How Not To Choose Alternate History Scenarios

In one of the more epic examples of topic derailment in existence, last week I saw a Facebook thread that started by someone quoting one of Sarah’s comments about “microagression”and “invisible privilege” (accusations of either are signs that the person waving them around is flapping hands about while looking for scraps of straw to bolster a thoroughly lost argument) turn into a lengthy back-and-forth involving alternate history scenarios that could have altered the end result of World War Two.

Now, I’m the first to admit that alternate history can be a hell of a lot of fun in the “road not taken” sense, but it does rather matter that the “road” in question actually exist and not be the result of too much herbal supplements or an insufficiency of prescribed medication. There are some things that simply can’t work except as a kind of bizarre, magical-thinking wish-fulfillment fantasy, and one of the most vocal voices on this thread was pushing his own personal magical-thinking wish-fulfillment fantasy so hard the wheel on that barrow was smoking.

So, I figured it would be a good idea to start a little list (which I can guarandamntee won’t stay a little list) of scenarios one should not use in alternate history, complete with the Kate-version of why it’s a bad idea. Starting – of course – with this person’s pet white elephant.

You should not consider any “Different ending for World War Two” scenario that requires Japan sit out the war. Seriously. If you talk to historians, you’ll find that instead of the dates given in most of the schools folks here went to (1939 – 1945, for those who had seriously crappy schools), a lot of them date the start of the war at 1937, when Japan invaded China. There is not one sane scenario where Japan would have stayed out – and the kind of intervention required to force the Japanese Empire to focus on domestic affairs rather than its need to acquire more arable land, oil fields, and the like is on the kind of scale that would turn the whole world post-apocalyptic (the scale of volcanic eruption and/or earthquake needed to damage Japan’s infrastructure to the extent that they’d be incapable of waging war is one that would chuck so much ash into the upper atmosphere that most of the Northern Hemisphere would be starving – because there weren’t any nations in the world capable of dealing with a volcanic winter so severe that no crops could be grown for at least a year (yes, this has happened. More than once. Just not in very recent history)).

Similarly, any scenario in which Canada out-powers the USA is cause only for hysterical laughter. Certainly if you remove the USA’s numerical advantage things even out a lot, but let’s face it, the USA not only has an order of magnitude more people, it also has a shitload more arable land. These things matter when it comes to world power (Yes the British Empire was something of an anomaly, with a tiny land base – but the naval mastery and a streak of ruthless several miles wide allowed the Brits to take and keep a lot of land for a long time. Their pioneering methods of doing practically everything – for a long time they were the innovators of the world – and a streak of meritocracy meant they did things better than most of their rivals, and managed to make most of their colonies a better place to be than they’d been prior to British rule. Yes, even for the “poor exploited” native people. Compare British colonial rule to… oh, Belgian, and you’ll get the idea . The thing is the colonies gave Britain the landmass and population advantage they needed to dominate). A nation with a population smaller than its rival’s military is not ever going to come close to said rival in terms of world power and influence. People from said nation only seem petty and envious when they try to snark at their much bigger neighbor with the huge geographical and population advantage. (Yes, I know. I’m frigging Australian. I know Australia is not going to be a superpower at any stage in the near future. Canada is in damn near the same boat only with ice and a lot fewer things that kill you.)

The alternate history with Britain’s King Edward VIII married to Wallis Simpson is just as laughable. The attitudes of the time guaranteed that the only way he could stay on the throne was to not marry her. Period. Even now, 80-some years later, there’s a damn good chance Prince Charles will be pressured to abdicate in William’s favor – if Lizzy doesn’t outlive him (and given the way the women in that family seem to hang on forever this is quite likely). If he’d had kids with wifey #2, they would not be in the line of succession.

Russia not having the October Revolution is another one that doesn’t fly. The exact timing of said revolution might shift some, but the Czar’s inability to read the national mood and his rather severe lack of ept aren’t going to change, and those guarantee that the increasingly pissed off and repressed population will explode somewhere around when they did. And you’d have to find a way to eliminate a whole passel of Communist bigwigs before you could prevent Lenin’s ultimate supremacy or Stalin’s reign. For the purposes of alternate history, conveniently timed explosions don’t cut it.

Yes, this includes Hitler remaining a mediocre emo artist. That was never going to happen, although honestly, I wouldn’t object to removing any of the incredible bloody coincidences that stopped all of the attempts to assassinate him. Seriously, in one of them a frigging table leg was the difference between Hitler living and Hitler dying. I’d almost think he was someone’s Mary Sue, if he wasn’t such an obnoxious and plain nasty… oh wait. Nevermind. If I was more religious, the phrase “luck of the devil” might be apt. (On a side note, I saw a rather clever SF piece once where time travelers manipulate events so the German Empire comes out on top in World War One. In the 1930s they’re in a Paris cafe congratulating themselves on preventing the rise of Hitler when a French firebrand by the name of De Gaulle starts of a chain of events paralleling the rise of the Nazis. Which, in those circumstances, De Gaulle totally would do).

It also includes scenarios where the USA did not drop nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (except for the one where the researchers took a few too many wrong turns and didn’t develop the technology in time for the USA to use it. You can have that one). Why? Because the conservative estimates were for at least a million Allied dead in a land invasion. They’re still giving out the Purple Hearts they had made in anticipation of having to invade Japan despite the nuclear weapons – stop and think about just how many deaths that implies. Japanese deaths would have been much, much higher: not only were Japanese propagandists preparing people to fight to the death, the schools were teaching the children how to perform suicide attacks on invading soldiers. And after Okinawa, the American command knew damn well they’d face the same – if not worse – on Japanese heartland.

So… If you’re going to write alternate history it pays to be historically literate and to know what would – and what absolutely would not – be a good point of divergence. Otherwise your “brilliance” could end up being mocked here.

130 comments

  1. “The thing is the colonies gave Britain the landmass and population advantage they needed to dominate.”
    I believe they gained too much landmass, and didn’t have the people to administer it. Isn’t that what “The White Man’s Burden” is about?
    I want to add another no-go: Don’t postpone the European discovery of the New World for centuries just because Columbus turned back/ died in infancy. The expansion was inevitable, and once it happened, guns and germs were irresistible.

    1. As I recall, “The White Mans Burden” was specifically aimed at the the US in the Philippines. (Which, contextually, leads me to the thought experiment; how much, if at all, would WWII have been affected if the Philippines had become a US state in the 30’s?)

    2. I’m pretty sure you’ve misunderstood Kipling. My reading is that in that poem, he is questioning the wisdom and desirability of that process. As in a loss in terms of loot per unit effort, and questionable returns as far as human welfare is concerned. Look at the ‘it is a shame dog will not eat dog’ bit in his book on America.

      1. My take is that Kipling was giving America a warning about the cost of colonies. If you take on a colony, you will send out the best you breed, and they won’t all come home (“Go mark them with your living/ And mark them with your dead”.) You must set an example, at all times, in all ways, and the people you are trying to uplift will resist, preferring their “loved Egyptian night.” You will build roads you can’t use, ports that are off limits to you, and it will seem futile, but your peers will know, understand, and judge what you have done, for good and ill.

