What If?

The alternate history continues with a collection of essays from various historians and popular writers, a modern sequel of sorts to If It Had Happened Otherwise.

There was a follow up volume I have not read.

Raw Feed (2004): What If?: The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been, ed. Robert Cowley, 2000.what-if

“Introduction”, Robert Cowley — A cursory look at the current state of academic “counterfactual” writing, teasers for the essays in the collection, and a brief discussion of their genesis in the special tenth anniversary edition of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History.

Infectious Alternatives: The Plague That Saved Jerusalem, 701 B.C.”, William H. McNeill — Not surprisingly McNeill, the historian who really first put forth the idea that disease epidemics affected many events in history, chooses a plague as his turning point. We don’t really know why the Assyrian king Sennacherib abandoned his investment of Jerusalem. We know his army suffered severe losses, and it is probable that it was due to disease. McNeill briefly sketches, in cultural and religious terms, the consequences of the Assyrians taking Jerusalem and, thereby, killing Judaism as a cultural force for good. (It really isn’t that much of a stretch. The splinter kingdom of Israel had abandoned Judaism and disappeared in 722 B.C. Several cities in Judah were taken, and the King of Judea ended up paying tribute to the Assyrians.) McNeill sees the main effect of Jerusalem being taken is that the Jewish faith looses further confidence. The unique universal monotheism of Judaism is weakened. When the Jews are taken off in the Babylonian captivity, they become just another locally centered, ethnically based faith and exert no influence on the following centuries.

A Good Night’s Sleep Can Do Wonders“, Barbara N. Porter — A very brief alternate history that imagines the possible consequences (actually, it spends most of its time recounting the historical record and not imagining alternative outcomes) of the Lydian King Gyges not getting a good night’s sleep and impatiently attacking the Cimmerians before he was ready. The Lydians don’t form an alliance with Assyria and, years later, nascent Greek culture is overwhelmed by the expanding Cimmerians.

No Glory That Was Greece: The Persians Win at Salamis, 480 B.C.“, Victor Davis Hanson — Hanson does a nice job showing the importance of the battle of Salamis in the Greek-Persian War. He not only sees it as the most important battle in that war but one of the crucial battles of Western civilization. (He uses the analogy of a defeated and occuppied France of 1940 evacuating to Britain and North Africa, destroying the German fleet, and then taking back France.) In particular, he shows the importance of one man — Themistocles– in not only conceiving and executing Greek strategy at Salamis but in convincing the Greeks to begin building the victorious fleet two years earlier. He sees Salamis as the end of the elitist — as defended by Plato and Aristotle — oligarchy of wealthy and educated citizens and the beginning of a wider civilization of democracy, “state entitlement, free expression, and market capitalism”. Unfortunately, what he doesn’t do is provide a detailed, alternate vision based on a Greek defeat at Salamis.

Furor Teutonicus: The Teutoburg Forest, A.D. 9“, Lewis H. Lapham — This essay exhibits some of the same problems I’ve noticed in the few Lapham essays I’ve read in Harper’s essay. They are probably celebrated for their rather elegant, “literary” style, but, on closer examination, they are seen to be full of elliptical prose and hand-waving assertions rather than arguments. Lapham sees a Rome that took and held Germany as surviving longer than it did in our time. (I doubt it would have been that much longer since the problem seems to have been cultural.). A Western Europe able to deny passage to the Mongols (an odd statement since the Mongols never made it that far anyway — though through no inherent defensive capability of Europe) and spared the disruptive presence of German nationalism. The best thing about the essay is Lapham’s documenting the importance of Arminius aka Herman the German in not only German thought but nationalism throughout the world. (He quotes one writer as saying without Arminius there would have been no nation of England which is a defensible position given the role of Germanic invaders in English history and the development of the language.) Lapham sees a world without Arminius’ great victory as developing without destructive nationalism and into a sort of proto-world state. But he engages in some hand-waving assertions. Why would Christianity not develop just because the Empire expanded further northwest? Was the Protestant Reformation really based just on the nationalism of German groups never assimilated into the former Roman Empire that covered so much of the rest of Europe? And he engages in a basic fallacy of alternate history (though a common one because writers can’t resist the dramatic potential inherent in it) by having famous people (Frederick the Great as a circus dwarf and Kaiser Wilhelm as infatuated with stamps or water beetles rather than “cavalry boots”) engaged in radically different pursuits. In reality, the alteration of history would have probably meant the alteration of breeding patterns and the elimination of the genetic combinations that produced these famous people.

