Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 23

On April 23, 1932, Senator Alvin Silva was inaugurated as the twelfth President of the United States of Mexico. In his inaugural address, he spoke of foreigners "who would threaten our nation. Even now," he warned, "Hawaii is in danger of attack." Sobel notes that, consciously or unconsciously, Silva had paraphrased a speech given by Chief of State Benito Hermión just before the outbreak of the Great Northern War.

The London Times reported on Silva's inaugural address the next day.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sobel Wiki: Balance of power

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the Trans-Oceanic War, the last major European war of the 18th century.

In our own history, the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars of 1792 - 1815 were fundamentally different from the conflicts that had preceded them from 1688 to 1763. The wars of 1688, 1701, 1718, 1740, and 1754 involved the establishment, and then the maintenance, of the balance of power in Europe. The wars can all be summed up as attempts by the British, the Dutch, the Prussians, and the Savoyards to prevent the creation of a continent-dominating union of Spain, France, and/or Austria. In our own history, the American Revolutionary War can be seen as a continuation of this tradition, as the French, Spanish, and Dutch combined to prevent British domination of Europe.

The final wars of the 18th century, though, were different. They were fought by Europe's traditional monarchies to extinguish the radical revolutionary republic that had come to power in France, while the French revolutionaries in their turn attempted to spread their own revolution and overturn the other monarchies as they had overturned their own.

In the Sobel Timeline, though, the nascent French Revolution was put down in 1789, and the French monarchy continued. When the Trans-Oceanic War broke out in 1795, it was a traditional balance-of-power conflict in which the French regent, Marie Antoinette, built a coalition with Austria and Spain for the purpose of seizing control of Prussia and Portugal. She was opposed by an alliance of Prussia, Portugal, and Great Britain (and possibly also the Netherlands, Piedmont-Sardinia, and Russia, though Sobel doesn't specifically mention them).

The point of the Trans-Oceanic War, for Sobel's narrative purposes, was to give his newly-established North American nations of Jefferson and the C.N.A. an excuse to invade and conquer Spain's American colonies, specifically Florida and New Spain. This allowed him to set the stage for the creation of the United States of Mexico, and the coming conflict between the U.S.M. and the C.N.A. that alt-Sobel, at least, regarded as the inevitable rematch between the rebels and loyalists of the 1770s.

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 21

On April 21, 1920, newly-elected Mexican President Emiliano Calles gave an address before the Senate outlining his legislative agenda, the first time a Mexican president had done so since the restoration of democratic rule twenty years before. His speech was less than four minutes long, and focused exclusively on the slavery issue. Calles gave the background of the situation, including the Chapultepec Incident and its consequences, then offered his solution: "Slavery must be abolished in Mexico. We shall try to do so by constitutional amendment, but if this is not possible, other ways will be found. We have talked long enough of this subject. In all the reports I have yet to find one reasonable argument in favor of keeping the Negro enslaved. The free population of Mexico numbers 132 million. There are some 103,000 Negro slaves in the country. Giving these poor wretches their liberty will not dilute our national bloodstream; nor will it poison our lives. It is a small price to pay for the benefits manumission will bring."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 20

On April 20, 1870, Guatemalan President Vicente Martinez granted rights to build a trans-oceanic canal to the San Francisco-based consortium Kramer Associates. Although it was widely believed that Mexican President Omar Kinkaid had arranged for the coup d'etat that overthrew Martinez' predecessor, Kinkaid in fact had no involvement in the operation, which was directed and financed entirely by K.A. Guatemala would be the first country to have its government subverted by K.A., but not the last.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 17

On April 17, 1933, Governor-General Douglas Watson addressed the British Parliament as the culmination of his European Tour. In his introduction of Watson, Prime Minister George Bolingbroke called him "the leader of a great nation, a man of extraordinary vision, and a most welcome visitor to our shores." Bolingbroke called the close relations between Great Britain and the Confederation of North America "a model for all mankind," and said, "We are brothers because men wiser than we saw the need for self-government in North America, and we shall stand united no matter what the foe, no matter what the problem." Watson responded by saying, "Our loyalty to the Crown remains undiminished, and our relations with the Empire continue to be that of brothers."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 15

On April 15, 1836, the Manhattan Bank, the fourth largest in New York, declared insolvency, part of a growing bank panic that would cripple the economy of the Confederation of North America for the next six years.

On April 15, 1853, C.N.A. Governor-General William Johnson informed Mexican President Hector Niles that he would accept Niles' offer from two years earlier to negotiate peace terms to end the Rocky Mountain War.

