Friday, February 17, 2017

Editorial: Social Changes in Alternate History

Sorry for the delay in posting new topics. Been busy with life, work and other projects.

But this has been a question that I've been thinking a lot about lately, especially in regards to what is going on around the world right now: How do our beliefs and ideals change over time? And how much can a small group of people change an entire nation's ideology?

I'm not much of a social historian. I like my wars and battles and big momentous events, and I do believe, somewhat, in the "Great Man" theory of history, though not for every single event. However, I do recognize that underlaying social currents support the above, but I don't believe that changes in society and culture always directly lead to historical developments as some social historians like to claim.

In fact, I think major social changes can happen very quickly, and often with just a minor push in a certain direction, and often more willing to fall back to traditional forms, if modified, than to embrace new, foreign concepts.

The example I keep thinking about is Nazi Germany. The Germany of 1933 was in chaos, despite having one of the most democratic constitutions in the world. For decades, the belief was that more democracy is better, right? That's what the framers of the Weimar Republic must have been thinking when they wrote their constitution. With enough time to retrain the Monarchists, the Militarists, the Communists and the Nationalists to the benefits of a peaceful, inclusive government, then Germany would become a beacon of democracy. The problem, of course, was that it was running against hundreds of years of German history. But with time, of course...

But then Hitler and the Nazi's came, pushing very early on for a government lead by a strong leader (Hitler, of course, was sure it was going to be him) and to do away with the silly democracy. And enough Germans, using that silly democratic system, believed the Nazi's to vote them into power in 1933. Soon after, Hitler rendered the constitution moot, ruling as an absolute dictator, using a secret police, military expansion, propaganda and racism to strengthen his rule.

And millions of Germans went along with it, even though just a few years before they were willing to let the democratic experiment run it's course.

So what happened? To a degree, it was a retrenchment of old German and Prussian ideals: a strong military to defend the nation and bring glory, a strong, paternalistic leader to guide the people, suspicion of ideas of "liberty" and "democracy", and a belief that fate was with them. But it also had the more sinister anti-Semitism, violence, fear and blatant propaganda to go with it, and turned National Socialism into the sinister ideology that we hate today, the one that has devolved to the point where you would call someone you fundamentally hate and disagree with a "Nazi," wether they support that ideology or not.

But the thing is: had the Nazi's won World War Two, had Hitler conquered the world, he would have been right. Not because we are totally and completely wrong to the "true" nature of humanity, but because we would believe and accept it. It would have drilled into our heads in school, blared from our TV, radio, movies, and repeated, time and again, that Fascism, National Socialism, is the best thing in the world, the true ideology of humanity, and that Communism and Democracy were failed experiments at best, or worse: detrimental, vile and destructive ideologies out to destroy the world.

This is something to remember when looking at alternate history, and a pratfall that many (myself included) have fallen in: the winners write the history. They also can shift the social ideals through education and propaganda, they can make defeats into victories, or they can make victories in defeats. We today believe that democracy and capitalism is the best because it "won." We think it's natural because it's what the majority of the world believes. But at one point half the world thought that totalitarian dictatorships was the way to go, and centuries ago kings and emperors ruled the world. While racism is something that we still struggle with today, we recognize it as something we have to get rid of. In an alternate history, or even in the not-so-distant past, we actively encouraged it.

So when reading or writing an alternate history, remember that just because democracy, capitalism, free speech, free religion and others "won," that's not always the case. And in a few short years, it could be the other way entirely.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fictional AltHistory #8: Kaiserreich, Part 2

A few months ago I talked about the Kaiserreich: Legacy of the Weltkrieg mod for Darkest Hour, the improved version of Paradox Interactive's Hearts of Iron 2. But soon after I wrote that, other things came up, new games to play, and a dozen other things that prevented me from revisiting this alternate history scenario.

But now that I finally figured out how to get the game to work on my computer again, let's take a look at a few other events in the Kaiserreich backstory that has a major Alternate History twist to it!

