Sunday, March 29, 2015

Guest Post from Chris Oakley: The Oslo-Edinburgh Highway Opens

September 22nd, 1999--Oslo-Edinburgh Highway Opens

A party of Norwegian construction engineers met up with a team of Scottish highway workers to lay the last square of pavement on the Oslo-Edinburgh Highway, the longest overland road built in western Europe up to that time. It marked the climax to a 25-year long program to modernize a travel route that had linked the British Isles and Norway for centuries; when the highway was officially opened for motor travel on September 23rd, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher hailed the moment as “a notable step forward in the history of transportation and commerce”. And in fact it would prove to be a major boon not just for Great Britain and Norway but for the European Union as a whole-- in its first six weeks of operation, the Oslo-Edinburgh Highway would see two million tourists from all parts of Europe drive across its span to pump money into businesses at both ends of the highway as well as the shops lining the miles in between.

The establishment of the Oslo-Edinburgh Highway was the latest chapter in the history of a land bridge between the British Isles and Scandanavia whose existence dated back to 30,000 B.C., when geological forces began to push seabed material up at both ends of the North Sea to form the initial segments of the bridge. Over the ensuing centuries, these forces continued steadily thrusting bedrock up to the North Sea's surface; by the year 200 A.D., the land bridge would span the entire length of the North Sea between the Scottish and Norwegian coasts. As early as 245 A.D. it was already becoming a popular travel route for traders, merchants, and religious pilgrims seeking to make their way from Scandinavia to England or vice versa. The land bridge was also viewed as a convenient entry point into Scotland for invading armies, as countless Viking military expeditions across the bridge between 810 and 951 A.D. would later demonstrate.

As trade and commerce grew in Europe, so did the land bridge's importance in European affairs; at least two of the three Anglo-Dutch wars of the 17th century were fought in part because because of the Netherlands' desire to deprive Great Britain of the profits gained from tolls paid to the British government by travelers crossing the bridge. During the American Revolution Benjamin Franklin proposed sending a raiding party to the Scottish coast to attack and destroy the main British customs house at the Scottish end of the land bridge; though the idea was never implemented by the Americans, it put enough of a scare into King George III and his military advisors to induce them to station troops and ships within the custom house's vicinity, tying up military resources that might otherwise have been used against the colonists.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy would send ships to patrol the waters around the land bridge as a warning to the Swedish-Norwegian Union-- then allied with Napoleon --not to make any attempts to take over the bridge or send invasion troops into the British Isles. In the First World War, a number of Imperial German Navy U-boat captains would learn the hard way that Whitehall didn't take kindly to having the Kaiser's warships attack civilian villages near the Scottish end of the bridge, and neither did the civilians themselves; in one particularly severe case of vigilante justice, the three lone survivors of a sunken U-boat were seized by residents of the fishing town the U-boat had attacked just hours earlier and lynched.

The Nazi occupation of Norway in 1940 stoked fears in Winston Churchill's cabinet that Hitler might seek to use the land bridge as an entry point for sending German troops into Scotland as part of Operation Sealion. The attempt by a Waffen-SS probing squad to breach two Royal Army barricades at the bridge's midway point less than four weeks after the fall of France only served to heighten those anxieties further, and accordingly in August of 1940 the RAF started a round-the-clock bombing campaign against German military bases on the Norwegian end of the bridge; in May 1942 the U.S. Army Air Corps joined in the bombing campaign, and, by 1944, most of the German troops stationed along the land bridge had been forced to pull back to the Norwegian interior. By the time the Second World War ended in 1945, only two battalions were left of what at one point had been a 500,000-man Wehrmacht garrison on the land bridge.

As relations between the Western powers and the Soviet Union deteriorated in the early days of the Cold War, the British government considered a number of proposals for using the Scottish end of the land bridge as an emergency bunker site for the prime minister and his cabinet in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack on Great Britain; for various reasons this idea was quietly dropped by the mid-1960s.

In 1969 Great Britain and Norway signed a development pact under which the two countries would collaborate to build a modern highway spanning the length of the land bridge; Norway's neighbor Denmark would act as an informal third partner in the construction project, providing technical assistance to the main Norwegian engineering team. Construction work on the Oslo-Edinburgh Highway actually began in June of 1974, and although on a number of occasions political and financial difficulties threatened to stop the project in its tracks, the Norwegian and Scottish construction teams made substantial progress in their efforts; by 1982 the first lane of the three-lane highway was already 90 percent complete. During Margaret Thatcher's tenure as British prime minister, she often faced heavy criticism from her own Conservative Party and the left-leaning Labour Party for the high cost of the highway project, but Thatcher defended the Oslo-Edinburgh Highway program as a means of boosting commerce between Britain and her partners in the European Community. Thatcher's successors, John Major and Tony Blair, would oversee the final phases of the Scottish construction team's building efforts; it was Blair who would meet Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik in the center of the highway for the September 22nd, 1999, ceremony that would mark the completion of the project.

Since the Oslo-Edinburgh Highway was officially opened for business, it has been one of the most heavily used motorways in Europe; the walkways and bicycle paths running parallel to the highway are also very popular with travelers, while the ferry ports located at the Scottish and Norwegian ends of the highway operate year-round for the benefit of travelers journeying between Scandinavia and Britain by sea. And in a sign of the highway's growing importance to meeting European Union transporation needs, a Munich-based transport engineering firm has just won a multi-million euro contract to design and build a monorail tunnel adjacent to the southern side of the land bridge.


