Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Guest Post: Death of the Tzarevich

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History co-written with Allen W. McDonnell with input from Thomas Wm. Hamilton, Robbie Taylor and Jeff Provine.

23 June 1914 - Tragedy in Saint Petersburg transforms the World Crisis

Alexei Nikolaevich, Tsarevich of Russia, breathed his last as Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his morganatic Czech wife Sophie Chotek, Duchess of Hohenberg, departed Vienna for a tour of Sarajevo, the provincial capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Partly due to the archduke's recent promotion to inspector general of all the armed forces of Austria-Hungary, Slav nationalists misinterpreted this as a preparation for another war in the Balkans. This was despite Franz Ferdinand's cherished dream of reforming the multi-ethnic Habsburg Empire.

Franz Ferdinand was the nephew of Emperor Franz Joseph I but had become heir presumptive when his cousin, Crown Prince Rudolf, committed suicide with his mistress Mary Vetsera at his hunting lodge in Mayerling. The emperor had ruled since 1848 but would be dead within two years.

The Romanovs had even more pressing dynastic problems than the Habsburgs with their sole male heir, Nikolaevich, succumbing to his final haemorrhage dying less than eight weeks short of his tenth birthday. Needless to say, this family tragedy devastated his father, although the tsar took some comfort from a visit by his royal cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II, who attended the boy's funeral. Nicholas would be distracted from affairs of state in the Russian court for many months, and the kaiser himself seemed to experience something of an epiphany about the value of human life.

One reason for Wilhelm's upbeat mood change was that during the short visit, the magician Grigori Rasputin regenerated his withered arm. Having outstayed his welcome in the Russian capital, the Mad Monk decided to return with the delighted kaiser back to Berlin. After all, his mission in Saint Petersburg was over because Nikolaevich had died while he was in the loving arms of the Tsarina.

Meanwhile, back in Sarajevo, a Serbian-formed anarchist group known as the Black Hand Gang had decided the timing and circumstance was against an assassination attempt on Franz Ferdinand. Public support for the tsarevich even in a nation as discontent with their royals as the Russian Empire convinced them that it may well make a martyr rather than a show of force.

Nevertheless, the archduke correctly sensed that the city was highly agitated and war with Serbia was imminent.  Even with military preparations and diplomatic urgency, the Austrian-Serbian War would not be long in coming. Rather than the spontaneous outbreak of a European war that many had feared, the conflict widened and spread to the south and into the Balkans. Emperor Franz, who had mandated the German language in the Armed Forces to suppress Czech nationalism, used multi-ethnic tension as a weapon, gaining covert support from the Ottoman Empire to stir up trouble in the Islamic segment of the Serbian population. It was a heart-breaking, brutal decision that drove Franz Ferdinand and Sophie to despair.

This approach back-fired for another reason: the Kingdom of Italy had been in two very recent wars with the Ottomans, first taking Libya and making it an Italian colony and then secondly in the Baltic supporting people there who wanted independence and/or revenge on the Ottoman Empire. Italy was drawn into the conflict on the side of the Habsburgs and the Ottomans on the side of Serbia, resolving some of the religious tension out of necessity largely due to the old emperor stirring it up. This alignment kept the Russian Empire neutral, which was certainly a sensible move for the Romanovs given the country's instability.

However, it created other problems for France, Great Britain, and Germany. Germany had a tacit agreement with the Ottomans and with Austria, so Wilhelm had a fateful choice: either to stay neutral or fight one of its planned allies. War was hardly in their interest at all. German desires in the west had been secured by their victory in the Franco-Prussian war in the 1870's that expanded their western flank, so there was nothing further to gain by attacking France, Great Britain, and Belgium. Their  empire's interest was always a big land grab in the east, but Russia had remained neutral. Based on advice from Rasputin, Wilhelm ultimately sold his fleet to the Ottoman Empire, Japan, and other interested international friends like Argentina to stress the British navy and concentrated on building his most efficient army, deploying the bulk to Africa to secure the German Empire there.

