Friday, March 25, 2022

Guest Post: POTUS Barkley

This article first appeared on the Today in Alternate History based on an original idea by Robbie Taylor.

November 1, 1950 - Tragedy at the Blair House

President Truman was assassinated by Puerto Rican nationalists at the Blair House. Truman had been staying at the less-secure Blair House because of remodelling at the White House, and the Puerto Ricans had gotten his schedule from a sympathizer on the staff there. Vice-President Alben Barkley assumed the office of President and ordered the F.B.I. to begin a series of raids to eradicate the nationalists in Puerto Rico. The island possession of the U.S. was a hotspot of political turmoil until it finally gained its independence in 1981.

Barkley was only the third POTUS from the Bluegrass State, following Abraham Lincoln and Zachary Taylor. He took the massive political gamble of firing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Omar Bradley for his failure to properly prepare the US Armed Forces for the Korean War. Bradley, the "General's GI," was replaced by Dwight D. Eisenhower who become embroiled in a bitter dispute with Douglas MacArthur over Korea. The drama in the military proved to be the action of the commander-in-chief in hopes of interrupting Eisenhower's potential candidacy for the coming presidential election.

Barkley's most immediate concern was the significant opposition he faced to win the nomination for the forthcoming presidential election in two years' time. A veteran politician of four decades standing, he arrived at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago determined to fight for his re-election. In spite of his seventy-three years of age and heart problems, he briskly walked the seven blocks from the bus station to his campaign headquarters.

Barkley enjoyed the support of key party figures including Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, Democratic National Committee chairman Frank E. McKinney, House Majority Leader John William McCormack, former chairman James Farley and Senate Secretary Leslie Biffle. The challenge was from a group of labor leaders led by United Automobile Workers President Walter Reuther. They were convinced that Barkley's distant cousin, the more youthful Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson II, stood a far better chance of winning the election in November.

Through his decades of experience as an astute political operator, Barkley had an ace up his sleeve. At the suggestion of Sam Rayburn, he introduced first-term Texan senator Lyndon B. Johnson as his preferred running mate. As then-VP and President of the Senate, Barkley had sworn in Johnson two years earlier. He was eight year younger than the Illinois governor, suggesting Johnson might seal the deal for voters wanting a youthful voice. Stevenson himself was also at the meeting, and he confidently stated that he favored nominating Barkley and wished to serve as Secretary of State. Truth be told, Stevenson was a complex personality that unsettled the labor leaders slightly; they belatedly realized that Barkley was a stronger candidate. As a consequence of his historic meeting, the Barkley-Johnson ticket ran in '52. Due to the Democrats holding the White House for twenty years, however, they faced an uphill battle that fall and lost to a Republican rally around the returning Eisenhower.

Barkley would die of a heart attack on April 30, 1956, and was buried in Mount Kenton Cemetery near Paducah in Kentucky. Against doctor's orders, he had been vigorously campaigning for Lyndon Baines Johnson's race for the White House. Earlier in the year, Barkley had taken a principled stand by refusing to sign the Southern Manifesto, declaring opposition to racial integration of public places. The document had been signed by nineteen US senators and eighty-two representatives from the South; ninety-nine were Democrats; two were Republicans. Consequently, his refusal to sign became a major campaign issue for Johnson. Nevertheless, he was still hopeful of LBJ beating Richard M. Nixon in the fall. Nixon had taken the place of Eisenhower after the president's own fatal heart attack on the golf links and sought to continue his presidency after '56 with his press team calling up memories of Republican Theodore Roosevelt.

Ironically, Johnson himself had suffered "the worst heart attack a man could have and still live" the previous year, aged only forty-seven. Notwithstanding that, the Johnson vs. Nixon campaign was a fierce contest between much two younger men, both of whom were both ruthless political operators. Following the new generation theme for '56, they selected running mates of similar ages. This led to the surprise decision of LBJ to choose Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, but many Democrats felt that JFK was only preparing his own run for '60.
 Provine's Addendum
Those suspecting JFK was using LBJ as a stepping stone would be proven correct in the 1960 election. Johnson, twice defeated on the national level, continued his work in the senate before retiring back to Texas. Kennedy went against Nixon, who had to frequently remind the populace that the 22nd Amendment allowed for another run since he had spent less than two years in office after taking over from Eisenhower. Despite Nixon having a strong record and being remembered as one of the nation's middling presidents, the confusions raises suspicions, and Nixon's volatile temper was caught on live television. Kennedy handily won the election.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Guest Post: Roscoe Conkling has a Grand Vision

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

The Eastern Seaboard had been basking in unseasonably mild weather until cold air from Canada collided with the warmer weather of the southern gulf. Temperatures plunged as sustained winds rose above eighty miles per hour. Over fifty feet of snow fell in a matter of hours. The Great Blizzard of 1888 had begun.

In New York City, railway and telegraph lines were disabled. Citizens dug fifty feet of snow off sidewalks for no pay. The City's infrastructure stopped functioning. It was a uniquely humbling and frightening experience for even the most affluent in New York society, including influential American lawyer and Republican politician Roscoe Conkling.