In reality, there is no land bridge connecting Scotland and Norway; if one ever did exist, it has probably long since crumbled into the North Sea. Up until the end of the First World War, the only way to reach the British Isles from Norway was by boat; with the advent of dirigibles and fixed-wing aircraft, however, it became possible to cross the North Sea by air, and today Oslo is home to the second-busiest airport in Scandinavia. The North Sea's primary importance to Europe's economy lies in the oil and natural gas deposits which supply much of the European Union's daily energy needs.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Guest Post: 'Bleak House' Never Written

By Jackie Speel, first published at Today in Alternate History

The plotline for his forthcoming book began to unravel soon after Charles Dickens moved into Tavistock House. After a few years of self-imposed retirement, he had intended to write some sophisticated, complex and long-form novels. Instead, he decided to take a new direction by working on collaborative projects with the novelist and playwright Wilkie Collins. And so Victorian literature was robbed of what might have been a few interesting tomes while it gained a frivolous take on the most serious of matters: the courts.

The real-life character of the "richest commoner in England" Jennens the Miser was incredibly Dickensesque. When he died unmarried and intestate with a fortune estimated at £2 million, a series of endless legal wrangles began that appeared to be unresolvable by the iniquitous common law. For fifty-five years, the contents of his unsigned had been disputed in the Court of Chancery, that Byzantine construct of the English legal system with which Dickens was well familiar. Not only had he worked there as a clerk, he visited as a patron due to his own copyright disputes. The understandable desire to bemoan the inefficiencies of the Court of Chancery proved to be an inspiration, and out of Dickens' imagination sprang Jarndyce and Jarndyce, a fictional case much like the Miser of Acton's where the value of the deceased's contested estate had long since been spent on legal fees (due to the clerk's low stipends, they imposed exorbitant ad-hoc charges on the litigants).  

Despite Dicken's mockery, the Court of Chancery was actually a structural flaw in the legal system rather than corruption, indeed had been established to avoid the slow pace of change and possible harshness (or "inequity") of the common law by appointing the Lord Chancellor, the keeper of the King's Conscience. The legal profession was not only acutely aware of the social criticisms leveled by Dickens, et. al; it was working towards the fusing of common-law and equity courts. In fact a common-sense resolution to the case had actually been found in late autumn, and Dickens' platform of parody was destroyed. Even without the Jennens vs Jennes resolution by 1852, the Court had already begun to reform itself.

So, Dickens had to set his fictional events back in 1827 when the infamous Six Clerks were still in post. Unfortunately this plot device aged the context, placing it "out of time" and also introducing confusion with other contemporaneous themes that he wanted to explore as part of a serialization. And so the novel, and others of its like in which perhaps Dickens sought to become the keeper of the nation's conscience, were never written. Shortly after Dickens passed away, a new unified High Court of Justice, with the Chancery Division - one of three divisions of the High Court - succeeded the Court of Chancery as an equitable body. The moment in time for a chance to write a classic piece of finger-poking had been lost forever. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

May 5, 1862 - French Victorious in Battle of Puebla

With the ousting of Santa Anna, the Liberals of Mexico secured control of higher government in Mexico City. For years, federal authority in Mexico had been pulled in a multidirectional tug-of-war that at last ended in 1855 with Santa Anna’s defeat by Benito Juarez and his Liberal coalition. Now in office, the Liberals began breaking down outdated laws, especially those that upheld the Catholicism as the state religion. This outraged Conservative elements, and a new wave of civil war broke out in 1855.

By 1861, the Liberals had again regained authority. It had been a costly war both in lives and foreign loans. The initial upper-hand held by the Conservatives in the military was brought down as Liberals trained themselves and fought using materiel and aid from other nations. When Juarez had established firm rule again, he turned to sort out the government’s financial issues. With the country practically bankrupt, Juarez determined that repayments of the foreign loans would have to be postponed two years to regain solvency.

The declaration proved very unpopular with Europeans, many of whom had Conservative contacts still seething from Juarez’s reforms. With the United States of America consumed in its own civil war, this seemed the perfect time to act and return political power back to the Conservatives. By October, Spain, France, and Britain formed a Tripartite Alliance with the goal of capturing Veracruz (the center of Liberal political power) and forcing Mexico to make payments. Armadas arrived in December of 1861 and for several months seized cities along the shore to install tariffs.

Napoleon III of France proved to have bolder plans than the Spanish and British. After the Wars of Italian Unification soured Franco-Austrian relations, Napoleon wanted to gain a new kinship by establishing a new empire in the Americas under the rule of Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian. Meanwhile, valuable mining resources would become available to French investors, as well as establishing powerful relations for the possibility of building a canal. In 1862, French troops began marching deeper in to Mexican territory. Spain and Britain, appalled by France’s ostentation, abandoned the alliance.

When talks between diplomats about a withdrawal evaporated, French General Charles de Lorencez determined to capture Orizaba. His troops met in skirmishes with the young Mexican general Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin, and it was obvious he needed to take nearby Puebla with its two hilltop forts to the north. Locals assured Lorencez that the Mexican people welcomed the French and would overthrow their own troops upon his march of a heroic frontal assault.

