Monday, October 31, 2016

NaNoWriMo Break!

Hey everyone, just letting you know that I will be taking another break from the blog while I participate in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge, to write a 50,000 word story in the month of November. Starting November 1 and through to 30, I'll be busy working on an idea I've had in mind for a long time now. Best of all: it has an Alternate History aspect to it!

I'm not going to tell anymore than that, but I hope by the end of the month I'll have a good story worth sharing with folks, and perhaps the foundation (or completed story, who knows?) for a full length novel.

But first things first, I need to write it.

If you do have any alternate history ideas in the meantime, feel free to share them in the comments or through Twitter (@tbguy1992) or send me an email at tbguy1992@gmail.com.

See you all in December!

Monday, October 24, 2016

AltHistory Scenario #26: What if Matthew Perry Failed to "Open" Japan?

Civilization VI just came out on Friday, and I've spent all my free time of the past weekend (in between watching my brother try Portal 2 for the first time) playing it, and loving every moment. Despite everyone's fears that it's cartoony art style would mean it was taking a simpler, free-to-play Mobile game approach, Civ VI has proven to be a huge step forward, much better than it's predecessor was when it was in Vanilla. Although there are a few issues I have, like religion never seeming to restore itself in it's own holy city and not being able to negotiate a peace treaty at certain times (and not explaining why I can't get a peace treaty), over all, it's a good game.

Okay, review time over. Back to Alternate history! But since it's a bit late, and I've been procrastinating all weekend, instead I'm going to try something different, and instead write a short timeline instead of the long, drawn out explanations. So tell me what you think at the end!.

Timeline:

July 1853: The arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry's American fleet to Edo, Japan, results in a firefight when Japanese sailors tried to board the USS Mississippi. The American ships proceed to bombard the ancient capital of Japan, destroying the small wooden ships in the harbour, and land a force of Marines to capture Edo Castle. The sickly Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyoshi, died of a heart attack before he could be captured. The Council of Elders assembled to rule Japan in place of Tokugawa's son, seeing the death and destruction caused by the American weapons, surrendered. Matthew Perry, realizing how backward the Japanese were, drew up a treaty that would place all of Japan under an American Protectorate, which the Emperor Kōmei was forced to sign.

Matthew Perry, seen here, on his way to meet the Emperor of Japan to discuss Phoebe's new cat and Joey's lost keys... 
September 1853: The news of what happened in Edo reaches America, and in Washington, D.C., President Millard Fillmore, Congress and the nation at large is suddenly faced with the fact that the US had just basically taken over Japan as a colony. In a huge debate in the Senate over wether the treaty should be accepted or not dragged on for weeks, until in a narrow vote, it was approved, with Northern industrialists and southern Landowners working out a deal to make Japan an "associate state" that would never be given statehood (and not upsetting the delicate balance of slave and free state) while it would be made a free economic territory for the whole US. Perry was appointed American Military Governor of the Japanese Empire, and a small force of 4,000 soldiers, including Colonel Robert E. Lee, the commandant of West Point, to establish a garrison there.

I'm going to avoid a Civil War joke here, because I General Lee don't find them that funny.

1854-1860: American businessmen began to invest in the backward nation, selling new factory equipment and tools to the populace, while pushing through major American reforms, including dismantling the Shogunate, getting rid of the Samurai class, heavy promotion of Christianity (Methodist and Baptist missionaries traveled to Japan to convert the Buddhist and Shinto populace, compulsory education and many other "western" motives and mores. This lead to resistance, especially amongst the deposed Samurai, the associates of the former Shogun, and conservative Buddhist and Shinto priests and practitioners. But many Japanese, especially in the lower class, traders, scholars and the Crown Prince Mutsuhito support the reforms, and the 4,000 strong garrison soon had 40,000 Japanese auxiliaries that helped to suppress those that want to hold Japan back to it's isolationist path. The Japanese economy begins to boom with it's close ties to the US, and the final armed uprising, in northern Honshu, is suppressed in 1860. Tensions would continue to remain, but under first Perry, and then later Lee as Governor, Americans came to respect the quickly modernizing Japanese.
Though the Americans had serious questions about Japan's taste in headwear.

1860-1870: The American colonial experiment soon begins to blossom. Places as diverse as Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Canada, Alaska, Mexico, Western Africa (where Liberia, the home for freed slaves in the Mother Continent, had been set up in the 1820s) , and the Philippines all are soon seen as possible areas to further push "Manifest Destiny." Trading companies, with a larger US Navy to back them, begin to set up trading posts in Africa and in the Pacific. Hawaii is annexed in 1863, followed with the purchase of Alaska in 1865. A brief war between the US and Spain in 1869-70 results in Cuba, the Philippines and Puerto Rico being taken over as further Protectorates. Liberia begins to expand, as the generous provisions of the Bill of Emancipation, pushed by Representative Abraham Lincoln of Illinois in 1863, resulted in the US government basically purchasing slaves and freeing them, many electing to go back to Africa, ending slavery as painlessly as possible. This money was then often invested back into the US, with northern manufacturers selling automated machinery to the South to take up the slack. The entire US boomed, with Industry roaring ahead in the north, food, cotton and tobacco from the south being sold all over the world, and the colonies growing quickly as Immigration filled the "Homeland."

