Thursday, September 29, 2022

May 20, 1910 - Nine Kings Perish Waiting for a Photograph

 As the royals of Europe gathered in Britain for the funeral of Edward VII, it was seen as an opportunity to capture history in a photograph of nine kings all together. Arranged in a room in Windsor Castle were Haakon VII of Norway, Ferdinand of Bulgaria, Manuel II of Portugal, Wilhelm II of Germany, George I of Greece, Albert I of Belgium, Alfonso XIII of Spain, George V of Britain, and Frederick VIII of Denmark. 

Something went terribly wrong, however, when an explosion tore through the room, killing everyone inside. The mystery has never been fully solved, although the dominant theory then and today is that anarchists sabotaged the photo by sneaking gunpowder in with the camera equipment. Conspiracy theories argue that it was the work of an agent who had been planted among the staff, waiting years for the prime moment to strike. Some others hold it was an assassination aimed at Manuel II that claimed wide collateral damage. Still others suspect it may have all been a terrible accident such as a gas leak set off by a sparking bulb. They argue that if anarchists were to strike, the procession would’ve been one with even more targets, including Crown Prince Alexander of Serbia and Archduke Ferdinand of Austria.

The tragedy, taking place only two weeks after the death of Edward VII, rocked Europe. Much of the public reaction was pro-royal, causing a social suppression of anarchist ideals. The Eighth Congress of the Second International socialist organization, which had been planned to take place in Copenhagen, had to be rescheduled to Mexico. Numerous counterculture and economic revolutionaries would flee Europe over the next years to South and Central America, where they would influence social structure for generations to come.

Each nation of course had its own individual effects from the deaths.

Britain faced a change of its monarch within weeks of its last, bringing Edward VIII to the throne just a month before his sixteenth birthday. As he was not yet of age, Queen Mary served as regent, following the decision of the Regency Act 1910. Meanwhile, Parliament struggled with constitutional questions as the unelected House of Lords vetoed the more Liberal attempts of the rest of the government. Issues of budget and especially home rule for Ireland challenged the Conservatives and Unionists, who maintained power after the regicide on the wave of support for tradition with the turbulent times. Edward VIII came of age with these ideals, adding his youthful flair to them in a spirit that mirrored Italy’s Victor Emmanuel III’s encouragement of fascism during its rise there in the 1920s. Edward was divisive, often even seen as contradictory, in his backing of Ireland as a dominion while striking harshly against republicans rebelling against the Oath of Allegiance, treating them with a ferocity “not seen since Oliver Cromwell.” Reigning until his death in 1972, he was a bastion of British tradition that, after the World War, led to the counterculture backlash and crackdown famous as the “Swinging Sixties” due to the spike of violent executions.

Norway faced a much longer regency than Britain since their prince was only six years old. Haakon VII had come onto the throne only five years earlier, accepting the offer to become king following the dissolution of the union of Sweden and Norway in 1905. Originally Carl, Haakon had changed his name to suit his people, and he had similarly changed his son Alexander’s name to Olav. Ever mindful of earning his place, Olav V actually extended his regency until 1924 so that he could complete his military education. Despite his reign being peaceful, he always considered himself a guardian of the nation and participated in routine military games. In addition to his service, he was an avid sportsman, even winning a gold medal in sailing during the 1928 Olympics.

Bulgaria, like Norway, had a relatively new monarchy. The Bulgarian empire had dominated for 800 years starting in AD 600, but it wasn’t until 1879 that Alexander I was reestablished as prince with an election in the provisional government founded by the Russians in the Russo-Turkish War. In 1908, Bulgaria became officially independent with Ferdinand I as their Tsar. Bulgaria developed rapidly from an underdeveloped agrarian frontier into a nation of towns and transport largely from the land-owning small farmers whose Agrarian Union pushed for education and modernization. With thousands of ethnic Bulgarians still outside of the borders, Bulgaria sought to expand militarily, earning the nickname “the Balkan Prussia.” Following the death of Ferdinand in Britain, his oldest son, Boris III, came to rule at sixteen years old. He leaned heavily on the advice of Prime Minister Ivan Geshov, who, like Boris, was a moderate who preferred diplomacy to outright war. While the Ottoman Empire faced war with Italy in Libya, however, the timing was too good for peace, and the Balkan League of Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro formed in 1912 to drive Ottoman rule out of its European territories. Their overall goal was met with a swift victory, but the nations were displeased with the new borders and the formation of Albania at the insistence of the Great Powers. Many Bulgarian leaders called for war with Serbia to seize expected land, but Boris was slow to start a war that would not be an obvious victory, especially one with former allies.