The Dark Ages Made Lighter: The Consequences of Two Defeats“, Barry S. Strauss — This is a pretty good example of alternate history. Strauss takes two crucial battles — Adrianople (which was lost mostly due to Valens’ impatience since he had the superior force) and Poitiers aka the Battle of Tours) — and not only shows the events that led up to them but briefly, imaginatively outlines the consequences of the battle turning out differently. Strauss sees a Roman victory at Adrianople as enabling the Western Empire to survive longer and, thus, there is no feudalism, no knights, no chivalry and the secular authority is unquestionably above the religious. No feudalism means the tension between baron and king does not come up. The right of rebellion and self-determination does not enter and blossom in Western thought. It remains permanently dedicated to the concept of oligarchy. Classical thought is not lost so there is no Renaissance, and Strauss isn’t sure Columbus would have embarked on his voyages but argues that, even if the New World would have been explored, it would not have been the seedbed for democratic thought. As for the West losing Poitiers, Strauss sees an Islamic Europe spreading into the new world, a world of great (at least, initially) sophistication, accomplishment, and learning but also a slave culture and authoritarian. Strauss argues that, ultimately, advancement (in terms of scientific learning) would have been held back in an Islamic Europe. I agree. It seems to be a common trend that, initially, authoritarian states seem impressive in their learning and military right and material accomplishments, but they are ultimately surpassed by what Strauss terms “decentralized, secularized, individualistic, profit-driven”.

The Death That Saved Europe: The Mongols Turn Back 1242“, Cecelia Holland — Surprisingly enough for a novelist who has actually written some well-received sf (I’ve never read any of Holland’s) she completely fails to do an alternate history. To be sure, Holland gives us plenty of reason to gasp in relief that Genghis Khan died when he did, but she doesn’t show us what a Mongol conquest of Europe would have meant. (Interestingly, John Keegan, in his The History of Warfare, doubts the Mongols could have conquered Europe since there wasn’t enough grassland for their herds of horses.)

If Only It Had Not Been Such A Wet Summer: The Critical Decade of the 1520s“, Theodore K. Rabb — The wet summer of the title is in 1529 and prevents Suleyman from taking Vienna. Rabb, a Renaissance historian, sees many crucial turning points that could have gone either way in the 1520s. The main one he talks about is if Suleyman would have pressed on to Vienna in 1527 after winning the Battle of Mohács in 1526. He sees two major implications. Renaissance Italian history would have been different without the disruption of the art community in Rome in 1527 (Charles V’s sack of the city wouldn’t have taken place since he would have been threatened by the Turks) and artists fleeing to other cities. The support of Lutheranism would have ended since the German princes would have united with the Habsburgs. Spain would have been distracted by religious wars in the Netherlands without the Reformation and could have concentrated on New World colonization. Other turning points of the decade identified by Rabb are Cortés’ Mexican expedition and Magellan’s circumnavigation.

If the Holy League Hadn’t Dithered“, Peter Pierson — One page sketch of the consequences of King Charles IX of France choosing to joining the Holy League against the Turks in 1570. (In our world, he didn’t.) Greece and the Balkans could have been restored to Christendom and the turbulent modern history of that region might have been averted.

The Immolation of Hernán Cortés: Tenochtitlán, June 30, 1521“, Ross Hassig — This alternate history uses a quite plausible turning point. During the siege of Tenochtitlán, Cortés is captured and executed by the Aztecs. Cortés actually was captured, for a few seconds, by the Aztecs in this battle. Hassig sees the expedition decisively defeated by the Aztecs without Cortés. The Aztecs become more unified after the Spanish are defeated (I don’t buy this given Aztec cruelty towards their subjects) and use captured Spanish horses to form their own calvary (which is plausible). The Spanish get distracted with expeditions to Peru and the Indies. By the time they turn back to Mexico, a stronger, more unified Aztec prevents an easy capture, and the Spanish must be content with sending missionaries. He sees the bloody Aztec religion softening under Christian influence. Human sacrifices cease. This isn’t that implausible. I’ve heard that Aztecs did see a certain similarity in the Eucharist and Crucifixion and their own practices. What I don’t buy is that, without a liberal political and scientific tradition to draw from, such an Aztec empire could have withstood determined European colonization.