And, uh... okay, I've never actually seen the show. MOVING ALONG...

1870-1873: The American Empire hit it's first major stumbling block in the summer of 1870, when tensions between the US and the British Empire finally reached a head when an American ship owned by the Vanderbilt family was impounded in India, with a member of the crew (an immigrant from Scotland) being arrested for desertion from the army. President Schuyler Colfax, taking the affront as an insult directed from an "old and tired kingdom on a new, vigorous Republic," got Congress to declare war. In months, the first American troops began to march on the recently formed Dominion of Canada. However, the Canadian militia managed to stymie the Americans into the long and cold winter of 1870-71, and allowed British troops and the Royal Navy to sail to the Canadian's rescue. The war would last for three years, but despite efforts by the Royal Navy to interdict American trade between American and it's colonies in the Atlantic and Pacific, American troops took over all of Canada. The Treaty of New York ceded all British holdings in British North America, who then turned east, to India, Egypt and for allies in Europe.

Though, tbh... it's not exactly hard to find redcoats in white snow...
1873-1900: The next quarter century was America's Golden Age: with colonies around the world and one of the quickest growing populations and economies in the world, and with an entire continent to itself (Mexico was made a protectorate in 1881 after yet another civil war and military coup made the nation too unstable). However, the quick expansion and the military to protect it, funded mostly through tariffs, was proving too much. Income tax was introduced in 1881 to prevent the nation from going into default, but it was hugely unpopular measure. Questions also began to rise about the nature of American imperialism: was America going to eventually liberate the countries they took over, and make them independent? Or were they to remain in a permanent limbo between full statehood and full independence? And what was the boundary to make it clear? In some cases, like Canada, it was easy: once enough white men lived in an area, it could be entered as a state. This lead the America adopting the 60 star flag by 1900 with the introduction of Saskatchewan as a state. But in areas like Japan, Liberia and Cuba, the question was more fraught: racism and economic interests formed a powerful bulwark to preventing those nations from going their own way. It was only a matter of time before something gave.

And then the whole world will be flooded with all the weird Japanese memes

1905-1910: That something was the Great War of 1905-1910. Europe found itself at war as tensions between France and Germany finally resulted in war. Britain, coming to the aid of it's ally Germany, put up a blockade against France. France, reeling from the double blow of German invasion and British blockade, was only helped by Russia, who's ineffectual army was soon destroyed by the German and Austro-Hungarian forces it opposed. But the Royal Navy sank several American ships that continued to trade with France, and soon President Theodore Roosevelt was pushing his nation to fight the British once again. The US and Royal Navies soon began a running battle across the ocean, while British troops invaded American colonies in Africa and Asia, and vice-versa. However, the steady supply of troops and resources prevented France from loosing the war, while Russia descended into a brutal three war civil war by 1908, with Republicans, Communists and the Czar's Loyalists all fighting for the nation, and the outside world unsure of who to help or hinder. But the war in France ended in a stalemate: British and German forces were not enough to overcome French and American troops, but the US and France were not in any shape to fight back. So the Treaty of Brussels ended the war with all four major powers (and Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Turkey and Italy as minor players) dividing the world between them.

Just draw the lines where you want them. That's basically what the Europeans did.

1910-1929: But the world of Empires, however, soon began to strain. The colonies of the Europeans were underdeveloped and slowly bleeding the homelands white from the cost in money, men and morals, while the Americans were struggling to deal with the high costs of the war with their increasingly resistant populations. American Exceptionalism that drove the empire was now tearing it apart: The belief that because America had built their nations up not just for the betterment of the homeland but for the people that lived there blinded them to the fact that they were just like the American colonies in the mid 1700s, seeking to break free from a disinterested homeland that only saw them as a source of income and burdens of defence. And in 1929, three years after the New York and London Stock Exchanges crashed, destroying the global economy, the American colonies in Japan, Liberia, Mexico, the Philippines and Cuba all rose up, and began to fight the American oppressors.

I've picked on Japan enough. Time to go to another Asian country and make a silly reference about them!

1929-1935: The American Colonial Wars, also known as the Independence Wars and the Second American Revolution rocked the nation and it's Empire. Japan, the oldest and most developed of the territories held by the US, was the first to rise up, under the leadership of Japanese Nationalists like
Isoroku Yamamoto and Hideki Tojo, followed a few months later by the Philippines. Cuba, which was poor and even still held slavery in several places, had a violent insurrection of the black populace that was brutally put down by the Cuban National Guard, only for it to constantly flare up again and again, leading to a long running guerrilla war. Mexico, after a few precious decades of peace, demanded freedom again (and a long running fight between Liberals and Conservatives there would cause even more damage). Canada and Liberia also had their moments of resistance, but except in a few isolated instances in Quebec and in the deplorable Indian Reservations, it was mostly peaceful, with constant demonstrations and demands for rights. President Herbert Hoover, elected in 1928 to try to solve the Great Depression, was now faced with a multi-front Colonial War which he was increasingly incapable of handling. More and more soldiers were sent to Japan, Cuba, the Philippines and elsewhere, and the casualty lists grew longer and longer. Taxes at home went up to pay for it all, which only pushed the US even deeper into debt.

