Thursday, 27 October 2016

If it had happened otherwise

Many years ago – whilst I was still at school – I came across a copy of IF IT HAD HAPPENED OTHERWISE in the school library. It was a collection of alternative or counter-factual history essays written by a number of leading historians, and it was published in 1931. It was my first proper introduction to the genre, and I have had an avid interest in alternative or counter-factual history ever since.

The original book contained the following essays:
  • If Drouet's Cart Had Stuck by Hilaire Belloc
  • If Don John of Austria Had Married Mary Queen of Scots by G K Chesterton
  • If Lee Had NOT Won the Battle of Gettysburg by Winston Churchill
  • If Napoleon Had Escaped to America by H A L Fisher
  • If the Moors in Spain Had Won by Philip Guedalla
  • If the General Strike Had Succeeded by Ronald Knox
  • If the Emperor Frederick Had Not Had Cancer by Emil Ludwig
  • If Louis XVI Had Had an Atom of Firmness by André Maurois
  • If Byron Had Become King of Greece by Harold Nicolson
  • If It Had Been Discovered in 1930 that Bacon Really Did Write Shakespeare by J C Squire
  • If Booth Had Missed Lincoln by Milton Waldman
I understand that an American edition of the book entitled IF: OR, HISTORY REWRITTEN was also published in 1931. It did not include the essay about the General Strike but did include three additional essays:
  • If the Dutch Had Kept Nieuw Amsterdam by Hendrik Willem van Loon
  • If: A Jacobite Fantasy by Charles Petrie
  • If Napoleon Had Won the Battle of Waterloo by G M Trevelyan
I bought a paperback re-print of the original book some years ago, and during a recent sort out I found it again. On re-reading it I was struck by how much I still enjoyed Churchill’s and Fisher’s contributions, and that they could easily form the basis for future wargame campaigns.

24 comments:

  1. It conjurs up all sorts of wargaming possibilites???

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    1. Ray Rousell,

      Spot on! These essays are excellent starting points for alternative history campaigns.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. I have loved alternative history as a game source for many years. Following my interests I found this site a long time ago that is a listing of known what if works. A lot is fantasy but there are many many worthwhile reads listed here. http://www.uchronia.net/ . I like particularly the chronological listing of books by their departure points.

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    1. Robert De Angelis,

      Thanks for the link. I will have a look at it later this evening, as any new source of alternative histories is very welcome indeed.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Phil Barker closed his book of Alexander the Great's Campaigns with an 'alternate history of the World after Alex taken the advice of his doctors and survived the fever that killed him. That was fun. But more interestingly, I have an alternative history of World War Two called THE MOSCOW OPTION (David Downing, 1979) This starts out on 4 August 1941, with Hitler being badly injured in a plane crash, his coma leaving OKH having to make its own decisions. They decide to go for Moscow. The other change is that The Germans decide that Malta is too much of a nuisance athwart the LOC with North Africa, it just has to be taken out.

    That makes quite an interesting read. No, the Germans and Japanese don't win the war. They don't even come close to winning. But they come closer than they did in the real event! The Japanese suffer the decisive loss of the best part of its carrier fleet at the Battle of the Panama Gulf...

    I once based a 'Second ACW' campaign on the premise that Gen. Geo. McClellan narrowly defeated Abe Lincoln in the presidential election of 1864, whereat an armistice was drawn up at the end of 1864, and Peace signed in January 1865.

    However, during the evacuation of some of the occupied regions, particularly in Tennessee, the Union generals persisted in dragging their feet, which led, as you can imagine, a wholesale exodus of escapee slaves and former slaves under the cover of this evacuation.

    It wasn't long before Southern sabres once more began rattling; protests to Washington fell on receptive enough ears, but orders thence to the army commanders were apt to be grudgingly obeyed, with all kinds of reasons and excused adduced.

    The War that broke out towards the end of March, 1865, was limited solely to the state of Tennessee itself, with the Union main Army HQ still at Nashville, the Confederate army having just recently set up an HQ at Chattanooga. Smaller forces of both sides were operating along the banks of the Mississippi River, and in the Knoxville area...

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    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      I haven't read Phil's book about Alexander's campaigns but it sounds like its final chapter would be worth reading.

      I have read THE MOSCOW OPTION and thought that its version of what might have happened was very plausible. The war would have continued along a somewhat different path, but the Axis would have lost in the end.

      If Lincoln had lost the election in 1864 the Civil War might well have ended prematurely with an uneasy peace of sorts; there were certainly quite a few people in the North who would have supported such a move. How long that peace would have lasted is a moot point, and I think that your idea that it would have restarted soon afterwards is not at all impossible.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. I con not recommend Phil Barker's book highly enough. Designed for war gamers, it still narrates the whole story of Alexander's career from 'Macedonia's expansion during his boyhood' through to 'sequels and might have beens'. Perhaps I should do a review on my blog...?

