29 June 2014

This Week in Alternate Histories - June 23 to June 29

Alt-Timeline: Travaillis Republique Democratique
Year: 2014
The Brittany region of France finally achieves independence. Since the end of the war over sixty years ago Brittany had recovered more quickly and was more open to working with the UK & USA. On June 23 the Grand Alliance of Europe recognizes Brittany as an independent nation over French protests.

Alt-Timeline: Alexander's Earth
Year: 2151 native calendar (AD 1820)
Nearly fifteen years after the Unknown War devastated the Earth, the inhabitants of Almazangrad emerge from their underground city and begin to explore the desolate area around their settlement. Initial explorations show only slightly elevated background radiation in the area around the city giving hope to the survivors of expansion and accumulation of desperately needed resources.

Alt-Timeline: Alternate Great Lakes
Year: 1788
Virginia becomes the 9th state to ratify the US Constitution. Saint Lawrence has refused to join the new union.

Alt-Timeline: Sino-Soviet Alliance
Year: 1945
The United Nations charter is signed. A controversial section of the charter allows for a formation of a UN military which would cause trouble when the Soviet Union fails to utilize its veto power at the start of the Korean War. In the future this would be seen as the primary weakness of the new organization and the rise of a more powerful international communist organization in the '50s.

Alt-Timeline: British North America
Year: 1768
The Treaty of Fort Stanwix is signed between the British and the Iroquois Confederacy. It establishes the borders of Iroquois territory and creates provisions for the British to enforce violations by colonists.

Alt-Timeline: Campi Flegrei
Year: 1955
A major Nazi air attack with most of their jet fighters breaks the back of the Red Army at the start of the Battle of Radom. This battle marked the limit of the Russian advance into Germany territory.

Alt-Timeline: World War III
Year: 1963
An agreement is finalized with President João Goulart of Brazil and elements of the US Navy to use Brazilian ports for resupply in the aftermath of the nuclear exchange sparked by the Cuban Missile Crisis. The chaos of the global war and shifting weather patterns is causing problems worldwide, but the presence of the Navy vessels helps stabilize the ports and stimulates economic activity.

28 June 2014

Assassination in Sarajevo

On 28 June 1914, in the city of Sarajevo, a Serbian nationalist named Gavrilo Princip found himself in a position to assassinate the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. He took the chance, firing two shots at Archduke Ferdinand.

The first bullet missed the Archduke and struck Ferdinand's wife, Sophie. It was a gut shot that did severe damage to her. The heat of the first bullet speeding down the barrel of Pricncip's gun caused the slightest warping of the metal. His second shot became stuck at the end of the barrel of the weapon, sending it flying form his hand. The assassin was quickly subdued after this.

Realizing the severity of his wife's wounds Ferdinand ordered the car taken immediately to hospital. They were too late, however, Sophie died shortly after getting inside.

The worldwide outcry of the assassination hurt Serbia's standing in international affairs. The stronger calls for vengeance in the Austrian court were countered by Archduke Ferdinand himself. He claimed full right to determine what would be done since it was his wife that had been murdered. He had several heated arguments with Emperor Franz Joseph over the situation. The Emperor finally gave in to Ferdinand. Serbia was to face no violent retribution, even when their connections to the assassin was confirmed. Instead Serbia was diplomatically isolated and even lost some of its traditional support from the Russian Empire.

On 17 December 1916 Franz Joseph died of natural causes and Ferdinand ascended to the throne. With his wife dead and his son unable to inherit the throne the new Emperor was able to devote all of his energies and political capital in reforms. He worked tirelessly to strengthen other ethnic groups in the Empire to cut down on nationalistic feelings that could threaten the Empire. He also used these newly empowered groups to counter growing Hungarian influence in the court. A stronger Slavic element in the Imperial government was designed to counter both Hungary and Slavic nationalist groups outside the borders of the Empire. With improving conditions for Slavs in the Empire nations like Serbia had an increasingly difficult time causing trouble.

