Monday, March 26, 2012

The Franz Ferdinand Divergences

One of the difficulties of operating a peranoscope is that big changes are never the result of one single cause. Thus, when confronted with a big series of divergences, it can rarely be traced back to a single branch point. To use another analogy, using a peranoscope under the best of conditions is similar in many ways to peering into a Magic Eight Ball.

"Reply hazy, try again".

Take, for example, the First World War. From my perspective, it is not even a century since it's beginning, which was the 28th of July, 1914. Many historians will tell you that WWI was inevitable - that once the first domino was pushed all others would fall. That the entangling alliances of the Great Powers were too closely knotted, the alarm tripwires too taut, the personalities and circumstances all leaning inwards towards war, like the rotted frame of a house.

A Peranoscope
Consider the Franz Ferdinand Divergences. They generally start with Gavrilo Princip, the Serbian terrorist, missing his shot at the Archduke by a millisecond (not inconceivable, a policeman had lunged at Princip's hand). The Archduke and his wife are whisked away to safety. 

As a result, Israel never exists. Israel does not exist without WWII and the Holocaust. The Holocaust does not occur if Hitler never comes to power. Hitler never comes to power if the Germans are not starved throughout the first war, and starved and humiliated in the year following the armistice of 1918. The armistice does not occur if WWI never happens. WWI never happens if the Archduke Franz Ferdinand is not assassinated in Sarajevo.

Oh, bullshit. I wish it all were that simple.

The Emperor Francis Joseph I's hotheaded Chief of Staff, Conrad von Hötzendorf, knowing the assassination plot originated in Serbia, would have demanded war. Ferdinand, a consistent moderate in the past, would have demurred. In fact, Ferdinand, as in prior crises, reminded the Chief of Staff and the Emperor that war with Serbia meant war with Russia. War with Russia would have meant the certain end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Ferdinand would have argued this, and Emperor Francis Joseph would have agreed. It is true that friction with Serbia over the Balkans may have continued, but these crises had been going ever since the annexation of Bosnia-Herzgovina since 1908.

So, fast forward to November 21st, 1916, Francis Joseph I is dead. Franz Ferdinand is crowned Emperor.

Oh, wait a minute. Rewind. A few things can occur during those two years. Most imperative, Great Britain is plunged into civil war. Great Britain and Ireland that is, and over Ulster. Without WWI, the Government of Ireland Act of 1914 is enacted, Home Rule comes to Southern Ireland and the insurrection of Northern Ireland breaks out in utter foment. With civil war, dividing even parts of the army, the entire Expeditionary Force, the Special Reserve, and the Territorial Army are required to restore order. The Troubles, as they come to be known, had started.

Had Germany declared war on France, and invaded through Belgium (the cause for Great Britain's entering war), the BEF, pinned down in Ireland, could not possibly aid France. Without the BEF in those first bloody crucial months, the Germans would have marched into Paris.

It's a good thing then, that Germany does not declare war on France (aside from the fact that one million men will still be alive come October 1914). Germany does not declare war on Russia and France because Austria-Hungary does not declare war on Serbia. There are, of course, several ongoing crises throughout Europe, but all are settled diplomatically as had happened with others, such as the Bosnian Crisis of 1908, or the Morocco Crisis of 1911, or the Balkan Wars of 1912, or the... well, you get the picture.

