Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Guest Post: Ike in China and Vietnam

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.


June 18, 1960 - Eisenhower lands in Peking

Upon his arrival in Peking, US President Eisenhower was warmly greeted as an old friend and WW2 war-time comrade by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

Fifteen years earlier, Chiang's Kuomintang Forces had liberated the city and won the Second Sino-Japanese War. The following November, he ordered the invasion of Communist-controlled Manchuria. This brief campaign resolving to the ongoing civil war ended the following March at the Soviet border with the capture of Enemy of the State, Mao Zedong.

Both men had worked together to defeat the Japanese, but, although they toasted victory as unlikely allies, there could only be one ultimate winner. Mao was put on trial and executed by hanging. Despite Nazi war criminals undergoing the same brutal fate in Nuremberg, events in Peking shattered brittle US-Soviet relations. These were widely considered a causal factor in the escalation of the Cold War, and Chiang was to blame. His despicable reputation for peace-time ruthlessness and corruption only grew from this point forward. By 1960, he was a super-sized version of the warlords he had struggled with during the pre-WW2 years. An ageing dictator that discredited FDR's vision of the UN by occupying his seat on the Security Council, he clung to power as a US puppet. In some quarters, pictures of these two old WW2 relics only raised concerns about the vitality of the anti-Communist alliance.

The trouble was the tragic events in Manchuria had only foreshadowed insidious developments in Korea and Vietnam that had played out during Eisenhower's two-term presidency. Korea had been divided in 1945 to two occupation zones after substantial unrest under the United States Army Military Government in Korea. Elections brought the zones back together, and, after Soviet troops withdrew in 1948, communist leaders were chased out before the departure of American troops in 1949. Eisenhower's next stop was Saigon, a capital city in even greater disrepute and turmoil. There, too, the trial and execution of Communist Leader Ho Chi Minh was an aspiration of President Ngo Dinh Diem, mirroring the treatment of Mao.

Eisenhower landed in Saigon to find the newly formed Republic of Vietnam on the verge of a civil war that had been long in the making. Following Indochina's independence from France, President Ngo Dinh Diem ousted Emperor Bao-Dai and set up the Republic. But, he faced an altogether more determined opponent in the North, Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Viet Minh and refugee Chinese Communists. There was serious trouble brewing in other quarters, too. With corruption rife in Saigon, the country was threatening to break apart into factions. Much like China where Eisenhower had just left, the shattered post-war state of 1945 had yet to evolve as Diem and Chiang were heading for the bunker.

Diem desperately needed US support to deal with the insurgents and prevent the outbreak of a civil war. Having formed the Republic, he lacked the emperor's loyal military at this vital time. Eisenhower, however, was keen to avoid unpleasant surprises in his final year of office and wanted little more than an American ally against communism in Asia. To cynics, it appeared that America would have been better off supporting Emperor Bao-Dai with a loyal military, but, of course, that pro-monarchist strategy was politically unacceptable in Washington. The cause of liberty was difficult to defend when the local populace had no experience with or understanding of democratic representative government. Consequently, the Viet Minh looked like liberators, and Diem was in deep trouble.

With former British colonies such as Singapore and Malaya facing a bright future, American foreign policy seemed to be propping up dictatorships that were moving even further from democracy. For the imperialists with bitter memories of the Atlantic Charter such as Winston Churchill and Harold Macmillan, it was a cynical outcome that left a very nasty taste in their mouths. Given Eisenhower's obtuse position over the Suez Canal, America's role as a global policeman was becoming increasingly controversial and even divisive.

The real consequence of Chiang winning the Chinese Civil War was that the Soviets were looking beyond Asia to expand communism in Africa and the Americas. Closer to home, the Cuban Revolution had brought communist leadership to power less than ninety miles from the shores of Florida. The overthrow of an American puppet dictator did not bode well for Chiang or Diem, and this issue would raise its ugly head during an election year as America entered a new political cycle.

Despite (or perhaps, because of) the warm welcome he had received, Eisenhower was deeply troubled by his diplomatic tour of Asia. He returned to the United States with a desire to champion democracy and restore America's moral leadership. With the recent release of West Side Story, he was inspired to sponsor Puerto Rican representation in Washington. But due to the size of the population, he would need to look at constitutional alternatives to solutions such as Alaska, which had one-tenth of the people.

Ike also threw himself into Dick Nixon's presidential campaign. This change of heart was because he had determined that avoiding regime change in three capitals (Washington, Peking, and Saigon) was absolutely necessary to prevent his 'Domino Theory' from playing out in his successor's term of office. Ironically it was at this very moment that the CIA sought his clandestine approval for forcing regime change in Cuba. This secret ops mission began a series of events that would lead to the outbreak of World War Three with the Soviet Union.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Guest Post: Russian Redcoats

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Eric Oppen, John Braungart, Philip Ebbrell, and Michael Morano.

August 10, 1778 - Russian Redcoats arrive in North America

Catherine the Great had signed a supply agreement that would see one hundred thousand Russian troops transferred to British North America to serve as mercenaries under the command of Sir Henry Clinton. After difficult negotiations had stalled, the diplomatic breakthrough was a British guarantee to support the Tsarina in the Spanish-Russian struggle in California.