The Repulse of the English Fireships: The Spanish Armada Triumphs, August 8, 1588“, Geoffrey Parker — Parker answers a question I’ve longed wondered about. What, exactly did the Spanish intend to do if the Armada was successful? Parker outlines the troop landings planned for England. Interestingly enough, he takes the scenario proposed in Keith Roberts’ celebrated alternate history novel Pavane to show a world where Elizabeth was assassinated (she survived twenty such attempts in her life) and the Armada is triumphant. Catholicism spreads throughout the world once English support for the war in the Netherlands succeeds. English privateers vanish. The Spanish can consolidate the New World. The Reformation is crushed. Parker objects to this scenario, though. The combined operations of the Armada and troop landings in England were planned by Philip II. He insisted he micromanage the operation because he had lived in England, as Mary Tudor’s husband (something I never really thought about in relation to the Armada), in the 1550s. Unfortunately, he also tried to direct the operations as well as plan them, something that simply wasn’t possible given the communications of the time. Parker doesn’t think Philip II’s personality would have prudently used a Spanish victory. He wouldn’t have tried to negotiate an end to the war against the Dutch. (In our history, his refusal to compromise caused a stalemate.) The Armada and the Dutch war would still have bankrupted Spain.

Unlikely Victory: Thirteen Ways the American Could Have Lost the Revolution“, Thomas Fleming — Fleming comes up with a good list of hinge-points around which the American Revolution could have been lost. Some are relatively well known like a British sniper not shooting George Washington when he had the chance. Some are — at least to me — obscure like what if Benedict Arnold had obeyed orders at Saratoga. (Given the service he gave the Revolution in the early days, you can sort of understand why he turned traitor after he was unappreciated.) However, this essay is a complete abdication of addressing the anthology’s theme. Citing critical points in an event like the American Revolution is pretty standard fare for historian. Fleming has a complete failure of imagination. Obviously a world with a failed American Revolution would probably be very different, but it would have been nice if Fleming would have tried to imagine how it would have been different.

George Washington’s Gamble“, Ira D. Gruber — Like the preceding essay by Thomas Fleming, this story simply presents a way the American Revolution could have failed — here George Washington’s gamble of attacking the British at Trenton and Princeton fails — without what a world with a failed Revolution would have meant. However, this is one of the anthology’s short short essays so, at least, Gruber’s failure of imagination is somewhat more forgivable.

What the Fog Wrought: The Revolution’s Dunkirk, August 29, 1776“, David McCullough — The distinguished McCullough follows the pattern of all the other writers in this anthology who choose the American Revolution as their topic. He gives us an interesting, detailed account of the American retreat from Long Island and emphasizes the several points it could have lead to disaster (of course, it would have been a disaster not to try a retreat). The weather was so fortunate — what was called “an unusual fog”, “an American fog” — that many saw the hand of Providence. The retreat was done so successfully that a surprised British officer called it “particularly glorious”. But McCullough doesn’t get behind the micro what-might-have-beens to show a world without an America.

Ruler of the World: Napoleon’s Missed Opportunities“, Alistair Horne — This is a pretty good alternate history. Actually, it’s several alternate histories spun out in an expert consideration of Napoleon’s career. I found the essay all around interesting because I know little about Napoleonic Europe or its wars. Horne emphasizes how Napoleon was thwarted at every turn — in extending French power to the Western Hemisphere or threatening the British presence in India — by British naval supremacy. The French fleet historically had fared poorly against the British for centuries. It didn’t help that the French Revolution resulted in the purge of many of its experienced aristocratic officers. Horne takes the lead of contemporary British sources who dismiss Napoleon’s plan to invade England in 1805 as utterly unworkable, doomed to failure at the hands of the British navy. He briefly considers a different outcome of the Battle of Austerlitz. There a defeat of Napoleon would have meant the end of his career. It also would have meant a different Europe since the Habsburg Empire would have been strengthened, and the German states would have had less of an incentive to unite. There would have been no Pax Britannica. Horne sees Napoleon’s best opportunity for realizing his dreams was when the armistice with Russia was signed at Nieman in 1807. His advisor Talleyrand urged him to be generous. Instead of making Austria a future shield against Russia, Napoleon’s ruthlessness at Tilsit made Austria and Prussia hungry for revenge. Talleyrand rightly thought that France needed to recover from 15 years of war, needed friends. If Napoleon could have allied with Russia, they just might have threatened the British in India though Horne is skeptical that the logistical problems would have been overcome. It’s just possible Napoleon might have kept his promise to the Jews to create a state in Palestine, but Napoleon frequently promised things he didn’t deliver. Horne says Napoleon could have left Spain alone. If Talleyrand would have stuck around, Napoleon might have proposed an alliance with America — where Talleyrand lived for two years during the French Revolution. Napoleon allying with America in the War of 1812 might have caused the Duke of Wellington to accept the offer to command troops in America. The course of the war may have been different with America losing some of its territory. However, unless Napoleon was involved the British and the Duke were not that concerned with America. Wellington’s involvement there may have meant he was unavailable to defeat Napoleon at Waterloo. As late as 1814, Napoleon could have made peace on favorable terms. Horne sees a Napoleon victory at Waterloo followed up with more battles which would have eventually defeated him. However, just as if he would have stopped after Tilsit, Britain would not have the influence they did on the continent. England and America may have drawn close before 1940. The trouble with all these possibilities, notes Horne, is that they are all unlikely because of Napoleon’s personality. Horne says: “The trouble was that Napoleon never knew when to stop.”