On April 15, 1920, newly-elected Mexican President Emiliano Calles announced that he would present his legislative program to the Senate within a week.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 14

On April 14, 1806, the Mexican Civil War began when a detachment of Federalist soldiers surrounded the town of Cuautla in the Province of Mexico, while searching for several priests who were leaders of the Clericalist guerrillas in the area. After entering the town, the soldiers were ambushed by Clericalist guerrillas, suffering 42 dead and wounded. The Mexican Civil War would continue for the next eleven years.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sobel Wiki: Guns and Wood

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the 1950 Mexican elections, the most important election in the U.S.M. in the 20th century.

Sobel's United States of Mexico had already suffered the consequences of one suspended election in 1881, which resulted in the Hermión dictatorship of 1881 to 1901. Despite this, incumbent President Alvin Silva chose to suspend the 1944 elections for the duration of the Global War, which he had entered in dramatic fashion by launching a surprise attack against Japan two years earlier.

The people of the U.S.M. did not take kindly to having their elections suspended, and two separate insurrections broke out, one by Mexico's black freedmen, and the other by the country's Mexicano majority. Sobel quotes a Mexican historian who says that if the two groups had cooperated, they might have succeeded in overthrowing Silva, but instead they spent as much time fighting each other as they did the government.

The situation was bad enough when Mexico was winning the war, but by the late 1940s the country had suffered a series of defeats, and Japanese airmobiles were carrying out bombing raids against San Francisco and invading the Mexican states of Hawaii and Alaska. Silva finally found himself compelled to hold the suspended elections, which he announced in July 1949 would be held six months later.

Silva had seized control of the Mexican news media around the same time he suspended the 1944 election, and he had used them to denounce the opposition United Mexican Party as little better than traitors for opposing the war. To insulate themselves from accusations of treason, the U.M.P. chose Admiral Paul Suarez to run against Silva. Suarez had resigned as commander of the Mexican Pacific Fleet in the fateful year 1944, and he became the de facto peace candidate, in spite of his intention to continue the war.

On election day, both sides used violence to intimidate opposition voters, and when Suarez narrowly defeated Silva, the President accused him of stealing the election. Violence between the two sides continued after the election, and threatened to degenerate into a full-scale civil war as Suarez' inauguration approached. To head one off, a group of garrison commanders led by Colonel Vincent Mercator had both Silva and Suarez arrested, and established a military junta.

Despite a sham election held in 1965, Mercator continued to rule the U.S.M. at the time Sobel was writing For Want of a Nail in 1971.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 12

On April 12, 1795, Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France and regent for her infant son King Louis XVII, signed a treaty of alliance with King Charles IV of Spain. Charles had initially been reluctant to join the Franco-Austrian alliance against Prussia, but the appearance of a French army on the Franco-Spanish border persuaded him to change his mind.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 11

On April 11, 1839, the Jefferson and California Railroad began laying tracks from San Francisco, California. Due to the outbreak of the Rocky Mountain War in 1845, the railroad connecting San Francisco to Henrytown, Jefferson would not be completed until 1848.

That's when they'll disappear

You know what we could use around here? An embedded music video. So here's the Go-Go's with their 1981 hit "Our Lips Are Sealed".

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sobel Wiki: Heart and Soul

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on Pedro Fuentes, the eleventh President of the United States of Mexico.

There's no denying that alt-Sobel, the in-universe author of For Want of a Nail, is an unabashed fan of Kramer Associates, the global megacorporation. A more uncertain question is what our own Sobel, the book's actual author, thought of it. After all, Sobel wasn't just the author of Nail, he was also the author of Frank Dana's critique, in which he wrote that K.A. "dominated Mexican life for much of its existence, and was finally expelled from the nation after a long and bitter struggle. Many of Mexico's problems may be traced to the work of Kramer Associates," and noted that "no nation is safe from its influence, the more frightening since Kramer has power without responsibility."

Which brings us to Pedro Fuentes, the first President of the U.S.M. to take serious steps to curb K.A.'s power. Fuentes didn't have an easy time of it, because one of the first things K.A. founder Bernard Kramer did after forming the company was start to donate large sums of money to elected officials to ensure that they voted the right way. Kramer's successors continued this tradition, until by the time Fuentes was elected in 1926 the Mexican Congress was doing pretty much whatever K.A. told them to do. (My Sobel Wiki colleague Christina suggests that K.A. nobbled Taiwan from Japan that way in 1948; funded an independence movement, then purchased a referendum while the Japanese were busy fighting the Mexicans.)

Fuentes attempted to work around the corrupted legislature by creating a presidential commission to investigate K.A. Sobel reports that K.A. President John Jackson was able to keep the commission hopelessly baffled by carrying out a massive reorganization of the company. Noel Maurer found this idea ludicrous, and suggested that what really happened was that Jackson used the reorganization as cover while buying off the commission.