In 1924 he would proclaim the Triple Monarchy. The Triple Monarchy would not last long. Hungarian rebellion, an 11th Russo-Turkish war, and numerous other conflicts growing in the Balkans threatened the stability of the region. The 1920s & 1930s would be an age of chaos for south-east Europe as well as the collapsing Ottoman Empire.


One of his other achievements as Emperor was the commissioning of a new dreadnaught for the Imperial Navy, the Duchess of Hohenberg, in honor of his wife.

Of course in the original timeline both Archduke Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated. That spark eventually led to the First World War.
In this timeline the war drums beating a little less and a strong-willed man worked to keep his nation out of war. Ferdinand was strong willed. He married a lesser noble for love in defiance of the Emperor and at the cost of having his children ever reaching high titles. He is a man who would fight for what he wants.

Of course he could just of easily have decided to wipe Serbia off the face of the map after having his wife die in his arms that day. We may have ended up with nearly the same conflict we had in the OTL. It would depend on how he dealt with his conflicting duties to his nation and to avenging his wife's death.

The photo of Sophie above is another public domain image borrowed from Wikipedia.

27 June 2014

Friday Flag - Almazangrad

The nation of Almazangrad was created out of a surviving city after a high-tech nuclear war in year 2136 of the Empire (AD 1805). How it survived the world-devastating war was its unique construction. Before Almazangrad was built a vast, open-pit diamond mine was dug over the period of five decades. The mine was located in Tungusic lands in the tundra of Asia.

After the mine was depleted a use for the vast open pit was found. A city was built along the inside of the bowl, a park in the bottom, and a vast roof over the opening designed to allow sunlight into the depths while also harnessing solar power and melting winter snows into fresh water. Over 100,000 people inhabited the new city of Ulmazangrad for several decades.

Then the Unknown War hit. The survivors were never sure who had started it or who the possible enemy was. Most surviving settlements were thrown back into the dark age in the shadow of ultra technology of their ancestors. Almazangrad survived better than most, retaining most of its technology. It managed to survive the harsh winters of the aftermath as well. More knowledge survived in this city than anywhere else on the surface of the Earth.

However, Ulmazagrad had no heavy industry. While machines could be repaired and machine shops could create some parts, major replacements of technology were impossible. Over several generations technology did regress, but the depleted survivors were able to spread out from their hole when the harsh winters ended.

The flag represents the city's heritage as a diamond mining settlement.


This week's flag was inspired by the real world Mir Mine, the flag of the city of Mirny, and by some rather ambitious plans to turn it into a city. In order to get a cool high-tech city the Empire was one created by Alexander or some Greek state back a few hundred years BC.

25 June 2014

All History is Alternate History

Back in March The Guardian had an article by Richard J. Evans entitled 'What If' is a waste of time. Of course the speculations are unprovable. There are also countless variables that would change with every alteration to a timeline that the counter-factual writer wouldn't be able to consider. They are unprovable and in most cases if it was possible to go back and make the changes in certain divergence points the results are unlikely be be anything the creator made.

Counter-factuals, alternative history, what ifs?, and such do have value however. From basic entertainment to developing a better understanding that actions have consequences. It is even possible to develop a better understanding of 'real' history since it is needed to develop a better appreciation of alternates. For example I read a book on alternate sports history - a few of the more famous athletes I knew and the alternate history was comprehensible to me. For many of the other alternate sports stories I had no knowledge at all of the original event so the alternate was lost on me.

Now one thing that isn't mentioned in the article on the low value of counter-factuals is that all history is in some way an alternative history! What do I mean by that? We live in an era where history is constantly being re-written, tweaked, and modified. Many times the changes to the historical record are made due to better information, the elimination of old biases, and other legitimate reasons. On other occasions history is changed to fit the politics of the day and are far more dangerous than any counter-factual could be. I remember in my youth the many jokes about the Soviet Union changing history and claiming credit for anything good in the world. While the Soviet Union is gone there are still individuals and groups that make questionable arguments about the past.