Also during this expansionist period, Great Britain had annexed Kuwait, which was at this time an exporter of pearls because no oil had been drilled there yet, and had sought oil concessions from the Ottoman Empire to develop oil fields in Kurdistan, i.e. "Mesopotamia," based on ancient oil seeps still in use in the region. The British plan, partly sponsored by the young Winston Churchill, was to develop Kurdish oil resources and ship it down the river or by pipeline to Kuwait, where it would be the supply source for the Royal Navy Indian Ocean fleet. In 1914, the Royal Navy was the world's largest with enough ships to secure separately the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans in order to protect the sea routes across the world empire back to the home island.

As Germany turned to strengthening their position in Africa, it left Great Britain in the position that they should be helping the Ottomans against Italy and Austria-Hungary as they formerly did during the Crimean War as a bulwark that could cut off Germany from its colonies in an emergency. This military effort dragged a reluctant France into the war with them. The Mitteleuropa of Imperial Germany then sat in the middle, neutral, happily selling arms and munitions to anyone who wished to buy.

By the time Emperor Franz died in 1916, both Austria-Hungary and the Kingdom of Italy were bankrupt. The bloody fighting through the mountains of the Balkans like the Carpathian Alps has killed the "flower of their youth" because advancing against a machine gun holding a mountain pass was in effect a human wave attack that kept going until it overwhelmed the machine gunners defending the pass at terrible cost. Serbia had been beaten down, slowly ground under, but the price in blood and treasure was immense. Out of this crisis would emerge the young resistance leader Josip Broz Tito, son of a Croat father and Slovene mother.

Tsarist Russia had earned a much-needed breathing spell by staying out of the fight like Imperial Germany. This allowed the Romanovs to regroup, letting them finish restructuring the army based on their losses in the 1905 Japanese war. There was enough food for even the poorest peasant since there was no massive enlistment to fight Germany and Austria-Hungary, so farm labor was available and food prices strong selling to the war-torn Balkans, eliminating the main source of revolutionary desires. The Tsar concentrated on conceiving a male heir with his wife in the hope of another son being born, hopefully without the hemophilia. That child would emerge with more than a passing resemblance to Rasputin. 

Meanwhile, Vladimir Lenin cursed his ill-luck kicking around Switzerland, finally deciding to seek a sponsor for a fateful trip to meet the young man Tito.

Author's Note:

In reality, the Tsarevich survived until the executions in Yekaterinburg.

Provine's Addendum:

Flush with cash, Germany sponsored the rebuilding of the Balkans. The move was popular, but cynics pointed out that it was clearly a move of propaganda and colonialism. Emperor Franz Ferdinand realized his dream of bringing together a multi-ethnic empire by improved rail and roads, though he would soon be considered a puppet of the Kaiser. As the glory days of the economic boom faded, the Balkans would again become a hotbed of problems, and international efforts routinely went out to stamp out calls of collectivism and communism. Many experts feared whether the next great war would be something like the Seven Years War with action both on the European continent as well as the growing colonies abroad or a mass-uprising of workers across the world.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Weird USA from a Simpsons Comic

A bit ago, Frank Hart posted design based on gap80's clipping from a The Simpsons comic with a weird map of the USA. The Alternate Historian picked it up on Twitter, too.

It could just be a hastily-drawn image to highlight the joke of "blue, Billy Graham-approved, family values states" the Flanderses planned to visit, or it could be an example of a wildly different timeline. Several people pointed out the loss of New England, the strange gains of southern Ontario and Quebec (not to mention Chihuahua), expansive Texas, and the jumble of other state lines including the Upper Peninsula being part of Wisconsin rather than Michigan. Is there one POD that could've caused all this? After some thought, I suggest:

September 6, 1664 - Second Anglo-Dutch War Begins with Defense at New Amsterdam

After success in the 1652-1654 war between its maritime rival, many in England sought to bait the Netherlands into a second war with more gains than simply setting back the House of Orange. English Colonel Richard Nicolls sailed with orders from Charles II granting lands between the Delaware and Connecticut Rivers, which were already populated by Dutch settlements, who had already demonstrated their authority in the region by seizing control of New Sweden to the south in 1655. Nicolls offered generous terms for surrender, which many of the Dutch burghers of the colony thought they should take. Peter Stuyvesant, the governor famed for his daring in battle as much as he was his strict rule, saw that the colonists were unwilling to fight when they could continue to prosper as English citizens, so he forced a battle by sending his son with a covert team to attack the warships at night. Several small boats were set aflame and send downriver into the sides of warships. Although the damage was minimal, Nicholls and the English were enraged, and it became clear that they would wreak vengeance on the colony. The Dutch were in no position but to defend themselves, which they did against an ongoing English three-day barrage.

The Dutch had limited gunpowder in their reserves to fight back, but the English were far from home, and the few settlers in Connecticut had little to offer in reinforcements. The two harassed one another until Nicolls finally had to retreat empty-handed. Europe was outraged, and the Second Anglo-Dutch War continued until a Dutch victory in 1667. The Treaty of Breda secured New Amsterdam as a Dutch holding for the time, though it would eventually fall in the 18th century with English settlement outpacing Dutch numbers in the region. Colonial skirmishes threatened to spark a new Anglo-Dutch War, which Dutch governors feared would devastate their economy that had already been weakened as London outpaced them. New Netherland was sold and reorganized into a large colonial unit along with Maryland from the Potomac River to the Hudson River.

Settlers continued to push westward into Native territory in the Ohio Valley and upriver of the new New York colony in Pennsylvania. Parliament attempted to prevent destabilization by preventing settlement by colonists, an issue that would be listed among others such as self-governance and taxation as revolution began in the 1770s. New York's diversity proved instrumental in the American Revolution, contributing troops and materiel to independence. Efforts were made to invade Canada, though Montreal proved impossible to hold without a suitable naval force in the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes. The region remained conflicted for another generation until invasion north of Lake Champlain in War of 1812 secured Montreal and Quebec, trapping British forces westward instead of trying to invade from Detroit with the British still able to supply by the river. Settlers panicked, many British fleeing en masse past American lines, and Tecumseh led his confederation with making a treaty with the Americans.

Success in the north prompted much stronger British response in the south. Blockades locked up the Gulf Coast and around the Florida Peninsula as far north as the Satilla River in Georgia, cutting off American supplies and frustrating trading partners among the Cherokee and Muscogee Creek. British agents were quick to step into the role of supplying the tribes, spreading the war and prompting American settlers to flee as British ones had done in Upper Canada. The war dragged on into 1816 with much of the South in flames and America's celebrated General Andrew Jackson killed in a hit-and-run raid along the Mississippi from British-held New Orleans.

With British naval strikes continuing along the East Coast and Atlantic trade disrupted, New England states became infuriated with the American war hawks refusing to give up the "right by conquest" to lands in Canada. The election of 1816 proved the final straw, and Massachusetts led the secession of its eastern territory along with New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Western Massachusetts responded by seceding and joining with Connecticut to remain in the United States. There was no real end to the war in sight until Bostonians offered to broker peace, leading to negotiations that secured the Federal States' independence along with a new northern border set at the 49th Parallel to defend British native allies and settlers who depended on the fur trade.

Americans celebrated the gains of Quebec and Canada, which would both become states in years to come. Led by Tecumseh, peace was also made among the natives in the South, which was facilitated further by new states. Southern Georgia was split from Savannah into its own state, Apalachee, and the Mississippi territory was separated into regions that would become four states: Cherokee south of Tennessee, Choctaw in the northeast, Alabama in the southeast, and Mississippi in the west. Like the South, the Ohio Valley also had reorganization with Ohio going westward to the Mississippi and a much wider range of protected Shawnee land joined to Kentucky.

Some Americans called for "Indian removal" to free up land in the South for white settlement, but their opinions were drowned out by men such as Davy Crockett, who would be a representative and senator from Tennessee for decades. Instead, settlers looked westward, advancing the opportunities for statehood in territories west of Missouri. American encroachment across the Red River and the Sabine River into Mexican Tejas prompted the Mexican-American War. The war would end with American purchase of the southwest, including California, Nevada, Great Salt Lake, Arizona, Chihuahua, and Texas. This would be the final continental expansion for the United States, giving it is familiar 43-state shape for centuries to come.


