What If?

The World’s Foremost Military Historians
Imagine What Might Have Been
Robert Cowley, Editor
GP Putnam’s Sons

Clearly, this is not a reference book. It is, however, something that you can refer to. The subtitle itself might have already turned some people off, I realize: military historians are not people that everyone finds to be of supreme interest. But the premise you’ll find here is too intriguing not to delve into. What if? What if things hadn’t happened the way they did? So much of history has depended on wars being fought and won, if you think of it.

What if Hitler had won World War II? What if the Spanish Armada had won against the British? What if Napoleon had not been defeated at Waterloo? Most important for us, What if the American Revolution had just turned out to be a minor skirmish that the British had managed to quell without much problem? Those are the more recent what-ifs that these historians theorize about. What about Alexander the Great? The world would have been mighty different if he had died before he had managed to conquer most of the known world. What about the Golden Age of Greece? What if the Persians had managed to beat the Greeks? Would what we’re speaking now have a Persian base instead of a Greek one? (I should point out that we have many words that have a Greek root, but not very many with a Persian root.) Would our stories have a touch of Greek myth, or would we have a touch of, say, Zoroastrianism? (Now THAT’S an interesting thought!) What about those rats that were at the heart of the Black Plague? How different would Europe have been?

And for those who are Civil War fans, there are a few essays on those what-ifs. What if Robert Lee had managed to humble the Union? We still wouldn’t have that glorious age that we read about in “Gone with the Wind,” but it would still be quite different from what we have now.

And the atomic bomb. What if dropping those two bombs in Japan in 1945 didn’t stop World War II? Would Europe have had to rebuild itself not just from a continuous series of battles that it saw, but would it have been able to survive at all if Germany had been bombed instead or in addition?

These are all good questions that should give us all pause. These are all questions that have been posed by military historians in MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, and have been logically answered. We may view what actually happened to be chilling in themselves, and so many of those historical scenarios have found their way into our stories — think of the early 19th-century without Napoleon — but the alternatives are equally intriguing. What would an alternate-reality Regency be like?

Copyright 2002 EMS Flynn