After a long hiatus it is time to get active on this blog again. I’ve been busy writing and that is producing a stream of published books and stories in anthologies, with more coming quickly if everything goes right.
Let’s start with the anthologies. My stories have recently been published in two anthologies. The first was: Alternate Peace, with alternate history stories not involving wars. This was a major ego-boost, with my name in the table of contents next to Harry Turtledove, arguably the biggest name in Alternate History. The second was a New Pulp anthology called Mystery Men & Women Volume 6. This was an experiment for me, a venture into a sub-genre that consciously strives to be a throwback to the days of the depression-era pulp hero, complete with covers and interior illustrations that hark back to that era.
My pulp hero can briefly, painfully bring the recently dead back to life, hopefully to figure out who murdered them.
I also self-published a collection of stories and Alternate History essays
called Space Bats & Butterflies. The Alternate History essays are for people with a deep interest in history. The stories should be general interest. This collects a lot of stuff I’ve written over the years for an on-line zine but wanted to put in more permanent form. This is roughly sixty percent alternate history essays, with the biggest single section looking at what might have happened if the Germans went after Moscow instead of heading south in 1942.
I do include several AH and time-travel stories for more general readers.
First, you may have noticed that these posts have gotten a bit more sporadic lately. I have a novel almost ready to publish and other projects in the works that are pushing the blog posts down on my priority list. Hopefully the pressure will ease a bit in a couple weeks.
What Actually Happened:Bows don’t preserve well, so there is considerable uncertainty as to when bows arrived various places. One marker for widespread bow use is an abrupt decline in spear points and accoutrements for spear throwers, along with a rise in smaller, arrow points. There is some scanty evidence that bows reached Alaska as early as 2500 years ago, but spear-throwers were dominant in the interior of the US as late as about 500 AD. Bows spread north to south, becoming a major factor in Mexico around 900 AD. They spread to most of South America by the time of Columbus, but the Incas still used spear-throwers and slings primarily, though they hired mercenary archers from jungle tribes to supplement their armies.
There is some question as to whether bows had reached the Taino on the big West Indies islands by the time of Columbus. They were aware of bows, courtesy of Island Caribs who raided them using bows and poison arrows and they may have used bows in hunting small animals. Not sure if they used bows much, if at all, in warfare.
There was, in general, a north/south gradient in the quality of Indian bows, with tribes in or recently from the north usually having considerably better bows than more southerly tribes. Along the North American coast, at least, European archers considered Indian bows pretty crap compared to European ones when they first encountered them.
In Australia, spear throwers were still dominant, though some northern tribes fought against Torres Strait Islanders who used bows and a few northern tribes made bows as toys for their children.
What might have happened: Let’s speed up the spread of bows in both the Americas and Australia. This is tricky because we don’t understand what happened historically very well, at least in North America. In central regions of North America, at least, several things happened fairly close in time to one another: Bows displaced spear throwers, populations went from a pattern of scattered extended family houses to one of concentrated villages with defensive features and agriculture became a much larger factor, with corn, which had not been prominent in the area, gradually becoming the dominant crop, pushing older, more traditional crops to the periphery of Indian life or in some cases causing them to be abandoned altogether.
You can put together several chains of causality to potentially explain what happened there. Maybe corn adapted to the more northern climates and allowed the larger settlements and population growth, which increased competition for prey species and fertile land, which increased warfare and pushed people into defensive villages, which in turn reinforced the need for high-productivity but high-effort crops like corn. From old and possibly faulty memory though, several studies seem to show that widespread adoption of corn lagged behind population growth and large villages.
Another potential chain of causation: bows spread, making hunters more efficient and reducing populations of preferred prey animals. That would lead to a short-term human population increase, followed by hunger as prey animals got scarce. That would increase competition for remaining prey, leading to warfare, as well as pressure to substitute more intensive agriculture for the now-scarce prey animals. Warfare would push that emphasis, pushing populations close together and making hunting parties more dangerous as well as less productive.
Would bows have that impact on prey species? Possible. I’ve mentioned a time or tow that deer depended on a buffer zone between the Dakota and the Ojibwa in order to survive and got very scarce when the two tribes came to a peace that allowed both tribes to hunt in the buffer zone.
I can’t see any way to decide which of those causalities was what actually happened, but I lean toward the bow as the prime mover. Let’s assume for this scenario that I’m right, though I’m not at all sure I am.
So bows crossed the Bering Strait at some point and eventually spread south. Maybe they cross a little earlier or maybe they spread south a little earlier. In any case, they become common in the North American Midwest around five hundred years earlier than they did historically, right around the switch for BC to AD. That puts them toward the end of the Adena Moundbuilders and a couple hundred years into the partly overlapping Hopewell Moundbuilders. Historically, the advent of the bow came at about the end of the Hopewell period, so we would probably end up with a much-truncated Hopewell period, two hundred years instead of seven hundred.
Would the arrival of bows have the same consequences as the ones I think they had historically? If they cut into staple prey populations historically, they would probably do the same thing five hundred years earlier. That would increase competition for the remaining prey animals, leading to increased warfare, with bows making that warfare more deadly. That, in turn, would force groups into defensive positions, making it more difficult and dangerous for them to use portions of their territory away from those defensive positions. All of that would select for large, concentrated gardens within easy reach of the defensive positions and it would lead people to store seeds in case of a siege.
All the incentives would be the same, just happening five hundred years earlier. There would be one potentially missing variable though. Would the small seed crops Indians were using five hundred years earlier be able to support more concentrated populations clustered around defensive positions? If they couldn’t, prey populations would crash, maybe leading to local extinctions, followed by an Indian population crash.
That could go on for several cycles before Indian farming techniques and their crops got good enough to make larger, more concentrated human populations possible.
Was there enough progress in Indian farming in those 500 years that larger-scale farming was only possible at the end of the 500 years? I don’t think so, though it might be a close-run thing. The Adena and Hopewell depended mostly on small oil-seed plants, of which the only domesticated survivor is sunflowers. Sunflower seeds did get significantly bigger and presumably more desirable over time, but that process started around 2000 BC. Was there enough change in the 500 years involved here too make a difference? Was corn necessary to make concentrated villages possible? If so, would it adapt to short northern growing seasons early enough to play a role?
Consequences-Eastern North America:
Let’s say we did get villages in defensive positions supporting themselves with a higher density of farming by say 100 AD, roughly 500 years earlier than that happened historically. If they are supporting themselves by growing the native crops instead of corn for those 500 years, they probably don’t get populations as high as Indians got historically with corn, but they don’t deplete the land as quickly. Those crops have a longer time to be bred to be more useful and more of them hang on when they run into competition with corn.
Indian culture in the Eastern US is considerably more mature in this scenario than it was historically when it meets the Europeans. Historically, Indians started developing larger-scale farming and larger-scale warfare within a hundred years or so after the advent of the bow, with the process starting along the interior rivers and working its way toward the coast, with two main flows. The Mississippians spread that culture southeast and to a lesser extent southwest along the river networks, while Iroquois-speaking tribes headed toward the northeast. That means that while Indians in the area had an ancient presence there, they had at most nine-hundred years of development as town-dwelling, farming-dependent cultures when they met Europeans. Near the coast, farming and larger villages may not have arrived more than a couple of centuries before the first Europeans did.
It’s kind of surprising to realize that Indian culture in the form the Europeans found in eastern North America was so young. The Roman empire had already come and gone and Europe was descending into the dark ages before eastern North America started on the road to towns and empires.
None of this should be taken as belittling the cultures that came before the bow. The Adena and Hopewell cultures did some very cool things, including a lot of craftworks and maintaining trade networks that stretched across much of the United States. It’s just that they lived in a very different world, with small, scattered settlements and little large-scale warfare.
So if all my assumptions are right, getting bows to this area five hundred years earlier would add that five hundred years to the time-depth of a very young, dynamic set of cultures. Indians in the area would have over half again as much time to develop their abilities as bowmen, their skills as diplomats and war-makers, their skill at making fortresses, ability to besiege and take them.
The longer period of high culture would probably compound itself by attracting trade from Northeastern Mexico. They would be far more desirable trading partners far earlier, so more of Mexican Indian culture would get transmitted, including more crops and maybe even the ability to cast copper.
None of the historic tribes or personalities would exist, of course, but the Europeans would run into far more formidable Indians when they tried to set up shop in eastern North America. Of course, they would still face European diseases. How big of a difference would all of that make in the face of Europeans diseases? Probably not a decisive difference, but it might make for more tribes surviving in larger numbers.
Consequences Outside Eastern North America: Historically, bows arrived in Mexico in a major way around 900 AD, roughly four hundred years after they arrived in eastern North America. They never completely replaced spear throwers or slings there. Give the Mexican Indians an extra five hundred years to get good at using bows and it could make a difference. The Aztecs were mediocre bowmen, though the Tarascans were considerably better, and the Chichimec nomads were outstanding bowmen. Given a few more hundred years, whoever met the Spanish (probably not the Aztecs) would probably be far better bowmen.
What about the West Indies, where the Spanish first lodged? I haven’t yet tracked down how much the Taino of the big West Indies islands used bows, or if they used them at all. They were familiar with bows from Carib raiders who used poisoned arrows in raids against the Taino, but if the Taino used bows in warfare, I haven’t found what I consider a firm source on it. In any case, they would have been late to the bow and arrow game and could have used a few hundred additional years to up their game.
What About Australia? Bows were not in common use as actual tools anywhere in Australia, though as I mentioned earlier, tribes in parts of the north knew about them through contact with Torres Strait Islanders. So what if bows spread to Australia before the first fleet arrived from Britain? Let’s give the process of spread some time. Maybe they arrive around 1200 AD—an arbitrary time–and spread across the continent. By the time settlers arrive, they meet reasonably formidable archers.
Those archers would mean other consequences, though. As in North America, bowmen would probably reduce the numbers of their prey species, especially the bigger, slower breeding ones. So the larger kangaroos, emus and wombats would probably get noticeably scarcer. Those species had already grown scarce, the result of predation from dingoes, which had been introduced a few thousand years earlier.
Without farming to fall back on, native Australians intensified hunting small game and collecting edible plants when the dingo made larger prey scarcer. They might not have a lot left to go on that front when they started using bows. At worst, they would cause a few more vulnerable Marsupial species to go extinct. More likely, they would go through a series of population booms and busts until they figured out some means of not crashing prey populations. Would they have turned to farming? Probably not, though bows would make their wars deadlier and decline of the larger prey species would cause more competition between groups. The pressure was there, and a few aboriginal groups did some rudimentary things to help favored plant species. They also kept some marsupials as pets, though they didn’t seem to go beyond rescuing young animals and letting them hang around as they got older. So unlike North America, there wasn’t a pool of behaviors that could be intensified to lead to full-fledged farming.
I’m not sure where this would go. Dingoes would probably get somewhat scarcer because the ones that weren’t associated with aborigines competed with them for prey and the aborigines would now be better at hunting, which would make them more competitive. I would like to think that fewer dingoes might allow the Tasmanian Devil to survive in mainland Australia, but that might be wishful thinking. Bows in aboriginal hands might exterminate the Devils quicker than they died out on the mainland historically. That could go either way.
Would the aborigines be more formidable adversaries for the settlers if they had bows? To some extent, at least at first, but so many of them died from European diseases that I don’t see them maintaining much resistance for very long once the frontier reached them. It would be interesting to think that bows would be enough to make them more competitive, and I’m sure they would make life on the frontier more of an adventure, but I’m skeptical.
If you like American Indian Alternate History, you might enjoy American Indian Victories, a compilation of my alternate history essays and fiction involving American Indians and alternate history.
I often start out with a germ of an idea that I don’t know what to do with. I write the idea down and let it sit, sometimes almost forget about it. My subconscious almost always remembers, though and keeps rattling it around, trying to fit it together with other ideas and make the result work as a story Sometimes the way it fits isn’t much like the original concept.
Several years ago, I realized something: It would be a lot easier to solve crimes if you could look at multiple examples of the same crime. Not possible in real life, but not particularly difficult if you can look at alternate timelines. So John Doe was murdered in your timeline. The killer left no clues. The case is a dead end. You send a request to police departments in neighboring timelines, ones that vary from yours in some trivial way, but are close enough to yours that John Doe existed, lived the same life and somebody attempted to kill him. Maybe that someone succeeded in most of the other timelines, but John got away in one. Presto. You chat with John over Zoom and you may have a murder suspect, or maybe even testimony to an attempted murder. Good luck getting that evidence admitted in court, but at least now you know where to look.
That’s not a bad idea. I could do a series of stories with evidence from nearby timelines helping solve cold cases. Of course, all of this assumes that a considerable number of people in all these timelines know about other timelines, which has a lot of knock-on implications. I’ve thought about some of those implications and they are far-reaching enough that if I waw doing stories set in a universe like that, I would want to do a lot of world-building to make sure the societies still worked.
Things get quite a bit easier if there is no physical access between the timelines. I’ve done one short story set in a universe where people can’t move between timelines, but by some bit of handwavium timelines can connect their Internets to one another. I’ve also done quite a bit of plotting on a story where a special federal agency has access to a variety of other timelines and uses the knowledge from those other timelines to pinpoint murders and acts of terrorism before they happen–given enough very similar timelines, the people involved in the murders or acts of terrorism will move either slightly earlier or slightly later, so this agency knows the target and sometimes who is targetting them days or weeks before the crime happens. I’ve never written that story, but the basic idea lingered.
Finally, four or five years ago, I realized that my Snapshot Universe could allow multiple runs of the same murder too. That was the start of “The Necklace of Time,” a novel that I finished and published a few years ago.
Having an idea like “solving a murder by going to an alternate timeline” is cool, but it is by no means enough to make a story. There have to be characters and complications. Otherwise there isn’t much of a story. Go to the other timeline, or in this case Snapshot, look around and either solve the murder or don’t.
Let’s start with complications. In “The Necklace of Time,” the murder happened decades ago and is still officially a disappearance rather than a murder. Only one person is still trying to solve the case, the victim’s younger brother. That younger brother, then in grade school, briefly, once, wished that his much older, much more accomplished sister would go away. It was just a stray thought, the result of a rare sibling squabble, but then the sister really did disappear. Younger brother had nothing to do with the disappearance, but the child inside of him has never accepted that, has always felt guilty and has obsessed on finding out what happened.
No official search here. Just one obsessed guy. But that obsessed guy needed the resources to go to another Snapshot. I made him famous and reasonably wealthy, a horror writer named Simon Royale. He’s not quite at the Stephen King level of fame, but close enough. That solves the resources problem, but why can’t he simply go to the other Snapshot and ask his counterpart for help? Because his counterpart is not a famous writer but wants to be. He has a trunk full of novels that were unpublishable until the existence of the famous Simon Royale filtered over to his Snapshot. Lawsuits over the use of the name ensued, so getting cooperation on solving the mystery will require a delicate touch.
That’s a decent complication, but not enough to keep the two from cooperating long enough to make up a novel. I needed something more, so through a mix-up our Simon Royale ends up having sex with his counterpart’s wife. She thinks she’s roleplaying with her husband, while our Simon thinks she’s an attractive fan turned on by his fame. Her Simon finds out about the two having sex and the well of cooperation between the two is now poisoned enough for a novel’s worth of not cooperating, especially since the condom broke and Mrs. Royale was off the pill, hoping for another child.
And that’s the basis for the novel. In the end, comparing what happened to Simon’s sister on the two Snapshots does lead to solving the disappearance, but not before a novel’s worth of adventures.
If you want to see how that works out, check it out on Amazon. Fair warning: Simon Royale at time suffers from the arrogance of fame, though you’ll eventually realize he has a good heart. At least that’s what I visualized when I wrote him.
Let’s take those one at a time. My variation on Alternate History is the Snapshot Universe. It replaces your standard issue branching timeline and points of divergence with aliens with godlike powers but no desire to be worshiped. If they see something they’re interested in on Earth, they make an exact living replica, a Snapshot, usually of an entire continent, and place it in an artificial universe. The plants, animals and people in that continent-sized artificial universe live, die and evolve, diverging from the real world and creating what amounts to an alternate history by other means.
Early on, while the idea was still bouncing around in my head and I wasn’t entirely serious about it, I made a whimsical decision. I was going to set a story on a stretched version of Madagascar, the big island off the east coast of Africa inhabited mostly by lemurs, cute little monkey/raccoon-looking things.
Cute doesn’t make a story, though, at least not my kind of story, so I added conflict to this stretched Madagascar, a lot of it. First, the lemurs on this stretched Madagascar don’t all stay cute. One branch evolves into Swindel Wolves, very smart, fast and capable doglike predators. And then people show up. Some are from a version of the US isolated from the rest of the world since 1953, like Scott Hardy, Assistant Sanitary Engineer for a fly-by-night zoo. Scott flies into stretched Madagascar in my novella The Wrath of Athena, along with a menagerie from a dozen Snapshots, plus Scott’s far-too-good for him sometimes girlfriend Athena Anders, the zoo’s dinosaur trainer. Yes, the zoo has dinosaurs, dog-sized and dog-smart, but with a parrot-like ability to mimic human speech and a preference for profanity.
Here is an excerpt from Wrath:
June 6, 2007. We got out of US-53 Snapshot’s California one step ahead of state health officials, state wildlife officials, animal rights protesters and a plethora of creditors, in a plane that, as always, smelled of generic animal pee, a blend of urine from hundreds of animals from a dozen Snapshots, none of the animals big or dangerous.
Plethora. I love that word, partly because Athena had to look it up the first time I used it. That and “ubiquitous”. You’ll figure out why using words even Athena has to look up is important to me, but let’s not get sidetracked. Well, except maybe for a brief explanation of Snapshots and Tourists, for anybody who fell asleep in Geography.
Imagine each Snapshot as a photograph hanging from a necklace, a moment captured in time, except everything in it is still living and dying and evolving and making love and stuff. But it’s self-contained, cut off from Dirtball Earth. We know jack shit about the “Tourists” except that they’ve been taking continent-sized Snapshots of Earth for millions of years and the rest of us live with the consequences. But there are Vents, sort of wormhole passages that let us travel from one Snapshot to the next one on the necklace—if we get past the Babble Zones, which are a nightmare all their own. Anyway.
Why no big animals in our zoo? You can only get from Snapshot to Snapshot by flying through the Vents. When you fly, pounds cost money, so we don’t have full-sized elephants or dinosaurs bigger than a good-sized dog. When you run a fly-by-night petting zoo, you don’t do dangerous animals, big or small, because dangerous means likely to take a customer’s arm off and send you flying by night before revenue matches fuel and food costs, much less paying the help.
Being part of the help, I take it personal when the help doesn’t get paid. I’m Scott Hardy. Job Title: Assistant Veterinary Engineer. Actual job: Shoveling crap out of animal cages, plus some “keep your hands off the talent” duty. The “talent” equals our animal handlers, young, nubile girls and guys dressed to keep our audiences from noticing that our animal shows are boring. Young, nubile skin is cheaper than good animal trainers, so we mostly go with nubile skin. The downside: locals get drunk and try to get hands on with the talent. Then I have to get hands on with the drunks.
The Vent from US-53 California goes to the west coast of Madagascar-24M, the stretched, North America-sized Snapshot of Madagascar the Tourists made 24 million years ago, give or take a few million years. Most people are used to the exact dates on the more recent Snapshots, like US-53—copied from Dirtball Earth in summer of 1953—or Europe-42, taken in the summer of 1942, but when the Snapshot is millions of years old, our scientists are ballparking the age.
West coast Madagascar is the old, settled area, if you call having forty year old towns old and settled. Madagascar Snapshot still has a Wild West reputation, so I was pleasantly surprised to spot the unmistakable silhouettes of a mall and a nuclear power plant as we flew into Westport Airport. The marks of civilization.
One problem with being a fly-by-night private zoo is that the Snapshots you fly to don’t always roll out the welcome mat for you. Animals from off-Snapshot are a disease risk, for both people, and local wildlife. Westport promptly put the zoo in quarantine. Quarantine equals all the usual expenses, but no revenue.