Napoleon Wins at Waterloo“, Caleb Carr — Carr comes to the same conclusion as the proceeding essay, by Alistair Horne, in the anthology: that Napoleon’s personality made it impossible for him to stop. Rather than consolidating his victory after Waterloo and keeping France as a power player in a European system of diplomacy, Napoleon would have continued with his imperialistic ambition, eventually come to ruin, and Germany would have still united and become a troublesome European power.

If the Lost Order Hadn’t Been Lost: Robert E. Lee Humbles the Union, 1862“, James M. McPherson — McPherson, a distinguished historian of the Civil War, gives us the sort of alternate history that appeals to military history buffs but not those of us more interested in the consequences rather than the conduct of a war. He takes as his turning point the same one that Harry Turtledove used in his fine alternate history How Few Remain: the famous lost orders of Lee before the Battle of Antietam. Here the orders, like in Turtledove’s scenario, are not lost. Lee successfully threatens Washington D.C.. Great Britain, France, Russia, and Austria-Hungary force the Federal government to negotiate and the United States of America, as the last sentence (spoken by Lincoln) has it, ” … no longer exists as one nation, indivisible.” Dramatically told, stylishly done but not really very imaginative — especially compared to what Turtledove did with the same premise.

A Confederate Cannae and Other Scenarios: How the Civil War Might Have Turned Out Differently“, Stephen W. Sears — Sears, like the preceding essay in the anthology by James M. McPherson, fails to imaginatively give us an alternate history of depth. Rather he just gives learned, but limited, explorations of how certain events in the Civil War could have turned out differently. To be sure, they are informative about their subjective and context and illustrate the contingency of history, but fail to satisfy as much as Harry Turtledove’s fictional examination of alternate Civil Wars. Most of the turning points are battles. This is, after all, an anthology of military historians, but the most interesting one, George McClellan defeating Abraham Lincoln in the 1864 ellection, was not. Sears points out that McClellan probably lost because Copperheads foisted an unpopular — especially among the troops and veterans that loved McClellan — appeasement platform on the Democratic party. Sears, unfortunately, just thinks its enough to show the Civil War could have turned out differently and not what a Confederate victory would have meant to the world.

Vietnam in America, 1865“, Tom Wicker — Wicker makes the valuable point that Robert E. Lee explicitly rejected the notion of the Confederate States carrying on a guerilla war against the U.S. after. Unfortunately, he doesn’t, provide even a hint of what that would have meant. Again, Harry Turtledove shows himself more imaginative than professional historians about the Civil War.

