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Great What-Ifs of History


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Initial post: Jan 22, 2013 8:17:08 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 24, 2013 5:29:26 AM PST
I have been absent from this forum for years, but about 4 or 5 years ago I presented this same topic for public discussion here, and it resulted in a very lively and satisfying discussion. So, I thought perhaps enough time has passed that presenting this topic for discussion again would not be amiss.

So here goes:

We're discussing Counterfactual History. This is a scholarly exercise that goes at least all the way back to ancient Rome. To contribute an idea, please do the following:

1. present us with a specific historic event
2. propose a realistic and probable alternate event
3. if you wish, provide a brief analysis of how the alternate event would have changed history

This is meant to be a fun discussion, so please no name calling, no disrespectful jabs, and be polite. The inserted link is just ONE of many books written on this subject.

The Collected What If? Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been

Later edit: For anyone new to this thread, do not feel obligated to read all of the posts before contributing. If something you bring to the discussion has already been touched upon, nobody will hold it against you, and if you want to propose a new idea, please feel free to jump in and do so. This thread is HEAVILY MODERATED by me to try to keep the discussion friendly and relaxed, so feel free to contribute.

Posted on Jan 22, 2013 8:36:44 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 22, 2013 8:48:50 PM PST
To get the ball rolling, here's one of my favorites. In 1918 Vladimir Lenin was almost killed by an assassin, Fanya Kaplan, a disenchanted Menshevik socialist, who shot him twice. The doctors could not remove one of the bullets that lodged in his neck next to his spine until four years later. Many historians and physicians have concluded that the physical trauma these wounds gave Lenin led eventually to his untimely strokes he received, culminating in him becoming debilitated and eventually dying in 1924. As a result of his weakened state, he was not able to attend meetings of the Central Committee in person, and was unable to accomplish the ousting of Joseph Stalin before he died. As a result of his weakened state, Stalin was able to assert his takeover of the government, and when Lenin eventually died, Stalin became the leader of the Soviet Union.

Stalin then set about an incredible transformation of the Soviet Union. He was able to push industrialization and modernization at a much greater speed than Lenin would have been able to have accomplished, mostly because Stalin was much more ruthless and tyrannical than Lenin. Stalin was a monster, there's no mistaking it. However, Stalin did bring Russia from a backward, peasant, almost medieval country into a modern industrialized nation within just 15 years.

Then 1941 comes and the Germans invade the Soviet Union. Stalin moved the factories behind the Urals, and within a year was cranking out thousands of T-34 tanks and other military equipment at a rate that was higher than any other nation excempt the US. Without this industrial capability the Germans would almost certainly have defeated the Russians.

Fanya Kaplan was arrested by the Tsar's secret police and was tortured and sent to a Siberia labor camp, where she almost nearly died several times.

So, the alternate possible event is this. Had Kaplan died in Siberia, she would not have tried to assassinate Lenin (she acted alone). And had Lenin not been shot, he almost certainly would not have suffered the debilitating strokes that led to his incapacity and inability to oust Stalin. Had this happened, had Lenin lived and ousted Stalin, then the Soviet Union would not have undergone the miraculous industrialization that took place in the 30s. And if that was the situation, the Germans would possibly have been victorious in Operation Barbarossa to capture Russia, with its oil fields and resources. Had the Germans succeeded in defeating the Red Army in 1941, it would have made it impossible for the Americans and British to have defeated them on the Continent.

In other words, had Kaplan died in Siberia, there would perhaps still be a Third Reich dominating much of Europe today.

Posted on Jan 22, 2013 9:24:10 PM PST
Jeff Marzano says:
To me one of the critical 'what if' scenarios would involve the discovery of atomic energy and nuclear weapons.

There are myths that seem to describe the use of atomic weapons in the very ancient past on planet Earth. Oppenheimer quoted from one of those Hindu myths after witnessing his brain child, the first atomic bomb, detonate successfully.

The mysterious alchemist Fulcanelli confirmed that yes it is true that atomic weapons were used before World War II. Apparently Hitler and the boys were trying to find Fulcanelli since they realized he could have helped them rediscover atomic energy and God knows what other terrible alchemical secrets.

A nuclear holocaust on planet Earth would be the ultimate failure of the human race. Evil will have somehow triumphed over good. Any use of atomic weapons in a population center today could only be considered catastrophic and would have a destabilizing effect that our world might not be able to recover from or stop from escalating.