Our owner, James Tiberius Smoot, had a plan to keep out of quarantine—going through the Vent close to a passenger airliner, so Westport’s radar wouldn’t see us. Like many of James T’s schemes, that one fell through.
Sometimes, on the right Snapshot, quarantines can be avoided with judicious financial transactions, but Madagascar-24M isn’t that kind of Snapshot. It was settled by blue collar types, a generation away from subsistence farming in the border South, pulled north out of the Bible Belt to work in Midwestern factories and mines during World War II and the Korean War. They’re farming people at heart and into that Old-time Religion. Not into bribery, unless it’s more subtle than old James T can do it.
So the animals went into quarantine in an abandoned warehouse outside Westport. It was late evening and the electricity was turned off, so we had to set up the cages by the dying sunlight filtering through sparse windows, finishing the job by flashlight. We had to set up the cages closer together than normal. The break in the routine put the animals on edge, causing the warehouse to echo with animal calls from dozens of species. I bedded down with the rest of the help in a machine shed, while James T and his current favorite commandeered an office. The electricity finally came on in the dark hours of the morning, not long after the animals finally settled down, causing the animal racket to start up again.
The next morning, we sat in the sweltering, humid Madagascar sun, waiting for Sam Dwyer, the veterinarian in charge of examining the animals, to show up. I helped feed the animals and chase away the local wildlife, which consisted mostly of lemurs, cute little monkey-raccoon-looking things that were far too ingenious at getting into the warehouse and far too bold at stealing food. If the zoo actually had dangerous diseases to spread, the lemurs would have spread them.
I didn’t have time to take in the view from the warehouse the night before, but I got a good look out the windows while I fed the animals. The warehouse sat in an area that must have been zoned Post Apocalypse Industrial Wasteland or something that meant the same thing. On one side, an eight foot tall wooden fence stretched for the equivalent of six or seven city blocks, with “Westport Auto & Industrial Salvage” signs at intervals along the warped and peeling boards. On the other side: a sewage plant surrounded by a ten feet tall chain-link fence. In the direction of Westport, a small mountain of black industrial slag towered above the warehouse, pierced only by a gravel road. On the fourth side, a narrow strip of grassland stretched between the junkyard and the sewer plant, gradually getting wider until it was lost over a long hill.
This morning, the wind blew in from the sewer plant, as if we didn’t have enough crap odors from the animals.
That gives you some idea how the coming of people added conflict to the cuteness of this stretched Madagascar.
What about the horror? I was going through a phase of listening to Stephen King audiobooks before I went to sleep while I was writing a couple novels in the Snapshot Universe. Talk about pumping stuff directly into your subconscious. You’ll see the hints of horror in the original Snapshot novel and especially The Necklace of Time, where Simon Royale, horror writer and rival of Stephan King, finds himself in way over his head in stretched Madagascar.
Want to read more about AH, lemurs and a hint of horror? Here are the links, with the stories in chronological order, not order of publication.
Yes, I missed a week. I’m trying to get a novel out and a Kickstarter organized. More on both in the near future.
So what about the question? Superficially, this looks plausible. Stalin’s purges and other excesses left a lot of Soviets with a grudge against his regime—dead family members, unjust accusations, obvious mismanagement. Early in the war, some Soviet citizens greeted the German army as liberators. Moderately prominent captured Red Army officers, including one general, volunteered to form an anti-Soviet army. So did a lot of rank-and-file Red Army soldiers, though how genuine those soldiers’ anti-Soviet sentiments were remains unknown.
What actually happened? The Germans did enlist a lot of Soviet citizens in the German war effort, but much of that effort was semi-covert, done by local army commanders through various guises. In a few cases, German army units experimented with offering local Russian warlords considerable autonomy in exchange for them keeping Soviet partisans out.
For much of the war, the Germans maintained a group of Russian officers as part of a mostly fictional Russian Liberation Army, which was used heavily in German propaganda. Late in the war, after Germany had been pushed out of the Soviet Union and clearly defeated, the Germans actually allowed those Russians to form a division of their own, which fought briefly against the Russians before it turned against them to help local nationalists in a revolt against the Germans. The Germans also helped anti-Soviet Ukrainians fight through Soviet lines back into Ukraine to help in a Ukrainian guerrilla war against the Soviets that lasted into the mid-1950s.
What might have happened?
Option 1: The Germans Make A Tactical Decision to Use Anti-Soviet Sentiment From Day 1: Hitler was an ideologue and enslaving the Slavs was part of his ideology. He could, however, sometimes be a pragmatist. If he saw an advantage for his regime, he was perfectly capable of short-term friendships with people he intended to destroy. The pact with the Soviets was an obvious example, but he also worked amiably with the Poles until the Germans got strong enough to destroy them. Why didn’t he use anti-Soviet citizens of the Soviet Union as cannon-fodder if nothing else?
The biggest problems with Germany (under Hitler or some more pragmatic Nazi) recruiting an army of anti-Soviet citizens in the summer of 1941 were:
(1) The German strategy (such as it was) depended on feeding the German armies “off-the-land” as much as possible in the Soviet Union. The Germans didn’t have the logistics capacity to feed their men more than a few hundred miles from the railheads and couldn’t switch the railroads over to a gauge their trains could use fast enough to keep up with the advance. The Soviets removed or destroyed as much of the crops, herds and farm machinery as they could ahead of the German advance, leaving the German-held areas at starvation level even before the Germans grabbed food for their troops. Even if the Germans had wanted to turn Soviet citizens into soldiers on their side, it would have been difficult to do so when the families of those soldiers were starving.
(2) The Germans thought they were going to face food shortages at home, like they did during World War I, so they seized and exported millions of tons of already scarce grain from the parts of the Soviet Union they took. Hitler and company figured that around twenty million Soviets needed to die in order for there to be enough food for Germany and its allies in the face of the British blockade. That calculation turned out to be wrong, but they believed it. That belief fueled a lot of what they did in the east that otherwise seemed irrational. They had no problem with that many Slavs dying but could probably have been persuaded to work them to death or use them as cannon-fodder except that the Nazi leadership felt that as many as possible needed to starve to death quickly so Germans wouldn’t starve. When you’re trying to starve people to death, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have their relatives fighting in your army. Support roles, yes. Armed? Not so much.
(3) German logistics were so chaotic in the first year of the war that they couldn’t feed/clothe/shelter the prisoners they took, even if they wanted to and millions of Red Army soldiers died of starvation/exposure/even cannibalism that first winter. Granted, some of that was lack of priorities, but the Germans were trying to capture way too much territory on a frayed logistics shoestring and couldn’t even properly escort the prisoners they took to prison holding areas, much less screen them and arm/supply those who would have been willing to fight the Soviets.
Bottom line: recruiting an anti-Soviet Russian army probably wasn’t feasible in 1941, though the Germans could have done some things around the edges to make the concept more possible later in the war. Separating soldiers drafted into the Red Army from the territories the Soviets seized after September 1939 would have probably helped later on. The Soviets didn’t have time to mold people in those areas the way they did where Soviet rule was older and more established, so as a group, those soldiers would have been good prospects for future recruitment. They could have also avoided killing or jailing Ukrainian nationalists who came back to the Ukraine from European exile. Would either of those moves made a big difference in the war? Probably not.
Option 2: Stalingrad Brings Regime Change or Policy Change: Two possibilities here. One of the many assassination plots against Hitler could have succeeded and his successor might have taken a more rational course or the loss at Stalingrad could have convinced Hitler that he needed a tactical alliance with anti-Stalin Soviets. This would be in early 1943. Many of the problems of the first year weren’t as big an issue by this time, but the Germans would have still faced quite a few problems.
Soviet citizens in occupied territories had a year and a half of experience with the Germans and weren’t impressed.
German treatment of POWs was also well known and not conducive to bringing Soviet troops over to their side.
Soviet propaganda had a field day with German media that portrayed Slavs as subhuman. In this case they didn’t have to lie about German attitudes.
The effort of screening out Soviet agents among troops the Germans recruited would have been enormous. The Soviets were very good at human intelligence and would have almost certainly infiltrated any units of Soviet citizens very thoroughly. Using those units would have made it much more difficult for the Germans to achieve strategic or even tactical surprise.
German administration of the captured territory was often extremely brutal and incompetent, even independent of the Nazi ideology. Their administration in the Ukraine was particularly bad, while the Baltics were considerably better. The Nazis didn’t have people remotely qualified to run the territories they seized and tended to award the jobs as rewards to old Nazis for their loyalty. If Hitler was gone and the German military was in charge, the incompetent administrators might change, but Hitler probably wouldn’t change them as part of a charm offensive.
Choosing which factions among the anti-Soviet soldiers to support would have been a nightmare for the Germans even if they wanted to and could have put together such an army. There were at least two major Ukrainian factions that might have been willing to collaborate, given the right concessions—essentially Ukrainian independence, along with at least one other faction of anti-Soviet Ukrainians who were adamantly opposed to working with the Germans. And that’s just the Ukrainians. Add in conflicts between Ukrainian nationalists and Russians, ByeloRussian nationalists and Russians, Crimean Tatars against both Russians and Ukrainian nationalists and probably dozens of other conflicts among Russians and between Russians and various nationalities, and the Germans would have faced a continuing nightmare trying to keep the anti-Soviet factions from spending most of their efforts fighting each other.
With Britain and the US in the war along with the Soviet Union, Germany was probably going to lose the war and that meant Stalin and his regime was probably coming back. That calculation meant that a lot of people who hated Stalin would have probably decided that they feared him more than they hated him.
The Germans would have had to supply the weapons to any anti-Stalin units they created and the Germans rarely had enough heavy weapons to keep their own units supplied, much less supplying an anti-Stalin army.
So, would it have been impossible or counterproductive to produce that kind of an army? In theory recruiting those soldiers might have been a good idea when the Germans were running low on manpower, though as I mentioned they would come with a lot of problems. They would also have their own agenda, which would eventually become a problem for the Germans.
I’ve set five published novels, two novellas and a smattering of short stories in my Snapshot Universe. I have two more Snapshot novels over halfway finished. The Snapshot Universe is by far my most ambitious world-building exercise yet.
What is the Snapshot Universe and how did I come up with it? I started out with a simple idea, more of a wish. What if someone or something had been making the planetary equivalent of off-site backups for Earth? All the animals that died out since the ice age? Not really extinct because somebody has been making backup copies of Earth that include those animals. This could have veered into Jurassic Park territory, with the backups taking the place of DNA manipulation, but I decided to go a different direction.
I started out figuring that whoever was making the backups would from time-to-time try to reintroduce extinct plants and animals to Earth a few thousand years after they became extinct. That isn’t a bad idea. I may still write it. Modern North America suddenly finds itself with herds of Mammoths, Glyptodonts and wandering Short-faced Bears? (Highly carnivorous, fast-moving bears the size of a Kodiak wandering around the suburbs) That could be fun to write about, though probably annoying to live through.
But where would the backed-up animals be stored? I tossed around various ideas–caverns under the Earth, virtual life on a moon-based computer–and finally decided that they should go in artificial pocket universes sort of like the ones in Phil Farmer’s World of the Tiers series (excellent books by the way).
At first I thought that the backup would be unchanging, with the plants and animals staying in storage until they were reintroduced, but then I realized that the artificial universes full of animals extinct on Earth represented a huge playground for science fiction stories, especially if I allowed the animals to evolve in their new environments.
But if the backups were of the whole planet, wouldn’t they evolve pretty much the same way originals Earth did? Maybe, but the backups don’t have to be of the entire world. They could be of one continent or one country or even one island.
The alternate history buff in me realized that the artificial universes didn’t have to just preserve animals. They could preserve human cultures too and let them thrive far past their normal expiration date. Want to have American Indians develop undisturbed until the present? Back them up. Put the New World circa 1492 into its own artificial universe. How do you keep Europeans or Asians from flocking in? Don’t include them in the backup.
So what would these off-site backups look like? I arbitrarily decided that they would usually consist of a continent-sized body of land, usually surrounded by oceans. The artificial universe would be shaped like a snow-globe big enough to hold the continent.
At first, I intended for the snow globes to be totally isolated from one another, but then I realized that having some interaction offered more story potential. But if interactions weren’t limited in some way, you would end up with a stupid, unworkable hodgepodge of cultures and animals.
I finally decided that the snow-globes would be connected, but only high above their oceans, too high for most birds. I also decided initially that the links would be like a string of pearls, with each universe only connected to the universes on each side of it. The links should be in widely separated parts of the world, so explorers would have to travel through each universe to get to the next one.
As I thought about the story possibilities, I realized that the string of pearls idea was okay, but it needed to be modified. Most of the universes would have only two connections, but a few would have more, making them strategically important for any cultures that flew between the universes because the Snapshots with multiple connections control travel between several chains of universes.
At some point I got whimsical and decided that I would call the backups Snapshots. I figured that computer people would get the reference to a kind of computer backup, while non-computer people would see the Snapshots as the product of some ultra-powerful tourists coming by and taking pictures of whatever interested them. That led me to name the extraterrestrials behind all of this. They became “The Tourists.”
That name suggested a certain amount of whimsy. So maybe the extraterrestrials aren’t high-minded saviors of Earth animals and cultures. Maybe they have enough power that they can create artificial universes on a whim. Maybe they’re the extraterrestrial equivalent of kids messing with anthills, or scientists setting up experiments for their lab rats.
If the Tourists are experimenting with their Snapshots, why not let them go wild? Not too wild, because I want the resulting universe to be at least sort of rational. What would I want to try if I had the power to zap up a continent-sized artificial universe? What kind of experiments would I try? What kind of worlds would I like to write stories in?
I brainstormed a lot of ideas and some of them may appear later in the series, but for now I’m using two off the wall ideas: The Tourists sometimes stretch islands to continent size when they put them into Snapshots. Much of the action in the first two Snapshot novels happens on a 20+ million year old Snapshot of Madagascar (big island off the east coast of Africa) that has been stretched so that it’s as big as North America. Another Snapshot consists of over a thousand copies of Flores (home of the hobbits–primitive humans that survived far later than anyone expected) set side-by-side and slowly evolving into the geology and ecology of a proper continent.
That island has gates to six other universes, so it is the focus of rivalries between several more advanced Snapshots, the most powerful of which are rival version of the US, one isolated from the rest of the world since 1953 and with very different social and political attitudes than a more modern version of the US, which has only been isolated since 2014.
Two versions of the US as rivals for empire? It makes for a very interesting dynamic. I was tempted to make the two versions kind of an embodiment of the Red state/Blue state divide, but made a conscious choice not to go that way, at least not any more than the natural evolution of the two societies led me. The !953 version has progressed and in terms of technology it is roughly equivalent to our technology in the mid-1960s. It hasn’t had a personal computer revolution, or an Internet revolution, or a smartphone revolution. It doesn’t have social networks. And suddenly it is exposed to all of those things at once.
Why the stretched and mushed-together islands? Because doing those things would be scientifically interesting and because they make for an interesting story setting, as you’ll hopefully see.
At some point, I decided that the Tourists would have a barrier between Snapshots to keep the riffraff from overflowing from one Snapshot into others. It had to be something that would keep animals out, but that a modern society could defeat.
I came up with “the Babble Zone.” If you have a nervous system and get too close to a Vent, the Babble Zone kicks in. It compels you to turn around and go away. You can defeat it by putting your airplane in autopilot and locking down the controls, but there is a cost: you hallucinate and think whatever you see is real. Going through the Babble Zone is like getting drunk or high, but without the physical impairment. That’s handy for me as an author because it strips away inhibitions and filters and lets me portray aspects of characters I couldn’t ordinarily get to as easily.
In any case, I came up with over two-dozen Snapshots in my world-building. They include Europe-42 (taken in early November 1942), US-53 (taken during the Korean War, North America-1780 (near the end of the American Revolution), Russia-1914 (Tsarist Russia survives), North America-1519 (Conquistadors stranded in Aztec country), Rainforest Australia and Neanderthal Europe, to name just a few.
This is a fun, unique universe. It’s like a combination of Farmer’s Riverworld and World of the Tiers with a little Ringworld tossed in, plus some totally unique stuff. I hope to write dozens of books in it. As I mentioned, I’ve already written quite a few stories set in the Universe. So far, they’ve been in three groups:
-The original Snapshot novel, The Necklace of Time, and the novella The Wrath of Athena are loosely connected. They share some characters and take place in the same area, though they happen several years apart. They are more character-driven than most of my stories, especially The Necklace of Time, but they still have interesting alternate history aspects. Necklace of Time features an unreliable narrator who can be kind of a jerk, but in terms of depth of world-building and plotting I consider it my best novel so far.
The Snapshot-42 novels, Stalingrad Run and Through the Texas Gate. These are more traditional alternate history. In early November 1942, the Tourists take a Snapshot of Europe, effectively isolating the Allies from the US and from most of their raw materials. There are gates (Vents). One leads to a version of the US that hasn’t expanded across the continent and still uses black powder muskets, while the other leads to an ancient Snapshot of Africa, complete with much-evolved dinosaurs.
The Snapshot Jungle Adventure stories: Jace of the Jungle and Raphaela, Princess of the Jungle. I found a way of using Snapshots to create an old-fashion jungle adventure, with a boy raised mostly by apelike men, lost cities, dinosaurs and slave raiders. Fair warning: me being me, they are considerably darker than traditional jungle adventures, especially the first couple scenes in Jace, where I put my young characters into very dark, very disturbing trouble. Despite that dark beginning, I worked hard to justify the “Adventure” part of the Jungle Adventure category. These are short books. Jace is a long novella while Raphaela is a short novel, but both pack a lot of story in those pages.
So that is the Snapshot Universe. It’s an interesting tool to set up situations you can’t get to with alternate history as well as a huge, unlimited writers’ playground. If you are interested in any of the Snapshot novels, the links are below.
The Falklands Crisis of 1770 Turns into War Between France and Britain
In 1770, Spain and Britain butted heads over control of the Falkland Islands. The Spanish asked for French support and there was a reasonable chance they would get it due to the dynastic ties between Spain and France and the desire in some French circles to reverse the defeats of the Seven Years War, known in the colonies as the French and Indian War. Historically, the French king decided not to try for another go and a compromise was reached.
For perspective, 1770 was just past the midpoint of the stretch between the Seven Years War, which eliminated French power in North America and the start of the American Revolution. Friction was growing between the American colonies and Britain but an open break was still five or six years away.
What would have happened if the French had chosen war? How would the English colonies in North America have reacted? Less than a decade earlier, in the Seven Years War, the colonies played a major role in helping to defeat the French in North America, pretty much eliminating the French as a power in North America. Friction between Britain and the colonists was already starting to ramp up, with the stamp act passed in 1765, followed by considerable and successful colonial mostly non-violent resistance. British troops occupied Boston in 1768, which was followed by what Americans still call the Boston Massacre.
The Committees of Correspondence, a network of colonists trying to coordinate colonial response to British moves, was established in 1772, a little too late to have had an impact in this scenario.
So this could go at least two ways. First, the colonial unrest could get worse faster, encouraging the French to go to war in 1770 when they didn’t historically. Second, the French could have made the decision for war for French internal reasons. Either way, the war would put British/colonial relationships on a different trajectory. The Brits would need to raise manpower and money for the war effort, which would make the colonies a tempting source for those resources. At the same time, the colonies would to some extent feel threatened by this new war and dependent on British resources to resist French attacks, especially on shipping to and from the colonies.
Spain would be involved in the war, and they controlled Louisiana, so there would be some land conflict in North America. At this point though, there was a lot of Indian-controlled territory and not much logistics between the colonies and Louisiana. I suppose the British could launch a seaborne attack. British-controlled Louisiana at the end of the war? That would have a big impact on the American Revolution, assuming it happened on schedule.
This all assumes that the French and the colonies don’t come up with some tacit arrangement where the colonies passively resist helping the British war effort and the French don’t bother them. I doubt that would be workable though. Playing footsie with the French when Britain and France were at war would probably still be seen as treason in the colonies and certainly in Britain, so you would have a whole different dynamic in the war than in the American Revolution.