POD: Yet Another French Revolution

When you start a game of Kaiserreich, you are presented with a surprise: two France's! No, there wasn't some weird multiverse crisis that somehow resulted in two nations that call themselves the same but are totally different and hate each other. Nope: a left wing revolution resulted in  two nations that call themselves the same but are totally different and hate each other. It's always the commies.

Maybe McCarthy was onto something...

In 1920, after a brief civil war between the establishment and a socialist-syndicalist alliance, the Commune of France was declared in Paris. The leaders of the old Third Republic that didn't join the Commune retreated to Algeria, claiming the French colonies as the true nation of France, and that they were a government in exile. That's something you are going to hear a lot of in this mod...

Plausibility: 8/10. In a very simple overgeneralization: since 1789, the French have a habit of overthrowing ineffectual, corrupt or defeated governments and setting up a new one. Since King Louis XVI lost his head in OTL, there has been five republics, two empires, two monarchies, and a communist commune, not to mention the puppet state set up by the Nazis.

So I can see the French tossing out the Third Republic and starting the Second Commune, or whatever it's called. And at the same time, I can see those that wouldn't agree with the new order hightailing out, even if that means sitting in Algiers fuming at all that you lost and vowing to someday comeback and restore the nation.

And maybe turn the Eiffel Tower into a huge middle finger pointed at Germany.

But, this is the big question: can this syndicalist nation survive as long as it did? That is the bigger, iffier question to me. I'm personally surprised that Germany would allow a proto-communist, left leaning extremists to set up shop that soon become really resentful and angry at losing to Germany, again. But at the same time, the Germany of the post-Weltkreig is just sick and tired of fighting, and desires peace. So maybe the leadership of the new Commune, seeing what happened when the Germans intervened in the Russian Revolution, decided to play nice, at first, and Germany was willing to let them. The lore doesn't go into detail about early Commune-Germany relationships, but I'm sure it's not all sunshine and roses.

POD: And... Britain Too?

In 1925, a coal strike in Britain quickly spiralled into violence, and when the army was sent in to restore order, the army instead revolted. A general strike shut down the nation, and in six weeks, the Royal Family, most of the Royal Navy, some of the Royal Air Force, loyalist military units and whoever did not like the idea of "equality for all" rabble-rousers redistributing their wealth all hightailed it to Canada and the other colonies, waiting for the moment to return. The Trades Union Congress then declared the Union of Britain, another socialist-syndicalists inspired by the French across the channel. The nation isolated itself from the world, content to build socialism in Britain with no one to interfere.

So... alternate history Brexit then?

Plausibility: 5/10. This is, to a degree, odd. The way the lore goes, the Dominions and Colonies of the Empire were mostly okay with the Peace of Honour (what ended the long, drawn out war between Germany and Britain after France fell), but the Home Isles took it really badly, and all it needed was a spark, similar to the miners strike of OTL that Winston Churchill proposed solving with machine guns.

The way the game made it sound, the Peace with Honour wasn't that bad. If anything, it basically restored the status quo, with a few minor changes, like some islands being transferred around. I could see maybe there being some issues with a populace that just fought and starved and struggled for seven years, with millions of casualties and nothing to show for it: not even Ireland was given it's independence in the treaty, so it would seem that Britain at least lost, and would have something to strive to regain in the future (basically like how the Nazi's rose to influence and power in Germany OTL). But without the anger and hate, I don't see it coming to pass.

Or whatever passes as anger over in the UK. Something something football.

The Britain from 1921-25 would be directionless: all the sacrifice, all the fighting, and everything just went back to what it was, just with a lot of men dead. So a minor crisis that a somewhat indifferent government and upper class tried to crush away boiling over, but I don't know if it would be a socialist revolution, or even if it couldn't be suppressed or with some reforms to molify the masses. Maybe a socialism with some nationalism thrown in, but I don't see much of that in the lore of the game. So I'm on the fence of this one.

POD: The Sun Never Sets on the German Empire

Germany managed to win a few colonies in the aftermath of the Weltkrieg. But they gained a lot more with the British Empire collapsed and went socialist. It wouldn't do to have these prime areas of real estate to just become independent, or, worse, becomes part of another empire. Nope: They had to be taken. The colony of Mittelafrika, composed of the old Belgian Congo and former German territories, along with British possessions like Kenya, Tanzania and others, is just one of these new colonies: southern China is the personal fiefdom of the Allgemeine Ostasiatische Gesellschaft, the German East Asian Company, while many other territories like the Suez Canal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and many other islands and cities are now all part of the great and glorious Kaiserreich.