        1. I believe you’re pretty much spot on. This was a British subject with wide experience of colonial life, telling the Americans, ‘You think you can do this job better than us? Trust me, it ain’t that easy. You’ll see.’

    3. It might work in an AU with deepwater sea serpents. Delayed until someone figures out a way to get sufficiently serpent-proofed.

      Then you have to decide if you’re also going to hand-wavium development among the tribes, recognizing that if they’re not somehow more advanced in every way than Europe, you’re going to be called names…. Not worth the trouble.

    4. Amen on the discovery thing. That would have happened fairly close to the time frame when it did happen. It’s a kind of inertial thing.

      1. It happened exactly when it did only because Columbus took the largest possible figure for the width of Eurasia, and the smallest possible figure for the circumference of the Earth, and fast-talked Fernando & Isabel into believing that he was right on both counts. (The French and English kings had previously turned him down, partly because they knew better.)

        Absent that little bit of chicanery, the voyage would not have happened until shipbuilding technology improved enough to make an expected voyage of 10,000 miles or more feasible. Mind you, Magellan had such ships only a generation later, so we’re probably talking about a difference of 50 years or less.

        So it might be an interesting thing to have the discovery of America take place after the Reformation, instead of before, in the midst of the uproar that we know as the Wars of Religion. But yeah, the idea that America stays undiscovered indefinitely, that won’t fly.

        1. Especially since every Basque fisherman in the freaking world was already going to the Americas for cod from the 1300’s on, and camping out on shore if they felt the need (though mostly they didn’t, since they had perfectly good fishing boats). Between the Basques, the Icelanders, and the Irish, America was not so much undiscovered, as just a troublesome place in the middle of nowhere, that already had people that were a pain to mess with.

  2. I enjoy alternate History but it’s one thing that I’ve never been tempted to write. I don’t know how anyone could who wasn’t an extremely engaged Historian or amateur who was an expert at their particular part of it.

    1. And regardless, no matter what, someone will argue and provide evidence that you’re wrong.

  3. I’m always leery of ‘alternate history’ because of three points – the third being arguably the most important.

    1. There’s the sheer believability (or otherwise) of the scenario. If it requires too much suspension of disbelief, I ain’t buyin’.

    2. There’s the fact that history is comprised of many, many strands. If one alters one or two of them, that doesn’t negate the others: and the ‘tangled web we weave’ is so complex that merely altering one or two strands in it won’t necessarily have the desired result. Wholesale tearing of the web might leave the entire world in tatters. See Point 1.

    3. Finally, technology is critical. I’ve seen far too many ‘alternate history’ scenarios where the pace of technological development and/or failure is simply unrealistic. For example: how many people are aware that simple sulphuric acid is one of the ten most critical chemicals on earth? If you postulate an alternate history with little or none of the industrial infrastructure to produce it in quantity, say goodbye to modern explosives, many metals, and a bunch of other things. You have to understand what’s feasible from a practical, rather than a literary standpoint, otherwise your scenario becomes practically impossible. Again, see Point 1.

    All right, I’m being pedantic; but that’s how I see things. If it won’t work, or if it can’t work, I ain’t buyin’.

    1. For some reason, I’m now very interested to hear your reaction to the “secret history” genre, especially Tim Powers.

      1. “Secret History” is rather different to “Alternate History”. The former uses actual events and facts, and adds the dimension of a secret or hitherto unknown additional factor that influenced them. The latter changes actual events and facts into something else. Accordingly, I don’t have the same problems with “Secret History”.

          1. Hehehe. This explains how he survived all those damned assassination attempts! (ANd the body was fake, since obviously a lizardman corpse couldn’t be left for the Allies to find…)

            1. Body double, of which there were many. Much like Saddam. Uncle Adolph did die – suicide – but yeah: corpse taken Below to be cremated in state as an honor for how much damage he did Above. Saddam, on the other hand, was supposed to draw the resurgent Russian Bear into hot war with the West, and wipe out the filthy monkeys. His corpse was tossed into the recycler. No honor for failures.

          1. Which could be seriously cool. Or Hollyweird could get their hands on it and turn it into a godawful mess. Wait, what? THey already did? Bugger.

    2. Ah, yes. Your #3 is what turns a lot of alt histories into wish fulfillment fantasy.

  4. I think the reader also has to have a good grasp of history, to really appreciate AH.

    And the writer? Oh definitely yes. I’m a dabbler in a couple of smalls time periods, just enough to see the yawning depths of my ignorance, when I tried a historical mystery. But I do have this perfectly _fine_ WWI with shapeshifters and space aliens sitting here on my hard drive. Umm, no I don’t have the nerve to publish it. (The world breathes a sigh of relief.)

    1. Income steams is income streams. Just don’t label it alt-hist and call it fantasy. Make a couple of bucks. Doooooooo iiiiiiiit. (Don’t make me call Sarah in)

    2. Well, that counts as fantasy! So go right ahead and publish it as a fantasy and count the $$$

        1. “The Kaiser’s Grey Werewolf” (Cover has werewolf with huge black eyes like a Grey Alien)
          “The Kaiser, The Wolf, and The Little Man From Arcturus”
          “Huns, Metamorphs and Aliens, Oh My”

          (Should I be running, now?)

  5. Oh yeah, this in spades (and shovels, and wheelbarrow, and even a small back-hoe). I was very, very lucky to find a battle (Sadowa/Königgratz) that was so close IRL that I could tip it without shattering the historical probability meter. That puts the Habsburgs in a better position vis-a-vis the Hungarian side of the Empire, but even so WWI erupts (because Wilhelm of Prussia and the Russian problem, and some peeved French). And a PO’ed Bavarian prince skies off with the most valuable books from the library of Louven (possible, if the man involved had actually been on that part of the front at that time), which buys the Habsburgs some moral credit once the shooting stops four years later. All are tied to actual possibilities and personalities, all can be supported by historical data. BUT the Western Front is still hell, the Eastern Front still has the White War in the Tirol, the Reds still pull Russia out of the war in 1917, central/eastern Europe still turns into a cockpit of nationalism, and the Iron Curtain still descends after 1945.

    1. Oh, yes. That kind of small change can ultimately lead to big differences, but it takes a lot of work and thought to build it (but if you do it right, you can do a totally compelling alt history)

  6. It seems to me that most of these are not “do not do”things, but “make sure you do it right” things.

    Which leaves a lot of room for playing in.

    (I had a longer thought, revolving around Twain, King Arthur, and New England natives, but lost track of where I was going with it. Short version was probably something along the lines of “doesn’t have to be accurate to be a good story”.)

    1. It’s a bit of both, really. Some things could possibly be made to work with the right kind of changes to events, others… Canada is not going to be a global power unless/until the world is sufficiently warm that most of the landmass becomes usable without major hardship/technology. And in that case they’re still going to be WAY behind the Russians who’ll have the same boost in usable land.