The What Ifs of 1914: The World War That Should Never Have Been“, Robert Cowley — Cowley stylishly uses the same format as some of the authors have used in this anthology: imagining several military and political events where things would have gone differently and shortened World War I. I found them all interesting with new material though I have read some on the war which, as Cowley rightly points out, is the great dividing point of modern history. He imagines a quite plausible scenario in which England, wavering in its support of France, does not send troops to the Continent and the Germans win a quick western victory. The war does not become “a continental world war”. He next imagines Helmuth von Moltke, Schlieffen’s successor as the German Chief of Staff, decisively carrying through Schlieffen’s original conception (though I’ve heard one WWI historian argue that there was no such thing as the Schlieffen Plan) and not, as he did in our timeline, divert manpower to east to Russian and Grand Couronné. The Battle of the Marne becomes inconsequential and Germany continues its advance into France. Cowley then imagines that German battle plans are not lost at the Marne. Surprise would have meant a more successful stalemate for the Germans. Cowley also talks about Sir John French’s proposal, never carried through, to take his troops out of the frontlines. Had he persisted, France would have been lost and British and French relations poisoned. The most interesting scenario is at Gheluvelt on October 31, 1914. A clever British brigadier Charles Fitzclarence spots a German breakthrough by the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment that is not exploited — they halt for further orders. Fitzclarence counterattacks and drives them from the Gheluvelt château. The records are unclear on the point — and they have been altered later on for political purposes — but one Adolf Hitler may have been with the unit at the time and nearly missed death. Fitzclarence’s promising career was cut short a few days later with his death in battle. Cowley says a shortened World War I (it would have actually been just another European war) would have meant a Russia without Lenin and, maybe, no communist tyranny. Britain would not have become indebted to America. Several writers would have produced no significant work or work of a very different sort. Perhaps there would have been no Holocaust. America, crossing the Atlantic to enter World War One, would have not crossed its political and cultural Rubicon.

Bismarck’s Empire: Stillborn“, James Chace — Chace briefly argues that French military incompetence at the Battle of the Sedan in 1870 (they had enough manpower and superior technology so should have won) led to German unification under Bismarck and World War One, World War Two, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the Cold War. It’s another less than satisfying argument by absence.

Thanks, But No Cigar“, David Clay Large — A fun and obscure turning point in history though Large, like most of his fellow historians in this anthology, only gives us the turning point of history and not the consequences (though, in his defense, this is one of the short short essays in the book). Kaiser Wilhelm, enamored of Annie Oakley, takes up her challenge at an appearance of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Berlin in 1889. Oakley asks for volunteers to let her shoot a cigar out of their mouth. No one was supposed to be brave enough to take up the challenge, and Oakley’s husband, Frank Butler, would do it. However, on this occasion, the Kaiser leapt at the opportunity. Oakley reluctantly did it. (Large claims she had had “more than her usual amount of whiskey” the night before which doesn’t sound like Oakley.) After World War One, Oakley wrote to the Kaiser asking for a second shot. He didn’t reply.

The Armistice of Desperation“, Dennis E. Showalter — Showalter uses as his premise that, in 1914 (the period of the highest casualty rates on the Western Front) the Germans press their attack even more forcefully and loose even more men. The 20 to 25 percent increase in casualties overstrains the administration, medical systems, morale, and governments of the combatant nations. After a horrible six month’s, an armistice is signed. Germany and Russia embark on political reforms. Lenin dies in exile. Adolf Hitler becomes an artist.

How Hitler Could Have Won the War: The Drive for the Middle East, 1941“, John Keegan — Keegan imagines Hitler, in the summer of 1941, attacking the Middle East for its oil rather than Russia. His victory there secures oil and places him in a better position to attack Russia later on. His method would have been to invade the Balkans, take Turkey, and then go for Iraq and Iran.

What a Taxi Driver Wrought“, Williamson Murray — Murray simply notes that Winston Churchill was almost killed by a taxi in New York City in 1931.

Triumph of the Dictators“, David Fromkin — Fromkin simply notes that, in the spring of 1941, a large part of the globe was under the thumb of German, Italian, Russian, or Japanese dictators. It was only Hitler’s folly in attacking Russia that changed that.

Our Midway Disaster: Japan Springs a Trap, June 4, 1942″, Theodore F. Cook, Jr — Having just read an account of the Battle of Midway by John Keegan, I can appreciate how many turning points there were in the battle, how lucky the Americans were to win. Cook not only imagines how the battle could have been lost by America but also the consequences of a defeat there. A Japanese victory of course results, after an heroic and legendary defense, of Midway Island. Japan remains the supreme Pacific naval power through the first half of 1943. Supply flow to Australia becomes interdicted by Japan. Japan takes (as they tried in our timeline) Attu and Kiska Islands in the Aleutians. Perhaps the strategy to defeat Germany first would have been changed under an increased Japanese threat to the west coast. Under determined assault, the Hawaiian Islands might have been taken. (Cook mentions a whole book on Japan’s plans to do so.) The islands were particularly vulnerable because of their dependence on imported supplies and distance from bases on the west coast. Shipping through the Panama Canal may have been threatened by Japanese submarines operating out of Hawaii though there is no record of Japanese plans to invade anything further east. A Japanese victory at Midway may have meant airplanes that went to Europe would have, instead, been used in the Pacific. The Americans opt for a strategy of going north to invade Japan and go through the Aleutians rather than central Pacific islands. Cook still sees an American victory, but one that would have taken longer and meant a lot more civilian deaths in China and Malaya. And, perhaps, the Manhattan Project would have been funded under the pressure to build more conventional weapons.