Meanwhile, Zaragoza had joined the forts by a trench that eliminated advantage from France’s numeric superiority. Wishing not to underestimate a clever opponent, Lorencez determined to maneuver and take the town from the south. Puebla fell, and Zaragoza was again forced to make a fighting retreat with his supply lines cut off. The retreats continued back to Mexico City, where Zaragoza made a two-month stand against a French siege after Juarez and the government fled northward. When French reinforcements finally overran the city, Zaragoza turned to guerrilla fighting while Juarez attempted to win support of the people. Archduke Maximilian was invited to be crowned emperor by the Conservative junta, and French forces continued to pursue the Liberals in the north. Seeing victory in sight before the American Civil War ended, France poured resources into the campaign.

At last in early 1863, Juarez and his forces were driven north into the United States. This put the neutral Lincoln administration into a tight spot, unable to endorse foreign soldiers on its own soil yet refusing to recognize the Second Mexican Empire on grounds of the Monroe Doctrine. Finally diplomats agreed that, in exchange for French aid against American rebels, the United States would not harbor Mexican rebels. Juarez escaped to Central America, where he would become a leader among the movements that opposed a new wave of colonialism there.

Austria-Hungary, which had largely bypassed overseas colonialism, was excited by its link to the New World. Prussia, too, was interested in moving into the region. France suddenly found an array of allies, including Russia, the first non-affiliated country to recognize the Mexican Empire. Continent-funded expeditions routinely sailed for Guatemala, Costa Rica, and further states spun off by Emperor Maximillian in exchange for financial support to keep up a strong policing presence in the guerrilla-torn north, where Napoleon III’s mines operated as industrial fortresses. Britain already had a colony in British Honduras and had given up the Mosquito Coast to Nicaragua, so it joined the United States in indignant neutrality.

While overall neutral, the United States was filled with contrary factions. Radicals like Secretary of State Seward called for a stand against imperialism in the Western Hemisphere, but his war-weary countrymen sought isolationism. Others, including former Confederates who fled toward the hotbed of colonialism, thought that the US could form its own colony in the region. By the time the voice of the imperialists won out, though, Central America was already carved up.

Although there was a great deal of industrial investment in the region, the markets dried up as empires in Europe collapsed, leaving empty mines, rusting factories, and half-finished canals. The colonies of Central America won their liberation, and Mexico at last overthrew its emperor Maximilian III in 1917. Yet revolution soon returned to Mexico and the southern regions as a center of fascism in the New World.


In reality, Lorencez believed bad intelligence about the favorability of the Mexican people toward the French. Despite superior numbers and firepower, three French assaults on Zaragoza’s fortifications were rebuffed. Although French reinforcements later arrived, defeat at Puebla stalled the invasion for a year. Juarez pronounced Cinco de Mayo to be an annual celebration of human defiance against long odds.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Guest Post from Chris Oakley: "Shots Fired"

June 17th, 1972:

Washington D.C. police officers went to room 214 of the Watergate Hotel in response to a call from security guard Frank Wills reporting a break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Upon arrival, they found five men (including two Cuban exiles) attempting to install illegal wiretapping equipment in the DNC offices; in a moment of panic, one of the burglars pulled out a handgun and opened fire on the cops, triggering a short but intense firefight which left the shooter dead and another of the burglars, ex-CIA operative James W. McCord, seriously wounded. While McCord's three surviving cohorts were arrested and booked for breaking & entering and other charges, McCord himself was taken to George Washington University hospital to be treated for his wounds. Two other men who'd been part of the break-in scheme, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, would be indicted shortly after McCord's team was arrested. Under normal circumstances the break-in would have been a 6-line(at most) item in a police blotter, but the fact Liddy, Hunt, and McCord all had connections to the White House, which guaranteed the break-in would be front page news in the next morning's edition of the Washington Post. Within days after the arrest of the surviving Watergate break-in team members, new information began to surface indicating the break-in had been part of a larger conspiracy by incumbent President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign to derail any potential Democratic challengers Nixon might face in the 1972 elections.

For Nixon, then three years into his presidency and ridng a considerable wave of popularity following notable successes in foreign policy and his “New Federalism” domestic initiatives at home, word of the break-in team's arrest and the shootout preceding it couldn't have come at a worse moment. To impartial observers it looked at best like the President had lost control of his own re-election campaign and at worst like he had explicitly sanctioned the commission of criminal acts for the sake of political gain. In spite of his persistent efforts to distance himself from McCord and the rest of the Watergate conspirators, Nixon was soon deeply enmeshed in the scandal that ensued over the break-in; at the 1972 Republican National Convention, many of the convention delegations previously pledged to Nixon switched their votes to either anti-war liberal Pete McCloskey of California or anti-Communist conservative John M. Ashbrook of Ohio. A New York Times editorial published two weeks after the convention predicted Nixon would end up being only a one-term president, but the course of events would conspire to rob him of even that small luxury: in October of 1972 Congress would impeach Nixon and remove him from office, making him the second American president to face an impeachment trial and the first to be convicted in such a trial. Nixon's Vice-President at the time, Spiro Agnew, would succeed him as the 38th presidential term.

