of liquid fuels. The constant military aircraft patrols and naval ship deployments consumed far more fuel than the general public realized. If there had been a collapse of one or the other of the superpowers the resulting crash in oil demand would have put fuel prices at levels not seen in a generation.

Author's Note: in reality he joined the US Armed Forces after the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbour and the subsequent declaration of war against Germany and Japan.

Further note, in terms of economics most people associate higher oil prices with recessions but this is for the most part perception bias. A study of economic impacts of higher oil prices without the political rhetoric usually injected shows that higher prices harm some industries but this is mostly offset by the increased drilling and extraction which it encourages. IOW while a few manufacturing jobs are lost an equal or larger number of oil field jobs are created causing the economy to shift focus more than forcing it to go into recession. When a recession does take place whatever political forces are not in control at that time frequently point at the price of oil and the value of the stock market as indicators that the recession is being caused by the party then in power.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

January 15, 2013 – White House Inadvertently Spurs Secessionists

Later blaming harsh words on a bout of food poisoning, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement Jon Carson addressed a series of petitions asking for an executive order to allow secession with a response that the petitioners had “no idea how the nation worked.” What was meant as an appeal to the legal system (Congress would have to grant secession, not the president) was instead taken as an admission of rigged government by the secessionists, who spun Carson’s words into a campaign that rattled and ultimately split the nation.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
The petitions arose on’s We the People online petitioning system following the 2012 elections. Those upset by Obama’s reelection joined ranks with those already disgruntled by federal government to sign petitions asking for the right to secede. The notion was ridiculous to many, citing the obvious example of the Civil War, but the petitions actually gained momentum despite not having legal status as actual requests from states themselves. By January, eight states had petitions above the required 25,000 names to affirm a response from the White House. The petition from Texas garnered signatures into the six figures.

With the secessionists dominating the news cycle in objections to the White House’s response, more and more politicians made their feelings known, such as Texas legislature Speaker of the House Joe Straus III noting, “Our economy is so vast and diverse that if Texas were its own country — and no, don’t worry, that isn’t something we’re going to do this session — but if we were, we’d be the 14th-largest economy in the world.” Texas Governor Rick Perry admitted sharing frustrations with federal government, while Tennessee governor Bill Haslam stated, “I don’t think that’s a valid option for Tennessee.”

Even though Tennessee and others refused to go forward, proposals began to materialize from five states: Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. The issue divided the Republican-dominated House of Representatives as the party would lose their control with so many departing Republican seats. Believing the bill would be killed in the Democratic Senate, however, the House passed the Independence for FGALT Bill. The plans behind closed doors were said to blame Democrats for tyranny and build momentum toward shifting control in 2014 elections. To their surprise, along with the rest of the nation, the Senate passed the bill.

Many reasons were cited for voting for IFGALT, such as many just wanting to say “good riddance” to that whole voting block, but the primary voice was economics. Other than Texas, the states were a drain on federal spending, sending more tax dollars into the states than were procured out of them. After major efforts in balancing the budget over the past four years, a single bill would create a federal budget surplus, the first since 2001. The bill passed with more than the numbers needed to override presidential veto. President Obama, who said he would have refused to sign the bill into law if fewer senators had voted for it, stated that the hard actions of the day would make a stronger union for those who remained, though he feared for his legacy.

The transition toward independence for the states was surprisingly smooth as each formed new constitutions and representatives joined NAFTA to ensure continuance of open trade. The Republic of Texas and the Republic of Louisiana maintained independence while Alabama, Georgia, and Florida joined together in a new nation: the Allied States of America. The name prompted a lawsuit from CBS Paramount as it had been used in their 2006 television series Jericho. The suit was quietly settled in the end, but it did establish precedent between the nations to serve later legal issues.

A sizeable migration followed the 2013 departures of the five states with many citizens dedicated to the ideals of independence moving into the new nations while others departed to maintain their United States citizenship. Texas grew in population while the ASA remained steady; Louisiana, however, suffered as a major economic collapse that caused people to pack up in search of work. Politics became radicalized in Louisiana with many calling for a return to the Union. The Hillary Clinton White House, which handily won the 2016 election, dispatched aid but could do little more without congressional approval. The Republic of Texas, too, refused Louisiana’s request to join as a partner state despite close ties to its oil industry.

