Monday, 13 August 2007

What If? Art 3: The History Book That Never Was

Last night I was thinking that in my recent counter-factual book covers, though I am not certain what the University of West of England's definition of a 'history book' is most of mine so far had been memoirs or books written at the time of the divergence from our world's history. Then I got to thinking, why not try some history books, i.e. looking back from somewhere around 2007 in an alternate world, back in time to a period which would be different to ours. One advantage of this was it was difficult to fake up contemporary book covers from any period much before the late 19th century. So to address earlier issues a history book of the 20th and 21st centuries would work better. As before, what I have done is look for the type of book that I am seeking to replicate with an alternative history. I try to use the same fonts and colouring as they use for those books in our world. I have tended to avoid putting actual publishers on them, especially in the cases of dictator's books, but hope they are not offended that I have done a few others that clearly reference their style.

I hope that it is clear to all that as with the millions of manipulated images of celebrities that are available on the internet, these are meant in parody and not to cause offence. In fact I think they are mildly educational as, at a glance they can provoke debate about history. As I have noted before, counter-factual history is a legitimate academic tool for testing the relative importance of causes of particular events. If anyone is upset by what I produce, please let me know via a comment and I will alter the offending image.

'The Failure of the Holy Land Crusade 1095-98'
By Steven Runciman (1951; 11th edition 2004)

My views on this topic can be found in my e-book ‘On Other Fields: Alternate Outcomes of the Middle Ages’ by Alexander Rooksmoor.  It is available for purchase on Amazon:

UK readers might prefer to access it through:

'Patterns of Byzantine Industrialization: The Eighteenth Century'
By W.A. Lewis (1958; 4th edition 2002)

My views on this topic can be found in my e-book ‘On Other Fields: Alternate Outcomes of the Middle Ages’ by Alexander Rooksmoor.  It is available for purchase on Amazon:

UK readers might prefer to access it through:

'Selected Congressional Speeches of Senator Harold Wilson
1950-62; With Foreword by Governor Douglas Jay' (1965)

For this one I was trying to imitate Harold Wilson's actual book 'The New Britain: Labour Plan Outlined by Harold Wilson' which was published by Penguin in 1964 and in line with their current affairs books of the time had a very red cover. Unfortunately I could not find an online image of that so this was as close as I could come. In reality Harold Wilson was an MP from 1945 and in 1947 at the age of only 31 he became President of the Board of Trade, a post he held until 1951. In 1964-70 and 1974-6 he was Prime Minister. Whilst not as pro-American as contemporaries in the Labour Party, notably Hugh Gaitskell, he was not opposed to the Americans either and continued Britian's 'special relationship' with the country as prime minister. A Wilson whose political career had developed in a more US-focused Britain would no doubt have had a different, possibly even more positive outlook on relationships with the Americans.

How would this have come about that a Briton would sit in the US Senate? Well, Following the First and Second World Wars in the space of just over 30 years, the UK which had fought in both almost throughout, was financially and industrially exhausted. It also faced the burden of a huge empire that had always cost more money than it had generated. The UK was facing bankruptcy and had to take out another loan from the USA in 1946 (which was only finally paid off in 2006) with harsh terms such as to make the pound convertible in 1947, which the UK did though had to stop as it almost wrecked the economy.

In 1948, seeing how difficult Europe was finding it to recover (there was starvation in Germany) and fearing that this would drive countries like France and Italy to Communism (the Americans were even a little hesitant over the British Labour Government's views) they launched Marshall Aid which gave dollars for the Europeans to buy the necessary resources and machinery from the USA. UK alone got half of the total sum given. The UK was also plagued by harsh weather in the Winter of 1947 and 2 million people went unemployed as a result. Some Americans politicians suggested that the UK should become a full part of the USA as the 49th state (Alaska and Hawaii did not become states until 1959) and have senators sit in the Senate. The UK is only the size of Rhode Island, but with about 50 million people in 1951 it has more than even the most populous state in the USA in 2006 (California with 36 million people), but as with the senatorial system it would still get 2 senators as the largest and smallest states of the USA do. British politicians rejected the offer but the USA and UK have remained politically close ever since.