In the movie Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines SkyNet initiates the nuclear launch sequence at the precise time of 6:18. In other words 6:6+6+6.

In the Book Of Revelation 666 is called 'the number of man'. In other words that number represents mankind's attempts to live without God's direction.

Another is what if Lee Oswald hadn't been killed by Jack Ruby. If Oswald had been allowed to start talking the history of these United States would be very different today assuming the government still even existed in its current form. Related to Oswald is the Kennedy assassination I believe.

To me underlying all of these scenarios is the eternal struggle between good and evil and the unfathomable hand of fate. That struggle plays out in the lives of mortals. Every war has its villains and heroes I guess.

I heard a sermon one time in the Catholic Church around Easter time. The priest said the story of Jesus Christ isn't about any historical time period. It's the story of two opposing forces that became personified in the lives of individuals. The one force tried to destroy the other.

People sometimes view World War II in the same way. They see people like Hitler as the personification of evil.

In mythology there are good gods and evil gods. The Aztecs rejected Quetzalcoatl in favor of the evil 'god of the smoking mirror'. That's when the blood letting started up again with the human sacrifice.

In his Atlantis story Plato seems to say that the destruction of Atlantis was the result of the spiritual decline of the population. Plato attributes this catastrophe to the wrath of Zeus and Poseidon.

There are other theories about what exactly destroyed Atlantis that are equally strange such as it involved sorcery and black magic.

Whatever the Hell destroyed the continent of Atlantis could have probably destroyed the entire planet. Perhaps Zeus and those others didn't destroy Atlantis but rather decided about the scope of this disaster.

The Philosopher's Stone: Alchemy and the Secret Research for Exotic Matter [Paperback]
Joseph P. Farrell (Author)

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 6:10:23 AM PST
Jeff: Your post has almost nothing to do with the subject of this discussion. Please delete it so that we can begin this discussion on counterfactual history in a meaningful way.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 6:12:35 AM PST
Debunker says:
Thanks Curtis. Marzano has a very tenuous grasp on reality, as is evident by the above post.

For me, a great "what if" is what if Lincoln had served out his entire second term and implemented reconstruction the way he envisioned it. What impact would that have had on race relations, and how would things be today?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 8:59:07 AM PST
I think one of the great what-ifs of history involves Lee Harvey Oswald's attempted murder of Maj. Gen Edwin Walker in March of 1963. While Oswald stood in the parking lot of a building belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints he misjudged a window's horizontal wooden frame between Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano and his intended target--Maj. General Walker. The bullet glanced off the wooden frame throwing it off only a couple of degrees but missing Walker's head and striking the wall behind him.

Had Oswald possibly not taken a breath right as he pulled the trigger, the rifle barrel would have been a fraction of a degree lower and the bullet would have hit its intended target. While this would have been tragic for Walker and his family, there is a very good chance that Oswald would NOT have then felt the need to murder Kennedy, as he did, eight months later. And had Walker been murdered, the investigation may have led to Oswald's front door and his subsequent arrest thus preventing his murder of Kennedy and Tippit in November of 1963.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 9:40:11 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 23, 2013 10:56:08 AM PST
IGS says:
Curtiss

Terrific subject with no real answers beyond the imagination.

SV

It is irrelevant as was the presidency of JFK. So probably not a great what if.

Curtis,

Lenin had essentially the same aims as Stalin, so the change would have generally not amounted to much.

The real miracle is that the USSR was able to recover from Case Blau, at all. Even shoving those factories beyond the Ural's, one wonders how they rebuilt the industry. The equipment, obsolete, shoddy, poor quality, conditions deplorable ... I guess it is one of the advantages of a police state. What if the the Soviet people just said f' it and packed it in? Had Hitler been even slightly racially sensitive the USSR would have walked right into his arms, willingly. But then again, he would not have been Hitler.