      And to even go close to anything like that would mean a crapload of research on how wind patterns would shift and where the shifted wind patterns would take the rain, and what the fertile land would be and which land would end up being desertified along the way. And that’s *before* considering the human factor during the change period (aka how many wars, mass migrations, and other “interesting” things would happen)

  7. To prevent the October revolution you’d have to go all the way back to Ivan Groznei (Ivan the Terrible) and prevent him from loosing his mind. There are a couple of ways that could have been done. But that would have prevented a great deal of the damage Peter I did with his little obsession with the French. It’s a scenario I’ve often wondered about, since prior to 1563 he was on his way to being the greatest Tsar the Russians had known, and surprisingly well liked. If he’d not lost his mind and his eldest son had survived and become Tsar, Russia would have caught up with the rest of Europe at least a century earlier than they did. He was building excellent relationships with the Brits and they already had good, consistent trade with the Far and Middle East.

    Dang it. Now I’m going to have to work this into a story and alt-history and I are not on speaking terms most of the time.

    1. Not sure if this would have prevented the October Revolution but this might have stopped it from being Marxist: Stop Germany from sending Lenin to Russia. This was a ploy that worked way too well. Oops.

      This got me thinking about the early French Revolution. Nobody in any of the three factions had any sort of sense. Books have to be plausible. History does not.

      1. There might have been a different revolution, I don’t know. It there may have been parallels or there might not have been and the timing might have been different. I haven’t projected that far ahead in detail, but Ivan Grossnie is one of the few historical points where there is a clear put-a-date-on-it change. There are a great many more slow descents into madness than sudden radical personality changes.

        Russian history is one of my hobbies. 🙂

        1. There aren’t many clear tipping points anywhere in history – but WW2 is rather strongly endowed with the damn things. The combination of events that prevented Germany getting to Moscow before General Winter showed up. Midway. Pearl Harbor – the American side of the war would have looked rather different if they hadn’t been lucky and only lost the one ship. (THere are more, but after a day tracing weird shit through database and unpacking multiple nested IIF calls, I lack hte brain to recall them)

          1. Yeah, with Ivan Grosnei it was the death of his wife. As evidence of how well liked he was, his nobles called for him to hand power to them and he agreed, basically with a ‘try and run the country without me’. and went into seclusion for a year. The country flat out wouldn’t listen to the nobility because… no Tsar. Then in 1563 he came out of seclusion and became the tyrant that history loves to hate. Heavy metal poisoning may have been involved. Possibly other factors. Death by mysterious cause has been a Russian favorite for as long as there have been Russians.

      2. There’s that. The *character* of the revolution – as well as the timing – could have changed a fair bit. There was still so much… call it inertia… towards some kind of violent uprising that it was inevitable in that sense.

        1. Worth remembering, too, that it was the February revolution that overthrew the Tsar. There was nothing inevitable about a second revolution to overthrow Kerensky. Nor about the Reds defeating the Whites in the civil war that followed.

          1. Follow-on thought:

            It was probably inevitable that Kerensky would be overthrown; he was just that massively incompetent. But you could construct a very plausible alternate history in which some other Russian leader took charge of the Provisional Government and made it work well enough to establish itself in power for many years.

          2. Fair, though it’s also fair to say that even the Russians tend to view the two as pieces of the same thing, which may support your later assertion.

            1. Well, one reason that the Russians view it that way is that Kerensky officially became an unperson after the Bolsheviks took power. Generations of Russian schoolchildren were taught that Lenin overthrew the Tsar, and never heard of the Provisional Government. Heinlein wrote about getting shouted at by Russians because he was a lying liar and there had never been any such person as Kerensky – at a time when Kerensky was still living in exile in the United States.

              1. Oh, I know. My language teachers had some interesting perspectives on that period and other aspects of Russian history. Nothing like getting the perspective on WII from a woman who was 8 years old when the siege of Leningrad started. The take I heard most from them was that Lenin had planned the take over from Kerensky from the word go, that the two revolutions were actually part of the same plan and goal.. Though the only one who could probably have proved it wasn’t talking. (We only got snatches of his history, it was less than pleasant.)

                1. I can guarantee that the two revolutions were not ‘actually part of the same plan and goal’, because the Bolsheviks had no part in the February Revolution, and Lenin had no part in planning it. He was in exile in Zurich at the time, and could not get to Russia without crossing enemy territory. He left Zurich on 8 April 1917, after General Ludendorff promised him safe-conduct through Germany, on the condition that he did not stop to talk to any German trade-unionists. (The Germans wanted Lenin to make trouble for their enemies, not for themselves.)

                  Of course, all this was rewritten in the official Communist histories.

                    1. Actually quite a few of them. One of them was a historian. He was the one I mentioned not saying much so he’s less than useful as a reference in this. Let’s just say his usefulness to the powers that be had run out and that was why he was in the states at all. All of them were willing to concede the clear facts, just not concede that the events were not related at a pre-planned level. Theories varied on how. Underhanded dealing and long term backstabbing is something of a Russian Tradition. As is ‘Death by Mysterious Causes’. It was also interesting the watch the Pole, the Ukrainian, and the aforementioned women from St. Petersburg/Leningrad debate history, half in Russian half in English with great animation. Alas, I was not able to follow those discussions nearly as closely as I really wanted to, so what I drew from them was sketchy. Watching the woman from St. Petersburg and the one from Moscow debate proper Russian expression and pronunciation was another fun show, if tangential to our discussion.

                    2. *points at Russia right now* If your gov’t was doing junk like that all the time, at a bunch of levels, how would you prove that something wasn’t a third power trying to pull a Xanatos Gambit? (Warning, TV Tropes. If you wish to avoid being pulled in, think Kobayashi Maru type situation where there is no win for those opposing Them.)

      1. *shakes fist!* Well, I do have a more fantasy setting that’s more or less the real world history wise, in some places less, in some places more. Rasputin winds up being Koshchei bez Smertni and ruling Russia instead of Lenin and Stalin. (which is not an improvement, nope, not at all.) That might be a good place to plunk that particular sub-strand down.

        It is one I have been rather hesitant to write because, history… getting it wrong. The revenge of my inner consistency nut will be terrible!

        1. *sympathetic back pat* This is why I don’t do Westerns (yet). I’d keep getting historical in my fiction, which is a lot less fun than getting peanut butter in your chocolate. 😉

    2. Russian history after 1810 is all about Alexander I bankrupting the empire to defeat Napoleon, and his successors attempting to return Russia to its pre-Napoleonic glory.

      That said, I can think of at least a few realistic ways that the Russian Revolution never occurs, without hand-wavium or Nicholas II dying as a child.

      1) Alexander II is not assassinated. He makes his son George by his mistress/morgantic wife Catherine Dogorukov (sp?) his heir, supplanting Alexander III, whom he hated.

      2) Alexander III is not so influenced by the hyper conservative nobility. He listens to his uncle Michael and liberal factions, and carries on with his father’s plans to liberalize Russian politics.

      3) The Russo-Japanese War might have been avoided. It started because of territorial rivalry in the Korean Peninsula. Had Yule Brenner’s grandfather not sold Nicholas II that land on the Yalu River. . .