Conkling was a leading advocate of physical culture. He always made a habit of walking the three miles home from his law office on Wall Street. But, sensing the freezing temperature and heavy snowfall, he correctly judged this option as highly dangerous. Unlike the comparable city of London, New York did not yet have a subway. Instead, horse-drawn carriages congested the streets during better weather conditions. With the roads blocked by the storm, he had no alternate means of returning home and made the eminently sensible decision to sleep overnight in his office.

The blizzard cleared in three days, but many American mainstays had failed: telegraphs, fire stations, elevated trains and railroads. When the snowstorm finally abated, over three hundred lives had been lost, many of them children. Sensible measures were taken in the aftermath, most notable, a United States Weather Bureau that was established two years later. But there was a public outcry to avoid a repeat of such a disaster, and Conkling emerged as a key figure in that public discourse. The night trapped in his office had been spent with much reflection, and he felt he must leap back into politics despite his retirement after a feeling of betrayal by his former protege Chester A. Arthur.

The Great Blizzard had radically changed his mindset, and he embraced his viewpoints fundamentally different from many Americans. Having repeatedly turned down a Supreme Court appointment, Conkling decided to seek the position once again.  Former compatriots and rivals found common ground with him and decided the third time was he charm. From the bench, Conkling played a major role in encouraging women's suffrage and strongly argued against the wrong-headed principle of "separate but equal" in a powerful dissension of Plessy v. Ferguson written with Justice John M. Harlan that laid the groundwork for it to be overturned during the Roosevelt administration's findings of lacking equality.

Perhaps even more popularly known, Conkling understood that public transportation made sense in densely populated Eastern Seaboard cities. He strongly advocated for a nationwide passenger public transportation system. The "City Beautiful" movement was sparked by his keynote speech at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Conkling greatly progressed his initiative because it required a great deal of negotiation with railroad barons to keep their support. The long-term consequences would be significant. Transportation in New York would be transformed with a free-of-charge streetcar system that would minimize the use of private automobiles in the city.

Author's Note:

In reality, Conkling unwisely choose to walk home and became disoriented and stuck in a snowdrift. He collapsed in Union Square and was helped to his residence. Tragically, he contracted pneumonia and developed mastoiditis several weeks later, which, following a surgical procedure to drain the infection, progressed to meningitis. Sadly, Conkling passed away in the early morning hours of April 18, 1888.

Many infrastructure improvements resulted from the snowstorm. This included the burying of overhead utility lines in major cities and the creation of America's first subway in Boston, Massachusetts, which opened nine years later.

Provine's Addendum:

Conkling's words returned to popularity in the 1940s during the General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy. National City Lines, a puppet company that bought up city rail systems throughout the United States using subsidiaries, pulled in investment from General Motors, Firestone Tires, Phillips Petroleum, Mack Trucks, and other parties interested in destroying the public transit infrastructure to encourage the purchase and maintenance of personal vehicles. The conspirators were caught in the act by whistleblowers echoing Conkling's use of the principle of "Pursuit of Happiness" from the Declaration of Independence as an encouragement of public transit. Outcry devastated the images and stock prices of the companies, leading to a breakup of National City Lines into regional city companies continuing local contracts. Eventually many of these followed the route of NYC's famed public transit. Along with the Interstate Railway System that allowed passengers to travel coast-to-coast without ever needing to pay a dime, cities continued to grow with high density rather than spreading out in a "suburb" system.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Guest Post: Stalin Fled Moscow

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

March 5th, 1953 - Death of Stalin

Disgraced former Soviet political leader Joseph Stalin died in exile in his native Georgia.

His daughter Svetlana had discovered him semi-conscious on his bedroom floor four days earlier. Moved onto a couch, doctors determined that he had suffered a massive stroke. Years of alcoholism and chain smoking had taken their inevitably toll; he never recovered.

He had seized control of the Soviet Union following the premature demise of Lenin caused by a failed assassination attempt. Although equally ruthless, Lenin was an intellectual leader who would not have wished to be succeeded by such an ill-educated autocrat. The true military hero of the Russian Civil War, Leon Trotsky, was forced out and later assassinated in Mexico City. The sad truth was the death and savage brutality of the Eastern Front and its bloody aftermath had never really left the inner circle in the Kremlin.

Stalin inherited a broken under-developed state that he forced through accelerated reform to prepare for a Second World War that he was certain would follow within decades. The human cost was immense, and unfortunately Germany recovered even more quickly under an equally ruthless autocrat. Both men purged their military leaders, but Stalin's cuts were deeper. His paranoia robbed the Red Army of some of their finest officers. Deluded by some despicable shadow moves, Stalin was blind-sided by Hitler. Minsk quickly fell, and the road lay open to Smolensk and, ultimately, to Moscow. The German Blitzkrieg created a military catastrophe on an unprecedented scale, and Stalin was strongly advised to flee Moscow to avoid capture.