In reality, Peter Stuyvesant surrendered New Amsterdam peacefully.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Guest Post: Jimmy Carter's Provocative Playboy Interview

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History, co-authored with Robbie Taylor.

24 September, 1976 - Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter alienated conservative Christians by unwisely revealing his lascivious proclivities in an interview with Robert Scheer for the November issue of Playboy magazine.

Despite being a devout Southern Baptist, Carter went even further in hopes of humanizing his gentle persona, also mentioning that he did not mind if people uttered the word "f*ck." This led to a media feeding frenzy, and critics lamented the erosion of boundary between politicians and their private intimate lives. Had incumbent Gerry Ford seized the Republican nomination rather than narrowly losing it to Californian Governor Ronald Reagan, these misstatements might well have encouraged swing voters to view the mild-mannered president more favorably as a man of the people. Equally, Carter might have been less strikingly self-reflective had he been running against Ford. As it was, the president's seminarian son, Mike, commented, "Jimmy Carter wears his religion on his sleeve, but Gerry Ford wears it in his heart."

Of course, Carter was no Playboy; he was a single-term governor of Georgia, a relatively small and backwater state. With a thoroughly underwhelming physical presence, he possessed an unusually meek, entirely unremarkable if accented voice enhanced by his ever-present, cloying earnestness. During the summer, he had given a wide-ranging series of interviews with the political purpose of appealing to his many different classes of voters, some of them from constituencies traditionally opposed to one another. Whereas his conservative opponent Ronald Reagan was a known quantity as a former actor and gifted speaker who had served two terms as Governor of California. Nevertheless, DNC patriarch, the House Speaker Tip O'Neil had warned Reagan he was now in the "big leagues," a message that Carter would have greatly benefitted from hearing rather than trying to build himself up as a good ol' boy to rival Reagan's cowboy.

Reagan stepped up to the challenge of the national political stage, deftly subduing the loquacious Carter during the presidential debate with the statesman-like, masterful put-down, "There you go again." Meanwhile, Carter's campaign was torpedoed by this publication of the 8,000-word interview, which hit the news stands a couple of weeks before the election. His running mate, Senator Walter Mondale, expressed hope that this whole incident would prove quite helpful. His 78-year-old mother said, "In a way I was surprised but it didn't shock me. Do you know, I'm so broad-minded, and he just gave an honest answer." Conversely, Vice President Rockefeller told an audience in Cleveland, "I never thought I'd see the day when Christ's teachings were discussed in Playboy, and I'm a Baptist, ladies and gentlemen!"

The interview would have an asymmetric impact upon voting patterns. Perhaps the most accurate insight was given by the chairman of the Democratic party in Georgia, who cut through the well-disguised embarrassment of most Democratic politicians and said, "The general reaction? Bad. Bad, bad. I've been everywhere today and the reaction is uniformly negative." With the Republican Southern Strategy unexpectedly back on track, Reagan managed to win the electoral college even though he won less states and a lower share of the popular vote. This victory followed his earlier squeaker in which he had narrowly beaten Ford for the Republican nomination by promising a return to integrity that those tainted by the Nixon Administration were unable to give. The truth was that Ford was harshly judged for pardoning Nixon and making a few physical stumbles, but he was well regarded by his colleagues in Congress and was a member of the Select Committee which created NASA. Reagan was unable to adequately deliver on those promises and was defeated after one term in office. Running for president himself four years later, and seeking to build an even broader coalition, the Rev. Jesse Jackson famously said that Reagan had won in 1976 by a "margin of despair."

Author's Note:

In reality the "f*ck" was in a separate interview so in this ATL we imagine Carter takes even more risks. Gerald Ford did win the 1976 Republican presidential nomination narrowly over Ronald Reagan, who would later be elected in 1980.