      4) Russia wins the Russo-Japanese war. Port Arthur should have held on much longer. Its commander was a politically connected coward who gave up the fort, stocked for a years-long siege, after less than a year. The Japanese were constantly outnumbered, and several battles were lost merely because of bad Russian intelligence.

      5) Serbia caves. If the Serbian government had been more conciliatory toward Austrian demands, or had the Austrians been less harsh and willing to compromise, WWI could have been avoided for the time being at least. Who can say what an extra five or ten years could have done to Russia’s ability to wage war?

      6) Germany collapses. Russia actually won many early battles against Germany. In fact, the Germans had to pull their most successful generals in the Western Front to stabilize the east. It is entirely possible that they fail to do so in time.

      1. Those are all good arguments. I suppose I should have clarified with “and the rest of the world looks exactly the way it does/did”

  8. I’m not sure that removing Hitler alone would have eliminated the threat of the NAZI party in Germany. If the NAZI party failed you could be left with the KPD (communists) taking over. That would have led to a different, but also tragic, history.

    I doubt that change in Europe would have eliminated Japan’s motivations to expand in the Pacific.

      1. One that would not have accepted Theodor Morell as his personal physician and therefore did not succumb to the effects of a cocktail of treatments that included methamphetamine and cocaine?

      2. Ooh, story idea. I’m sure someone’s had it before, of course.

        Time travelers go back and kill Hitler while he’s in jail after the Beer House Putsch. This results in Göring replacing him as leader of the Nazi Party, and WW2 starting pretty much on schedule, since it was driven more by German anger over the Treaty of Versailles than by the malignant charisma of one man. But in 1940, history takes a different turn: since in 1940 Göring is Führer rather than head of the Luftwaffe, he doesn’t suggest halting the German army before reaching Dunkirk so that “his” Luftwaffe can get the glory of finishing off the British Expeditionary Forces. Instead, his glory-seeking leads him to override Rundstedt and order a push by the armored divisions, who roll right over the lone British batallion and capture 300,000 Allied soldiers — the evacuation of Dunkirk never happens. And thus, the conquest of Europe is complete before America ever enters the war.

        To prevent this, a second group of time travelers goes back and arranges for Hitler’s early release after nine months, a few days before the first group’s assassination attempt. (To save confusion, I’m going to start calling the second group the Save Hitler group, or SH, and the first group the Kill Hitler group, or KH.)

        What follows is a series of attempts by the KH group to try again to kill Hitler; they don’t know that he’s responsible for Germany losing the war, and they think they’re preventing WW2 from starting in the first place. (They subscribe to the “great man” theory of history, thinking that you remove the man and you’ll undo his future actions.) The SH group, of course, continues to prevent the KH group’s assassination attempts, resulting in Hitler’s life repeatedly being saved by completely absurd “coincidences.” E.g., the KH group plants a bomb at the Wolfsschanze, and the SH group makes sure that the bomb is pushed beside a table leg, where Hitler will be sheltered from the blast just enough to survive.

        Oh, and one other detail: one team from the KH group, made up of an Englishman and a Frenchman who are both anti-monarchists, call themselves the “kill the roi” group — referring to Hitler as the “king” of Germany — and leave graffiti in various places around Europe where they had met to make their plans, so that future generations will know who to credit for Hitler’s death. Of course, their plan doesn’t go off quite as planned, but they do achieve one small measure of success, and the phrase “Kilroy was here” becomes famous.

          1. Yes, do. I get a kick out of the rival time traveling groups running about and history, improbably, bumping along as we expect.

        1. Questions: Does anyone in the KH/SH realize that the actions their contributed to Hitler becoming what he was, i.e., the belief that he was invincible? Or does some other party arise which, upon this realization, attempts to stop the both of them?

          (And on a side bar: Would a similar situation over the American Revolution be the explanation behind Washington’s remarkable survival?)

          1. Don’t post before you have drunk your first cup of coffee has been finished… sorry about the lack of editing:

            realize that their actions contributed

          2. Ooh, I hadn’t thought of that aspect yet.

            I was going to posit that at some point, the KH group just gives up, and that’s why there were no more attempts after July 20, 1944. But it would also make sense for the KH and SH groups to find each other, argue it out, and realize what they’re doing to Hitler’s legend.

            And if they do meet up, there could be some humorous moments as they discuss the various foiled attempts. “What were you thinking? Your agent goes through so many plans and backup plans, and then gets on the train without a ticket, and that’s how he gets caught? I mean, were you scraping the bottom of the barrel with that one, or what?” “Wait, do you mean Maurice Bavaud? He wasn’t one of our guys. Frankly, we thought he was with you: we had a nice plan all worked out, and a good backup plan as well, and then he blundered along and wrecked both of them!”

            I don’t know if I’ll be able to pull off writing the story, but I’ll give it a shot sometime. Might not be too soon, though, as my life is a bit overwhelmingly busy just at the moment.

    1. Christopher Nuttall’s _The Invasion Of 1950_ has an interesting “switch point”. In our history, Japan had a major battle with Russian troops in 1939 which they badly lost, the battle of Nomonhan. After this loss, Japan “turned South” and eventually attacked Pearl Harbor which brought the US into the war. In Chris’s history, Japan avoided that major battle but still threaten action against Russia leading to war against Russia. The Japanese threat (while not enough to win against Russia) caused Stalin to keep active forces in the East. The lack of these forces enable Germany to take Moscow and win the war on Germany’s Eastern Front. Since Japan didn’t attack Pearl Harbor, the US didn’t enter the war on Britain’s side. As a result of the US not getting involved, the British kicked Churchill out of office and made a peace with Germany. Of course, Hitler had no desire to remain at peace with Britain and thus we have the “Invasion (of Britain) of 1950”. [Smile]

    2. Eliminating him wouldn’t have prevented something nasty rising. A nasty that wasn’t exterminating and chasing off a chunk of the nation’s elite might well have had a much more… successful campaign.

      And Japan considered expansion essential to their survival, so that war would have happened no matter what happened in Europe (although it might not have involved the USA)

  9. Canada? A superpower? In the 1940s? As a Canadian, let me make one thing clear: BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    1. Suspend your disbelief just a little. After all, Canada did have the 3rd largest navy in the world in 1945.

        1. Yup. Australia is in much the same position. Punches way above the weight but that doesn’t mean “can take down the heavyweights”

    2. Only way that could have happened is if, in 1783, the British had not ceded the whole Ohio and Great Lakes basin to the U.S. If Canada had included most of what is now the American Midwest (which would have made geographic sense at any rate, since the best route to the sea from there is down the St. Lawrence), then it might indeed have become a much greater power.

      1. If Canada had had more surviving Great Lakes tribes from America move up there, and fewer had died in the war, and Tecumseh had become an MP or something.

        If Canada hadn’t done the River Raisin Massacre, and hence moving to Canada had been more attractive/possible to more American settlers in the Northwest Territory.

        If fewer Famine Irish had died on the way and in Canada, that would also have helped. Also, presumably the more temperate Great Lakes possession would have attracted more immigrants.