Because there is no American political crisis like one over spending money, not raising taxes to cover it, then borrowing it, and then engineering a crisis because of an arbitrary borrowing limit!


1932: Bombings, assassinations, blackmail and gang wars at home by blacks, Japanese-Americans, Mexicans, the Mafia and other groups soon ended with the Assassination of Herbert Hoover in early 1932, the first American president so killed in history. Vice-President Charles Curtis, now the President, declared Martial Law, suspending the US Constitution for a year (and later continuously extended as the crisis continued), imposing censorship which ended up shutting down many newspapers and strangling the radio and motion pictures in it's infancy, and ordering the army, the FBI, the Secret Service and other police forces to round up all suspected revolutionaries, deporting many to hastily constructed prison camps in the wilds and unpopulated areas of Ontario, Dakota, Manitoba, Alabama, Louisiana, Nevada and Alberta. This only inflamed Americans at home, and soon Communists, Fascists, Canadian and Quebecois Nationalists, and "Minutemen" democratic patriots were fighting at home. The American Civil War had begun.

From this picture, you'd think the civil war was over if the flag looks better in stripes or in a cross...

1932-1937: Five years of bloody war left the US a wreck. It's Colonies one by one had gained their freedom (Japan in 1933, Liberia in 1934, Mexico in 1935), and the Canadian states, along with Dakota, Montana, Michigan, New England, Oregon and Washington had all seceded and formed the Union of North American States. Communists in Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey and Wisconsin had joined together and formed the People's Republic of America, lynching corrupt bankers and industrialists and attempted to build a true communist society compared to the totalitarian hellhole that was Stalin's Soviet Union. In the South, lead by Southern plantation owners, many of whom had land and prestige, but little money, and white-power supremacists that still resented the Emancipation Bill sixty some years before, established a Fascist Confederation of Southern States that attempted to undo decades of as of yet unfinished civil rights and virtually re-enslave African Americans. Texas went their own way, along with Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma. The US Government had fled from Washington, D.C. and set up a temporary capital in San Francisco, with California and other western states now under brutal military rule by the remnant of the old United States. By this time, Liberia had established itself as a mostly democratic state that would, in the future, provide a blueprint for the colonies of Africa when they managed to leave their European masters.

Nature, however, is still there. And terrifying. 


But what do you think? What would have happened had the US decided to go on a colonizing spree? Or if you have a topic or idea you would like me to talk about, please leave comments below, email me at tbguy1992@gmail.com, or tell me on Twitter @tbguy1992.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Editorial: An American Westminster Democracy?

With all the hoopla of the current election in the United States, and all the talk of primaries, conventions, the Electoral College, polls, scandals, etc. etc., it can all seem just a little bit overwhelming.

Mostly because of him...
American democracy has a lot going for it, but it's a hopelessly outdated system, with only minor tweaks since it was put together by the Founding Fathers in 1787. Take the Electoral College: it was designed to make sure the "mob" didn't dominate the country, with men above the political fray making the deciding vote on who would be President. The Senate was to be elected by the different states, and only the House of Representatives was elected by the citizens at large (and back then, only white men with some property). But over the years, eventually almost every office in the US, from President to Judges to State Governors to Dog Catchers were elected, though I think jobs like judges should be kept above the partisan fray. The checks and balances of the system are also something to be proud of, until of course it bogs down when two ideological opposites are in charge of the Executive and Legislative branch.

But the problems with the US system is still immense. The Electoral College is unfair for everyone: Smaller states have a larger vote than bigger states, but at the same time only a few states, like Florida and Ohio, can determine who will win the Presidency. Federal electoral districts are drawn up by the states, and in many states they are gerrymandered to give the party a better chance in Washington. It's more or less the way for successful candidates being able to choose their voters, and not the other way around.

I present to you... the Illinois Fourth District. Do I need to explain why this is stupid?
So why don't we just scrap it? Why not try a government system like in the United Kingdom and Canada? Of course, history wise we know it wasn't going to be even considered by the new US, considering what Parliament in far-off London did to piss off the colonialists, and I'll be the first to admit there are some issues with this form of government. But let's do a thought experiment, and see how the US would look if it had a system of government similar to the Westminster parliamentary system?

Well first of all, everything you know about US elections will have to be thrown out the window. Their will be a Prime Minister who is the leader of the government, and is usually the leader of the largest party (or coalition of parties) in a representative body, which can still be the House of Representatives in this version. The President can still be head of state, and he can be powerful (like in France) or weak (in Germany) as see fit. My guess, in order to maintain some checks and balances, the President would have a lot of power in this alternate American system. I'd give him the power to call elections for the House of Representatives (either with or without the "advice" of the PM), veto laws, and appoint judges and other executive positions, barring confirmation from the Senate. How the President is selected can be left up to debate. Maybe this is where the Electoral College would come in, but I'd be more willing to just have him either elected directly by the people, or selected by a joint session of Parliament/Congress. The Senate, if it would be similar to the UK or Canada, would have appointed members: say they are chosen by the State Legislators to sit until they retire, are removed, or died. In Canada, the mandatory retirement age is 75, so something similar could be seen here.

As soon as you reach sixty, you not only get the Seniors Bonus discounts at the Senate Restaurant, you also can apply for a lift chair in the chamber!