Plausibility: 1/10. This is perhaps the least plausible part of the entire mod. According to the backstory, even after 1921 Germany was still fighting, sending troops to make sure that Russia's Civil War didn't turn into a Bolshevik victory. But then in 1925, four years later, suddenly Germany is able to basically occupy and bring areas from Africa to South East Asia to a third of China into puppet states and colonies and corporate fiefdoms with, as far as I can tell, little issue and bloodshed?

And a hint of domineering paternalism and subjugation for good effect

The Germany they described in 1921 has just won a Pyrrhic Victory, and was on the verge of economic and social collapse after seven years of the British blockade, total war, and failed harvests. Apparently Admiral von Tripitz, as the new Chancellor, was able to turn it all around starting in 1924, occupy most of Africa and Britain's Asian possessions by 1925, and set up a Chinese empire with the permission of the teetering Qing Dynasty in 1926.

Yes, there would be a vacuum of power if the British Empire collapses, but my guess is that Germany wouldn't be able to simply march in, place their flag where the Union Jack was, and all would be good. I'd see revolutions, strikes, bloody uprisings, syndicalist/socialist/nationalist upheaval that, should the German Empire get involved in, would cause the already war weary people to rise up in their own revolt at sending even more soldiers to die in places far away from home.

Most of the map of Kaiserreich should be a lot of small states in Africa and Asia, former colonies suddenly cast adrift with no one but the strong local warlords to replace it. Maybe Germany, the Ottomans, even the Austrians and Japanese, would get a few possessions. But not as much as we see in game.

"And zis piece is mine, and zis one, and zis one..."

POD: Crouching Russia, Hidden Bolsheviks

Russia in Kaiserreich is, quite simply, a mess. The White's won the civil war with help from Germany, and Alexander Kerensky became President of an unstable, weak, divided, and much smaller Russian Republic, but he's the only person capable of holding everything together. Finland, Ukraine, the United Baltic Duchy, White Ruthenia, a union of Cossack territories, several central Asian countries and a couple Japanese puppet states had all been created from it's territory after the Weltkrieg. Political divisions, communists, and reactionaries besiege the nation from all sides, and it's a question of when, not if, it will all come to a head.

(Spoiler alert!) Within minutes of starting the game, Kerensky will be dead, allowing a Russian player to guide Russia to it's destiny: wether communist, national populist or something in between.

And time to bring back the armoured trains!

Plausibility: 4/10. There are a few issues with this scenario, namely in the Civil War. According to the backstory, the White's of the Russian Civil War got together in 1919 and agreed to name Kerensky as their unified leader. But the White's of the Civil War are a diverse group, ranging from monarchists wanting to put the Czar back in power to democrats that want to forge a new destiny for Russia (and they, in turn, divided between democratic socialists and lassiez-faire liberals). Agreeing with Kerensky, who had already failed to hold the country together after the February Revolution before Lenin and his Bolsheviks overthrew him in the October Revolution does seem to be a a bit of a stretch. But the idea of a unified White movement isn't totally outlandish, I feel.

Then there is the German intervention. I think the problem with some of the backstory of the mod is that it's acknowledged that Germany had nearly fallen apart after the Weltkrieg, but then the game has Germany intervening around the world within a couple of years. It's seems highly unlikely that Germany would be in shape, or have the political or popular support to go east again. Supplies? Maybe. Volunteers? Alright. But a full fledged army sent in to the quagmire of Russia to prop up a "democratic" Russian regime? That feels like a bit too much, and should have resulted in riots and revolution back in Germany.

But what do you think? Do some good ol' French and English revolutions make sense? If you have a comment or a suggestion, either email me at tbguy1992@gmail.com or look for me on Twitter, @tbguy1992.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Alternate History Scenario #27: A Different Kind of American Slavery?