        1. None of those things would have made any difference, since they all happened during or after the War of 1812, when the entire territory south of the Great Lakes already belonged to the U.S. What kept Canada from becoming a major power was the lack of arable land and the poor communications between different parts of the country; and those problems are insoluble within the borders of the country as given.

  10. This sounds like advice somebody should give a certain author over at Baen. His alt-history books started out good. But since he came to Baen, they just… fell apart, it feels like. His WW2 piece was dreck I have regretted buying, enough so that I refuse to buy anything else with his name on it.

    1. Oh dear… I have not read this author’s alt history, and it sounds rather like I don’t want to.

  11. If you talk to historians, you’ll find that instead of the dates given in most of the schools folks here went to (1939 – 1945, for those who had seriously crappy schools), a lot of them date the start of the war at 1937, when Japan invaded China.

    Proper calculation of when the war began is only the beginning of the problem. Whenever the war started, a line of causes far proceeds it. How far back does one have to go to find a change that will work for one’s purpose?

    The Daughter has often, not entirely jokingly, asserted that an argument could be mounted the French are at fault for all of modern history’s tragedies. Maybe the answer lies in fixing some part of the history of the French. One could start by keeping Charlemagne alive long enough to consolidate his kingdom and prepare a proper successor, and preventing the birth of Rousseau and the French Reign of Terror. 😉

    1. I might have to write an “alternate history” of Charlemagne from a religious perspective. You do know that he was officially declared a saint after his death, right? No joke – he was. Of course, back then the local Bishop declared sainthood, not the Vatican. (Some say the display of Charlemagne’s successor’s sword had a little to do with the Bishop’s declaration, but that’s just picky.)

      Of course, I’ve always enjoyed his success as a missionary (one of the reasons advanced for his canonization). It seems that every time he conquered a Hun or a Goth or a Vandal tribe, he’d line up the survivors next to the nearest body of water and give them a choice: be baptized in it, or be drowned in it. Apparently the cries of “Hallelujah! Now I see it!” (in Hun or Goth or Vandal) were deafening . . . Of course, it’s debatable whether they stayed converted after Charlemagne led his army back over the hill, but in those days the act of baptism was considered definitive. Once baptized, always a Christian. Today we know better . . .

      1. From what I’ve read about it (which was admittedly hearsay supported by consensus), there was remarkably little backsliding among those Charlemagne forcefully converted.

        Of course, the religions of my ancestors were admittedly rather unpleasant. Even if you blithely ignore the contemporary accounts, we have solid archaeological evidence of human sacrifice and ritualistic cannibalism.
        I can certainly see how eliminating the religious hard-liners enforcing the religion, promising you wouldn’t get strangled and tossed in a bog, and tales of a pleasant afterlife that anybody can attain, could lead to a quick re-ordering of religious life. (Especially on the Germanic side, where the religious enforcers and tribal rulers seem to have been largely one and the same.)

        1. A bit like the story of how the princes of Kiev picked the Eastern Orthodox version of Christianity – they liked pork and alcohol too much to become Muslim, the Jews were not a major political power, and the Orthodox had the emperor, enormous wealthy churches, and magnificent liturgy done in the local language (more or less). And thus the conversion of Russia began.

          1. The histories I’ve read involve Vladimir of Kiev. (Now his mother WAS Christian, so your story may refer to her.) He was originally going to give the Russ back to the Old Ways… until he wanted to get married to a German princess. they told him convert or no wedding. He sent representatives to Germany to report on Catholicism, and representatives to the Cathedral of Sophia (what is now the Hagia Sophia). The Eastern Orthodox was more impressive to the Russian sense of pageantry and splendor. (just look at their illumination… their philosophy was leaf it all then paint over the gold.) in tales he’s referred to as Saint Vladimir, and the legends of himself and his Reitsar hold the same place in Russian Lore that Arthur and his knights hold in British lore.

            1. It is Vladimir of Kiev. I was giving the semi-popular version of the story (as seen in a couple of under-grad textbooks I leafed through).

              I noticed that the usual suspects want the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) interior plastered over or the mosaics removed and all traces of its former role erased.

              1. I visited the Hagia Sophia in — 2005? — while they were in the midst of some restoration/renovation. The plan was to expose some of the original mosaics and leave some of the later plasterwork (when it was converted, of course, all of the mosaics were plastered over).

                What they had revealed of the original mosaics were stunning. With bad light and scaffolding in the way, still stunning. With flickering illumination — hard to imagine.

                Yes, I’d heard talk about covering it all back up and returning it to a mosque (ridiculous, with the Blue Mosque all but a stone throw’s away {I exaggerate, but there are many mosques in Istanbul, the population does not want for space}) or stripping it so it couldn’t be brought back in future.

                Depressing.

    2. On the one hand there is an opinion that WWII is nothing more than a continuation of the conflict started with WWI. At the very least grievances over reparations following the first world war had a significant role in fomenting conditions leading to the second.
      On the other hand, there is credible evidence that had the Germans met serious resistance early on the generals would have removed Hitler from power and pulled back. Of course since that did not happen we will never know.

    3. Oh, yes. If you take it too seriously you end up back at the primordial ooze adjusting the precise alignment of the electrons in order to move that one single celled thingy a few inches to the left…

        1. To the right, Ever to the right, Never to the left, Forever to the right.
          Let our creed, Be never to exceed, Regulated speed, No matter what the need!

          😉

  12. Just a nitpick:
    The conservative estimate of a million American dead upon an invasion of Japan was made during the war by analysts who did not have acces to accurate information.
    In hindsight, the Japanese army was significantly bigger than they thought it was.
    It’s likely that the planned invasion would have been defeated.

    1. Don’t hardly think so.
      Would have been terribly bloody and massively destructive for both the invading Allied troops and the Japanese military and civilian defenders, but I still believe the eventual outcome by that point was inevitable.
      Remember too, following the end of the war in Europe plans were already in work for a mass troop movement to the Pacific for the invasion.
      Isolated, cut off and surrounded on all sides, with no external resources, not to mention no ability for the fishing fleet to operate, it would only be a matter of time before the home islands fell.
      Still, terrible as those two bombs were, their use saved countless lives on both sides.

      1. We simply have too many resources to have been defeated by Japan, even on their home ground. Also, we’re highly determined (some would call it stubborn as mules, but they’re just jealous), and would eventually have escalated to some truly destructive measures. We were going to win. The only question was how many Japanese would still be alive at the end of it.

        1. Unless, if we hadn’t had the bomb, or hadn’t used it…and a real-life scenario takes over:

          In “Flyboys,”** James Bradley describes a storm that blew into Okinawa, one month after the Japanese surrendered, October 9-11, 1945. Okinawa would have been the staging ground for assault on the Japanese mainland. By the time the storm blew through, the US invasion fleet and millions of American soldiers would have been assembled. While Bradley didn’t say how much was already on the island after peace broke out, he did say 12 ships were outright sunk; 222 were grounded, 133 of which were damaged beyond repair. Twenty hours of torrential rain drowned virtually all supplies; flooding lifted and displaced entire Quonset huts. Meanwhile…the Japanese mainland was untouched. (Bradley refers to the storm as a kamikaze, or divine wind, like the one that saved Japan from the invasion of 150,000 Mongols back in 1281, which also bypassed the mainland.)