A century from now more changes - both legitimate and illegitimate - will give our descendants a different understanding of history than we have. That means that the history we know is an alternate history to what our grandchildren will know or our grandparents have known.

Given the number of newspapers and government reports that can go into some historical research it is amazing we have as clear an image of the past as we do. Newspapers lie, especially during wartime. Editors decide what information gets published and may not print stories and bias could affect what gets printed. Pressure from governments to suppress or alter a story are also possible. Government agents can file faulty reports that are examined years later by historians. Individuals involved in important events may lie in their memoirs to make themselves look more favorable than they may have a right to be.

Then there are holes in the historical record that are filled by those, who may be very intelligent, but were not directly involved in the events. A historians own cultural and personal biases may also affect the product of their research, even unintentionally.

Finally there is the simple fact that we don't know what historical figures were thinking. Why did they do everything they did. Some may have left memoirs explaining their actions, but such accounts may be twisted for the author to save face. In recent years I've read numerous books on war guilt for the Great War. Of course Germany gets blamed in many, but I've seen Russia blamed, Austria-Hungary, and even the British Empire being blamed for turning it into a global war. While I'm happy to put most of the blame on Germany... their ultimatum to France was left no choice but war, they had reasons to want war and from Sean McMeekin's The Russian Origins of the First World War I see that it may have come even it the Kaiser was reasonable when dealing with the French.

The only thing that is certain is that there was a war and the Central Powers lost. The whats are usually pretty easy to determine, its the whys that cause the problems.

I do agree with Richard J. Evans on his fear of regression to the 'great man' view of history. One of the fun things with alternate history is seeing how a famous person is different in the new timeline. However, depending on the divergence point, most of them would have never been born or would have had uneventful lives. I guess it depends on how big the butterflies would truly be. In recent research in changing more modern American history I've noticed that in most cases it really doesn't matter who the President is, the mass of the established American political body has momentum taking it into a certain direction. Perhaps I should explore something other than famous people and wars in future divergent timelines. Perhaps focusing more on economics, culture, and science. That might make for some interesting posts.

The most important thing to take away from alternate history is to be open to other ideas and to look at situations from different points of view. When we are hip deep in our day-to-day lives we sometimes ignore the forest because of the trees right in front of us.

Enough of my rambling, I'm just throwing out some ideas. Of course I'm biased myself.... I need to justify the value of counter-factuals since that is the focus of this blog. Any thoughts?

20 June 2014

Friday Flag - City-State of Kerma

Egyptian forces under Tuthmosis I launched many campaigns against the Nubian lands to the south. Nubia was eventually annexed in c.1500 BC. Despite the conquests there was one city that refused to bend to the Pharaoh's will. That city was Kerma.

Kerma maintained it's independence from Egypt for approximately 400 years, until the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period. With the decline of Egypt's power in the south the Kingdom of Kush filled in the void and annexed Kerma in the process.

Nubian grave goods during this period included cattle skulls, which is where the image on the banner originated from. The significance of the four gold diamonds along the top is unknown. They could have represented the four corners of the city, had some sort of religious or cultural significance, or just been chosen for aesthetic reasons.

17 June 2014

Book Review - Afrika Reich

(image from Amazon.com)

I really liked Afrika Reich. It had a few problems, but none that destroyed it for me…. But one problem came pretty close.

Dunkirk was a total disaster for the British. Most of their troops were killed or captured. Winston Churchill quickly lost his still new position as Prime Minster and the UK negotiated a peace with the Third Reich. Without a western front to worry about the Germans then turned their full attention to the Soviets.

The story starts in 1952. A large portion of Africa is under Nazi domination. They have spent a decade remolding it based off their twisted imaginations. Burton Cole is a mercenary who decides to do one last mission to assassinate his old nemesis, Hochburg. Hochburg controls the Afrika Reich and has plans to move against some additional African territory.