With Nixon removed from office and sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the break-in conspiracy, Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern of South Dakota won the 1972 elections by default, winning forty-nine of fifty states in the biggest electoral landslide in American political history. McGovern's own legacy as chief executive would be a complicated one; while his Affordable Health Care Initiative would revolutionize the U.S. medical system and he would receive massive international acclaim for helping to mediate the historic Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel, on the other side of the coin he would face heavy criticism for his failure to get inflation under control and for supposedly having been the man who “lost” Vietnam to the Communists when the NVA overran Saigon in the final days of the Vietnam War. It didn't help any when two McGovern Administration aides were indicted for accepting kickbacks from from a lobbyist seeking to get the embargo on Cuba lifted. The toll that the kickback controversy took on McGovern's health during his second term in the Oval Office would later be cited by one of his closest friends, Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, as a key factor in Carter's decision not to run for the presidency in 1980. McGovern largely retired from politics after his White House tenure ended, but his vice-president Sargent Shriver would challenge Ronald Reagan for the presidency in 1984 and serve as an advisor to Bill Clinton's White House transition team after the 1992 electionis. As for Nixon, he was paroled in August of 1989 after serving nearly fifteen years of his prison sentence; when he emerged back into the public eye after his release from jail, he was a shadow of the dynamic figure he had once been, and within just eight months of his parole he would die from a stroke at UCLA Medical Center.


In reality, the Watergate burglars surrendered peacefully when the D.C. police caught them at DNC headquarters. It would take almost a full year for the conspiracy behind the break-in to morph into a full-blown scandal, but once it did so the Nixon White House came under fire for abusing the authority and privileges of the executive branch of the federal government. Vice-President Spiro Agnew would himself be the focus of a major scandal when he was accused of income tax evasion and had to resign the vice-presidency in October of 1973; Nixon would resign as President on August 9th, 1974, rather than face impeachment proceedings. Nixon's post-White House years were devoted largely to writing his memoirs and advising Republican leaders on foreign policy; he died on April 22nd, 1994, at the age of eighty-one.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who first broke the story behind the Watergate burglary, would gain fame for their 1974 book All The President's Men; film director Alan J. Pakula would win the 1976 Best Director Academy Award for his movie adaptation of the book. Michael Kurland and S.W. Barton's 1980 what-if novel The Last President showed a fictionalized version of Nixon getting away with a coverup of the Watergate break-in and the U.S. thrust onto a path toward becoming a quasi-dictatorship as a result. More recently, Oliver Stone made Watergate a major theme of his 1995 drama Nixon and producer Gale Ann Hurd satirized both the Watergate scandal and the Nixon presidency itself in the 1999 comedy Dick with Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams. The most recent Watergate-related movie, 2008's Frost/Nixon, was directed by Ron Howard and recreates Nixon's 1977 interviews with British journalist David Frost.

The identity of “Deep Throat”, Woodward and Bernstein's main source for information about the break-in and subsequent coverup attempts, would remain a mystery until 2005, when ex-FBI agent Mark Felt went public with the disclosure that he had been the one to tip Woodward and Bernstein off to the Nixon re-election campaign's role in the burglary. Felt died in 2008 at the age of 95. Woodward and Bernstein are still writing today; Bernstein has had a number of articles published in magazines including Time and The New Republic, while Woodward is the author of a series of books about the Bush and Obama Administrations.

To this day Richard Nixon remains the only President of the United States to resign from his office, but he wouldn't be the last chief executive to face impeachment; in 1998 Bill Clinton's role in the Whitewater scandal would trigger the biggest political crisis that the presidency had faced since Watergate. Hillary Clinton, First Lady at the time the Whitewater scandal erupted, had a little-known personal connection to Watergate-- she was a researcher with the inquiry committee then advising the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on impeachment procedures.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Guest Post: "The Ottoman Printing Press"

By H. Torrance Griffin, first posted on Today in Alternate History.

In 1490, Bayazed II, receiving some additional information on how the printing press has benefited government among the Franks, decided that it would be a useful tool for the Bureaucracy in Constantinople. However, the uelma and his own religious feelings frowned on its use as pertained to the language of the Holy Qur'an. With some thought the solution was clear, and after a closed-door meeting with the Patriarch, it was agreed that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople would obtain a Greek-language press and lease its use to the Topkapi Palace where the bulk of the civil servants were ex-Christians who knew said language.
This was considered, at the time, an internal labor-saving device for the sake of convenience (Persian-influenced Turkish using diwani calligraphy remained obligatory for official edicts for another 250 years); but not only did businesses in and around the capitol make use of the presses but Greek increasingly became a working language to the point where Bayazed's grandson, hearing of Karl von Hasburg's famed multilingualism, bragged that he himself spoke, "Arabic to God, Persian to Poets, Turkish to Soldiers, Greek to Civil Servants, Latin to honored Frankish embassies, and German to the King of Spain."

Later Sultans were not so proficient, but for temporal purposes it was Ottoman Turkish that suffered as literacy was spread by the most readily produced reading materials. Public proclamations that were not posted alongside Greek (and/or Armenian, which started a press in 1530) translations were written with space for same on said sheet, and even the tughras of the sultan were accompanied by (or in the case of the most artistic incorporated) Greek signatures.