How would the war have gone? A lot would depend on how the rest of Europe reacted. The Seven Years War had been a general European conflict, an attempt by Austria, France and sometimes Russia to partition Prussia, returning it to minor power status as just another one of the dozens of German states.
By 1770, the configuration in Eastern Europe was quite a bit different, with Russia heavily involved in a long but ultimately successful war against the Ottoman empire and a war with the Bar Confederacy, an alliance of Polish magnates trying to protect their own power within Poland, as well as ridding Poland of foreign influence. I’m not sure those wars would merge with the French/British ones. They might remain parallel wars, with France able to concentrate on colonial wars.
I’m also not sure how that war would go. Historically, the French navy got thoroughly beaten in the Seven Years War, did much better for a couple years in the American Revolution, then got badly defeated in the later stages of that war.
So, what do you think? Would the colonies rally around the British flag in the face of war against the ancient French enemy? Would they chafe at British attempts to raise money and manpower in the colonies? Would they use the war to extract concessions from the British? How would France do in the war? Would it raid North America? Try to regain North American colonies? Seven years after the Brits formally took Canada, how would the French in Canada react? Would they revolt against the British if a French Army showed up? Could the French get an army to Canada? Could it keep it supplied if it got one there. How would this affect the ongoing French/British rivalry in India? What impact would war have on Spanish settlement of California? Historically, the first overland Spanish mission to California was in 1769-70, and the first mission was founded in 1770. Would war have slowed expansion of that settlement? Maybe even caused it to be abandoned until the war ended?
Comments are very welcome. This is a weird one and I’m not sure how it would play out.
What actually happened: The infant US won the American Revolution. Its French and to lesser extent, Spanish allies, really didn’t. How did that happen?
We Americans tend to think of the American Revolution in terms of battles in North America between the infant US and the British. That was the main focus early on, but once France and Spain entered the war, the emphasis shifted, at least in European minds. The British fought a holding action in North America, while trying to break a French/Spanish siege of Gibraltar, fighting in India, the West Indies and even in the Philippines, where the Brits took Manilla late in the war but had to give it back because word of the victory didn’t reach negotiators, so the Brits didn’t get a chance to claim it.
Americans also see Yorktown as the end of the war. That was sort of right from a US perspective. The Brits gave up on trying to seize more US territory and settled back in their New York stronghold to await further developments. The US ran out of money and wasn’t capable of major battles—barely kept the Continental Army together. So in North America, the war became a thing of minor battles and raids, with much of the fighting between pro-independence militias and Tories.
Outside North America, though, the war was still on and deadly serious. Through Yorktown, the French and Spanish had held their own at sea, an unusual blip in British sea dominance. About six months after Yorktown, though, the Brits regained their customary sea dominance in a crushing victory in the Battle of the Saints in the West Indies.
The French and Spanish had been planning to invade Jamaica, but the Brits soundly defeated the fleet the French had gathered to support that landing, sinking several ships of the line, capturing others and capturing the French commander, while leaving what was left of the French fleet badly damaged.
That victory seemed to break whatever spell the French fleet had over the British. The Brits went on to break the siege of Gibraltar and win victories throughout the world.
France had poured money into the war, shoring up US finances with several big loans, supplying gunpowder and arms and so on. They were exhausted financially, a situation they weren’t able to resolve, and which played a major role in the French revolution, especially since the infant US wasn’t able to repay the loans during the Articles of Confederation years and defaulted, though once the Constitution was ratified and US finances stabilized, the US did repay the loans in full, too late for the French monarchy.
The British negotiated cleverly, splitting the infant US away from its allies in secret, separate negotiations. They gave their former colonies more than they had to in the interior southwest and northwest, partly to keep the French and Spanish out, seeing the US as a lesser threat. After the French fleet was defeated, colonial negotiators were willing to see that split happen, not willing to be tied to French war aims when it looked as though the French would lose the overall war.
What Might Have Happened: We could go two ways with this. First, the French could have avoided the crushing defeat in the West Indies and invaded Jamaica, continuing their anomalous string of victories over the Brits. Do they go on to take Gibraltar for the Spanish? Not sure, but France and Spain emerge as sort of the victors in the war, taking lucrative sugar islands to help their financial wounds. Historically, the French seized quite a few of the sugar islands, but had to give most of them back at end of war.
The still intact French and Spanish fleets means that they can’t be as easily cut out of the peace treaty by the colonies and the Brits.
The interests of the colonies and their French and Spanish allies inevitably clash. Spain has Louisiana and has taken enough of Florida that historically the peace treaty gave it to them. In this situation, they would want more, probably, a connecting strip between Louisiana and Florida stretching into the interior of what became the modern south. France had historically pretty much given up on North America after the French and Indian War, but they would probably grab some of the West Indies Sugar Islands.
Without more research than I have time for right now, I don’t know if continued naval parity with Britain lets the French do better in India or in the siege of Gibraltar.
In India, the American Revolution coincided with a bloody, confused and ultimately futile struggle called the second Anglo-Mysore war. (That was second out of four such wars) Several bloody battles in that war happened after peace negotiations had already decided who got what in India, so the sides had to give back the gains they had made in the six months or so it took for them to get word of what the peace treaty involved.
Does the money from the sugar islands and the prestige of victory over Britain let the French monarchy avoid the French Revolution? That would have a consequence or two. No Napoleonic empire. Lots of law reform over his conquests that wouldn’t happen. The Holy Roman Empire would probably stagger on for a few more decades. Probably a lot of other consequences I’m not thinking of.
Would a truly defeated Britain still have the industrial revolution? Would Ireland revolt successfully around this time?
Well, that’s one way to go with the situation. There is another way to go though. The British have historically been able to inflict decisive naval defeats on the French, and eventually did so in the American Revolutionary war. What if they had been able to defeat the French decisively earlier in the war?
The earliest opportunity I see for that would have been in April 1780, but the Brits were outnumbered in an indecisive battle that month. Still, the Brits were very good at sea fighting. A decisive British victory in the West Indies then would have probably made the American/French victory at Yorktown impossible. The French fleet keeping the British fleet away at Yorktown was probably the decisive factor in turning what would have probably been a stalemate into a decisive American victory.
Interesting wild card: in 1780, one of the worst hurricanes ever recorded went through the West Indies. It hit the British fleet much harder than the French, with the Brits losing over a dozen ships and nine more with major damage, while the French only lost one ship. Change the path enough to reverse that ratio and it’s quite possible that the French wouldn’t be in a position to do what they did at sea around Yorktown.
I think it would take more than one divergence, but let’s see what I can do. This is a bit Rube-Goldberg, so bear with me.
Step One: Winter 1939/40 gets serious three weeks early and ends three weeks to a month early.
(a)The Soviets postpone the Winter War with Finland rather than send unprepared troops into ongoing blizzards. The Soviet attack is postponed until spring.
(b) The Allies don’t have the “help Finland” excuse to intervene in Norway and proceed with contingency plans at a much slower rate.
(c) Mussolini doesn’t grandstand by sending weapons to Finland as he did historically–which historically was a bad move for Italy because the Soviets cut off sales of their oil to the Italian navy, leaving it with precariously low supplies when Italy entered the war.
(d) With no imminent Allied threat to Norway, Hitler figures Norway can wait until France falls.
(e) Without the disastrous Allied response in Norway, Chamberlain hangs on as British Prime Minister through the Battle of France, which comes early.
(f) The Battle of France starts around April 10-15, as soon as the mud dries enough, and the sky clears. The Germans were ready and champing at the bit by that time and the French had adopted the Breda variation of their Dyle plan, which disastrously sent the bulk of their mobile reserves about as far from the crucial part of the battle as they could have been. The crucial variable that historically postponed the German attack was the late spring and persistent mud, so earlier spring would mean an earlier attack.
(g) Without the Norway attacks, German use of airborne troops in Holland is more of a tactical surprise, something that had been theorized about rather than something the Germans had actually used already. As a result, the German airborne attacks are more successful/less costly, succeeding in the attempted decapitating strike on the Dutch government and cutting airborne and transport plane losses.
Step two: The Battle of France happens about the way it did historically, but about a month earlier.
Something similar to the Dunkirk evacuation probably happens, but with less success. Historically the Brits got lucky in that several crucial days were rainy, keeping the Luftwaffe at bay and allowing the Brits to load during the day for several crucial days, but the channel was calm. That’s a very unusual combination. No rain would mean that the evacuation would be restricted to the eight hours of night, as it was historically on clear days. Historically, that cut the guys evacuated to about one-third the rate they managed during the rainy patch (the 8 night-time hours versus 24 hours). There are other variables, such as the evacuation possibly lasting longer, and Chamberlain not being able to inspire the Brits the way Churchill was, but as an approximation the Brits get out one-third of the guys they did historically. They might not be as generous in getting French troops out in that situation, but allied unity would require that some French troops get evacuated. So the Brits get somewhere between one-third and one-half the troops out that they did historically.
So it’s late May. France has surrendered.
(a) The Brits have considerably fewer of their best-trained troops available.
(b) The German navy hasn’t been virtually destroyed in the Norway invasion as it was historically.
(c) The German airborne forces are in considerably better shape, both because they did better in Holland and because they didn’t lose the 300-odd transport planes that they historically had to write off in Norway.
(d) The Brits still have Chamberlain as prime minister, at least for a time. I doubt that he would have been displaced during the Battle of France. He would be vulnerable once it ended.
(e) The Brits would have had a month less to outproduce the Germans in fighter planes and train more pilots
(f) Historically, the Brits just had to survive until early October, when weather in the channel made an invasion essentially impossible. The earlier fall of France means the Germans have an extra month when the Brits are vulnerable.
(g) (From old and possibly faulty memory) The Brits were historically temporarily cut off from Ultra intercepts by some German code changes during the Battle of France, but got their capability back in time to realize in early July that the Germans were nowhere near ready to invade and there was no immediate need to negotiate.
At that point, it’s all a matter of how leaders perceive the situation and react. A victorious Sea Lion is probably still not possible, but the Brits situation is dependent on perceptions. The Brits themselves have to perceive, after the shock of defeat in France, that the Germans aren’t ten feet tall. The US has to perceive that Britain will fight and can survive. Otherwise, they’ll hoard military equipment instead of sending it to the Brits. No fifty destroyers. No 500,000 small arms sent to Britain. Probably fewer planes. A Vichy French official has to be convinced enough that Britain can survive that he takes a huge personal risk by signing over billions of dollars of French contracts for order to be built in the US over to Britain. Japan has to be sufficiently deterred to not go after the Far East colonies. If Japan realizes how weak Britain is at this point, they can grab 90-95% of the world’s rubber supply and humiliate Britain, possibly loosening the British hold on India, which historically became precarious after the Brit defeat at Singapore. Spain has to be deterred from letting German planes on bases within easy range of Gibraltar.
The British hold on the Middle East would loosen, with the first Shah of Iran wondering if he can extract more concessions from the British on Iranian oil and Iraqi and Egyptian nationalists looking for ways to exploit British weakness.
Under this scenario, I would still say the Brits have a 60% chance of avoiding defeat, but if they lose their nerve a whole lot of bad tumbles down on them, with a lot of other jackals joining Mussolini to try to grab pieces of what they perceive as a dying lion.
In the meantime, the Soviets launch a spring war against Finland rather than the historical Winter War, starting their offensive within a week of the German attack on France. The Soviets have had additional months to prepare, but then so have the Finns. Without the harsh lessons of the Winter War, the Soviets probably do somewhat better due to better weather, but still do an awful job. The Soviet Army was badly in need of reform, and historically it took the shock of the Winter War to bring that home to its top leadership. Here, the shock comes roughly six months later, cutting time to implement changes by about a third, assuming the Germans attack in the summer of 1941.
Postponing the Winter War could delay the T34, though it probably wouldn’t delay the KV-1. Historically, elements in the Soviet military wanted to concentrate on late-model BT-series tanks and T26s rather than the T34, but poor performance of Soviet armor in Finland gave the T34 a leg up. Any delay for the T34 would probably be on the order of 6 months at most, pushing production start from September 1940 to March 1941. The KV1 and KV2 might be affected a little. The Winter War clearly showed the KV’s superiority over a multi-turreted competitor, so postponing that war might result in some early KV production getting diverted into the multi-turret competitor.
The Soviet Spring War on Finland would quickly sort out the KV1 versus multi-turret issue. It would also give the KV1 a huge boost because it will be very difficult for the Finns to stop, even if poorly used in penny packets. Mass use of KV1s as opposed to a few prototypes would give German intelligence a good idea that the KV1, though not the T34, existed. That probably lights a fire under up-gunning the Panzer 3 and building a German heavy tank. The Germans had a couple early-stage programs for a new heavy tank, but they probably couldn’t get one into production by the summer of 1941, even if they gave it top priority. At best, they might get more long-barrel 50-millimeter guns on Panzer 3s and maybe have an uprated 75 millimeter gun entering service for the Panzer 4 either around the time of the invasion or a little after.
If France fell in May 1940 and Britain sued for peace in June 1940, Hitler would undoubtedly toy with the idea of invading the Soviet Union in late summer 1940. Given the time it took to build up for the historical invasion in 1941, moving the invasion up almost a year would be unrealistic, so at best we are probably talking 1941.
If Germany is at peace with Britain, and the Red Army has just looked incompetent against Finland, Stalin would have absolutely no doubt that the Soviet Union is next on the German menu. I’m not sure what else he could add to the frantic armament that the Soviets historically did in this period, but if there were any stops to be pulled out, the Soviets would pull them.
On the other hand, if the Brits were out of the war, the Germans would have access to world markets for natural resources, at least to the extent that they could pay or barter for them, which would be somewhat limited. The Germans didn’t have a lot of hard currency.
Would Italy pull something stupid in the Balkans? Hard to say. Despite his bluster, Mussolini was not very decisive, changing his mind back and forth several times historically before attacking Greece. Since we’re looking for a possible German victory scenario, we’ll say Mussolini stays out of Greece, though that’s probably 50-50 at best.
So it would all come down to Germany versus the Soviet Union, with Britain rebuilding its shattered, nearly bankrupt economy and trying to deter Japan. The US would be frantically rearming, building the two-ocean navy it historically planned.
I’ve given the Germans as many advantages as I plausibly can—including some non-obvious ones like having all the planes and pilots they historically lost in the Battle of Britain and all the oil that they historically burned there and in the Balkans and North Africa. Even with all that, I’m not sure the Germans take the Soviet Union. Actually, I would again, put odds of an actual Soviet surrender at considerably less than fifty-fifty. It’s a little more likely that Germany could take the parts of the Soviet Union that generate great power, reducing the Soviet Union to something approximating Nationalist China written large.
Even if the Germans impose something similar to the Vichy regime on the Soviets, just occupying the parts of the Soviet Union the Germans would need to would suck down their manpower. It would be very difficult to make a German empire in the Soviet Union pay for itself, even if the Germans could conquer it.
That’s about the best I can do on a German victory scenario and German victory remains unlikely, not to mention probably self-defeating in the long run.
This is my 29th week in a row of Alternate History columns. If you like what you see here, feel free to check out my book-length Alternate History collections, as well as my Alternate History novels. A good place to start might be my Amazon author’s page. The three “Best of Space Bats and Butterflies” collections have a lot of scenarios like the ones in the blog, but in more depth, as well as some fiction.
And on to the scenario:
From the mid-1930s until mid-September 1939, the Japanese and Soviets butted heads multiple times along the poorly defined border between Japanese-held Manchuria and Siberia or the Soviet client state of Mongolia. The clashes ranged from trivial to a couple minor wars involving division-sized forces.
This was remote country, difficult for either country to generate power in. The balance of power shifted over the decade, with the Japanese arguably dominant until Soviet industrialization took hold, then with the Soviets being dominant from maybe 1933 until the Soviet military purges, mostly losing that dominance immediately after the purges, then regaining dominance after mid-1937 when the Japanese put much of their power into the Sino-Japanese war and the Soviet military recovered from the purges. By September 1939, the Soviets were easily dominant, as they proved by destroying a green Japanese division in a brief border war and forcing a humiliating peace on the Japanese.
In 1937, the Japanese planned to take advantage of Soviet weakness after the Soviet military purges. But how would they take advantage of that weakness? There were two major possibilities. They could attack the Soviets directly, taking oil rich North Sakhalin Island, where they and the Soviets had a joint venture, and other economically valuable targets in the Soviet Far East. They could also use the Soviet weakness to pull Japanese forces from the border and use them to grab economically valuable pieces of China, hopefully weakening the Chinese Nationalists, who were in the early stages of building a formidable German-trained, German-equipped army and a Soviet-style industrialization, though on a much-smaller scale. Left alone, the Chinese Nationalists might eventually become a formidable threat to Japanese holdings in northern China and even Manchuria, which the Chinese still claimed. A unifying and industrializing China could be a formidable threat, one the Japanese had worked hard to avoid, playing warlords against each other and against the Chinese Nationalist government.
Ultimately, the Japanese chose to go after China, though the central government lost their precarious control over the invasion, turning what was supposed to be a relatively limited incursion to cut off another piece of China and give the Nationalists a bloody nose into a war where the Japanese overran far more Chinese territory than they could control and tied down most of their army with no strategy for ending the war.
The course of the Japanese war in China illustrated a fundamental weakness in Japanese governance. The central Japanese government during this period had only nominal control over Japanese forces on the mainland. Japanese military officers often effectively made Japanese foreign policy by pushing foreign powers into positions where they had to fight or simply launching invasions and handing their formal superiors a fait accompli. The Japanese government didn’t make a formal decision to push deeper into China and actually tried to limit how far the Japanese army went. In the same way, border clashes with the Soviets often arose from local Japanese officers pushing into disputed territory without the Japanese government having a policy of looking for conflict.
Let’s say that the Japanese get embroiled with the Soviets in spring of 1937, probably pushed by aggressive local officers, but with some thought in the home government that the Soviet military purges make this a good time to settle with the Soviets. What are the consequences?
(1) A Japanese War with the Soviets in 1937 probably means no Sino-Japanese war, or at least not the scale or war you saw historically. That means that the Germans and Nationalist Chinese continue their economic quasi-alliance, with the Germans training and equipping Nationalist divisions in exchange for scarce raw materials, especially tungsten. That strengthens both the Nationalists and Germans to some extent in the years leading up to World War II. The Nationalists had ambitious plans at the time the Sino-Japanese war started. They already had eight well-equipped (by Chinese standards) and well-trained divisions, including one elite division that was supposed to eventually train the rest of the Chinese army. In the fighting around Shanghai, the best of their divisions were able to stand up against the Japanese very close to division to division, though at the cost of very high casualties because of Japanese airpower and general firepower. Historically, the Chinese also lost a lot of savable men because they had an inadequate medical corp.
In any case, the Chinese Nationalists planned to expand the German-trained and equipped part of their army to the point where they hoped to be able to take on the Japanese with a good chance of holding their own by 1940. The Nationalists had a lot of German equipment on order, including tanks and submarines and were expanding their military production, making local copies of German rifles, machine guns and light artillery as well as license-building (actually mostly assembling from imported parts at first) Italian bombers. Nationalist arsenals could make a limited supply of artillery as could one warlord’s arsenal and the Nationalists were trying to expand their capability. The Nationalists were trying for a miniature version of the big Soviet heavy industrialization, though they had far fewer resources and were starting from a far more primitive level. In 1936 the Nationalists introduced a three-year industrialization plan to build power plants, steel and chemical plants as the core of a Nationalist Chinese industrial base.
Historically, they still had a long way to go when the Sino-Japanese war started in 1937, with eighty percent of Nationalist Chinese military production unsuited for modern war as late as 1935, though that changed a lot over the next two years when they introduced license-built copies of many German small arms. The Nationalist Chinese historically produced around 600,000 rifles modeled on a German Mauser, for example.