News of Prince Alexander of Serbia slapping a girl for calling herself “Bulgarian” while he toured liberated Skopje further soured relations between the peoples. Boris bought time until the inevitable war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary over annexed Bosnia. Bulgarian forces liberated Macedonia and pushed the border westward to grab lands populated by Bulgarians. After the settlement in the Treaty of Berlin, Bulgaria returned to its economic growth. Today Bulgaria is well known as a powerhouse of manufacturing, although it is also infamous for its ill treatment of minorities, especially Jewish people.

The kings of Norway and Bulgaria may have been new, but Olav’s grandfather Frederick VIII of Denmark was nearly 70 at the time of the explosion. He was well established, the “Father-in-law of Europe” due to the many marriages of his daughters to other royal houses. Christian X established himself as an authoritarian, sparking the Easter Crisis of 1920 when he dismissed the elected cabinet. Threats of general strike brought him to tighten his fist on social democrats, igniting the short Danish Civil War in which numerous leaders were deported. His son Frederick IX continued the royals’ tight hold on Denmark society, which is often seen from outsiders as one of the most restrictive in Europe today.

Nearly as old as Frederick VIII, the loss of Greece’s George I meant the end of Europe’s longest reigning monarch just short of his golden jubilee. His son Constantine I came to throne at age 42, quickly seizing popularity and regaining his lost honor from defeat in the Greco-Turkish War of 1897 by leading the Greek forces in the march on Thessaloniki in the war alongside the Balkan League allies in 1912. Constantine waited for a Bulgarian attack that never came thanks to the patience of Boris III of Bulgaria. He battled for neutrality during the later war sparked in Serbia, which ultimately brought Greece into a strong position with Germany during the peace talks. Instead, Constantine’s next war would be much like his first with another altercation with the Ottomans. This war ended with very little territorial change, and Constantine abdicated in favor of his son, George II, in hopes a new generation could do better than the last. George had been married to Elisabeth of Romania to further strengthen Greece’s position in the Balkans, but the match was an unhappy one. Greece toiled on under George’s cold rule, increasingly right-wing with fear politics driving censorship and arrest for any opposition. His son, Constantine II, continued the heavy-handed rule but with much more patriotic fervor, highlighting Greece’s ancient splendor and advertising it as a tourist destination despite the suffering of the local people.

While the deadly photograph brought many young monarchs to their rule with the early demise of their predecessors, it served as an abrupt end to the life of 21-year-old Manuel II of Portugal. He had come to rule only two years earlier when his father, Carlos I, and older brother, Luis Filipe, were assassinated in the Lisbon Regicide by republicans opening gunfire on the royal carriage. Manuel left his studies at the naval academy and became king, dismissing the controversial prime minister, Joao Franco, and seeking to find some balance between the rival factions within the nation. Upon word of Manuel’s death, the republicans launched the coup that had been planned since 1909 at the Setubal Congress. The new republic proved even more uneven than the monarchy, and Portugal fell into a series of revolutions and dictatorships as its empire disintegrated, scooped up by the growing influence of Germany and Japan. Following decolonization, the nation hit a new stride with a lasting third republic.

