Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Alternate histories present an opportunity to think outside of the box

In the world of author Harry Turtledove there were actually four wars, instead of just one, fought between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America.
Harry Turtledove
The starting point for Turtledove’s alternate version of history is Sept. 10, 1862. In our reality, a Confederate messenger lost Special Order 191, which provided details for Gen. Robert E. Lee’s invasion plans. After the orders were intercepted by Union troops, Gen. George McClellan stopped the Army of Northern Virginia at the Battle of Antietam and the war continued for more than two more years.
In Turtledove’s “How Few Remain,” the orders are recovered and delivered to Lee. Thus, McClellan is caught by surprise by the Army of Northern Virginia as it advances towards Philadelphia and the Battle of Camp Hill on Oct. 1 on the banks of the Susquehanna River destroying the Army of the Potomac. Lee goes on to capture Philadelphia earning the Confederate States of America diplomatic recognition from both the United Kingdom and France. With the end of the War of Secession the Confederate States are granted independence from the United States on Nov. 4, 1862.
After the war’s conclusion, Kentucky joins the 11 original Confederate states, and the Confederacy is also given Indian Territory, which we would call the state of Oklahoma, but in Turtledove’s scenario it is referred to the state of Sequoyah. The Spanish-owned island of Cuba is purchased by the Confederate States in the 1870s for $3 million, thus also becoming a Confederate territory.
Also, President Abraham Lincoln is defeated in his bid for re-election in 1864 and thus is not assassinated at Ford’s Theater in April 1865.
In 1881, Republican James G. Blaine is elected as the first president from his political party since Lincoln. It is a time of Indian raids into the territory of each country. Tension reaches it’s high point when Confederate President James “Old Pete” Longstreet purchases the northwestern provinces of Sonora and Chihuahua from the financially strapped Maximilian-ruled Mexican Empire for $3 million. That act, giving the Confederates a Pacific port, Guaymas, precipitated what Turtledove called the Second Mexican War as the United States declares war on the Confederacy. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, old “Stonewall,” general-in-chief of the Confederate Army, is ready and eager to strike at the Yankees once more. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart is in the Sonoran Desert defending the new Confederate territories from the Yankees. Stuart forms an alliance with the Apaches under Geronimo. Eventually, that alliance falls apart.
Meanwhile, Union cavalry Col. George Armstrong Custer uses Gatling guns against Kiowa Indians and the Confederate cavalry in Kansas. During the war, the Mormons in Utah rebel by severing transcontinental communication and transportation around Salt Lake City. Former President Lincoln is in Salt Lake City at the time of the rebellion as part of a nationwide lecture tour on the benefits of socialism as espoused by Karl Marx. The U.S. military governor, puts down the revolt, and imposes martial law declaring the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a political organization resulting in Mormon leaders being hunted down and executed. Lincoln is also detained and almost executed by the military.
The attempt by the United States to invade Virginia is easily thrown back by Gen. Stonewall Jackson. Gen. William Rosecrans, the commander of the entire U.S. army, casually reveals at one point that there is no overall strategy for winning the war whatsoever. This lack of planning leaves the German military observer, Alfred von Schlieffen, aghast.
The United States next attempts to launch a massive invasion of Louisville to knock the Confederates out of Kentucky but it soon becomes a bloody stalemate. The United Kingdom and France shell the Great Lakes ports; France also shells Los Angeles, while the British bombard San Francisco and raid the Federal mint, an event reported by newspaper editor Samuel Langhorne Clemens.
Meanwhile, in the Montana Territory a young volunteer cavalry colonel, Theodore Roosevelt and Col. George Armstrong Custer reluctantly work together to rout a British division under the command of Gen. Charles “Chinese” Gordon after an invasion from Canada.
Finally, facing defeat on almost all fronts, Republican President James G. Blaine is forced to capitulate. A Republican is never again elected to the White House. The United States, learning the importance of strong allies, seeks an alliance with the newly formed and powerful German Empire.
Turtledove’s next novel “The Great War: American Front” begins on June 28, 1914, the same day Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo.