This what if? envisages that the UK could not sustain itself in the late 1940s and that by 1950 it was electing senators to Congress. There is no limit on how often a US Senator can stand. Their term of office is 6 years and a third of the Senate is re-elected every two years. So, if Wilson had won in 1950 he would have served until 1956 and could easily have won again to serve to 1962. I have also added in Douglas Jay as Governor of the State of the United Kingdom. Jay was a 'moderniser' in the Labour Party and an Atlanticist. He supported Hugh Gaitskell who, if he had not died in 1963 would have led the party towards being more like the Democrats of the USA; he was opposed to British involvement in the EEC. Jay served under Wilson as President of the Board of Trade 1964-7, so it seems that he might have been a good candidate for governor in an Americanised UK.

'The Causes and Consequences of the Assassination of Charles De Gaulle, 8th September 1961' by Serge Bernstein (1995)

I have been more cheeky with this one as Serge Bernstein is actually author of a book called 'The Republic of De Gaulle 1958-1969' (1993) which is in the Cambridge History of Modern France series. The book above of course has never existed. General Charles De Gaulle, leader of the Free French Movement 1940-5, prime minister of France 1944-46 and 1958 and president of France 1958-69 died peacefully in 1970. This was quite an outstanding achievement given there probably 31 attempts on his life from 1940-69. He came back to power in 1958 to resolve the situation of Algeria which had been owned by France from 1830 and was considered part of France rather than a colony. About 1 million out of a population of 9 million were Europeans (including Spanish and Italians as well as French) and at the time Algiers was the second largest French city after Paris. Colonists were unwilling to give up Algeria to Algerian control and received much support from sections of the Army. In May 1958 French paratroopers seized Corsica as the first step in a coup to overthrow France's government. Only De Gaulle's credibility among the military combined with his willingness to fight for democracy enable that crisis to resolved and another attempt at a coup in April 1961 called the Generals' Putsch which followed the French referendum decision of January 1961 to grant Algeria independence. De Gaulle went on to reform French politics to a more stable basis, establishing the 5th Republic in 1958 which remains in place today.

De Gaulle's opponents in the 1950s and 1960s were the CNR (Council of National Resistance) of those who supported Algeria remaining French. They had a military arm, the OAS (Secret Army Organisation). They tried repeated assassination attempts on De Gaulle. He was in an almost unique position as the only person who could keep France away from civil war or a dictatorship. Not many people have been in such a position in history that there is not someone who could have replaced them: Hitler and Stalin could easily have been substituted for by someone else in their party. The most famous attempts against De Gaulle came at Pont-sur-Seine 8th September 1961 when a bomb combined with napalm misfired as De Gaulle was driving past. It showered his car in flaming napalm but the explosion was too weak to cause damage. The other well-known attempt was at Petit Clamart 22nd August 1962 when assassins sub-machine gunned De Gaulle's car putting over a hundred bullets into it. De Gaulle's wife and son had been in the car and his retribution was swift and brutal: he acted outside the law to have the would-be assassins picked up by snatch squads and had them executed without trial. The Petit Clamart attempt (and its many blunders) is reconstructed in the first 10 minutes of the movie 'The Day of the Jackal' (1973).

So, with this book, I envisage that the assassins at Pont-sur-Seine built a better bomb with newer explosives. De Gaulle is killed in the explosion. What then for France? Well, though the coups of May 1958 and of April 1961 were seen down, I doubt there would have been anyone who could have stopped a third. I imagine troops would have seized power in Paris and you would have seen another general, probably General Jacques Massu (1908-2002) who had led the attempted coup in 1958. The referendum would have been revoked and France would probably have fought a bloody colonial war stretching on into the late 1960s. This would have meant upheaval across Europe as refugees fled the fighting. France along with Germany was the cornerstone of the EEC (European Economic Community) which had excluded dictatorships such as Spain and Portugal from joining. So the EEC which has now evolved into the EU may have dissolved. Would the Americans have intervened? They were not yet involved in Vietnam, but they also had not problem with dictatorships and may have let the French go their own way. I do envisage that the stability and thus the prosperity of Europe would have been disrupted severely and the development of its economy and the EU which now includes so many European states would have been greatly retarded: things that might be discussed in this book.

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