Across the border from Portugal as it faced new political experiments, Spain was seeing a generational repeat. Alfonso XIII became king upon his birth in 1886 as his father had died of illness with the queen was three months pregnant. The baby king was pronounced “the happiest and best-loved of all the rulers of the earth,” although the queen’s regency oversaw the decline of the empire, including the loss of Cuba, the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Alfonso came of age in 1902 and soon married Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, daughter of Edward VII of Britain. Upon Alfonso’s death at the photograph, their first child, Alfonso XIV, became king at only three years old. The new baby king suffered hemophilia, causing him to lead a careful and protected life in specially-tailored clothes that padded him from potential injuries. While adventurers sought to rebuild the Spanish empire with conquests in Africa, the regents and then Alfonso himself dampened their attempts to march on Morocco. Instead, Alfonso focused on internal improvements, using his military education to improve transportation and encourage Spanish industry. He passed away in 1938 due to an accident and internal bleeding, and the state funeral in Spain brought royalist fervor to a peak. His brother, Juan III, ascended the throne and continued the efforts of stability with a constitutional monarchy.

Albert I of Belgium had barely begun his rule when it was cut short during the photography disaster. Albert came to the Belgian throne in 1909 after the death of his uncle, Leopold II, whose only son had died only nine years old. He spent almost the entirety of his reign touring the Belgian Congo, which had for 23 years been Leopold’s private colony from which he extracted untold masses of wealth at the cost of native lives. Leopold relinquished the Congo to become a Belgian colony, and Albert’s tour led to a long list of much-needed reforms. Albert’s son would become Leopold III at the same age of nine, beginning an era nicknamed the “eternal regency.” When Leopold came of age, he maintained many of his advisors from his youth, allowing them to do the bulk of government work while he made necessary appearances for the state. During his reign, he toured extensively, preferring adventuring in the Amazon to ruling. When Leopold passed away in 1983 after more than seventy years as king, his son Baudouin was crowned aged 53, though little changed as the bureaucratic machine had already been long established and popular elections won by periodic strikes maintained balanced rule.

Germany mourned the loss of their long-ruling Kaiser, Wilhelm II, who had begun his reign in 1888. He had worked to grow Germany’s colonial holdings with territories in the Pacific and railroads in the Middle East. Germany had leaped to challenge its rival Britain by surpassing their manufacturing output and amassing a large navy. Wilhelm III continued his father’s eager policies, but his first major event would be hosting the peace talks for the Serbian War. The diplomatic success not only won him fame, but it also opened the channels for economic pushes into Russia. With the Russian economy struggling to industrialize and the Romanovs weak rulers from Nicholas II’s detachment, his son Alexander IV’s hemophilia, and Nicholas’s brother Michael II’s unpopularity, Wilhelm used manufactures and banking to “colonize” eastward without military conquest. The rail-driven transportation system overcame differences in the German and Russian track gauges by innovative shipping containers that could be easily hoisted by crane from one arriving train to another already waiting, a strategy that revolutionized German shipping overseas as well. Germany’s continuing eastward push would eventually lead it into the westward advances of the Japanese Empire, friction that would later start the World War fought across three continents.



In reality, the historical photograph was widely published with the novelty of so much royalty in one room together. The moment was peaceful, but tribulation came to Europe with two kings at war with two others within just a few years in World War I. By the end of the century, only five of the crowns would still remain. Check out Rare Historical Photos for synopses of the kings’ actual lives.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Guest Post: Early Space Shuttle

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History based on an idea from Allen W. McDonnell.

September 24, 1966 - birth of the Space Shuttle

A joint study conducted by NASA and the U.S. Air Force concluded that a reusable orbiter was the most cost-effective way of satisfying their future demands for a new space vehicle. With the moon landing still three years away, it was major milestone that went largely unrecognized at the time.

The proven technology of the two-stage Saturn V rocket was the logical choice of heavy launch vehicle, saving both cost and accelerating development time. Re-purposing Apollo hardware proved to be more than expedient. Most significant of all, a new "means to an end" approach would emerge. This was at a critical juncture when public interest was fading fast and even the U.S. Air Force was losing enthusiasm in the space program.