Sobel paints Fuentes' attempt to rein in K.A. as an inept failure, but was it? Five years after Fuentes set up the commission, Jackson moved the company headquarters from San Francisco to the Philippines. Jackson claimed the move was "to be closer to our Asian interests," and Sobel never offers any alternative motive, but it may well be that Fuentes was able to pry the Mexican government out of Jackson's hands after all.

As for what our own Sobel thought of K.A., it may be significant that thirteen years after Jackson's move, his successor, Carl Salazar, moved the company again from the Philippines to Taiwan. Alt-Sobel writes, "Taiwan had a more skilled population and a better climate than Luzon, and in addition, was more stable politically." The last clause is telling, because alt-Sobel never mentioned any political instability in the Philippines before then. Reading between the lines, it seems as though the Filipinos, like the Mexicans before them, got fed up with having their country run by an unelected, unresponsive commercial behemoth, and the company fled the growing popular discontent.

Alt-Sobel was writing a little over twenty years after the move to Taiwan, and if the Taiwanese people were also growing restive at having their country run by K.A., he might not see fit to mention it, just as he didn't see fit to mention political instability in the Philippines. Carl Salazar was around 70 when alt-Sobel was writing, and it may be that in the not-too-distant future, his own successor will find it expedient to find a new, more politically stable home for Kramer Associates in the 1970s.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 4

On April 4, 1914, Henri Fanchon, the President of France, recalled the French ambassador to the United States of Mexico, the latest step in his calculated plan to leave the U.S.M. diplomatically isolated and vulnerable to attack.

On April 4, 1961, Jeffrey Martin, the editor of the New York Herald, continued his attacks on Governor-General Richard Mason, writing, "Mr. Mason has lost his grip on reality. Now he thinks himself a re-incarnation of the Prince of Peace. He is presently measuring himself for the cross. Do we want to be crucified along with this megalomaniac?"

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 2

On April 2, 1887, Grand Council Minority Leader Scott Ruggles of the Northern Confederation gave a speech in which he harped on the failures of Governor-General John McDowell's policies. Ruggles said, "Let Mr. McDowell ask us for what he will. He has a majority in the Grand Council, and can have anything he wants from it. Indeed, we would be willing to support his plans, for the People's Coalition wants peace and harmony as much as anyone else. The truth of the matter is that the Age of Renewal is, and always has been, a sham. The Liberals have had their chance, and have failed. Now it is time for true reform, and not just fancy maneuverings."

Ruggles' speech was reported the next day in the New York Herald.

On April 2, 1901, Chief of State Benito Hermión announced the transformation of the United States of Mexico into the Mexican Empire, with himself as its first Emperor, and his thirty-three year old son Frederick Hermión as Crown Prince.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 1

On April 1, 1914, newly-elected Mexican President Victoriano Consalus broke diplomatic relations with Argentina in response to Argentina's growing alliance with France.

On April 1, 1926, incumbent President Emiliano Calles lost his re-election bid to Assemblyman Pedro Fuentes. The next day, the Mexico City Times wrote, "General Calles was important in spite of himself, but he was no republican. Without realizing it, Calles was in the mold of El Jefe. Fortunately for the nation, he lacked the sophistication to know this."

On April 1, 1929, Jack Norris of the Burgoyne Inquirer wrote a column castigating the administrators of the National Financial Administration as "secret little men with untold power and no public mandate for its use." This was part of a larger public outcry against the N.F.A. for neglecting areas of the Confederation of North America outside the industrial heartland of the Northern Confederation and Indiana, and in support of Governor-General Henderson Dewey's attempt to reform the agency.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sobel Wiki: The North American mission

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on Thomas Kronmiller, leader of the radical wing of the People's Coalition from 1893 to 1908.

The use of "radical" rather than "leftist" is deliberate, because in the Sobel Timeline, the lack of a successful French Revolution means that the left-right metaphor for political alignment is never established. Kronmiller is a radical because he wants the government to be more egalitarian than does Ezra Gallivan, the leader of the Coalition, as well as the head of the party's moderate wing. When he becomes chief executive of the Confederation of North America in 1888, Gallivan does not try to redistribute the country's wealth (or at least, Sobel doesn't mention him doing so). Instead, he repurposes the National Financial Administration into a sort of quasi-governmental venture capital firm, issuing business loans to start-up companies in return for equity stakes, and funding the loans by issuing bonds rather than using tax revenues.

