A game of What If: The way things might have been
May 17, 2011
Ever wonder about the first causes of major world events? What if this had happened or what if, that had not happened? Let’s examine some “what ifs.”
What if the French monarchs had not treated their people so shabbily? How could a maritime nation blessed with such abundant natural resources have a food shortage, leading to bread riots? The French Revolution led to Napoleon’s conquest of Western Europe and, for a time, his occupation of Moscow to the North and of Cairo to the Southeast.
After defeating the Prussians in 1806, Napoleon imposed a 42,000-man limit on the Prussian Army. That created a dilemma for General Gerhard von Scharnhorst, the mentor of the great strategist Carl von Clausewitz. Prussia could train the same 42,000 men over and over into a model army of professional soldiers. Or, Scharnhorst decided, he would retain a small cadre of his most professional officers and NCOs and have them train and indoctrinate class-after-class of short-service military conscripts who, after leaving active service, would comprise a secret reserve.
Thus, by 1813, the Prussians secretly trained an additional 33,000 men and resumed the fight against Napoleon. By 1815, those added forces gave Prussian General Gebhard von Bluecher the military might he needed to help the British Duke of Wellington defeat Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. So, what if Scharnhorst had not used conscription to train an additional 33,000 troops? A lot more people would be speaking French.
What if Russian Czar Nickolas II had not waged war so ineptly against Japan in 1905, a naval and land warfare disaster that suggested the yellow races could whip the white races and, thereby, gave encouragement to the Japanese militarists eager to slake their thirst for empire? Would we have had World War II in the Pacific in 1941?
What if the Treaty of Versailles had actually been based on President Wilson’s 14 Points for Peace? What if the sickly Wilson had not caved in to the demands of the French and, to a lesser degree, the British? What if Wilson had accepted the minor compromise offered by Senator Lodge that would have resulted in Senate ratification of the League of Nations? Would an American-backed League have stopped the aggressions of Mussolini, of Japan, of Hitler, and avoided World War II?
In 1918, in Paris, instead of being rebuffed, what if Ho Chi Minh had been allowed to ask the writers of The Treaty of Versailles for Vietnamese independence? In the 1960s and 70s would over 58,000 Americans have died in Southeast Asia?
Following the defeat of Germany in World War I, the Treaty of Versailles limited the German Army to 100,000 officers and men. So, the clever Germans cut a secret deal with Soviet Russia that allowed the German Army to train troops and test weapons, in secret, inside the USSR. Meanwhile, the German Army encouraged the formation of, and even helped equip, a la Scharnhorst, some off-the-books irregular reserve forces such as the Freikorps. A combination of regular and irregular forces, to include the thuggish Brown Shirts, gave Hitler the military power to hold the dithering Allies at bay as Hitler threw the Treaty of Versailles into the trash.
What if former Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, had not made a speech in early 1950 suggesting South Korea was outside the American sphere of defense? Would the North Koreans have invaded South Korea on 25 June, 1950?
In 1998, Osama bin Laden topped the FBI’s Most Wanted List. What if the Clinton Administration had taken advantage of the well-documented, multiple opportunities it had to kill or capture Osama bin Laden? Would we have suffered the atrocities of 9/11?
What might have been? That’s the problem with playing the “what if” game. They say guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. We can say the same about regret.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.