Bottom line: in this scenario the Chinese Nationalists would probably get stronger with German help, while Germany had increased access to vital Chinese raw materials. Both powers would
(2) With Japan tied up in Manchuria, the Brits see much reduced pressure from the Japanese threat in the Far East and may feel that they can act more aggressively in Europe. The British nightmare was a simultaneous war with Germany, Italy and Japan with the US neutral. That threat hung over them in their response to European events like the one over the Sudetenland. We can’t necessarily assume that British responses in Europe would be the same if the Japanese were off the board as a threat to some extent.
(3) The European and US response would depend on how well the Soviets did in the war. If the Soviets looked to be kicking Japanese butts in a strategic sense–as in looking as though they were about to take all of Manchuria, the US would essentially look the other way while US manufacturers poured “civilian” but dual-purpose goods into the Japanese islands, like trucks and radios. Before their atrocities in China, the US saw Japan as a useful counterbalance to the Soviet in the Far East, so they would tilt pro-Japanese, especially if the Japanese started losing.
(4) If the Japanese appeared to be losing in a major way in Manchuria, the Japanese had the ability to redirect their priorities from the navy to the army, though internal rivalries would make that difficult. You can make a lot of 15 to 20 ton tanks from the resources that went into one 70,000 ton battleship. Unless the Soviets were able to push the Japanese out of mainland Asia in a matter of weeks to a few months, the Japanese would gain in firepower and tank numbers as the war went on.
(5) The Soviets probably would not be able to pull off anything like a blitzkrieg over the Japanese in 1937, despite a relatively weak enemy. The Soviets, even as late as summer 1941 had a bad habit of producing lots of major weapons systems–tanks, airplanes, artillery, without producing enough of the stuff that made those systems effective, like spare parts, trained mechanics, ammunition for artillery, radios, enough tanker trucks to keep tank divisions supplied, etc. That’s probably an inevitable feature of a command economy with a guy like Stalin at the top. The historic border skirmishes with the Japanese didn’t last long enough or cover enough ground to uncover those problems, but an attempt at a bigger offensive would have. That’s a two-edged sword. An attempt to take Manchuria in one swell foop in 1937 would be a fiasco, but the Soviets would be able to spot and eventually fix those issues in a more forgiving environment than fighting the Germans.
(6) If the Soviets pull out of Spain or offer only dribbles of aid to the Republicans, the Nationalists probably win by early 1938, which means that the Italians don’t get as economically drained by the Spanish Civil War and are able to rearm somewhat more effectively in 1938 and 1939. That probably doesn’t counterbalance increased British power in the Middle East because they don’t have to worry about the Japanese as much.
(7) If the war goes on long, both the Soviet and Japanese will start running out of hard currency. That will hurt the Japanese more because they import more raw materials, but it will mean that the Soviets have less money to invest in machine tools they can’t manufacture locally, which would cut back their manufacturing capacity in World War II, assuming the war comes.
(8) The Japanese army would in some ways be better in 1937 than it was in 1939 because it hadn’t had the easy victories against warlord armies in China to make it overconfident and given to bad habits. It would become a more firepower-oriented army and concentrate on medium tanks rather than tankettes. The Japanese would be forced in the direction of a Soviet-style industrialization, though without the resources to match the Soviets. Ironically, if the Soviets seem to be winning initially, the Japanese might find the US willing to lend them money for industrial expansion, though Roosevelt was canny enough that he would probably limit that. Japan and the US were rivals in the Pacific and the common interest in containing the Soviets would be short-term.
9) The resulting war would drive development of air power, at least in the Soviet Union and Japan. To a certain extent, the Sino-Japanese war drove development of the Japanese and Soviet airpower historically, because the Soviets supplied the Nationalists with both fighters and to some extent with pilots during that war, but direct Soviet involvement would make for a much bigger air war, possibly exposing the flaws in Japanese pilot training that historically gave them elite pilots but nowhere near enough of them.
10) The naval war would be lopsided in Japan’s favor. The Japanese could probably blockade the Soviet Far East, but if they pushed the war outside the Far East, they would have to adapt their force structure quite a bit. The Japanese built a short-legged fleet specifically to defeat the American Pacific Fleet somewhere near the Philippines. Projecting power worldwide would be difficult for them.
Who would win? That would mainly depend on how World War II played out, if it happened in a recognizable form. Hitler would be anxious to jump into a war against the Soviet Union, but Germany was nowhere close to ready to take on the Soviet Union in 1937. I doubt that it would be ready to take on a Soviet Union that had fought a major war by September 1939 or even spring 1940.
One of the continents in my Snapshot Universe is rainforest Australia. I haven’t put any stories in it yet, but I’ve mentioned animals from it in a couple of the Snapshot novels and especially the novella The Wrath of Athena. That segues neatly into my little bit of self-promotion before I go into the scenario.
The Wrath of Athena was a lot of fun to write, and I gather it’s a lot of fun to read too. Athena, in this case has no relation to the Greek goddess. She is an animal trainer for a fly-by-night cross-dimension zoo/animal show. It has animals from a dozen alternate realities of a sort (I call them Snapshots and they aren’t your standard-issue alternate realities, but that’s not important at the moment). In any case, I filled the zoo with fun, but realistic animals from a dozen alternate realities—dog-sized, dog-smart dinosaurs who talk like oversized parrots, Tasmanian wolves, Panda sloths from island South America–and strand the zoo in a continent-sized version of Madagascar, with oversized lemurs making up most of the ecology. It’s a real treat if you’re into speculations on animal life.
I deliberately filled the story with over-used tropes, then twisted each one in a hopefully unique way. Athena Anders is a redhead with a fiery temper. Julius Butcher is an Indian tracker. The zoo owner preys on young, vulnerable actresses he hires for his animal acts, and so on. It was fun to take those overused stereotypes and create three-dimensional people out of them, while remaining true to the stereotypes.
I would love to see more people check the novella out. If you have Audible, I would love it if you listened to the Audible edition.
And that’s my self-promotion for the post.
There are really two scenarios here. The first one simply has Australia on our Earth as mostly a rainforest rather than a desert. The second has Australia as a Snapshot (a kind of alternate reality) that is mostly rainforest. I’ll talk about the differences when I get to the Snapshot version.
Let’s start with plain Jane Australia as a rainforest. What would it look like? That’s actually pretty easy. Most of Australia actually was a rainforest in the real world not too long ago in geological terms, so the trick for this scenario is to keep those rain forest conditions from changing to the current mostly desert ones. The drying out started around fifteen million years ago, though it wasn’t complete until much more recently. There are remnants of the old Australian rain forest in the northwest of Australia and a remnant of the temperate version in Tasmania.
As to what would happen if the rain forest persisted through most of Australia, for the animals we can to some extent look at New Guinea, though there are a couple of caveats to that. New Guinea connects to Australia over a broad land-bridge during glacial advances when the sea level is low, so you can sort of know what marsupials would do in a rain forest. Answer: tree-kangaroos-kangaroos that mostly live in the trees, competing with a variety of possums and Cuscuses–superficially monkey-like marsupials with grasping tails and opposing thumbs. I say superficially monkey-like, because they mostly eat leaves and are mostly slow and sluggish. New Guinea doesn’t seem to have developed anything like big-brained, day-living, fruit eating monkeys typical of the Old World and New World tropics. That’s probably partly because New Guinea was a relatively small island until about a million years ago, when volcanic activity made it a lot bigger–the second largest island in the world now after Greenland. Anything that started in the day-living, monkey-like direction would have been very vulnerable to hunting by modern humans, so we might not know about them. New Guinea’s fossil record is still pretty sparse.
New Guinea is also not quite rain forest Australia because much of the plant life, as opposed to the animal life, comes from tropical Asia. That might be true to some extent of a rain forest Australia, but it might not. Australia, if it kept its rain forest would have more room to evolve rain forest plant species capable of competing with ones from Asia.
In terms of land mammals, the fossils from the historic rain forest Australia give us quite a bit of information about what would have probably survived if the rain forest had survived. There were quite a few marsupial predators, including several species of Thylacines, the vaguely dog-like predators that survived in Tasmania into the 1930s and several species of Thylacoleo, the marsupial lions. That line of predators survived until the first aboriginal settlers arrived, but their diversity dropped when the continent dried out. There were also a couple of at least partially carnivorous kangaroos, though from old and possibly faulty memory, I believe that they ran on four feet rather than hopping. There was a sabertooth marsupial in Australia, though it was a relatively small predator rather than a tiger-sized one.
Monitor lizards, including some larger than the Komodo Dragon were also predators in rain-forest Australia as was a formidable, mostly land-living crocodile.
In terms of plant-eaters, kangaroos were smaller and less prominent in rain forest Australia. They were very good at adapting to open country, but less common in the rain forest. In their place: A large group of animals called the Diprotodonts that were distant relatives of wombats and in some cases looked vaguely like gigantic wombats–well over a ton. Some diprotodons, like Palorchestes leave paleontologists scratching their heads as to what they looked like in life and what niche they filled. Diprotodonts went extinct shortly after the first aborigines entered Australia around 50,000 years ago. They survived ten or fifteen thousand years longer in Tasmania, but quickly died out after Tasmania was connected to Australia when the sea levels went down in the last glacier advance.
It would be interesting to visualize what Europeans would have made of rainforest Australia. It would also be interesting to speculate on how Australia’s first humans would have developed there. Unfortunately for those kinds of speculations, the changes in world-wide climate it would have taken to make Australia a rainforest would have changed Europe enough that Captain Cook and the Dutch whalers who made the first well-recorded European contacts with Australia wouldn’t have existed. I would be surprised if humans in a recognizable form existed, given that different of a climate.
That’s no fun, though. Let’s say that somehow, totally unrealistically, rainforest Australia survived to be settled by humans much like the first people who historically arrived there. Then, fifty thousand years or so later, Europeans arrived. How would the Australian aborigines develop in a rainforest Australia? Would more of Australia’s unique animals survive? Would the rainforests give the local humans more resources to develop more elaborate cultures? How would the arriving Europeans react to the very different environment of a rainforest? Would they establish colonies? If they did, how different would those colonies be from historic Australia?
That’s all kind of fun, but we started out talking about a peculiar type of alternate reality rainforest Australia. It’s called a Snapshot, part of the Snapshot fictional universe I’ve written several novels and shorter stories in. The idea is that extraterrestrials with Godlike powers but no interest in being worshipped have been watching Earth since at least the time of the dinosaurs. Once in a while, they make an exact living duplicate of some part of Earth—a continent an island or an ocean and put it in a globe-shaped alternate reality. They’ll sometimes stretch the smaller continents or islands to give life there more room. The artificial realities are connected by gates high above their oceans, so given good enough technology you can fly between what are essentially alternate realities.
It’s a fun universe to play in. In any case, the Snapshot Universe has a rainforest Australia. It’s stretched a bit so that has pretty much the land area of North America, about three times the size of Australia. With the extra room, rainforest Australia’s marsupials go wild, developing a richness far beyond what small, resource-poor Australia can provide. As to what that gong wild involves, so far I’ve treated rain forest Australia as a black box. We know it’s there and has a lot of very cool animals, including, absurdly, a tree-climbing wombat, and that it’s the source for an illicit drug nicknamed Aussie Jungle Rot, but not much else about it. What kinds of critters would develop there, in a big, rich version of Australia? What, if anything, about that continent would attract attention from other Snapshots?
When (if) I put a story in rainforest Australia Snapshot, I’ll have to fill in more details, but for now I’ll just toss out some general observations. First, the marsupial way of giving birth—with the young born very prematurely and climbing to the mother’s pouch, limits what can happen with the front legs. Non-Marsupial mammals can reduce their paws to non-grasping nubs to increase their speed or even lose all but one of their toes and turn the remaining toe into a hoof like horses did, all to wring out crucial little bits of speed.
It is much more difficult for marsupials to do any of that because the front paws have to be able to grasp mommy’s fur. Big marsupial herbivores didn’t develop hooves, probably for that reason. Even marsupial carnivores like the Tasmanian wolf that look to be designed to run fast don’t have the extreme adaptations for speed you see in equivalent real wolves. They still run on the flats of their hands and keep relatively long fingers. That’s probably why kangaroos became so successful. When much of Australia became open plains or desert, ability to move fast became important and kangaroos could do it more efficiently than marsupials that travelled on all fours. They could get faster by modifying just their hind legs, leaving their grasping forearms to do what they had to do.
The kangaroo mode of locomotion stops working very well at around three hundred pounds or a little less. There were larger kangaroos than that, but they appear to have walked on their hind legs rather than hopping and were probably not very fast.
There is one odd exception to the bit about marsupials not developing hooved animals. Small, mostly insectivorous animals called bandicoots do sometimes develop reduced numbers of toes and in one case, the now extinct pig-footed bandicoot, something that looks a lot like hooves, with two hooves in the front and one in the back. They were very fast little animals of the semi-desert Australian interior. Bandicoots are odd for marsupials in another way. They develop a placenta like normal mammals, which allows their young to grow much faster in the womb than other marsupials. Pig-footed bandicoots young still spent time in a pouch, but the species had developed a way to deposit the young in the pouch rather than having them climb there.
Bottom line: marsupials were capable of developing fast four-footed animals, but for the most part didn’t. On a bigger, richer continent, they might well have. Bandicoots might have eventually pushed out into carnivore and big herbivore niches, using their superior speed and faster growth. Still, high speed isn’t as important in rain forest as it is in open country, so rainforest Australia might not select for it.
There is a lot more to think through about a rainforest Australia Snapshot, but this should give you some hints about where I would go with it.
I did an overview of how I thought American Indians would have developed in the centuries between 1492 and 1939 if the Old World hadn’t intruded. That overview was the background for the North American part of All Timelines Lead to Rome, as well as my two New Galveston novels. For the New Galveston novels, I did a little more in-depth projection for just the Southeastern US. This is what I came up with.
Traders from Mexico have been reaching the US Gulf Coast in small numbers since at least the mid-1500s, maybe even earlier, establishing tenuous links with descendants of the Mississippian mound-builders. For a long time, this isn’t a very heavy trade. Despite the Mississippian mound-builders and now-deserted Cahokia, the southeastern US still remains a backwater, without much to draw traders from more civilized areas.
As Indian populations grow in the US southeast and are able to support more skilled craftsmen, that tenuous trade becomes more important. The big rivers that drain much of the interior US—the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri–are great trade routes and Indians use them for trade and raiding, using huge canoes that gradually morph into ships. Most of that trade is within the region, but that trade interacts with trade across the plains to the Pueblo areas of the southwest and along the coast to Mexico.
As trade grows in the interior of North America, powerful groups compete for roles in it. The Hurons dominate trade over a huge area in the northeast. Various descendants of the Mississippians struggle for dominance along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, fortifying chokepoints and charging tolls or insisting on becoming middlemen in the river trade. The Gulf coast trade from Mexico is dominated by Hauxtecs from northeastern Mexico at first, even after Aztecs conquer most of their territory.
Starting around 1650, offshoots of some Yucatan Mayan groups spread along the coast, using larger, more capable ships influenced by ships from Ecuador that trade along the Pacific coast of Central America and Mexico. The Yucatan Maya groups spread throughout the next several centuries, eventually ranging throughout the Gulf of Mexico, with trading posts or port cities stretching from northern South America all the way to Virginia, and on all the major West Indies islands, at least the ones not controlled by Island Carib pirates.
The Mayan traders are not unified, and they fight a long series of trade wars over favored trade routes and bases. They are vaguely like a cross between the Phoenicians and Carthage on the one hand and the French, Dutch and English trading empires of the sixteen and seventeen hundreds on the other, with technology closer to the Phoenicians, but with cut-throat competition and intermittent wars much like the European powers.
Around 1850, Mayan traders conquer key checkpoints along the Mississippi river, with settlements near the mouth of the river and a couple chokepoints as well as at the mouths of the Ohio and Missouri. They displace existing powers there, pushing them inland to less strategic territories and subordinate trade roles. The Mayans bring their writing and math systems to the US southeast, where it inspires local imitations. They also bring new crops and bronze smelting, which they initially monopolize. By the 1930’s they have become a mixed culture, genetically probably at least half locals, but still identifying with their Mayan ancestry and looking down on the locals, at least figuratively—Mayan ancestry usually equals shorter than the locals.
The Mayan traders don’t extend all the way up the rivers. They are warm-weather people and gladly leave trade on the upper reaches of the rivers to the locals, mostly Iroquois or people heavily influenced by them on the Ohio river and Siouan-speaking or Algonquin-speaking tribes on the upper Mississippi.
By now, some Indian settlements along the Mississippi have grown into small cities, some with tens of thousands of people, rivaling Cahokia at its peak, but with a more solid foundation of food plants and domestic animals.
The Mayans still build in stone, while the locals use more wood, making more functional but less impressive architecture that won’t show up as much in archaeological sites.
Some of the trade is in exotic stuff, including parrots and small South American monkeys heading north, neither of which survive well except in the southern part of the area. Buffalo hides are in high demand heading south as are local wines fermented from local berries and the small, sour-tasting local apples. There is a trade in hallucinogens from northern Mexico, also. Corn also gets traded along the river and to some extent outside of it.
Meat from wild game is scarce near population centers, which makes dried buffalo meat from the plains a sought-after trade good. Pigs, chickens and turkeys provide most of the animal protein along the river though, with fish supplementing them.
Indians along the Mississippi and at ports along the other major rivers blend traits from a bunch of different civilizations and it is obvious. Their cultures combine elements of Mayan and Mississippian cultures with little pieces of the exotic, traits from northeastern South America, Ecuador, the West Indies and even the Apaches who pushed into northeastern Mexico during the periodic times of troubles, The sailing technology looks vaguely Phoenician or at least at approximately that level, with battles decided by rowing and ramming.
Wars are common and villages and towns along the river are fortified, usually with a mixture of stone and wood. Bows are the primary distance weapon and they have improved over the years to penetrate cotton armor brought in from Mexico and imitated locally once cotton-growing became wide-spread.
Away from the major rivers, the US southeast looks a lot closer to the southeastern Indians the first US settlers found, though with some exotic elements tossed in. Pigs and chickens are common food animals and the Indians have added South American root crops like potatoes and sweet potatoes to their crop mix, along with various Mexican food crops that hadn’t become widespread historically in the US southeast before settlers arrived. Bronze tools are scarce and expensive, though the locals can repair them and imitate them to some extent in cold-hammered copper.
Several years ago, I published an Anthology call American Indian Victories, with historical speculation and fiction where American Indians did significantly better than they did historically. If you like this scenario, you might enjoy American Indian Victories.
And on to the scenario: In both Mexico and Peru, the Spanish found large, sort of unified empires controlling much of the high population areas of their known worlds. That wasn’t the usual condition of either of those culture areas. As a matter of fact, in both cases the extent of the empires the Spanish found was probably unprecedented or at least highly unusual. In both cases, the large empires were a recent phenomenon, developed in the last hundred or two hundred years
What would have happened if the Spanish arrived in an era of relatively small competing states, with no over-arching empires in either Mexico or Peru?
Starting with the Aztecs.
What actually happened: The Aztec empire was a comparatively recent thing. Until 1426-27, the Aztecs were tributaries of the Tepanecs, centered in Azcapotzalco. The Tepanecs had been putting together a small empire around Lake Texcoco over the hundred years or so leading up to 1426. Then, their long-term very successful leader died, leaving two sons who feuded over succession. The Aztecs had been essentially military tributaries of the Tepanecs, helping them fight their wars. They picked the losing side in the Tepanec civil war over succession. The winning son tried to punish them for their actions and pushed the Aztecs into forming a Triple Alliance against him. That alliance won the ensuing war and destroyed Tepanec power, inheriting the small Tepanec empire. Then, over the next ninety-odd years, they expanded into much of Mexico, with the Aztecs gradually eclipsing their partners, though the alliance still formally existed when the Spanish arrived in 1519.
The Spanish took over the Aztec empire and used the already existing structure, or at least the parts that survived the war, to rule it, enlisting Indians who opposed Aztec rule to beat the Aztecs and then using their control of the Aztecs to spread their dominance over the settled parts of Mexico that the Aztecs hadn’t conquered.