The stunning success of the Space Shuttle sharpened the focus, turning attention to Skylab, the very first U.S. space station. Occupied by American crews for up to twenty-four weeks at a time, Skylab made permanent (or at least long-term) living in space possible. But this was only made possible by affordable space flights from a reusable orbiter with easily replaced rocketry.

The next major breakthrough was the space station's centrifuge segment that enabled astronauts to sleep and exercise, maintaining bone health that made living in space long term much healthier for the crew. Less than a decade after the moon-landing, the Space program had gone off-world - it was a truly remarkable achievement.

A NASA-only program would likely have focused on non-military applications such as science, but the continued involvement of the U.S. Air Force near-guaranteed weaponization. By the time that the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, Washington was ready to abandon the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which prohibited nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons from being placed in or used from Earth's orbit. The result was the so-called "rod from the Gods," a bundle of telephone-pole-size tungsten projectiles that could hit a city with the explosive power of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Project Thor was successfully used in Grenada, and the Falklands, but most decisively to repel the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991. This weaponized space platform became of increasing importance after September 11th, enabling the United States to quickly win the war on terror by eliminating Osama Bin Laden and his al-qaeda terrorists in the caves of Tora Bora. The next phase was a mini-rod that could intercept another September 11 attack.

Author's Note:

In reality, the OTL ceramic tiles, completely new engines with external tank and Solid Rocket Boosters were selected instead to create a completely new vehicle combining several new techniques and technologies. In OTL, NASA and international partners required 136 launches with seven different launch vehicles to build the International Space Station. Using the two-stage Saturn V configuration it could have all been placed in orbit in 10 to 12 launches.

 Provine's Addendum:

With orbital weapons considered a new level expected of national defense, a new chapter of the Space Race began to fill orbit with "floating fortresses." The Outer Space Treaty had been challenged in 1976 with the Bogota Declaration in which eight equatorial nations called for sovereignty over the portions of geostationary orbit that lie continuously over their territories. Although it initially did not gain much traction, US backing through the 1980s effectively broke up Earth's low orbit into a series of "islands" and "international waters" where artificial satellites could travel.

An offshoot of the rapid production of standardized Saturn V rockets was the declining cost for private satellites for weather and communications. Satellite television and later internet access drove companies to invest in their own long-term living facilities for repairs and updates. Space tourism flourished with ever-growing populations in orbit for customer support and care. The Moon became the next obvious destination, which offered not only real estate but mineral wealth such as earth-common gold more prevalent in upper regions due to the lower gravity and minerals unique to the moon. With the Outer Space Treaty effectively in the world's recycling bins, the Moon would also serve as the next step to commercially colonizing the rest of the solar system.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Guest Post: What if Harold Stassen had been elected POTUS?

 This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

March 4, 2001 - Death of President Stassen

Bloomington, Minnesota ~ on this sad day in alternate history, Harold Stassen died of natural causes at the age of 93. During a remarkable political career that spanned four decades from the Depression Era through to the Peace in Vietnam he delivered, Stassen served as the governor of two states - Minnesota and Pennsylvania - and later 37th U.S. President

Being the youngest person elected governor in the history of the state, Stassen was chosen to give the keynote address at the 1940 Republican National Convention. However, his budding political career was suddenly interrupted by the Second World War, and he later resigned to serve in the USN, becoming an aide to Admiral William Halsey Jr. After demobilization, Stassen became president of the University of Pennsylvania. In this post, he undoubtedly had far greater accomplishments through his campus expansion plans than Eisenhower had as president of Columbia University.

Following an unsuccessful run for the White House, Stassen held his university position until 1953. Multiple failed attempts at election to various political offices followed, but his academic role provided him with a way back into public office. In 1958, he won the governorship of Pennsylvania, beating Albert McGonigle in the GOP primary and then beating Pittsburgh mayor David L. Lawrence in the general election. Alternate history then repeated itself and another truncated governorship followed.