Things quickly turn south for the team and they are scattered across Africa fleeing a variety of German troops, police, and spies. The British government, who they think they are working for, refuses to aid them and closes the Sudanese border to keep them from escaping Reich territory. Now with no friends, no supplies, and a horde of Nazis pursuing them they have non-stop action in their attempt to escape the continent.

There is also a sub-plot that ties into the main story involving an African woman named Neliah. She works with the Portuguese military in the portion of Angola still held by Portugal. She is not taken seriously as a warrior by the white men so she is out to prove herself. Her determination and skill helps to uncover a dangerous plot that is unfolding.

Burton Cole: Pretty standard set up. A mercenary who has given up the life to start a farm back home. He wants to marry his sweetheart who is pregnant with his child. Money is tight and things will be difficult, but the future looks bright. Then he decides to take that one last job into the heart of the Afrika Reich. The leader of Nazi Africa, Hochburg, happens to be the man Cole blames for the death of his mother. In addition there is a large sum of money involved, enough to be set for life. Of course giving into his greed and thirst for vengeance mean things won’t be as simple as explained by his contact.

Patrick: A close friend of Burton's most of the time. They served on many mercenary missions in Africa back in the early years of Nazi occupation. His main goal is to get back to the United States to be reunited with his daughter. He suffers a stigma from being an American, they are seen as inherently cowardly since they did not get involved in the Second World War. He also has his lucky pipe.

Hochburg: Burton’s arch-nemesis and the reason he agreed to go to Africa one last time. Hochburg is your typical Hollywood Nazi, totally evil no redeeming qualities. He does have a background that ties in with Burton’s and the two men actually both seem equally stubborn.

Neliah: An African woman in Portuguese Angola. She leads a small group of warrior women and wants to avenge her dead parents who were killed when the Nazis conquered southern Angola. She has to deal with being looked down upon because of her race and gender so eventually goes off to fight on her own as the Portuguese flee to protect the capital.

Despite a few of the problems with the story it read like an old pulp adventure. I also appreciate an alternate outcome World War II where the action doesn’t focus on Europe or North America. I’ve read Soldier of Fortune on-again-off-again over the years as well has reading most of the memoirs of Mike Hoare, so reading about these mercenaries fighting their way across Africa brought back some additional memories.

Still, Nazi Germany clearing out all of the natives in the Congo in just a decade? They would have focused their limited man-power on Eastern Europe to clear out the natives there to allow for German expansion – that would have left limited resources for a major project covering over half the second largest continent in the world. The mountains and jungles are quite a bit different than the plains of Eastern Europe. It is impossible for the situation scenario in the book to have happened the way it did.

Also, I know there are really tough people out there. Still, some of the punishment that Cole went through on a regular basis was starting to border on unbelievable. But then again any movie with Schwarzenegger or Stallone has the same problem so it can be overlooked given the style of the story.

Overall I give this one 4 out of 5 stars given my bias. If you go in ready to accept a couple of improbable things and focus on the action it should be enjoyable.

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Page Count: 433
Genre: Alternate History
ISBN: 978-1-444-71064-9

13 June 2014

Friday Flag - Israeli People's Army

During the early years of the 20th century a new state of Israel was established in the region of Uganda. By 1924 it had become independent of the British Crown. The new nation hit many bumps in its development.

A large number of Israeli soldiers served with Allied armies during World War II. After the war a number of soldiers continued their careers in regional conflicts across Africa from the 1950s to 1980s. Many efforts were not entirely successful. For example the breakaway region of the Congo know as Katanga was not able to win full independence but was able to gain much greater autonomy in the home state.

At home continuing racial unrest, which increased with the strategic alliance with South Africa until the early '80s, as well as a widening wealth gap. This led to elements of various Israeli and Ugandan communist groups to merge and form the Israeli People's Army. This was a terrorist group that operated in the isolated jungle regions of Israel and were usually active with bomb attacks and assassination attempts during what they called 'military adventurism' by the government. The Soviet Union supplied them with weapons, seeing them as a useful group to combat Israeli attacks on Soviet interests on the continent.