What might have happened: Let’s say that the Tepanecs have an orderly succession in 1426-27. Maybe one of the competing sons dies before his father does and the surviving brother peacefully takes power. The Tepanecs probably will be challenged by their tributaries at some point in the next decade and eventually they would have to fight the Aztecs, who were building up their military power. However, without the civil war to weaken the Tepanecs, maybe we see an extended period of military and political jockeying for power around Lake Texcoco, rather than the Aztecs and their allies capturing a reasonably intact small empire and expanding from there. As a result, the Aztecs remain a regional power, one of many in central Mexico. The Tarascans who were building their own small empire in Western Mexico, continue to grow, but rather than running up against a unified Aztec empire, find a series of small, competing states and gradually expand, though not enough to become the dominant power in Central Mexico.
When the Spanish arrive, they don’t find any centralized power they can unify other Indians against, nor do they find a centralized administration they can take over to extract tribute. Instead, they find a dozen or so competing conglomerations of little city-state based mini-empires, each with a dominant city-state and its tributaries. The Spanish can and do pit those mini-states against one another, and the Indians are quite happy to help the Spanish against their enemies. However, there is no single center of power the Spanish can conquer to control the region. The closest thing to that kind of power is the Tarascan empire and it is in the western part of Mexico. It also lacks the large populations that the Aztecs historically controlled.
Power is diffused in Indian Mexico, so the Spanish have to conquer each conglomeration of city-states, though often using rivals against one another. That gets complicated because the Spanish are by no means unified themselves. Historically, we saw Narvaez attempt to arrest Cortez and take over Central Mexico, while Garay, the Spanish governor of Jamaica, sent a couple large expeditions to set up his own administration on the northeast coast of Mexico. With no single center of power to control and with the huge riches of Mexico, we see a free-for-all, with the historic Cortes/Narvaez/Garay competitions joined by Spaniards working their way up the west coast from Panama and freelance adventurers trading with the various Indian powers, attempting to loot them, or hiring themselves out as mercenaries or advisers in their various complicated wars.
With no central administration in control of Mexico and with huge amounts of gold and silver sloshing around, the other European powers get involved, especially France, which has no intention of abiding by the Portuguese/Spanish division of the New World. Spanish control of the West Indies islands makes it more difficult for outsiders to come in, but that control is weakened as Spanish settlers from the islands abandon their holdings to play in the more lucrative Mexican theatre. The Spanish crown would intervene to the extent it could to tamp down the chaos, though it would be preoccupied by the Spanish Comuneros revolt at first, with Charles in serious danger of losing his throne. The crown would also be limited by the distance to the New World and the expense of projecting power directly there, so we could expect a period of chaos, with local Spaniards acting essentially on their own and pursuing agendas independent of the Spanish crown. Unless the Spanish nail down control quickly, the easy riches of Mexico will attract adventurers from all over Europe. When you can sell a rusty sword or a horse for its weight in gold, the attraction is obvious, and the Spanish crown probably couldn’t stop that trade.
With multiple groups of Spaniards and probably other Europeans competing for Mexico’s gold and with no central point of control anyone could seize, Mexico would probably evolve into for a while into something like Africa in the era of trading stations, with multiple countries or subnational groups competing for the gold and silver trade. That factory stage won’t last long, because unlike in Africa, there are no nasty European-killing diseases to keep Europeans from seizing important ports and the Indians, even with traded European weapons, wouldn’t be able to keep Europeans from seizing coastal areas in order to monopolize the gold and silver trade.
Where does this go from here? It could be argued that when or even if Europeans conquered Mexico wouldn’t make much difference. Mexican Indians would still get hit by diseases and that would still be their primary problem. Mexican Indians still get hit by smallpox on schedule, as do the surviving Indians in the West Indies. The epidemic accelerates the decline of the Spanish settlements in the West Indies, reducing the Indian population that those settlers depend on and making Mexican adventures more attractive to the Spanish.
Historically, Mexican Indian population got hit repeatedly, essentially the equivalent of Europe’s Black Death every generation for a hundred years before the population bottomed out at between five and ten percent of its pre-contact level.
Would that rate of depopulation happen in a situation where the Spanish conquest was slower and/or less complete? Did the conquest matter that much in terms of the number of surviving Indians or their overall welfare?
How would Mexican Indians develop if much of the area remained unconquered but with continued European contact and continued influx of European diseases? The US interior southeast probably gives a pretty good analogy. There was no European conquest or much colonization there for around 150 years, just a series of diseases jumping from Cuba to the Spanish missions in Florida and then spreading further inland. The population in the interior dropped and the culture simplified, with much of the folkways remaining the same but with craft specialists going away and political and social hierarchies getting simplified. Some of the same things would probably happen in the interior of an unconquered Mexico, though it started with a much higher level of both population and political and technical sophistication, so it might not go all the way back to tribal confederations like the interior southeastern Indians did.
The Indian population might not fall quite as far as it did historically. The Spanish upper class lived off Indian agricultural surpluses and labor and as Indian population fell, the pressure on the remaining population became greater. Also, the mixed-race population represented essentially a one-to-one loss in Indian population because they were pretty close to all Indian women having children with Spanish men. Also, without the conquest, the diseases would probably be spread out a bit more, allowing for some recovery between epidemics, but also probably stretching out the period of population decline.
The bottom line is that the most likely result of the Spanish finding warring Indian states in Mexico would be a slower and less complete European conquest, with at least some additional period where the Spanish crown was not in effective control of European or even Spanish settlements and conquered territories in Mexico.
How would all this affect the rest of the conquest of the Americas? As long as nobody had Mexican gold and silver nailed down, that would be the focus of most European efforts. On the other hand, the riches would be scattered over much more of Europe, attracting more Europeans to try to find another Mexico.
Would Peru be found earlier or later in this scenario? Historically, it was discovered around 1527 and the conquest began in 1532. Historically, smallpox spread ahead of the Spanish. If we assume that the Incas developed as they did historically, and that smallpox took out both their ruler and his designated successor in 1528 as happened historically, the Incas would presumably have the civil war that they did historically.
There are several possibilities here. First, if the Europeans arrived earlier or later, the Inca civil war would either not have started or have ended long enough ago that whoever won would have consolidated their power. Peru could also attract multiple independent European would-be conquerors. Each of those possibilities leads to a series of branching alternatives which would be interesting to explore. How would Europeans do against a united Inca empire that hadn’t gone through a civil war? How would they do if they arrived in the middle of a civil war or after the winner had consolidated power? Would competing Europeans take opposite sides in a civil war? Would opposing Inca factions emerge if competing Europeans arrived.
All that assumes that smallpox killed the same Inca royalty in approximately the same sequence and with the same timing. That is unlikely to be the case. If the reigning Inca or his designated successor survived, presumably there wouldn’t an Inca civil war. If both died, but Atahualpa or more likely Huascar died in addition to the first two, there might not be a civil war, depending on whether a strong alternative to Huascar emerged. If the heir named a successor before he died, there would be a reduced chance of a civil war.
As long as there was a united Inca empire, though, there would always be a single point of failure, a way for Spanish or other Europeans to control a few individuals and use them to control an empire and of course the Incas would still get hit by disease as they did historically.
Overall, does changing what the Spanish found in Mexico lead to a significantly better result for Indians in Mexico or Peru? Maybe.
What about changing when Europe found Mexico? Could they have discovered Mexico early enough to encounter small warring states without any change to how fast the Aztecs expanded? Could discovery have been delayed long enough that the Aztecs fell before Europeans found them?
What if Columbus sailed on after finding Hispaniola on his first voyage in 1492 and discovered the Mexican coast? He takes back gold and starts a huge rush from all over Europe. The Aztec empire he finds is smaller than the historic one but would still be a single point of failure. Can we speed up the discovery a few more years, to the 1481-1485 Aztec time of troubles?
Columbus was in Portugal trying to get the Portuguese to fund his voyage in 1483-84. He was turned down by King John II, but apparently the king secretly sent a ship to check out his theories. It returned without finding anything. What if the New World was discovered by a secret Portuguese voyage in 1484, with Mexico contacted in a follow-up voyage in 1485? Mexico was essentially in the small warring states phase, with most of the Aztec empire in revolt.
How was the Inca empire doing by then? It had already done a lot of expanding and was maybe two-thirds to three-fourths the size it reached historically. It undoubtedly wasn’t as solid as it was when the Spanish discovered it almost fifty year later and could have broken up into the conquered states under stress. The Incas only conquered the rival Chimu empire in 1470, so that conquest would have been less than twenty years old.
So, with a slightly earlier discovery of the New World and less of a gap between discovery of the New World and that of the high-culture areas, you could end up with the equivalent of warring kingdoms in both Mexico and Peru.
Events could also, of course, have happened differently in Peru. Maybe one of the powerful early Inca leaders dies early, delaying or aborting the rise of the Inca empire. That could be independent of what happened in Mexico or in European exploration. That is to say it could have happened in addition to any of the Mexican scenarios we discussed earlier. The Andes as a bunch of warring states would have a less profound impact than Mexico as independent states because while the Andes states were politically more developed than the Mexican ones and their metallurgy was more advanced, it’s pretty obvious from looking at the Inca battles with the Spaniards versus the Aztec ones that the people of the Andes simply weren’t as good at killing Spaniards as the Aztecs were.
Finally, it’s possible that the first smallpox epidemic could have caused the Aztec empire to collapse into warring states if it happened significantly before the discovery of Mexico. Smallpox didn’t jump the Atlantic until 1518, twenty-six years after Columbus. It required enough non-immune hosts to keep up a chain of infection through the voyage across the Atlantic, and not enough European adults were vulnerable to smallpox to keep up the chain. Smallpox made it across the Atlantic when there were enough children coming over in one ship, or when African slaves, most of them no immune to smallpox started getting shipped over in large numbers.
Large-scale shipment of African slaves apparently brought smallpox to Santo Domingo in 1518, when the Spanish crown authorized importing up to 4000 slaves, a huge jump from what had been allowed up to that time. That coincided with the discover of Mexico and smallpox quickly spread to Mexico with the Spanish conquistadors. If smallpox had made the jump across the Atlantic in say 1509, seventeen years after Columbus, that would have set it up to spread to Panama with the first Spanish settlement there in 1510. From there it would have spread to Mexico, seven or eight years before the conquistadors arrived there. Would the Aztecs survive that first epidemic as a united empire? It depends on how hard it hit them and especially their leadership versus subject and enemy people. Historically, the Aztec leader who took over after Montezuma died of smallpox. If the Aztecs ended up under weak, inexperienced leadership after the epidemic and if they didn’t adjust tribute levels to reflect the smaller population, the empire could well have collapsed before the conquistadors got there.
Would any of these routes to small warring states have left the Indians better off in the long run? It’s hard to know. Given the riches of Mexico and Peru and the military weakness of the Indians there, at least some of those territories would be conquered by some group of Europeans. The process would almost certainly be slower than it was historically and would probably mean that conquistadors remained quasi-independent of the Spanish crown longer. The crown couldn’t project power across the Atlantic to the extent of directly financing an extended campaign of conquest without cutting into Spanish priorities in Europe. Their preferred method was letting entrepreneurial conquistadors do the actual conquests and then establishing control over the conquistadors once the fighting was over and conquistador rule was firmly established.
That kind of indirect conquest was risky, as Spain discovered in Peru, where conquistadors kicked out royal representatives and ruled themselves for a while before Spain reestablished control. Spain was lucky that Cortes was loyal and not more ambitious than he was, or Mexico could have gone the same way.
A longer period of quasi-independent conquistadors would have been a mixed blessing for the Indians. The Spanish Kings and Queens, at least some of them, really did care for their Indian subjects and often tried to curb the worst of the conquistador excesses, especially enslaving peaceful Indians. On the other hand, they sometimes chose very inappropriate people to replace the conquistadors. Guzman in Mexico was brutal enough that the parts of Mexico he ruled or conquered became blank spots on the map, with little surviving of Indian culture there and little historical record of what he destroyed. That’s especially galling to historians because the parts of Western Mexico he hit the hardest were also the most likely places for sea voyages from Peru (or more accurately Ecuador) to Mexico. We know those voyages took place, but little else about them.
Exactly how Mexico and Peru were conquered and by who would have huge impacts on Europe. Historically, the flow of Aztec and Inca gold and silver energized Europe in many ways, but ultimately stunted parts of it. New World riches made Spain a much greater military power, capable of taking on a France that had several times Spain’s population. It also largely deindustrialized Spain by pushing wages and prices up to the point that Spanish goods couldn’t compete with the rest of Europe. The riches also spurred Spanish ambitions to the point where the Spanish crown not only spent all the windfall but went deeply in debt and had to declare bankruptcy a time or two and in one case a Spanish king had to flee his own victorious armies because he couldn’t pay them.
Slow that flow of gold or spread it out over more of Europe and Spain probably wouldn’t rise as far as it did or hollow itself out as much as it did. Speed up the gold flow, which is unlikely under these scenarios, and Spain might rise even higher and fall even harder.
If large parts of the Mexican and Peruvian gold ended up in France or Portugal, the shape of European history would rapidly become unrecognizable. If a lot of it stayed in Mexico and Peru, in the hands of quasi-independent conquistador states or unconquered Indians, again the shape of European history would rapidly become unrecognizable.
The period where conquistadors of various nationalities were jockeying for power among themselves and with the various Indian powers would be a fascinating place to put a story or two, actually, another in a long list of backgrounds I would love to explore given unlimited writing time.
I made these notes to refine my world-building for my New Galveston novels, where the New World of 1939 is replaced by a version where Europeans never arrived and Indians developed on their own for another roughly 450 years. As part of that, I looked into American Indian sea-capable watercraft and tried to figure out how they would develop in those 450-odd years. While the novels are already published, the issue interests me, so any comments are welcome.
Here is what I knew when I started:
1) The only pre-Columbian watercraft where it is fairly well established that Indians used sails were the balsa rafts extensively used along the coasts of Peru and Ecuador, with voyages ranging up through Central America and to Western Mexico. These were substantial craft, capable of hauling up to 30 tons. They didn’t last very long, though, with the logs becoming waterlogged, which rapidly reduced their capacity, with the vessels probably becoming useless after around 8 months in the water. These craft apparently had triangular sails pre-Columbus, but quickly switched to rectangular ones. The craft remained in use several hundred years after the Spanish conquest, but no native-made examples are known to have survived. The Manteno culture was the most prominent users of these rafts and supposedly ranged from Chile to Mexico in them.
2) The Yucatan Maya had a large, sea-based trading system, but do not appear to have used sails before Columbus. They appear to have mostly hugged the coast rather than going deeper into the ocean.
3) Chumash Indians in California had large seagoing plank canoes up to 30 feet long and preferably made from drifted redwoods from northern California. They were a huge investment for a hunter-gatherer society, taking six months to build, with a master canoe-builder supervising half a dozen assistants, and the canoe requiring .5 to 1.5 man years of labor and a mile of cordage, mostly harvested from stands of the red milkweed or dogbane plants, which apparently had to be semi-cultivated because they didn’t occur naturally in large enough stands. Quite an effort for a hunter-gatherer people.
4) Tiano in the West Indies had watercraft of some sort that allowed them to colonize the West Indies islands and maintain a common culture across fair-sized water gaps. Added info: They used large dugouts capable of carrying 40 to 45 men. (Another source says up to 150 people. No mention of sails before Columbus.
5) Northwestern Indians were apparently adept at coastal voyages, but I know little about their sea craft. Later note: They used elaborate dugouts, up to 50 feet long or a little more, eight feet wide and capable of hauling up to five tons. These dugouts were very elaborate, with the much of the exterior of the tree folded out at the top using boiling water to soften the wood temporarily so it could be shaped. These canoes were made only by a class of skilled craftsmen, with the knowledge of how to do it handed down within families. The results were absolutely beautiful watercraft, probably about as sophisticated as a dugout canoe could be. In a few places they were actually used for whaling.
The Northwestern tribes used sails but may have learned to from Europeans. That’s a rock I have to dig under. The problem there is that a seafaring people without sails would see the advantage of sails quickly, though it would take some experimenting to get it right.
6) Inland groups like the Aztecs around Lake Texcoco and the Mississippians along the Mississippi river had very large canoes designed specifically for fighting, but I don’t know much more about them other than a hint or two that they added planks to the tops of dugout canoes to shelter their crews from arrows.
7)Another interesting group: Eskimos with their skin Umiaks. I dismissed them at first, but those things could get huge, and the Eskimos were definitely in contact with similar groups in Siberia, so they were a potential source for innovations diffusing from the Old World.
Any help filling the gaps would be much appreciated.
I did considerable research for the novels, as you can see, but there are still huge gaps in my knowledge. I suspect that the gap is not entirely just in my knowledge. Watercraft don’t preserve well over a matter of centuries and ethnographic descriptions leave big gaps. For example, one scientist tried to replicate the balsa raft trips from Ecuador to Mexico and discovered that marine worms infested and destroyed his attempts long before he could get to Mexico. He theorized that either the Indians knew some trick to keep that from happening or the marine worm might be an invasive species, carried to the area from the Atlantic by European ships. In any case, he couldn’t replicate the voyage or figure out how Thor Heyerdahl’s crew made their trip work.
Some things I’ve discovered as I worked through this:
1) My concept of Indian watercraft was skewed initially. When I hear canoe, I subconsciously picture the sorts of things I see getting paddled down the Kishwaukee river: big enough for half a dozen people and their backpacks at most and when I hear raft, I think a dozen or so sections of log tied together. That drastically underestimates what Indians were already doing by 1492.
(2) Indians were further behind Eurasians in this area than I realized and faced more significant obstacles. By very early Egyptian times, 3000 BC, the Egyptians were using planks to build ships, securing them together with woven straps. By 2500 BC, the Egyptians were using treenails (nail-like pegs of wood) to secure the planks and also using mortise and tenon joints to secure the planks.
Not being a carpenter, I had to look that one up. Basically, you create a hole in one piece of wood and shape a kind of tongue of the right size in the other, so you can force the tongue into the hole and the two pieces stay locked together. The technique has been in use since a couple thousand years before the bronze age started but must have been much more difficult to get right before the advent of bronze tools.
As huge and elaborate as the Indian dugouts could be, they were inherently limited by the size of the trees they used to build them. The Egyptian boats were already 75 feet long by 3000 BC and five hundred years later they were almost twice that long, with the carrying capacity much higher compared to the Indian watercraft than the length would indicate.
3) Indians faced several obstacles I hadn’t thought of earlier. First, the Gulf of Mexico was a much less friendly place for early sea voyages than the Mediterranean, with its hurricanes and tropical storms, which were probably pretty much unpredictable for stone age to early bronze age people, beyond the level of there being a hurricane season, though there may have been some native knowledge that could to some extent predict looming storms. One source I came across says that only April was reliably storm-free in the Gulf.
In the Pacific, a modern attempt to replicate the Ecuador to western Mexico voyages ran into circular currents they couldn’t break out of and the voyagers had to be rescued. That implies that there must have been some timing trick to the voyages that the Indians knew, unless the currents have changed. One source claims that the voyagers from Ecuador sometimes stayed in Mexico for up to six months waiting for the right weather conditions for them to return.
Add in the Baja peninsula, which kept western Mexican groups from easily moving north along the coast to California or vice versa, and we have a formidable set of obstacles to Indians coming up with a European-style volume of seaborne trade.
4) I discovered that the Tiarona, a Chibcha-speaking group in Columbia with a fairly high level of technology, had a trade network that extended as far as Costa Rica, though I don’t think they had anything special in the way of boats.
5) The Mapuche Indians in Chile may have also had sewn-plank canoes, though the evidence is pretty scanty for those canoes being pre-Hispanic.
6) I’ve ignored birch-bark canoes because I suspect that they are a dead-end in terms of making sea craft, but they are important and very efficient for moving goods and people along rivers and would probably continue to be used throughout this period.
