Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sobel Wiki: Incidental expenses

Right now, I'm the driving force behind the Sobel Wiki. My fellow For All Nails contributor David Mix Barrington has done a lot of work, especially in creating the FAN archive, and a few other Sobel fans have appeared from time to time to help out, but it's mainly been me. As a result, I'm the one who gets to decide which article should be featured each week.

How do I decide? One way is to open my battered copy of For Want of a Nail to a random page and create an article from something there, and that article often becomes the week's featured article. For example, last month I opened the book to pages 116-117, which tells of Miguel Huddleston's second run for President of the United States of Mexico in 1839. That led me to turn the article on Huddleston from a stub to a comprehensive article, and it became the featured article. Last week, I opened the book to pages 356-357, which talks about changing public opinion about the Global War in the Confederation of North America, and Governor-General Bruce Hogg's decision to provide covert military aid to the British. The result was an expansion of the article on the Global War, which then became the featured article.

Well, yesterday morning, I opened up the book to pages 308-309, which discusses the debate on slavery in the U.S.M. that followed the Chapultepec Incident of 4 January 1916, and includes a lengthy excerpt from a scholar named Theodore Holmes on the state of race relations in the country. This time, the result was an article on Victoriano Consalus, the Mexican president who created Holmes' commission, and wound up rejecting its findings.

I've found that having a featured article every week acts as a spur. I see all the dead links in the article that cry out to be turned into articles of their own, and I can't resist doing so. The Global War featured article gave rise to several subsidiary articles on South Pacific islands that were fought over by the Mexicans and the Japanese, and on terramobiles, the Sobel Timeline's version of the tank. I can already hear cries from several dead links in the Consalus article . . .

DBTL α: Greeks Bearing Gifts

This is the latest installment of the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth. With no spellbinding demagogue to unite them, Germany's radical right remains divided among several mutually hostile groups. In October 1932, ex-Army Captain Ernst Röhm, the leader of Germany's right-wing street fighters, siezes power in a coup d'etat. The fall of democracy in Germany sends ripples spreading throughout Europe . . .

Today's post was written by Demetrios Rammos, who has kindly consented to bring his wealth of knowledge of modern Greek history to add some much-needed verisimilitude to this timeline. So, without further ado, the Johnny Pez blog proudly presents:

Greeks Bearing Gifts
by Demetrios Rammos

Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos.
 Athens, Greece
5 March 1933

The election results were still being announced, but it seemed clear to Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos that his Liberal Party and its allies were losing to Tsaldaris' Populist Party. As he glanced up from the telegrams littering his desk, memories of the catastrophes that had followed the Populist victory in 1920 were fresh in his mind, and he felt every day of his 69 years. Although the stakes were not as high now as they had been then, the situation was still serious. Since its establishment in 1924, Greece's Republic had been fragile one. Since his return to power in 1928, Venizelos had done what he could to bring stability to the country, and for a few years he had succeeded. Unfortunately, in the wake of the Great Depression, things were coming unraveled. A deadlocked election had led to months of uncertainty, with governments following each other in rapid succession. Now, a new set of elections looked likely to give the Populists undisputed control of the country.

Tsaldaris' victory wasn't so bad in itself; although a royalist, Tsaldaris was a moderate man. But with Tsaldaris would come his allies Metaxas and, ironically, George Kondylis, and Venizelos knew they represented a danger to the Republic. Now that war clouds were gathering over Europe again, Greece had to be prepared and the last thing it needed was to have a king forced upon it again.

There was a knock at the door of his office, and General Nikolaos Plastiras entered, his peaked cap under his arm. As was his habit, he saluted, then came right to the point. "Mr. Prime Minister, I come for your advice."

Venizelos suspected what was coming, but he simply answered, "Yes?"

"It appears the democratic parties are losing the election."

Venizelos nodded. "That is unfortunately true."

Already ramrod straight, Plastiras somehow managed to stand even straighter. "So I came to ask you about launching a coup, to safeguard the democratic institutions from a restoration."

"You shall not."

Plastiras blinked in confusion. "Prime Minister?"

"Look at what happened to Germany last year, General."

"I have, Prime Minister. That is what I hope to avoid."

The Prime Minister was shaking his head. "You won't avoid this by
overthrowing a government by force of arms. Even a narrowly elected one."

The General's tone was resolute. "I am afraid, Prime Minister, that neither Kondylis nor Metaxas will be as circumspect with democratic institutions as you want us to be. There will be a coup; the only question is who will be leading it."

"There, General, you are correct. But now is not the time. A coup now, especially a coup without the slightest preparation behind it, would be worse than useless. The chance of success would be small, and the cost of failure would be great. So I most strongly advise you to do nothing against the newly elected government."

Although the General's face revealed nothing, Venizelos could sense his disappointment. "Very well, Prime Minister."

"General, there is an expression you may be familiar with. 'Give a man enough rope to hang himself with.' We will let Mr. Tsaldaris and his allies have their rope. After that, what will happen, will happen."