Other secessionist movements broke out across the nation, although most went silent seeing the collapse of Louisiana, shocking legal changes in the Republic of Texas, and the ASA’s struggles to find international relations distinct from the US. South Carolina had several factions calling for independence, but they could not come to agreement on how the new nation would be governed afterward. The state of Oklahoma campaigned to break in two, with the southern and western parts planning to join the Republic of Texas while the northeast sought to maintain US ties. East Oregon did succeed in splitting away from the more liberal coast, though it did not leave the Union. Several Native American groups announced their own campaigns for independence; however, none were recognized on a large enough scale to win congressional approval.


In reality, the White House’s Jon Carson wrote that the framers of the Constitution “enshrined in that document the right to change our national government through the power of the ballot — a right that generations of Americans have fought to secure for all. But they did not provide a right to walk away from it.”

Monday, October 29, 2018

Guest Post: Dec 7, 1941: Station HYPO Destroyed

This scenario appeared on Today in Alternate History with further thoughts on my end.

"The [Battle of Midway was] the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare" ~ military historian John KeeganOn this day in alternate history Fleet Radio Unit Pacific (a.k.a. Station HYPO) was destroyed by a stray Japanese bomb that exploded in the basement of the Old Administration Building at Pearl Harbor.

Aside from another human tragedy on the "day of infamy" it was another set-back to the Allies in the Far East because the late Commander Joseph Rochefort had assembled a team of the U.S. Navy's best cryptanalysts. However, despite their potential for changing the course of the Pacific War, they had actually made little progress to date in the decryption of the Imperial Japanese Navy's most secure cypher systems. In LCDR Rochefort's last report to OP-20-G Naval Intelligence section in Washington, he estimated that less than 10 percent of traffic had been decrypted. Fatefully, this report was sent before a new system was introduced on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Of course, losing the ability to read Japanese coded messages was quite a blow, but not a fatal one, to the Allied cause. After all, the Japanese were already over-extended, and the US just had too many resources for Japan to conquer it. Moreover, naval radio intelligence centers in Australia, Ceylon, and later Kenya would continue the work of Station HYPO.

The lack of really meaningful progress was highlighted by a second surprise attack on Midway Atoll in which all three US Yorktown class carriers were sunk. This outcome gave Tokyo complete control over the Solomon Islands and Port Moresby. The supply lines between the USA/Panama and Australia would be interrupted, but, despite Allied fears, Australia itself would not fall. Still, the decisive battle of the Pacific War would be fought in the Gilbert Islands nearly eighteen long months after Pearl Harbor when the Essex-class fleet carriers and Independence-class light carriers had become available.

Terror of Japanese raids on the western coast of America spurred monumental naval construction with citizens rallying to fund war bonds and donate scrap metal. While the US Navy struggled to rebuild its ships, the Marines redoubled efforts to strengthen the hold on Aleutian Islands. Vicious island-hopping campaigns pushed forward every summer until a strong link had been built to allied USSR Kamchatka, where Americans began assembling for a push across the Sea of Okhotsk toward the sparsely populated northern Japanese islands. Near-constant air-battles raged from land bases on either side, which wore down the Japanese air force that did not have as expansive resources as the Allies to recover from losses. With Allied naval fleets pushing northward from the re-taken Philippines and air fleets pushing from the south to dominate with air superiority, Japan was caught in a devastating pincer that prompted defeat.

At the same time, President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill were finalizing the Quebec Agreement under which the US and UK would pool their resources in order to accelerate the development of nuclear weapons. The merging the British Tube Alloys project with the American Manhattan Project would create a Combined Policy Committee to control the joint project. Of course by the time of the successful Trinity Test, the outcome of the Pacific War had been long settled. Yet the availability of nuclear weapons provided the opportunity to dramatically shorten the remainder of the conflict, and what is more, to reduce the need for Soviet intervention in the Far East. 

However, the logistical constraint was that the atomic bomb was simply not deliverable by bomber due to the lack of range of the B-29 from the nearest Allied airbase and because the B-29 could not be launched from the Essex-class carriers. In reality, the conclusion of the war was predicated upon the occupation of Okinawa. By this stage, Roosevelt was already dead, and his successor, Harry Truman, was far less accommodating to the interests of the Soviet Union. The combination of these factors would draw the Pacific War out into 1946 by which time the US had sufficient stockpile of nuclear weapons to force the outcome on their own terms.

