Skip to main content

I've long been a fan of alternative histories, except for the fact that so many of them have the Confederacy or Nazi Germany winning their respective wars. Fire on the Mountain is Terry Bisson's 1988 novel that takes a different path, drawing readers into a world in which John Brown's 1859 raid on the Harper's Ferry armory is successful instead of ending with Brown in a noose, and a slave revolt leads to emancipation and a black nation in the Deep South. Robert Harris's 1992 novel, Fatherland, posits a Nazi victory and a 1964 world in which Hitler is an aging recluse, Joseph Goebbels is still propaganda minister and the Holocaust is still a secret. It was made into an HBO movie starring Rutger Hauer, playing a detective who uncovers evidence of the Final Solution.

Of course, a skilled writer can turn anything into an alternative history—for instance, what happens after the Taino Indians wipe out Columbus and his entire expedition (in an as-yet-to-be-written novel) or what do African Americans experience after China wins the "Great War" in the 1965 John Hersey novel White Lotus.  

At The Atlantic Uri Friedman takes a look at Harry Turtledove's novels, The Disunited States of America (in which the Constitution is not ratified after the Revolution) and The Two Georges (in which the Colonies lose the Revolutionary War):

The Fourth of July—a time we Americans set aside to celebrate our independence and mark the war we waged to achieve it, along with the battles that followed. There was the War of 1812, the War of 1833, the First Ohio-Virginia War, the Three States' War, the First Black Insurrection, the Great War, the Second Black Insurrection, the Atlantic War, the Florida Intervention.

Confused? These are actually conflicts invented for the novel The Disunited States of America by Harry Turtledove, a prolific (and sometimes-pseudonymous) author of alternate histories with a Ph.D. in Byzantine history. The book is set in the 2090s in an alternate United States that is far from united. In fact, the states, having failed to ratify a constitution following the American Revolution, are separate countries that oscillate between cooperating and warring with one another, as in Europe.

"They couldn't agree on how to set up the legislature," one character explains. "The big states wanted it based on population. The little ones wanted each state to have one vote no matter how many people it had. They were too stubborn to split the difference."
Turtledove told me that it was Richard Dreyfuss, the actor, who first gave him the idea of the American Revolution as a subject for alternate history. The two collaborated on a novel, The Two Georges, that is set in the 1990s and based on the premise that the Revolutionary War never happened. Instead, George Washington and King George III struck an agreement in which the United States and Canada (the "North American Union") remained part of the British Empire. The painter Thomas Gainsborough commemorated the deal in a painting, The Two Georges, that is emblazoned on money and made ubiquitous as a symbol of the felicitous "union between Great Britain and her American dominions." […]

Turtledove told me by email that he had an "epiphany" when he traveled with his family to the World Science Fiction Convention in Winnipeg, Canada in 1994, shortly before he published The Two Georges

As he read a book from the Little House on the Prairie series to his daughter at the hotel, he came upon a section about a Fourth of July celebration "on the plains in the late nineteenth century, with fireworks and with tub-thumping speakers talking about how the United States had broken away from British tyranny and was the freest country in the world as a result. And there I was reading this in the country next door to mine, a country as similar to mine as any two nations on earth, a country just as free as mine—and a country that had never broken away from Britain at all. It was a thought-provoking experience." Canada, of course, merely shares a queen with the United Kingdom at this point, but its relationship with Britain has certainly evolved differently than America's has. […]


Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2010Why liberals should love the Second Amendment:

Ask anyone on the street. They'll tell you the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a liberal organization. During the dark days of the Bush Administration, membership doubledbecause so many Americans feared increasing restrictions on their civil liberties. If you were to ask liberals to list their top five complaints about the Bush Administration, and they would invariably say the words "shredding" and "Constitution" in the same sentence. They might also add "Fourth Amendment" and "due process." It's possible they'll talk about "free speech zones" and "habeus corpus."

There's a good chance they will mention, probably in combination with several FCC-prohibited adjectives, former Attorney Generals John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales.
And while liberals certainly do not argue for lawlessness, and will acknowledge the necessity of certain restrictions, it is generally understood that liberals fight to broadly interpret and expand our rights and to question the necessity and wisdom of any restrictions of them.  

Liberals can quote legal precedent, news reports, and exhaustive studies. They can talk about the intentions of the Founders. They can argue at length against the tyranny of the government. And they will, almost without exception, conclude the necessity of respecting, and not restricting, civil liberties.

Except for one: the right to keep and bear arms.



Tweet of the Day
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one person to devour 61 consecutive hot dogs something has gone terribly wrong.
@pourmecoffee


On today's encore performance Kagro in the Morning podcast, it's the July 8, 2013 show. In some ways, it's like the year never passed! Greg Dworkin and Armando were on hand for the discussion of developments in the Middle East, insurers rejecting the "arm the teachers" plan, 99% vs. the 1%, and even Snowden vs. the NSA. Current events, or a glimpse of the past? Well, OK, it's a glimpse of the past. Bad job hiding the ball, there. But, hey, it's like a little time capsule you can download to your smartphone! Assuming that's a good thing.



High Impact Posts. Top Comments

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site