It is not confirmed that a Qadi named Yusef noted a student born of a family that had been Muslim from the time of the Seljuks could not follow more than a few rote passages of hadith without referring to a phrase-book or pronunciation guide, but upon his appointment as Grand Mufti in 1657 he managed to override the scribal guilds and establish a network of Perso-Arabic presses. However while the printing-houses of Damascus are credited with keeping the developing Greek, Armenian, and Latin orthographies for Levantine Arabic marginalized; for the dominance of the language of Osman Bey in the lands of his successors it was too little and too late. Even peasants of the Anatolian interior where less-poetic versions of Turkish were not largely supplanted by Greek as on the coasts and in cities greeted strangers in the latter language, and Kurdish hillmen who could not follow a sentence in Greek or Armenian were prone to see Perso-Arabic script as something too holy for day-to-day use.

By 1750, there was more printing along the Bosporus than there was in Vienna. A solid majority of it (ranging from original Muslim theology to technical works out of "Frankish" universities to phil-hellenic speculations seeking to reconcile the glories of pre-Macedonian city-states with Islam) was in Greek, Armenian took nearly half the remainder, and Chancellery Turkish was outpaced by what purists still sneered at as Karamanili.

Friday, March 13, 2015

May 4, 1970 - Students Fight National Guard at Kent State

On April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced a new campaign into Cambodia as the latest strategy to overcome the Viet Cong who had been operating outside of the recognized combat areas. The war in Vietnam had already dragged on for years, and, rather than seeing this as a clever move of aggression to end the war according to Nixon’s Madman Policy, the American public feared that it was reigniting a fire that had been dying. College students were especially among those upset as the exemptions that had protected them from the draft had changed in 1969.

Protests at Kent State University in Ohio began the next day. Initially, it was a peaceful demonstration with a ceremonial burying of the Constitution, which protestors felt had died in the face of administrative action. Students went back to class as the day went on, but that Friday night the protest turned violent. What began with a bonfire and a few tossed beer bottles exploded after police responded to a shattered bank window. Bars were ordered closed early, which only turned out more people to join the mob. Police eventually broke up the riot with tear gas.

Over the coming days, threats and outbursts washed over the town, centered on the university campus. City officials appealed to Governor Jim Rhodes, who called out the National Guard to restore security. Rather than judging the violence as a symptom of overall unrest, Rhodes announced that the activity was spurred by a few who “move from one campus to the other and terrorize the community. They're worse than the brown shirts and the communist element and also the night riders and the vigilantes.” He threatened to obtain orders to end demonstrations and declare martial law.

Rather than quelling the protestors, Rhodes’s speech prompted a sit-in that Sunday night. Soldiers carried out orders to disperse the students, stabbing a few with bayonets when they did not comply with the newly instated curfew. Two thousand students attended a noon protest. When a policeman attempted to read them the order to disperse, he was driven away by shouts and rocks. The National Guard soon arrived with bayonets fixed.

The push by the Guard drove the students out of the Commons. Students fled out of their way but regrouped as the soldiers returned. They threw more rocks and returned tear gas canisters. Suddenly surrounded, the guardsmen acted erratically and aimed their guns. According to later court cases, the soldiers were fired upon by a sniper. Other witnesses said that it was the guardsmen who fired first: sixty-seven shots that left four students dead and nine injured.

Faculty raced to appeal for a sense of calm after the tragedy, but students began a counterattack with Professor of Geology Glenn Frank being hit in the face by a thrown empty gas canister. Students with improvised weapons like bats and trashcans assaulted the soldiers, who resumed shooting while attempting to retreat. Arsonists soon started fires in buildings around the Commons, and the riot spread. More National Guard stormed into the area, at last securing it with over seventy-eight dead and countless wounded.

The events of Kent State proved contagious. A student strike swept the nation, shutting down campuses and sponsored more shootings and stabbings. National media fed the frenzy with powerful images of fallen students, yet polls showed the average Americans either blamed the students themselves or held no opinion; only eleven percent blamed the government. Counter-demonstrations, such as the Hard Hat Riot in New York City, only contributed to the violence.

One hundred thousand protestors marched on Washington, where their leaders were met by President Richard Nixon. Nixon held similar views to Governor Rhodes that the instigators were only a few communist-agent “bums” acting against the “silent majority,” who supported the war in Vietnam. As the riots settled, Nixon called for a President's Commission on Campus Unrest, which investigated.

For further investigation (and to avoid future violence), Nixon put into effect the Huston Plan. It was a comprehensive outline of actions by the FBI, CIA, DIA, and NSA that would secure the authority of Nixon’s administration. J. Edgar Hoover, who had begun his career battling gangsters through PR, initially argued against the plan, but he caved seeing how much damage had been done to Kent State, which closed permanently soon after the riots. Under White House aide Tom Charles Huston’s plan, the agencies performed wiretaps, burglaries, mail-seizure, and even firebombs on a list of enemies as they rooted out campus leaders. Political prisoners were shipped to a specially-built facility in the West.

The usefulness of the Huston Plan was evident when investigative journalists could prove no connection between a break-in at the Watergate Hotel and the White House, embarrassment said to have ended their careers. Afterward, it proved capable of even choosing elected officials. California Governor Ronald Reagan was politically destroyed after an intensive IRS investigation when he challenged Spiro Agnew before the Republican primary in 1976. Later that year, the character of the Democratic candidate, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, was devastated in a scandal involving prostitutes. Republicans continued in office until the 1990s, when the Democrat Bill Clinton proved able to have any scandal slide off his back. Under new leadership, he “cleaned house” in many of the agencies responsible, causing an intelligence overhaul that would later be blamed as opening the country up to terrorism.