The Prime Minister, however, will have a huge amount of power, being the leader of the largest party in the House of Representatives. Now, the way the House would be divided up will be similar to OTL, but with one huge change: the electoral districts will be set by an independent, non-partisan committee. The UK's districts had been before determined by the monarch when Parliament and the House of Commons was being set up, but in many cases they didn't change. It got to the point in the early 1800s that many of the largest growing industrial towns like Manchester and Birmingham had no representation, while agricultural areas that had only a tiny population, or sometimes no population at all (Old Sarum, for instance, had only seven voters), would still elect two (TWO!) Members to Parliament. These "Rotten boroughs" were eventually done away with in 1832, though it wouldn't be until 1944 that non-partisan electoral boundary committees were set up to determine the boundaries. The US, in this Alternate History, might be sooner than that.

Elections will also be interesting. In the case of the federal government, they could serve a term as long as 4 or 5 years before mandatory elections, as long as the Prime Minister, and by extension his party, maintains control. Now, elections can be called sooner: In the event that the largest party doesn't have an overwhelming majority, a vote of non-confidence, say the opposition uniting to defeat the PM's budget or a major platform policy, can be enough to force the PM to ask the President to dissolve the House and call elections. For example, in Canada, between 2000 and 2015, we had six elections (2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2015), of which only three resulted in a "majority" government, or one where one party had more than half the seats (2000, 2011, 2015).

Justin Trudeau's hair also won a seat in a Montreal area riding, further bolstering the Liberal majority.
So, how would this version of the House of Representatives be made up? First, we'll say there are 435 seats, like OTL, and that they are evenly distributed by a non-partisan body like in Canada and the UK. If we use the numbers from the 2012 election (as it would be more representative of the US population, as turnouts are lower in "midterm" election IRL, and would more accurately determine the US's political view point at the time), the Democrats would have more seats, but only 212 seats. The Republicans, with 207 seats, would be the opposition. The other 16 would be held by third parties...

BUT WAIT! Unless the US decided to also change to something other than a first past the post system for elections, then it's not a guarantee that the Democrats would actually have that many seats, or that third parties would even gain a seat (which, unfortunately, is a problem still with the US's two party system). Possibly they might have more than that. After all, say there are three districts, each with 100,000 voters. In one district, 80% of the voters chose the Democrat, so that seat went to the Democrat. In District Two, 80% of the Vote went to the Democrat. But say in District three, the Democrat got 45% of the vote, the Republican 40%, and a Libertarian candidate the other 15%. Even though the Democrat didn't get a full 50%+1, he still won the election. This is just as true in the current system as it would be in the Westminster Democracy.

As with any election, you need three things... A map, different coloured pens, and numbers to decide everything!


However, one thing about the Westminster Democracy: third parties do have a much easier time in getting seats, especially regional parties. In the UK, the Scottish National Party holds 54 Seats, and with the other third parties and independents, there are 89 seats that are not held by the Conservatives of Labour party in a 650 member House of Commons. Similar in Canada: The Liberal Party holds 184 seats, the Conservatives 99, the New Democratic Party 44, the Bloc Quebecois at 2, and the Green Party at 1. But the Liberal Party, despite winning so many seats, only actually received 39.5% of the vote. So in the alternate US system, third parties, especially regional parties, would have a much easier time getting seats. For all we know, a "New Confederacy" Party could have swept the Southern States, or split the vote with another party to let a different party win.

"See, if only we didn't vote for the 'Haven't Got a Chance in Hell' Party, we could have prevented the Conservatives from winning!"

So would this system be better? In some ways, such as allowing third parties a chance to get more seats, yes. It would also make the House of Representatives more powerful in the Federal Government, as it's the body most directly in turn with the average citizen, with a President that has more limited powers and a senate composed mostly of appointees. In breaking deadlocks, perhaps. After all, if the party in power doesn't have a commanding majority, or a formal coalition, then it could be taken down at any moment, and a new election being held. But in more accurately representing the vote, that would be a no. In some cases, with more third parties, it could be worse than it currently is with the gerrymandering in the US system.

Now I'm not saying the US should use this system. But I think the US system needs a complete overhaul. It was established when a man on a horse was the fasting transportation possible, and concerns about full-fledged democracy was a major concern to the framers of the Constitution. But now with cars, cell phones, the Internet and cable news networks, the old fashioned system is showing it's strains, and will eventually completely fall apart.

Unless that is actually what America wants to do...


But what do you think? What would the United States be like if it took the political system Ye Old Englande? Or if you have a topic or idea you would like me to talk about, please leave comments below, email me at tbguy1992@gmail.com, or tell me on Twitter @tbguy1992.



Monday, October 10, 2016

AltHistory Scenario #25: What if Israel Lost the 1948 Arab-Israeli War?

Oooooh boy, flame war time!

He will never be able to recover if I call him Hitler!

As anyone that has looked at a newspaper in the past seventy years can tell you, the Middle East is a mess. The legacies of colonialism, the wealth of oil (and in some places, the lack of it), and the ever present tension of religion, ideology, oppression and great power politics have turned the region into a powder keg, which has gone up into flame time and time again.