Gallivan himself was more radical than his predecessor, John McDowell, but Gallivan emphasized spending cuts and tax cuts. Gallivan was also, unlike McDowell, a fervent isolationist, reducing military spending and ending McDowell's efforts to forge closer ties with the rest of the British Empire. Kronmiller, even more radical than Gallivan, was also less isolationist, being an adherent of the Moral Imperative, a social movement that sought to expand North American influence in the rest of the world (which Kronmiller called "the North American mission.") Unlike McDowell's Liberals, Kronmiller's radical wing of the P.C. wanted the C.N.A. to act on its own behalf, rather than in concert with the British Empire, which the radicals regarded as hopelessly reactionary. Thus, during the wave of hysteria that followed the Mexican invasion of Russian Alaska in 1898, Gallivan had to fend off both the radical interventionists led by Kronmiller, and the reactionary interventionists led by McDowell's protégé Douglas Sizer. It may have been their diametrically opposed ideologies that kept Gallivan's numerically superior enemies from combining to oust him from power at the height of the Starkist Terror.

In spite of ten years of effort, Kronmiller was never able to gain control of the People's Coalition and put through his own radical agenda. After the victory of Gallivan's own protégé Albert Merriman in 1908, a bitter Kronmiller referred to Merriman's tenure in office as "the fifth term of King Ezra Gallivan."

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: March 29

On March 29, 1920, incumbent Mexican President Victoriano Consalus and his challenger General Emiliano Calles held a vitavised debate. Calles was visibly ill at ease, and Consalus scored point after point against him. When he was asked what he would do about slavery, Calles said that he "would study the matter," apparently unaware that the slavery question had been under study for four years. In a story that appeared the next day in the Mexico City Tribune, Fernando Mordes wrote that "Consalus destroyed Calles as a matador finishes off a dull bull."

On March 29, 1921, James Billington, the scion of a North American political dynasty, and the youngest member of the Northern Confederation legislature, spoke dismissively of the League for Brotherhood. He said, "They are misguided, and led by Pied Pipers who cannot even find the river."

Billington's remarks were reported the next day in the New York Times.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: March 28

On March 28, 1961, Jeffrey Martin, the editor of the New York Herald, and former People's Coalition nominee for governor-general, wrote an editorial attacking Governor-General Richard Mason's refusal to increase defense spending. "Mexico had threatened; none can doubt it," Martin wrote. "Preparedness may prevent war, not cause it. That is why we must re-arm as soon as humanly possible."

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sobel Wiki: The Corruption of Progress

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the Era of Faceless Men.

As I've noted previously, the history of the Confederation of North America, like that of our history's U.S.A., has several periods that have been given nicknames by historians. One such is the Era of Faceless Men, the period between the end of the Rocky Mountain War in 1855 and the Great Depression/Bloody Eighties of 1879.

The Era of Faceless Men bears a striking resemblance to the U.S.A.'s Gilded Age, a period of rapid industrialization, mass immigration, and political corruption following the American Civil War. The C.N.A.'s counterparts to Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester A. Arthur, and Grover Cleveland are William Johnson, Whitney Hawkins, Kenneth Parkes, and Herbert Clemens. Meanwhile, some of the same corporate titans show up in both histories: Gail Borden, Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, and Thomas Edison.

In both timelines, rampant political corruption and the domination of the national government by big business gives rise to a populist political party. The counterpart to our own history's People's Party is the Sobel Timeline's People's Coalition. But unlike our own Populists, the P.C. comes under the control of a brilliant, charismatic politician, Ezra Gallivan, who is able to overcome the institutional advantages enjoyed by the established parties, and gain power for himself and the Coalition.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: March 22

On March 22, 1922, Mexican President Emiliano Calles gave an address before Congress calling for plebiscites to be held in the U.S.M.'s five client states of Guatemala, New Granada, Hawaii, Alaska, and Siberia. Calles acted against the advice of his chief advisor, Secretary of State Albert Ullman, who had urged him to cultivate the support of the country's Anglo-Hispano elite. Since Kramer Associates controlled the economies of the client states, K.A. President Douglas Benedict was certain to oppose Calles' proposal.

On March 22, 1944, Mexican President Alvin Silva announced that he was nationalizing all Kramer Associates assets in the U.S.M., as part of the war effort against Japan and Australia. For reasons that Sobel never made clear, K.A. President John Jackson had chosen to oppose Silva's plan to conquer Japan, and had been subsidizing the Japanese war effort against Mexico. Sobel repeats Stanley Tulin's assertion that the complexity of K.A.'s corporate structure ensured that Silva's nationalization scheme gained him only one fifth of the company's assets, or even as little as one tenth. Sobel also states that the mass resignations of K.A. employees after the seizures crippled the Mexican war effort.