Friday, December 22, 2023

Caligula Christianized

In October of AD 37, Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus fell ill. He was often known by his nickname "Caligula" ("Little Booties") during his youth growing up on campaign in his own military uniform. As Tiberius sought to continue Roman stability, he determined that Gaius would be, so at age 25 he came to be emperor. Only a few months later, fever plagued him. The illness stretched into weeks, and the Roman public became frantic. After the heavy taxes of Augustus and the strict rule of Tiberius, Caligula's first months had been a godsend. Since being ratified by the Senate in March, Caligula had overturned many of Tiberius's harsh legal decisions, given 75 sesterces to each citizen (~$450 today), doubled the bonuses to the praetorian guard to 1000 sesterces, and overseen weeks of feasts and games with over 160,000 animal sacrifices. Some questioned how benevolent he truly was as Caligula had ensured Tiberius's will was destroyed and purged Gemellus, whom Tiberius had listed as co-heir, along with all of his supporters. The public, however, loved him and feared losing him.

Crowds thronged outside the gates of the imperial palace, and many held placards asking the gods to take their own lives instead of Caligula's. Sacrifices to the massive pantheon of the Roman gods did not seem to make Caligula any better. Others sacrificed to foreign gods, such as one Caligula had come to known while living in Syria: Mithras with his cult popular among the soldiers. Rumors had reached Rome of another miraculous figure in the east, a Jewish man who had not only healed and resurrected others but resurrected himself three days after being executed by crucifixion. In desperation, people became willing to try anything.

The palace doctors sent for Pontius Pilatus, the former governor of Judea who had been recalled to Rome near the end of Tiberius's rule for judgement on excessive force when executing Samaritans seeking artifacts of Moses. Tiberius had died before Pilatus arrived back in Rome, leaving his fate in legal limbo. Pilatus was eager to please the court, and he confirmed meeting the man (who was actually from Galilee and technically out of his jurisdiction), allowing the execution anyway, and witnessing the strange events afterward including an earthquake and a lengthy eclipse. He said that there was great contention among the Jewish people that the body may have been stolen while others say he had resurrected and toured the countryside for weeks until ascending into heaven itself while dozens or hundreds watched.

The palace then sent for Jewish leaders from the numerous synagogues in Rome, which had been established through diplomacy since the days of the Maccabees and Republic. Although the Jewish community in Rome had been favored by Julius Caesar, their position had struggled under Tiberius. Leaders were nervous, since they wanted to be popular with Caligula but they did not want to confirm the radical group that had followed this Jesus of Nazareth. Eventually a Christian Jew (as the Greeks used the term "Christos" rather than the Hebrew "Messiah") named Aquila was found, and he preached over Caligula's sickbed.

Approximately at that time in November of AD 37, Caligula began to recover. As he came out of his stupors, he embraced the new religion fervently, especially the rituals of baptism and communion. His practice then became more and more extreme. Caligula drank heavily and argued bitterly with anyone who suggested he stop, pointing that it was the blood of a god. Critiques from Aquila and his wife Priscilla, who had become court favorites, caused them to be banished from Rome as Caligula began to rewrite the rites for his own preferences.

Caligula sent for delegations from Jerusalem, which included Simon Peter and others of Jesus's original disciples. Their message calmed Caligula's madcap twists for a time, but ultimately he would break with the core of the church to develop his own rituals including cannibalism and partial-drowning. Numerous Romans seeking political favor joined his cult, keeping most of their actions as mysteries, while the major temples in Rome were shuttered. Caligula dispatched armed "missionaries" to close other religious centers, such as the famed Temple of Diana ("Artemis" in Greek) at Ephesus. This crackdown spurred riots and contributed to Caligula's guard assassinating him in AD 41.

The military brought Caligula's uncle Claudius to power, and Christianity fell out of favor while Claudius restored the pantheon. Pockets of Christians survived, but they were disparate in beliefs and generally considered taboo, especially after Claudius ordered the Jewish people out of Rome. Monotheism was seen as the strange philosophy of an esoteric ruler, which historians compare with the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten's founding of Atenism. Instead, Rome continued its pantheistic growth, adding gods collected as new realms became part of the empire. Many gods became syncretized with existing gods, such as principles of Isis being adapted to Venus and Mithras to Hercules. Jupiter remained supreme, eventually blending with Odin as Germanic peoples conquered Rome from the north.

Yet Christianity continued as a religion of the downcast, slaves, and women, teaching that in the next life "the first shall be last, and the last shall be first." Its modern form of humility is a far from Caligula's passions of prosperity and mysticism.


In reality, Caligula recovered. Historians debate what the illness may have been, whether epilepsy, lead poisoning, encephalitis, or something else. Some scholars even question the illness as one of many legends about the short-lived emperor along with numerous other incidents that may have been taken out of context or even completely fictitious. The story could have been used by those who embraced Caligula's early months as emperor with reforms while distancing them from other legendary acts of cruelty. One legend is that Caligula ordered the executions of those who had offered their lives in sacrifice for his own so that the gods would be appeased, just in case.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Guest Post: Inquisitors Root out Witchcraft in Germany

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

December 5, 1484 -

Pope Innocent VIII issued the Summis desiderantes affectibus ("desiring with supreme ardor"). This papal bull conferred upon inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenge the authority to prosecute witchcraft in Germany. The bull was effectively a carte blanche, granting them immunity from "being molested or hindered in any manner whatsoever" during the course of their workings.

This Vatican order to deputize Kramer and Sprenge occurred only after the Archbishop of Salzburg had denied them episcopal jurisdiction. Such a central intervention was historically significant because the Vatican had previously taken a very strong line and was far more likely to prosecute witch-hunters than alleged witches in the belief that witchcraft was a form of superstition and therefore heretical. By 1484, however, the belief of supernatural intervention had become so widespread that it was integrated into Catholic doctrine. Having acknowledged the existence of witches, these German churchmen would be instrumental in establishing the period of trials in the early modern period.

Writing under his Latinized named "Henricus Institor," Kramer himself subsequently wrote Malleus Maleficarum, "The Hammer of Witches which destroyeth Witches and their heresy as with a two-edged sword" (1486). This witch-hunting manual fueled the trials, endorsing detailed processes for the extermination of witches. A misogynist who blamed his lust on women, the idea of witches being female-only came from the Malleus Maleficarum, a manual that promoted the idea that women are inherently evil and form pacts with the devil.

The actions of Kramer and Sprenge were met with great distaste in some quarters of the clergy, but it was far too late to stop the Burning Times. The Vatican had forcefully asserted its primacy over weak local authorities at a critical moment when heresy was threatening to undermine the supremacy of the Catholic Church across Europe. Draconian measures would save Roman authority, and the widespread use of burning at the stake was used to eliminate heretic thought. Indeed, by 1519 Sprenger was added as the co-author of Malleus Maleficarum under the preamble "Thou shalt not suffer a heretic to live." It was timely, because by this time, the manual was guiding the execution of leading reformationists such as Martin Luther.

Author's Note:

In reality, there is no evidence any actual witches were tried and executed in medieval times. A total figure for exterminations is approximated at around 40,000. Conversely, in the eighteenth century, Voltaire mentioned a speculative estimate of 100,000 executions for witchcraft.

Provine's Addendum:

As later described by scholars, Europe fell under a deep shadow of superstition from its own creation. The dramatics of the Burning Times incited many to fear anyone out of the ordinary. King Christian III of Denmark and Norway was so terrified by descriptions of those caught dealing with the devil while on his princely tour of Germany as a prince that he instituted witch-hunters into his court. The same notions spread to Sweden, where Gustav I conducted a crusade through his own land to ensure proper conduct in religious services, and England, where Henry VIII suspected witches had hexed the queen in their struggles for progeny. In a surprising move, Henry and Catherine of Aragon made a pilgrimage to Rome for blessings and protection. During Henry's absence, the Church gained oversight on Parliament, reporting back to the king and Pope Clement VII. Their resulting son, Henry IX, seemed to be proof of the royals' need to defend themselves from witchcraft. Others suggested the son may have been the result of the king and queen spending more dedicated time together with Henry having fewer opportunities to be with his mistresses instead.

With inquisitions and witch-hunts periodically rolling across Europe, even Italy faced crackdowns. In Rome itself, Polish canon and apprentice at the Papal Curia Nicolaus Copernicus gave a private critique of ancient astronomy after moon-gazing during the lunar eclipse in November of 1500. Copernicus attempted to flee to Bologna and back to Warmia, Prussia, but he was apprehended and tried for heretical rituals, resulting in his eyes being plucked out that he might no longer be tempted to sin. This sparked a fervor in hunting down "scholars" who attempted to twist man's understanding of God's creation. Through the coming generations many magicians would be burnt, such as Johan Georg Faust, Pan Twardowski, and John Dee. The study of mathematics and alchemy came under close watch of the Church, ensuring that there would not be any chance for the devil to confuse the minds of students.