The Case of the Missing Carriers“, Elihu Rose — Rose simply asks — and doesn’t answer — a what if. Specifically, the aircraft carrier Enterprise is sunk in the Pearl Harbor attack.

D Day Fails: Atomic Alternatives in Europe“, Stephen E. Ambrose — Ambrose notes that the D Day invasion could have failed due to one of the oldest reasons — bad weather. Ambrose speculates that Hitler, spared an Allied invasion in the West, may have renewed his pact with Stalin, or Stalin may have overrun Europe to make a Communist continent. Another possibility is that Germany would have held out until the summer of 1945 when atomic bombs — built, after all, to use on the Nazis — would have been used on it. The US and USSR may have come to blows then. A Japan spared the effects of being nuked might have been attacked by the Soviets. Japan may have become a communist dictatorship — at least the northern island Honshu.

The Soviet Invasion of Japan“, Robert Cowley — Editor Cowley, judging by the selections in this collection and his own essay, seems to have little sympathy or truck with communism. Here he briefly outlines the consequences of the Pacific War going on one or two weeks longer. The Soviets would have landed on Japan, occuppied Hokkaido, and Japan would have become, like Germany, a country split between the two power blocs. America may also have been deprived of a useful base during the Korean War.

Funeral in Berlin: The Cold War Turns Hot“, David Clay Large — Large imagines several alternative scenarios involving Berlin after World War II. The first is the realization of the “political fantasy” sought by Generals Patton and Montgomery of pushing the Soviet army back to its original borders. Large considers that unlikely but does say that a French, American, and English insistence on occupying Berlin when the Soviets did and sharing its administration has previously agreed may have pushed the USSR out of the rest of Germany and led to a united country. The 1948 blockade of Berlin results in nuclear war when the Soviets shoot down American planes. (Truman told his Secretary of Defense he would use nukes if the Soviets did that.) Soviet foreign policy leads to a reunified independent — and distrusted — Germany in 1952. A Western attempt to stop the Berlin Wall from being built leads to nuclear war in 1961.

China Without Tears: If Chiang Kai-shek Hadn’t Gambled in 1946“, Arthur Waldron — Since Waldron is employed by the American Enterprise Institute I doubt he is an admirer of Chinese Communism, so his criticism of Chiang Kai-shek is probably valid, and he postulates a couple of interesting alternatives to modern Chinese history. In his introductory notes, editor Cowley says this may be the most poignant alternate history of the collection because a different Chinese history would have meant no Korean War, no Vietnam War, no Red Scare in America, no Khmer Rouge. Waldron looks at the actions not only of Chiang Kai-shek but General George C. Marshall. On June 6, 1946, Kai-shek halted his attack on the Communist held city of Harbin. He did so under Marshall’s pressure since the American was in China to broker a peace deal between the warring factions. It was a terrible miscalculation on his part. Waldon also asks what if Kai-shek had not contested Soviet influence in Manchuria. If he would have listed to American advice and allowed the partitioning of China into two countries, one free and one communist, something like the reunification of Germany may have taken place with the inherently richer but backward Communist country being outpaced by its capitalist neighbor.

A Quagmire Avoided?” Ted Morgan — A brief essay imagines the consequences of President Eisenhower assisting the French at Dien Bien Phu with nuclear weapons.

The End“, Robert L. O’Connell” — I liked this story because I think it references something I remember seeing in a Time magazine once: how Soviet Premier and ex-KGB head Yuri Andropov was convinced (by, amongst other things, an increased amount of cows being slaughtered in England — thus completely misunderstanding how capitalist societies work though, I suppose, you could possibly argue England was fairly socialist then) we were preparing to attack Russia. In turn, he contemplated a first nuclear strike. This alternate history references similar Soviet concerns (maybe both events happened about the same time) during the NATO war game Able Archer in November 1983). They were unfounded then too. Evidently, another KGB man, Vladimir Kryuchkov, had similar delusions. I don’t know how much this close call was reported at time. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to current affairs then.

 

 

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