Countries Not Immediately Affected by Your POD
So many times one reads alternate history timelines where the Point of Divergence affects country A, and has knock-on effects only to those countries that country A now does different things towards. Fifty years down the line country B, which never had any conflict with country A, is strangely, weirdly exactly the same as it was in Our Time Line, no butterflies having ever played with its destiny. But this makes no sense at all !
Perhaps the worst example of this kind of writing was Harry Turtledove in ‘The Great War’ series of books. Now, the first books were well-written and well-plotted within themselves but the assumptions underlying the historical convergence was a complete abdication of the role of alternate history. Despite the Confederates winning the American Civil War, despite their being a second such war twenty years later, also won by the CSA, there is STILL the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, and still the exact same alliance systems in Europe. The only difference is that the two American nations are aligned to one and the other, and thus start the war from the beginning.
Now, I will admit that this was an interesting narrative device, and I often see new posters asking on alternate history boards what a Confederate victory would mean for the First World War, but it makes no serious sense at all. The logical answer to that question would be that there would be NO First World War as we know it, and that there may in fact be one a lot sooner.
What needs to be remembered is that country B not doing something does mean it does nothing instead, it will do something else. Where country B is a knock-on from the POD, is affected by what may call second level butterflies this may not be immediately obvious to anyone who doesn’t really know the history of country B and thinks that somehow it exists in a vacuum of its own devising, immune from what everybody else does as long as it does not directly affect them.
But this is wrong, and illogical. Examples are easy to come by. Let us take Korea, a country that most people regard as the late nineteenth century whipping boy of East Asia. It is not immediately obvious that if there is a world war in 1878 Korea becomes Russian, perhaps. But let us see – if Germany defeats France in 1878, then France is in no position to defeat China in the Sino-French War of the 1880s, and thus Japan is in no position to defeat China in the early 1890s but some clash between China and Japan is likely to occur, with the probability that Japan does not do very well, even if it is able to avoid defeat. Russia’s ambitions in Korea will be strengthened by Japan’s weakness there, and one may well see in 1905 a Russo-Chinese War over Korea, resulting in a limited Russian victory that gains them their objective.
Of course, it may go way, way differently, but that would be alright. As long as there is a causal history then it doesn’t matter what the eventual result is. What does matter is that it is not the default of Japan beats China, Japan beats Russia, Korea becomes a Japanese colony. If France is in no position to defeat China in the 1880s then China will not be so dangerously weakened.
Obviously, if France is not in this position, it does not mean that somebody else may not possibly be taking their place. If Germany has defeated France in 1878 then it is possible that by the 1880s it is coming up against China, resulting in a Sino-German War, and a German victory. But a German victory is more likely to mean that any Japanese ambitions to take territory or influence off China leads to Germany squaring off against Japan, than was the case with a French victory due to French interests in Indo-China. Germany would be viewing a victory against China as a calling card to the Far East, and a ticket to meddle across the greater field of play.
That is only one example, of course, but hopefully it is instructive in some way. A country completely uninvolved in a European war would be affected by the fall-out of that war. It might not immediately notice this in the first ten years, but after twenty there have already been knock-on effects, and after thirty major events concerning the destiny of the country would be going in a different direction.
If we return to the Turtledove example, then we immediately can ask what are the effects of a Confederate victory in the American Civil War, especially bearing in mind how the alliance systems developed by 1914? The first instance is that Maximilian’s Mexico survives, and thus France does not suffer a humiliation in having to withdraw. One can still see the 1866 war between Austria and Prussia taking place, and the formation of the North German Confederation, but would France by 1870 really be so beaten down and paranoid that the Ems Telegramme would drive it to war? In fact, with relative success in Mexico, France would be unlikely even to have engaged in face-saving failed deals with Bismarck over Luxembourg, or even Belgium.
Okay, we could countenance the Franco-Prussian War breaking out, but IMVHO it would have a different beginning, or at least a different legal understanding of such. In OTL Napoleon III saw the Ems Telegram as being the last straw, that if France did not respond it, and he, would be completely humiliated, and in being so his throne would be under threat. But if Mexico was still a live project, and the complete loss of face over Luxembourg had not happened (albeit with Luxembourg still remaining Dutch, simply no attempt being made to buy it) then by 1870 fear of German encirclement would exist, but fear over loss of face and the overthrow of the dynasty would be far less. It may be that as in 1914 it would be impossible for historians to work out objectively where war guilt lay in this alternate Franco-Prussian War, and that legally Germany would look as liable as France.