At the centre of it all is Israel. For decades, the goal of many Arab strongmen and Islamist ideologue was to drive the Jews into the sea, and liberate the land for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, many of whom fled to refugee camps in surrounding nations but have never been able to integrate with the nation they found themselves in.

I'm not going to get into who's right or wrong here, but I'm going to pose a simple question: What if the modern nation of Israel just didn't exist? What if Israel lost the 1948 Arab-Israeli War?

Background

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the Jews that survived the Holocaust desperately wanted one thing: to get as far away from the horrors and the trauma that the past years had taken on them. Many immigrated to the United States and other countries, but as many traveled to Palestine, to full fill the long promised Zionist dream of returning to the homeland of Judaism, Israel.

Borders subject to change without notice.

Palestine was a former Ottoman territory, which, along with areas like Iraq and Transjordan, was held by the British as a League of Nations mandate. Syria and Lebanon was held by the French under similar conditions. While the British as early as 1917 had promised a new homeland for Jews in Palestine, the Arab population that lived in the region were nervous and resented the immigrants. Violence and civil war between the two groups broke out, which gave the British Empire headaches for decades, as they supported first one group, then the other. By 1947, Britain wanted to get out of Palestine and wash themselves of the whole mess.

The new United Nations proposed a partition: half the land to Jews, half to Arabs, and Jerusalem would be divided along similar lands. While the Jews supported this, the Arabs despised the dictate from the world organization. Fighting between the two groups reached a fever pitch, until eventually war broke out. Eventually the US withdrew its support for the split, which encouraged the Arabs to push on.

Point of Divergence

The supporters of Israel were many: the US, British and French all wished to give a homeland to the long suffering Jewish population, as well as providing a beacon of Western democracy (and interests) in a region where the locals were less than hospitable to the colonizing powers. However, except for diplomatic recognition, almost no support was given. In OTL, a major supporter of the new state of Israel was Joseph Stalin, leader of the USSR, who as early as 1947 allowed Czechoslovakia, soon to become another satellite state of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, to send arms and train flight crews for Israel that proved decisive to allow them to fight for their independence. However, by 1949, Stalin had lost interest and began to see Israel as a stooge to the west, and began to denounce it.

However, what if Stalin came out against Israel at the beginning? What if those arms and support from Czechoslovakia didn't happen?

Joseph Stalin: ruining history (and alternate history!) since 1878.

In 1947, Stalin sent a memorandum to the government of Czechoslovakia, demanding that they do not support Israel. Faced with possible invasion and the destruction of the last democratic government in the region, Czechoslovakia acquiesced. No weapons or planes arrived in Palestine to help the Jews.

Outcome

The Jewish Agency, the nominal government of Israel, felt it would be able to purchase weapons if they declared themselves an independent country, and they did so the day before the British Mandate was to end on May 14, 1948. However, the nations of the Arab League: Transjordan (soon to be known simply as Jordan), Iraq, Syria and Egypt declared war the next day, and with support from nations like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and irregular forces like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Arab Liberation Army all invaded the upstart nation. Egypt, with the largest army, and Jordan, with the British trained and led Arab Legion, made quick strides, occupying the Negev Desert, Gaza Bank and West Bank within a few weeks, cutting off Israeli settlements, and pushing the Jewish fighters out of much of Palestine.

With only the few supplies left by the British behind and whatever could be smuggled in past the British Blockade that remained up until the British surrendered the mandate. Some airplanes, like B-17's, and trucks were purchased in the US, but they were lacking rifles, artillery, machine guns and tanks. Attempts to purchase weapons in the US, France and other nations was hampered by the difficulty in getting them into Israel. The little bit that did arrive showed up infrequently, and some was captured by the invading Arab armies. United Nations attempts at a cease fire failed dramatically, severely crippling the world organization only a few years after it was created.

You would think if you could get almost every nation in the world to sit in a room together would actually help solve issues around the world....
However, this was far from enough to supply the thousands of Israeli fighters, and soon brigades established had to be disbanded or merged with others. While hidden factories managed to produce some of what was needed, it wasn't enough. By the start of 1949, the outgunned and outnumbered Jewish fighters were surrounded at the port of Tel Aviv, having been forced out of the rest of the territory. On March 3, 1949, the Siege of Tel Aviv ended as the last members of the Jewish Agency surrendered.

Aftermath

Within weeks, the Jewish settlers of the region were being driven out, on top of the massacres that the Arab armies and Palestinian fighters had already engaged in. Ships full of Jewish refugees sailed away from Palestine, the hope of the Zionist movement crushed. Many fled to the US and Canada, helped by Jewish populations that already existed in both nations. Those that weren't able to evacuate by sea instead were able to go to the territory held by the Arab Legion and Jordan, namely the West Bank. King Abdullah I of Jordan was a moderate, compared to most of the rest of the Arab League, and he favoured the division of Palestine, if just so areas like the West Bank could be annexed by Jordan, and that a Jewish state would be easier to deal with than one run by Arabs who opposed him. Of course, Syria and Egypt had their own land claims on Palestine as well, to the point that any possible Palestinian state would be non-viable.