The Alternate History Wiki is a great place to find alternate history ideas, and this one was because of an idea someone threw out in the chat: What if slavery was still used in the US, but not in the version that we know, but something more like the old Roman style of "debt" slavery.

And that got me thinking. And when that happens, I start making up an entire alternate history scenario.

This won't be a full fledged scenario, but something more theoretical than anything, how an alternate US may look if it didn't use chattel slavery as in OTL. I remember reading somewhere of the point when the race driven, life long slavery was made official, a court case in the 1600s in Virginia. However, I can't find the actual source, but I think I will use that as the main point of divergence. Say the Founding Fathers, in their pursuit of building a Roman style republic, decide to go all out?

Here Bessarius gives his master, George Washington, a glass of wine

Slavery in this new America would be much different: theoretically, anyone could be a slave, but there would be a very particular system set into place. Certain crimes, say theft, fraud and the like, could result in the accused being sentenced to slavery for a certain period of time, say five years as an average based on the amount of money the accused took.

The larger percentage of slaves in this alternate world would be those in deep debt, with little prospect of being able to pay it off. The way I would see it, a wealthy person would agree to pay off said persons debt, with some interest, but in turn the debtor would become an "indentured servant" or slave to the wealthy party. However, there would be a lot of laws and protections in place over the years, preventing children from being enslaved, ensuring some basic rights to life, while temporarily removing other rights, like voting and such. I'd think that anyone that had been a slave in their life would be barred from serving in political office and other constraints, but that would never apply to their children unless they also had to apply for it. It would also be possible for these slaves to get out of their contract early, working at a side job if they wanted to (though it may depend on locality there). In general, this form of slavery would simply be working to pay off debt, and being given food and shelter to do so.

And at the same time collapse the market in shackles and chains.

This would be a slavery based on contracts and laws instead of racism and "tradition." In fact, with this kind of slavery, almost all of American history could be rewritten. With a source of cheap labour without needing to import millions of men, women and children from Africa, plantations in the South would be as likely to form, just with contracted free labor more than permanent black slaves. This source of labour would be better motivated, with terms of service, and the chance of getting freedom sooner. As for the South itself, there wouldn't be millions of black slaves to be worried about, and with a rotating door of indentured servants, the plantations could keep going a lot longer than in OTL.

It would be when Industrialization happens that issues could come up: some factories could use only indentured servants, while others would have to rely on paid workers. This could cause tensions: either indentured servants are resentful of having to work for no money, or that paid workers would not get the wage they deserve due to the indentured workers. I could see more strife between workers, rather than the formation of unions to demand better wages, but eventually groups trying to bridge the gap between the two, the poor workers and the near serfs that compete with them.

Oh darn, did I just make socialism in the US again?

Immigration would also be different. For some potential migrants, the thought of coming to the US, but then being put into slavery, would dissuade some, but for others, hired as indentured servants for a period of time by wealthy land and factory owners would be an opportunity to never pass up. Internally, the movement of people could be different. Those who become indentured servants could be moved away from their families and communities to work in mines or factories or farms in another state. When more people move west to open up the frontier, it would challenge the indentured slavery system with a lack of wealthy patrons to help those that fall behind on debt. If anything, the west could become more "wild" than it actually was, or a lot more empty for longer, or more likely, just larger plantations like in the south, growing wheat and raising cows instead of cotton.

But with possibly tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people serving as little more than free labor, the the US economy would not grow as large or as robust as it did in our timeline. Wages would be lower due to the competition, while the standard of living would be a lot smaller in return. The only people that would benefit from this would be the rich, those that own the factories and land to be farmed. Since they have nearly free labor for periods of time, and the ability, through pricing products and making loans with high interest, to make more debt slaves, the process would be a vicious cycle that would be hard to break.

I... uh... that is not what I meant...

If the system works well, and those that have to use indentured servitude to pay off their debt to be able to re-enter society later with nothing to hold them back and even some cash on the side to restart their lives, then it would serve it's function well: providing temporary cheap labor, while also helping those that can't pay it. But if it breaks down, and becomes a way to oppress the lower classes, then it's less likely to be tolerated into the future, and could be the cause for civil unrest and possible revolution in the future.