Europe boasted huge wealth from its conquests in the New World, but eventually the money ran out. Colonies abroad held advantages for a time with superiority in steel and gunpowder. Without new developments in firearms and exploration viewed with suspicion by the Church who routinely stamped out attempts of religious factions to start their own independent colonies, however, Europe's influence waned. Native populations recovered from introduced-disease and adapted to European techniques for warfare and trade, leading to a balance in power across the globe.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

December 7, 1884 - Tesla Arrives at Menlo Park

When Continental Edison manager Charles Batchelor returned to New York City in 1884, he brought along with him twenty-eight-year-old Serbian engineer Nikola Tesla. Batchelor had been abroad for years, first to oversee the Edison Telephone Company expansions in London in 1879 and then to install electrical lighting in Paris in 1881. While in Paris, Batchelor had hired a brilliant young dropout, Tesla, who had been recommended by Tivadar Puskas, who had and suggested the telephone exchange (an invention later built by the Bell Company from his designs). Puskas also suggested Tesla work for Batchelor as he was hungry to tinker and make improvements on electrical devices and already outgrowing his electrician job in Budapest. Batchelor was impressed with Tesla's skills in physics and soon set him to designing new equipment as well as troubleshooting difficult pieces of equipment.

Tesla came to New York to continue his troubleshooting and design position in the Edison Machine Works. The shop was notoriously crowded, loud, and hot, but Tesla threw himself into his work with a decent pay of $18/week. It was here Tesla first met his hero, Thomas Edison. Tesla had pulled an all-nighter repairing dynamos aboard the SS Oregon, completing a task that many thought impossible as the equipment had been installed during ship's construction. When the two men saw Tesla walking down Fifth Avenue at five in the morning toward the shop as they were heading home, Edison had, "Here is our Parisian running around at night." Tesla explained that he had not been out on the town but instead working and now headed back for more work, and Edison met him with a silent look. As the men went their different ways, Tesla overhead Edison comment, "Batchelor, this is a damn good man." Tesla then worked ever harder, with regular hours from 10:30 AM to 5:00 AM for an 18+ hour workday. Edison told Tesla, "I have had many hard-working assistants, but you take the cake."

Edison nearly lost his man when a manager promised a whopping $50,000 award (~$1.6 million today) if Tesla could design 24 different types of standard machines, making improvements to DC generators and arc lighting. When Tesla showed the improvements, the manager refused to give him the award, saying it had been a joke and Tesla didn't "understand American humor." Tesla complained, although Batchelor was already notoriously stingy and did not have anything like the kind of cash needed to pay such an award. Tesla might have quit, but Edison himself arrived to soothe his wounded pride with promises of payments in installments over years to come. He took Tesla back with him to Menlo Park, thinking that if the young genius could rise to the challenge of sorting out DC generators, there might be no limit to his insights with the right prompting.

Tesla proved to be the workhorse Edison had dreamed. The two frequently bickered, especially about alternating current and direct current as it came to bringing power to increasingly electrified cities. Tesla argued for transmitting power from large power stations using alternating current, a generator he had invented in 1888 (Edison put both names on the patent). Edison preferred DC with localized generators, despite the massive power loss as it was transmitted only a few blocks. Ultimately Tesla won out as investors sought to build expansive power generators utilizing the forces of nature, namely Niagara Falls. Edison liked the idea of a larger initial investment not needing to pay for fuel, just upkeep. He challenged Tesla to improve transmission even more, which Tesla completed with a "free energy" broadcast through the air itself.

The term "free energy" was not part of Edison's business-mindedness, but demonstrations at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago showed bulbs lit up without cumbersome wires. Newspapers marveled, and Edison knew good press. He soon began courting city councils with the offer of electrifying an entire area with enough power for public lighting and home machines, paid for by contracts with the Edison companies, which in turn would be paid by taxes. Facilities with larger power needs like factories would have to have their own power stations, likely Edison DC generators. St. Louis became the first "air-electrified" city in the world for its Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904. While anyone with the proper wires could simply tap into the broadcast energy, Edison's legal teams were quick to sue anyone who infringed on the broad patents they used to keep "electro-pirates" from thieving free energy. This put the lawyers into practice for lawsuits against Guglielmo Marconi in wireless telegraphy, creating such a quagmire that the Edison Wireless Telegraph Company gained the upper hand in radio worldwide.

By this time, Tesla was already dreaming of free energy anywhere on Earth broadcast through the ionosphere, so Edison put him to a different task to keep him occupied. Edison had overtaken the motion picture industry in the US, but he was frustrated by the costly film needed to record images chemically. His phonograph had won him great praise as the "Wizard of Menlo Park" in 1877, so he challenged Tesla to find a way to record electrically. Magnetic recording had already been done with sound by Danish engineer Valdemar Poulsen in 1898 with a wire recorder on the telegraphone, but images were a monumental task. The task required Tesla to invent a slew of new inventions for an electric camera as well as a projector to reinterpret the recordings. These inventions brought in millions for Edison, who was careful to share enough cash and, more importantly, credit with Tesla to keep him loyal.

When Edison died in 1931 at age 84, the world was very different from the wood-fire-and-candle society he had been born into. People used electricity to light, heat, cool, and operate their homes. They could turn on appliances by radio remote control while they placed televisual calls to family members hundreds of miles away, all without wires in cities that boasted broadcast energy. Outside of electrified zones, most people either passed through on trains with their own wireless broadcast or lived on farms or in villages with smaller, localized generators frequently operated by solar power. Edison's massive corporate holdings even survived the days of Trust-Busting thanks to patents protecting his many products for decades. Rents in free-energy cities skyrocketed, leading to extensive social turmoil as employment rates dropped due to automation.

Tesla spent his last years working away in Edison's laboratory in West Orange to develop automation. He felt that electrical recording had great potential in "switches" following "dockets" of different tasks. Soon his work on "processor" machines would revolutionize the world again with Edison Automations rivaled only by companies like International Business Machines and Electronic Control Company in creating handheld computing devices for work and play. He died in 1943, and many obituaries in the newspaper commented on who the true "wizard" was.


In reality, Tesla quit. One long sentence stretched in his diary from December 7, 1884, to January 4, 1885, "Good by Edison Machine Works." He went on to meet other investors, who helped found the Tesla Electric Lighting & Manufacturing Company. Some versions of the "$50,000 joke" story attribute it to Edison himself, although Tesla maintained it was a manager. 

(Quotes from Nikola Tesla's autobiography, My Inventions.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Guest Post: Ike Saves the American Dream

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History co-written with Allen W. McDonnell.

January 8, 1956

In a press conference held at Key West, Florida, Dwight D. Eisenhower announced that unfortunately he would not be seeking re-election in the fall. The sad truth was that the poor health of the once-vigorous Five-Star General of the Army prevented him from running a presidential election campaign, and another mission was simply beyond his frail condition.

Ike had initially planned on serving only one term anyhow, but he remained flexible in case leading Republicans wanted him to run again. They surely did, mainly because of the GOP's lack of potential candidates, but all calculations had changed after his serious heart attack on September 24, 1955. Former New York Governor and unsuccessful GOP nominee in 1944 and 1948, Thomas Dewey had been sounded out but refused to make a third run for the White House. With Ike unable to make a full recovery, the decision was taken out of the GOP's hands. However, Eisenhower had one last card to play, and, while controversial particularly with Republicans, it would be taken in the very best interests of all of his fellow Americans.

For his preferred choice of successor, Eisenhower strongly favored his Deputy Secretary of Defense, Robert B. Anderson, whom he had recently promoted from Secretary of Navy. Ike described him as "just about the ablest man that I know, he would make a splendid President." However, the problem was that Anderson was a Democrat. Had Ike's health fully recovered, he would have attempted to use his authority to steer Anderson into the slot for his running mate. That of course was only if Vice-President Richard Nixon had accepted Eisenhower's recommendation to leave the vice-presidency to serve as Secretary of Defense. This scenario was no longer the worst case for Nixon, because it was highly unlikely that he would be the GOP nominee. This was because there were too many others seeking the nomination in an open primary.

Unfortunately, Nixon and Ike suffered a like-hate relationship. Eisenhower noticeably failed to publicly endorse Nixon in his announcement. In an even more shocking development, Anderson then announced that he would enter the race himself. He would contest the Democratic Party's nomination alongside Adlai Stevenson, the 1952 nominee, and populist Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver. Nixon would bitterly blame his failure to win the Republican nomination and beat a path to the White House on the "unwarranted influence" of the 34th president. Others argued that Eisenhower was a great son of the Republic who had simply followed in the tradition of Washington, Adams, & company by putting the Office of the Presidency above the petty concerns of party politics.

Anderson would fight his way through a crowded field, defeat the Republican nominee, and, at his inauguration, encourage rock and roll artist Buddy Holly to pay gushing tribute to the outgoing President Eisenhower as a great patriot with his barnstorming hit song "Love's for real not Fade Away!" Calling out "How about General Eisenhower? Come out here, sir!" a smiling Eisenhower had sufficiently recovered to join the Hollies on stage and even break character to play the tambourine alongside the Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson.