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    3. Archduke Piccolo,

      That sounds like an excellent idea to me ... and I look forward to reading it soon!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. http://www.winstonchurchill.org/images/finesthour/pdf/Finest_Hour_103.pdf?pr-partnerid=churchill-centre-us

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    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      Thanks very much for the link. I am sure that other regular blog readers will enjoy reading it.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  5. Bob,
    I cannot come to grips with gaming an alternate History- particularly Modern...I guess when it come to this I am a Realist and cannot think past the realities of past history. I do however like Fiction or Science Fiction...for example I could easily play at 'Space 1889'...or some other Victorian- Edwardian type Fictional scenario based on reasonably realistic armies in a Fictional World. I guess I do not want to think about alternative 'what-if's' when it comes to real History- the prospects scare me! I'd hate to think the plight of present day Australia had not the American Navy won the Battle of The Corel Sea against the Japanese. Regards. KEV.

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    1. Kev,

      When I began to study history at college, my lecturers all emphasised the need for us to look at the 'what if ...' options in order to understand why what actually happened happened. I understand that this approach may have fallen out of favour since then ... but it us still a game that historians like to play,

      I happen to think that Science Fiction is a form of alternative history, the difference being due to the cause rather than the outcome.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  6. Is the title of the Gettysburg work correct? Did Lee really win at Gettysburg and I missed it along the line?
    Dick Bryant

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    1. Dick Bryant,

      The title of the essay is correct ... and if you follow the link from Archduke Piccolo and read it, I think you'll understand why.

      Read and enjoy!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  7. I have found that well informed alternate histories (or should we say alternate--but probable--"results" of pivotal incidents) are superb sources for scenarios. I came to really appreciate this when putting together scenarios for the Nine Year's War Belgium, where there are many plausable instances of battles that might have been.

    Thanks for the lead. I'll have to get a copy of this tome.

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    1. Ed M,

      I think that most of these essays have withstood the test of time, and are still worth reading over eighty years after they were first published.

      Read and enjoy!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  8. Great blog post Bob as I am like you a big fan of Alternate Histories (and the close parallel of Edwardian military SF like Battle of Dorking). I'll keep an eye out for a copy to add to my collection.

    Cheers,

    Pete.

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    1. Pete,

      I'm glad that you like this blog entry. I also have a love of those 'invasion scare' stories from the end of the nineteenth/beginning of the twentieth centuries, and have several on my Kindle.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Is there a further blog post about your collection of them Bob?

      Cheers,

      Pete.

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    3. Pete,

      I don't think so ... and I suppose that there ought to be.

      It looks as if that's something for me to do in the near future!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  9. Apart from Harry Turtledove's alternate histories, there is also a series by Harry Harrison 'STARS AND STRIPES. Although a fan of Slippery Jim DiGriz - the Stainless Steel Rat, I found that from a reasonably plausible beginning the first novel - I didn't read the rest - descended so rapidly into absurdity that I don't think I finished it.

    The premise is that the US detention of a British vessel by Union war ships in 1862, the exchange of harsh words between US and English Governments, unchecked by an ailing Prince Albert, led to led to England entry into the war on the Confederate side.

    So far, so reasonable. But then, for reasons I can't fathom the Brits attack a Confederate army camp, angering that nascent nation, whereat the CSA switched sides and rejoined the Union. Meanwhile - again for reasons that pass my comprehension - the Brits then decide to take the opportunity of realising the ambition they have harboured since 1782 of regaining the Thirteen Colonies (and the rest) for the Empire. I know that the USA long harboured such a fear, but I have no clear idea why.

    Having said that, one can derive a couple of decent campaigns out of it: (1) the ACW with a British contingent invading from Canada, and another operating in the south; (2) an attempt by the US to conquer Canada.

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    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      The premise of the book sounds very plausible ... but not the bit about the British attacking a Confederate camp. That sounds far too much like a rather poor plot ploy to unite the two opposing American sides so that the author can really write about another American War of Independence!

      I have a copy of THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR by Eagles Games. It includes rules (and playing pieces) for a British intervention on behalf of the CSA and a US invasion of Canada.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  10. I don't care much for "Alternate history" a'la Harry Turtledove but I did read and enjoy the book that contained the "If Lee had lost the battle of Gettysburg" when I was in college (about 48 years ago). I remember that story still!

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    1. Jay Stribling,

      Harry Turtledove seems to have some good plot ideas, but I must admit that I find some of his characterisations to be a bit two dimensional and rather unconvincing. I know that his work is not to everyone's taste, but he does seem to dominate a certain part of the genre.

      Churchill's essay is typical of the man in that it seems to turn the subject back on itself, and to relate the truth as fiction and fiction as truth in a very convincing manner. That's probably why it is so memorable.

      All the best,

      Bob

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