What happens in America? Keep in mind, the mood of the country is that the US economic model is broken (though not spoken of in those terms), the Socialist movement is making great gains in popularity. 1914 is the beginning year of a serious recession. Businesses throughout the country were depressed, farm prices deflated, unemployment serious, heavy industries working far below capacity and bank clearings were off. Without the 1915 war orders from the Allies of WWI, an economic stimulus never occurred and the recession deepened. The Panic of 1916 helped matters not at all, and the public mood became ugly. No polls existed then, but it is estimated some 74% of Americans felt that they were not adequately rewarded for their hard work and skill, and that the idle rich, possessed of  almost all the nation's wealth, truly were living off the backs of the industrious poor. The ruling classes, seeing the country ripe for a number of violent upheavals, were forced to co-opt from the pages of the Progressives as had been done earlier by Teddy Roosevelt during the so-called "reform" movements of his administration. In a handy bit of political ju-jitsu (involving both violent repression and political reform), the ruling classes enacted a series of laws and subsidies to keep the citizens of the United States pacified. The great Social Experiment, as it came to be known, or by others, ironically, as the "New Socialist Paradise", produced the large social assistance programs similar to those enacted by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s (in a different reality). There was hardly a choice. The bankers and industrialists would surely have lost everything in the ensuing revolution (which in itself was an interesting - if short-lived - divergence), or at least through government nationalization of the market. But, as it was in prior crises, the shit managed to float on top. What was perhaps unnoticed through the enactment of these laws was the ongoing erosion of the Bill of Rights, through the Securitization Act, the Right to Work Act, and the Militia Act, which put restrictions on first and second amendment rights. These acts were all upheld by the Supreme Court. The foremost liberal of the land, Oliver Wendell Holmes, in a superbly clever and attractive treatment, supplied the rationale to justify these laws. Well, as the old Vulcan saying goes, "Only Nixon could go to China". Of course, the recession turned into a depression which lasted well into the late 1920s, but at least the populace was placated and endured the downturn.

Couple these circumstances with the series of events which made America the military laughingstock of the world, and you have a formula against immediate global influence. The continued disastrous military adventures carried out under the one-term Wilson administration - the inept military adventure into Mexico, the debacle of US troops being slaughtered in Siberia aiding the failed Bolshevik movement during the Russian Civil War, the humiliating retreat from the Philippines in 1917 - all soured the public appetite for foreign adventurism, and solidified the already deep and endemic isolationist streak within the American character. It would take another generation for the United States to move from being a continental to a world power.

And Russia? The one seeming inevitability is the fall of Tsar Nicholas II. The debacle of the 1905 war against Japan and subsequent Revolution of 1905 determined the fate of the Romanovs. Despite continued and ongoing land reforms, the sheer incompetence of the Tsar himself guaranteed his eventual downfall in November 1914. Had it not been for the intervention of his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm, "Nicky" and his family would surely have perished. They eventually resided in Denmark. The Kaiser also, very conveniently on the advice of his generals, had V.I. Lenin assassinated while in still exile. The loose factions of the Reds never quite congealed, and after a brief turning towards democracy under Kerensky, Russia returned true to form under the dictatorship of President Julius Martov.  Despite modernization programs instituted under Martov, Russia remains relatively backwards well into the 1930s.
(An interesting side note, if you will indulge me. Typically, fictional depictions of alternate timelines often make the mistake of using familiar characters from history populating these people scenarios - even though the chances of them even existing are near impossible. Funny then, how many familiar historical characters continue to exist in the Franz Ferdinand Divergences. Indeed, these tightly bound  alternatives do not start to unravel until the early 1940s - as you will see).

So, continental Europe tense but peaceful, England heavily involved in internal strife, Franz Ferdinand ascends the thousand-year-old Habsburg throne. As a young man, Franz Ferdinand toured the United States by train. Ferdinand sought an American, a Federalist, solution to the ills of his thousand-year-old empire. Foremost was the Southern Slav question, the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovinia had burdened Austria with a restive Slav population owing more allegiance to neighboring Serbia. (Indeed, the Serbian Black Hand organization sought the Ferdinand's death to prevent his federalization program). Upon ascension to the throne, Ferdinand immediately implemented the formation of "Die Vereinigten Staaten von Groß-Österreich", or as we know it, the USGA, The United States of Greater Austria. The formation was not without its birth pangs. At one point, Ferdinand requested help from his friend "Willy", Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who sent "Franzi" a division of crack Prussian troops to quell the Magyar Rebellion in Hungary. But once things settled down, the diverse ethnic governments cooperated in a remarkably cohesive and congenial manner. Even Bosnia-Herzegovinia, after a popular referendum favored reuniting with Serbia, was allowed to return, and good riddance. Relations with the Balkans improved dramatically. The Empire was saved from certain implosion.

