Ten Most Intriguing Alternate History Scenarios

Alternate history has always been the staple of novelists, science fiction writers and conspiracy theorists because of the whole host probabilities and scenarios that one can think of. Of course, any alternate history is subject to anyone's interpretations and assessments.

Alternate history has always been the staple of novelists, science fiction writers and conspiracy theorists because of the whole host probabilities and scenarios that one can think of. Of course, any alternate history is subject to anyone's interpretations and assessments. A minor divergence in the historical timeline will always create a gigantic ripple effect that would have changed the outcome of the history that we always thought it was. What do you think are the most common scenarios in this genre?

1. WHAT IF THE CONFEDERATES WON THE CIVIL WAR?
Effect: America becomes one nation again… in 1960.

In a 1960 article published in Look magazine, author and Civil War buff MacKinlay Kantor envisioned a history in which the Confederate forces won the Civil War in 1863, forcing the despised President Abraham Lincoln into exile. The Confederate forces annexed Washington, DC and renamed it the District of Dixie. The USA (or what’s left of it) moves its capital to Columbus, Ohio (now called  Columbia in this alternate timeline) but can no longer afford to buy Alaska from the Russians. Texas, unhappy with the new arrangement, declares its independence in 1878. Under international pressure, the Southern states gradually abolish slavery. After fighting together in two world wars, the three nations are reunified in 1960 – a century after South Carolina’s secession had led to the Civil War in the first place.


Alternate history king Harry Turtledove has suggested the possible outcomes in 11 volumes. The first novel, "How Few Remain" (1997), introduced a world where, years after the war, the United States is divided into two nations: the U.S.A. and the C.S.A. Later volumes were set in the Great War, in which the C.S.A. allies with Britain and France, and the U.S.A. – still bitter over the two Civil Wars – joins forces with Germany. Using advanced technology, the U.S. is on the winning side. In the South, post-war measures lead to runaway inflation, poverty, and the victory of the violent Freedom party. The newly fascist C.S.A. then plans a Final Solution for the “surplus” black population. In the Second Great War (1941-1944), three American cities and six European cities are destroyed in nuclear attacks. At the end of the war, the U.S.A. side wins again, and takes control of the C.S.A.

2. WHAT IF CHARLES LINDBERGH BECAME US PRESIDENT IN 1940?
Effect: The United States became Nazi Germany's allies.

In Philip Roth’s bestselling novel "The Plot Against America" (2002), trans-Atlantic pilot and all-American hero Charles Lindbergh becomes the Republican presidential candidate in 1940, defeating the incumbent U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt. President Lindbergh, a white supremacist and anti-Semite, declares martial law, throws his opponents in prison, and allies with Nazi Germany in World War II.


3. WHAT IF NAZI GERMANY HAS SUCCESSFULLY INVADED THE SOVIET UNION?
Effect: Adolf Hitler is revered in history as a great leader.

In Robert Harris’ novel "Fatherland," Nazi Germany successfully invades the Soviet Union in 1942. Learning that Britain has broken the Enigma code, however, the Nazis play it safe and make peace with the West. Through the magic of propaganda, Adolf Hitler is revered 20 years later as a beloved leader. It’s an alternate history, of course, but Harris was drawing a parallel with real history: this was Joseph Stalin’s Russia with the names changed.


4. WHAT IF JAMES DEAN SURVIVED HIS 'FATAL' CAR CRASH?
Effect: Robert Kennedy survives his assassination attempt.

Jack Dann’s 2004 novel "The Rebel" envisions a history in which Hollywood heartthrob James Dean survives his fatal car crash in 1955. Now that he survived, Dean would have inspired one of his fans, Elvis Presley, to leave rock-and-roll and become a serious actor (which was always his ambition). Dean would later become the Democratic Governor of California, consigning his opponent Ronald Reagan to the dustbin of history. In the 1968 presidential election, he would be Robert Kennedy’s running mate, eventually saving him from the assassin’s bullet.


5. WHAT IF JFK HAD SURVIVED THE ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT?
Effect: Republicans win every election for the next 30 years.

The 1963 Kennedy assassination is a popular event of alternate history, inspiring novels, stage plays and short story collections. In an essay in the book "What Ifs? of American History" (2003), Robert Dallek, a Kennedy biographer, suggested that JFK would have successfully pulled out of Vietnam, and that he would be popular enough at the end of his second term to be succeeded by his brother, the Attorney-General Robert Kennedy. As a result, there will be no Watergate, more national optimism, and less voter cynicism.

