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Alternate History

Article about: During the past ten years a somewhat intellectual game of second-guessing has become a popular line of reasoning among people who for some reason are not satisfied with how things actually w

  1. #21

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    Lithgow: You have opened the door to a vast and very interesting topic; why we won and the Germans lost. It's a field that has been plowed time and time again, but it is still interesting because there are always people who believe that had just one or two things been done differently, the outcome might have been entirely different, with the Germans coming out on top--or as near the top as they could with their economy shattered, their cities little more than heaps of smoldering rubble, and their industries virtually non-existent. Of course, those conditions did not exist in Germany until 1944-45, and an early victory, say in 1941 or 42 would created something entirely different. Or would it have? A problem I have with Alternate History is that it's is all founded on hypothetical situations and rarely takes into account how unpredictable man-powered events can be and usually are. I have said this before, and I will say it again now, there is no such thing as linear history in which each cause-and-effect event produces another cause-and-event that produces another until finally the predictable end occurs as if on schedule. Events do not produce a next absolutely predicable event. The problem with Alternate History is that it depends entirely on linear history. I have not read or seen Fatherland, so I have no idea how the author handled Germany's lack of adequate air cover over the invasion, what sort of landing craft did they use and when and where did they develop them, and where did they find the necessary ASW vessels to protect the fleet? In fact, I would not be surprised if the threat from British and French submarines was not even addressed in the scenario. If it was addressed, I would sure like to read what he said about it. When you wrote, "The Allies DID win and for good reasons, some of which were supplied by the Germans themselves," you hit the nail on the head. Dwight

  2. #22

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    A friend of mine, a professor of computer science at UCL, developed a theoretical model used initially by the military to analyse historical battle outcomes but whereby various battle scenarios and inputs can be used to predict alternate outcomes or histories. This model is now used by military planners to evaluate and predict outcomes of their current battle/operational decision making.

    So there is very real-world value in studying battlefield alternate histories.
    I collect, therefore I am.

    Nothing in science can explain how consciousness arose from matter.

  3. #23

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    Theory and theoretical outcomes are fine as long as it is remembered that it is just that - a theory and nothing more. I suppose the invasion of Iraq seemed a good idea on paper. But when you look at the state of the country now, you really have to ask yourself if it really was a good idea. Predicting the likely outcome is usually far removed from the actual outcome in a battle.
    Author of... 'Belfast Diaries: A Gunner In Northern Ireland'... 'A Tough Nut To Crack: Andersonstown.. Voices From 9 Battery Royal Artillery In Northern Ireland'... 'An Accrington Pal: The Diaries of Pte Jack Smallshaw, September 1914 To March 1919'.

  4. #24

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    StefanM: I agree with Harry the Mole, while the theoretical battlefield outcomes are based on the historical fact that the battle did occur, the software-projected possible outcomes are based on factors that did not occur during the battle. Therefor the problematical outcome is a useful training and planning tool, but it isn't history. I think the problem many of us have with trying to pin down Alternate History is semantics. Discussing what might have happened is a different thing than trying to use the theoretical outcome as the basis for proving a point. And the latter is what the Alternate History buffs do. Dwight

  5. #25

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    I would like tighten the meaning a bit on what I call Alternate History because I do think there is a semantics issue here. First, I will say that in my opinion, discussions that deal with what might have happened had this or that been different are interesting, fun, and certainly useful in training future war planners. That sort of activity is not Alternate History. As StefanM pointed out in his post, the same approach holds true when military leaders plan an upcoming battle, thus following one of Napoleon's Maxims of War, "In forming the plan of a campaign it is requisite to foresee everything the enemy may do, and be prepared with the necessary means to counteract it." On the other hand, Helmut Molke is reported to have said, "No plan survives contact with the enemy." Either way, neither guessing what the enemy might do, nor explaining why the plan failed, are Alternate History. They deal with facts based on what people thought might happen and what did happen.
    Alternate Histories are often used to support a social, economic, or political positions. That being so, the problem with Alternate History is that it leads to endless debates for which there is no resolution. Since we on this Forum are interested in military matters, let's take the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The historical fact is that the United States did drop the bombs and the Japanese did surrender very shortly after. That is cause and effect; bombs dropped, enemy surrendered. Not long after the war the use of nuclear weapons against the Japanese became a moral issue out of which grew the argument, based entirely on Alternate History, that dropping those two bombs was unnecessary because the Japanese were going to surrender anyway. Today, the anti-bomb-dropping argument is alive and well, and while the moral issues are subject to debate, as is the argument that the Japanese were going to surrender anyway, the uncontestable historical fact is the bombs were dropped and the war ended.
    I agree that the application of Alternate History to raise a moral issue has merit, but it doesn't explain why something that did happen, happened. The answers to questions of cause and effect can only be answered by studying history not by trying to alter it. Dwight

  6. #26

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    Quote by drmessimer View Post
    The historical fact is that the United States did drop the bombs and the Japanese did surrender very shortly after. That is cause and effect; bombs dropped, enemy surrendered. Not long after the war the use of nuclear weapons against the Japanese became a moral issue out of which grew the argument, based entirely on Alternate History, that dropping those two bombs was unnecessary because the Japanese were going to surrender anyway.
    Alternate history is a genre of fiction, and an often enjoyable one at that.

    But isn't what you describe in the above scenario the academic discussion/analysis regarding the rights, wrongs or possible alternatives to the military or political decision making surrounding a particular event in history rather than it being based on an alternate history.

    IMO an alternative history is when several aspects of the same events are completely divergent in the historiography such as in the founding of the State of Israel from the Jewish point of view as opposed to the divergent/alternative history of the same events held by most Arab historians.
    I collect, therefore I am.

    Nothing in science can explain how consciousness arose from matter.

  7. #27

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    StefanM: That's a good reply, but it is still a matter of semantics. You argue that, "Alternate history is a genre of fiction, and an often enjoyable one at that." I agree with you that it's enjoyable, but for me History is a discipline whereas historical fiction is not. Fiction in any form is still fiction, based of varying degrees of fact and infused with a great deal of imagination. Alternate History, as I understand the term, is not a discipline, but it also isn't intended to be fiction per se. Alternate History purports to be a serious study of what happened and offers an alternate conclusion on which a serious historical discussion can be based, and from which valid conclusions can be drawn. I'll give you the serious discussion part, but drawing valid conclusions from Alternate History is, in my opinion, like throwing chicken bones into a circle to foretell the future. Now, if you were to use a work of historical fiction to draw historical conclusions, I would agree that you are using it a an Alternate History. But I would also argue that the conclusions drawn are without merit since the source does not meet the standards of historical discipline. The term Historical Process is the use of primary sources to describe and evaluate a historical event, a critical element that Alternate History lacks. I did enjoy your post and I thank you for posting it. Dwight

  8. #28
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    Quote by drmessimer View Post
    Since we on this Forum are interested in military matters, let's take the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The historical fact is that the United States did drop the bombs and the Japanese did surrender very shortly after. That is cause and effect; bombs dropped, enemy surrendered.
    There is a respectable school of historical thought that it was the declaration of war on Japan by the USSR, on 9 August 1945, and the rapid overwhelming of Japanese forces in Manchuria that followed, which was the decisive factor in deciding the Japanese leadership to surrender on the 15 August.

    Philip

  9. #29

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    Philip: That's absolutely true, but that isn't Alternate History, it's a valid conclusion drawn from historical fact. The conclusion can be debated, but the thesis is certainly based on fact. That's a great post. Dwight

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