Friday, December 30, 2005

Alternate history of the world #1

WWI

Wikipedia lists following as "cascade effect" leading to the disastrous conflagration called World War I:
  • Austria Hungary threatens Serbia
  • Russian treaties with Serbia commit it to mobilise in Serbia's defense
  • France mobilises in sympathy with Russian ally
  • French mobilisation kick starts the Schlieffen Plan, and the eventual invasion of Belgium by Germany
  • Britain's treaty with Belgium commits it to defend Belgium from all aggressors
The Schlieffen Plan called for the German Army to strike through Belgium, swiftly knock out the French Army, and thereby secure Germany's Western flank; they would then be free to invade Russia, the real focus of their attention. A two front war was feared to be suicidal (as, indeed, it turned out to be - in WWI and WWII, as Hitler found out to great cost). It had the unwanted effect, however, of forcing

A two front war was a certainty because France had signed a mutual military assistance treaty with Russia in 1892. Britain also had a treaty with France (and later, Russia, creating the Triple Entente, which as I understand it constituted an alignment rather than an actual treaty), the Entente Cordiale - but this was not a mutual defense treaty, which is why the proximate cause of British entry into WWI was the invasion of Belgium (thereby violating the 1839 Treaty of London, which guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium), although that begs the question whether Britain would have entered the war anyway if Belgium had allowed Germany free congress in it's invasion of France.

Anyway, that's all the background. My question is, what if France had repudiated their treaty with Russia, leaving Germany free to fight the Russians on a single front? I sure we can all see multiple scenarios; one of course is that World War I takes place a little later in time and for different proximate reasons; but the nationalist tensions and grating empires would inevitably have led to a great war. The rest of the history of the 20th century continues not much changed (except that maybe the second world war occurs in the 1950s, featuring the nuclear-armed industrial juggernaut called the Germano-Russian Empire ...).

The second, more hopeful scenario is that a swift victory for Germany in Russia means the there is no Russian Revolution (I'm a quasi-socialist, but by no stretch of the imagination do I see the Russian Revolution as a good thing); no World War II; no holocaust (and thereby no Israel, no occupation, etc)... no cold war. On the flip side, the European empires last vastly longer than they do in our history - perhaps with no great wars to deplete the resources of the empires de-colonisation is fanciful idea (although the collapse of empire seems to be a historical inevitability - economically at least). Or would the socialist revolution happened later, just not in Russia, but maybe in a German Empire weakened by the cost of pacifying Russia (is revolution possible in an industrial society)?

Is it possible that a swift German victory in WWI would have made for a better world?

Or is there a certain amount of historical inevitability that things like the Cold War would occur - that the 20th century would necessarily create two (or more) nuclear armed superpowers or empires, that would necessarily view each other suspiciously purely because irrespective of ideology they were a potential threat to each other's dominance?

Can't we all just get along?


9 comments:

span said...

would Hitler have come about anyway though?

Apathy Jack said...

Hitler was nuts, but the Nationalism he tapped into was a product of the times - times created by the end of WWI.

If Germany has won on a single Russian front, WWII may never have happened. I think you're right to say that there would have been a Cold War, but the two sides would probably have been been the Germano-Russian Emire, and the British Empire...

Genius said...

Less countries are, all other things being equal, better - it means less chances for war and more intergrated policies (for example imagine dealing with kyoto of the british spanish and french still ruled most of the civilized world - you would only have to keep three countries happy!).

I think the germans would have eventualy taken on france and probably won.

Dribblor said...

I agree that the rise of Nazism was less likely if Germany had won quickly, but you also have to remember that there were three (primary) partners in the axis alliance (still sounds like a Wrestling tag team to me).Japanese empirical ambitions would still have become an issue by the mid to late 40s, and the rise of fascism in the late 20s in italy had more to with the economy, combined with frustrated Italian dreams of empire than after effects of the war. Also, the decay of the Ottoman empire was already proceeding at pace by the early teens, so some form of major conflict may have become inevitable as nations squabbled over the remnants. I like this game

Herr Dummkopf von Kranken-Brainen said...

You know, I'd completely forgotten about the Ottomans. I don't know much about the history of that area at that time - surely the Ottoman Empire was on it's last legs at that point in history and would have collapsed from any large external shock?

Rich said...

On the atomic bomb: Unless something happened to seriously retard the science of physics, the theory of fission chain reactions would have been discovered by the mid-1930's. It's then just a question of which countries could/would spend the money on making enriched uranium and/or plutonium and configuring them into a bomb. It would have happened sometime between 1945 and the present day, I suspect.

Aside from that, I'd suggest that the Nazis would not have gained power in a Germany that enjoyed economic growth inside secure borders. The military aristocracy and manufacturing elites would have been substantially opposed and without these groups Hitler could not have gained power.

Anonymous said...

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Anonymous said...

(My bad)

Listen: The Nationalism that led to the Nazis was not a product of WW1, it long predated WW1. Economic turmoil would've followed any war that occurred, due to the virtual lack of international trade at the dawn of the 19th century, which itself was a result of Imperialism.

Even Bismarck knew that a conflict was inevitable - because realistically - Germany was the elephant in the room. You could not have seen a Europe divided between Britain and Germany.

While it may not have been Nazism, Europe was marching towards Fascism long before WW1. Europe, for many socioeconomic and cultural reasons which are too lengthy to explain here, will *always* lean towards Fascism.

Maybe the names and faces would've been different, but WW1, the rise of Fascism, WW2 and the Cold War were inevitable.

And let’s not even start on the Holocaust, which was also an inevitability.

Anonymous said...

Nooo,
war was not sure thing. Specially WWII. Let us see ...
1. WWI France out of ( highly iprobasble ) but then
2. Russia out of the war, defeted, 1915/1916
3. No Lenin/Stalin
4. No Hitler
5. No Nazis, no Faschism in Italy
6. KuK well alive and kicking
7. Some kind of EU including Germany, AH, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Turkey ( Iraq and Arabia included ) and may be Italy
8. Peace terms - any ideas
Baltic states and Finland out of Russia, but the crux is Ukraine ...

9. Or a single great Reich: Germany - AH - Russia under Wilhelm II or even Franz Josef