On the other hand, some writers have envisioned a darker outcome and that JFK would provoke violent anti-war marches, accidentally start World War III, or continue his affair with Marilyn Monroe and perhaps divorce his First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

One of the more unusual theories was written in 1993, on the 30th anniversary of President Kennedy’s death. London Daily Express journalist Peter Hitchens wrote a fictitious obituary, in which Kennedy survives, and goes on to become one of America’s most unpopular presidents before finally dying at age 75, mourned by almost nobody. His presidency, the article speculated, would be so disastrous that Democrats wouldn’t occupy the White House for at least another 25 years. Even Bush’s vice-president, Dan Quayle, would be propelled to the presidency after winning a debate against Bill Clinton.


6. WHAT IF CHRISTIANITY WENT TO THE WEST A LITTLE LATE?
Effect: The Enlightenment starts early – and lasts a thousand years.

French philosopher Charles Renouvier’s book "Uchronie" (1876) suggested a history in which Christianity didn’t come to the west through the Roman Empire, due to a minor divergence of events after the reign of Marcus Aurelius. In this alternate timeline, Europe enjoys an extra millennium of classical culture while Christianity spreads throughout the east. When Christianity finally goes West, it is absorbed harmlessly into the multi-religious society.


7. WHAT IF THE BEATLES HAD BROKEN UP IN 1966?
Effect: Ronald Reagan is assassinated in 1985.

In Edward Morris' story "Imagine" published in the magazine Interzone in 2005 is written as an article by the legendary rock journalist Lester Bangs, which reminisces about Beatlemania – and the Beatles being banned in California after John Lennon controversially states that they are “more popular than Jesus." This leads the Fab Four to disband. Almost 20 years later, Lennon, now an embittered has-been, assassinates U.S. President Ronald Reagan, whose actions – as the conservative Governor of California – had played their part in the break-up.

In this history, while Reagan died 19 years early, other people are granted extended lives. Lennon’s obscurity, of course, ensures that he is not killed by a fan in 1980. Bangs also survives the fate he suffered in reality, where he died of an accidental overdose in 1982, aged 33.


8. WHAT IF THE ROMANS WON THE BATTLE OF THE TEUTOBURG FOREST?
Effect: No one would speak English.

An essay by the late Lewis H. Lapham, then editor of Harper’s Magazine, recalled a little-known confrontation in 9 AD between the Roman legions and the Germanic tribes at the Teutoburg Forest. The tribes ambushed and destroyed three Roman legions in this campaign, and the Romans would never again attempt to conquer Germania beyond the Rhine.

Lapham suggested that, if the Romans had won, world history would have been remarkably different, with a “Roman empire preserved from ruin, Christ dying… on an unremembered cross, the nonappearance of the English language, neither the need nor the occasion for a Protestant Reformation… and Kaiser Wilhelm seized by an infatuation with stamps… instead of a passion for cavalry boots.”


9. WHAT IF THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION NEVER HAPPENED?
Effect: Christianity would continue to rule the world.

Renowned novelist Kingsley Amis entered the alternate-history genre in 1976 with his award-winning novel "The Alteration." In his imagined history, Henry VIII’s short-lived older brother Arthur has a son just before his death. When Henry tries to usurp his nephew’s throne, he is defeated in a papal war. Hence, the Church of England is never founded, the Spanish Armada is never defeated (as Elizabeth I was never born), and Martin Luther reconciles with the Catholic Church, eventually becoming Pope. Naturally, this turns Europe into a vastly different place. By 1976, it is ruled by the Vatican, in the middle of a long-running Christian/Muslim cold war, and technologically regressed, as electricity is banned and scientists are frowned upon.


10. WHAT IF NAPOLEON KEPT ON WINNING?
Effect: Revolution in South America.

Probably the first book-length alternate history, Napoleon and the Conquest of the World: 1812-1823 (published in 1836) imagined that Napoleon, rather than freezing in Moscow in 1812, sought out and destroyed the Russian army. One chapter mentions a fantasy novel in which the Emperor suffered a major defeat in the Belgian town of Waterloo.

But what if Napoleon had won the Battle of Waterloo in 1815? This question was asked in 1907, in an essay contest held by London's Westminster Gazette. The winning essay, by G. M. Trevelyan, suggested that Napoleon would lose interest in expanding his empire, partly because his health was suffering, and partly because the mood in Paris was for peace. England, however, would suffer economically, with many people starving. The poet Lord Byron would lead a popular uprising against the government, which would be suppressed. Byron's execution, of course, would only inspire a revolution. Meanwhile, a war of independence would stir in South America. With Napoleon ailing, the French government would nearly cease functioning, attacked from all sides.


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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: Ten Most Intriguing Alternate History Scenarios
Ten Most Intriguing Alternate History Scenarios
Alternate history has always been the staple of novelists, science fiction writers and conspiracy theorists because of the whole host probabilities and scenarios that one can think of. Of course, any alternate history is subject to anyone's interpretations and assessments.
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