Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Alternate History #1

The concept of alternate history is something I am absolutely in love with. There are full-fledged novels based on some good alternate history concepts but I prefer to take a more academic look at the long range effects of certain events. Obviously, in changing any event you must determine what would happen as a result. This is easy to do when you are close in time to the divergence, or when the change is not very large. For longer effects, you obviously need a theory or supposition about why history happens the way it does.
Why, for example, did Japan and China, both more sophisticated in guns and ships respectively than Europe until very recently, both abandon their great technologies? Originally I thought that the abandonment was the choice of a single ruler. Had that ruler been killed or replaced earlier, the ban would never have crossed the minds of the next ruler. It turns out this is wrong, and that banning guns in Japan was more popular than I could have guessed. So as I hypothesize about history, I sometimes find out I was wrong and must abandon my old ideas.

Now for my first presentation. Background is all true, putting the situation in context, Divergence is the changed part, and Result is the effect on later history.

Background: It's 1865, the Civil War is over. France and Britain had been hostile to the Union government, seeking to protect cotton interests in the Confederacy. The Union did have one European ally: Russia, at that time the owners of a huge stretch of empty land known now as Alaska.
Southern discontents, seeing the Union and President Lincoln as tyrants, formed a conspiracy to assassinate top Union officials. Three men set out to kill the President, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward.

Divergence: As it happens, the man tasked with killing the VP chickened out, and Seward was only wounded. Lincoln was indeed killed but the conspiracy had no long-lasting effect. Seward, who remained on in the Johnson administration, rewarded US ally Russia by buying Alaska for an amount of money most considered "folly." Now if Seward's assassin had just stabbed him a bit more soundly, the man would have been killed. It was his idea to buy Alaska, and his political capital that led the government to actually do so. His death would probably have headed off this chain of events.

Result: It's now 1948, and the world is looking uneasily at the US and USSR as they rise from the ashes of WWII and struggle for global supremacy. The Soviets have a tactic of funding communist parties in areas where the people are being exploited, as it is fertile ground for Marxists. Particularly worrisome to the US is the Russian presence in the Alaskan SSR, which shares a huge, indefensible border with neighbor and ally Canada. In addition, Canada's less than fair practices towards its indigenous inhabitants, the so-called First Nations, have made these various groups (who mostly live in the emptier western section of Canada that is near the Alaskan SSR) susceptible to communist calls for independence and resistance to imperialists.
The US worries about communists filtering into the northern states through Canada, which is resistant to crack down on First Nations in the west for fear of causing instability among First Nations in the east. [American Indians or Native Americans, from now on Amerinds] Amerinds, especially those with radical tendencies, being to filter out of the US up into Canada with two aims: some seek to join the revolution and secure part of North America for its aboriginal people, others want to simply outnumber whites and 'Amerind Unionists.' Once the population balance is in favor of the Amerinds, there are plans to put forth a referendum for independence. Since these regions are very sparsely populated, even small migrations make a difference.
French-speaking Quebec, which is friendly with France (where communist parties almost came to power in several different elections prior to the 1950's) is also interested in leaving Canada. The US regards these developments with horror, as the European-dominate British possession seems to be breaking apart into three parts, one of which is solidly capitalist (The East), one socialist-sympathetic (Quebec) and one nationalist-Marxist (The First Nation Territories). To ward off a break-up, the US vows to send troops to Canada if any revolutionary or secessionist activities take place.

There we have it: a totally different Cold War, caused by Russian presence in North America. I don't know enough to continue much further, but let's speculate what the worst outcome could have been for the US. It is possible that, in response to US deployments against Amerinds in Canada, the reservations within the US could have declared independence. Added up, US reservations are about four times the size of Rhode Island - not an easy area to pacify, especially since they are often in bad land over difficult terrain. Assuming this crisis escalates quickly, the US could find itself needing to put down reservation secessions by 1950. This is just five years after the last of the Japanese internment camps closed, and it's not totally out of the question that they could be reopened once more for another US minority.

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