Plans were made for the Soviet government to evacuate to Kuibyshev. Reduced to "a bag of bones in a grey tunic," Stalin suffered a mental breakdown because of the consequences of his disastrous decisions. Realizing they would likely be shot by the NKVD, his daughter quietly took control of the situation. They fled into anonymity, and his eventual fate was not widely known until long after his death.

The Kuibyshev Government would be formed by Vyacheslav Molotov, but real power lie in the hands of a Supreme Defense Council led by Marshal Zhukov. In hindsight, the decision to flee Moscow was wholly unnecessary because the Germans fell short and failed to capture the capital. But in giving control back to the military, the tide of war was turned, and Zhukov mastered a remarkable comeback. His historic victory was much more than that: he had placed the Soviets in a position of global leadership. As Premier, he even built a deep and lasting relationship with French President Charles de Gaulle who saw him as a kindred spirit.

Nearly one out of twenty Soviet citizens would die in the conflict. The defeat of Hitler in the fall of 1944, earned with millions of Russian lives, created a very different and still-uncertain world order. In the final months of his life, President Roosevelt worked tirelessly to establish a United Nations organization that would prevent the outbreak of a Third World War. His successor Truman, joined with Zhukov, de Gaulle, and others to bring peace to a shattered world. This was a remarkable turnaround given that the Soviets had not even been invited to the Munich Conference a decade earlier.

Author's Note:

Stalin decided to remain in Moscow, believing his flight would damage troop morale.

Provine's Addendum:

Zhukov had been a lifelong soldier since his conscription into the First World War from his peasant family's farm in 1916. He had climbed through the ranks of the Red Army, defending the eastern frontier in the conflict with the Japanese Empire in 1939 at Khalkhin Gol, which earned Zhukov his first Hero of the Soviet Union award. He led with military brilliance to the Battle of Berlin and accepted the German Instrument of Surrender.

Unquestioned as the leader of the Soviet Union, Zhukov found himself in a very different role after the war. No longer was the goal to defeat an outward enemy but to care for the devastated nation, which would face years of recovery and famine as infrastructure was rebuilt. Fortunately, Zhukov had built good relations with the other Allies, especially fellow military men de Gaulle and Dwight D. Eisenhower. During one of the conferences, Eisenhower offered Zhukov one of his favorite drinks: a Coca-Cola. Zhukov was hesitant to try it since this was one of the greatest symbols of decadence and American imperialism. Indeed, since Eisenhower's first request in 1943 to have Coca-Cola bottling plants established in North Africa near his headquarters, the company had spread and laid roots wherever American troops set foot. Still, not to be rude, Zhukov tried it. He was won over by the taste, but he knew that being photographed or even rumored to drink Coca-Cola would damage his reputation. Instead, after the war, Zhukov approached Gen. Mark Clark, commander of US-occupied Austria, about a clear Coca-Cola, which would look much like vodka in photographs. "White Coke" soon began arriving into the Soviet Union territory through Austria in cases of nondescript bottles.

The experiment with western goods proved to be a defining moment for Zhukov's legacy. As more than two million Soviet veterans returned home, Zhukov encouraged them to dream of a better world for Soviets throughout the nations. After resources caught up with food and energy needs by 1947, thus ending rationing, Zhukov used the public desire for quality of life as a drive to continue to produce. Soviet versions of sodas, popular music, and fashionable clothing began to flow from worker-owned factories. Institutions liberalized with more rights for the Russian Orthodox Church and academia, and capital punishment was ended by 1947. Conservatives feared a loss of the ideals that had been hard-won in the civil war, but Zhukov countered he knew the struggle firsthand and wanted no Soviet citizen to ever face such dark days again. He denounced opposition as "Stalinists," cowards who abused power but fled when the people were threatened. Despite suffering a heart attack in 1948, Zhukov remained premier and cheered on Soviets to build a better world than had ever been seen before.

Although USSR-US relations were fair during the Truman administration, working to avoid nuclear proliferation beyond a mild stockpile for each nation and even to the point of organizing a ceasefire that ended the Chinese Civil War for a time with a north-south division, international diplomacy reached new heights with the election of Eisenhower. Experimental trade zones were set up across the Eastern European nations, but capitalist exporters became frustrated that Soviets could make copied goods more cheaply at home, which also avoided transport costs. Socialist workers also became frustrated when copies of Soviet designs were sold for profits by the bourgeoisie.

Encouraged by Zhukov's push for quality of life, Eisenhower also promoted at home ideas such as free interstate highways, public health, equality among race and gender, and increased vacation time, building off FDR's efforts to establish a social net for all Americans. The two nations carried out competition through athletic events in the Olympics and the Space Race, which spurred new technological marvels such as the miniaturization of computers, which would boost productivity and allowed for greater leisure worldwide.

In reality, Zhukov was soon removed from power by Stalin. Fearful of an uprising by veterans who had experienced the decadence of Europe (such as the Decembrists in 1825), Stalin conducted another purge by requiring POWs and many other soldiers to be questioned in filtering camps. While not nearly as bloody as the Great Purge, nearly half of those soldiers were sent to labor camps or resettled in isolation.

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