King Abdullah, however, was patient. He decided not to annex the land he held immediately, instead allowing the Palestinian Authority to set up it's government in occupied Jerusalem, only so long as they promised to end their attacks on the Israeli refugees. Reluctantly, Amin al-Husseini, who had been loosely allied with Nazi Germany during World War Two accepted. While Abdullah's goal was for a Middle East spanning kingdom, he was also a realist, and knew it would take a lot more than the 10,000 soldiers of the Arab Legion to make it a reality. He instead began a press campaign to encourage Palestinians that they would be better off in Jordan, with seats in the Jordan parliament (along with the Jewish refugees that resigned to live in Jordan), and announced that a referendum would be held in 1950 to determine the fate of the West Bank.

And then he scored a slam dunk, winning the NBA Championship... wait, not that Jordan? Oops.

King Farok of Egypt, however, was not to be denied, and he annexed the entire Gaza strip and other territories he held, earning him enmity among the Palestinian's who wanted their own territory. Attacks on occupying Egyptian troops soon began. Jordan used it as an excuse to attack Egypt, which was then supported by Syria and in June 1950 the Palestinian War flared up again. Jordan quickly gained the advantage, splitting Egypt and Syria on land, and using the British trained air force to rain bombs on Cairo and Damascus. By September, the Palestinian War was over, this time occupied by Jordan.

Now, with all of Palestine under Jordan's control, the entire territory was annexed. This sparked anger in much of Palestine, but after two decades of war, most of the people in the region wanted peace. The assassination of King Abdullah in 1951 over his failure to allow a free Palestinian state hung over the expanded Jordan for years, but after years of fighting, and the Six Day War of 1964 that saw Egypt, Syria and Iraq, all under influence from the Soviet Union attack the overstretched American and British allied Jordan and forced them out of Palestine finally allowed Palestine to become an independent nation. Jordan retreated, but would became a bellicose and aggressive nation, seeking to avenge the humiliation, which they did when they managed to overthrow Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 1985 after his successful war that toppled the Shah of Iran.

Brutal Middle Eastern dictator or Prohibition-era gangster wannabe? You decide!
The rest of the Middle East continued to fight, first supported by one of the superpower blocs, then another, all in a quest to get a source of stable oil supplies. However, because of the wealthy in oil, and long simmering nationalist and religious tensions in the area, peace in the region was fleeting, and by the collapse of the USSR in 1993, the US wanted little to do in the area, especially after the effort to occupy and stabilize Iraq in the 1990s proved expensive and costly. The valuable oil of the area was just not worth the price in lives, and soon efforts in the US and Europe turned more to trying to end oil dependence on the Middle East, which was still ongoing as of 2016.

Conclusion

Plausibility wise, I give it a 6/10. The possibility that Israel would survive was a 50/50 chance in 1948, and would be less without the supplies it got from Czechoslovakia.. Had the Arab states worked together, had the leaders of the nations sought to establish an independent Palestine instead of tearing off pieces for themselves, then Israel wouldn't have stood a chance. Even with the disunity, Egypt, Syria and Jordan were able to claim territory of the Palestinian Mandate that Israel would have to fight multiple wars in the next few decades to reclaim.

But the thing about the Middle East, something that has bedeviled the rest of the world for decades, is that there just doesn't seem to be a solution that anyone will find satisfactory. Land, religion, oil, ideology, the wishes of the great powers; everyone has a hand and a say in the area, and no one can agree to anything. In an attempt at Middle East peace, someone will lose. And in geopolitics, no one likes to lose.

Let's face it: we already lost.

But what do you think? What would have happened had the nation of Israel never came to be? Or if you have a topic or idea you would like me to talk about, please leave comments below, email me at tbguy1992@gmail.com, or tell me on Twitter @tbguy1992.

Monday, October 3, 2016

AltHistory Scenario #24: What if the Russian Empire Never Fell?

Time for another Russian Alternate history! However, since most of my previous articles on the largest nation on earth focused on the Soviet Union, instead let's take a step further back to the old Czarist Russian Empire.

As if modern Russia wasn't big enough...

The Russian Empire, by the end of it's life, was a bloated, corrupted, decadent and anachronistic society, with great wealth, great poverty, modern industry, overstaffed bureaucracy and ancient beliefs all commingling together. The fact that it lasted until 1917 is amazing itself, as the writing was on the wall decades before.

However, Russia of the period was on the verge of altering itself: with industrialization running at full tilt and the lessons of the humiliating defeat in 1905 to the Japanese being absorbed, but the only way to prevent Russia from falling in 1917 is to make sure it doesn't go to war in 1914. Maybe later, say about 1920, but any time before that is a bit iffy. And the only way to prevent World War One from starting in 1914 is to not have Russia support Serbia, so that POD is out. And by 1917, with the pressures of a failing war, and Czar Nicholas' face on the defeat, it is apparent little would save the Czar now.

Not even a totally historically inaccurate film. 

However, we can look a bit further back, to 1881, to the last great chance for a reformed Russia, to the grandfather of Nicholas II, Alexander II, the man that liberated the serfs and Bulgaria and expanded his empire into Central Asia and deeper into Asia.