          Now…imagine if millions of our men, and the munitions and materiel to support them, had been on that island and our fleet assembled there, and suffered damage of similar grievous proportions.

          Could we still have defeated Japan? Could we have rebuilt the ships, the planes, replaced the lost supplies? Where would we have gotten the cash/gold to pay for it all? And even if we could’ve…how could we have replaced those sailors/soldiers?

          Say we did manage to wage a shoestring invasion of Japan. It’s just possible that in a long, drawn-out, and hideously bloody battle against children trained to commit suicide attacks, we would have lost the political will to do what had to be done to win.

          Alternatively, having lost a significant portion of our military capabilities, stuck in the bloody quagmire of Japan, we would not have been able to implement the Marshall Plan in Europe, and the balance of world power would have shifted decisively to the Soviet Union. After the Red Menace had swallowed Europe, it could then have turned its attention to defeating the US, and Japan. So Japan wouldn’t have won…but neither would we.

          ** I read “Flyboys” at my in-laws’ vacation home. At the bottom of page 437 of the paperback, beneath the description of the furious storm, my brother-in-law’s mother-in-law, a former WWII Army nurse, had written in pencil “I was in that storm. Oct 9-10-11 / 1945 Typhoon Okinawa” and signed it. Which is probably why I remember it. In her nineties, she’s still an active, feisty woman!

          1. Could we have rebuilt the ships, the planes, replaced the lost supplies?

            You mean the same people who had already done that once? Yeah.

            1. Agreed. Not to mention by that stage, what had been found in the POW camps Japan ran would have made the perfect propaganda material to KEEP the US population willing to do whatever it took.

            2. Agreed, but consider this. At that point, there’s no reason for the Russians not to go ahead with THEIR invasion plans, especially if they want to be the ones controlling the terms of the occupation and installing a new government.

              This is all very sketchy speculation at 6AM after a night shift, but what do the geopolitics of Cold War SE Asia look like without Japan there as a convenient basing and staging ground for US and European efforts in the region?

          2. In 1943, the United States produced more war materiel than all of the Axis powers combined.

            In 1944, the United States doubled its war production from 1943.

            In 1945, it was en route to another substantial increase.

            Just by way of illustration, Japan put 20 aircraft carriers into commission in the entire war, of which 16 were destroyed. By the summer of 1944, the U.S. had nearly 100 carriers operating in the Pacific Theatre alone, with more being built.

            Yes, the U.S. could easily have replaced every ship, aeroplane, rifle, bomb, and bullet that could have been lost in the storm at Okinawa. The men could not have been replaced, but there were still millions of soldiers in the European Theatre at that point, awaiting discharge or reassignment.

            The total superiority in manpower and industry of the U.S. to Japan (ignoring the other Allied powers, which were still in the war) was such that the idea of Japan’s defeating the U.S. is a complete fantasy. Unfortunately it was the fantasy that the Japanese Army and Navy were forced to believe in, because anyone who pointed out that they might lose a war was immediately attacked (and very often killed) by ultra-nationalist hit squads. The hit men even tried to rub out the Emperor before he could deliver his radio speech advising surrender.

        2. Pretty much, Wayne. Japan had next to no ability to supply itself from solely the home islands. Too many people, too few resources.

          1. And the people were pretty much starving in order to feed the military, in the last year or so of the war. That’s the other reason a lot of Japanese were relieved to see us. But if they’d had to fight starving, they would have tried, and done a fair amount of damage.

      2. Exactly – and that was at least in part a consideration in using the bombs. I’m quite certain that ending the war *quickly* was another big consideration.

        1. More, though, it had to be decisive. To convince the Emperor to surrender; to convince the Japanese people to surrender; to enable them to switch their loyalties to another form of government. WWII Japanese people were stubborn. So if there’s a million to one chance they’ll fight. But if there’s no chance, they mostly won’t guilt themselves into fighting; survival and continuity becomes the new duty, especially when reinforced by the Emperor (and by the hardliners and the thought police suddenly being dead or gone).

    2. There is an alt history book that features a land invasion of Japan called “McArthur’s War” by Michael Dobson that I think is very well written. In his book the Manhattan project is pushed too fast without proper safeguards and the pile melts down, which is why an invasion is required. He also plays around with the sequence of events of Pearl Harbor so that less of the US fleet is destroyed initially.

      1. That sounds rather interesting and potentially feasible (without knowing hte details I can’t go beyond “potentially”)

    3. It’s also likely that if it wasn’t defeated the Americans involved would have gone more than a little crazy. Considering the reports from Okinawa and the Americans there going somewhat berserker when they found the mass suicides (from diaries of troops who served there, as I understand it), I can’t see any way a land invasion of Japan would not turn into some form of wading through blood, with the associated casualty count.

  13. The 1815 Tambora eruption resulted in 1816 being known in Europe and North America as the year without a summer. The infamous Krakatoa eruption was a popcorn fart in comparison.
    From Wiki:
    With an estimated ejecta volume of 160 km3 (38 cu mi), Tambora’s 1815 outburst was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history.

      1. Note that there is strong evidence that Krakatoa was the thousand-year-old-old-ish child volcano of the blast that turned a single island into two islands – more or less coinciding with the year the few places with writing were chronicling snow in midsummer and skies so dark that even in midsummer at noon they needed torches to be able to see more than a few feet.

        That volcano’s blast caldera is about ten times the size of the Krakatoa blast caldera. Anak Krakatoa is doing its best to grow up to be as big as Daddy.

        Of course, Daddy Krakatoa doesn’t count as recorded history since it’s estimated to be in the 900s sometime, and – of course – in Indonesia.

        1. More things for the geologist to research while the calculations calculate. Interestingly Krakatoa wasn’t going to be that huge an eruption… except for one TINY problem. There was a crack at the base of the volcano that went straight to the Magma Chamber (They’ve looked at it, I’ll have to check on the kinds of imagery the used to find it.) So you have a volcano about to blow and you add to that superheated rock + ice cold water. You guys keep my work from getting too boring.

        2. Note: Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa is fascinating. His recording of it is delicious, for those who do audio books I would highly recommend it.

  14. I come here not to be the Devil, but merely perhaps his advocate. TXRed may feel free to disavow any previous knowledge of me at this point. “>” denote snippets from the original text.

    >You should not consider any “Different ending for World War Two” >scenario that requires Japan sit out the war.