Political and economic reforms of the 1980s, the great reduction in commando operations in foreign lands, as well as the ending of the alliance with South Africa all lead to the eventual decay of this militant organization in 1988.

11 June 2014

Roman Conquest of Arabia Felix

In the Year of the Consulship of Augustus and Taurus (26 BC/728 AUC) Aelius Gallus (Second Praefect of Aegyptus) was sent on an expedition to Arabia Felix. The expedition would experience some early treachery and then grow into a campaign to add a new and strategic province to the new Roman Empire.

Year of the Consulship of Augustus and Taurus (26 BC/728 AUC): Aelius Gallus lands his forces in Arabia Felix. After some early disasters such as lack of water and supplies it is discovered that Syllaeus, a Nabataean guide, has betrayed the expedition. After some reorganization and aid from allies in the Kingdom of Aksum, the expedition continues. The Himyarite Kingdom caused some problems for the expedition and then refused Roman 'friendship.' By the end of the year the Himyarites fell to Roman might.

Year of the Consulship of Augustus and Silanus (25 BC/729 AUC): Reinforcements arrive from Aegyptus. It is decided to conquer all of Arabia Felix and turn it into a new province for the empire. Aelius Gallus continues pushing his armies to the east. In this year Qataban and Saba fall to Roman forces.

Year of the Consulship of Augustus and Flaccus (24 BC/730 AUC): The Roman forces spend a large portion of this year consolidating their gains and setting the early basis for the province government in Aden. This pause in conquest gives their next opponent more time to prepare.

Year of the Consulship of Augustus and Varro (23 BC/731 AUC): The invasion of Hadhramaut begins. They put up a strong resistance against the Roman forces and their Aksum auxiliaries. A land and naval attack on the city of Qana eventually succeeds but fighting continues.

Year of the Consulship of Marcellus and Arruntius (22 BC/732 AUC): The remainder of Hadramaut is conquered. It takes several months to destroy the last scattered resistance.

Year of the Consulship of Lollius and Lepidus (21 BC/733 AUC): Parthian forces aid the inhabitants of he eastern portion of the peninsula, what is now being called Arabia Ulterior (Oman in the OTL). Fighting starts out fierce. An additional Legion is sent to reinforce the Roman expedition.

Year of the Consulship of Appuleius and Nerva (20 BC/734 AUC): As the Parthian Empire continues to harass Roman forces in Arabia additional legions are deployed along the existing border between the two empires. The Parthians back down with the treat of a large-scale war and the remainder of the desired territory is annexed into the new province of Arabia Felix.

The location of stronger Roman land and naval forces in Arabia allow them to enhance their existing trade routes with India and regions beyond. It also gives them a great flanking position against the Parthian Empire, a gladius at the soft underbelly of their rival.

I've wanted to create the divergence point for my Rome survives timeline for awhile. I got some inspiration from an article in Vol. VII, Issue 5 of Ancient Warfare. The article was "Legionaries in the Sea of Hercules" by J. Albert Morales. The reference to the disastrous expedition in 26 BC as well as the future importance of the region, especially in regards to trade with kingdoms in India, made the idea of a successful conquest and development of Arabia Felix appealing.

I'm planning on moving forward from this point to flesh out an outline of the rest of the history of the First Roman Empire. I'm using the Year of the Consulship of... dates since they were used instead of the AUC dates (I do plan to have the Second Roman Republic officially adopt the AUC system because the Consulship year reckoning can be a pain. However it can be useful in reminding me that the Consulship will change as the timeline changes).

Any suggestions or comments would be appreciated as I move things forward. I now have the bookends of this timeline - a successful campaign in Arabia on one end and a catastrophic nuclear war with Zhōngguó in 2766 AUC. Now I get to fill in the gaps :).

