The “what if” mental exercise is irresistible to all but the most meticulous fact-checkers. Any grade school student can tell you that virtually any historical event turns on sometimes minute, or even chance circumstances.
- Some “what ifs” have simple answers:
What if Mark McGwire hadn’t broken Roger Maris’ home run record in 1998?
Answer: Sammy Sosa would have done it!
- Some open up a veritable Pandora’s Box of possibilities:
What if slavery in North America had proven to be unprofitable?
- Some offer tantalizing solutions to troubling twentieth century dilemmas:
What if Lincoln had not been assassinated and had instead been allowed to carry out his proposed – and lenient -Reconstruction policies?
Alternate history is not an original concept. English poet Sir John Collings Squire brought out If it Had Happened Otherwise: Lapses into Imaginary History in 1931. One notable contribution was Winston Churchill’s essay describing the South’s theoretical victory in the American Civil War. This subject was also on Mackinlay Kantor’s mind in 1960 with his, If the South Had Won the Civil War. This latter embodies two favorite themes of alternate history: the power of the individual to change events, and an element of inevitability, “having the South, the North, and the Republic of Texas move toward reunification in the twentieth century.”1 In fact, reversing the outcome of major conflicts such as the Civil War or World War II is one of the most popular subjects for practitioners of alternate history. The enduring popularity of alternate history is exemplified in the September, 1999 issue of American Heritage Magazine which devoted nearly thirty pages to the subject, and typically entitled the piece, “Lee Defeats Grant”. An internet search on “alternate history” yields at least 17 web sites devoted exclusively to the subject – addressing “what ifs” from such diverse topics as a “chronology of what might have resulted from an intimate encounter between a 16-year-old Prince and his teenaged bride one night in February, 1502″ to “building an alternate world/history in which, for better or worse, atomic power replaced fossil fuels”. 2 The topics considered here are no less cataclysmic, though we weigh primarily subjects directly affecting the American West. You won’t find any answers here. Any solution offered would provide merely one viewpoint and be purely speculative in any case. But we are open to submissions if you would like to proffer a logical result to the scenarios posed. Please document your research and let us know who you are. Who knows? We may find them intriguing enough to include with our puzzlers.
Want to learn more?
You’ll find the “What If” pages in the footer of this and all pages on this site. They’re all short and thought-provoking. And if you’ve a mind to, suggest your own possible conclusion.
1. Phil Patton. “Lee Defeats Grant” in American Heritage Magazine. Sept. 1999.
p. 41. 2. Internet search