Provine's Addendum:

Reagan would go down in American history as a loud but largely ineffectual president. His efforts to combat unions proved an overreach, especially in a time when many American families were struggling where factories were closing to create the "Rust Belt." His greatest economic impact was the policy to encourage expanded domestic oil to combat another energy crisis, though the delay on implementing drilling was not enough to save his re-election. The resulting "oil glut" made for low prices for transportation that helped grease the gears of globalization as manufactures were increasingly brought from East Asia. American workforces needed to pivot, which was a main driver of Walter Mondale's administration investing in infrastructure and education in what was called the "New New Deal." American students surged ahead on international STEM testing and technology as the Digital Age dawned. Mondale would of course be critiqued as weak on defense, "allowing" the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, though later commentators would suggest that the fatigue of the war led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which would finally bring Germany to reunify in 1994.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Guest Post: Shozo Okumura Works Late at the Office

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

December 6, 1941 - Shozo Okumura, the first secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Washington, received a final memorandum electronically that declared an end to the bilateral talks with the United States.

This unknown junior diplomat was assigned the historic duty of physically delivering a paper copy of this announcement of the withdrawal from talks aimed at avoiding war to Secretary of State Cordell Hull by 1 P.M. the next day. In substance, it was a virtual declaration of war: the only meaningful purpose of this token notification was to spare the Empire of Japan the disgrace of carrying out a "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor. Of course, the empire had history of sneak attacks, having done exactly the same against the Russians at Port Arthur, Mukden against China, and the 'Peking Bridge' incident also against China.

Diplomatic talks on disputes over Tokyo's expansionist policies had clearly failed, and the American embargo continued. The United States was obviously prepared to tolerate British and French imperial possessions in the Far East but not an expansionist Empire of Japan. The consensual view in Tokyo was that America had a racist perspective, Hull's Note was an ultimatum, and "after that things [were] automatically going to happen," in effect making America the aggressor nation. In Washington, FDR had dropped his plans for offering a counter-proposal based on the military intelligence that Japan was moving invasion forces toward Thailand. The truth was that both Great Powers were fully aware that they were heading to war, and the timing of the delivery of the final memorandum was largely irrelevant to overall momentum as there was no need to cloak Japan's intention to declare war.

Another reason the memorandum was irrelevant was that American code-crackers had intercepted the transmission to Okumura. The first wave was detected by United States Army radar and, thanks to the last minute alert from Washington, was correctly identified as hostile. This provided barely sufficient time for anti-submarine nets to be laid, preventing torpedo attacks on the base. The U.S. Pacific Fleet was badly damaged but survived as a potent weapon to launch an immediate counterattack.

Author's Note:

In reality, he had gone home and the memo was not delivered before the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor "due to a lack of urgency." Takeo Iguchi, a professor at Tokai University, discovered the file at the Foreign Ministry's Diplomatic Record Office in February, 1999. Many historians have said that if the document had been delivered earlier, the United States could have anticipated attack and taken precautions at its bases.

Provine's Addendum:

Cries of "sneaky attack" were heard across the United States following the Battle of Pearl Harbor, but the effective stand in defense proved to many Americans that there was nothing to worry about. With the US Navy in the Pacific returned to full strength after a few months of repairs, Japanese attacks at Midway and the Solomon Islands were rebuffed. Supply lines to the Philippines remained open, where the Japanese campaign against the rugged holdouts of the Allies ground on well into 1943 until the US Navy was able to establish an effective blockade. With over 100,000 Japanese soldiers trapped and ultimately surrendering, diplomats made efforts to reopen talks and promote a ceasefire. If the decision toward an unconditional surrender hadn't been part of the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, that might have been an early end to the war.

Instead, war dragged on the in the Pacific in something of a stalemate while resources were shifted to Africa and Europe. Japan was felt to be "contained" at sea, and much of the fighting focused on supporting Chinese efforts on mainland Asia, gradually working northward after retaking French Indochina. It was the demonstration of an atomic bomb, a single device that could destroy a whole city, and the threat of invasion by the USSR that brought an end to the war in the early summer of 1945.

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