In reality, the faculty successfully intervened. Prof. Glenn Frank gave a twenty-minute appeal, stating, “If you don't disperse right now, they're going to move in, and it can only be a slaughter.” Students were convinced and left the Commons. For many Americans, Kent State stands to this day as a warning of government overreach, as does the resignation of President Nixon in 1974 following the Watergate Scandal.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Guest Post from Chris Oakley: "We Will Shield Our Moscow"

On October 16th, 1941, Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin went on the radio to make an announcement that would change the course of the Second World War. In a speech that ran only ten minutes but whose impact would reverberate through history for decades to come, Stalin informed his listeners he would be personally taking charge of the defense of Moscow in order to set what he called “the ultimate revolutionary example” for his fellow Soviets; just minutes after he went off the air, Stalin made good on his promise by traveling to the Red Army forward lines outside the Soviet capital and assuming command of what just hours earlier had been Marshal Georgi Zhukov's field headquarters. While Zhukov assumed responsibility for evacuating the rest of the Soviet government elite from Moscow, Stalin would lead a do-or-die last stand against the German armies advancing on the Soviet capital. For the next four days, Stalin would be in the thick of the fighting as the Red Army and the Wehrmacht struggled for control of Moscow; not until an SS sniper's bullet killed him late on the afternoon of October 20th the fight, and even as he was dying he managed to lob a grenade at an oncoming Wehrmacht panzer and blow it to smithereens.

Publicly Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels bragged that Stalin's death was a sign of the Soviet Union's impending final defeat, but behind closed doors he fretted that the demise of his Führer's bitterest ideological enemy might actually inspire the Soviet people to fight on even harder to drive the Germans out of the USSR. Goebbels was right to be worried-- in the days immediately after Stalin was killed anti-Nazi partisan groups used his name as a rallying cry to inspire their fellow countrymen to launch devastating guerrilla attacks on those German troops still occupying Soviet territory. And still grimmer news was to come for Berlin: less than two months after Stalin was killed, the United States finally entered the war on the Allied side following a clash between U.S. and Japanese carrier planes off the coast of Oahu. Under the pragmatic leadership of new Soviet premier, Maxim Livitnov, the Kremlin and the White House worked closely together to push the Germans back towards the Third Reich's own borders. At the Battle of Stalingrad, the presence of a detachment of U.S. Army Rangers played a critical role in the Red Army's final victory over the beleaguered men of the German 6th the Soviets aided the 1943 Anglo-American invasion of Sicily by dispatching NKVD sabotage squads to disrupt vital German rail and communications links.

By 1944, the Western Allies were steadily pushing across France while the Soviets had driven the Germans out of the Ukraine, Belarus, and most of western Russia; in the summer of that year, an assassination attempt by some of his own army officers left Adolf Hitler a physically crippled and psychologically scarred shadow of his former dynamic self. Morale in all sectors of the German armed forces, which had been steadily declining since the defeat at Stalingrad, plummeted after the Führer's death from a cerebral hemorrhage on October 17th. New chancellor of the Third Reich Hermann Goering was unable to reverse the tide of defeat, and on December 21st, 1944, he shot himself just as advance elements of the Soviet Third Guards Army and the U.S. 79th Infantry Division were closing in on the ruins of Goering's bunker near the heart of Berlin. The day after Goering's death, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, the third and last chancellor of the Third Reich, formally surrendered to the Allies to end the war in Europe.

With Germany vanquished and Italy having returned to the Western camp since the overthrow of Benito Mussolini in 1943, the Allied powers then turned their attention to the final defeat of the one Axis power still opposing them: Japan. In the spring of 1945, Anglo-American ground and air forces launched a massive push to expel the Japanese from their remaining holdings in the Pacific islands while the Soviets unleashed a massive Red Army invasion force against the Japanese puppet regime controlling Manchuria; three months after the Soviet declaration of war against Japan Allied scientists working in the deserts of the American Southwest would successfully test-detonate the first prototype atomic bomb. On July 21st, 1945, with Kyoto and Hiroshima having already been leveled by U.S. atom bombs and other Japanese cities facing the threat of nuclear attack, Emperor Hirohito instructed what remained of his armed forces to surrender to the Allies, officially ending the Pacific phase of the Second World War. Under the terms of existing agreements between Livitnov's government and the Western Allies, the U.S. would assume responsibility for occupying the Japanese home islands while the Soviets took charge of Manchuria; the two world powers would share the task of rebuilding war-devastated Korea.

Livitnov shared the 1945 Nobel Peace Prize with U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull and was posthumously awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature for his critically acclaimed account of the Battle of Moscow, A Bridge Too Far. Livitnov died of heart failure in 1953 during a state visit to Great Britain; Livitnov's widow, the former Ivy Low, would accept the Nobel Literature Prize on Livitnov's behalf. Livitnov's grandson, Pavel Livitnov, would grow up to become one of the most respected liberal political figures in post-Communist Russia. Following Livitnov's death his longtime chief deputy, ex-Red Army political commissar Nikita S. Khrushchev,  would succeed Livitnov as Soviet premier.