After campaigning vigorously in 1960, Stassen was chosen as Richard Nixon's running mate. Minnesota and Pennsylvania were both contested states, and so he was a unique vote-winning choice as a "double favourite son." Moreover, Nixon had personally backed Stassen's presidential run twelve years earlier and was very grateful for his support in 1956 when many GOP figures were advising Eisenhower to drop him from the ticket. GOP fatigue after eight years of a Republican White House was a key factor in their narrowly defeat to the fresh face of Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy. The press fawned over Kennedy who over-promised change and unashamedly took aim at Eisenhower's two terms of office. Polar opposites in mainstream American politics, Kennedy was to learn that Eisenhower had actually delivered unparalleled efficiencies in Federal Government. Moreover, his caution about the perils of "quick fixes" in his Farewell Address was diametrically opposed to the naïve promises of Kennedy's inauguration speech which was littered with undeliverable promises.

Fortunately, Stassen was the improbable beneficiary of a reverse swing of the pendulum. After JFK was assassinated, popularity for the Democrat White House faded under his successor Lyndon B. Johnson due to Vietnam and Civil Rights disturbances in the cities. Stassen chose not to run for office in 1964 because the GOP did not seek a moderate candidate. However, the landslide general election result, and the emergence of George Wallace as a third party candidate radically changed the political landscape. Having actively supported GOP candidates in the mid-terms, Stassen made another remarkable comeback eight years later. He won the 1968 presidential election as a peace candidate narrowly defeating his fellow Minnesotan Hubert Humphrey. As a liberal Republican, he offered Americans a unique compromise between the Eisenhower-Nixon and Kennedy-Johnson eras. Having sacrificed his own political career to serve in war-time, he had the credibility, as well as the wisdom and good judgement, to deliver a lasting peace.

Author's Note:

In reality, Stassen committed the blunder of urging the GOP to dump Nixon in 1956. Thereafter his name became most identified with his status as a perennial candidate.

Provine's Addendum:

Just as Minnesota's labor-employer relations and UPenn's campus bore the long-lasting legacy of Harold Stassen, the modern American life still had Stassen's fingerprints. History classes would of course focus on Stassen's foreign relations, especially efforts to bring peace to Vietnam by reinvigorating the United Nations as a center of diplomacy as he had envisioned while a signatory to the charter. He remained strong against communism, using American dollar diplomacy to encourage the opening of China as well as seeing South Vietnam become a center of the Southeast Asian tiger economies, mirroring a comparison with South Korea. At home, Stassen mapped out the modern American workforce to pursue corruption within unions while also encouraging their voice. Without Stassen, historians argue that there might be many larger and more crippling national strikes, such as if all of the airline controllers had to strike instead of coming to terms in 1981. Stassen also worked to improve race relations alongside fellow Baptist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with whom he marched in 1963, as well as implementing many of King's ideals on improving worker benefits. Today the single-payer national health care system, the 32-hour work week, and the family support of every mother receiving universal basic income per child all trace their roots to Stassen's administration.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

November 20, 1969 - Reclamation of Alcatraz Island Begins

A new chapter in the turbulent history of Alcatraz Island began in 1963 with the announced closure of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Situated at the eastern end of the Golden Gate strait that connects San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean, the island had already experienced numerous occupations. It first duties included hosting a lighthouse as a private island; it then came into public service in the 1850s as naval fortifications. The jailhouse at Fort Alcatraz grew in size and notoriety, holding through the years Confederate secret agents, civilian prisoners following the Earthquake of 1906, and Native Americans from the Hopi tribe who refused to follow the boarding school system promoting assimilation. Eventually the entire island would be proclaimed a federal penitentiary, the most notorious prison in the nation for the most notorious prisoners including George "Machine Gun Kelly" Barnes and gangster Al "Scarface" Capone. Surrounded by fast, chilling currents, the prison was supposed to be escape-proof, although 1962 showed that it could be done when several inmates escaped in a homemade raft. The next year, officials determined to close the prison since it had lost its legendary status and was exceedingly expensive to operate. News reports noted that the plan was to gift the island from the federal government to the City of San Francisco.