Athens, Greece
31 December 1934

Nearly two years had passed under the Populists. And throughout those two years the royalists had steadily prepared for the restoration of the monarchy, removing republicans from key positions in the police and the army, and replacing them with their own men. The royalist press didn't even bothering to disguise their plans. As they put it, Tsaldaris' government was a regime that couldn't be overthrown by constitutional means.

However, while the royalist coup was being prepared in the open, the republican coup was being prepared in secret. It was only a question of which side would be faster. Venizelos, back in his native Crete, watched as the Brownshirt regime in Germany tore up the Versailles treaty and began re-arming while the Western powers did nothing. There was another European war coming closer with each day, and Greece had to be ready for it.

Kondylis was set to remove Generals Plastiras and Mannetas from their commands with the new year. This proved to be an inspired bit of timing, because nobody was expected a coup on New Year's Eve.

Athens, Greece
20 July 1935

After the republicans seized power, Venizelos asked for 6 months to institute the reforms he considered necessary to stabilize the Republic. Afterward, he would retire, and a provisional government would hold elections three weeks later. He had kept his word. The amended constitution effectively turned Greece to a presidential republic similar to the American model. [1] With war looming ever larger in Europe, Venizelos had increased armaments production, which had had the happy side effect of pulling the Greek economy out of the Great Depression. Afterwards he had left Michalacopoulos, an acceptable figure for both the republicans and the royalists, to conduct the elections. The Liberals had won more narrowly than he'd have liked, but they won. Which now made the old Cretan President of the Republic.

Athens, Greece
1 June 1936

Sir Sydney Waterloo, His Majesty's ambassador to the Republic of Greece, looked at President Venizelos in surprise. "Let me see if I understand you, Mr. President. You're asking me to transmit to my government the offer of a declaration of war against Germany on the part of Greece?"

Venizelos smiled. "Exactly. Should your government accept, Greece is prepared to send a 3 division expeditionary force to Poland immediately, and dispatch the Greek light fleet in support of the Allied blockade of Germany. Of course, the Greek merchant marine, as well as the port of Thessaloniki, [1] will be placed at the service of the alliance as well. And I am hopeful that the other Balkan League members may well follow our lead. I certainly hope to persuade King Alexander and the Romanian government to do so."

Sir Sydney nodded. "And in exchange?"

"Twenty-four years ago, your government offered Greece a union with Cyprus in exchange for naval facilities. That offer was renewed in 1916. I feel that the time is ripe for another renewal of that offer. Back in 1864, your government allowed the Ionian Islands to join Greece. Extending the same generous gesture to the people of Cyprus would put the Greek nation in your debt."


[1] A modern observer from our own timeline would consider the new Greek government to be closer to that of the Fifth French Republic than the United States of America, but of course that comparison would not occur to any of the participants.

[2] The latter was considered by the Little Entente to be one of their main supply routes in the 1920s.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sobel Wiki: the road not taken

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the Global War, a worldwide conflict that consumed the Sobel Timeline from 1939 to 1948. The Global War was emphatically not a thinly-veiled retelling of our own timeline's Second World War. Rather than being started by a power-hungry dictator with dreams of global conquest, the Global War was sparked by a conflict between two imperial powers over control of natural resources in a peripheral area. In fact, as far as we can tell from Sobel's descriptions, all of the major powers that fought in the Global War had democratically-elected governments. Sobel even describes how three of the participating nations essentially voted for war by electing pro-war governments.

Of equal interest from an alternate-history viewpoint is the fact that the Confederation of North America, one of the Sobel Timeline's two analogues of our own U.S.A., remained neutral throughout the Global War. This is one of several instances where Sobel took an event from our world and had an analogous event in For Want of a Nail go the other way. Most obviously is the book's point-of-departure from our own history, when the American Revolution ends in a British victory and the thirteen colonies return to British rule. Next is 1789, when the incipient French Revolution is put down by the royalists, the French Revolutionary Wars never take place, and the ancien regime remains in power for another 90 years.

The Rocky Mountain War of the 1840s between the C.N.A. and Mexico does not end in a smashing victory for the C.N.A. Instead, Mexico succeeds in defeating a series of attacks by the North Americans, and suffers only a minor loss of territory in the subsequent peace negotiations. In the 1880s, Sobel's version of the Populist Party succeeds in displacing one of the two major parties in the C.N.A. And in 1914, a war between Mexico and France ends in a quick Mexican victory, and as far as we are told, no other nations are drawn into the war.

The Global War continues Sobel's habit of reversing the outcome of our world's events. Instead of a decisive victory for one side or the other, the Globel War ends in an exhausted stalemate, with hundreds of millions of people dead and most of the world in ruins.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sobel Wiki: Maiden Taiwan

This week's featured article on the Sobel Wiki concerns the island nation of Taiwan.

When the Sobel Timeline branched off from our own in 1777, Taiwan was a province of the Chinese Empire. By the 1930s in both timelines, Taiwan had become a Japanese possession. In our world, Japan annexed Taiwan in 1895 after defeating the Chinese in the First Sino-Japanese War. Sobel does not say how Japan acquired Taiwan in For Want of a Nail, but it was presumably done the same way.

