Friday, April 29, 2022

Guest Post: Assassination of Il Duce

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.


April 7, 1926 - Tragedy at Piazza del Campidoglio

Italy's Fascist leader Benito Mussolini was fatally wounded as he walked among the crowd in the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome. He had just left an assembly of the International Congress of Surgeons, to whom he had delivered a speech on the wonders of modern medicine. Ironically, those wonders would not save him, and he passed away from blood-loss less than two hours later.

The assassin was a fifty-year-old Anglo-Irish woman called Violet Gibson, the daughter of Lord Ashbourne, Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Because she was lynched on the spot by an angry mob, her true motivations remain unclear. Despite the wave of sympathy, his Partito Nazionale Fascista was unable to remain in power unquestioned. The next prime minister would also feel the ever-present power of the king and the generals, and the country was fortunate for a ready-made replacement in Pietro Badoglio. His welcome return from Brazil, where he had been exiled by Mussolini, provided a balance of firm leadership coupled with democratic intent.

Like the late Duce, many Italians felt strongly that they had not received the rewards of the other victory powers. As a Great War general, Badoglio understood the Great Powers better than most. He realized that nobody got what they wanted out of the Great War and wanted a rematch. Revisionist pressures came to a head at the Stresa Conference, which Badoglio hosted on the banks of Lake Maggiore in Italy. He stood resolutely behind Britain and France at the critical moment when German strongman Adolf Hitler's intentions had been unmasked. Complicit in Dollfuss' assassination, the existence of the Luftwaffe and 500,000 troops directly contravened the terms set in the Treaty of Versailles.

The Stresa Front declared that the independence of Austria "would continue to inspire their common policy." The signatories also agreed to resist any future attempt by the Germans to change the Treaty of Versailles. Nevertheless, the continent reluctantly headed to war, and, to universal surprise, the French Republic capitulated after a disastrous six-week conflict. Fortunately, the Allies managed to squeak a win out of the Battle of Britain; afterward, all eyes turned to the third military partner in the western alliance. As a war-time leader, Badoglio'a Royal Italian Army, supported by British and Commonwealth forces, tenaciously fought a long-running battle down the Italian peninsula. The turning point would be the weighty destruction of Monte Cassino. Italy would become a major theatre after the United States entered the war. Allied forces would ultimately win the prolonged Battle of Italy and launch their counter-invasion via the north and also southern France. Italian forces would be at the spearhead of troops that captured the German capital of Berlin, placing modern Italy at the very centre of the new Europe.

Author's Note:

In reality, Mussolini was wounded only slightly, dismissing his injury as "a mere trifle," and, after his nose was bandaged, he continued his parade on the Capitoline Hill. The assassination attempt triggered a wave of popular support for Mussolini, resulting in much oppressive legislation, consolidating his control of Italy. Violet Gibson spent the rest of her life in a psychiatric hospital, St Andrew's Hospital in Northampton, despite repeated pleas for her release. Meanwhile, the Fuhrer solicited the approval of the Duce, to whom, in return for his acquiescence, he would be forever grateful, as Hitler professed; "Tell Mussolini, I will never forget this."

Provine's Addendum:

Following the defeat of Germany, the Allies turned their attention to the Empire of Japan. Hitler had gambled that a war in the Pacific would distract the United States, but his urging of Japan to provoke the U.S. with a sneak attack at Pearl Harbor only proved to wake a sleeping giant. The war ended with the first use of atomic weapons, one of many heralds to a new era. Empires declined as France and Britain granted independence to colonies, but a new form of globalism raced ahead with economic unions and internationally-backed Fascist parties to establish trade-friendly governments. While the rest of the world leaned right politically, the Soviet Union hid behind what Churchill called an "Iron Curtain." Proxy wars and bush wars dragged on through the twentieth century in China, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe as neither side wanted to risk a "World War III," especially with Germany now standing alongside Italy, France, and Britain in an European Union.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

August 2, 1701 - Kondiaronk Survives

 Based on conversations with Rob Schmidt.

