Many of you have probably heard the
old children’s rhyme:
For want of a nail the shoe was
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
“What if” is a question as old as
history itself. The earliest known piece of alternative or
“counterfactual” history was written by the Roman historian Livy,
who speculated more than two thousand years ago, around 25 B.C., in
his Ab Urbe Condita (“From the city having been founded”)
about what might have happened had Alexander the Great attacked Rome
and not expanded his empire to the east. It might not surprise you
to learn that Livy decided the Romans would’ve kicked Alexander’s
ass, if it came to that.
More recently, in 1931, Winston
Churchill wrote, “If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg."
Other noted authors and historians to ask “what if” have included
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hilaire Belloc, Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov,
MacKinley Kantor, John Keegan, Stephen Ambrose, Stephen W. Sears,
David McCullough, James McPherson and Philip Roth. Alternative
history - the tantalizing question of “what if” - is even at the
core of that beloved Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life,
which asks us, just what would have happened if George Bailey
had never been born?
George Will wrote, “The salutary
effect of... ‘what if’ exercises is a keener appreciation of the
huge difference that choices and fortuities make in the destiny of
nations.” To date, far and away the most popular and recurring
topics of alternative history have been a Confederate victory in the
Civil War, and a Nazi victory in World War II. All others pale in
Part of the reason in both cases, I
think, is because it’s so easy - and so horrifying - to imagine
things going the other way. Consider the Civil War. Despite the
North’s huge advantages in population, infrastructure and industrial
capability, historian Peter G. Tsouras noted in his introduction to
the short-story collection Dixie Victorious,
On a number of occasions the
[Union’s] margin of error was almost nonexistent. Here luck played
the dominant hand. The South either did not press its advantage or
failed to seize the moment. Victory [too often] held her laurels
tantalizingly just beyond the reach of the Confederacy. The
balance was so fine that it was tipped by the absence of a
tourniquet [at Shiloh] or the depth of a sandbar on the Red River.
The misallocation of naval resources, a lost order [before
Antietam], or a failure to keep the cavalry close in the invasion
of Pennsylvania were inordinately decisive.... [and of course]
Lincoln came within a hairsbreadth of war with Great Britain over
the Trent Affair....
I’d suggest that the most plausible
and compelling alternative history turns on one decision, one event,
that might easily have gone the other way. Then we consider what
happened next, and see where it leads us. For a dyed-in-the-wool
Unionist like me, “What if?” is always a potent Civil War question.
For many Southerners, though, it’s deeply personal. Half a century
ago in his novel Intruder in the Dust, William Faulkner wrote
For every Southern boy fourteen
years old... there is the instant when it's still not yet two
o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in
position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the
woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and
Pickett himself [is] looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to
give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened
yet... and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy
to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and
all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the
golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and
unbelievable victory the desperate gamble.... (emphasis in
Tonight our debaters will consider
what victory the Confederacy might have won, if the Southern
slaveholding republic might have survived as a nation, and how our
world would have been forever changed by it.
CONTINUE ONTO THE FIRST ARGUMENT>>
The CSA Was NOT Viable
Captain-Less Raft Floating On a Sea of Problems
Too Small for a Republic, Too Large for a Lunatic Asylum
The CSA WAS Viable
The Myth of
a Weak Confederacy
Follow the Money
Shot Heard 'Round the World