World War I breaks out and spreads to North America, where the pro-German United States under Democratic President Theodore Roosevelt declares war on Confederate President Woodrow Wilson, which is allied with Great Britain and France.
The novel ends in the autumn of 1915, with the beginning of a Marxist black rebellion against the war-distracted government of the CSA.
Most of the characters in the books are small-time folks being caught up in the bigger world of a global war. One main character whose destiny will be intertwined with that of the twentieth century is an artillery sergeant named Jake Featherston.
This book is followed by “The Great War: Walk in Hell” and then “The Great War: Breakthroughs.” Eventually, the United States is victorious with territorial gains that include Kentucky, portions of Virginia and Sonora, as well as the oil-rich Indian lands known as the state of Sequoyah.
Jake Featherston’s immediate superior is Capt. J.E.B. Stuart III, who has a Negro servant who appears to sympathize with the Marxist black rebellion. Featherston points this out to investigators, but Stuart hides the servant and then he allows himself to be killed in battle. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart II, chief of the Confederate Army general staff, attempts to protect the reputation of his son by blocking the promotion of Featherston to officer rank for the duration of the war.
The next installment of Turtledove’s version of history is the three-book “American Empire” series.
Following the Great War, the United States and German Empire are the dominant world powers. Having led the U.S. to victory, President Theodore Roosevelt looses his third-term bid to the Socialist candidate Upton Sinclair.
Meanwhile, in a defeated Confederacy wracked by inflation and despair, the former Confederate Army sergeant Jake Featherston and his Freedom Party are preaching a message of hate, blaming the southern aristocracy and the Negro Marxist rebellion for the Confederacy’s defeat.
As the 1920s draw to a close the world economy crashes and the Great Depression begins, paving the way for fanatics and demagogues the world over to seize power.
The “American Empire” series is followed by the “Settling Accounts” tetralogy, which starts on June 22, 1941, with Confederate President Jake Featherston launching a war with aerial bombing attacks on all major U.S. cities within reach of the border, followed by an invasion of Ohio from Kentucky, which is cut in half by Confederate ground and armored forces led by Confederate Gen. George S. Patton.
Before the war began Featherston had launched a campaign of genocide against the country’s black population. One can see parallels with the genocide of the Jews in our timeline. Meanwhile, the Mormon population of Utah rebels against the United States with support from the CSA, and proclaims the state of Deseret, forcing the United States to send troops to try to put down the uprising. And, Japan attacks the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), sinking a U.S. carrier and threatening to capture the islands, and taking Midway Island, resulting in fierce naval and air battles.
Both sides launch air raids on enemy cities, and Confederate aircraft manage to kill Socialist U.S. President Al Smith during a raid on Philadelphia, forcing the inexperienced Vice-President Charlie LaFollette to take office
Later in the war, both sides are desperately seeking a nuclear bomb, and the Confederates try to stall the U.S. nuclear program by bombing the U.S. nuclear project site in Washington, to which the U.S. replies by bombing the Confederate nuclear research site in Virginia.
The U.S. demands the CSA’s unconditional surrender: the Confederates refuse and fire two long-range rockets into Philadelphia. With British aid, the Confederacy produces a fission bomb and “nukes” the outskirts of Philadelphia. The U.S. responds by dropping nuclear bombs on Newport News and Charleston. Nuclear bombs also destroy six cities in Europe, Petrograd, Paris, Hamburg, London, Brighton, and Norwich.
Texas declares independence from the Confederacy and arrests extermination camp officials. Featherston attempts to escape to the deep South, but his plane is shot down, and he is killed by an anti-Confederate guerrilla.
Confederate Vice President Don Partridge then takes office, and agrees to unconditionally surrender to the United States. Top Confederate officials are arrested, tried, and most of them are executed. The Confederates involved in the murder of blacks are also extradited from Texas, tried for crimes against humanity, and hanged.
The U.S. dissolves the Confederate government and places the country under indefinite military occupation. The revolt in Canada is also suppressed, and Texas remains independent but hosts U.S. troops on its soil.
These series of books show that Turtledove is the virtual master of alternate reality. He inserts familiar names from our reality to see if the reader is paying attention. The plot he weaves is so real you find yourself believing it rather than what