All of this is just the groundwork. I knew I needed a LOT more info before I could plausibly project what Indians would be doing with sea craft over the roughly 450 years between 1492 and 1939. I’m not entirely happy yet, because I don’t have a lot on what was going on along the Mississippi or the Amazon, but I think I have enough to make a start.
The Next 450 Years of American Indian Sea Craft: At some point fairly early on after Columbus doesn’t show up, use of sails spreads from the west coast of Mexico to the east coast, assuming Indians there didn’t already use them, which is controversial. They could spread by way of the big Mexican lakes or they could make the jump in Central America, maybe Panama, where Indians from the two coasts could easily mingle.
Sails allow the big Yucatan Mayan dugouts that already dominated trade along much of the Mexican and Central American coast to move quicker and with less effort, making sea transport more efficient. A dugout is still a dugout, though, limited to the size of the tree trunk, even with the most advanced processing techniques.
It’s sort of possible to get around the limitations of dugouts by going to two hulls, with a platform built between them. It is also possible to use the dugout as the base and build up from it using planks, though unless the dugout is heavy, the vessel quickly gets top-heavy—not a good thing with sailing ships.
Outriggers can compensate for the top-heaviness, though and were widely used by the Austronesians, especially the Polynesians. As the planks lead to larger and more and more elaborate canoes, eventually the dugout part loses significance until you end up with something like the Philippine traditional Karakua warships and Balangay cargo/raiding ships, which started out with a log as the base and then built up from there, to become very elaborate and formidable even against Spanish ships, very fast and maneuverable, supposedly capable of speeds up to 12 to 15 knots. If true, that’s outstanding for a sail and oar-powered craft, though by the 1800s, toward the end of the era of sail, a fast European sailing ship could do 15 knots given the right wind.
Karakuas had raised fighting platforms in the center, with platforms for rowers on outriggers. Strange-looking ships, but very light-weight for their size.
So the Yucatan Maya and other seafaring people of the Caribbean gradually develop from their big dugouts to plank boats with sails and outriggers, evolving in the same general direction as a Karakua, though smaller dugouts survive along with the bigger ships. These more sophisticated sea craft both help spread bronze around the Caribbean and benefit from that spread as bronze tools make more sophisticated designs easier to construct.
The balsa raft tradition continues in the Pacific but large plank/outrigger sea craft make up more and more of the trade along the Pacific coast.
As the sea trade increases in volume, it doesn’t reach the levels common around the Mediterranean or in the Indian Ocean because of the constraints I mentioned, but it does unify a large stretch of the New World to an extent previously unknown. That unification allows the pockets of resources relatively isolated Indian cultures had to spread to other cultures where they were much-needed.
Much of this trade is in luxury goods and often ways of getting high. Anything scarce and cool-looking that signifies high-status commands a good price, but new kinds of food piggyback on that trade.
How about a chronology? This is totally speculative, partly because we don’t really know key facts like whether sails were used in the Caribbean before Columbus. With that in mind, how about this:
Sails come into widespread use in the Caribbean by around 1530, making existing sea craft faster and capable of longer voyages with smaller crews. With a lag, sails lead to larger, more capable sea craft. By the 1580s, Indian sea craft routinely trade all around the Caribbean, including the West Indies, the northern coast of South America and the American Southeast.
There had been sporadic trade between these areas before this, but it hadn’t been heavy enough or continuous enough to make these areas one economic unit. Now the trade unites the areas to some extent, with goods going up and down the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to the sea and then down the coast, sometimes ending up in coastal South America if the goods are valuable enough to someone down there.
Trade on the Pacific develops more slowly. Balsa rafts may be a dead end, but they are deeply embedded in the cultures that produce them. Eventually though, ship-building traditions from the Caribbean become common in the Pacific, allowing more interchange between Peru and northern Mexico.
That interchange brings the domestic plants and animals of Peru to Mexico—llamas, guinea pigs, domesticated Muscovy ducks, potatoes, sweet potatoes, among other things. Those plants and animals allow the agricultural zone to spread north into areas where agriculture hadn’t been possible. It also allows the growth of nomadic herding people, with huge llama herds as transport animals and food sources, though they don’t have riding animals, which makes them less formidable than Old World nomads.
By this time, it’s around 1600, and Indian craft in the Caribbean are roughly on par with Egyptian craft of 3000 BC. Over the next 339 years, Indian vessels get bigger and more formidable, probably at about the same rate Egyptian ships did. They are probably still a long way from capable of routinely making an Atlantic crossing by 1939, but they’ve still come a long way. They are still constrained by the hurricane season, with few voyages in the Caribbean between mid-August and mid-November.
Of course, when valuable goods are transported over a huge ocean, piracy is inevitable as are commercial competition, naval wars and war fleets.
Meanwhile, along the California coast and in the Pacific Northwest, the Chumash and Northwest Indian canoe traditions eventually meet and interact. I’m not sure how that develops. I suspect that the Baja peninsula would remain a tough barrier between Mexican and California sea craft keeping California and the Northwest mostly isolated from the developing trading empires for quite some time, maybe even until 1939.
All of this assumes no contact at all from Eurasia from 1492 to 1939, which is not easy to pull off, of course. Even if you stop Western Europe from finding the New World, you would also have to stop China, Japan and Russia too. Even if that was possible, there would still be leakage. It’s still controversial, but there are strong indications that Polynesians interacted with Indians in Chile, starting around 1200 AD or a little later.
Small amounts of Old World metal dating back to before Columbus has been found in Alaska, apparently passed from group to group until it crossed the Bering Strait. Also, historically a large number of Japanese ships and fishing boats were wrecked in the Pacific Northwest after European traders reached the area. There is a fairly high probability that similar shipwrecks went back at least as far as Columbus if not further. Unless whatever is keeping Europe out of the New World also works to keep Japanese ships out, eventually the Japanese start influencing Northwest Indian cultures, assuming that they hadn’t been influencing them already.
Oh well. For the purpose of this exercise I pretty much have to handwave all that away.
And that’s pretty much a wrap. I wrote this without referring back to my main timeline, so the next step was making sure it’s compatible with what I had happening on land.
I wrote two novels in what I call the Blip Universe, or alternately, the New Galveston Universe. The idea is that in February 1939 the entire land mass of the New World is replaced by a version where Europeans never reached the New World. Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia remain in place, rapidly approaching World War II, but not in it yet.
I initially put most of my efforts into the Indian part of the world-building, doing an elaborate timeline of how American Indians developed over the roughly 450 years of reprieve, and didn’t really think through the European implications as much as I should have.
The Blip replaces our New World in 1939. Specifically, it does the replacement in late February 1939. I chose that timing when I first started plotting the story because the US Navy historically was having a huge naval exercise at the time and was almost all at sea. Fleet Problem XX was a huge exercise in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, with over 50,000 US military personnel participating. I figured that would stack the deck in favor of the rump US, which would very much need the advantages. I’m still trying to nail down exactly which sips were in the exercise, but it looks as though all the US carriers were there and at least 12 of the 15 battleships, possibly all of them. President Roosevelt was even there, initially on the heavy cruiser Houston and then on the battleship Pennsylvania.
So in late February 1939, a huge, powerful US fleet comes home to find their country gone, replaced with one where Indians about 450 years more advanced than the ones Columbus found, still rule. That US fleet, plus other US remnants, try to rebuild the US in what they consider a wilderness. American Indians aren’t always on board with this venture, though if the rump US fails, kindly uncle Adolph, last name Hitler, is waiting in the wings, so a new US rising isn’t the worst that could happen to them.
Before I get into the background, here are links to the two Blip Universe books:
So how viable is this new US? Hawaii and the Philippines were not included in the Blip, so they would contribute a bit to the rump US population. Hawaii had around 422,000 people, but only 112,000 were Anglos, 26.5% of the population. Of the rest, 37.3% were Japanese, with the remainder Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans and native Hawaiians. The US had around 20,000 military personnel in Hawaii.
In the Philippines the US had the Filipino Scouts, which was officially a US division, but with US officers and Filipino enlisted men. There were around 9,000 Anglos on Luzon, and an unknown number elsewhere in the Philippines. English-speaking Filipinos, especially those from a Tagalog background, might be willing to immigrate to the US and might be useful to the rump US. The US had a few thousand men in a marine regiment and some scattered detachments in China, mostly Shanghai. From old and possibly faulty memory, there were around 50,000 US citizens in the merchant marines, not all of whom would be on ships outside of New World ports. Add in embassy officials in Europe and Asia, plus businessmen and tourists and the total number of US citizen Anglos, based on my back of envelope calculations would be around 261,000, with a range of 230,000 to around 300,000. I don’t know how many Americans were in the International Sector in Shanghai and have no idea how many tourists, students and ambassadorial staff were in Europe and Asia.
The 157,000 Japanese in Hawaii historically were mostly loyal to the US, for reasons that would have still applied in this scenario, though the rump US would probably have been reluctant to use them, as the US was historically.
Other than that, the US had small overseas territories, of which Guam was the biggest, with around 20,000 inhabitants and a US-officered militia of a little less than 500.
American Samoa probably had a few Americans at a naval station and some number of native Samoans, probably quite a bit less than 20,000. Samoans were very eager soldiers and participated in unexpectedly high numbers in the US effort in World War II. They would probably play a prominent role in this scenario given how aggressively they pursued opportunities in World War II.
The US hadn’t started basing the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor yet, but by the mid-1930s they had started building it up to be a major naval center, with drydocks, machine shops, oil supplies, munitions and spare parts. The big problem would be getting the fleet to and from the Atlantic from Pearl in the absence of a Panama Canal.
One advantage the rump US would have was that they knew where vast gold and silver supplies were. If they maintained control of the California and South Carolina gold alone, they would be able to buy pretty much anything they needed from Europe or Asia. The problem would be manpower to use what they bought.
I hadn’t thought through the implications of being cash-rich and manpower poor when I wrote the original New Galveston. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the US would be able to buy a lot of production capability from Europe. If Britain wasn’t willing to sell them something, the French or Dutch or Swedes or Poles probably would if they had it to sell.
The rump US would have to build every bit of infrastructure from scratch—housing, streets, airports, sewers, wells, electrical generation, port facilities, farms and any industrial facilities they needed. And they would have to do a lot of it fast because they would need to get people ashore to stake a claim on US territory fast before the Europeans grabbed it and before US soldiers and civilians starved or moved on to more comfortable homes in Europe or Asia.
The rump US would have most of their fleet, but mostly obsolete warplanes. On the other hand, they don’t need advanced warplanes to deal with the local Indians. The military quickly shifts much of its energy toward creating formations good enough to maintain superiority over local Indians and cheap to maintain. So instead of patrolling in obsolete fighters, they buy up large numbers of Piper Cubs and use them for routine patrols. Far less fuel needed and the military quickly sets up manufacturing in Holland. Similarly, the battleships, cruisers and destroyer mostly sit in port, while fast, simple, fuel efficient little motor patrol boats keep an eye on the coastline, as much as they can with the manpower constraints. The US sets up cavalry patrols and make extensive use of motorcycles, though light aircraft are more efficient at patrolling.
The US has nowhere near enough manpower to build everything and guard everything they need to build or guard. Filling the manpower gap would be the top priority. The rump US has to be careful not to bring in enough foreigners that they lose control of the territory they claim but don’t really control though.
The US brings in Jewish and Spanish Republican refugees. There would be Dutch workers in the Texas oil fields, drilling oil wells and maybe even setting up refineries. That would be a delicate negotiation because the Texas oilfields would compete with the Dutch East Indies oil fields.
On the other hand, if the Brits and Dutch don’t help the US out, someone else will, or the US will just hire experienced oil men away from European companies. Better to control the tempo of expansion to some extend and profit from reopening the oil fields than to lose out entirely.
Polish laborers do a lot of the infrastructure projects, attracted by the high pay. Indians would do a host of menial jobs around the completed bases.
Several hundred Samoans are military subcontractors of sorts in California and Hawaii. The US also recruits Indians from tribes far enough from their bases to not be threatened by the bases as military auxiliaries. The descendants of the Pawnees might be good for that role.
What the rump US would be attempting would be similar to an Africa-style colonization, with a few Anglo troops and more native auxiliaries, simply because the US doesn’t have enough Anglos to do everything that needs to be done. They do have a disproportionate number of young men of military age, which helps some, but a lot of their people need to be in specific jobs. The navy, for example, needs most of the 50,000 personnel that came over to keep running. There were a few marines crammed onto a couple of old battleships for amphibious landing as part of the fleet problem, but that wouldn’t be more than a couple thousand men at most. Figure another few thousand out of the China marines and maybe a couple thousand culled out of the Hawaii garrison and the rump US has maybe six or seven thousand trained ground-pounders to control the bulk of a continent.
They would be forced to use the Hawaiian Japanese to supplement the Anglos, mostly stationing them on the Atlantic or Gulf Coast, where they would be less likely to face enemy Japanese troops. From old and possibly faulty memory, around seven thousand Hawaiian Japanese made it into the US army in World War II. That’s a little less than 5 percent of the population. That seems like a reasonable number to bring in under this scenario.
The navy has to dual-purpose some of their personnel, rotating them ashore for land duties when their ships are in port for an extended period, which would happen often given the shortage of spare parts and fuel. That would still only give maybe another ten thousand men at most under the likely scenarios. So maybe 24,000 armed men ashore at any given time, including the 7000 Japanese, a bunch of sailors without a lot of ground training and few hundred Samoans and volunteers from Guam.
The rump US has to worry about maintaining loyalty. It is weak enough that European governments might be able to buy a battleship or cruiser’s crew out from under the navy if the hardship gets too bad. What happens when terms of enlistment start to run out? Push too hard to retain people in the military and people may decide that Europe is an attractive option.
For grins, I wonder if Liberia might be a recruitment ground for auxiliary troops. It had a comparatively large English-speaking population with some degree of education. On the other hand, the prejudices of the day would make that problematic, probably more so than with the Japanese. Popular prejudices of the day saw Japanese as smart and hard-working, but sneaky, while those prejudices saw blacks as stupid and lazy. Unfortunate, but to build a realistic scenario I have to realize that those prejudices existed.
One aspect I hadn’t thought through well enough earlier is that all three European powers in the Far East have a major stake in keeping the US fleet strong because of their colonies in the Far East. The Brits would have an ambiguous relationship because they want to eventually bring the US fleet under their control and become undisputed top sea power again. The French and especially the Dutch need the Americans and don’t have the mixed motives the Brits do, so they will fill in gaps the Brits don’t want filled.
The French and Dutch do have an incentive to slow the growth of an independent US refining capacity, but they would be happy to refine US crude for us. They are also happy to build stuff that keeps our fleet strong, stronger than the Brits want it.
Some aspects: 1) Oil: Without the big US fields and the Mexican fields, world oil prices skyrocket. Britain and the Soviet Union have access to oil. Japan, Italy and Germany have only a fraction of what they need to keep their war machines going. Historically, Germany was getting much of its oil from Mexico.
2) Food: Britain is going to be desperate for food, with no access to US and Argentine grain or cattle.
The history we got, despite its many flaws, is a lot better than most of the alternatives when you explore those alternatives honestly. That being said, better is not always the best place for a story.
This scenario is not intended as a utopia, though for several hundred years it would be comparatively speaking a utopia for the American Indians. Then comes the hard landing.
By the way: One subplot leads to several US battleships confronting the Bismarck, Tirpitz and the German battle-cruisers–at approximately numerically even odds, though the US will have shortages and breakdowns, counterbalanced to some extent by local air superiority–the US will have at least one carrier and some land-based air, while the Germans will have to rely on the Graf Zepelin (which I’m assuming is completed before summer 1941 in the absence of World War II).
Any World War II naval buffs are welcome to weigh in on how that match-up would turn out. I think I have a pretty good idea and wrote it into the first novel, but input is always welcome.
As I mentioned, the replacement of the New World with the all Indian version happens in late February 1939. The naval confrontation happens in the summer of 1941. If the Germans continue building their battleships on schedule, the Bismarck and Tirpitz should be available. The Graf Zeppelin is more iffy because historically construction was suspended at about 80% done with the outbreak of war. Would it have been finished by summer 1941 in this scenario? I think it could have been if the Germans had given it priority. Depending on which carriers the US had available, I suspect that it would have been puppy chow for the US carriers.
Hawaii is okay—not replaced, but the bulk of the Pacific fleet was still based on the west coast in 1939. There were a lot of fleet resources at Pearl by late 1941, including a lot of stored oil and excellent fleet workshops. At least some of that stuff was already there in 1939, probably the bulk of it, but I’m still nailing down the specifics.
There were also decent facilities in the Philippines, but they were too vulnerable to the Japanese, and the US knew it.
The rump US would be scrambling for even tiny numbers of trained fighting men, probably bringing back the regiment of marines stationed in Shanghai for some other posts and culling out embassy guards all over the world. They would probably institute a draft in Hawaii to build up trained reserves.
They would be scrambling for construction workers as well. Money wouldn’t be a problem as long as the rump US kept interlopers out. All the California gold and Nevada silver would be there for the taking, as well as in the South Carolina gold fields.
My back of the envelope calcs/best guess is/are that the rump US would have roughly 262,000 Anglo citizens, with a minimum of around 225,000 and an absolute max of around 300,000.
There would be an approximately equal or slightly greater number of US citizens of Asian or Pacific origin in Hawaii: Japanese 158,000, Chinese 29,000, Korean 7,000, Filipino 52,000 and native Hawaiian 64,000. Not all of the Asian/Pacific people were American citizens, but quite a few were, including most of the Japanese born in Hawaii.
The Japanese raise two questions. First, where would their loyalties lie, and second, even if they are loyal, would the government believe they are loyal? Historically, the Japanese born in Hawaii were loyal despite a lot of reasons not to be and eventually, grudgingly, the US recognized that loyalty, at least in Hawaii.
Older Japanese tried to maintain ties to Japan but were shocked to discover that they were often treated as foreigners or worse than foreigners when they returned to visit. Japan had changed since they left and they hadn’t been there to change with it, which put them in kind of an uncanny valley–too close to Japanese to be foreign, but foreign enough to generate deep disgust.
The Anglo population would have a very high proportion of military-age men, outnumbering Anglo women of that age by several times, at least five to one and probably more. That would be a huge opportunity for prostitutes and gold diggers of all nationalities, as long as the US retained the ability to pay, which they would as long as they control the South Carolina and California gold fields.
I do have Jewish and Spanish Republican immigration and (not particularly reliable) White Russian mercenaries, officially on the road to citizenship, along with Ukrainian exiles.
Surviving Indians near naval bases would be co-opted into the cash economy, with women often getting pushed into prostitution and men taking odd jobs in the base economies.
Manpower would be at a huge premium, with the rump US trying to drill oil wells, build oil refineries, build roads, housing, airports, dig wells, get sewer facilities set up, map rivers (which wouldn’t have exactly the same courses they did in our New World by 1941) and of course man and maintain ships and planes and forts.
I have the Brits offering Commonwealth status, the US preferring to go it alone and the Brits gently and sometimes not so gently pushing them toward that status, giving the US enough help to keep them from collapsing but not enough to be secure as a stand-alone.
Economically, expect utter chaos, with huge amounts of New World investments gone, causing cascading bank and large company failures and raising the potential for deflation. At the same time, huge slugs of gold and silver would flow into the economy and huge amounts of production would be gone, creating inflationary pressures for both manufactured goods and oil, where the US was the biggest exporter in 1939. Adding to the chaos, apparently many smaller countries kept their gold reserves at the New York fed, which means those reserves would be gone.
Big chunks of the world’s merchant marine would be looking for something to haul, partly offset by there not being a Panama Canal, and by ships lost in ports in the New World when the event happened.
The economics is a rabbit hole that could suck me in for a year or two of research and at the end of that research I would probably say about the same thing I say now, which is that there would be a cr@p ton of disruptions ricocheting through the world economy, a huge number of lawsuits and a lot of “over there rich” people wandering around, some of them maybe even trying to sell ownership of their “over there” assets for cents of the dollar–which might turn out to be a good investment if the event reverses.