Author's Note:

In reality, Eisenhower announced that he would run again after meeting with his closest advisors. The level of campaigning was curtailed out of health considerations, but even so he won by an even larger landslide, with 457 of 531 electoral votes and 57.6-percent of the popular vote.

Provine's Addendum:

Political commentators on the 1956 race between Anderson and Governor William Stratton of Illinois frequently compared the two's similar backgrounds. Stratton had become a Congressman at 26 in 1940 and served stints as the State Treasurer of Illinois both before and after service in the U.S. Navy. Anderson had a busy resume as Assistant Attorney General and member of the House of Representatives in Texas as well as numerous business ventures before becoming a military adviser in the Pacific and ultimately joining Eisenhower's administration. Anderson was criticized as not having been a governor himself, to which he wittily replied that he had already defeated numerous governors in the primary, including Stratton's predecessor, Stevenson.

Anderson's policies laid the groundwork for the next era of the Cold War. Many saw the USSR as a great challenge with the 1955 success of Sputnik and the perception of a major missile gap with Russian superiority in ICBMs. Manned space exploration was massively expensive, and Anderson's treasury mindset saw the Earth's orbit as the farthest a space war could be effective, making a mission to the moon a needless expense. Anderson challenged suspicious numbers from the 1957 Gaither Report about Soviet missiles and did not agree to the suggestion of increasing military spending by half. Instead, Anderson focused on economic warfare through investment. Rather than supporting individual power-hungry men like Fulgencio Batista in Cuba and Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam, Anderson's State Department (and covert operations through the CIA) spread the money around to win overall public favor and economic dependence on the United States. The strategy worked in the case of Cuba, where the Popular Socialist Party lost ground as Batista's rivals gained concessions with more local authority.

By 1960, Anderson had split approval ratings with many fearing he was soft on Communism. This would lead to the election of Republican Barry Goldwater, who promised to bolster conservatism in the US again, a wave that would disintegrate as the Civil Rights Movement expanded.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

June 11, 1984 - Walt Disney Company Bought Out by Corporate Raiders

The Walt Disney Company, effectively started in 1923 with young Walt Disney promoting "Alice Comedies" (shorts that blended live action and animation), faced a troubling time six decades later. It had peaked in the 1950s with Disney producing the feature-length cartoons that had brought him fame and fortune as well as live-action television programming and a theme park, Disneyland. Ever the dreamer, Walt Disney announced yet another theme park centered on the "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow" (EPCOT) in 1965, just one year before his death.

Disney's company continued beyond him, first under the leadership of his brother, Roy. Roy retired in 1971 after the launch of Disney World, handing the reins to a series of CEOs and presidents who would oversee numerous projects in film and real estate, such as another Disney theme park in Tokyo. The 1980s were packed with innovation. A cable "Disney Channel" unique from the long partnership with the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Meanwhile, Touchstone Pictures began to produce films and television not suitable for the family-friendly Disney brand.

While the Disney company was truly a mainstay of the American zeitgeist, it had suffered through a rough patch of productions. Disney had released three animated features, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Rescuers, and Pete's Dragon in 1977, but only The Fox and The Hound had been released since, and it was four years later along with the departure of famed animator Don Bluth. The much-anticipated The Black Cauldron faced production issues that delayed it again and again with rewrites and disappointing test screenings deeming it too scary for children. Live-action productions like Condorman and Something Wicked This Way Comes had been box-office flops. One of the most memorable Disney productions, 1982's TRON, was scarcely recognized as a Disney product.

Without a recent big win, Disney threatened to fade away from prominence, yet there were some who saw potential where others saw a has-been. As journalist Peter Behr later wrote in the Washington Post,

"Disney's stock was languishing at less than $60 a share in November 1983. At that stock price, a raider could acquire the entire company for a little over $2 billion. But the pieces of the Disney empire were worth far more than that if sold separately. The Disney theme parks alone could bring $2 billion, experts estimated. The Disney film library of 25 animated classics -- Bambi, Pinocchio, Snow White and the rest -- plus hundreds of live-action films, cartoons and television programs were worth anywhere from $250 million to $1 billion. And that still left the extensive Disney real estate holdings. Disney was a bargain."

Saul Steinberg, who owned 12.2% of Disney's stock, found his numbers knocked down to 11.1% due to Disney issuing more stock to cover the purchase of Arvida, a Florida real estate company. Steinberg sued to stop the stock issuance, saying that it would only add to the company's debt and largely served to keep the jobs of board of directors. Federal court allowed the purchase, as well as another Disney bid to buy Gibson Greetings, so Steinberg made a move to seize Disney. Teaming with other investors such as "movie mogul Kirk Kerkorian... the majority stockholder of MGM-UA," Steinberg's Reliance Holdings announced on June 8 plans to buy up 49% of Disney stock, paying up to $72.50 per share.

Longtime Disney executive Roy E. Disney, Walt's nephew who had started at the company as an assistant director for the nature documentary True-Life Adventures, attempted to rally investors to save the company. He had resigned in 1977 feeling that the company was without creative direction under CEO Ron Miller, Walt's son-in-law, but he maintained his seat on the board of directors. Disney's lawyer, Stanley Gold, had warned Roy E. about the undervalued stock and saw potential for a quick profit. Already disillusioned, Roy. E. was happy to sell.

Steinberg's raid went successfully, and he made tremendous moves slimming down the company. Real estate and publishing were quickly spun off, and the true blow came as Walt Disney Productions was purchased by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, who added it to its acquisitions with 20th Century-Fox in hopes it would challenge Universal Pictures' partnerships with Amblin Entertainment. The mediocre box office response to Disney's Mistress Masham's Repose about Lilliputians in England made the studio an easy sale, especially with DIC Entertainment bristling about potential infringement with their The Littles television series on Disney's former ally network, ABC. Within a few years, the "Disney" name would die away, leaving on the tradition with films such as Don Quixote and The Emperor and the Nightingale.

Although the theme parks did well into the 1990s, they stymied under the encroachment of other amusement park brands like Six Flags and Universal Studios. Steinberg had attempted to sell Disney World to Universal, but investors found that without the connection to updated animated features, the parks lost ground. Instead, Fox would purchase the Florida properties, retooling Cinderella's Castle into Anastasia's Castle from the groundbreaking animated film. Many other rides were replaced, such as Splash Mountain becoming the infamous Titanic ride with its cold plunge. EPCOT soon became SFX-laden grounds for X-men and Star Wars franchises. Disney characters, eventually collected by Fox, would be relegated to a corner of the park nicknamed "Yesterdayland."


In reality, Roy E. Disney, Stanley Gold, and others launched the "Save Disney" campaign, buying up shares for their own internal takeover. The board worked out a deal with Steinberg to buy his 4.2 million shares for $70.33 apiece, fifteen dollars above the stock price, as well as $28 million for "out of pocket expenses." Ron Miller was soon replaced by Michael Eisner from Paramount, who brought along Frank Wells from Warner Brothers and Jeffrey Katzenberg to be the new head of Disney Studios. In 1989, the "Disney Renaissance" began with The Little Mermaid, which grossed $235 million on a $40 million budget. Films like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King would do even better.

Behr also wrote that Steinberg's raid may have just been an act, "buying up a company's stock, threatening a takeover and then allowing the company to buy back the stock at a premium in a legal maneuver known as 'greenmail.'"

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Guest Post: JFK and Nixon Presidencies Swapped

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

March 9, 1961 - Pathet Lao Victory Triggers US Intervention

Shocked by the Lao People's Liberation Army's stunning victory on the Plain of Jars, Secretary of State Christian Herter issued a stark warning that the Pathet Lao Communists were on the brink of taking over the Kingdom of Laos.

War hawks in the Nixon Administration led by Secretary of Defense William Knowland called for military intervention , whereas doves led by Herter called for diplomacy, proposing a neutralization agreement with the Soviet Union. President Richard Nixon rejected this "fig leaf" out of hand but was forced to consider the US role in the Laotian Civil War in the broader context of the previous Administration's plans to overthrow the Castros

As turbulent events in Cuba dominated Nixon's early days as president, his closest confidants were CIA Director Allen Dulles and USAF Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay. Meeting in Room 108 of the Eisenhower Executive Building, this inner circle of decision-makers would launch a full US invasion of the island after the Bay of Pigs operation failed ignominiously. The inevitable result of this cabal's secret deliberations in Room 108 was an escalation in the Cold War that would forever be known to alternate history as the Nixon Doctrine.

President Eisenhower's warning of the undue influence of the military-industrial complex was completely disregarded. Instead, the calculated belligerency in Southeast Asia was a dangerous gamble based on the Sino-Soviet split and Dulles' success in resupplying anti-Marxist fighters in Cuba. Although Nixon did successfully manage to avoid direct superpower confrontation, the American public was appalled by the rising death count in proxy wars such as Cuba and Laos. The medium of television began to turn the mood of the nation against the Nixon Doctrine.