As Belva Cottier read the news, however, she had a different thought. A member of the Rosebud Sioux, she recalled the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1868, where it was agreed between the tribe and the federal government that surplus federal property could be claimed by the tribe for use in education, health care, or housing (Hodge, 1973). In the process of divesting federal property, it must be declared "excess" by the General Services Administration and then "surplus" if no agencies can use it, which would then free it up to be sold or, in this case, gifted to the city. On March 8, 1964, Cottier and several others arrived on the island in a demonstration, suggesting the government should take their offer of $9.40 for the island, the same 47-cent-per-acre price given for Sioux lands years before. News coverage bolstered the Native American identity movement, but ultimately the group left after threats of arrest and felony trespassing.

For five years later, the island remained more or less empty as the wheels of government slowly turned. In 1969, after a fire destroyed the San Francisco Indian Center, the idea of taking control of Alcatraz returned. That October, five boats loaded with activists sailed for the island. Before any could arrive, Richard Oakes, a member of the Mohawk tribe, and four other students swam ahead of them. They climbed to shore and announced a claim by right of discovery since the island had sat vacant for so long. The "right of discovery" also served as a protest in legal argument since the early European explorers used the same right to claim land inhabited for countless generations by native peoples. Again well publicized, the occupation in October was temporary. It would not be until November 20 that 89 people arrived intending a permanent residence.

Oakes and other leaders set up rules for the community, establishing a council while all major decisions had to be made unanimously among all the residents. Everyone, including children, was assigned a task to contribute to the new colony ranging from cooking and child care to sanitation and repair work. John Trudell, a Sioux broadcaster, established "Radio Free Alcatraz" and began reporting on the need for supplies on the island, especially clean water. At Thanksgiving, hundreds of people traveled to the island to celebrate a great feast. Afterward, however, winter set in, and the colonists struggled to go on. Supplies had to be sneaked ashore, often in small canoes, as the Coast Guard struggled to keep what they perceived as order in a situation where the government's hands were tied while the Longshoreman's Union watched, promising to close traffic in the ports if the natives were removed.

While the colony struggled, leaders continued to send public messages to the federal government, clearly citing violated treaties and other legal arguments. American citizens' interest began to wane as the weeks turned to months, but the humanitarian story of Oakes's thirteen-year-old stepdaughter falling from the steps and being rescued despite her injuries brought back attention. Rather than bringing her back to San Francisco, the people treated her on the island, and footage of her recovery made for passionate reports. The need for public support was clear, and Shoshone-Bannock LaNada Means led a campaign to find a high-profile lawyer to keep the case in the national conversation. Trudell disagreed, wanting to keep control of their message, but Oakes managed to keep leaders cooperating in the face of government refusal of every offer the group provided. Oakes's organization managed the affairs of the island, keeping water flowing and the lights on as well as banishing troublemakers back to the mainland.

As midterm elections came in 1970, the "Indian issue" became one of the major discussion points. When it became clear that conservatives were losing ground because of it, Republican party leaders pushed Nixon to do something. Rather than risk an all-out war by seizing the island, Nixon had already called for an end of tribal termination policies and struggled to find a solution within his bureaucracy since giving in to protestors might make him look weak. Instead, he stalled on further proposals and leaned on the courts to bring the matter to an end. Going back to the Treaty of Fort Laramie, the Sioux tribe had already petitioned the Indian Claims Commission for violations, a petition that was rejected and then ordered reevaluated in 1958 during an appeal to US Claims Court. It had gone nowhere in over a decade, focusing on the legal right of the court to award damages. Instead, the Justice Department brokered a settlement to award damages as an executive action along with outlining the process for marking Alcatraz as All Indian tribal land.