Wikipedia: Aelius Gallus, Himyarite Kingdom

06 June 2014

Friday Flag - Union of Arab Republics

The United Arab Republic formed in 1958 with a political union between Egypt and Syria. It was an early attempt to create a more powerful Arab political entity. It was counter-balanced by the Arab Federation of Iraq and Jordan. Yemen quickly joined in with Egypt and Syria adding to the Union. The United Arab Republic barely survived the aftermath of the Nine-Day War in 1967. By 1970 Muammar Gaddafi had Libya join the floundering organization. It was renamed the Union of Arab Republics (اتحاد الجمهوريات العربية).

This is the flag of the Union from 1970 until the mid-1980s when the they grew again picking up the pieces left after the Iran-Iraq War.

04 June 2014

Archibald Butt

Archibald Butt was a journalist and soldier turned Presidential Aide. He served under Teddy Roosevelt and then Howard Taft. The stress of the looming primary fight between Roosevelt and Taft caused him to vacation in Europe. He had time to consider the situation and his loyalties to both men.

On 17 April 1912 after arriving back in New York on the Titanic, Archibald quickly got pulled into Republican politics with the upcoming convention. On 18 June 1912 he attempted to mediate between the two men in an attempt to keep things from getting out of hand. Butt's apparent pro-Taft leanings infuriated Roosevelt and he had his delegates abstain in voting. TR was determined to be president, and if the Taft machine would not give him a fair shake he was determined to start a new party to get what he felt was rightfully his.

In August the Bull Moose Party had its own convention and Roosevelt was in the race. Three months later he came in second place to Woodrow Wilson, Taft a distant third. Archibald blamed himself for the disaster as he would later describe in his 1915 book The Election of 1912. He had plenty of extra time to write after Wilson was sworn into office on 3 March 1913, Butt was no longer a Presidential aide.

In 1916 He became one of the aides to Republican Presidential candidate Charles Evans Hughes. He made sure that Hughes kept appointments with officials in California. Butt was determined to make sure that Wilson lost, since he felt that the man should never have won in 1912. In November 1916 Hughes won a tight race 267 electoral votes to Wilson's 264.

With the revelation of the Zimmerman Telegraph and the renewal of unrestricted submarine warfare President Hughes went to congress for a declaration of war against the German Empire. Shortly afterwards Archibald Butt re-entered military service and was promoted to colonel. He was placed in charge of overseeing and coordinating the transportation networks in the United States to the amount Congress would allow under the emergency powers that were being drafted.

It was a tremendous, unprecedented task. Archibald performed better than could be expected. He contacted John Thayer, a man he met while on the Titanic in 1912. Thayer was a vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad and their close working relationship during the war helped move supplies from across the Great Lakes region to the Atlantic docks.

Despite the massive work required working for the Quartermaster General, Butt still found time to be socially active. He even helped establish an American branch of The Blue Cross organization from the UK. He was concerned with the fate of the multitude of animals being sent to Europe even before America's entry into the war. He had little to do with the organization after it was established, his other wartime duties taking so much time.

With the end of the fighting the long process of the peace talks... or rather meeting to determine what terms would be forced on the Central Powers, Archibald continued his duties supplying the American forces in Europe. In 1920 he contracted the influenza and died several weeks later.

I decided to explore what might happen in my Titanic survives timeline with the survival of one of the people who had died. Of course it is impossible to predict what would have actually happened, and by focusing on just one who would have died I'm ignoring the other 1,516. That is a lot of little butterflies, most of which would likely not have much of an immediate impact on the timeline.... but long term....

Maybe, if this post is popular enough, I'll return and pick some other former Titanic victims and make guesses about how their survival would have affected this timeline.

1) Wikipedia entry for Archibald Butt
2) Image source - United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division
3) Some background on The Blue Cross, aka Our Dumb Friends League. Many animals played important roles duirng the First World War
4) I had Archie responsible for helping to establish an American branch of the Blue Cross since he had written some treatises on the care of animals in the tropics and even disobeyed orders to save the lives of some mules! He was also socially active and was one of the founding members of the Military order of the Carabao. Just seemed like a nice addition to his alternate self.
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