And I seriously believe, invading the continent was not "impossible", it would have taken place, collapse of the USSR or no. In the end, the Germans would have been just as crushed. The US was simply just that powerful. It is important to conceptualize that the General Motors Company, by itself, out produced the entire nation of Japan and the top 5 US companies outproduced the entire axis powers and everyone else except the Russians, combined. Moreover, for all of the avalanche of war material and soldiers coming out of America, the USA had vastly more capacity. Moreover, the US was vastly more productive than Germany (who in reality and retrospect was the only real threat). The US was able to produce 3X the output per ton of steel than Germany. Germany's industrial foundation was fundamentally flawed and simply could not keep up ... even with the Russians. Moreover, one wonders whether the German's would have been able to make use of the resources and industry of Russia at all. It was primitive, had poor infrastructure, and a thoroughly unmotivated work force coupled with a particularly venomous partisan network. I don't know how much mileage they could have got out of the USSR.

And then ... there is the Manhattan product. The war ends in Germany in 1945 ... just like it did. Lenin or no Lenin, Stalin or no Stalin. The US really was not a sleeping giant, but in Greek mythic terms, a sleeping god. The axis really dropped the ball in tangling with the US, it was a mistake of absolutely catastrophic proportions. In all fairness, I don't think even the US knew it was capable of so much.

But it is a terrific what if.

What if Harold wins at Hastings? Are we all posting in Norwegian now?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 10:32:20 AM PST
Someone named IGS wrote: "It is irrelevant as was the presidency of JFK. So probably not a great what if. "

SVA: Clearly IGS is not what one would call a real "deep thinker" when it comes to historical analysis. But...these forums are all open to everyone--thinkers and morons alike. Speaking on behalf of the thinkers I welcome a poster from the OTHER side to the discussion. Welcome aboard IGS.

Posted on Jan 23, 2013 10:42:19 AM PST
Thank you, Jeff, for removing your post. I believe it would be fine to include all of what you said in another thread, just not this one, since we're focusing on counterfactual scenarios here. I appreciate your removing it.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 10:51:13 AM PST
Debunker,

I don't have a problem with Jeff, since he voluntarily removed his off-topic post.

Per Lincoln's second term: Absolutely! I believe one of the greatest tragedies of our nation was not having a second term for our greatest president. Many people have conjectured about what a difference it would have made to have had a strong hand at the till guiding us through the difficulties of Reconstruction, instead of Johnson, who was absolutely inept.

However, not too many people are aware that Lincoln was actually starting to address some issues regarding the unchecked and unregulated markets and industries in the US. It would take another generation before a Republican president managed to bring this issue to the fore - Teddy Roosevelt. Had Lincoln served another term, perhaps we would have seen legislation sponsored by him that would have regulated monopolies and busted up mega-trusts. He once wrote in his journal in his last year in office something along the lines (paraphrasing from memory here, so perhaps this is not absolutely accurate): "We have now put an end to chattel slavery, now we must put an end to the slavery of bonded labor of the factory and mill".

Lincoln read Karl Marx's writings and admired them. "Das Kapital" was published two years after Lincoln's death, and who knows what impact that may have had on Lincoln's political ideas. I believe he was partly receptive to some of Marx's ideas, especially the concept of how workers ought to have a say in how the capital they created was used.

Bravo for a good "What If"!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 10:52:23 AM PST
S.V.: Interesting. I had not known of this incident. Why wasn't Oswald arrested for this?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 10:53:26 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 23, 2013 11:00:05 AM PST
IGS says:
Awww! SV, temper, temper. JFK was not the brightest bulb in the box ... lets face it. He is famous mostly for what "he might have done", but alas with so many politicians ... you haven't done it ... until you have done it. In the long sweep of political tides, whether JFK gets blasted or not is sorta irrelevant, much like Garfield's assassination. That is how they are beginning to view the JFK assassination even now, the kids are learning that perhaps the Nixon presidency was far more significant, for good and evil (... all in the same guy), than JFK's all too short presidency. You want a presidential "what if", try Lincoln as debunker said. That is the one I always see. As for the ideas of Marx ... not so sure. He likely would have been more of the TR ilk, which is a good thing

I am sorry if the depth of my thought is up to your standards, but I think I'd give you a run for your money that you would be truly shocked by. But don't worry I'm not insulted.

BTW, I did like you absolute assassination of JFK conspiracy theorists. Amusing as well as educational. But, with deep sadness .... adieu

Posted on Jan 23, 2013 10:57:02 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Feb 8, 2013 10:01:48 AM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 10:57:50 AM PST
Jeff Marzano says:
S. V. Anderson says:

[SVA: Clearly IGS is not what one would call a real "deep thinker" when it comes to historical analysis.]