In our history, Taiwan was restored to Chinese control after the defeat of Japan in 1945, but in the Sobel Timeline, things aren't nearly so clear-cut. In the Sobel Timeline's analogue to World War II, Japan and China were allies, fighting off invasion attempts by the United States of Mexico and Siberia. Japan was also informally allied with Kramer Associates, the Sobel Timeline's One Big Zaibatsu. As Sobel records, K.A. spent £20 billion subsidizing China's war against the U.S.M. and Siberia, and an equivalent amount in the rest of the Pacific region (i.e. Japan and Australia). Sobel also states that K.A. President John Jackson "had taken Taiwan in 1948," though he doesn't explain how he took it, or who he took it from. It may be that Jackson pressured the Japanese to sell Taiwan to K.A. as compensation for the company's financial support. In any case, the following year, Jackson's successor made Taiwan the company's headquarters, and ordered its industrialization. By the late 1950s, according to published statistics, Taiwan's growth rate reached the twelve percent per annum level.

The price for this phenomenal economic growth is that Taiwan's government is under the control of a world-bestriding corporation. The alt-Sobel who wrote For Want of a Nail in the Sobel Timeline, who has become a Kramer Associates flack, thinks this is a good thing. Those of us who find ourselves living under the control of too-big-to-fail corporations in the real world have reason to know better.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sobel Wiki: endless long hot summer

This week's featured article on the Sobel Wiki is on Howard Washburne, the founder of "Friends of Black Mexico" and the "League for Brotherhood". In For Want of a Nail, the slaves in the Southern states were freed almost painlessly in the early 1840s, and as they left the plantations many of them emigrated across the Mississippi to the southern half of OTL's Louisiana Purchase, known in the Sobel Timeline as the Confederation of Vandalia. The presence of so many black settlers into an area that until then had been almost uniformly white created a lot of friction, and even violence. The solution was to separate Vandalia into two states along the 40th parallel (the OTL border between Kansas and Nebraska) in 1877. The newly-created state had a population of about three million, two thirds of them black. By the turn of the 20th century, most of the white inhabitants had left, and a significant minority of Southern Vandalia's population was made up of runaway slaves from the Mexican state of Jefferson, which was just across the Arkansas River.

Needless to say, this was bound to create hostility between the Southern Vandalians and the Mexicans, and that only got worse when the Mexican government put some 8,000 slaves on trial for treason after they joined an invading French army in 1914. Howard Washburne was the Governor of Southern Vandalia at the time, and in February 1915 he publicly called for an end to the treason trials and the abolition of slavery in Mexico, and formed the Friends of Black Mexico to advance those aims. On January 4, 1916, the day before the verdict was due to be handed down, 2,000 F.B.M. members stormed the prison where the slaves were being held, and freed them, at a cost of over 1100 dead and 4000 injured.

Slavery was finally abolished in Mexico on May 14, 1920, and Washburne responded by transforming the F.B.M. into the League for Brotherhood, dedicated to ending racial discrimination in Washburne's own Confederation of North America. The L.B. attracted reformers and radicals who had other agendas, and in the summer of 1922 general dissatisfaction with society in the C.N.A. led to major riots and demonstrations, which Sobel called the worst since the 1880s.

Sobel wrote For Want of a Nail in the summer of 1971, towards the end of a period that had seen the United States wracked by race riots and mass demonstrations, and the book reflects this. Sobel's C.N.A. suffered periodic bouts of widespread political violence: during a severe economic crisis in the 1880s, the country was "plagued by looters, rioters, and the like"; in 1899 a two-week spasm of political violence known as the Starkist terror resulted in 436 deaths, 13,000 injuries, and almost a billion North American pounds in property damage; and, as mentioned above, the summer of 1922 saw "major riots and demonstrations . . . the worst since the 1880's" (i.e. worse than the hundreds killed and thousands injured in 1899).

The solution to the troubles of 1922, incidentally, was offered by a Sobel Timeline analogue of Henry Ford named Owen Galloway, who was able to calm the troubled waters by subsidizing mass emigration from the C.N.A.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sobel Wiki: One Big Zaibatsu

It's a little like Japan. Japan, before World War Two, had four and only four large zaibatsus, enormous conglomerates of interlocked companies, banks, and what have you.

In the United States of Mexico, there was One Big Zaibatsu that has practically run the country. I use that word 'practically' exactly, since they can and do force out Mexican leaders in Sobel's account. . . .

Historically, it's as if one company got very lucky in the robber baron corporate sweepstakes: banking, railroads, oil, steel, tropical fruit, and so on, all originally funded with gold rush money.

Then, since the nation in which they were mainly based took exception to having One Big Zaibatsu run everything, they gradually shifted their center of operations: from San Francisco to Hawaii to Manila to Taiwan.
This is Carlos Yu's description of Kramer Associates, the One Big Zaibatsu of For Want of a Nail. As Sobel notes in the book's final chapter, by the early 1970s Kramer Associates has reached the point where it controls almost one-sixth of the world's resources. Yet, until recently, the Sobel Wiki article on this corporate behemoth was a mere stub.

But no more. A week's moderately diligent effort on my part has expanded that stub into a comprehensive account of the rise and, well, further rise of Kramer Associates, which has earned it a place on the main page as this week's featured article.