Eisenhower had proudly claimed that not a single American soldier died in combat during his presidency. He had very much wanted to end the Cold War, but his scheduled summit meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was cancelled because of the ill-fated U-2 incident. By 1963, that peace mantle was passed to a new generation led by Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy. Still only forty-five years old, he prepared to run for a second presidential race by launching a fateful campaign drive in the South. Meanwhile, the shadowy Committee for the Re-election of the President (CREEP) prepared to expose Kennedy's private indiscretions.

Author's Note:

In reality, upon taking office OTL President John F. Kennedy was surprised to learn that the US had 700 soldiers and CIA operatives in the country. He refused to militarily intervene preferring to negotiate with the Soviet Union to achieve neutralization of Laos so that the pro-Western forces, Communists, and neutralists would all share power there.

Provine's Addendum:

With Nixon handily winning the 1964 election, few at the time imagined that he would not last out the next four years. Journalists uncovered numerous misuses of presidential power, in addition to Nixon orchestrating coverups to prevent his enemies from uncovering more. JFK's political backers cleverly bounced back from the election loss by highlighting Nixon's CREEP actions to defame Kennedy, turning the tables on whom could be trusted. JFK used his charms to rally the Democratic Party for his nomination, setting him in perfect position for victory in the election. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., who had assumed the presidency from the vice-presidency after Nixon's resignation, received scantily few votes.

Kennedy's first term brought an end to the fighting in Vietnam with an American-allied evacuation and Cuba with a firmly entrenched pro-America local government. He opened up diplomacy with China, weakening USSR superiority among the Communist nations, while also overseeing the Moon landing in 1969, which Nixon had promised in his early, more popular days. Kennedy looked to be a shoo-in for the 1972 election, but he was assassinated by radicals seeking vengeance for Cuba. His VP, Hubert Humphrey, assumed the presidency and won in the coming election, saying that Kennedy had "restored the dignity of the highest office in the land." With sweeping social reforms through the 1970s, the Democratic Party remained in power well into the 1980s.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Guest Post: June 24, 1908 - AH obituary for Grover the Good

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Allen W. McDonnell and John P. Braungart.

Grover Cleveland aka 'Uncle Jumbo' and 'Grover the Good', passed away at his estate, Westland Mansion, in Princeton, New Jersey, aged seventy-one. At the time of his death he remained the only member of the Democratic Party to be elected President since the Civil War.

In the years before his election as the 22nd and then 24th US President, Cleveland served as the Sheriff of Erie County, where one of his duties was to carry out the hanging of a convicted murderer. Also, he was elected mayor of Buffalo and governor of New York, winning fame as an anti-corruption crusader. His fight against political corruption, patronage, and bossism convinced many like-minded Republicans, called "Mugwumps", to cross party lines and support him in the 1884 election.

As the White House incumbent, Cleveland was at the very center of tumultuous events during the contested presidential election of 1888. Cleveland won a plurality of the popular vote, but his Republican opponent Benjamin Harrison handily won the Electoral College by a margin of 65. Most controversial of all was the Republican victory in Indiana, largely as the result of a fraudulent voting practice known as Blocks of Five. The elections in 1888 and 1892 were the first time incumbents were defeated in consecutive elections (the second would be Jimmy Carter's defeat of Gerald Ford in 1976, followed by Carter's subsequent loss to Ronald Reagan in 1980).

Dysfunctional government was fueled by the lasting anger at corruption and scandal. The dispute rolled into the 51st United States Congress in which Democrats, supported by Mugwumps, retaliated by electing Cleveland as the first ever non-member Speaker of the House of Representatives. But this dangerous step, only intended as a one-off backlash really created a whole new precedent. The bipartisan convention was changed, and from then on as a matter of tradition, when a party in control of the House lost the Presidential race, they elected the loser as Speaker of House.

In the view of bipartisans, this fracture was caused by contradictions inherent in the U.S. Constitution and required widespread reform including the scrapping of the Electoral College. However, naysayers dismissed the national popular vote as outdated and irrelevant.

Author's Note:

In reality, Cleveland continued his duties diligently until the end of the term and began to look forward to returning to private life. He is the only President to have split two terms with Harrison holding office in between. Today, he is praised for honesty, integrity, adherence to his morals, defying party boundaries, and effective leadership and is typically ranked among the upper half to middle tier of U.S. presidents. Meanwhile, the House has never been led by a non-member and experts such as the Congressional Research Service consider it unlikely in the near future despite speculation surrounding Donald Trump. He is bidding to repeat Cleveland's success in 1892 when he defeated Harrison in both popular and electoral votes, thus becoming the first (and, as of 2017, the only) former president to successfully get his job back.

Provine's Addendum:

The "Speaker from the Shadows" tradition became an important part of Washington social norms, especially as it was not a mandated part of constitutional government but an expectation. Benjamin Harrison himself served as Speaker of the House in 1895 during Cleveland's second term, stepping away from teaching law at Stanford. William Jennings Bryan eagerly accepted the position during the Taft administration in 1911. Charles Evans Hughes, who nearly defeated Wilson in 1916, gained the position in 1919, and expected to ride the popularity to another bid for president in 1920, only to have the nomination seized by Harding instead. Al Smith came into the Speaker position in 1928 under Hoover, hinting the change of public opinion toward the Democrats, who would control both the legislative and executive branches of government until Thomas Dewey famously refused the position to continue as governor of New York (an act that many blamed for his loss again in 1948). Adlai Stevenson accepted the position during the Eisenhower administration, establishing numerous social programs. Former presidents Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter both served terms as Speaker of the House with Johnson seeming much more comfortable back in Congress and Carter eager to advise on social programs in the era of Reaganomics. Johnson turned over the reins to McGovern, while Carter would similarly hand the position to Mondale. The "Democrats in Congress, Republicans in the White House" reversed in the 1990s with George H.W. Bush's short time in Congress before retiring.

During the 2000 election, when Al Gore narrowly defeated George W. Bush, some political commentators mentioned the old "electoral college" that had been scrapped in the late nineteenth century and how it could've meant a victory for Bush instead of taking over what had once been his father's seat as Speaker of the House. Most people ignored the dusty old idea or laughed right out at it. After John McCain's service as Speaker of the House during Obama's first term and then return to the senate, Donald Trump became the next Speaker of the House of note during Hilary Clinton's administration. Trump's rhetoric was as fiery as any Speaker before him, and he brought the Electoral College back to the forefront of American thought. With it, he would have won by an enormous margin, and social media fired up with periodic demands to bring it back. Following Trump's second loss in 2020, he returned to the House again as speaker in 2022 with more demands for reform of America's electoral system.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Guest Post: Gore Acts on Terrorist Threats

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History based on Robbie Taylor's AH scenario terrorist attacks with input from Allen W. McDonnell.

July 19, 2001

Heads of the Transportation Department, national security agencies, and CEOs of major airlines gathered at the White House for a crisis meeting called by President Al Gore and his Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke.

The consensus was agreement upon emergency upgrades to airline security including the banning of knives and boxcutters and the reinforcement of cockpit doors. Of course, all of these infrastructure changes would take several months to roll out; so, in the short-term, Gore was entirely dependent upon his intelligence apparatus to prevent terrorist threats.

The top leaders of the al-Qaeda terrorist group had been sending a message of global threat from the USS Cole to the bombings at the embassies in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Spain, and Turkey. Caught out by Gore's initiative, they were forced to bring forward their dastardly plans to crash airline jets into several buildings in New York City and Washington. Not fully prepared, several Saudi Arabians were taken into custody prior to boarding intracontinental flights in Boston, Newark, and Washington, D.C. The F.B.I. had been closely tracking them since Gore had received a briefing entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike In U.S."

The nation never knew how close to tragedy it came, and this had a serious downside. Covert success created a "chicken-and-egg-style" problem because Gore lacked the political capital required to go into Afghanistan and capture Bin Laden and his cohorts. For justification purposes, he only had the recorded confessions of the terrorists, and Americans were confused by his complicated explanation of the link between Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. However, on the positive side, Fore was armed with the necessary Special Forces capability that had been developed as a result of the Operation Eagleclaw fiasco in 1979. As a result, the Battle of Tora Bora would not be a repeat of the ill-fated Tehran mission.

With the isolated exception of strong backing from the belligerent Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, the United States' unilateral action in Afghanistan provoked widespread anger across the Middle East. Even Holbrooke's conciliatory efforts to negotiate a two-state solution to the continuing Israeli-Palestinian standoff came to naught. Fury in the Arab streets over this diplomatic failure ripped open many wounds that President Bush had carefully avoided during the Gulf War by persuading the Israelis to stand aside despite SCUD missile attacks from Iraq. Domestic pressure upon Gore would build as he faced a backlash of public opinion for "his" "days of chaos" as airports slowly adjusted to heightened security. This was an aggravation as the NASDAQ began an epic crash with unemployment rising and the overall economy stalled. The truth was Gore had inherited unresolved problems from Clinton's Boom years.

The leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Massoud, provided much-needed operational assistance prior to his assassination by al-Qaeda operatives. News of his bloody murder was relayed to a surprised-looking Gore while he was televised reading a book, The Pet Goat, to students at a Sarasota school. After the inevitable political satire in the tabloids, the subsequent capture of Bin Laden on foreign soil would provoke bitter controversy around the world with the American hyperpower standing accused of imperial overreach. To assuage world opinion, the terrorist mastermind was handed over to the World Court to face justice in the Netherlands. This trial would dominate television channels throughout 2004 as Gore battled for re-election against the foreign policy hardman John McCain, Senator from Arizona.

Hawkish republicans labelled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction as an unresolved threat to the safety of the country. Rumours spread that Vice President Joe Lieberman had been engaged in secret diplomacy with Saddam to slowly loosen up some of the restrictions on the Kurds and Shias and even bring them into the Iraqi government. To win in the fall, Gore had to defend himself against the harsh accusation that his decision-making as Commander-in-Chief was sound but he lacked the authority and presidential leadership necessary to forcibly direct a worldwide war on terror and defeat jihadism.

Author's Note:

In reality, Bush White House Officials argued that the Administrator did not mention a specific time or place and that the threat was similar to the variety of different terrorist threats U.S. intelligence monitors frequently.

Provine's Addendum:

Commentators in the 2004 election said that it was likely Gore's actions in fall of 2003 that tipped the vote against his reelection. Coming out of a bitter economic plunge with the popping of the Digital Bubble, Gore focused much of his attention on reviewing overly earnest investments. As subprime mortgages began to increase, Gore's policies worked to slow down their potentially skyrocketing. Business leaders howled at government red tape slowing an already struggling economy with potential jobs lost in construction, although some economists suggested it may have prevented over-investment in assets that would prove toxic, perhaps even sparking a Second Great Depression when the bills became due.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Guest Post: March 3, 1976 - Board Of Estimate Rejects Donald Trump's Plan to Rebuild the Commodore Hotel

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Allen W. McDonnell and Brian Hartman.


March 3, 1976 - Board Of Estimate rejects plan to rebuild the Commodore Hotel

Budding young real estate developer Donald J. Trump failed to convince New York City's Board of Estimate to approve his innovative plan to rebuild the 1919 Beaux Arts brick-and-stone-detailed Warren-and-Wetmore-designed Commodore Hotel.

Their key objection was primarily financial: Trump had made an audacious request for a forty-year tax abatement. Due to the projected creation of 1,500 construction jobs, the proposal was strongly backed by the head of the Economic Development Administration, Alfred E. Eisenpreis, who hailed it as "a very exciting hope for the City." However, the stumbling block was the near-bankrupt city forgoing $4 million a year in real estate taxes in exchange for a share in the profits plus payments beginning at $250,000 a year and rising, in stages, to 4.2 million after 50 years. The City Council President Paul O'Dwyer had ominously warned that the Board needed to "look very carefully" at what the city would get in exchange for its tax forgiveness. Trump had sensed an opportunity in the city's financial crisis, but his proposal was simply politically unacceptable to the voters in their current mood.

The city's appeals for a bail-out from the state legislature in Albany, and then personally to President Ford, had been flatly rejected. The bankrupt owners of the Commodore Hotel had unpaid back taxes going back to 1970. With occupancy rates of 49 percent, the hotel closed shortly after the decision was made. Alternative schemes to convert the building into apartments, or even demolish it, were then taken under serious consideration. Whatever the solution, the Trump Organization was out of the project due to the withdrawal of its principal partner, the Hyatt Hotel Group.

Trump had not lost hope in his dream of upscaling his father, Fred's, business success in Queens and Brooklyn to Manhattan. Not discouraged by this failure, he relocated to Camden and started an even bigger project. Still only 29 years old, he attempted to use his influence to cause a revitalization of the city by replacing the lost industrial wealth with a new world financial center. In this endeavor, he was greatly assisted by the entrepreneurial talents of his wife and business partner, Ivana. However, when the diminutive Abraham Beame left the mayoral office, his successor Ed Koch was far less receptive to his charms, and the bold plan was only partially successful.

The popular and affable Koch glowed in the celebration of the Statue of Liberty's 100th anniversary celebration , but his re-election year of 1989 was a very difficult one for New Yorkers. Unable to win a historic fourth-term, he was driven from office with the city beset by racial tension. He would be replaced by the Manhattan Borough President, former marine David Dinkins, who became the first African-American to become Mayor of New York. His progressive views would strongly clash with Trump's over the notorious Central Park Five case.

Now based in New Jersey, the Trump Organization enjoyed greater success with the barrel-chested Governor Chris Christie. After Christie won the Presidency in 2012, Trump would finally build an International Hotel in Washington D.C., which he would open with Ivana. As he approached his seventieth birthday, his daughter Ivanka prepared to take the reins of the Trump Organization.

Author's Note:

In reality, after the city government granted a tax abatement for the renovation, Trump and Hyatt completely remodelled the hotel from June 1978 to September 1980, spending $100 million and removing almost all of the Commodore's original decorations.

Provine's Addendum:

The Trump Organization found not just gold mine but a string of gold mines in America's Rust Belt. Improvements in technology such as fax machines made office work traditionally only seen in key centers available anywhere with a telephone line, so Trump built an empire through towns that had been traditionally industrial but now suffered high unemployment and low real estate values. After buying up entire blocks, often with huge local and state government incentives, the organization would use connections to set up clerical services, phone answering banks, and telemarketing.

This project initially grew famous in financial sectors, but Trump came to a status as a living legend through the burgeoning internet. Always eager to seize on a new opportunity, Trump was one of the first popular bloggers, first adapting parts of his book Art of the Deal and then writing on nearly every topic that became newsworthy. Some of his legion of followers loudly suggested he should run for president, but Trump joked, "Why would I take the pay cut?"

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Guest Post: President Agnew

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Eric Lipps, Brian Hartman, Allen W. McDonnell, and Jeff Provine.

August 23, 1972 - Spiro T. Agnew Accepts the Republican Nomination

Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland (known affectionately to his friends as "Ted") accepted the Republican nomination for the forthcoming 47th quadrennial presidential election. His running mate was Congressman Pete McCloskey of California, who had recently run in the Republican primaries on an anti-Vietnam War platform despite (or because of ) being a former US Marine serving in Korea and awarded the Navy Cross and the Silver Star.

The following morning's headlines read "Let us Continue," although these scornful words did not form part of Agnew's acceptance speech. Far from being the makings of an urban myth, it was a sarcastic reference to Lyndon Baines Johnson, whose ascent to the Oval Office had enabled him to avoid prosecution for his shady business dealings. Likewise, Agnew would strenuously deny alleged bribery and kickbacks dating from his time as governor of Maryland. Agnew's speech went further by giving a rambling defense, leading to the most memorable assurance that, "I am not a crook. The President of the United States is not a crook."

Agnew's ascent differed greatly from the 36th President and was potentially was even murkier. Events behind this political cataclysm traced back to the immediate exposure of the break-in to the Democrat Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel Complex by members of CREEP, the notorious "Campaign to Re-elect the President" para-political body. In the face of extensive evidence of presidential misconduct, there was a bitter power struggle in the White House led by Chief of Staff General Alexander Haig who infamously declared, "I am in charge." Amidst this government crisis, Richard M. Nixon died from an aortic aneurysm before the end of the primary season, bequeathing Agnew both the presidency and the nomination. 'Ted' selected McCloskey for his running mate but chose not to appoint him Vice President for the remainder of his later predecessor's term. This would prove a weak choice. Rather than stirring the "pity vote," Agnew's predecessor's death in effect left Agnew holding the bag for Nixon's misdeeds. Later, some would argue Nixon had been the luckier one.

Agnew would disastrously lose the general election to the equally hopeless but fundamentally honest George McGovern and then face justice with no prospect of a pardon. Agnew of course contested criminal charges of extortion, tax fraud, bribery and conspiracy; on the same day, he was formally charged with accepting bribes totaling more than $100,000 whilst holding office since 1962 as Baltimore County Executive, Governor of Maryland, and Vice President. Although the prison sentence was suspended, ex-President Agnew would be fined $10,000 and would live out the remainder of his life as a political pariah, shunned even by Republican conservatives who had once looked to him to speak for them.

Author's Note:

In reality, several major revelations and egregious presidential actions obstructing the investigation later in 1973 prompted the House to commence an impeachment process against Nixon. He resigned from office under Section 1 of the 25th Amendment on August 9, 1974.

Provine's Addendum:

The McGovern presidency would work to realign federal programs with LBJ's earlier Great Society policy, a similar switch of opinion that occurs with the changeover of the White House and, indeed, had been seen in the more conservative direction when Nixon was elected in 1968. Many felt that the federal welfare programs and government-supported healthcare came at the right time as stagflation and a recession hit hard in 1973-1975. McGovern ran in 1976 on how he helped heal the economy, but the financial turmoil and widespread patriotism for the nation's bicentennial drove a great deal of force behind the conservative Republican who had come to power during the GOP chaos: former California governor Ronal Reagan. Reagan blamed "welfare queens" for draining the nation's economy and argued to reinstate American world authority after the humbling Vietnam War, planks in a platform that won him the 1976 election.