Conservatives were satisfied that natives would have to "abide by the rules" for the land, while natives celebrated that the rules were finally being followed. Grant money soon flowed to Alcatraz, which became a new cultural center, a facility for ending drug addiction, and the anchor of Oakes's dream of a "mobile university" with classes held all over the nation. Other occupations followed suit for protest, although they rarely carried the attention that Alcatraz had won or saw negative outcomes like the Second Battle of Wounded Knee in 1973. Instead, organizers focused on the bureaucratic and legal angles, campaigning for surplus definitions and scooping up federal property. Many shuttered government facilities have gone on to be artist and spiritual colonies and satellites for the University of Alcatraz. With the implementation of online learning with the internet in the 1990s, enrollment at the experimental university expanded by thousands, which put it at the forefront of American higher education by the mid-2000s.


In reality, Yvonne Oakes died in her fall during the occupation of Alcatraz. Oakes and his wife decided to leave, which was already running out of control with a lack of supplies and homeless drug-addicts seeking shelter among the protestors. After a fire in June, 1970, that ravaged the island, the remaining 15 people (Means among them) were escorted off by the Coast Guard. The United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians case came to the Supreme Court in 1980, which found in favor of the Sioux and awarded damages from the gold prospectors with interest at $88 million (compounded to today at well over $1 billion). The nation has refused the money, instead calling for a return of the Black Hills themselves.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Guest Post: Ike in the Pacific

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History from the original idea by Allen W. McDonnell.


August 30th, 1935 - MLQ taps Ike

Manuel L. Quezon ('MLQ') faced a truly historic dilemma when he was elected the second president of the Philippines, twelve months after Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Act granting the Philippines commonwealth status as a prelude to complete independence. After twenty long years of neglect of Filipino Armed Forces, preparations for the country's full achievement of independence were threatened by the insidious rise of Japanese militarism. The Washington naval treaties had forbidden the fortification of American possessions in the Pacific, like Guam, Wake Island, and the Philippines. To make matters even worse, there was an understandable reluctance in Washington to invest in the defense of islands that were not going to belong to the U.S. much longer. The inevitable consequence was that the U.S. was most needed at the very moment when the transitional administration was coming to an end.

Undaunted by this unfortunate timing, MLQ became "the first Filipino politician to integrate all levels of politics into a synergy of power" but to critics was establishing a "de facto dictatorship." Regardless, his most difficult leadership decision was whom to choose as Chief Military Advisor, realizing that a costly mistake could easily see American hegemony followed by Japanese over-lordship. A key insight offered by some of the potential candidates was that the national defense plan had to be focused on logistics and tapping the natural resources and manpower locally available, a policy-wide issue rather than simply the right choice of military leadership. The problem with this strategy was that the commonwealth could barely afford an annual defense budget of $12 million over the next few years.

Former U.S. Chief of Staff and the U.S. Army's youngest ever major general Douglas MacArthur was briefly considered. The two men had been personal friends for thirty-five years, but MLQ quickly realized his over-bearing character was highly unsuited to the role. The timing was also off for such a long-term total commitment: MacArthur was about to marry his second wife Jean and had publicly expressed a desire to close his public career and return to his ancestral home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Quezon found that he got along much better with his long-term subordinate Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was certainly a meticulous organizer with a bright future but had the disadvantage of being a staff officer who had no experience of combat or army command. In the confusion of this difficult choice for Quezon, it was unclear whether the best strategy ought not be to declare Philippine neutrality. If so, selecting an American candidate was likely a big mistake.

Fortunately for Eisenhower, the essential truth of the military situation in the Philippines was that a Baron von Steuben was needed rather than a George Washington. Consequently, Eisenhower was appointed with the assistance of his talented second, Major John Ord. Eisenhower's national defense plan was based upon the cold hard logic of their brilliant intelligence. Determining that invasion of Luzon was only possible at two locations, he set Ord the task of developing the Philippine Air Corps. He also prepared scenarios for naval intervention from the Pacific Fleet. But, his main ploy was to reinforce a beach-line defense strategy.

