"The essays collected in "The Collected What If?" are sober extrapolations from historical fact. Even so, they're a lot of fun. They remind us of the slender threads on which our past hangs. One small break -- at Poitiers or on Long Island, at Gettysburg or in Berlin -- might have unraveled the entire tapestry of modern history." --CNN
Churchill called them ''the terrible ifs.'' He meant
those little nudges, those very slight alterations, that might have changed the
outcome of a battle, for instance, and in a snowballing process an entire
happening of history could have turned out different. Churchill's chilling “ifs”
have become the mind game of a small but cultist book genre called Alternative history, Speculative history, Counterfactual history or Hypothetical history. Some examples:
· If Socrates had died in battle during the Peloponnesian War, Christianity and Western thought as a whole could be radically different.
· What the incredible Chinese navy could have accomplished in the Atlantic and the New World had the Ming emperors not turned inwards. Might the Chinese have discovered the New World, and even prevented the horrors of the Atlantic Slave Trade?
· What if Wellington had been leading the British Armies in America, as he had been asked to, rather than worrying about Napoleon?
· If Teddy Roosevelt had defeated Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 election, would WWI have ended sooner? Effects on global geopolitics?
· One bureaucrat may have kept Germany from winning WWI by hindering their program of unrestricted submarine warfare.
These questions provide the starting points for interesting discussions of the actual historical events and their alternative outcomes. Many armchair historians have spent hours daydreaming of what might have been if some turning point in history had gone another way. The appeal of our Core Book (The Collected What If?: The World's Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been) is that editor Robert Cowley hired professional historians to expand on these imaginative questions via an engrossing series of essays on counterfactual history. Mr. Cowley enticed historians such as David McCullough, Stephen E. Ambrose, John Lukacs, James M. McPherson, James Bradley, Caleb Carr, and John Keegan to consider and develop these speculations. The SD/G will take a look at selected historical events from the Core Book's forty-five essays.
Each historian examined a pivotal event, then presents the
intriguing ramifications had the event come out differently. Authors develop
their specific conjectures, their biases
and assumptions about the forces of history—the great man theory, randomness,
uncertainty effects, statistical probabilities, economic, religious and
sociological forces, et al.
During our sessions, these historically-oriented discussion topics will include the:
— Actual history of the event(s) considered in the essay(s)
— Persons, politics, societies, biases, religions, economics, technology, special circumstances, etc from the original history
— Historical ramifications and impacts of the original historical event
— “What-if” circumstances or incidents that could perturb the original history
— “Downstream” impacts, implications, changes, etc. of the “What-ifs”
Tired of historical events turning out the same old way? Use your imagination and creativity to explore and build on the alternatives provide by our historians.
Our Core Book contains 45 candidate "What-If" scenarios for our 14 session discussions.
Here is the set of "curated" Weekly Topics from which SDG participants would select.
With coordinator concurrence, SDG participants may substitute other essays from the Core Book.
Some alternate "meaty" topics for consideration
— If Socrates had died in battle during the Peloponnesian War, Christianity and Western thought as a whole could be radically different.
— What if Wellington had been leading the British Armies in America, as he had been asked to, rather than worrying about Napoleon?
— If Teddy Roosevelt had defeated Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 election, would WWI have ended sooner? Global geopolitics effects?
— A ragtag group of WWII Australian soldiers held back thousands of well-trained Japanese forces on the Kokoda Trail in New Guinea; and prevented the enemy from taking Port Moresby and, thus, Australia.
— What would have happened had Pius XII protested the Holocaust, which he twice had a chance to do?
Core Book: Robert Cowley (Editor), The Collected What-If?: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Been, G.P. Putnam/Penguin, New York, 2006
Supplementary/Background Books for Cowley's what-if scenarios:
On World War II: Dennis E. Showalter, If the Allies Had Fallen: Sixty Alternate Scenarios of World War II, Skyhorse Publishing, new York, January 2012, (From the Munich crisis to the dropping of the first atomic bomb, and from Hitler's declaration of war on the United States to the D-Day landings, historians suggest what would have been if key events in the war had gone differently.)
On 20th Century History: Harry Turtledove, The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century, Del Rey, 2001 (