Reagan would win again in 1980 after staring down the USSR's consideration of military involvement in Afghanistan. During his famed speech in 1979, Reagan warned the Soviet Union's General Secretary, "Mr. Brezhnev, don't cross this line." The double-meaning of a political border and Reagan's seeming willingness to step in delighted Americans, especially after the USSR decided to only support the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan by proxy. With expansion questioned, the USSR focused on strengthening its union and revitalizing its economy by reconnecting with China through huge trans-Asian transit construction. Meanwhile, another economic recession would doom the Republicans' 1984 bid, instead ushering Democrat Walter Mondale into the White House.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Guest Post: February 27, 1993 - President Bush Visits Ground Zero

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History inspired by a This Day post with input from Allen W. McDonnell, Brian Hartman, Robbie Taylor, Thomas Wm. Hamilton and Charles K. Alexander II.

Leading Republican politicians George H.W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani met under tragic circumstances one day after a suicide bomber in a Ryder van exploded a deadly incendiary device in the parking garage under the North Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC).

The terrorists had worked under tight constraints, understanding that they could not employ the same techniques as the truck bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut ten years earlier. This target was far more massive, but frustration at Bush's victory in the 1992 election pushed the terrorists to strike with all ferocity available. Only a shipping container packed with high explosives and rammed into the building could bring down the two principle towers of the WTC complex. Instead, due to their precise timing, the detonation occurred at peak crowding when employees were just arriving for work. Consequently, the 1,336 lb (606 kg) urea nitrate-hydrogen gas-enhanced device killed hundreds of Americans and left thousands more injured. In a knee-jerk attempt to "close the stable door after the horse has bolted" military checkpoints were set up in New York City for the first time. This catastrophe occurred just 37 days short of the WTC's thirty-year anniversary.

The timing was also fateful for the two prominent men centre stage. Both Republicans had won narrow victories at the polls but were at the opposite ends of the electoral cycle. Bush had just started his second term (the fourth consecutive office of the Republican presidency), whereas Giuliani would seek re-election in the fall.

The present conversation became dominated by terrorist extremism and blundering intelligence failures. Only two days after the explosion, a rebuffed search warrant at the Branch Davidian ranch in Texas turned into a gun battle ending in the Waco massacre. Undaunted, Bush, a former CIA Director, and Giuliani, a feisty prosecutor who had put the Mafia behind bars, believed they were the men of the hour. Instead, it would be General Colin Powell who stepped up to the plate at this terrible moment in the history of the Republic. Meanwhile, hawks privately hoped that this was the day that America threw peace out the window and embraced its new role of sole imperialistic superpower.

A breakthrough occurred in early March when FBI investigators traced the yellow Ford Econoline used in the bombing to a Jersey City rental outlet. This was only possible because the feed from security cameras was stored at the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) headquarters located miles away. Agents attempted to peacefully arrest Mohammad Salameh as he retrieved his $400 deposit, but the capture turned to disaster with a running gun battle that killed innocent bystanders. Citing this as a similar missed opportunity to seize David Koresh when he was jogging alone in Waco, libertarian elements of the public began to sharply criticize the Federal response.

The reaction to this criticism was predictable; Giuliani's decisions were certainly heavy-handed in law and order. His over-zealousness led to claims of police brutality and fuelling racial fears. He arrogantly considered himself a combination of "Untouchable" Eliot Ness and his own predecessor La Guardia. But one of his fiercest critics was ex-marine David Dinkins, a likely Democrat candidate in the forthcoming mayoral election given that Ed Koch had lost in 1989, accused of vote tampering. Pledging racial healing, and famously referred to New York City's demographic diversity as "not a melting pot, but a gorgeous mosaic," Dinkins was seeking to become the first African American to hold the office.

Surely without the Waco Massacre, American anger might well have been channelled towards massive retaliation overseas. Instead, it was vented at the incompetence of security agencies who were blamed for their uncoordinated handling of terrorist threats. Under pressure, President Bush hurriedly passed a Patriot Act and appointed the hugely popular and competent four-star General Colin Powell, outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the new Cabinet position of Secretary of National Security. Vastly experienced, he was due to retire from the US Army in September after a thirty-five-year military career overseeing twenty-eight crises, including the invasion of Panama in 1989 and Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf War against Iraq in 1990-1991. He had also served as Ronald Reagan's National Security Advisor from 1987-9. It would take almost eighteen months to integrate this vast security apparatus requiring the kind of tactical response that had long been his hallmark. His vast inter-agency oversight role would encompass both the CIA and the FBI giving him a degree of power unprecedented even under J. Edgar Hoover. In a masterful repetition of his famous Gulf War press conference, Powell pledged, "Our strategy in going after this terrorist threat is very simple. First, we are going to cut it off, and then we are going to kill it."

For his initiatives to "rally 'round the flag," Powell would enjoy a level of public trust that Giuliani could only dream about, but Powell had to get up to speed much more quickly than he did for Operation Desert Storm. In his first notable action in the early days of his tenure, he successfully prevented an assassination attempt upon Bush during a visit to Kuwait to honour his victory in the Persian Gulf War against Iraq. Powell would prove to be highly effective over the course of Bush's second term: terrorist organizations and training camps would be uncovered and shut down while numerous terrorists would be arrested, including Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the World Trade Center Bombing as well as the attacks on the Shiite shrine in Mashhad, Iran, and Philippine Airlines Flight 434. The latter led to Yousef's arrest in 1995, the same year a homegrown plot to attack the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was foiled by watchful security.

With the sense of America's invulnerability returning, the economy rebounded and then exploded with the introduction of the World Wide Web. The GOP triumphed in the mid-terms and America headed towards the 53rd quadrennial presidential election with a renewed sense of hope. By a huge margin in opinion polls, Secretary Powell would be the most popular Republican candidate, leading a historic attempt to secure a fifth consecutive term of office for the GOP. In his way would be a determined field of potential Democrat candidates including David Dinkins, Jerry Brown, Al Gore, and even the recently divorced Hillary Clinton. There also came a wild card on the ballot in a Ross Perot and Bernie Sanders independent ticket, endorsed by Jesse Jackson, to oppose Powell's national security state and the new world economic order.

Author's Note:

In reality, the Towers did not collapse because the truck bomb was underpowered for the terrorists' goals, which would be sadly realized eight years later with airplane attacks.

Provine's Addendum:

The Dot Com Bubble bursting in spring of 2000 was the death knell for the Republicans' long hold on the Executive Branch. President Powell's efforts to shore up the economy would not have the timeline to make major improvements, and the Gore-Dinkins ticket won handily in the election that fall. While many felt that it would be a new era rolling back many of the Bush and Powell security requirements, such as the mountain of paperwork to rent a truck, only a few minor changes actually took place. The bureaucracy was well entrenched, and not even cries from the National Rifle Association were able to end more than a handful of surveillance actions on gun-buyers. Courts would test whether gun owners were having their Second Amendment rights violated by "checkups" with local officials, but as the ownership itself wasn't in question so much as perceived mental clarity, most of the laws remained intact. Numerous groups would start as self-proclaimed militias for further protection, giving the FBI, ATF, and other agencies clear cells to watch as the average Americans continued with rigorous inspections through metal detectors, background checks, and loyalty oaths.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Guest Post: Reciprocity Treaty Expires

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

December 9, 1887 - 

On this fateful day, the defunct Reciprocity Treaty between the United States of America and the Hawaiian Kingdom expired.

The end of negotiations denied the U.S. government obtaining exclusive use of Pearl Harbor and the right to maintain a repair and coaling station for ships. In a larger sense, it marked a failure to establish de facto colonial overlordship over the archipelago of Pacific islands. In time, this set-back would refocus American policymakers on the Caribbean, especially the island of Cuba.

The ostensibly "free trade" agreement was a trojan horse that had been signed and ratified a dozen years earlier. Within a short space of time, Americans controlled the Hawaiian economy, even bringing Japanese migrants over to work in their sugarcane fields. Thanks to pro-annexationalist missionaries, Americans were soon to gain control of its government. With the growing influence of the Annexation Party, King David Kalākaua abandoned his dream of a Polynesian confederation (despite optimistic diplomacy with Sāmoa) and travelled to Tokyo to propose a union with the Japanese Empire in 1881. The deal was sealed by an arranged marriage between his five-year-old niece Princess Ka'iulani and 13-year-old Prince Yamashina Sadamaro.

The U.S. reaction to the marriage proposal was strangely muted due to the recent assassination of President James Garfield, which meant that America way too busy to do anything about it at the time. Moreover, the timing of the Tokyo visit was opportune because it was a troubling period for Japan also. The new government had just recently put down several peasant and samurai rebellions, and the economy was not in the best shape with extreme inflation. After hundreds of years of the Sakoku ("locked country") policy, Japanese ports were forced open by American Admiral Perry in his 1853 display of Western prowess and demands of a treaty. Although Mutsuhito, the Emperor Meiji, and his government were concerned about the reactions of the Americans and British (who wanted a coaling station with a deep water harbour between Australia and Vancouver), their goal was to transform Japan from an isolationist, feudal state to an industrialized world power. Seemingly for this reason of shared interest, although imperial ambition was a motivating force also, he accepted the offer that one of the Japanese Imperial princes marry a Hawaiian princess.

