Monday, February 12, 2007

Historical What Ifs?

These are worth thinking about.

1. What if Alexander the Great had had an heir? What form would his Empire taken?
2. What if Hitler had died from a Gas attack in World War I? Would Communism spread much
quicker? Would the State of Israel been born?
3. What if the American Revolution had failed? Would the U.S. be part of the Commonwealth today or would it have gained independence later? Would it still be a Superpower today?
4. What if Japan had defeated the U.S. in the Second World War’s Pacific Theatre? Would communism still have taken hold in China? Would the Soviet Union have emerged as a Superpower? Would the Cold War involve three parties instead of two?
5. What if Alaska had never been sold to the U.S. by the Russians? How would this have affected Canada and the U.S.? What type of Cold War situations could have arisen in such a universe?
6. What if paganisn had succeeded in halting the advance of Christianity in Europe? Would the Jews still have been persecuted? Would Europe been saved the ravages of religious war? How would Islam have spread with no large scale counter-balancing force?
7. What if the English had not defeated the French in Canada? Would a significantly larger portion of North America have become Francophone? How would this have changed the complexion of the U.S.?
8. What if Britain had been connected to Europe by an isthmus? Would the country have developed the Great Empire it once held? Would English been so universal a language? How dominant would the Royal Navy have been in power politics? Would Napoleon and Hitler have successfully invaded and conquered Britain?
9. What if the Ancient super-continent of Pangaea had not split apart? How would this have changed Power Politics assuming the development of modern countries?
10. What if males and females had equal physical strength? Would so many societies have been male- dominated? Would there be more or less strife? Would the population have increased by the large number that it has?
11. What if the Arabs had accepted the 1947 Palestine Partition Plan? Would an Arab state have existed in peaceful harmony with a Jewish state? Would the region be wealthier for it? Would the Arab-Israeli Wars that followed still have taken place?
12. What if the American political and economic experiment was copied in South America after many countries on that continent gained independence in the 19th Century? Would South America be a center of power today? Would the U.S. role in Western Hemisphere politics have been diminished? Would the South American countries eventually have united to form a Federation?
13. What if Genghis Khan’s hordes had reached Paris? How would this have affected European History?
14. What if the Magna Carta had never been signed? Would British Liberalism still have evolved? Would the country have been cursed by a greater degree of reactionary tendencies?
15. What if the Roman Empire never existed? Would Western Civilization have been so pervasive


Rooksmoor said...

I have had a go at two of these 'what if?' questions on my own blog.

For 8. about what I call the 'Dover Isthmus' see:

For 9. about Pangaea surviving see:

For the Pangaea one I have done a map roughly showing where modern day cities would be if all the continents were still part of that super-continent.

As to Question 4. I think you have two separate things going on here that need to separated out. One is what if Japan had defeated the USA in the Pacific and the other is about the post-1945 development of the USSR and China. I will focus on the second one, because the questions you ask about did in fact come true.

The USSR was well on the way to being a superpower even before the Second World War started, the war damaged its industry and slowed its development down and of course cost millions of lives of its citizens, but even this did not stop it becoming a superpower, with atomic weapons by 1949. Even in 1912 the Germans had foreseen Russia becoming a superpower (along with the USA and the British Empire) and the revolutions, civil war and world wars only delayed not prevented this.

China would have probably have become Communist sooner or later`whether the Japanese were victorious or not. The civil war between the Communists and the Nationalist GMD had started in 1927 and only halted when Japan invaded but resumed once Japan was defeated. Japan never conquered the whole of China and though it may have been able to cling to coastal cities I believe it would have had difficulty suppressing the Communists as once the war in Europe was at an end the Japanese would face the Soviets who would have backed the Chinese Communists. It may have taken longer than in our world, and ironically it may have ultimately been the USSR rather than the USA that dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

As to the Cold War involved three parties rather than two, that is not a 'what if?' that is what really happened. Despite what American policymakers believed, China and the USSR were at each others' throats from the mid-1950s onwards and the Third World War was almost a USSR-China war in 1961 over Chinese nuclear developments. English-speakers have a very US-centred view of the Cold War, but the Third World War could have occurred very easily without NATO or the USA firing a single weapon. Mao Zedong believed he could win a nuclear war because China's population was so large (four times that of the USSR in the 1960s). It was only when President Nixon came to power in 1969 that American policymakers began to realise that the USSR and China were not a single bloc and so began to develop relations with China to balance those with the USSR.

What Japanese defeat of American forces in the Pacific would have meant is fascinating. It certainly would have left Indochina, the Malay States, Indonesia and the Philippines under Japanese control so dealing a harsh blow to the key imperial powers in the region. There may have been an extended UK-Japan war over India, Burma and Australia. It is likely that the Indians would have not been happy to come under Japanese control so even if the British were repelled Japan would have had a harsh war against India, far from home. Australia might not have been worthwhile invading though such an attack was planned for. It may have been cowed into neutrality because its population was tiny compared even to the Home Islands of Japan.

If you do not mind I will look at the 'what if?'s you have put forward here and will check back if I discuss any of them on my blog as I really enjoy exploring counter-factuals.

All the best,


Rooksmoor said...

Looking at Question 3., I also had a go at this one, please see:

As for Question 5. about Russian America I looked at this as part of a huge discussion of different Americas, see:

As to Question 4., I forgot that I had done a discussion of a USSR-China Third World War:



Rooksmoor said...

Sorry to keep going on. I have also had a shot at discussing what if the Mongols had not turned back in 1241 which sort of covers your Question 13. My discussion is at:

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