During the largest peace talks among Native American peoples along the St. Lawrence River in Montreal’s history, one of the most gifted orators, Kondiaronk of the Huron (Wyandot), fell ill with fever. He was but one of some 1,300 representatives who had arrived from tribes spanning the French-claimed regions, stretching from the Illinois Confederation in the southwest and the Cree northwest of Lake Superior to the Ojibwe of the north and the Abenaki of the Wabanaki Confederation where the river-mouth met the Atlantic. The major players were the Algonquin-speakers and the Iroquois, who had grown to prominence through the long-lasting Beaver Wars spurred by profits from the fur trade with Europe.

Kondiaronk had earned the nickname Le Rat from his French allies for his guile in winning out time and again whether in battle or diplomacy. In his youth, he had fled with other Huron refugees from Iroquois attacks seeking valuable hunting grounds. The Huron resettled near the Ottawa with a tenuous peace, and Kondiaronk grew up feeling eradication could happen at any time. When a Seneca Iroquois chief was killed while prisoner in the Michilimackinac village shared by Ottawa and Huron in 1682, Kondiaronk sent wampum belts in apology. The Ottawa balked that their wampum belts hadn’t been sent, and Kondiaronk apologized, saying it was the haste to satisfy Iroquois anger that had left them out. In reality, he had helped create a situation where the Ottawa were too afraid of Iroquois reprisal to declare war on their Huron neighbors.

Through the next two decades, Kondiaronk worked with his French allies to keep the Iroquois warriors across the St. Lawrence. The French were eager for peace, which would make the fur trade easier and less costly without need for expensive defenses. Kondiaronk maintained the Huron alliance would only be until the Iroquois were no longer a threat, meaning a separate peace would only create more headaches for the French. Each time the French made inroads with the Iroquois, Kondiaronk undid them, such as warning the Miami of attack by Baron de Lahontan and French-supporting Iroquois so their expedition was a failure and returning with an Iroquois hostage to the distant French commandant at Michilimackinac, who had the captive executed not knowing it would spoil peace talks already underway.

With the end of the Nine Years War in 1697, France made peace with England, meaning the Iroquois lost their major military backer. While the English preferred the Iroquois trade with them in southern New York, they were not likely to assemble a campaign to stop French incursions into Iroquois territory. In 1700, the Iroquois agreed to a peace conference. With a chance at universal peace and an end to the chaos of the Beaver Wars, Kondiaronk called for all the tribes of the Great Lakes to join the greater conference in the summer of 1701.

Native Americans arrived by the hundreds, firing guns while the French hosts fired artillery in salute of one another. Representatives smoked together, danced, and conducted rituals to wipe away tears, clean ears, and open throats for clear speaking. One problem did arise as the Iroquois had not brought promised captives to exchange in ransom of captives from other tribes. The Iroquois explained that many of the captives had lived with their captive families since they were small children and did not want to leave their new homes. Although he had come down with a fever that left him so weak that he needed to sit in an armchair, Kondiaronk spoke for hours about the faux pas and the need for a new vision of peace.

That night, Kondiaronk continued to drink the maidenhair fern syrup that had sustained him in his illness when a French doctor also offered a tea common among colonists made from feverfew. It was so noted as a healing herb in Europe that they had brought the white daisy-like plants with them to add to their gardens. Others recommended tea made from willow bark. Kondiaronk, who previously had blamed European medicine for his grandfather’s illness, decided to try them. Well hydrated from the many drinks offered, Kondiaronk’s fever broke, and he was soon speaking at the conference again. He decided the hostages staying with the Iroquois was a permissible choice as all Native peoples were ultimately brothers.