Maybe none of that matters; if Prussia wins, then the German Empire is formed, but is it so clear cut that the Paris Commune follows upon the defeat? It came to exist because with the empire having lost the last shreds of its legitimacy the radical elements surged into power in besieged Paris. Maybe that happens here, but maybe it does not – France after all still had a field army. The argument over whether to commit it to battle is what lay at the heart of many an argument between Regent Eugenie and the politicos in Paris. Thre Prince Imperial was safely in Britain, and legally the empire could continue in the captivity of its Emperor, especially if he could be abdicated.
Even if the Paris Commune and the dark days of the Germans pressing the siege still happen, it does not follow that the Third Republic would be the inevitable result. Orleanist monarchists had an overwhelming majority in the first assembly and it was assumed that they would restore the monarchy, but the intractability of the proposed king, the Comte de Chambord, scuttled that. Perhaps it is so again, but it need not be – maybe the assembly does not demand the tricolor, maybe Henri d’Orleans can compromise on the Fleur de Lys. One or the other would result in the restoration of the monarchy.
Even if everything in France follows an analogous path, by the mid 1870s things are going to be impacting upon the Third Republic. With an independent Confederacy and a surviving Mexican Empire they cannot do otherwise. If Maximilian and Charlotte do not have any natural children, then his adopted Iburtide heirs are going to acceed to the throne of Mexico. If one assumes that Maximilian and Charlotte’s inability to conceive was due to stress etc then by the 1870s they are likely to have a pregnancy, and if it does not miscarry there will be a child, an heir even if female subject to whatever succession laws Maximilian promulgates and perhaps amends.
Mexican history is never nice and straightforward. If Maximilian only has a daughter he would probably want to marry her to an Iturbide prince, regardless of the semi-incestuos nature of daughter and adopted son, and regardless of the difference in age. If Maximilian’s constitution gives way to the strains it is under and he dies, then an Iturbide may become regent for the daughter, and the daughter may sadly die under uncertain circumstances, or more likely Iturbide attempts to seize power and change the laws of succession. Cue probably European intervention, and also probably Confederate action of some kind.
We can carry on with “If A then B, if B then C” and different values for A,B and C, but the basic principle is what is at issue here. After ten years things may appear the same but the underlying issues have been changed significantly. After twenty years issues of major import have happened in a different fashion from OTL; even if they have not directly impacted they would be but one step away. After thirty years major events are happening in a different fashion as A has affected B and B has now affected C.
I cannot conceive of a realistic situation where after a Confederate victory in the American Civil War, by 1914 the alliance systems are the same as OTL, the rivalries the same, and the impetus for war the same, with the only difference being the existence of the American nations on different sides of the alliance systems.
Turtledove tried an intelligent tactic by having had the German armoured cruisers Roon and Yorck visit the USA prior to the war, but this ignores how even the fact of the US alliance would have changed German High Seas Fleet thinking. Why have a couple of armoured cruisers when you could get a squadron of battlecruisers stationed where they would threaten both CSA warships and British convoys to/from Canada? Even a squadron of light cruisers on permanent station in the USA would be a vastly greater threat, and would make much greater strategic sense.
Even if we swallowed massive convergence and looked solely at the two American nations involvement in the alliance systems, the idea that Europe would continue in the same fashion, down the same road makes no sense at all. North America is not a separate world financially from Europe, and the relationships of OTL are going to be fractured and realigned with two nations and two alliances. The USA is going to be weaker, for having been defeated twice, meaning that people like Carnegie and JP Morgan may well not have the same influence as OTL, and even if they do they would be far less likely to invest in Britain, member of an opposing alliance system, than they would be in the German Empire or in her Austrian and Italian allies. Imagine Carnegie libraries in Austria, or the White Eagle fleet of passenger ships operating out of Naples and Genoa…
If the USA is not able to declare war on Spain, then the position of Spain in the European alliance system becomes an important point. If as Turtledove has it Spain has strangely sold Cuba to the CSA, then it still retains the Philippines and associated islands, and Spain’s role in any Far Eastern front is going to be vital. It is a sad distortion that historians assume that Spain had a rubbish fleet of ancient hulks in 1898 and would not have been able to mount any sort of realistic naval expedition in an ATL 1914. Spain’s ships were not useless, they were just maintained in a relatively poor condition, and nowhere near as good in defence as the Americans proved in attack. By 1914, there would have been a sizeable force of relatively modern cruisers in Manila, especially if we can accept the idea that Spain has sold Cuba to the CSA. Using these offensively, Spain can power-project, it can attack and not defend, and it can make one ship tie down many of the enemy as the German light cruisers did in OTL in 1914.