Boy you're really throwing stones from a glass house now Anderson.

If you were the last person alive on this planet who thought Oswald really killed Kennedy and did those other things you would still not admit you are wrong. As it is most people on Earth disagree with you even now.

One of these days you're going to wake up Anderson and look at the gigantic bookcase there with all of that crap you have been reading about that the government fed you. You will realize then that you have wasted your entire adult life.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 11:00:24 AM PST
IGS: Actually, Lenin and Stalin had very different agendas. Lenin was in the process of instituting state capitalism (similar in some ways to what the Peoples' Republic of China has going on today). This would have not been as effective in bringing the Soviet Union into as great a level of industrialization as Stalin's Five Year Plans did. Granted, millions of people died under Stalin's harsh methods, but the end result was that under Stalin the Soviet Union became more rapidly industrialized than if it had been following the plans layed out by Lenin before he died.

Per Hastings:
A great "What If" - absolutely. However, I think one needs to be careful with this. I doubt we'd be speaking Norwegian for a couple of reasons: 1) King Harold had already defeated the Norwegian Harald Hardrada before he rode in haste to join in battle against William in the south. And 2) the Anglo Saxons did not seem to be nearly as aggressive and determined to go out and conquer new lands as the Normans were. Had the Normans not conquered England, it is debatable that the English would have managed to unite the British Isles under one crown and then gone out to establish the largest empire in the history of the world. That outward push was a legacy of the Normans, not the Anglo Saxons. So... there would probably not have been nearly as many Brits colonizing North America as there were under the real history. Certainly not the Southern colonies, which were basically re-creations of Norman manor estates. Perhaps if anything America would be speaking French...

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 11:06:29 AM PST
Jeff Marzano says:
Curtis Allred says:

[Thank you, Jeff, for removing your post.]

Don't thank me prematurely. I'm not going to remove it. If you want to rat me out with the amazon police maybe they will.

This is a purely hypothetical and theoretical discussion. I feel what I said is in the ballpark of being relevant.

Not everyone agrees about what really happened historically and why anyway. Now you're muddying the waters even more by asking "What if the things that people think happened, but don't really agree about, had happened differently ?"

Well it didn't happen differently. That's all just conjecture.

Admittedly what I said isn't as much about what could have happened differently as about why what really did happen happened based on what I believe.

I believe in the Marian apparitions at Fatima also which happened during World War I. The goddess told the kids that if people did not stop offending God another more terrible war would happen. She said that when people saw a night illumined by a strange light this would be the sign that God's judgement on the world was imminent.

And in fact on the eve of World War II people saw a strange glow in the sky. This is a historical fact. Look it up. That was probably the red horseman of the apocalypse, the horseman of war.

Can we interpret this as meaning that World War II was caused by God's vengeance on an ungrateful, indifferent, sacrilegious world ? That's one interpretation.

So that's another what if.

What if World War II never happened ?

Posted on Jan 23, 2013 11:11:12 AM PST
DarthRad says:
IGS,

You forget that JFK was replaced by LBJ, who was, for good or worse, one of the most significant figures of American history of the 20th Century.

While it is true that JFK accomplished almost nothing, his assassination put LBJ on the throne. LBJ had previously been marginalized and isolated in the JFK administration and had become terribly frustrated at his non-functional job as Vice President. After the assassination, LBJ went on a personal crusade to "outdo" JFK, to prove that he was better than JFK.

LBJ was not originally a Civil Rights crusader, but took on the Civil Rights agenda that had been failing under JFK and powered it through Congress. LBJ powered Medicare and WIC and Food Stamps and all the modern American welfare Great Society programs through Congress.

It is doubtful that a less ruthless or determined politician with such a deep knowledge of how Congress functioned could have accomplished everything that LBJ did. It is also doubtful that LBJ could have ever been elected president on his own without JFK's assassination. And, had he been elected as president in his own right, rather than as the accidental successor to the far more glamorous and mourned "Martyr President", he probably would not have felt the intense ego drive to outshine his nemesis JFK and push through these very politically controversial programs, many of which hurt his Democratic Party for decades

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 11:14:24 AM PST
Curtis wrote: "Interesting. I had not known of this incident. Why wasn't Oswald arrested for this?"