With the war officially ended, trade flourished. Kondiaronk became famous in Europe after the 1703 publication of Lahontan’s New Voyages in North America, appearing as “Adario,” a character who summarized the many conversations Kondiaronk and others had with the baron on topics of money, religion, family structure, landlords, personal liberty, and the effectiveness of native-designed snowshoes. Following an invitation to the salons of Paris, Kondiaronk traveled to Europe to speak and listen.

It was on his travels in Europe that Kondiaronk learned more of European medicine and the scientific method. Although he scoffed at much of it, still distrusting superstitious European doctors, he did admire the power of logic and reasoning behind experimentation. The efforts of variolation against smallpox particularly caught his ear since Native Americans died so much more readily during outbreaks while their colonist neighbors survived. After he heard of the success of the Newgate Prison experiment in 1721, Kondiaronk spent his last years campaigning for variolation. Through the eighteenth century, countless thousands of native peoples were saved in New France, Louisiana, and the Ohio Valley.

After his European travels, Kondiaronk continued as a diplomat for the grand alliance of native peoples under land Europeans recognized as French. He journeyed south along the Mississippi, securing the Shawnee and Chickasaw as allies. Kondiaronk’s last days were spent up the Alabama River, working to maintain Mobile as a French port. Soon after Kondiaronk’s death, King George’s War broke out as the North American arm of the War of the Austrian Succession. The Iroquois served as a valuable French ally, securing their own territory while also preventing British colonists’ attempts at incursion across the Appalachians.

Kondiaronk’s influence on France proved even deeper. Philosophers embraced his challenges of rigid social structures and criticism of landlords. French autocrats cracked down, prompting many who enjoyed the ideas of common fields and religious freedom to sail for North America. Colonies swelled, especially after the War of the Austrian Succession dragged on across the 1740s with hundreds of thousands of dead on both sides with little to show for it. When war threatened to break out again following the change-up of treaties in Diplomatic Revolution, revolutions against the nearly bankrupt government prompted extensive reforms with Natural Rights for all and extensions of self-rule to colonies in North America. The British American colonies, meanwhile, toyed with ideas of independence but decided against doing so while surrounded by French and Indian allies.

By the nineteenth century, French North America took shape with Native peoples holding extensive swaths of land while the colonists lived primarily in the cities. Manufacturing surged, as did efforts to expand trade with canal-building to connect the Mississippi with the Great Lakes via the Chicago River, the Maumee River, and the Ohio River. Kondiaronk’s efforts to maintain peace among tribes continued long after him, leading to the Congress of Americans that added representatives from the independent Native nations in the Great Plains, Great Basin, and Pacific Coast to the judiciary and economic clout of the French-speaking natives in the former colonies that had won independence after the collapse of European monarchies.



In reality, Kondiaronk died of his fever the night after his armchair speech. He was given an enormous funeral with honors not only from his own tribesmen but also the French and Iroquois. The Iroquois later sided with the British again, who continued to promote war between tribes. Waves of illnesses (Sir Jeffery Amherst and General Thomas Gage both encouraged delivery of smallpox-contaminated blankets to Native Americans, although there is argument as to the effectiveness of doing so) and westward-pushing colonists gradually restricted native lands to reservations.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Guest Post: What if John Churchill's Strategy had Failed?

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

2 April, 1705 - Franco-Bavarian Forces Seize Vienna

The War of the Spanish Succession reached a decision when the Habsburg capital of Vienna was seized by Franco-Bavarian forces accompanied by a large contingent of Irish Troops in French service.

The Sun King Louis XIV of France looked to gain a favourable peace settlement by knocking the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold, out of the war. The ill-fated British Field Marshal John Churchill had actually devised a devilishly cunning strategy to avoid this disastrous outcome for the reconstituted Grand Alliance by a daring, speedy, and surprising march to reinforce allies in Central Europe. Unfortunately it was not to be despite his well-trained British army. The strategy required a great deal of deception, and, when his deceit was exposed to his Dutch allies, his march from the Low Countries was abandoned. Unable to mobilize an Army of Europe, Churchill was recalled to England and his name was quickly forgotten to history. As a result of this reversal, Marshal Camille d'Hostun and duc de Tallard were able to reinforce through the Black Forest and avoid a showdown on the River Danube.

