Thursday, June 24, 2021

April 14, 1868 - First Locomotive in Ethiopia

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Friday, June 18, 2021

Guest Post: Presidents Dewey and Bricker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provine's Addendum:

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

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

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Guest Post: Napoleon Insulted

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

"A quarrel arose between a Georgian servant named Sadegh Gorji and the valet Khodadad-e Esfahani. They raised their voices to such a pitch that the shah became angry and ordered both to be executed. Sadeq Khan-e Shaghaghi, a prominent emir, interceded on their behalf, but was not listened to. The shah, however, ordered their execution to be postponed until Saturday, as this happened to be the evening of Friday (the Islamic holy day), and ordered them back to their duties in the royal pavilion, unfettered and unchained, awaiting their execution the next day. From experience, however, they knew that the King would keep to what he had ordered, and, having no hope, they turned to boldness. When the shah was sleeping, they were joined by the valet Abbas-e Mazandarani, who was in the plot with them, and the three invaded the royal pavilion and with dagger and knife murdered the shah " ~ Hasan-e Fasa'i's' Farsnama-ye Naseri

In 1807, Emperor of France Napoleon Bonaparte sought an alliance in the East with a strong military partner for his coming war with Tsar Alexander I. In retrospect, that risky endeavour was to prove an even more disasterous choice for L'Empereur than conquering Russia.

The potential French ally was Persia. Eunuch monarch Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar had comprehensively defeated the Russians time and time again in both Georgia and northern Persia. However, he had begun to fear their resurgence under Alexander the Blessed, who had something of a Messiah Complex. In fact, Alexander was already planning for a Persian Expedition once he defeated the French Empire. Armed with modern guns and artillery, the Russians were an ever-present threat. Turning to the Ottoman Turks for an alliance threatened not only his domination of the Shia World but his security in the Near East.

Qajar's lasting ambition was to add Azerbaijan and the Caucasus region to his dominion. At sixty-five, having ruled for thirteen glorious years, he was beginning to hear the whispers of immortality. Of course, he had no biological successor, so his vision of future history was solely about his own personal legacy. Consequently, he entertained the French offer because of the opportunity to destroy the Russian state once and for all. On this basis, he invited Napoleon to his palace in Tehran.

Driven by expedience rather than friendship, Napoleon certainly wanted the Persians to open another front on Russia's southern borders, namely the Caucasus region. Forced to travel incognito, Napoleon arrived in late May, already nearly a month after what could have been arranged in a more midway event, such as Finckstein Palace. Napoleon was in a bad enough mood, and miscommunications of protocol only made things worse. The Shah, who had a notoriously short fuse, took great offence at the implied suggestion that he would be a junior partner in the conquest of Tsarist Russia. As a man that had executed servants merely for raising their voices, the punishment was swift and brutal. Repeating the mistreatment he himself had suffered at Astarabad, Qajar had his guards castrate Napoleon and cast him out of Persia.

The Shad was transformed from unreliable negotiating partner to sworn enemy. Napoleon forgot all about conquering Russia and made it his destiny to conquer Persia and be crowned emperor in the palace in Tehran. But the Shah's armies were an even more formidable force than he had reckoned with. The Franco-Persian War would last for years and result in the deaths of both arrogant men. A lasting consequence of that conflict would be that Ottoman Turkey and Tsarist Russia put aside their differences over the Danubian Principalities. This was a significant development because the Russo-Turkish Alliance would have profound long-term consequences for the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Author's Note:

In reality, the Shah was assassinated in 1797 on his way to combat the Russians in Georgia for a third campaign. Ten years later, his successor Fath Ali Shah of Qajar Persia formed a Franco-Persian alliance with the French Empire of Napoleon I against Russia and Great Britain between 1807 and 1809.

Provine's Addendum:

Napoleon was distracted by the Peninsular War in the west and the War of the Fifth Coalition in the east, but by 1810, he was in proper position to begin his invasion of the Middle East. A tenuous alliance with the Ottoman Empire guaranteed his passage with a tremendous invasion of some 400,000 soldiers. Just as in his campaign in the Middle East over a decade before, however, the military action fell apart with an impossibly long supply line and British interference. The British Navy harassed French shipping in the Mediterranean while diplomats turned the Ottomans against Napoleon. Napoleon refused to retreat despite attacks from all sides that devastated Persia until both the shah and the emperor were killed.

Britain helped negotiate the peace along the Danube with Russia that would last for decades. The Ottomans attempted to rebuild their influence, but their empire declined with rebellion in the Balkans. Russia and Britain competed for dominance in Persia as the region rebuilt (advancing what would be our TL's Great Game by two decades). Russia could not compete at sea, so upon the invention of rail travel, Tsars Nicholas I and Alexander II invested heavily in railroad construction to link the empire together by allowing serfs to earn their liberation. Russia became a major player in the Far East, expanding into its Alaskan territory and defeating Japanese incursion into Asia in 1905.

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