Times had changed in the North American colonies and worldwide. During the Ohio River War (1754-1763), the British Empire had only needed to hire ten percent of her troop requirements from foreign countries. However, this successor conflict had become global; this time around Britain was fighting the French, Spanish, and Dutch across the world in addition to the rebels among her own citizens living in North American colonies who had refused to pay for their own defense. In fact, many Britons were sympathetic towards to the colonial cause and enraged by the involvement of Russia. For all the derisory comment in the broadsheet newspapers, the much maligned "Russian Redcoats" were armed and clothed by Catherine the Great (with coats that were primarily green).

Prior to the appointment of Clinton, mercenaries had been hired from German states. The most important was Hesse-Kassel, known as "the Mercenary State," whose soldiers fought under their own colors in their own uniforms. This sourcing approach was broadly in keeping with the British Army policy of recruiting and training new regiments "as needed" rather than maintaining a much larger standing force. However, this Hessian strategy had proved hopelessly inadequate to meet demand, such as the outnumbered and distracted troops at the Battle of Trenton in 1776. After Viscount Howe had resigned as commander-in-chief of British land forces, his successor Clinton had pressed the North Administration for a massive troop surge. He recommended recruiting Russian troops, whom he rated very highly, having seen them in action against the Ottomans.

The first "Russian redcoats" began to arrive in August 1778 at a troubled time when any significant level of organized Loyalist activity required a continued presence of British regulars. But unbeknown to Clinton, the interjection of Russian troops was merely a ruse to support the North Administration's primary move: a diplomatic initiative. The true cost of such an enormous occupation force, and logistics involved, would have bankrupted the British Government. In any case, time-delays would have been counterproductive. Consequently, the main play, the Carlisle Peace Commission arrived at the same time to offer the Continental Congress self-rule. After lengthy negotiations in York, Pennsylvania, this proposal was eventually accepted and an end to hostilities finally agreed by winter.

The vision of Lord North was self-rule for the colonies; for example, the new country of Pennsylvania would enjoy the same status as Hanover. Instead, the result was a monster that would threaten to swamp the House of Commons with American representatives. By the time that Viceroy Clinton passed away in 1795, the only realistic solution was an Anglo-American Empire with an imperial parliament. This new governance structure would survive until southerners rebelled over the abolition of slavery in 1833.

Author's Note:

In reality, negotiations with Catherine the Great made little progress. The OTL failure of the Carlisle Peace Commission was a contributing cause for Benedict Arnold to abandon his comrades and switch over to the side of the British.

Provine's Addendum:

The end of the American Revolutionary War could hardly be called "peace." Britain's international war continued with Spain, France, and the Netherlands while the American colonies came under a period of reorganization. Bouts of violence routinely broke out among former rebels and longtime tories, often more exacerbated by the occupying military than defused by it. Although amnesty had been granted for those partaking in the revolution, many of them found their businesses or farms disheveled by the end of the war and neighbors unfriendly. The new government pushed for efforts of reconciliation, such as the much-publicized moment of George Washington dining with Benedict Arnold. Many former rebels decided to move west, settling in the Great Lakes region north of the Indian Reserve established by the crown in 1963 (which had been much of the initial struggle between London and the land-hungry colonists) or along the Gulf Coast in Florida after the war with Spain ended.

Naval warfare in the West Indies dragged on even with excess Russian mercenaries dispatched in pursuit of de Galvez in Florida and the Mississippi Valley. With peace from the Treaty of Paris 1783, there were few territorial trades made since the last treaty there in 1763 except the clarification of Russia's hold on California north of San Francisco Bay. The major international difference was the tens of thousands of Russian soldiers now in the western hemisphere. As with any occupying force, many of the soldiers wished to stay in a land they saw as opportunity rather than return home to a country they joined the military to leave. Russian neighborhoods were established in many of the American port towns where they had been garrisoned, though the newcomers were unwelcome by some. To alleviate troubles as well as secure Russian California further, expeditions pushed westward to find an overland "Northwest Passage." Once a trail was blazed to the Columbia River, thousands of pioneers made the journey to settle in the valleys west of the Rocky Mountains. Louisiana gained its independence from France by force as part of the Treaty of Paris 1813, creating a cosmopolitan nation in its own right while much of the upper reaches of the territory became settled by new waves of immigrants under British authority.

A surprising outcome of the Russian deployment to North America was the modernization of their motherland. With so many Russians abroad, shipping surged, driving economic forces that in turn pushed for rapid industrialization. Serfdom came to an end in the 1840s, soon after the Second American Revolution was put down when several colonies rebelled over the end of slavery in the British Empire. While other colonies later gained dominion status under the Imperial Parliament, these remained colonial for decades longer. Russia soon became one of the world's major traders, a status affirmed by the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1870 that could ship goods from the Baltics to the Pacific in a fraction of the time they could go by sea even with the Suez Canal shortening the journey around Africa.

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