Wikipedia Note: the work of Station HYPO allowed Admiral Nimitz to gamble on the ambush that resulted in the Battle of Midway, the loss of four Japanese carriers and many naval aviators for much lower Allied losses, and what is generally agreed to have been the turning point of the Pacific War. Nevertheless, the precise importance and role of HYPO in penetrating the Japanese naval codes has been the subject of considerable controversy, reflecting internal tensions amongst US Navy cryptographic stations.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Guest Post: July 26th, 1967 - Detroit Uprising spirals out of control

On this day in alternate history, US President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the city of Detroit to be in a state of insurrection. The precipitating action for the 12th Street riot was a police raid on an after-hours bar called the Blind Pig. Two GIs had been celebrating their return from Vietnam on the city's near West Side when members Detroit Police Department made a series of arrests that triggered a bout of full-scale looting.
For the millions of American listeners it was of course profoundly shocking to hear the President, speaking about conflict and body count alongside Secretary of Defence McNamara, describing his plans to recapture an America city as if it were a strategic target in the Vietnam conflict. And although radical elements of the 12th Street riot genuinely sought to carve out a rebel black state, the motivations in the White House were of course politically motivated by the Democrats' re-election attempts for the following year. This desperate plea for calm was intended to abate the outrage of the silent majority of voters that believed the Democrats had lost control of the country. However, one of the unintended consequences that made matters even worse was that insurance companies used the insurrection clause to release themselves from obligation to pay out homeless African-Americans who had seen their properties destroyed.

Two years earlier, the Motor City had bid with confidence and hope for the hosting of the 1968 Olympic Games but the subsequent decline of the automobile industry and loss of state revenue due to white flight to the suburbs was now causing huge problems for the local economy. Perceptions were deceiving, and Detroit was far from the model city described by Mayor Jerome Cavanaugh in his upbeat message to the Olympic Committee, indeed readily apparent from the student protest at Detroit's Northern high school in 1966. And with America about to enter the next Presidential campaign cycle, even in the deadly seriousness of the situation in Detroit, bipartisan forces of blame apportionment could be felt rising close to the surface of political discourse.

Most noticeably, the media had repeatedly used racially charged stereotypes in their biased reporting and the key figures of President Johnson, Governor George Romney and Mayor Jerome Cavanaugh communicated status used very different terms for "critical" and "out of control." Despite this nuance all three authorities would privately agree that it was the US Congress that had stalled the urgently needed legislation that might have adequately addressed the concerns of the twenty-two million African Americans living in the continental United States. Martin Luther King, who had marched with Cavanugh, would famously describe the riot "as the language of the unheard" yet even so the agreement of these public figures would not form the basis of national consensus.

But tragically Johnson had thrown fuel on the fire because Vietnam-style atrocities would be committed by rogue troops in the United States Army's 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. So before the end of the "long, hot summer" of that year President Johnson would be forced to resign on health grounds and his VP Hubert H. Humphrey sworn in. With figures as diverse as Robert Kennedy, Richard Nixon and George Wallace set to enter the Presidential contest, the "Happy Warrior" would have less than a year to stop America from sliding into a second civil war as her cities began to burn one after another. Ultimately, he would fail in this impossible task, the National Convention in Chicago would demonstrate that the Democrats could not even control their own affairs and Lyndon B. Johnson would die from a heart attack in January 1972. Recognisable law and order would finally return five years later under the iron grip of President William C. Westmoreland.

Wikipedia Note: in reality it exploded into one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in American history, lasting five days and surpassing the violence and property destruction of Detroit's 1943 race riot 24 years earlier. Meanwhile, President Johnson appointed the commission on July 28, 1967, while rioting was still underway in Detroit, Michigan. Mounting civil unrest since 1965 had spawned riots in the black and Latino neighbourhoods of major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles (Watts riots of 1965), Chicago (Division Street Riots of 1966 [the first Puerto Rican riot in US History]), and Newark (1967 Newark riots). In his remarks upon signing the order establishing the Commission, Johnson asked for answers to three basic questions about the riots: "What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again and again?"

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