In fact, conditions both economic and social improved considerably. Despite Ferdinand's reactionary personality, not to mention his loathsome anti-Semitism, he embarked upon a series of social and education reforms which uplifted and improved the conditions of  all segments of the general populace. Major universities were expanded through a program of free education, and valued talents (especially in the areas of mathematics and physics) were attracted to the vibrant atmospheres of cities such as Graz, Vienna, Prague, Cracow, and Budapest for the remainder of 1910s and onward. The whole of Germany and the USGA prospered as industry and academia cooperated to produce a seeming endless series of innovations and inventions. The flowering of Quantum Mechanics results in practical applications such as radio, radar, TV, vacuum tubes, transistors, aviation, jet engines, rocket engines, and the beginnings of the computer age, all created within Central Europe. 

A stellar constellation of talents, among them Albert Einstein, John von Neumann, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, Enrico Fermi, and Hans Bethe flocked to the University of Vienna. Not surprising, then, that the USGA, in cooperation with the German Empire, developed the atomic bomb. The first atomic pile is constructed by Enrico Fermi in Trieste, on January 5th, 1925. The first test occurred in the Kalahari desert, east of the town of Gobabis, on July 23rd, 1928. 

By 1930, Germany and the USGA, all but in name unified as one, have been joined by the Kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium, etc. to form a loose confederation of mutual economic and political interests. It is the world's preeminent economic powerhouse. The Great Powers of the world now confront the Greater Power of MittelEuropa. The race to play catchup is all consuming, but especially so to the US of A (catchup being that "most American of games"), finally coming out of it's decade long funk.

Which brings us to the Devastation (I told you this was a divergence). Back in the second term of President Charles Evans Hughes, Sr. (Republican three term president 1916-1928), the War Department embarked upon an intensive program of modernization. With the loss of American Pacific possessions to the Japanese Empire, it was felt that, in a modern era of aeroplanes and missiles, the separation of two oceans was no longer a sufficient barrier to threatening powers. In the Pacific, the Empire of Japan had, with no real opposition, engulfed all of EastAsia. The Colossus known as Europe (for at this point, both France and Russia were obliged, hat in hand, to work with Central Europe, which controlled huge swaths of Africa, and almost all of Eurasia. Britain, through culture and circumstance, and the seeming advantageous contingency of her colonial empire, chose to side with America, and together, they could be defined as Oceania. By 1940 all the triggers were in place for a war over resource extraction, and Africa was the prize.

Espionage had transferred the nuclear secrets into the hands of the Americans. By the late 1930s, under a crash program, they had developed their own nuclear weapon, exploded in New Mexico, in 1939, and proceeded to work on their arsenal.

Unbeknownst to the Americans, an engineering team in Vienna led by Edward Teller had developed "Die Super", the H-bomb, the thermonuclear fusion bomb. By 1944, their H-bomb had been miniaturized enough to be delivered via rocket. Unfortunately, through a staged bit of theatrical victimization claiming surprise attack, America declared war on June 6th, 1944. American bombers, loaded with fission bombs, departed air bases in England. Two bombers managed to deliver their cargo - one on Antwerp, the other on Hamburg.

Soon afterwards, dozens of ICBMs equipped with megaton range thermonuclear warheads were launched against the American homeland. Some ninety million people are wiped out in minutes. President Winston Smith vows never surrender, and the sheer horror of the mass slaughter turns the world against Europe. Sufficient nuclear weapons remain on both sides to cause decades long strife, so much so that by early 1984, those few humans left alive, if you can call such specimens human, have been reduced back to the Stone Age. And soon after that, they all perish.

And just as well, don't you think?

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