SVA: There was no arrest because no one knew who did it. In fact had Oswald not murdered Kennedy in November this case would still be unsolved. But after Oswald assassinated Kennedy, his wife (Oswald's) told of the night Oswald returned home to their small apartment and told her he had just killed Walker (of course Oswald didn't know he had missed at the time.) But the attempted murder of Walker by Oswald gives us a glimpse into the mindset of Oswald. "When a poltical issue needed resolution, a murder will often do nicely."

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 11:17:24 AM PST
ISG: I wanted to touch on the idea that you mentioned how the US defeated Germany. To put it succinctly, although the US and Great Britain contributed to Germany's defeat, and although many brave people made enormous sacrifices from those countries, it was in most serious historians' opinion the Soviet Union that defeated Germany, not America and Britain.

Again: The Soviets defeated Germany.

They could have done it alone without help from the West. Had Germany defeated the Soviet Union, the Brits and Americans would not have had a chance against defeating the Germans.

Here is a quote from one of the most thorough and respected scholars of this subject. This is from the book "Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-1945", by Alan Clark, from the introduction on page xviii-xix:

"From this study is one left with any general conslusions? I believe the answer to be yes, but they are not of a kind from which we in the West can derive much comfort. It does seem that the Russians could have won the war on their own, or at least fought the Germans to a standstill, without any help from the West. Such relief as they derived from our participation - the distraction of a few enemy units, the supply of a large quantity of material, was marginal, not critical. It affected, that is to say, the duration but not the outcome of the struggle. It is true that once the Allies had landed in Normandy the drawing-off of reserves assumed critical proportions. But the threat, much less the reality, of a 'Second Front' only became a factor after the real crisis in the East had passed."

Do not get me wrong: in no way do I want to diminish the sacrifices made by the Americans and British in defeating the Third Reich. But any objective analysis of the European Theatre during WWII must lead one to the conclusion that it was the Red Army that defeated the Wehrmacht.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 11:17:31 AM PST
Jeff Marzano wrote: "I believe in the Marian apparitions at Fatima also which happened during World War I. The goddess told the kids that if people did not stop offending God another more terrible war would happen. She said that when people saw a night illumined by a strange light this would be the sign that God's judgement on the world was imminent."

SVA: Let me get this straight...You DON'T believe the Mount Everest of evidence proving that Oswald assassinated Kennedy all by himself but you DO believe that Mary appeared to a bunch of kids and warned of impending doom?

I think this single comment of yours Jeff answers ALL of the questions I've ever had about you.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 11:18:58 AM PST
IGS: One additional comment from your post, this time concerning the Atom Bomb. I believe that it is very easy to overestimate the importance that the Atomic Bomb had in WWII.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 11:19:10 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 23, 2013 12:16:35 PM PST
IGS says:
Curtiss

Lenin was a very mean SOB as well as Stalin, their goals were the same: 20th Century state modeled on a communist foundation, the real thinker in the bunch (Trotsky) ended up with an ice pick in his head

Ah, not the best what if (Hastings) but it was interesting. French ... possibly, or Spanish oh wait I live in California I already am Adios

I think in the end, the hate-filled psychology of the Nazi's goes down the tubes, perhaps from within if not from without but I do like the extenuation of the one act (Lenin's assassination) into a vast geo-panopoly of events. I wonder if the Japanese killing Mao early on would have similarly vast repercussions?

But I think the USSR would have been a vastly different place under Trotsky than Stalin. Besides, I liked his goatee better that Stalin's stupid walrus moustache.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 11:20:11 AM PST
Bairn: Fantastic "What If"! A united England/France - wow, that would have been something.

So, I wonder what would have happened to that empire come the Reformation? Perhaps it would have gone the same way as the Hapsburgs...

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 11:23:24 AM PST
S.V.: Let's not call each other names, please. This is not a place to have a fight, since we're just yakking about possibilities here. Let's express our opinions, disagree politely with others' and try to keep to the high road in our discussions in this thread. Feel free to lambast one another in other threads, but please not this one. :)

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 11:24:43 AM PST
Jeff Marzano wrote: "And in fact on the eve of World War II people saw a strange glow in the sky. This is a historical fact. Look it up."

SVA: I would like to read more about this "strange glow in the sky" please direct me to where I can read about the historical accuracy of this allegation, Jeff.
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Initial post:  Jan 22, 2013
Latest post:  Mar 21, 2013

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