Throughout much of Joseph Stalin's life, and in the wake of his death, the Soviet people had revered him as a messianic figure, almost a demigod; that attitude would begin to dramatically change, however, after a March 1953 speech by Khrushchev to the CPSU Presidium in which the new Soviet premier vehemently denounced the brutal acts which Stalin had committed or sanctioned against perceived internal opponents during Stalin's twenty-nine-year reign as the Soviet head of state. His harshest attacks against Stalin in that speech were directed towards Stalin's role in the 1940 assassination of Leon Trotsky, which Khrushchev labeled “a hideous, unspeakable crime against the ideals of socialism”. By the late 1960s anti-Stalin sentiment in the Soviet Union had spawned a massive dissident movement that challenged the very nature of Communism itself. After an abortive attempt to set up a Communist regime in Afghanistan in 1975 ended in disaster, the Soviet government began to fall into irretrievable collapse in the face of growing demands for more political and economic freedom from the dissidents; by the time Ronald Reagan began his first term as President of the United States in 1981, the Soviet Union was on the verge of breaking up completely.


In reality, Stalin decided to evacuate Moscow only to change his mind and have anyone who knew of his earlier plans to flee the Soviet capital shot. The Germans never got closer to the city than two hundred miles, and after the German 6th capturing Moscow was effectively lost. The Second World War in Europe would drag on until May of 1945, when the German government formally surrendered to the Allies; the war with Japan would finally end in September of 1945 following U.S. atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Maxim Livitnov died in 1951; the exact circumstances of his demise are still a subject of dispute to this day. Khrushchev took over from Stalin's original successor as Soviet premier, Georgi Maleknov, in 1955 and in 1956 delivered his now-legendary “de-Stalinzation” speech to the Soviet Presidum. The Soviet Union would survive as a sovereign state until the summer of 1991, when internal turmoil following a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev triggered its final dissolution.

While the Soviets didn't send any sabotage squads to Italy during the Allied campaign there, a number of Italian partisan cells did receive financial and material support from the Kremlin. By the same token no U.S. troops saw action on the Eastern Front but the United States shipped thousands of tons of food, fuel, munitions, and weapons to the Soviets under Lend-Lease. On April 26th, 1945, American and Soviet advance troops linked up on the Elbe River at the village of Torgau, effectively cutting Berlin off from the rest of the world and ensuring its eventual fall to the Red Army; after the Second World War ended, the United States and the Soviet Union would continue to maintain a substantial military presence in Europe until the end of the Cold War.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

May 3, 1481 - Mehmed the Conqueror Marches on Italy

In characteristic exuberance, Mehmed II, the Ottoman Sultan, decided to leave Istanbul earlier than expected. His doctors warned him about too much exertion at his age (forty-nine) to which Mehmed scoffed and refused their medicines as a show of his vitality to his troops. They cheered him, and the armies soon arrived in Italy to face crusaders attempting to take back Otranto, which his general Gedik Ahmed Pasha had seized the year before.

Mehmed had come to rule the Ottomans at eleven years old when his father, Murad II, retired after securing peace with the Karaman Emirate in nearby Anatolia. Young Mehmed was immediately mixed up into war with the Hungarians, who broke their treaty. Mehmed recalled his father to office, writing to him, “If you are the Sultan, come and lead your armies. If I am the Sultan I hereby order you to come and lead my armies.” Murad returned for five years, and then Mehmed again became sultan, now ready to lead his own armies.

Mehmed’s first action was to secure the profitable Bosporus Straits. He built up his navy and expanded fortresses, soon besieging the city that had controlled the strait (and much of the world) for a millennium: Constantinople. It had only ever fallen once, due to treachery in the Fourth Crusade, but now Mehmed meant to conquer it. Despite Constantinople’s cutting-edge siege techniques that had defended it for centuries, Mehmed cut it off by land and sea, bringing ships overland to attack from the north. Constantinople fell, and, at only twenty-one years old, Mehmed secured “Caesar” as a new title for himself.

Over the next thirty years, Mehmed continued to conquer in every direction. His armies stormed Serbia, Morea, Trebizond, Karaman, Albania, and Crimea. Wherever he did not conquer directly, he installed a sophisticated system of tribute and vassal states. If any ever threatened to withhold tribute, that was grounds enough to dispatch a new campaign for vicious conquest. Much of Mehmed’s time was spent breaking the authority of the Italian Venetians and Genoese, who had colonized much of the east with vast mercantile forces. By 1479, Venice finally signed an extensive treaty to end the Ottoman onslaught.

Mehmed’s sight was then set on the Kingdom of Naples in Southern Italy. In 1480, he dispatched a force that besieged and took Otranto. Even as the walls crumbled, the populace remained resilient with Bishop Pendinelli and Count Largo making a final stand in the cathedral. To break Italian spirits with shock tactics, the Ottomans seized over eight hundred men from around the city and ordered them to convert to Islam on threat of death. Antonio Primaldi, a tailor, was the first to refuse. He was then also the first beheaded, followed by each of the other martyrs. With the city secure and winter approaching, the main force of the army retreated to Albania to campaign again the next year.

In the meantime, King Ferdinand of Naples began assembling an army. Pope Sixtus IV called for a crusade, which was answered by the French and, Mehmed’s old nemeses, the Hungarians. The crusader army besieged the city on May 1 and was met later that week by Mehmed’s full invading force. After a grueling two-day battle, the crusader army was broken. With reinforcements half a continent away, the Neapolitan army fought a series of retreating battles before Naples itself fell. Rome was evacuated, and the pope fled to France.