The US would probably claim custodial ownership of the European branches of US companies. Not sure how that would fly. European (and US) banks and companies with Latin American loans would be in a world of trouble, though the US companies and banks would have bigger troubles, like not existing in the reality.
As I pointed out earlier, a lot of countries parked gold in the NY Fed. Would they try to claim newly mined gold in return? I doubt that would be a major problem, with one exception. Latin American countries wouldn’t exist, though expats might try to form rump governments for a few of the larger countries. The part of Eastern Europe the Germans hadn’t already taken would probably have trivial amounts of gold there. Britain, France and Germany had all defaulted on large debts owed to the US (left over from World War I) so they wouldn’t have much claim on any gold they did lose when the New World went away unless it was in excess of the amount they defaulted on. The balance of Europe could sue if they could find a court with jurisdiction, but the US would probably politely tell them to pound sand, and unless they had a navy capable of taking on battleships, they would have to live with that answer until the US stopped having working battleships–and that would depend on how long the Brits wanted the US to have working battleships.
Japan had quite a bit of gold and other assets in the US and losing those assets would sting. They would be very tempted to go after Hawaii and/or the west coast. The big problem would be that they didn’t have the logistics to project power in the form of an invasion fleet even as far as Hawaii, much less the US West Coast. Getting the carriers and two accompanying battleships within range of Pearl Harbor was a triumph of improvisations that were barely enough to get the big ships there for a hit and run. A sustained invasion of Hawaii or the West Coast wouldn’t be possible until the US battleship and carriers lost mobility.
As long as Britain and the rump US both said, “Stay out”, the only threat to North America in the short term would be Japanese or Soviet encroachment in the north, assuming they could decide which one did the grabbing.
Latin America would be a different story. The rump US wouldn’t have enough power to keep Europeans out, even with British help. They would probably try to keep hostile powers out of Cuba and Puerto Rico and would take an interest in Mexico down to a couple hundred miles below the border, but that would be a tenuous thing.
One advantage (and disadvantage) for the US: People would initially be reluctant to settle in the New World because they would be afraid that the replacement might reverse, leaving them in a hemisphere with only Indians and a Eurasia/Africa where something bad almost had to have happened to keep everybody out of the New World for so long. That cuts both ways, of course, with the rump US and Europeans/Asians hard-pressed to get people to settle as well.
Another advantage the US had: Historically, Franklin Roosevelt attended the fleet exercise aboard the Houston and then the Pennsylvania, so fortunately or unfortunately, he would be available as Commander in Chief, unless something moved up his heart problems or something else weird happened to him.
Not sure having Roosevelt around is good for the story universe, but since he was with the fleet I have to have him there or explain his absence. I do have isolationists muttering that he knew what was coming in advance and saved the fleet and himself, but not the country. Not logical, but probably something they would say.
There is a lot more background to the story. I haven’t even gotten into the Indian background here, though I worked it out in detail before I wrote the novels. High points: the Aztecs lost their empire hundreds of years ago, but a rump with about as much to do with the Aztecs as Mussolini’s Fascists had to do with Rome are using the name and German guns to create a new Aztec Empire. Bronze and llamas have spread to Mexico/North America. Maya sailing ships ply the Caribbean.
I also haven’t gotten into the details of what happened in Europe here, though again I plotted them out in some detail. Highlights: The Nazis and Fascists reorient their expansionary impulses to the vulnerable New World, putting World War II on hold and directing resources into their navies and long-range aviation. The Germans have their carrier finished by the summer of 1941, along with a new generation of long-range, sophisticated cargo planes that historically never got beyond prototypes or very limited production because World War II imposed other priorities.
I put a lot of research into the world-building and tried very hard to create characters and plots that took advantage of the interesting world. If you give the books a look, I hope you enjoy them.
As usual, quick commercial break before we get into the Alternate History. Of all my novels, in many ways my favorite is Char. Char is very different from a lot of stuff I’ve written lately. It is sort of alternate history/alternate reality. Char of the Real People is running from a deadly ambush from the Eastern Enemies, carrying a severed head, her trophy from the fight. Then suddenly she finds herself running through dark woods on a farm in rural Wisconsin. Four local guys are out that night playing paintball.
A bit of cultural misunderstanding ensues and one of the paintball guys dies. Suddenly Char is a fugitive again, running from a relentless female county sheriff while trying to figure out this new land. Char is a survivor, almost superhumanly smart, but the odds are stacked against her.
And on to our alternate history column.
First, I’m skeptical that the Confederates could win the Civil War, but we’ll put that aside for the moment. We’ll assume for the moment that the South won. In that environment, was widespread industrial slavery feasible?
My gut feeling is that while it is a nightmare possibility, industrial wouldn’t be competitive, not in the long run. Industrial slaves would have a huge arsenal of effective ways to hurt their enslavers. Industrial sabotage. Work slowdowns. Most of the tools industrial unions used.
You probably wouldn’t see a lot of direct violence coming from the slaves. Attacks on members of the kind of society that would keep slaves would not end well for the slaves unless they were capable of defeating the people who enslaved them.
Willingness to keep slaves implies a degree of ruthlessness that is hard to imagine but is clearly documented in the history books. Physical attacks would simply justify that ruthlessness in the minds of anyone in the master society that would otherwise waver. And slave-owning societies would be quite capable of lynching semi-random slaves until the attacks stopped.
But could industrial slavery work in the first place? SM Stirling makes a convincing case that it could work and did work a few places in the US south. I think, though, that while it could be made to work, it wouldn’t be competitive.
Industrial slavery would need to compete with the kind of ruthless exploitation portrayed in The Jungle, with an almost unlimited supply of young subsistence farmers brought into the industrial system with no idea how valuable their labor was, worked relentlessly until they were crippled, then thrown away.
Subsistence farmers were/are perfect for the role of exploited industrial workers because they grow up working hard to survive and have no idea how much money it takes to live in a cash-based society. When/if they figure it out and demand enough money to live, ruthless managers could kick them out into the street and bring in more strong, young, naïve people.
I suspect that competing against that system would require an economic model where slaves were just as disposable as the subsistence farmers, which would mean a continued slave trade.
Breeding slaves? Some of the older-line slave states were doing that, raising slaves for export to the deeper south states where cotton plantations hadn’t ruined the land yet. They denied it vociferously, but it is pretty clear that’s what they were doing for a while, though eventually states like Virginia came up with a more scientific, rational slavery that made effective use of slave labor throughout most of the year.
However, breeding slaves is always going to be more expensive than paying some African slave raiding state a pittance for healthy young men captured from a rival state. The slave-owner would have years of investment in feeding, housing and clothing slave children before they made their money back.
Maybe not ending the Atlantic slave trade could be the point of divergence. Actually, there is some dispute as to how effective that slaving ban was, with a minority of scholars claiming that most slaves were brought to the US after the US had officially banned importing more slaves, which took effect in 1808. I get the impression that is very much a minority position among people who have studied the issue, though most historians agree that slaves continued to be imported and a lot of authorities in the south looked the other way, though officially importing slaves was a death-penalty offense.
There is some evidence that when Mexico officially banned slavery in the 1830s, a lot of Mexican slave owners traded their slaves across the border to the US.
In any case, restrictions on the slave trade had to have some impact because otherwise breeding operations wouldn’t have been financially feasible.
If industrial slavery in the south became widespread, the Brits, who were already doing anti-slave-trade patrols, would have gotten more serious about them, under pressure from British industry which would want to kneecap the competition once industrial slavery became commonplace. For that matter, the North would undoubtedly push for increased US antislavery patrols if the south successfully broke away.
It might be possible to make industrial slavery competitive by somehow limiting the supply of subsistence farmers to northern factories. If the revolutions of 1848 had been more successful in central and Eastern Europe, that might cut back the supply of cheap labor from there. Not sure how much that would help, but it’s an under explored point of divergence in its own right.
It seems to me that slavery without a wide-spread slave trade would eventually become a far different institution than one with that trade, whether that was officially acknowledged by the slave-owning society or not. The child-rearing expense I mentioned earlier would inevitably put a floor under the cost of slaves. At the same time, there are natural limits to cotton plantation agriculture in North America. You can do it east Texas, but much further west it becomes dependent on irrigation. West Texas became a major cotton-growing area in the 1950s based on huge irrigation systems that eventually depleted aquifers and last I heard were collapsing.
So eventually cotton agriculture becomes hard to extend any further. What do you do with added slaves once the cotton frontier stops expanding? There aren’t a lot of things with the combination of high profits and low worker training requirements you see in cotton agriculture.
There were ways of maximizing a slave’s value outside the plantation, but they were either unsavory even by slaver standards—fancy women, essentially slave prostitutes, for example, or ultimately threatening to the institution itself.
For example, toward the end of slavery, some owners were hiring slaves out as skilled tradesmen, allowing the slaves to keep a part of the money. Others were training slaves to work in sawmills and around other capital-intensive areas and letting them have their own small houses and gardens as an easy way to keep mysterious accidents from happening to the expensive equipment they operated. All of that was undoubtedly anathema to traditional slave-owners, for obvious reasons and I don’t know where it would have gone if the Civil War hadn’t come along.
The central dilemma was that outside of plantation agriculture and maybe some types of low-capital mining, a skilled slave was a more valuable slave, but also a slave more capable of taking some of that increased value for themselves or making it on their own if they ran away.
Another problem with industrial slavery in a continuing Confederacy is that increased mobility would make slavery more difficult. It would be interesting to see what cars did to slave-owners’ ability to keep their slaves. I’m visualizing a cross between the underground railroad and moonshiners with their hopped-up cars, with drivers running a cargo of escaping slaves across the border to the north on hilly, backcountry roads with slave patrols trying to catch them. Sounds like there might be a made-for-TV movie there.
In any case, while industrial slavery is for the most part and evil we avoided, it probably wouldn’t have lasted long if it had become a thing.
A Confederate Victory in the ACW?
If the south had a chance at all, that chance came early in the war, where whole border states teetered between the Union and Confederacy and the actions of individual commanders could decide which way they went. The Confederates needed Confederate sentiment to be much stronger and better organized in Kentucky and Missouri in the lead up to the war. Fewer German immigrants around St. Louis might do it for Missouri. Not sure about Kentucky.
Put both solidly in the Confederate column and—-still probably no the south wouldn’t win. The Confederacy was a burned-out wreck financially from very early on. More internal industry than most people give it credit for, but still, far less than the North. Not much hard currency coming in. Crap taxation and monetary policy.
If you really wanted to see major mischief in the early Civil War, make pro-secession sentiment in Maryland stronger and better organized. It was bad enough as it was, with the potential to put Washington DC in an almost untenable position.
The politics of the border states leading up to the Civil War was volatile. Virginia started out solidly on the side of staying in the Union, but Confederate sympathizers, plus the prospect of firing on fellow southerners after the move toward war gathered momentum turned that around.
Virginia and to some extent North Carolina were huge lost opportunities for the Union. Keep them in the Union and the war would be much easier to win. Without the population and industry of those two states, the Confederacy would have been even less viable than it was historically. Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland were the big lost opportunities for the Confederates.
Before I get to the alternate history, just a comment on sales for my books. So far, June has been a very good month, with sales and Kindle Unlimited reads close to or at personal record monthly levels, with a third of the month left to go. A little over half of both types of sales are from a newly published book that came out in early June. It’s called The Moscow Option – 1942. It’s not a novel, just a book-length version of the sort of thing I do in these columns. It looks at what might have happened if Hitler had tried again for Moscow in the spring of 1942 instead of heading south. It follows the alternate World War ii through its end in February 1947, when….
In any case, it is doing well. I hope that holds up. Amazon link is below.
And on to the alternate history.
A Different Outcome to the Russo-Kazan Wars:
Russia had the misfortune to be in the path of the Mongol expansion, along with much of Eurasia. The Mongol invasions turned a huge number of nations and ethnic groups into a hamburger of conquered people. After a few generations as a huge empire, the Mongols gradually broke up, first into huge, still formidable empires like the Golden Horde, then into smaller and smaller groups. The Duchy of Moscovy was one many small states that emerged as the Mongols splintered. At first, Moscovy paid tribute to the formidable Golden Horde, but as the horde’s power waned, it renounced that tributary relationship.
One of the Golden Horde’s successor states, the Khanate of Kazan, became a rival of Muscovy. From 1438 to 1552, the Khanate of Kazan fought a series of wars with Moscovy, the Russian state expanding around Moscow. In the early wars, Kazan was often more than a match for the Russians, forcing the Tsar to flee Moscow or in one case defeating his army and capturing him. The balance shifted gradually, with the Russians imposing pro-Russian Khans in the late 1400s, though the Khanate regained its independence in the 1520s, only to be reconquered, in 1552, ending Kazan as an independent power, though some of its people kept fighting against Moscovy for a few more years.
It looks as though the Kazans could have smashed Muscovy’s power for good at least twice in the early going. What if they had? Moscow pillaged and burned to the ground and its people hauled off into slavery. What, if anything would fill the vacuum? What would the impact be on European history if Russian unification came from somewhere other than Moscow or if it didn’t happen to the same extent or at all—a lot of warring states instead of a Russian empire?
Would the Novgorod Republic survive? It was still around as a potential rival to Moscow in the early part of this period. Would Lithuanian or Poland push east and become the unifying great power?
Without a great power Russia pushing east, would the horse-nomads have time for one more go at eastern and central Europe before improving firearms made them irrelevant?
Once the Golden Horde successor states like Kazan were out of the way, Moscovy gradually imposed itself on Russia, much like Prussia imposed itself on Germany, shaping the country to its peculiar way of doing business. Thanks to the Mongol conquests and then disintegration, Moscovy had a huge vacuum to its east that it could spread into, generally without great power opposition. It faced more serious opposition to the south and east, with the Ottoman Empire and its tributaries raiding deep into Russia and Poland sometimes invading.
As Moscovy evolved into Russia, the easy eastern expansion turned it into a bit of a paradox, a country that was always on the periphery of Europe, potentially powerful and with its leaders convinced of their power by their easy victories to the east. Despite that potential, Russia always seemed to be catching up with the rest of Europe, with strong Tsars forcing modernization that never quite managed to be self-sustaining at keeping Russia at the military, technical or economic level of central and western Europe, despite Russian literature and scientists that were second to none.
Russia’s leaders considered Russia a great power and took great pride in that status. Russian diplomats played great power games in Europe and often wrote checks with their words that the big, but often lumbering Russian army couldn’t cash. When that happened, though, the Russians had an ace in the hole, they retreated deep into Russian territory, burning crops and destroying villages in the fringes of Russian-held territory, the areas that are now the Ukraine and Belarus. (And the Russians wonder why the Ukrainians don’t want to be controlled by Moscow).
Armies lured into those areas ultimately wore themselves down, allowing the Russians to destroy them. Armies from Sweden, France under Napoleon and Germany under Hitler all went down that way.
Russia developed a kind of passive-aggressive expansionist policy. From a Russian point of view, none of their wars were wars of aggression. Some part of their very long border was threatened. They destroyed the potential aggressor, incorporated their territory into the Russian empire and somehow still had a threat on that border because the next country over saw the Russian expansion and began treating Russia as a potential enemy.
Is that pattern of endless passive aggression, expansion fueled by often non-existent threats inherent to any powerful state in the Russian geographical position or does it come from the specific history of Moscovy? Was Moscovy unifying Russia important or would any reunifying force have ended up following pretty much the same policies?
Japanese or Ainu Colonize Northwestern North America?
Before we get to that scenario, a very brief commercial interruption: I have a new book out. It’s called The Moscow Option-1942. New is a bit of a misnomer here because I originally published this version as a series of columns in my Best of SpaceBats & Butterflies Anthologies and a much earlier version was in my Alternate History Newsletters quite a few years ago. In any case, it’s now available as a single volume. It you like eastern front World War II alternate history, this should be fun.
And on to the regularly scheduled alternate history:
As I recall it, several shiploads of Japanese were shipwrecked in the Northwest in the period when Europeans were just starting to arrive there, enough that it seems likely some arrived that way before Europeans arrived. However, accidentally reaching the Americas might be dependent on colonizing more of the northern islands, which historically was a late development. The northern Japanese islands were historically dominated by the Ainu, light-skinned advanced hunter-gatherers who were probably descendants of the Jomon culture, which dominated much of Japan from around 16,000 years ago until the advent of rice farming around 200 BC or a little earlier, with Ainu in Hokkaido sort of conquered in 1457, but still predominant on the island until maybe the late 1700s, with significant Japanese/Ainu wars as late as 1789 and parts of the island still being colonized in the mid-1800s.
So if we want to get Japanese to Northwestern North America, we might have to speed up the Japanese advance into the northern islands. That would take tweaking Japanese history, probably in the 1400s or earlier to create a faster Japanese expansion. Oddball possibility: Could a successful Mongol invasion of Japan have pushed Japanese refugees further north and lead to the Japanese refugees ending up in the Pacific Northwest? That could be interesting. The Mongols succeed in their second invasion attempt in 1281 and push north, which forces the Japanese north ahead of them, which forces the Ainu into an ever more constricted part of Northern Japan. Japanese ships in this new northern Japan end up in Northwestern North America. The problem then becomes getting survivors home to tell their compatriots about this new potential place of refuge. That might not be easy. The currents seemed to favor Japanese shipwrecks on the North American coast. I’m not sure it would be easy to get back given Japanese sailing technology of the day.
Maybe we wouldn’t have to have return trips and ongoing colonization. Would a flow of Japanese shipwrecks to the Pacific Northwest starting around 1350 be enough to make a difference, maybe creating a hybrid Japanese/Indian culture? Maybe, though it would be difficult for the average Japanese fisherman or merchant sailor to recreate Japanese culture. Actually, though, Japanese fleeing from the Mongols and accidentally getting blown to North America might be a better bet. If a fleet bearing Japanese colonists to the northern islands gets blown to North America, they would be more likely to have seeds and livestock that would help them recreate at least a subset of Japanese culture. Once a culture like that lodged in North America, additional stranded sailors might find a place of refuge there and provide a tenuous tie back to Japan, even if there were no return voyages. That could be interesting—a lost Japanese culture in the Pacific Northwest and a subset of Japanese traits, weapons, foods and domestic animals spreading to surrounding Indians. That would be around 150 years before Columbus and company arrived. What would spread and how far would it go? Would much of this reach the Aztecs or whoever ended up in charge in Mexico? I would be a little surprised if much did, unfortunately for the scenario, but who knows. A lot would depend on whether horses were on one of the voyages and survived in large enough numbers to make a viable population. That’s probably unlikely, but it would speed things up a lot and make the changes more far-reaching.
Okay, so a lost Japanese colony in the Pacific Northwest is kind of a fun possibility. If we wanted to spice it up a little, we could add in shipwrecked Mongols from troops attempting to invade the northern islands. Refugee Japanese and their Mongol pursuers, both loose in the Pacific Northwest. Cool. Mongols wouldn’t be Mongols without their ponies, so maybe we could work them in too.
If we could get the Mongols and Japanese close enough to the Caribbean, we could confuse European explorers to know end.
That seems like a reasonably viable scenario, if the Mongols could successfully invade Japan. It does give the Ainu an even bigger shaft than they got historically, which would have been sad. Let’s see if we can come up with something that give the Ainu a better station in life.
The Jomon and the Ainu that descended from them were an odd culture. As I mentioned, they were advanced hunter-gatherers mostly, heavily dependent on fishing. Being advanced hunter-gatherers meant that they were actually sedentary much of the time. They used heavy pottery, a good sign that they weren’t moving around much. While they mostly depended on hunting and gathering, they did domesticate a few plants, mainly fruit trees. Historically, when Ainu-related groups adopted agriculture, they tended to merge with Japanese culture over time, while a lot of Ainu groups were resistant to agricultural lifestyles. A possible point of divergence: semi-acculturated Ainu-related groups like the Emishi from northern Honshu flee to Hokkaido rather than becoming integrated with the Japanese and establish a hybrid but predominantly Ainu population with enough ship technology to reach the American Pacific Northwest.