    I think the best work to refute people on this one is Barnhart’s _Japan Prepares for Total War_. That being said, a caution on taking this to the next conclusion, which is that a clash between the United States and Japan is predestined for 1941-1942. Japan sitting out the war? Unlikely. Japan going north, on the other hand–very possible, even after Khalkin Gol indicated that might be a really bad idea.
    That being said (and yeah, I’m tipping my hand on future projects a bit here), Germany removing Britain (not via invasion, but accommodation) does change this calculus. To wit, if you have Britain and Germany come to separate peace in early 1941, thus leaving a whole bunch more RN units available come December 1941, the IJN just might balk at being asked to commit suicide. (Tangent: If you’re spitting out your coffee and saying, “Great Britain would never have made a separate peace!”, I point towards two PODs. One, Lord Halifax was d*mn close to being PM instead of Churchill after the Fall of France. Two, in that same vein, Churchill played _the critical role_ in forcefully continuing the struggle post-Battle of Britain…and that was very much a near run thing. Check out Bungay’s _The Most Dangerous Enemy_, then check out his sources and other primary sources in the general vicinity. At that point we can still respectfully disagree, but pretty sure it’s no longer crazy talk.)

    On an aside, I don’t think is “crappy schools” versus “Ya gotta pick a date somewhere.” Otherwise, please explain to me why WW 2 (as opposed to the Sino-Japanese struggle) doesn’t start with Mukden? Or for that matter, 1936 in Spain? I think one reason you have the division is that at a stroke, Britain and France’s declaration meant that it was “game on” all over the world. I’m not saying that I’m opposed to 1937 as a start point. I am, however, saying I’m not going to cast aspersions on anyone who says “What is September 1939?” in answer to a “The starting date of World War II” on Jeopardy.

    >Russia not having the October Revolution is another one that doesn’t fly. The exact timing of said revolution might shift some, but the Czar’s inability to read the national mood and his rather severe lack of ept aren’t going to change, and those guarantee that the increasingly pissed off and repressed population will explode somewhere around when they did. And you’d have to find a way to eliminate a whole passel of Communist bigwigs before you could prevent Lenin’s ultimate supremacy or Stalin’s reign. For the purposes >of alternate history, conveniently timed explosions don’t cut it.

    Again, as a historian I quibble with the inevitability of most events. There were multiple “cases of the stupid” with the Czar. This does not change the fact that World War I (and its attendant stresses) had a way of acting as the proverbial microwave to what would have otherwise been a slow boil of social distress. In that same vein, decisions to commit his most reliable troops (over the advice of some advisors), not leave the war when it was clearly no longer in Russia’s interest to continue fighting, and not aggressively pursue even minor reforms are hardly fixed points unless one believes in predestination. Much like explosives, there are things one can do that changes a high order detonation to low order. Maybe the Tsar has a different breakfast and changes his mind that day. Perhaps the Tsarina “falls” down the stairs and snaps her neck and the resultant grief causes a mind change. My point is, nothing is certain, to include both timing and ferocity, when it comes to the Russian revolutions.

    As to the Provisional Government–I don’t’ think one has to kill a whole passel of Communists to get to the October Revolution being miscarried. I’d say, to paraphrase one of the men you mention, “No Lenin, no problem.” To wit, I’d pay good money to see Stalin (who, let’s not forget, wasn’t exactly on Lenin’s good side when ol’ V.I. had a stroke), Trotsky, et. al. try to form a government, hold off the Mensheviks, and subsequently establish all the state apparatus that allowed their success in the Civil War without Lenin as a central figure. I’m no Robert Pipes, but I really don’t see that collective nest of vipers and idealists pulling that off. A little more ruthless Kerensky in the Summer / Fall 1917 (say, with an advisor going “You don’t _arrest_ Bolsheviks, you _shoot them_…”) and whatever happens in October 1917 doesn’t resemble what actually occurs.

    No argument on Hitler and Canada. Pretty sure Hitler’s continued existence in the 1930s is the strongest indication time travel either doesn’t exist, the alternatives are so horrible that it makes the OTL look like the proverbial Sunday picnic, or there’s some dapper chap with a British accent going “Fixed point, sorry…” as he zaps people with a sonic screw driver.

    However, strangely enough your statement does link nicely to the several reasons I believe you’re far too adamant on the use of atomic (not nuclear) weapon employment against Imperial Japan. First off, again I’ll point out that May 2 to August 6, 1945 is less than 90 days. Why is this important? Because going back to our little discussion of a table leg, there is every reason to believe Himmler (the likely next Fuhrer given that Goring is an utterly discredited mental wreck by July 1944) takes over. Thus, there is a fairly high probability that the Reich, even taking out the field marshals who would have been suspected coup participants, gets a much more competent defensive plan thanks to a briefcase full of explosives. I’m not saying Himmler is a military genius in this at all–I’m merely saying he’s above “average replacement value.” Or to use a sports analogy, he’s like going from Ryan Leaf to Trent Dilfer. Nothing at this point is going to _stop_ the Soviets (something about vengeance, mass, etc.)…but not pissing away four armies (to include two panzer), 300 day fighters, and all of their attendant in a futile attack in the Ardennes sure might make the war last more than 90 days. We can argue percentages, but I assure you there’s more than enough info from the Strategic Bombing Survey, Max Hastings’ _Armageddon_, Beevor’s _Fall of Berlin_, etc., etc. to indicate the Red Army facing 20 more competently handled divisions = ~75-80 more days of war + a Berlin forecast high of roughly 7,000 degrees followed by mushroom cloud on 3-5 August.

    Even leaving out the Germans, the casualty estimates weren’t necessarily the primary driver for the strike on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Frank’s _Downfall_, Hastings’ _Retribution_, and the Walker’s _Prompt and Utter Destruction_ seemingly all indicate the discussion of “a million Allied dead” hadn’t quite reached the President in time to be a part of his decision. Nor was President Truman totally onboard with the second bombing. Have a weather front come through the Marianas on 8 August that delays things 48 hours coupled with the Soviets declaring war as historically, and you might have the Emperor forcing the issue before the second bomb gets dropped. Last but not least, a “million” dead was hardly the “conservative” estimate. Indeed, people at the time thought folks who expressed such a thought were being alarmist, as they expected a factor of 3-10 times that of Okinawa (with 10 being at the extreme outside, the G-2 is into the peyote again, most dangerous COA). It was only _after_ the bombs were dropped, Japan had surrendered, and the Americans had a chance to take a look at what was actually in Kyushu that the number rose to a million _casualties_ (with ~200,000 dead), and even that was thought crazy talk in contemporary terms.

    Your statement also leaves out a lot of “Mr. Murphy has just entered the game. Mr. Murphy casts ‘F U.’ Heck, have Enola Gay / Bock’s Car have an engine fire (not that those _ever_ happened with B-29s), Indianapolis have her encounter with a submarine a week earlier, or any other happy incidents and you’re not talking about a second bomb until late September, maybe 4-5 by the time Olympic rolls around. It is by no means certain that in any of these circumstances the Japanese hold on long enough for the next bomb. Or to step back even further, the researchers can take all the right turns yet screw up explosives 101 / have a few fuze deads leading to a dirty bomb rather than bright flash at Trinity.

    Last but not least, just to be ornery, consider you are stating it has to be Hiroshima and _Nagasaki_. As the Mayor of Kokura, Mr. “Horseshoe Shoved Up His Rear”-San can attest, if not for a lot of clouds Nagasaki is just some medium Japanese city no one had really heard of. (On an aside, I still doubt that a “hole” magically opened in the clouds vice a bunch of young men weren’t going home without dropping that bomb on something in Japan.)