Prior to the outbreak of war, all of Spain had been united under the new king Philip V with a distant threat from the old Crown of Aragon in the side of the Hasburg pretender. But with the severe curtailment of Habsburg Power, the Spanish throne fell under the sway of the Bourbons. King Louis the Great had already conquered swathes of the Spanish Empire on the continent and this new victory combined the two great continental powers into a monster power.

The long-established myth of French military invincibility would continue, and her prestige dominated the entire continent. Tallard's brilliant diplomacy would dissuade the impetuous Karl XII from invading Russia. The Tsar Peter I crumbled, exchanging peace with the Swedes as long as he could keep St. Petersburg and the line of the Neva. And yet the glorious Empire of the Sun King was not to last. Decades later, uprisings against the Bourbons would shake Europe. Writing in 1796, English Romantic poet Caureate Robert Southey would capture the hollow victory of 1705 and its aftermath, "But things like that, you know, must be at every famous victory."

Author's Note:

In reality, the overwhelming Anglo-Dutch victory at Blenheim ensured the safety of Vienna from the Franco-Bavarian army, thus preventing the collapse of the reconstituted Grand Alliance. The French commander Tallard along with his staff was taken prisoner. Another forty French generals and over a thousand officers were captured, along with 13,000 soldiers, 40 French battle colours, and 60 cannons.

John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, had a descendant who saved the day in WWII: his name was Winston Churchill, and he grew up in Blenheim Palace, his distant grandfather's home. He identified Louis XIV as the most dangerous man who ever lived.

Provine's Addendum:

With French authority assured virtually the world over, Louis the Great died after 72 years and 110 days of rule, the longest of any sovereign monarch in history. He was succeeded by his great-grandson, Louis XV, who himself would rule 59 years. France played professeur for Europe, balancing nations against one another through diplomacy and threatening to act if its philosophy was not embraced. Russia's growing potential for power was checked by long-term Northern European power Sweden, ironically keeping both in sway while France was seen as a valuable ally. When Prince Frederick of Prussia proved to be an exceptional leader, Louis used the young man's fascination with French culture to his advantage, bringing Frederick to Paris frequently throughout both of their reigns. Voltaire, although a good friend of Frederick, did joke that, in the schoolhouse of Europe, Frederick was the teacher's pet.

France's old enemy England, which had become the United Kingdom under the Act of Union of 1707 was put under sway, too, by French support of Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788), who became Charles III after an epic journey marching from the Scottish Highlands to London in 1745 with extensive support from the French fleet. In appreciation for the aid, Charles withdrew British rivalry from French colonial interests, securing Louisiana and Canada in North America and western India for France while launching other expeditions to carve new British colonies in northern and western Africa. The French Empire spread even further after its support of the Spanish Invasion of Portugal in 1762 weakened the Portuguese Empire.

The Age of Autocracy gradually dug its own grave, however. Louis XV was criticized, privately and then more openly, about corruption and excessive expenditure. While many investments did prove revolutionary, such as the automatic loom and scientific improvements in agriculture and heating through the Franklin stove, political systems did not keep up, creating a large population of displaced weavers, farmers, and woodcutters. Calls for reform led to crackdowns, which in turn caused more dissatisfaction. After failed harvests in the 1770s shortly after Louis XV's death, revolution broke out in France as Louis XVI proved disinterested in maintaining the ruthless grip of his forefathers. Without French hegemony, much of Europe turned to chaos. Rival nations launched wars many in the populace felt were long overdue. Britain fell into its Second Civil War, which would turn the nation into a republic after Charles IV was ousted. The Congress of German Peoples turned the Holy Roman Empire inside-out, creating a self-directed electorate that refused to acknowledge Austrian influence. By the time the dust settled in the nineteenth century, the map of Europe was redrawn.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Guest Post: Successful Reykajavik Accords

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

March 23, 1997 - A Decade of Reykjavik

The world celebrated as the Reykjavik Agreement reached its historic decade-long milestone set by Reagan and Gorbachev at the Icelandic capital. The specified period for confining testing of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to the laboratory was also reached.

