Friday, March 28, 2008

Alternate History #3.1: A weak Russia in the East

Nazi Germany is the master of Eastern Europe, slowly industrializing the various lands. Russia has all but given up on being a large empire again, and has retreated to the highest-population areas to counteract overextension and famine. France and England can't manage to get popular support for an anti-Nazi war. Italy is the facism sidekick of Germany. The US has no reason to awake from European isolationism. It's 1946 and WWII has not happened, mainly because of Nazi advisers managing to keep Hitler from trying to do everything at once, instead expanding into the vacuum left by the lack of the USSR.

But how did Asia turn out? Asian Russia and Central Asia are scattered places, not unlike a less-divisive Afghanistan in 2005. No legitimate central authority, many different power-bases for different ethnicities. But the same forces that ended the Russian Czars were also operating in China, where a revolt took place in our timeline that removed the Emperor and began a democratic government. In this timeline, as in ours, the military soon usurped the democratic government. However, in our timeline, the Chinese nationalists who would take power for a few years before Mao were highly financed by the Soviets. The US was interested in a nationalist China, but was less enthusiastic until WWII.

The most important effect is how this works to Japan's favor. Without funding from Soviets and with the US in isolation for the moment, Japan has an easier time conquering northern China. They set up a puppet kingdom and continue to build the Japanese Empire. There are communist and nationalist resistances to Japan in China, but neither can pull itself together and both are crushed. Around 1940, Japan sees the US stirring from its isolation: too many powers hostile to US allies are gaining too much power. Because of their racial programs, the US presidents cannot bring themselves to ally with Germany or even carry on cordial relations. Meanwhile, Australia and the Philippines are very close to the Empire of Japan's edges.

At this time, Japan decides that conflict with the US is inevitable at some point. Without a war to pull it out of the Great Depression, the US in 1943 is recovering, but slowly. Some postwar technologies that created dramatic increases in standards of living after the war in our timeline are being invented, but without intensive production they are not yet affordable to even upper-middle class people.

Finally, in 1944, Japan launches a massive effort against every US possession in the western half of the Pacific. The great prize here is the Philippines, taken by the largest landing in modern military history. This is the Japanese equivalent of Normandy - a risky operation, it results in the surrender of US forces on the islands after only token resistance. To be fair, the US is caught unawares - intelligence indicated an Australian landing, or one in New Zealand.

This is the timeline's WWII. It is between Japan - not as powerful as Germany was in our timeline, but with more territory and much more manpower. Japan can more effectively leverage Chinese production because of the lessened resistance. It is friendly with Germany and Italy, but will not be joined by them in the war.

The early war goes badly for the US. Submarine designs bought from Germany and innovative airplane designs allow Japan to take all US possessions in the west Pacific, then the East Pacific. A failed Japanese invasion of Alaska via the Aleutian Islands marks the first Japanese setback of the war. Meanwhile, California is in a panic. Japanese Internment is carried out so quickly, some European observers liken it to the Nazi's deportation programs. England is worried that the US may try to expel Japanese citizens. Fortunately, the US policy is to continue internment only until the threat of Japanese invasion of the US is removed.

The longest battle of this war is the Battle of California - much like the Battle of the Atlantic, a series of submarine, airplane and battleship confrontations that the US wins by sheer productive capacity alone. Japan may have three times as many workers in its empire, but the Empire itself is loose and inefficient, and lacks major productive capacity that the US has. Japanese presences are reduced to hovering around occupied islands. The US invasion of occupied Hawaii in a costly success. A second Pyhrric victory at Midway gives the US control of the east Pacific again; internment on the east coast is disbanded, though still in place on the west coast.

At this point, in 1947, after four years of tense but not particularly intensive war, the US develops atomic weapons. US policy becomes targeted use of atomic weapons to minimize US casualties. Many islands Japan holds are uninhabited except for the soldiers. The main US strategy now becomes naval superiority for blockades, and atomic bombing of the atolls. This is known as the Atoll Campaign - dozens of atomic weapons are used, and before each strike radio broadcasts are sent into all Japanese territory proclaiming the intended target. Because of US naval power, the atomic bombers cannot be stopped. Island after island is decimated, and the Japanese Empire is shown again and again to be impotent. This strategy works in US favor, since the majority of casualties are soldiers or support workers - all combatants. France and especially England, worried about colonial possessions near the Empire of Japan, support the US strategy.

Because of the absolute humiliation of Japan at the hands of the US, the regions of the Empire are once again able to develop nationalist movements. Japan is widely hated in Asia as a bully, and an impotent one at that. Attempted revolts in Vietnam, Philippines and south China spread Japanese security forces too thin. Many Japanese believe their Empire is doomed, and will be slowly taken apart by the US and various nationalists. The US is still unable to gather public opinion for a large troop deployment.

However, without an attack on their homeland, Japan will not surrender. The US then makes its most controversial move of the war: is advertises that it will drop atomic weapons of Tokyo in one week if no surrender is made. Tokyo's population largely flees, but one in eight people stay and many fervent supporters of the Empire move in, in order to pressure the Emperor to launch one last defense of the homeland. The Japanese try, but fail, to stop the bomber and Tokyo is obliterated. The failure of Japan to keep safe the capital city, and the two-year naval blockade of all Japanese possessions results in violent populist nationalist uprisings in the various Asian countries, which Japanese soldiers cannot resist and very rarely try. They prefer to be captured and ransomed back to Japan itself. With its provinces falling away as independent Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos-Cambodia, Korea and China, Japan must confront the truth: a conditional surrender, asserting the unity of the Japanese home islands and the Emperor's power, as restricted by a new constitution, as well as the renunciation of expansion or of any atomic/nuclear program.

The US never fully emerges from isolation; the Japanese-American war results in less than 50,000 US citizens dead, most killed in Hawaii or Midway or by disease in the process of supplying the Asian nationalists. The strategy succeeds because Japan's empire was built on an image as well as power. When the image is totally shattered by the bombing of Tokyo, and the power eroded by blockade, the Empire collapses. The first half of the war accounts for 85% of casualties and 80% of lost materials by the US.

The US heads off any assertion of European colonial power in Asia, and begins to 'adopt' China, giving it aid and advisers in order to balance it against Japan, which the US is sure will rise again. In a future war, China will be able to fight back against Japan. The postwar world is one in which Germany seeks to make allies in the loose sections of Russia, and where the largest conflicts are those over decolonization. Without the exhaustion of WWII, England and France take a decade longer to let go of their colonies. A rough Cold War-analog exists between Germany and the democracies, exacerbated by nuclear weapons.

So, all this might have happened if, way back in 1921, Herbert Hoover hadn't tried to be such a nice humanitarian.


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