    My larger point of all this is that there is a reason they call it “alternate” rather than “the OTL with some seasoning” history. As has been noted upthread, actual history has enough “batsh*t crazy” turning points that things which seem implausible do become, upon further review, quite plausible.

    1. Nah, I won’t disavow you unless you start saying that Karl Marx had great ideas and that the KC Royals are going to win the World Series this year (the latter of which certainly would come under “Real Life is too batsh*t crazy to be sold as fiction.”)

      1. Marx wasn’t that bad.

        And as soon as I find a dimension of angels what hain’t got no greed to ’em, I’mma prove it. So there. (Ain’t found one, yet)

    2. You did spark an interesting question in my head.
      Suppose the war in Europe had proceeded just a bit slower.
      Is there any possibility that the first nuke might have been targeted on Berlin rather than Japan? Or any other high value German target, Berlin just seems the most obvious.
      In retrospect, that might have actually caused the Pacific war to linger, as conventional wisdom has it that it did require two strikes on the Japanese to convince the emperor to order surrender.

      1. The Manhattan Project’s initial target was the Germans, the Germans, and then even more Germans. When Berlin fell, there was a large contingent of the scientists who lost the stomach for using the weapon now that it was going to be employed against the Japanese. From these physicists’ perspective, the United States was about to kick the crap out of someone whom they could have defeated by other means (e.g., blockade) that wouldn’t cost so many lives.

        1. I’ve had this same argument online many times, the most recently just a couple of weeks ago.

          I’ve always believed that in a war you should

          1) Be no more savage than is necessary to achieve victory (and no less).

          2) Offer mercy to your enemies *as long as it does not cost your own people*

          3) When you are unsure about the force needed for 1) and 2), err in the side of protecting your own people.

          In other words, no unnecessary killing. Try to avoid harming civilians as long as they are not actively aiding combatants. When civilians are being used by combatants as a shield, try to avoid harming them as long as it doesn’t endanger your own people. Always offer the option of honest surrender, and adhere to the terms you offer scrupulously.

          That being said, if an enemy refuses to surrender, a cost 10 or 100 times as many *enemy* lives to for each of your own saved is not only acceptable but should be mandatory for any halfway competent military leader. Up to and including the “Carthage” solution, if no other less costly alternative is realistically possible.

          This has not made me terribly popular with the SJWs and the Glittery Hoo-ha crowd.

            1. I have *no* idea. Hey, can I interested you in a big orange-colored bridge? I can give you a really good price!

              1. I’m kind of short on cash right now, but I’ll trade you a nice piece of beachfront land in Nevada for that lovely bridge!

      2. You know, that could have been quite an interesting diversion. The US only had… was it 4 or 6 nukes on hand at that point, so they would have been rather cautious about using their new “super weapon”.

        In that scenario Berlin would certainly have been a target (with the possible bonus of finally offing that damned twit with the toothbrush mustache, if he happened to be in the right place when the bomb landed)

    3. James, I am going to have to come back to this wonderful comment this weekend to do it justice. You’ve got so much information in here I can’t answer it on a work night when I’m still fried after database digging.

  15. By the way, I got a post “stuck” in moderation.

    In any case, my “alternate history” universe doesn’t have a single “turning point”. In it, Earth had been discovered, some three-four hundred years ago, by an alien species who “secretly” kidnapped people from Earth. They’re long term planners and wanted to “test” our worthiness for being their slaves. While nobody on Earth knows about their actions, our history has been changed in small ways at first thanks to people not being on Earth to play their quiet roles in our history. Later, a secret group of humans who know about the aliens are “meddling” in order that Earth could later be united to fight the aliens.

    1. I found it, Paul, and okayed it. And that sounds more like a secret history universe than an alt-history – but a lot of fun nonetheless.

      1. Thanks Kate.

        Well, it’s not a secret history because their history is different. The US “owns” parts of what we call Western Canada (by the character’s time, those parts are mostly US States). The US and the British Empire are very close allies. The British Monarch isn’t a figurehead. The British Empire contains Nations that are (in our history) provinces of Canada. IE Canada never united into a Commonwealth.

        It’s just that there are no obvious “turning points” from our history.

        1. Ah. That would make it part alternate history, and part secret history (secret because of hte hidden forces manipulating things, alternate because of hte obvious)

          1. Nod, when I started thinking about this story universe I had “planned” a Great Battle Of Earth between the Invasion Fleet and the forces of the Earth Alliance (I chose that name before B5 started) but I got to thinking.

            How strong of Alliance would it be if both 1950’s US and 1950’s Soviet Union were members of the Alliance?

            I decided that this Earth could not be *our* Earth.

            One of the “early” changes was to have the White Russians win over the Red Russians (thanks to help from “meddling exiled humans”) resulting in no Soviet Union. [Smile]

  16. Japan: Chung and Halliday. Absent that soviet agent in the KMT, and certain soviet decisions on meddling, it seems quite possible that the Japanese would not have accelerated things to the point of bringing in the other combatants.

    Russian Revolution: I once got part way into making ‘Tunguska is the arrival of a superhuman anticommunist murder machine which replaces Rasputin’. Okay, maybe fairly terrible, but I remember thinking that five, ten, thirty years before would’ve made it easier for less effort.

    Hitler: Hitler goes with America instead of Germany during WWI. So, he doesn’t get power there, some other ruler heads Germany during WWII, and maybe he leaves behind some not particularly evil descendents.

    1. Oh boy… I think my head is spinning over that set of scenarios…

      Of course, this is from the woman who is thinking of a setup that ends in a two-America 20th century, where the Union States of America and the Confederate States of America lead to very different dynamics in the world wars… I suspect that WW1 would likely still go more or less the same way, since I don’t see too much involvement from either America there. But WW2 with Confederate America allied to the Axis would bring the Union in a lot earlier but not with a huge power differential because the Union wouldn’t BE that strong.

      There’s a ton of research behind anything like that, and I could guarantee if I ever did it, I’d piss off the entire damn WORLD. But it would be fun…

      1. First is merely the result of examining bits of those author’s Mao biography from an anti-communist alt-hist perspective, and some knowledge of why the US and the Empire of Japan came into conflict.

        Second was not, in hindsight, a story. The research for it did convince me that ‘time traveler fixes the Czar’s secret police’ had some feasibility.

        Third was the setup for a joke. I’ve a weakness for trying to build scenarios around jokes.

        As for the ACW, I suspect Sherman was right. I think a victorious CSA would have resulted in both sides fragmenting, and becoming embroiled in endemic bloodshed. In short, perhaps like the whole of North America becoming something like the Balkans.

  17. My favorite thing about alternate history stories: sometimes they are so well-written that I get involved and have to go back and read what really happened.
    My LEAST favorite thing about alternate history is reading what is essentially a verbatim transcript of actual history, with the names cleverly changed. I don’t think that’s much above the level of understanding how to use the search and replace function on a word processor.

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