Now, none of this is what will happen, it is only what could happen, but IMHO the one thing that would NOT happen is for things to go along just as OTL.
What is important is that no country is going to remain immune to a change, that one can demarcate temporal boundaries where effects will begin to make themselves felt, even if there is no direct knock-on from the POD, or from its direct consequences.
Countries not immediately affected by your POD are not going to go their merry way down a road of convergence. They are going to be affected, and not a huge amount of research is necessary to see how to rough out a timeline for them where they are affected. It is much easier to accept a timeline where sensible, if low level changes have been impacted upon what might be called third-party countries, than it is to accept dull convergence where this is the less logical of outcomes.
It is of course much easier to accept if the changes and results have been worked through in some detail, rather than with a broad-brush approach. The latter is acceptable as an alternative to no real change at all, but a step-by-step approach to a country makes much greater sense, and provides the story with additional back-stories and topics to dive into than would an attempt to force allohistorical convergence upon a nation.
And it is fun! It may be work, but plotting out how a nation is being affected by the changes around it is fun – or why is the author involved in alternate history in the first place? One would admit that the more countries one has already done, the more complicated it becomes to tie additional countries into the mix, but it is better to tie them into the allohistorical events going on that it is to blithely assume convergence and have them as close to a carbon copy of reality as possible.
For example, if a world war breaks out in the late nineteenth century, one should not assume that Spain pays it no heed and ends up hammered by the USA. Why would they ignore a world war? Why would they not seek to act in their best strategic interests, even if this simply means joining in in the dying months to get the kudos of being on the winning side? And if they did decide to remain neutral, would this not probably mean that they felt free to massively reinforce their colonial forces, build up their garrisons, and take on and destroy rebels that had long been giving them problems? If a world war in the mid 1890s results in a drastically altered Europe, and Spain has remained aloof, might not the price of their remaining aloof be that they have ruthlessly put down both the Cuban and the nascent Filipino rebellions?
Even if we look at a country that tends to hide in the shadows there are interests, worries, fears and hopes that would come to the surface. For example with Portugal, if there is a world war in the early 1890s, to steal the above idea, Portugal is going to have the dual focus of preserving the African empire it does have, and enlarging the claims it maintains on additional African areas. To an extent these overlap, since some of the land that is internationally recognised as Portuguese in this period is actually only claimed, perhaps patrolled by infrequent colonial incursions, but by no means occupied at this juncture. On the other hand, there are lands claimed by Portugal, and claimed by others, where nobody yet has any sort of presence. These latter are open to infraction, especially if one’s rivals are tied down in a major war, and Portugal is not going to be so slow off the mark that if Britain is bogged down in defending its position in Europe, Portugal won’t push its position in what became the Rhodesias. The rose-coloured strip was an aspiration not a dream, was an assumed reality and not a mere hope.
Add in these details to the timeline – Spain vigorously subdues its rebel colonies (again – which means perhaps not for the last time having to do so) and Portugal establishes treaties giving it legal claim on the rose-coloured strip. Even if Britain is victorious in this putative world war, and the USA rearms its navy as per OTL, it does not affect what has already happened as a virtual fait accompli. It adds colour and contrast to your timeline, and means that whatever you have happen down the line (another Cuban rebellion, a US war of conquest, a British Nyasaland even) you have not simply played fool to the Gods of Convergence.
No country exists in a vacuum, except by the laziness or blatant manipulation of the author.
It may look like work to devise a history for a specific country in your timeline, but you are only called into having to do it if that country plays any role in your writing, and anyway, is not creating a whole new alternate world what you are in this for, what you think of as fun?
If its not fun to do this, then perhaps you need to step back, abandon alternate history and either adopt time-travel science fiction, or write pure historical fiction instead. Either is a lot better than bad alternate history fiction, and either can get accolades and praise in the real world, when bad alternate history fiction will never get either