Point of Divergence

On March 13 (or March 1 by the old Julian calendar Russia was still using), members of an nihilist terrorist group, using bombs, attacked the bombproof coach of Czar Alexander II. Although the leader of Russia wished to step out to see what he could do to help the injured cossacks that were guarding him, the driver of the coach quickly hurried away to the military review the Czar was attending. While originally it was seen as cowardly, the revelation that two more men with bombs were in the crowd and ready to kill the Czar later changed public opinion.

"Yes, let's kill the man who might actually be able to address our grievances! That will totally convince them to give us what they want!" - Every anarchist/nihilist/nationalist assassin ever. 

The committees that Czar Alexander II had officially announced that day to look into parliamentary reforms presented their proposal to turn Russia into a constitutional monarchy, though along the lines of the system the German Empire had established decades earlier: the czar would remain head of state, and appoint the leading ministers including the Prime Minister, but an elected Duma, elected every five years by a limited male suffrage determined by property and education requirements at first but slowly expanded over time, would have a hand in passing laws including managing finances and the military.  The State Council, an appointed advisory body to the Czar, became the "upper house" of the new parliament and had to approve all laws as well, while the Czar had a final veto power. After careful deliberation, Alexander II accepted the proposals in July 1881, with orders to elect and assemble the Duma by November being sent out.

Outcome

The Duma thus elected was a moderate body, with a strong Conservative bent but a vocal Liberal minority, and the first Prime Minister was the man who helped push the reforms, Count Mikhail Loris-Melikov. However, it was a first step, and the members took advantage. The more Liberal members, using guaranteed parliamentary privilege, began to agitate for more reforms, including more liberal trade, reducing the bureaucracy, cutting taxes, funding railroads and other infrastructure. Alexander II, seeking to strengthen the Russian nation, was willing to accept many of these plans, and personally sponsored laws that gave charters to new railroads and canals, setting up new schools to train the young and the former serfs, and many other proposals. However, more conservative members, especially those with ties to the nobility and large landowners, were hesitant to agree to these new laws, seeing them as attacks on their privileged position in the Empire. However, with the popular Czar supporting some of these laws, the Conservatives found little ground to stand on. By 1886, new railroads were beginning to be built all over Russia, allowing small cities better connections to the outside world, as well as access to raw materials that not only the booming Russian economy demanded but also the other great powers in Europe.

However, one thing that the Conservatives and the Czar refused to consider was land reform to break up the estates of the nobles to give to the peasants and, perhaps most importantly, reduce the power of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was a beacon of reactionary thought in Russia. Extremist Liberals saw the Church and it's massive influence as an anachronism in the modern world, and wanted to move to a more secular society. The lower class was divided on this point: many wished to be able to own and farm the valuable land held by the Church, but were scared that they would be seen as heretics and be damned to eternal damnation. But as the years went on, and land reform continued to be ignored, peasant agitation increased throughout Russia. Many left their lands for the promise of the New World, but many others simply left the land and to the factories in the cities which promised better wages (though also a higher cost of living).

It wasn't all slap stick comedy in old-timey factories.

By the time of Czar Alexander II's death in 1892 at the age of 73, the reform efforts had begun to slow, until only simple military acts that were desperately needed but also uncontroversial such as reorganizing the general staff, changing the curriculum in military schools, and making promotion merit based rather than at the whims of the Czar and his adivsors, as the State Council became more conservative while the Duma began to push more liberal and reformist, with several socialists being elected in the 1891 Duma, leaving the Czar in an uncomfortable middle position. But the accession of Nicholas II raised many questions as to what way he was going to go. His father, though in his forties, died of a sudden illness the year before, leaving the young, twenty-seven year old as Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias.

Nicholas II, though was woefully unprepared for the position, having received no experience in government or management at all. Because of this, Nicholas was reliant on his grandfather's ministers, many of whom were still reformist in nature. Nicholas' experiences in Britain and America and seeing democracy in action impressed him as well, and when a delegation of peasants and workers came to present a petition in the first weeks of his reign, the Czar carefully listened to them, and promised to look into it. While the petition wasn't enacted in its entirety for years, several proposals were: the suffrage was extended to all men by the 1901 Duma election, censorship was reduced, and taxes were overhauled and reduced.

Not paying taxes is great, eh?

It wasn't until 1902, with clashes between peasants and landowners reaching new highs that land reform finally came to the forefront. With the Duma's majority now composed of various members elected on the platform of land reform and helping the long suffering peasants, they began a series of political maneuvers to force the issue. However, the Prime Minister, Sergei Witte, was caught in a quandary. While he saw the benefits of giving the peasants their own land, he saw no way the act could be passed through the State Council, and he had no idea if the Czar, easily influenced by those around him, would accept the law or if he would veto it. With Duma members like Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov and Alexander Kerensky, leaders of the Russian Socialist Party and the Liberal Party of Russia respectfully, threatening to not pass the annual budget of 1903 unless some action was undertaken, PM Witte was desperate. So he proposed a sweeping land reform act that would break up many of the largest estates, enough to guarantee every peasant family at least 250 acres of land, in return for each to repay a low interest loan in 25 years to the landowner which could be paid for in cash or in kind.