If there was one upside to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, it was the international date line. Eisenhower had the crucial advantage of nine hours early notification of the Japanese attack. He organized a spirited, but ultimately unsuccessful, defense at least in comparison to the British defense of Malaya, Singapore, and Burma as well as the Dutch Defense of the Netherlands East Indies. Notwithstanding his fighting spirit, critics such as MacArthur unfairly pointed the blame at Eisenhower's lack of experience, the suggestion being that MacArthur might have repulsed the invasion on the beach. F
ollowing Eisenhower's capture in Corregidor, Roosevelt appointed Admiral Chester Nimitz Supreme Commander, Southwest Pacific Area. This proved to be an inspired choice, and Ike's masterful direction of Allied Forces across the Pacific would eventually lead to the invasion of Formosa and then the assault on the Japanese Home islands. The Philippines would not be liberated until V.J. Day, shortly after Quezon died of tuberculosis in a Miami hospital. In recognition of his immense courage surviving almost three years in capitivity, Truman would give Eisenhower the flagship honor of serving as interim head-of-state until full independence in 1946. This brief foray into politics cost Truman the White House because it would set the stage for Eisenhower's presidential bid two years later under the catchy campaign slogan "Ike has returned."

Author's Note:

In reality, MacArthur received the appointment, retiring from the U.S. Army to continue being the chief military advisor to the Philippines. Six months before Pearl Harbor, he was recalled to active duty as commander of United States Army Forces Far East (USAFFE). A series of calamitous disasters followed that prompted Marshall to recommend his court martial and dismissal for dereliction of duty alongside the culprits Kimmel and Short. The most damaging allegations were that he had failed to act upon nine hours of early warning from Pearl Harbor and that his beach-line defenses resulted in lost inventory when he should have been stocking Bataan.

Following a direct evacuation order from FDR, MacArthur escaped to Australia, where he became Supreme Commander, Southwest Pacific Area. This high-profile appointment has been interpreted as a political decision to satisfy the Australian government. However, after victory at the Battle of Midway in June 1942, most Allied resources in the Pacific were allocated to Admiral Chester Nimitz. Many observers have therefore concluded it was Nimitz that was the architect of victory.

Provine's Addendum:

Eisenhower campaigned on a platform of military readiness in a new, atomic world. Pulling public information from congressional hearings as well as Army Chief of Staff Omar Bradley comment "the Army of 1948 could not fight its way out of a paper bag," it was clear that the shift to peacetime had inherited the problems of the overwrought military during the war without solutions. Marshall, who had largely retired after serving as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and struggling to wrangle George S. Patton, was blamed for a lack of readiness on the western side of the Iron Curtain despite he himself pointing out budgetary and supply issues ironically similar to those faced by Eisenhower in the Thirties.

Driven by a grassroots campaign, Eisenhower's name was added to every state with a Republican primary. The movement stepped on numerous Republican toes from Governor Dewey of New York and Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, but ultimately the support of former Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen, who resigned in 1943 after 12 years to join the Navy, awarded Eisenhower the Republican nomination. He won handily over Truman so much so that the Chicago Tribune printed their edition early, "Eisenhower Defeats Truman."

Eisenhower's first term was one of national economic reorganization and military readiness. Even with decades-long civil war rolling in China, Eisenhower as Commander-in-Chief had successfully contained it by the next election year. Eisenhower ran in 1952 with Stassen as his vice-president to the disappointment of Senator Richard Nixon of California, who would go on to serve for decades as one of the nation's longest-elected senators and a powerhouse of Washington intrigue. With Eisenhower's announcement of retirement, Stassen became the Republican nomination and victor over Adlai Stevenson. He pushed the US further onto the international field, using it as a major power in the UN to force a solution to the Chinese Issue as well as maintaining the US Navy on alert watching over the similar civil war that raged in Cuba before the island settled as a close US ally.

Following the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic opening of China, many considered the next chapter of history a Pax Americana. Critics of the "pax" argue that it is driven by an extreme military-industrial complex and acceptance of surveillance and policing of free speech, especially on the Internet, which was ironically brought about by the push for more advanced technology by the military-industrial complex.

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