With the Papal States in chaos and no military buffer between them and the Ottomans, the Republic of Florence proposed a treaty in 1482. Lorenzo de Medici sent a young artist from nearby Vinci named Leonardo to present a gift of a silver harp in the shape of a horse’s head. Mehmed was impressed with Leonardo’s skills and added him to his court in Istanbul, where he had collected some of the greatest minds in the world.

Many in Europe considered de Medici’s act betrayal of Christendom, but other northern Italian states followed suit to protect themselves from oblivion. Mehmed levied monetary tributes that squelched the growing Renaissance there. Instead, many of the artists and scientists migrated north to Germany or to Istanbul to work in Mehmed’s university, library, and studios. While Islam remained the dominant religion, Mehmed proved tolerant of others as long as they maintained their treaties and paid taxes.

Italy would be the last of Mehmed’s conquests, who died in 1484. His successors continued to expand the empire into Africa and the Middle East, exploiting new innovations in engineering to further their military and infrastructure. Southern Italy proved a notoriously violent province, routinely in rebellion spurred on by Christian states such as Spain, who notably refused the Italian Christopher Columbus’s suggestion to explore west as they needed the ships to challenge Ottoman power in the Mediterranean. He later found an eager ear in the French court, where papal authority was already waning. While Istanbul remained the center of the world, Paris would be the center of Catholicism, constantly battling the coalition of Protestant states to the north and east.


In reality, Mehmed II died in 1481 before reinforcing Italy, and Otranto returned to Christian control. Legend holds that his untimely death was poisoning at the hand of his doctors, possibly on the order of his son. All through Christendom, church bells rang, and the people rejoiced at the news of their deliverance from a man who seemed to be an unstoppable conqueror.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Guest Post: May 1st, 1981-- The Tommy Rich Story

(Originally on Today in Alternate History)

On May 1st,, 1981 National Wrestling Alliance superstar Tommy Rich, having already shocked
the wrestling world once by beating veteran Harley Race for the NWA world heavyweight title
five days earlier, made lightning strike twice by defeating Race in an epic rematch at an NWA
live card in Gainesville, Georgia. Rich's win in the return bout against Race solidified his place
in the company as a bona fide top rank grappler and stunned observers who had been certain
Race would easily regain the title from his younger, less experienced foe; it would also lay the
groundwork for a third and final Rich-Race showdown at a televised NWA card in the Atlanta
Omni arena on June 28th, 1981. The Omni match ended in a double countout when Race and
Rich fell out of the ring simultaneously at the 20-minute mark and got into a knock-down drag-
out brawl in the stands.

Fans were solidly behind Rich in his battles with Race and his subsequent clashes against
another former NWA world champion, Texas native and notorious brawler Terry Funk, but that
attitude would change dramatically after Rich lost the title to “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. His nerves
stretched to the breaking point by the stress of his feuds with Race and Funk, Rich proceeded
to declare war on the new champion-- a war that ended with Rich regaining the title on March
5th, 1982 in Baltimore and turning on NWA fans with a vengeance. In the course of his second
tenure as world champion Rich would become the most hated man in the NWA; fans cheered
when Flair regained the title from Rich nearly four months later in Boca Raton, Florida. He left
the company for good in October of 1982 and was signed by its archrival the World Wrestling
Federation, where he earned the nickname “Psycho” and defeated Bob Backlund in January
of 1983 to become only the second man in wrestling history to have been both an NWA and a
WWF world champion during his career. Rich's WWF world title reign would end on April 24th,
1983 in spectacular fashion when fan favorite Terry “Hulk” Hogan demolished Rich in scarcely
seven and a half minutes at the first Wrestlemania pay-per-view; Hogan would go on to reign
as WWF world champion for over nine years, while Rich would be gone from the WWF in less
than six months.

After leaving the WWF Rich would sign up with the AWA; he didn't win any singles titles there
but did enjoy two reigns as an AWA tag team champion, first as partners with Bad News Allen
and later as one half of the combo the Living Legends with Larry Zbyszko. Harley Race would
earn the ire of WWF fans in the mid-1980s as a part of manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan's
stable. In 1990 the NWA would merge with Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association to
form World Championship Wrestling(WCW); WCW would challenge the WWF for supremacy
in the wrestling business for at least another decade before it was itself absored by the WWF
in 2001. The WWF would rename itself World Wrestling Enterprises(WWE) in 2004 to put an
end to decades of being confused with the World Wildlife Fund and also to reflect its growing
role as a multimedia juggernaut.


In reality, Race easily beat Rich in that May 1st bout to win his fifth NWA world heavyweight
title. Rich didn't compete in the WWF but did have a stint in the AWA as a Southern tag team
champion and Southern heavyweight champion. The AWA went out of business in 1991; the
NWA took some serious blows to its prestige that same year when several promoters pulled
out of the company to form WCW and again in 1994 when a group of East Coast promoters
quit the NWA to establish ECW(Extreme Championship Wrestling), but survived to re-emerge
after the year 2000 as one of the largest and most profitable independent wrestling organizations in the world. Tommy Rich continued to wrestle at indy cards as late as 2010; Harley Race turned from active competition in the 1990s to concentrate on managing champions like Big Van Vader and doing TV commentary.

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