The Ainu were in an interesting and unique position. For some reason they seem to have been resistant to incorporating bits of mainstream Japanese culture into their own while remaining Ainu. It could be that Japanese crops required enough time-investment that they couldn’t easily be integrated bit-by-bit into a mainly hunter-gatherer culture.
At least that’s the impression I get—advanced, very together hunter-gatherers who either didn’t see a need for all this agriculture crap or flipped and incorporated into the advancing Japanese culture.
Can we do anything with them? Give them better boat-building and have them get shipwrecked on North American shores? I’m not sure what they would bring that wasn’t already in the Pacific Northwest. If they arrived early enough they could bring bows and arrows to the Indians earlier than they arrived historically. As I recall it, bows replaced spear throwers in the American northwest around 500 AD and did the same thing in Mexico around 900 AD. They hadn’t displaced spear throwers in Inca armies, though the Incas were aware of bows and hired jungle tribesmen as mercenary archers. There was a pronounced North to South gradient in the quality of Indian bows, with the quality generally quite a bit better the further north you went.
If that quality difference reflected how long the users had been archers, I suppose we could see higher quality Indian bows given an earlier introduction. Beyond earlier bows, maybe better boats and peach trees I’m not seeing a lot the Ainu could teach Indians of the Northwest.
Oh well. Lost Japanese and Mongol colonies would still be fun to play around with. It would be interesting to think through how either one would deal with would-be conquistadors.
Excuse the brief commercial interruption, but before we get to the Barbary Pirates, I want to briefly spotlight two anthologies and a novel of mine that I think deserve more attention. The two anthologies are the first and second volumes of my Best of Space Bats and Butterflies anthology series. For me, the highlight of those two anthologies is that between the two of them they contain a novel-length World War II scenario where instead of heading south after Soviet oil in the summer of 1942, the Germans decide to go after Moscow again. The ripples from that decision spread even before a single German soldier gets moved from one place to another, having an impact as far away as Burma and the Pacific. This is a much-improved version of a scenario I posted on my website back in the late 1990s. The improved version is in my opinion, the best World War II alternate history I’ve ever done.
That two-part scenario provides the setting for Marsh War, a slightly post-war novel that involves two overused themes done in a very different and, I think, more plausible way: A diehard Nazi plot for a Fourth Reich and a Soviet/US war of sorts not long after World War II ends. Here are the Amazon links to the books mentioned.
And now on to the Barbary Pirates.
The Barbary pirates were mostly Moslem pirates and raiders who operated out of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. They reached the peak of their power in the early to mid-1600s, aided by Dutch renegades, some of whom converted to Islam. In the bitter religious wars between Catholics and Protestants, the Barbary Pirates and some Protestants saw each other as allies or at least as having a common enemy.
That sort of alliance was often strained by the fact that the Barbary Pirates weren’t picky about the exact religious affiliations of the Christians they raided, though they for the most part avoided raiding ships or coasts of nations they were allied with.
The pirates enslaved at least tens of thousands and probably hundreds of thousands of Europeans, raiding ships and coastal villages. The Dutch renegades helped extend their reach, adding new ship technology with raids reaching into the Atlantic as far as England, Ireland and even Iceland.
European powers rarely united against the Barbary Pirates until after the Napoleonic wars, finding them too useful against European rivals and being too busy fighting their European rivals.
The early 1600s, and especially the period of the Thirty Years War, saw Europe at its most divided, with a huge, chaotic war over the Holy Roman empire that left much of Germany devastated and often depopulated.
The Barbary pirates took advantage of that chaos, of course, but how could we make them even more of a factor? They had to be aware that treasure fleets from the New World funded much of the Spanish war effort. Maybe one of their Dutch renegade captains comes up with the idea of a joint Dutch/Barbary Pirate effort to capture one of the Spanish treasure fleets. That wasn’t a trivial undertaking. The Dutch historically tried it several times and actually succeeded once, in 1628.
To the best of my knowledge, nobody else succeeded in capturing more than a few ships, though there were a number of attempts by various European powers.
Let’s say that the 1628 example inspires a Dutch/Barbary Pirate imitator in the early 1630s and it is at least partially successful. The pirates come home wealthy with Spanish silver and knowledge of the Americas. They inspire a host of imitators raiding up and down the thinly defended and often thinly settled New World coasts and carrying off Indians and Europeans alike as slaves. They are aided in some cases by Moslem slaves brought over from West Africa and set some of those freed slaves up as local rulers along remote stretches of coast, giving them logistics bases for future raids.
They destroy the struggling Spanish colony at St. Augustine and seize Spanish settlers there, along with missionized Indians, as slaves.
With England in turmoil under personal rule and then the English Civil War, English colonies and England itself are attractive, easy targets, with Virginia and the Puritan colonies of New England getting hit in the late 1630s and England itself getting persistently raided during personal rule and the Crown unable to raise money for defenses without calling Parliament.
The Caribbean was ripe for piracy in the 1630s and onward as the historical golden age of piracy proved. The Barbary Pirates were good at what they did, very experienced at organizing large-scale raids. Let’s say that in the 1630s and 1640s they wedge themselves into the relatively empty smaller islands of the Caribbean, at least initially with Dutch support. Islam becomes a unifying force for Indians revolting against Spanish rule or resisting it culturally.
Now nearly empty Florida is a perfect base for Barbary Pirates, giving them easy access to the chokepoint for treasure fleets in the strait between Cuba and Florida. Pirate bases there trade with and influence large parts of the Indian Southeast, in some cases spreading their religion, in others mostly symbolism and trade goods.
Indians around English colonies seek out alliances with the pirates when they can. The remnants of Powhatan’s Confederacy seek guns and powder from them in their second war against Virginia.
The Barbary Pirates in the Caribbean delay, complicate and may abort the development of the Caribbean sugar islands, brutal places that ate the lives of slaves and indentured servants in a type of slavery always thirsty for more slaves because it killed so many of them so quickly. If they stopped the development of the sugar islands entirely, that would have huge economic ramifications in Europe. Those islands were, by the time of the American Revolution, more economically important than all of North America to Europe.
So let’s stop here and think through what we have so far. I try to avoid “if-only” alternate history scenarios, but I also try to avoid extremely dark ones. Alternate Histories where the Nazis or Soviets win world domination and keep stomping their boots in human faces have zero appeal to me.
This scenario isn’t an if-only to me. It has its dark side, regardless of your views of Islam. The Barbary Pirates were, by modern American standards, not good people by any means and additional victories by them would have been accompanied by very real human suffering. Barbary pirates having fun in New and Old England during the English Civil War, hauling off young men to be Janissaries or gallery slaves and young women to decades of getting systematically raped by rich or powerful old guys is, by our standards, dark.
At the same time, getting rid of the sugar islands would have done a lot to prevent the growth of the slave trade and the development of tobacco and cotton-based slavery in the US. One set of people get lives of misery while another avoids it.
To some extent all of alternate history involves tradeoffs like that, though we often avoid thinking the scenarios through enough to see those tradeoffs or in some cases fail to see the new victims as having the same humanity as the historic victims. For some reason, this scenario brought the trade-offs home to me more starkly than most.
Before I get into the alternate history, I just want to chat briefly about how my various alternate history novels, novellas and other writing are doing in terms of people buying and reading them. I have significant writing in 12 novels, 2 stand-alone novellas, 5 of my own anthologies and have stories in 3 anthologies edited by other people, so a total of 22 books with at least some of my writing in them. Putting that all together sounds surprisingly impressive, actually. In any case, I don’t have access to numbers on four of those books because they are traditionally published. I do have the numbers on the books I published myself for May 2022 so far. This is all in percentages.
First, roughly 60 percent of my revenue for the month comes from Kindle Unlimited reads. Of that, 79.5% comes from the two books in the Snapshot-42 series. I’m a little surprised that they’re that high a percent, but they’re sort of Alternate World War II and that’s overwhelmingly the most popular alternate history category, plus I released a new novel in the series a few months ago. My two New Galveston novels are next, with just under 9 percent. They sold well in past months but are starting to trail off a little. Marsh War, a recent novel set in the aftermath of an alternate World War II, is underperforming, frankly, at 4.46 percent, just a little over the 4.41% for my Space Bats & Butterflies anthologies, which are also starting to trail off. The rest of my Kindle Unlimited reads are from what I call the long tail, a trickle of reads from books that have been out for several years, like Char, which had a little upsurge toward the end of the month, thanks to Australian reads, or Snapshot II: The Necklace of Time, still good stuff, but most of my intended audience have already read them or decided to pass.
How about actual purchases? There, the two Snapshot-42 novels still dominate, but not as much. They’re at a little over 65 percent of purchases. Surprisingly, the two Snapshot Jungle Adventure stories come in next, with around 15.4%, pushing the New Galveston novels down to third place with around 7.7%. Marsh War comes in at less than 4% and the rest is the long tail, books that came out years ago but still get sporadic purchases.
What does all this mean? Mainly, I need to do a better job of marketing Marsh War. It’s a good read, combining two popular themes, a Nazi attempt at a fourth Reich and a Soviet/US war of sorts in the near immediate aftermath of World War II, all mixed in a way I don’t think anyone else has thought of, but I need to figure out how to convince people to try the novel.
Just a little more self-promotion, then on the main event: If you would like to check out any of the novels I mentioned, feel free to visit my Amazon Author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Dale-R.-Cozort/e/B003ODYYNY. It has links to everything I’ve mentioned and almost everything else I’ve published..
And on to the Mamluks:
The Mamluks were a major power in the Middle East, with a base in Egypt and control into Syria. In the 1490s they fought the Ottomans to a stalemate. Then, around 1516, the Ottomans came back for a rematch and destroyed the Mamluks as a independent power They continued as Ottoman subjects into the 1800s, but never recovered, never became a great power again.
I think I know why the power-shift between the Mamluks and Ottomans happened–mainly the Ottomans figured out how to use artillery and other firearms effectively before other powers in the area and used that knowledge to clobber the Persians in 1510 and then the Mamluks a few years later.
Other factors: The Mamluks fought a disastrous war with the Portuguese between their two wars with the Ottomans. The Portuguese managed to cut off a lot of the Mamluk revenue from the Indian Ocean trade and exposed Mamluk weakness.
How could the Ottomans have won big in the 1490s and what would the implications have been? Conversely, how could the Mamluks have survived the 1516 war as a great power and how would that have changed the balance of power in North Africa and in Europe?
As I did a bit more research on the period, the question evolved a bit. The Ottomans weren’t just successful against the Mamluks and Persians. They were also devastating against European opponents like the Hungarians at Mohacs and other Balkan opponents. Part of that was two very effective rulers in a row, Selim I followed by Suleiman the Magnificent. While Selim’s reign was shorter, he did a lot of the early conquests, including the Persian and Mamluk ones. The other part was the Ottoman use of Janissaries—slave soldiers as an initially well-disciplined and effective standing army.
Selim I was arguably a usurper. His father arguably designated one of his other sons as successor, but Selim took over, killing most of his close relatives as potential threats to his power. That provoked a brief Ottoman civil war from 1509 to 1513, but the Janissaries closed ranks around Selim, partly because of some missteps his rival made in attempting to suppress a Shiite rebellion in Anatolia. Those missteps resulted in the death of his most powerful supporter and alienated the Janissaries.
Make this an extended Civil War, maybe with the Janissaries splintering into warring factions or worse yet backing the side that ultimately lost and being suppressed or disbanded. If Selim I doesn’t become Sultan, presumably neither does his son, Sulieman the Magnificent. Historically, Selim I died in 1520 at age 49. Maybe extend the fighting until then and have Selim die approximately on schedule. Instead of expanding dramatically between 1513 and 1520, the Ottomans become a partial vacuum, with peripheral and recent conquests breaking away and the surrounding powers fishing in those troubled waters.
For what it is worth, the partial vacuum would have probably allowed Shia Islam to spread further west, carried by Persian armies, which had been expanding in a major way until the Ottomans crushed them. It would undoubtedly have led to widespread revolts in the European parts of the empire, especially Serbia, and a reprieve, at least for a while, for the Knights of Rhodes.
With the Ottoman conquest of North Africa delayed, would Spanish attempts to extend the Reconquista into North Africa be more successful?
Going back to the original question, would the Mamluks survive longer-term if they were given a reprieve by the Ottoman civil war I envision? Were they capable of reforming their military to match Ottoman advances in using artillery and muskets? Would they and the Persians force the Ottoman Empire to divert more of its power to their eastern and southern flanks, making them less formidable in Europe? Would the eclipse of Ottoman power be temporary or would they remain less powerful than they were historically through the period where they were historically a major threat to Europe?
The Ottoman Empire at its peak had tentacles a lot of unexpected places. In the 1620s, it was battling Poland/Lithuania for what is now the Ukraine. The French were using the Ottomans to offset Hapsburg power in Europe when the Hapsburgs became overwhelmingly powerful in 1520s through much of the mid-1500s. The Ottomans were pushing into the Mediterranean, overrunning Cyprus and reducing the power of Venice in a series of wars. If Ottoman power went into long-term eclipse, what would the impact in the Eastern Mediterranean be? A longer-lived, more power Venice? The Ottomans fought Portugal in the Indian Ocean in the 1530s and 1540s, and helped a local sultan invade Ethiopia, though the Portuguese eventually won those wars. If the Mamluks had remained independent, they would probably have been the predominant power trying to deal with the Portuguese. Would the Portuguese have expanded their power further in the Indian Ocean without the Ottomans opposing them? Would Ethiopia have done better against surrounding non-Christian powers?
Beyond that, I’m sure there are plenty of other implications of Ottoman weakness. Any speculations on any of these scenarios are welcome, of course, as are thoughts on the opposite course: An earlier Ottoman defeat of the Mamluks and faster Ottoman spread into North Africa.
First, a little self-promotion: I recently started putting a new novel-length work of mine on Kindle Vella. Kindle Vella is Amazon’s entry into a growing market for stories broken down into short episodes that come out every few days to a week. This is an experiment for me. I think the idea has potential and I had a novel-length work pretty close to ready to go, so I went with it. If you would like to check it out, the first three episodes are free, after which you use tokens to unlock additional episodes. You get a couple hundred tokens when you join Kindle Vella, so you can probably get quite a way into my episodes before you have to decide where the work is worth actually spending money on.
So what is the story about? It’s a cross between alternate history and space opera. Near future Earth suddenly finds itself in a different version of the solar system, one where humans have been running around the solar system for thirty thousand years, with periodic rises and falls, and the mysterious non-human Builders go back at least 3 million years. We’re suddenly in a much more interesting solar system and it’s a tough neighborhood, with warlike and heavily armed races running around, raiding, trading and conquering. In any case, here is the link:
And on to the main event: This isn’t exactly alternate history, but some of it is relevant to alternate history and I wanted to pass them on. A few years ago, I moderated a panel at a con called: “Are Galactic Empires Possible?” This was the kind of panel I like, with an audience that came close to filling the room and was very engaged throughout the panel, fellow panelists who said what they wanted to say very succinctly and nobody trying to turn it into their own personal lecture. Several people came up afterwards to comment on how good a panel it was.
So, what kind of conclusions did we come up with?
First, a galactic empire with intelligent aliens as part of it is much more difficult than a humans only one to maintain. We have enough problems governing given human cultural differences. Add in citizens that came up from a different primordial slime under a different sun and the difficulties go up exponentially. Also, the idea of wars of conquest between interstellar races is probably not going to happen because the technology level differences are likely to be too huge. One side will almost certainly be capable of swatting the other aside like flies. You might get wars and revolts between intelligent species if one species rules the other for a while and the technology equalizes.
Second, means of transportation and communication are one of the keys. You have to be able to get between inhabited planets fast enough to give orders and see that they’re obeyed. We didn’t discuss this much, but you also have to be able to get an enforcer group that can hold down a rebellious planet to that planet quickly or have some means of mass coercion.
Also, you need the “software” of ruling. We looked at the way various Earth empires built and controlled their empires, from China’s overland expansion that absorbed the people around them and even people who conquered them, to European countries of the 1500s and 1600s that didn’t have the capacity to govern a universal monarchy even if they stumbled into it, like the Habsburgs sort of did under Charles—not quite universal, but as close as anyone got until Napoleon.
Spain, ironically, did better in controlling their overseas empire, with few revolts and no successful ones from the fifteen-hundreds through the early eighteen hundreds. It did that partly be rigidly keeping some functions out of the colonies, like essentially any kind of manufacturing. New Spain wasn’t even allowed to make paper, which meant that it was chronically short supply. Spain also allowed their Viceroys a LOT of trust in some cases, to the point where in the 1540s the Spanish crown issued a set of laws that would have stripped the descendants of the conquistadors of their allotments of Indians, one of the major spoils of the conquest. In Peru, the local Spanish revolted, killed Spanish officials and remained independent for a number of years. In Mexico, the Viceroy got the orders, thought about it and sent back a message that said basically, “We got your orders, and we obey of course, but we’re not going to actually do that.”
That’s a delicate balance. The crown had to trust their local representative enough to realize that he wasn’t revolting. He just knew the facts on the ground well enough that he knew implementing those laws would have been a disaster. Could a galactic empire strike the balance between giving local representatives power to deal with local conditions without giving them so much power that the empire became an empire in name only?
Spain struggled with that balance throughout the days of the Spanish empire, with draconian controls that still didn’t mean that the crown could actually make the empire do what it wanted. For example, the Spanish crown fought against Indian slavery throughout most of the empire’s existence, because from their point of view the Indians were subjects of the crown too. Early on, Queen Isabella got upset when someone presented her with Indian slaves. “Why are you parading my subjects in front of me as slaves?” Despite the crown’s disapproval, Indians were held as slaves in various guises throughout the Spanish New World empire’s existence, with the formal legalities mutating. In New Mexico, the last iteration, hereditary debt peonage, wasn’t abolished until after the Civil War, either the last kind of slavery to exist in the US or close to it, though some would argue that some of the prison work gangs in the south approximated slavery.
To a certain extent, we’ve gotten better at running a large organization, at least at the country level. Our federal bureaucracy has a level of control over people and the economy that a Spanish king could only dream of, partly because so much of the economy is money or digital money based and they can identify and control the flows, though by no means completely.
Then again, while the bureaucracy has that control, that doesn’t mean that any one government leader effectively has that control. When I worked at the Illinois Bureau of the Budget, Illinois had a long-term, very powerful governor, Jim Thompson. But even Thompson didn’t control the state bureaucracy in any meaningful way. It was a collection of fiefdoms who gave nominal allegiance to the governor, but mostly did what they wanted. The governor appointed people at the top, but it was as if they were walking through a huge, dark warehouse with a flashlight. Where that flashlight beam went, that they controlled, until the flashlight moved on. They could influence outside the beam and could punish open revolt, but their actual control was minimal.
If more people had actually worked in a state or federal bureaucracy, I suspect we would see science fiction where instead of corporations taking over and fighting wars, you would see novels where central control breaks down entirely and the pieces of the bureaucracy fight turf wars with actual “kill people and break things” weapons instead of just the more subtle tools they currently use. And I’m rambling.
We also looked at the motivation for a galactic empire. What would be scarce enough that it was worth fighting for? Transportation hubs might be one motivation, if there were only certain places you could go for faster than light travel. Other than that, we couldn’t come up with much. Economies are shifting away from raw materials in favor of information as the primary value and information generally isn’t going to be scarce unless there are artificial constraints like copyrights and patents.
Then we asked, what would motivate the average citizen to support an empire with their taxes and their sons and daughters? Why would anyone be willing to kill or die in a galaxy where scarcity is going to be increasingly difficult to maintain? Raw materials? If you can fly interstellar, there isn’t much you can’t have plenty of. Adventure? That would have to compete with increasingly good virtual reality. How many people are going to want to be the equivalent of a Star Trek red shirt guarding a prisoner when they can go to the equivalent of a Holodeck and be the captain?
Finally, we talked about what would keep people inside a galactic empire? If you can do interstellar, why not keep going, outside the empire, whatever those borders are? How does an empire keep control of their citizens if those citizens can leave, with a nearly infinite number of places to go?