Mutsuhito passed away in 1910, and by then Japan had undergone an extensive political, economic, and social revolution and emerged as one of the great powers on the world stage. Their economic influence and military prestige would become obvious in their defeat of a western nation in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. Further 'alliance' marriages had occurred with Korea, the Philippines, and even Sāmoa, a dynastic practice reluctantly welcomed in Japan but long tested in Europe. By this point, there was an international debate as to whether the Empire of Japan actually was a protector of other security-threatened Asian nations or a more fearsome predator. Within four short years, this question would be unambiguously answered. His successor Yoshihito, Emperor Taishō, would be emboldened to take an even more fateful decision to contest Anglo-American control Pacific, joining forces with the Central Powers in the Great War.

Author's Note:

In reality, the Japanese government, politely declined the offer. Kalākaua was the penultimate monarch and last King of Hawaiian.

Provine's Addendum:

While the mainland American response to Japan's new treaty with Hawaii had been minimal, the Americans on the Hawaiian Islands were panicked as they had anticipated the treaty to be renewed. The Bayonet Revolution by the Honolulu Rifles, a militia made up of members of the Committee of Safety for the Annexation Club, had all but seized control in July of 1887, and young Prince Sadamaro journeyed to Hawaii along with a contingent from the Japanese military to reaffirm the superiority of King David Kalākaua. The resulting crackdowns chased leaders such as Samuel Castle and Sanford B. Dole from the island. Other businesses like C. Brewer & Co. and the British Theo H. Davies & Co. cooperated to maintain their supply of sugarcane for export.

Prince Sadamaro felt his clear duty was the defense of this new ally, which in his mind would soon become a vassal-state to Japan. Following his formal introduction to Ka'iulani, Sadamaro went to Europe to complete his education, focusing on naval warfare and construction, until his graduation from France's Ecole Navale in 1890. For the next three years until his wedding to Ka'iulani, he served aboard various Japanese ships. After the wedding, he continued a role in the Japanese navy, even seeing active combat in both the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894 and the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.

Upon the announcement of war with the Entente Powers, Sadamaro was "visibly pained" although other military leaders celebrated the early victories seizing British and French ports in mainland Asia. Sadamaro commanded the eastern branch of the naval forces, securing islands such as Tahiti and conducting raids in the Solomon Islands. The bulk of the fighting was conducted against U.S. troops in the Philippines, where Filipino efforts toward independence had dragged on event after the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) left some 25,000 dead. Within time, the Pacific fleets of the Americans and the British coordinated to push back. Sadamaro continued a desperate defense with near-guerilla tactics until his death during the American invasion of Oahu. The U.S. occupied the islands for the remainder of the war, using it as a pipeline for the support of re-establishing control over the Philippines. While the war in Europe ended in 1918, war in the Pacific dragged on into 1922 when Emperor Taisho at last capitulated after devastating naval barrages of Tokyo and other ports.

Following the war, Japan was stripped of many of its Pacific colonies, including Taiwan, which were made into independent republics with strong Western military presences. Hawaiian Queen Lili'uokalani had died during the occupation, leaving Princess Ka'iulani as the heir but refused a coronation. Ka'iulani, widowed and childless, died soon after her abdication of several ailments, which commentators at the time said all stemmed from a broken heart. To this day, the US maintains its naval base in Hilo Bay on the Big Island.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Guest Post: Texas Congressman Johnson Lost in the Pacific

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

June 9, 1942

On this sad day for the Lone Star State, Lieutenant Commander Lyndon Baines Johnson, a serving Congressman from Texas's 10th district covering Austin and the surrounding hill country, was tragically killed on duty in the Pacific. His body was never recovered.

Johnson had been serving in the Navy Reserves but, tired of inspecting shipyards in his home state, had opted for a non-hazardous overseas mission to report on conditions of the Southwest Pacific. However, he had pushed his luck too far by volunteering to observe an airstrike over New Guinea; there, his aircraft had been tragically shot down. A brilliant man, he had his own feelings of inadequacy believing his peers in Washington considered him illiterate, rude, crude, laughing at him behind his back. On the Hill it was rumored that these reasons cost him his life aged thirty-three.

His death was also a great political loss for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had found Johnson to be a welcome ally and conduit for information, particularly about issues concerning internal politics in Texas and the machinations of Vice President John Nance Garner and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn. About a month after Johnson's death, Roosevelt told all Congressmen who were on active duty to either stay in the service or Congress. It was too late to save Johnson, but Rayburn's political future was bright. He would end a fine career by serving as Vice President during the first year of John F. Kennedy's time in the Oval Office. Detractors argued that Kennedy had cynically chosen the ageing Texan only to win Southern votes in the disputed 1960 election.

Author's Note:

In reality, Johnson survived the attack, and General MacArthur recommended he get a Silver Star. Johnson reported that the conditions in the Southwest Pacific were deplorable and unacceptable. He recommended that the theater needed to be prioritized with more funding immediately. Johnson told Congress that morale there was low and that America's planes were inferior to Japan's. Congress responded by making Johnson the chairman of the Naval Affairs Congressional Committee. After Roosevelt's announcement to protect active political figures, Johnson was among the half that stayed in Congress. Before fully retiring from the Navy, Johnson was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 1949.

Provine's Addendum:

The election of 1960 had been won by JFK by just over one hundred thousand votes. Kennedy had chosen wisely in making a long-serving Texan his running mate as the South was hotly contested as the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum. Though Kennedy/Rayburn collected most of the region's votes, Independent Harry F. Byrd had won 15 electoral votes in Alabama, Mississippi, and a faithless elector in Oklahoma. The conservatism in the South had alienated voters from Senator Stuart Symington, the candidate from Missouri who refused to speak to segregated crowds.

Times changed a great deal by 1964, and Democratic leaders tapped Symington to be the new VP for Kennedy's second term. The office had sat empty for three years, and though some political leaders called for an amendment to clarify the constitutional process to fill vacancies, the public saw no real need. There was concern that Symington wasn't "Southern enough," but leaders decided to focus on a more liberal agenda. Republicans reacted by chasing the conservative vote, securing the South for Barry Goldwater in 1964's election but ultimately losing overall to Kennedy and Symington, who focused on keeping Midwestern voters Democratic while encouraging the drive for African American votes. Symington, who had shown increased productivity in his integrated workforce of the Emerson Electric Company during World War II, brought new respect to the VP office and made headlines for fighting for the firing of FBI head J. Edgar Hoover over clear racial prejudices.

JFK's two terms would be the first of many Kennedy presidencies, including his younger brothers Robert and Ted in the '70s and '80s and son JFK, Jr., in the new millennium.

Monday, July 31, 2023

Guest Post: First Citizen Charles Carroll

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Allen W. McDonnell.

September 19, 1737

First Citizen of the American Colonies Charles Carroll of Carrollton was born on this day in Annapolis, Maryland, British America.

A delegate to the Continental Congress and Congress of the Confederation, Carroll was the wealthiest and most formally educated of the political body, most of whom held theological views influenced more by Deism than classic Biblical theology. For these reasons, and being an openly practising Catholic, naturally Carroll was involved in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence to balance the "Puritan firebrands of the Protestant colonies." Their hostility was born of severe religious persecution that made them very suspicious of the allegiance of Catholics to the power of the Pope. Whether or not a majority of the colonials genuinely saw the Pope in the same retrograde anti-libertarian light as King George III, there certainly was a palpable sense that anti-Catholicism had helped fuel the American Revolution. Carroll had much work to do to overcome those prejudices, such as
many Colonial Americans fearing that the Pope would order an invasion from Quebec to impose Catholicism on them.

Consequently, Carroll's active participation was a bold decision that was vindicated by the history of the Republic. His faith-based perspective led to the proposed modifications to Jefferson's early drafts that prevented the alienation of French Canadiens and suppressed anti-Catholic urges. By changing a few words to ensure the Declaration was an accurate expression of the Catholic mind (most significantly, changing "creator" to "Christian God") and drawing upon the political doctrines of Cardinal Bellarmine, Carroll dramatically reversed the course of the 1777 offensive. British soldiers soon had uprisings in Quebec stamp out as well as attempting to make headway into New York.

Like with many of the colonial grievances, the causal factors traced back to the French and Indian War. After taking control of Quebec, the British had taken extraordinary measures to protect religious liberty in the Quebec Act so that Catholics in Canada could simply swear loyalty to King George III. However, this favoritism had gone too far by extending the territory of Quebec to the Ohio River, where Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia colonists had organized the Ohio Company. The Continental Congress had labelled this an "Intolerable Act" but had shown restraint in denouncing Catholicism.