Before Witte even finished proposing the law he had written up without the help of either Ulyanov, Kerensky or even notifying the Czar himself, the howls and threats from all sides in the Duma chamber nearly threatened to cause a riot. The State Council vowed to never accept such a demeaning law, and Nicholas II was blindsided by his minister and furious. However, when the press reported the law, many peasants were ecstatic, some believing that it had already come to pass. When armed guards fired on peasants on the estate of one of the largest landowners in Russia who were simply offering their first instalment of the loan, killing 26, the outcry was even larger. Mobs and riots broke out all over Russia.

So... not a lot has changed, huh?

With Russia on the verge of a civil war as peasants began to attack the landowners and their families and burning their homes, Nicholas II, who had fired Witte the day after he proposed the law, recalled him a few days later, rescinded the order, and told him to get the law passed through the parliament before "the anarchist and the Marxist kill us all."

Using ever political maneuver he could think of, and with the support of Kerensky and, reluctantly Ulyanov, and the threat to ask the Czar to create enough members to the State Council to over ride the conservatives blocking the bill, the Land Reform Act of 1903 was passed. The Conservatives and even some liberals saw it as the death kneel of the Empire seeing their land ripped apart by dirty peasants who were on the march to kill them all as the communists wanted, the vast majority of peasants were just happy to finally have their own peace of land. While extremist socialists, many of whom splintered from Ulyanov's party, demanding full state ownership of all the land, and some reactionaries demanding the death of every agitator, they were increasingly marginalized as public protests turned overnight from near riots to massive outpourings of gratefulness. 

The outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 further pushed the memory of the land reform into the back of people's minds as the public rose to support the Czar and the Empire, and recruitment soared. With a strong industry and an army that was well equipped and trained, the Russians managed to hold the line, preventing the Russians from seizing the city of Port Arthur and capturing Vladivostok. A daring maneuver to send the powerful Baltic Fleet half way around the world (with the aid of traveling through the British controlled Suez Canal) to reinforce the fleet that had been crippled by a surprise Japanese attack in the early days of the war resulted in an inconclusive battle that, while it didn't destroy either fleet, did force the Japanese to withdraw. With the aid of American president Teddy Roosevelt, the Treaty of San Francisco was signed in early 1906 when the war turned into a trench like stalemate in Manchuria. Japan managed to inflict some defeats, but wasn't able to win the sought after victory against an European power, so retreated to lick its wounds.

Yay old timey racist propaganda!

The result of the war lead to serious questions being raised in the Duma as loyal and brave Russian troops were nearly defeated by an upstart Asian power. Many generals were cashiered out of the service, and young, smart officers took their place. When the war finally broke out in 1914, Russia was ready, and easily captured East Prussia in the first weeks of the war and bore down on Berlin. Only a desperate defense on the Oder River and the overextension of Russian supply lines prevented the war from ending in three months. However, the unstable situation in Germany that forced troops that were marching on Paris to turn around to stop Russians from capturing Berlin meant that by mid-1915, Germany was in no position to continue the war as reinforced Russian troops pushed on again in the spring and were besieging Berlin. The war lasted only 11 months, mostly thanks to Russia. Austria-Hungary collapsed, but Germany, still with Kaiser Wilhelm II in charge, began a Russian ally in the aftermath, though it was increasingly seen as a vassal.

The Russian Empire would continue to prosper for years, pushing their influence deeper in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. But in 1923, when a Russian ship exploded in the Dardanelles, the Russian Empire sought to force Ottoman Turkey, who stayed out of the last war, to pay compensation. Nervous of their former ally, Britain and France instead supported Turkey, and the Great War broke out, with Russia invading Turkey through the Balkans and the Caucasus. While Russia was strong, it wasn't strong enough to face all three nations at once (especially when the vengeful Kaiser Wilhelm, now just King of Prussia, refused to aid Russia. It took four long years, millions of casualties, and the unveiling of new weapons like the landship and poison gas, during but Russia was eventually driven from Turkey. However Nicholas II died and his son Nicholas III came to the throne during the war, but he wasn't on the throne long, as he was forced to abdicate in the aftermath of the war. Poland, the Baltic States and Ukraine all became independent, and Russia became a republic, with Alexander Kerensky as first President. Russia has remained a massive, isolationist power: a strong military that could defend Russia, but rarely engaging in conflicts outside it's borders. The rise of Communism in Germany was crushed by the Russians, along with the French, but soon after Russia returned back inwards, turning into a mighty capitalist economic powerhouse.

And totally not ruled by a corrupt, megalomaniac who looks like a James Bond villain.
Please don't poison me...


Conclusion

Is this possible? If I had to rate it, I'd give it a 3 out of 10 chance. While Alexander II was a reformer, I'd think he would be bogged down by a Duma that would be wanting to take more than the Czar, the nobility and the landlords were willing to give. And if Alexander II died sooner than I said, then his son, Alexander III would have undone all of it. I decided to just skip Alexander III altogether, because this was a better story and outcome, wouldn't you think?

Also, would Russia go isolationist after such a war? I highly doubt it. But at the same time, this article was long enough, and I kinda wanted to wrap it up. Most likely a communist or fascist style government would try to take over, launching a new world war... but again, this article was long enough.

But what do you think? Could the Russian Empire have lasted longer? Or if you have a topic or idea you would like me to talk about, please leave comments below, email me at tbguy1992@gmail.com, or tell me on Twitter @tbguy1992.