Saturday, 10 February 2018

Wars to End: What If? Stories of the First World War

Wars to End: What If? Stories of the First World War
This is the latest in my what if? short story collections.  It seemed apt, with the centenary of the end of the First World War coming this November to focus on alternatives for that conflict.  This is the first collection I have organised on a chronological basis with stories in the book stretching from June 1914 with no assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand to April 1940 approaching the anniversary of the success of the Gorlice-Tarlow Offensive in a world with no Second World War raging.  As is the case with my what if? collections, there is no attempt to provide an overarching history.  Instead, each of 22 stories starts from a different alternative.  Some stories see no First World War or a more restricted version breaking out; others see an even more devastating or longer version.  In this book, in contrast to other collections I have produce, the story is typically set just a short time away form the divergence from our history rather than decades or centuries later.

The changes vary in scope.  At the simplest level is a single assassin missing.  Then there are local changes, such as British mutinies spreading further and to a greater extent; an earlier German assault on the Verdun fortresses at a time when the French garrisons had been thinned greatly or the German plan to draw out British cruisers working better leading to a more conclusive Battle of Jutland.  There are changes at a strategic level, for example adherence to an earlier version of the German invasion plans which involved marching through the southern Netherlands rather than leaving it neutral and pulling back on the Lorraine Front to draw French forces further from Paris or in 1918 launching a more co-ordinated Kaiserschlacht so forcing the British back.  These were decisions that could have been made by the generals or their commanders.  Some others stem from geopolitical alterations, such as Italy remaining loyal to the Triple Alliance and invading French territory; the Japanese being an ally of the Germans rather than the British or Romania entering the war earlier and participating in the Brusilov Offensive or the Ottoman forces going into Egypt sooner than in our world.  Others have a technological alteration, such as the British developing tanks two years earlier; the appearance of biological weapons and the kinds of gas and tanks that were planned by the Entente to continue the war in 1919.

I hope that this book shakes off the attitude that tends to be so common especially in Britain, that 'it had to be that way'.  Some alternatives, such as Kaiser Friedrich III living into the 20th century are just from a twist of nature, but many could have arisen from influential people making different decisions at the time based on the information they had then so could have easily occurred.  Even if you disagree with the outcomes that I suggest in these stories, I hope this book will interest you and provoke thought and debate about how different the First World War might have been and, indeed, that it easily may not have occurred at all.

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