But that's where I will leave it. But what do you think? What would an America with indentured servitude like I describe look like? If you have an idea, or a comment, feel free to follow or message me on Twitter (@tbguy1992) or my email tbguy1992@gmail.com.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Editorial: Parallelism and Alternate History

So I hope you all had a good holiday season. I've been pretty busy with family and work, and getting into playing Overwatch, which, like everything that I get into, is long after everyone else already gets into it.

But I digress. It has been fun! Even if I can't hit anything when I shoot.

So, you know... pew pew dead. That's how I roll!

Anyway, back to Alternate History and talking about it.

One thing that has come up a lot in my discussions with fellow Alternate Historians is the use of parallels to our history in AH, and to what degree we should use it. Some say that parallelism is sloppy writing and should be avoided, while other's say that it helps connect events in the minds of readers so should be used liberally. I've had people especially drag Harry Turtledove through the mud for his parallelism in his Timeline 191 series, which I'll get to in a bit.

I'm somewhere in the middle, as some of the writing I've done on the Alternate History Wiki and on this blog are anything to consider. I think it's most important when doing AH that I write a good story that is understandable to people who have, at most, a small grasp on the history of the era. This is why the most popular topics of AH in English: World War Two and the American Civil War, because almost everyone in Canada, the US and the UK know about those two events. And, as we all know, the US is the centre of the world...

And it's reasons like that that this map exists.

Most people know some of the details, like D-Day happening on June 6, 1944, and the Americans joined the war when Japan surprise attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. But in most cases, they don't understand why the war happened, the underlying causes, the more subtile events, or even the other nations involved (I blame the Cold War and rather nationalistic historical educational systems we still have for downgrading the role of other nations, especially the USSR).

So this is where the value of parallelism can come in handy. For those people that enjoy a good story, but don't have the full depth of knoweldge of a historical setting, using familiar dates can help to anchor the story into the time period, even if the causes and results of the Alternate History are vastly different.

It's also a reason why I'm not totally opposed to see big names in stories and timelines that started decades, if not centuries before they would have been born OTL. In fact, in my big French Trafalgar, British Waterloo TL, I'm very guilty for doing this. Partially because I was still in high school and only just starting my AH career, and also because I simply suck with making up new names, as many readers of mine could point out. Though, to be honest, the biggest reason was because I always wanted a picture beside the name in articles like the "Presidents of the US" and "Prime Ministers of France." Kind of hard to do that when you just make up people. But, I made it fairly clear, namely through changing dates of birth and death, that there are still some butterflies: most have been hanged by up to ten years in either direction of their OTL birthdays.

Birthdays can get weird in parallel timelines.

But there are the pratfalls of sticking to parallelism too closely. Timeline 191 is one of the more blatant examples: World War One starting the same day that it did OTL, with the same reason for the war (the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but by bomb instead of gunshot), and then the USA and CSA duking it out over three years of trench warfare. I've had people go on about how the South shouldn't have been able to withstand against the full might of the US, but I have my theories as to why the CSA could have lasted as long as they did (and something I will go into further detail later). It's even more blatant when a fascist CSA attacks the US on June 22, 1941 in Operation Blackbeard, which is basically a copy-replace of Nazi Germany's Operation Barbarossa that took place on the same day, and with major battles occurring on the same day ATL as major battles occurred OTL. Some of these do seem a bit forced and ridiculous, but I can understand why Turtledove did it, if just to ensure that for new readers to alternate history that they aren't thrown out of the loop. That said, he could have handled it better in my opinion, and better paralleled the ideas and emotions of the time (which he did some extent), and broke free from the tyranny of dates and timing.

But he's the New York Time's Best Selling Author, and I'm a procrastinating 24 year old on the internet. So what do I know?

Not as much as he does about growing a beard, that's for certain

Anyway, sorry for the month long silence. Hopefully I'll get back to a more regular posting schedule in the near future. But if you have any suggestions or comments, find me on Twitter @tbguy1992, or email me at tbguy1992@gmail.com