As the Revolutionary War dragged on, one of the significant factors driving events was the pressing need to keep Catholic allies onboard. With this consideration firmly in mind, Washington had forbidden the usual Guy Fawkes celebrations on Nov. 5, 1775, of burning the pope in effigy to avoid insulting the Continental Army's Catholic allies. This far-sighted decision ensured that liberty came to Quebec. Nearly a century later, Quebec's first Irish governor, Thomas D'Arcy McGee, would formally acknowledge the significance of Carroll's role as First Citizen in bringing the territory into the Union, famously declaring, "Vive le Québec libre!"

Author's Note:

In reality, Carroll was only a signatory of the Declaration (also the longest surviving, dying 56 years after its signing). Despite being one of Maryland's most famous sons, Carroll was technically not allowed to hold office in the state due to his religion. Only three of the 13 colonies allowed Catholics to vote. Thomas McGee succeeded in helping achieve the Canadian Confederation in 1867, but he was assassinated by the Fenian Brotherhood, which considered McGee guilty of Shoneenism (a pejorative term for snobs and Anglophiles).

Provine's Addendum:

Historians frequently debate whether Quebec's declaration of independence from Britain to join the growing United States ended the revolutionary war more quickly or caused it to be prolonged due to the resulting panic in London. Many feared the demands of independence might continue to be contagious, especially after the swift evacuation of the Loyalists in Canada, who were outnumbered by the French-speaking colonists nearly ten-to-one. Having lost everything north of the Gulf of Mexico, the British Empire could potentially lose colonies in the Caribbean if the war spread. Attempts at campaigns in the Carolinas proved expensive and stagnant, so London finally chose to bring an end to the war.

The young United States found that the Articles of Confederation were insufficient, and the resulting Constitutional Convention became the field of thought for political theory. Following Carroll's lead, the representatives from Quebec refused any document that did not assure basic freedoms of religion, firmly establishing a formal separation of church and state. Others added to the push for freedoms, establishing the article of Fundamental Rights that included speech, press, petition, peaceful assembly, self-defense, and more. Future amendments would install other rights or clarify political process, such as the official end of slavery with the Ninth Amendment in 1831.

With Quebec and later the Republic of Vermont soon annexed to the original United States, there became a strong tradition of growth. Much of the expansion went into westward territories, such as the Louisiana Territory purchased in 1803. This led to conflict along the border with the Empire of Spain, which later prompted American support in the Mexican War of Independence. There were efforts to bring Mexico and even Haiti into the United States, but these would fizzle under fears of white American voices losing their overwhelming majority in Congress.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Guest Post: Everyman President

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Mark Taylor, Allen W. McDonnell, Robbie Taylor and Thomas Wm. Hamilton.

July 14, 1913 - Birth of Two-Term Everyman President Gerry Ford

The 38th President of the United States, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr., was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., in Omaha, Nebraska. His name had been changed informally after his mother remarried in 1917, and he changed his name legally in 1935 to match. An Eagle Scout with three younger brothers, Ford played football at the University of Michigan before going on to law school at Yale. He served in the Naval Reserve during WWII and began a career in politics with a win as Congressional representative in 1948.

A long-term, well-respected Congressman from Michigan's 5th district, Ford served on the Select Committee that drafted the legislation creating NASA in 1958. This enabled President John F. Kennedy to pledge America's intention to land a man on the moon before the end of the Sixties. Ford's career at age 50 in national politics took a dramatic turn when President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the Warren Commission, a special task force set up to investigate the Kennedy assassination. During this time, he closely coordinated with Cartha "Deke" DeLoach, deputy associate director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He was assigned the task of preparing a biography of accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and, alongside Earl Warren, interviewed Jack Ruby, Oswald's killer, in prison. During this fateful meeting, Ruby conspiratorially stated, "I want to say this to you .. a whole new form of government is going to take over our country, and I know I won't live to see you another time."

Warren and Ford knew that there was a great deal of credible evidence that a conspiracy had indeed occurred. Nevertheless, their brief was to make two key determinations in the broader national interest - that Oswald was the sole assassin, and there was no conspiracy. For men that had been in their maturity on the day of infamy in Pearl Harbor, both fully understood the importance of the nation moving on from tragedy.

Even if Ruby's dystopian prediction proved to be wildly exaggerated, an improbable series of events followed resulting in Ford becoming president. From the heady heights of the moon landing, Ford inherited a series of crises in Vietnam and at home that meant the ship of state was headed for the rocks. Chief Magistrate was not a position he had sought; indeed, his real ambition was for Speaker of the House, for which he had campaigned hard on the so-called "Rubber Chicken Circuit." In the Oval Office, he would have to confront a critical judgement with a remarkably similar decision framework, this time with complex legal dimensions whether to pardon his disgraced predecessor, Richard M. Nixon. The business of the Federal Government had to move on, overcoming the stench of corruption in Washington. Needing to find an off-switch from the distraction of Watergate, Ford risked his popularity and good name. He bravely took the plunge in an early morning announcement to the American people. Very few members of his staff agreed with this decision, and even Ford himself had previously rejected Chief of Staff Alexander Haig's corrupt offer of a resign-for-pardon deal with Nixon. To cynics, there was even some question of whether Haig had forced Nixon out in a secret coup. Ultimately, the majority of American people accepted that he had ended the "long national nightmare" of Watergate so that America could get back on track.

Ford really had no choice but to pardon Nixon, and he accepted his chances of election in 1976 were very slim. One major problem area that could have even further revelations had been the CIA's clandestine involvement in both Watergate and Dallas. Seeking protection, Nixon told CIA Director Richard Helms, "I know who shot John," and threatening "to bring everyone down." Despite this negative calculation, and having never sought the presidency, Ford courageously took it upon himself to lead the Republican Party into the election. At sixty-three years old, he was a highly experienced campaigner, having won elections for nearly thirty years. His tireless efforts as an everyman who knocked on doors and chatted with workers coming off shift as well as his robust campaign plan paid off for the GOP. Thanks to just a few thousand votes in Ohio and Wisconsin, Ford won a narrow victory. This was partly because of a serious error by Christian Democrat candidate Jimmy Carter when his campaign base disintegrated after an ill-advised interview with Playboy Magazine in which he admitted that God had forgiven him even though he had committed "lust in his heart." "Four months ago most for the people I knew were pro-Carter," one of Carter's fellow Southern Baptists, the television preacher Jerry Falwell, told the Washington Post several weeks later. "Today, that has totally reversed."

With Nixon, the era of the Imperial Presidency had ended. It seemed to many that America's national leaders had lost their sense of good judgement, and less well-known politicians on Capitol Hill stepped into the gap as they had to halt spending on the Vietnam War with the official end in 1976. Unfortunately, during his second term of office, Ford would be dragged off course into the drama surrounding the House Select Committee on Assassinations of JFK and also Martin Luther King. Due to a twist of fate, Ford had to defend his record as a member of the Warren Commission from the uncomfortable position as a sitting president. Labelled the FBI's spy on the Warren Commission, he was even accused of altering the official autopsy diagram and report to conceal the truth about Kennedy's murder. While neither charge was proven, the Committee's conclusion that Kennedy was probably assassinated due to a conspiracy became a major distraction to the Ford Administration. He seriously considered resigning in favour of his Vice President Bob Dole but ultimately decided to avoid further political circus by selflessly accepting the criticism. Because Ford was ineligible to run for a third term in 1980 due to the 25th Amendment, Dole was the Republican nominee. He was challenged by JFK's youngest brother, Ted, who promised to reopen the case file on Dallas.

Despite these dramatic events, Gerald Ford is considered one of the greatest presidents in the mold of John Adams. Unusually, this is not for his achievements but, like Adams, for his service as a statesman for the Republic and for restoring trust in the Oval Office. In Ford's own words, "Truth is the glue that holds government together." He died in 2006 at the age of 93 having used the truth to navigate the ship of state from disaster and ensure the continuity of the American century.

Author's Note:

In reality, in a 1999 interview with Bob Woodward, Ford noted that Watergate issues were consuming 25 percent of his time in the Oval Office and he needed to fully focus on needs of 230 million Americans.

Provine's Addendum:

Jack Ruby's prophecy about a new form of government presumably came true, or perhaps was avoided, as American voters wearied of the "same old politics" with one side bashing the other on scandals, whether real or imaginary, and thinking more about next election's polls than reaching across the aisle for complementary goals. Though Independent John Anderson did not win, his impressive showing proved that many Americans were considering a third party. In fact, many commentators suggested that it was his actions as a moderate that shifted the election from a narrow victory for Dole to Kennedy. Republicans, especially conservative Ronald Reagan, lambasted Kennedy for years, building his own vocal platform to take him on in 1984. Reagan, in turn, was criticized for being too old to serve effectively, even though his famed "Tear Down This Wall" speech in 1987 arguably contributed to the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The infamous "Willie Horton" ad of the 1988 campaign further divided voters and led to numerous protests through Election Day as well as a much wider turnout for third party candidates. The stage was set for Ross Perot's Reform Party victory in 1992.

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