Thankfully, the ever-present danger of Mutually Assured Destruction had been avoided. To his great credit, Reagan had remained faithful to his long-sighted vision in 1976 at Kansas City, when he said the Republican National Convention, "
You are going to write for people a hundred years from now, who know all about us. We know nothing about them. We don't know what kind of a world they will be living in."

More importantly, Reagan had faced up to the reality that SDI would fail to deliver any time soon. Notwithstanding these welcome breakthroughs, the limitation of nuclear armaments was a problem infinitely more complex than four decades earlier when President Harry Truman of the United States set Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson onto the task of answering the question, "What to do with The Bomb?" The UN Atomic Energies Commission had "to deal with the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy." It requested proposals, and Truman tapped "park bench statesman" Bernard Baruch to present one. Baruch had recommended America as the sole nuclear power give up the Bomb, but many Americans in the '40s felt the nation had come by the atomic bomb legitimately and had no need to give it up until the nations agreed to outlaw atomic weapons.

The successor governments of the 90's under Clinton and Yeltsin were not looking at the world a century on, but they certainly had a significantly different perspective from either Baruch in '46 or Reagan in '76 or even '86. Due to nuclear proliferation, other countries had joined the nuclear club of nations. In metaphorical terms, the genie was out of the bottle. What would be the point of handling atomic weapons over to the United Nations if they continued to be deployed around the world? Or if one of the superpowers maintained their own secret stockpile? Or a device was delivered to the target in the cargo of a ship or a terrorist organization developed a suitcase bomb? SDI had no answers for these scenarios.

Where Gorbachev had hesitated to use his conventional armed forces to keep the Soviet Union together, Yeltsin and more so his successor Vladimir Putin had done so to keep the Russian Federation in one piece. War came to Chechnya and Georgia. These conflicts only pushed Eastern European states towards the West. As the NATO Alliance expanded eastwards, Moscow feared encirclement and existential threat. In keeping with her bloody history of invasion, Russia prepared for the inevitability of war with European aggressors. When Presidential candidate Mitt Romney proposed that Russia was America's primary adversary, President Obama responded that "the 1980s called and want their foreign policy back."

Subsequent developments indicated that Romney was closer to the truth. The buffer states chose sides, as the Baltics joined NATO, and Ukraine and Georgia became candidates for future membership of the collective security agreement under which an attack on one was considered an attack on all. Belarus turned to Moscow, but Ukraine looked to Washington. When Russia occupied the Crimea in 2014, citing a Soviet-era justification, it was obvious to most that a conventional World War Three was around the corner. After decades in which Western politicians had feared the overwhelming force of the Soviet Union, the NATO Alliance was far greater in strength. This was largely due to technology advancement on the battlefield.

Events could only take one direction. In early 2015, President Putin announced that the Russian Federation would not be renewing the Reykjavik Agreement. Instead, in the interests of security, Russia would re-equip its nuclear capability with the assistance of its allies in Beijing. In retaliation, President Obama announced that the United States would resume SDI testing with its allies and partners. How to handle this changed landscape in the long-term became the core campaign issue in the 2016 presidential election. Fundamentally, all of the candidates agreed that the US would also need to take the same steps, but the larger question was whether to invest in a next generation SDI technology that could end the new arms race. Americans elected Romney on his third race for the White House, trusting him to find the answers to resolving this deepening crisis. Reversing the logic of Eisenhower's Farewell Address, he put faith in the military-industrial-complex to defeat Putin and his "potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power."

Author's Note:

In reality, the talks collapsed at the last moment over SDI.

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